Ancient History & Civilisation

3. ROME AND THE GAULS

During Rome’s struggle with Carthage the Italian federation had remained loyal; one exception merely emphasized the solidarity of the whole. Falerii waited till the end of the war and then revolted in 241; perhaps the occasion was the recent expiration of its fifty-years’ alliance with Rome. But it did not have to wait long for its punishment. The consuls who had returned from Sicily stormed it in six days and forced the inhabitants to abandon their strong hill site (modern Civita Castellana) and to rebuild in the plain where the solitary church of Santa Maria di Falleri within the circuit of the Roman walls today preserves the name. Half the territory of Falerii was annexed as ager publicus, and a Latin colony was planted at Spoletium on the road to Ariminum and the north.

In contrast with the fate of Falerii, the loyalty of the Picentes and Sabines (p. 134) was rewarded by the grant of two wards in the Comitia Centuriata: two new tribes named Velina and Quirina were established in 241, bringing the total up to thirty-five, a number that was never increased. The fixing of the total had an important result, because the citizens of districts enfranchised thereafter had to be assigned to one of the existing tribes; this involved the gradual disappearance of the local significance of the tribes, which became merely administrative divisions. It is probable that the Comitia Centuriata was reformed at the time when these last two tribes were established, and that the reform was the work of the censors. Its main object was to correlate the centuries and tribes, possibly to make the Comitia Centuriata somewhat more democratic. The five ‘Servian’ classes were retained, but the centuries were rearranged. The first class was reduced from 80 to 70 centuries, two to a tribe, one of seniors and one of juniors (35 in each). Either the other four classes were treated similarly; if so, there would be 350 groups, and with the eighteen centuries of knights and five of proletarians, etc., a grand total of 373; or else the total number of centuries remained fixed at 193 and the ten centuries of the first class were redistributed among some or all of the other four (although the method of redistribution remains uncertain). The century which voted first (praerogativa) and generally had considerable influence on those that followed, was chosen by lot from the first class; then the knights and the five classes voted in order until a majority of the centuries’ votes was obtained. But this would not be reached until at least part of the third class had voted; and if the voting was not solid for or against the motion even lower classes might get a chance to vote, whereas hitherto the knights and the first class had had a clear majority. Thus if the centuries numbered 350, the middle classes who predominated in the hitherto more democratic Comitia Tributa could now exercise a vote in the Centuriata. Probably the property ratings were adjusted at the same time. Wealth still remained predominant, though its influence was limited, while age received undue recognition since the number of seniores would be less than the iuniores. The will of the people still could not find such complete expression in the Comitia Centuriata as in the Tributa, but the working of the two assemblies was brought more into line.5

The peasant middle classes and the rural democracy were championed in 232 by a tribune named C. Flaminius, who attacked the patricioplebeian nobility. He proposed that the ager Gallicus (et Picenus ?), the district south of Ariminum which had been confiscated from the Senones, should be divided into small allotments and distributed to poor citizens; and he forced this measure through the plebeian assembly in the teeth of bitter senatorial opposition. This was aroused partly perhaps by the consideration that it would be fairer to found a Latin colony on this territory, but more because individual senators were unwilling to lose their valuable leaseholds there, and above all because of Flaminius’ disregard of the Senate and of the Comitia Centuriata. Tradition relates that this measure caused the beginning of ‘the demoralization of the people’ and hastened the Gallic invasion of 225 because it annoyed the Gauls. Of these statements, which derive from an aristocratic tradition hostile to Flaminius, the first is at least doubtful, for although in his disregard of the Senate Flaminius was the forerunner of the Gracchi, yet his measure was far from revolutionary. The second is demonstrably false: the Gallic invasion had threatened four years before and did not mature till seven years after the enactment, and the Gauls can have cared little whether territory so far south was occupied by individual Roman farmers or was controlled by wealthy Roman nobles. Flaminius’ proposal was a timely measure of self-defence against the Gauls rather than a provocation.

Flaminius crossed swords with the Senate on another question. A tribune, Q. Claudius, carried a measure which prevented senators engaging in overseas trade to any extent: senators and their sons were forbidden to own ships other than small ones to transport the produce of their estates. Flaminius alone supported this measure in the Senate. It was designed to prevent private financial interests distracting or perverting the interests of the governing classes; it had the effect of forcing them to concentrate more on their lands. At the same time – the date is uncertain – senators were prohibited from taking state contracts.6

Flaminius’ agrarian law focused attention on the north, where the Celts were restless. The Senones and Boii had taken to heart the bitter lesson taught by the campaigns which had ended in 282, and providentially for Rome they remained quiet during her struggles with Pyrrhus and Carthage. But a new generation of Celts had now grown up and Rome was free to consider the safety of her northern frontier. During the century the Ligurians, who had inhabited the sweep of hills from the French Alps along the Italian Riviera, had thrust the Etruscans back from Pisa and the River Arno, and had had dealings with their kinsmen in Corsica, which Rome had determined to master. Further, Rome’s friend Massilia would be grateful to have the Tyrrhenian Sea cleared of the pirates who frequented its shores. Thus many considerations led the Romans to make some demonstration against the Ligurians, and we hear of engagements in 238, 236, 234, 233 and 230, which led to the freeing of Pisa, now probably a member of Rome’s confederacy; the partial submission of the Apuani; and the occupation of Luna. But the Ligurians were not really overcome until after the Hannibalic War. More serious were the movements of the Boii, who, reinforced by Transalpine tribes, ventured to move against Ariminium in 236. But dissension among the tribesmen led to the withdrawal of the army, so that the threat of a Gallic peril was removed for the moment. Instead of taking the opportunity of marching against the Boii and of advancing their frontier to the Po, the Romans preferred peace. Skirmishes might continue against the Sardinians and Ligurians, but real warfare was at an end. In 235–234 with due solemnity the gates of the Temple of Janus were closed for the first time since the reign of Numa Pompilius.

During the next few years Rome’s attention was directed towards the Adriatic (see pp. 172–5), but it was sharply drawn back to the north where the storm clouds lowered so ominously in 226 that Rome hastily reached an agreement with Hasdrubal whose empire-building in Spain was raising visions of renewed trouble with Carthage (see pp. 176ff). The Gallic clans were gathering. The Boii and the neighbouring Lingones had summoned to their aid the war-like Insubres from beyond the Po; from further west came the Taurini and the Gaesati from beyond the Alps. Memories of Allia and the sack of Rome caused panic throughout Italy. At Rome two Gauls and a Greek were buried alive in the Forum Boarium in an attempt to anticipate literally a statement from the Sibylline books that Rome ‘must twice be held by a foreign enemy’. A more sensible measure was the taking of a census of all the available forces throughout Italy; the citizens amounted to 250,000 infantry and 23,000 cavalry, the allies to 350,000 men excluding reserves, the Bruttians and Greek allies. Further, the Cenomani who dwelt north of the Boii did not join their kinsmen, but with the non-Celtic Veneti of the north-east remained at peace with Rome.

Rome hastened to defend Italy. One consul was absent in Sardinia, but the other, L. Aemilius Papus, was stationed at Ariminum; Etruscan and Sabine forces, commanded by a praetor, protected the passes of the western Apennines; four legions covered Rome; two others guarded southern Italy and Sicily against the possibility of Carthaginian intervention. Instead of attacking Ariminum as they had done eleven years before, the Celts advanced over the Apennines into Etruria, their forces numbering 50,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry. Devastating the country on their march they took the road to Rome and slipped past the two Roman armies. These hastened in pursuit, intending to converge at Clusium, where however the Gauls turned and tricked the praetor into battle near Montepulciano before the consul’s arrival. Then, resolving not to face the consular army in battle, they retired with their booty to the Etruscan coast, south of the massif of Mte Amiata; it would have been too dangerous to retreat by the way they had come, while the coast route offered further booty and forage for their horses. From Orbetello they proceeded northwards, closely followed by Aemilius, when they were surprised to find another consular army facing them at Telamon. It was the legions of Atilius Regulus, who had been recalled from Sardinia and was marching south from Pisa. A great battle was fought. The Gauls formed two lines back to back to meet the double attack. The naked bodies of the Celts, their fine physique, their flashing gold necklaces and bracelets, the blare of their trumpets, all impressed the Romans. But discipline and superior equipment at length overcame their desperate valour. Though Atilius was killed, 40,000 Gauls were left on the field and 10,000 were captured; only part of their cavalry broke away. Never again did a Gallic army cross the Apennines.7

This unrest among the Gauls emphasized the fact that the Alps were the natural frontier of Italy and that the victory of Telamon must be followed up by the conquest of Cisalpine Gaul in order to ensure peace and a quiet frontier. After the battle Aemilius raided the Boii, who were completely subdued by the consuls of the following year (224). It fell to the lot of the popular leader C. Flaminius to lead the first Roman army across the Po against the Insubres. This daring and able politician, who had crossed swords with the Senate on the score of his land bill, reached the consulship in 223 and proceeded to display his not inconsiderable gifts as a soldier. With his colleague he crossed the Po near the Adda and then, instead of marching directly against the Insubres, he turned through the country of the friendly Cenomani and fell on the enemy from their exposed eastern flank. Hostile senators might point out the dangers of Flaminius’ strategy, but it succeeded. In the country south of Bergamo and Brescia he encountered and defeated the enemy; the tradition, which assigns the victory to the efficiency of the Roman legions and tribunes in spite of their general’s rashness, is not above suspicion. Flaminius is said to have left unread despatches which he received from the Senate before the battle, guessing that they contained an order to return without fighting. In any case he was recalled after the battle, and his colleague’s refusal to disobey this summons prevented him from following up his victory. On his return he was voted a triumph by the people despite the Senate. After this honour he retired from office and thus allowed the consuls of 222 to enter on their duties on 15 March, a month earlier than usual; not till 153 did the consular year start on 1 January. Flaminius deserved a better tribute from his country than he received.

The Insubres sought peace on conditions which the new consuls, Cn. Cornelius Scipio and M. Claudius Marcellus, were unwilling to accept; they then prepared to renew the struggle with the help of 30,000 Gaesati. When the consuls attacked Acerrae, which commanded the passage of the river Adda, the Gauls made a counter-attack on Clastidium which had recently been occupied by Flaminius. The consuls separated. Marcellus marched to the relief of Clastidium, where he won a victory, charging on horseback the Gaulish chieftain Viridomarus whom he slew in single combat; he thus won the spolia opima for the last time in Roman history. Meantime Scipio captured Acerrae and advanced into the heart of Insubrian territory. At Mediolanum (Milan) he got into slight difficulties, until Marcellus arrived; together they routed the enemy and took the city.8 The Insubres surrendered unconditionally and gave up some territory on which the colony of Cremona was soon founded. Lastly, the consuls of 221 and 220 finally overcame the native tribes of Istria and thus secured the north-eastern frontier up to the Julian Alps. Cisalpine Gaul was conquered and the way lay open for the infiltration of Roman culture. This was hastened by the extension of the road from Spoletium to Ariminum by Flaminius, who reached the censorship in 220; the whole route from Rome was reconditioned and the new Great North Road was called the Via Flaminia.

Two years later Latin colonies of 6,000 settlers each were planted at Placentia and Cremona to guard the passage over the Po against the Insubres, and a fortified outpost (rather than a citizen colony) was placed at Mutina (Modena) among the Boii. But hardly had peace been established when Hannibal appeared from over the Alps, and Cisalpine Gaul rallied to his banner.

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