Story of the Roman People - E. M. Tappan

Rome Becomes the Capital of the World

At the time when the Romans conquered Hannibal, "the world" meant the countries circling around the Mediterranean Sea. In all the lands lying to the west of Italy, the Romans now held the chief power. Toward the east they had already taken one step when they suppressed the pirates of the Adriatic Sea and agreed to protect the Greek cities along the Adriatic coast.

In earlier times Greece could have protected her own cities, but the condition of affairs in the East had changed greatly since those days. About the time when the Romans were subduing the Latins, Alexander the Great began his conquests. His father, Philip II, had left him Macedonia and Greece; but this was a small realm compared with what he meant to win, and he began a wonderful series of victories. When he died, he ruled not only Macedonia and Greece, but also Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, Persia, and part of India. This empire was divided among his generals. Possibly Alexander himself could have governed this enormous domain, but his generals could not. They and their successors quarreled and fought, and finally the vast empire broke up into three kingdoms: 1. Egypt. 2. Syria and Asia Minor. 3. Macedonia and Greece.

While the Romans were contending with Hannibal, the king of Macedonia, Philip V., who was an ally of the Carthaginians, attacked some Greek cities which were under the protection of Rome. This led to the First Macedonian War. After Hannibal was subdued, war broke out with Philip again, and with most excellent reason. He and King Antiochus of Syria plotted to divide Egypt between them. If this plan should succeed, Philip would control the Greek cities on the shores of the Aegean Sea. A vast amount of trading was carried on in the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea, and the eastern part of the Mediterranean, and from this part of the world came much of the grain needed in Italy. If Philip was successful, then he, an enemy of Rome, could shut off a large part of her food whenever he chose. This was enough to arouse the interest of the Romans. Philip did not trouble himself about what the Romans might think, but attacked Egypt and Athens. The king of Egypt was a boy, and his guardians appealed to Rome for help. As for Athens, that had for some time been an ally of the Romans. Rome warned Philip not to harass the friends of her people. Philip replied that he should prefer peace, but that if they wished to fight, they would learn that Macedonia was as powerful as Rome. Then the armies of Philip and the Romans met in Greece at the Cynoscephalae, or dogs' heads, two ranges of hills facing each other and shaped like the heads of dogs. Philip was thoroughly defeated by the Roman general Flamininus.

Flamininus went to Corinth to announce his victory to the Greeks. They were celebrating the Isthmian games in honor of the gods, when the blast of a trumpet was heard, the signal for silence. A herald went forward and proclaimed, "The senate and people of Rome and Titus Quinctius Flamininus, their general, have subdued King Philip and the Macedonians, and do now restore liberty to all states which have been under subjection to King Philip." "Again, again!" cried the people, for some had not fully heard and others could not believe the good news. The herald declared his proclamation a second time. Then from the thousands of joyful Greeks there arose such a shout of joy that, according to an old historian, the crows overhead fell into the theatre from the shock. The games were hurried through. No one cared for them or thought of them, for everybody was eager to come near Flamininus and touch his hand. The brave young general was not accustomed to run from his enemies, but when he saw the whole assembly throwing garlands and ribbons and rushing to embrace him, he did run from them and hid away to keep from being suffocated by his grateful admirers.

Although Flamininus had called Greece free, it was really only free from Philip, and was in the power of the Romans. Antiochus, king of Syria, was not pleased with the result of this war. He was then in Greece, and he declared that he meant to free the Greeks from the Romans. That was easier said than done, and in a short time he was hurrying across the Hellespont to escape from the Roman legions. The brother of Scipio Africanus overcame him at Magnesia in Asia Minor, and therefore took the surname of Asiaticus in honor of his victory. By the treaty of peace which followed, Antiochus had to give up much of Asia Minor to the Romans. They demanded, also, that he should give up his guest Hannibal, for when Hannibal was forced to leave Carthage, he had fled to Antiochus. Hannibal now made his way to Bithynia; but there, too, the Romans pursued him. When he saw that he could no longer escape them, he poisoned himself rather than fall into their hands. Thus perished Hannibal, one of the greatest generals of ancient times.

Macedonia was not yet subdued, for although Philip had died, his son Perseus had long been plotting revenge and was eager for a chance to meet the Romans. They met at Pydna, and Perseus was defeated. Rome had overcome the East as well as the West, and now Macedonia, Greece, and Asia Minor were in her power.

There were two ways in which Rome might govern her new possessions. One was to send Roman governors to them and make laws for them directly. The other way was to divide them into small kingdoms and let them fight together and weaken one another. Rome followed the second course, and after a while there was always an opportunity for Rome to step in, settle their quarrels, and take the rule herself.

In conquering these lands, Rome usually claimed that she was giving freedom to the people. They were not always pleased with her "freedom." The people of Corinth, in particular, had no idea of accepting the Romans as rulers, and persisted in making war upon Sparta, although the Romans sent envoys to protest against their so doing. The foolish Corinthians hooted and yelled and insulted the envoys in every way, finally driving them from the assembly. One of the leaders made a violent speech, saying that he wished to be a friend of the Romans, but "had no taste for them as masters." It is little wonder that the Roman legions were sent swiftly to Corinth. Then the Corinthians learned what it was to resist Rome and insult her messengers, for the citizens were either killed or sold as slaves, shiploads of statues and paintings were sent to Rome, and enough to load many more ships were destroyed by the soldiers. Then the city was torn down and burned.

The Romans were growing more powerful every day. They were making new conquests, but they did not forget to keep close watch of the old ones. About the time when Corinth began to be rebellious, Masinissa, king of Numidia, attacked Carthage, and Carthage appealed to Rome for help. The Romans sent envoys, but Masinissa was an ally of Rome, and they decided everything in his favor. One of these envoys was Marcus Porcius Cato. He was a brilliant commander and he had first been made consul, then censor. He was much troubled because so many of the Romans were giving up the plain, simple ways of their fathers and were beginning to like luxury and to avoid work. Cato cultivated his land with his own hands; he never wore costly garments; and even when he was consul, he drank the same wine as his slaves. He declared once that he could not live with a man whose palate was more sensitive than his heart. When he became censor, the people who liked luxury trembled; and they soon found that they had good reason, for Cato had a list made of the carriages, jewelry, rich clothing, and expensive furniture of each household and its real cost. Then he counted the value as ten times as much and taxed it heavily on that valuation.

This was the man who was sent to Carthage. His eyes were wide open to see all that there was to be seen; and when he returned to Rome, he reported to the senate, "Carthage is not so humble as you imagine. It is a wealthy city; it is well supplied with arms and stores and whatever is needed in warfare, and it is full of men able to bear arms. They are not a weaker, but a more skillful enemy to us than they were." Then he let fall from the folds of his toga some figs that he had brought from Africa, and cried, "Remember that the country in which these grew is only three days' sail from Rome." After this, whenever he made a speech in the senate, no matter what the subject was, he always ended by saying, "And my opinion is that Carthage must be destroyed." Another senator, who did not agree with Cato, always ended his speeches in mimicry of him with, "And my opinion is that Carthage must be left standing."

It was not long before the Romans sided with the censor. Naturally, when Masinissa attacked the Carthaginians a second time, they did not call upon Rome, who had failed to defend them and had stood by their enemy, but did their best to defend themselves. They did not succeed, and now they were terrified at the thought of how Rome might punish them for breaking the treaty. They sent envoys to Rome to try to excuse themselves and make their peace with her. Rome demanded three hundred boys of the chief families as hostages. These were sent. Then Rome said, "Give up all your arms." Two hundred thousand suits of armor and great quantities of weapons were surrendered. "Tear down your city and make a new settlement ten miles from the ocean," was Rome's next command.

[Illustration] from Story of the Roman People by E. M. Tappan


The Carthaginian envoys begged for mercy, but Rome rarely showed mercy. The Carthaginians in despair determined to fight to the death. They worked night and day to make shields and weapons and engines of war; and even the women worked with them at the fortifications, and cut off their long hair to make bowstrings. When the Romans came to carry out their cruel decree, they found it no easy thing to do. For nearly three years their siege of the city went on. Then Publius Scipio Amilianus was put in command. He made a line of fortifications across the isthmus which connects the site of Carthage with the mainland, and thus shut off the land supplies from the city. He built a wall across the mouth of the harbor, but the Carthaginians dug a canal and brought out their galleys. He built another wall, he stormed the town and scaled the walls; and even then the starving people resisted so desperately that the Romans had to fight on roofs, on planks and beams, even in rooms. Not until the city was fully in the hands of the Romans, would the fifty thousand Carthaginians surrender who remained alive. These were sold as slaves. The Romans took for the state the immense quantity of gold and silver that remained even then. The soldiers seized whatever they chose of all that was left. Then the town was burned, its site was ploughed up, and it was solemnly declared that a curse would rest upon him who tried to rebuild the city. So it was that Carthage was destroyed, and its territories became a Roman province under the name of Africa with Utica as the chief city.

[Illustration] from Story of the Roman People by E. M. Tappan


Scipio had a splendid triumph on his return to Rome. Some years later he was sent to Spain, for Numantia had revolted against the Roman sway. For nine years the city withstood a siege, then famine set in and it was obliged to surrender. This city, too, was torn down.

Carthage fell in 146 B. C., and Numantia thirteen years later. The Mediterranean Sea had now become a "Roman lake," for the Romans ruled all the countries around it. These countries made up "the world," as has been said before; therefore the old prophecy had come to pass: Rome had become the capital of the world.


The vast empire of Alexander was divided among his generals, but finally broke up into three kingdoms, Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor, and Macedonia and Greece.

Philip's attack upon some Greek cities caused the First Macedonian War in 214 B. C. The attempt of Philip and Antiochus of Syria to divide Egypt caused the Second Macedonian War. Flamininus routed Philip at Cynoscephalae, in 197 B. C., and announced his victory at the games.

Antiochus set out to free Greece from the Romans, but was driven across the Hellespont. He was routed at Magnesia in 190 B. C. At the demand of the Romans that Antiochus should give up Hannibal, the latter poisoned himself to avoid falling into their hands.

The Romans overcame Perseus at Pydna. They then controlled Macedonia, Greece, and Asia Minor. These countries were divided into small kingdoms.

Corinth resisted Rome by making war upon Sparta, and was destroyed by the Romans, in 146 B. C.

The Romans favored Masinissa rather than Carthage. Cato became a most severe censor. He declared continually that Carthage must be destroyed. Carthage defended herself against Masinissa, and in the attempt to ward off her overthrow at the hands of the Romans, entered upon the Third Punic War in 149 B. C. Carthage was destroyed (146 B. C.).

Numantia revolted and was forced to surrender to the Romans. Rome became the capital of the world.

Suggestions for Written Work

  • Two Romans discuss the plans of Philip and Antiochus.
  • A boy describes the announcement at the games of the victory of Cynoscephalae.
  • Why should Cato tax luxuries?