From Collapse to Recovery

Chapter 8

The Wars in Italy and Spain (78–77 BC)

The year 78 BC was supposed to have marked a new start for Rome. In 79 BC, following the consular elections for 78, Sulla resigned his dictatorship, as he had promised, having satisfied himself that the Republic was both restored and reformed.

Throughout his reign he had sought to portray himself as the bringer of peace and the restorer of the ‘traditional’ Republic, much as Augustus himself was to do half a century later. In truth, it seems that he had done neither and his reign proved as transitory as that of Cinna’s a decade earlier; nothing more than a temporary respite from the civil war in Italy, accompanied by attempts to pass reforms for the longer-term stability of the Republic. However just as Cinna’s regime had proved to be a temporary respite, unable to stop the civil war momentum, so it proved to be the case once again. Not only was civil war raging in Spain once more, but within a year of Sulla’s resignation, the consuls went to war against each other once again, repeating the pattern set in 87 BC, which also followed Sulla stepping down from control of Rome. In 88 BC, he left Italy for Greece; in 79 BC, he left Rome to retire to his villa, where within the year he died of natural causes (an irony in itself).¹

1. Consular Civil War in Italy

In 79 BC, Sulla had clearly hoped that by laying aside the supreme power he held, the Republic could be returned to its normal running. Yet whilst Sulla’s reforms had been aimed at ending the dangers which had been at the heart of the outbreaks of the various stages of the civil war, not only were many of these issues left unresolved, but fresh flashpoints were created by Sulla’s own laws and actions.

In terms of issues unresolved, the most obvious was that of the various exile groups, to which had now been added all of those who had been proscribed and fled Italy. From the Varian exiles through to the Sullan ones, there existed a diaspora of exiled Roman aristocrats scattered throughout the Mediterranean, many of whom harboured varying degrees of animosity against their own state. Significant numbers of them could be found residing under the protection of Rome’s enemies, whether it be Sertorius in the west or Mithridates in the east. If this were not bad enough, the vast majority had friends and relatives still in Rome, many of whom would be agitating for their return, and even a few who remained in close contact with them. Throughout this period it seems that each major conflict created more exiles.

When we look at issues caused by Sulla’s legislation and actions, two were of paramount importance: the restrictions on the tribunate and the new ‘second class’ of citizens created by the proscriptions. In domestic political terms the restrictions on the tribunate, whilst seemingly sensible from a dispassionate point of view (given its recent history of being at the centre of political turbulence), were nevertheless viewed by many as a hostile act against an office of the People and a totemic reform of Sulla, which had transferred power from the People to the Senate. Furthermore, it would not only be the People who would have wanted this restriction overturned, but any ambitious politician who, either wanted the fully restored office for themselves, or wanted to manipulate it for their own ends.

In terms of the citizenry, no sooner had a second (and third) class of citizenry been wiped away by the widening of Roman citizenship to Latins and Italians and their integration into the thirty-five tribes, than a new second class were created by Sulla, albeit inadvertently. These were theproscripiti – the families of those men proscribed by Sulla. Though the individuals themselves may have been killed, their families had been dispossessed of their property and their descendants barred from political office. Thus, with one act, Sulla created a second class citizenry of the dispossessed and disenfranchised, not just in Rome, but throughout Italy, a class resentful at their treatment and eager for restitution.

Although Sulla may have changed some of the rules that governed the practice of politics at Rome, he could do nothing to change the mindset of the Roman politicians themselves. All he could do was to regulate their behaviour by holding onto an overriding political and military power to keep them in check. Once this power was removed, however, there was now nothing to keep them in check. This was Sulla’s greatest failure in relation to his stated aim of stabilizing the Republic, but a failure that was always a possibility unless he was to assume some type of permanent monarchical power. This latter possibility, however, does not seem to have crossed his mind. This was a lesson for the next 500 years of Roman history: in the absence of a central overriding power at the heart of the Roman system, whether it be one, two, three or even four men, individual ambition would pull the system apart.

Following his withdrawal from high office, Sulla seems to have expected the Republic to be governed by the Senate, which had been moulded in his own image and filled with his supporters.² The problem that Sulla had was that a number of the men who followed him did not do so out of shared political or social beliefs, but from a cold and calculated political assessment that he was the most likely to win and therefore advance their own interests.³ Amongst the victors in 82 BC stood a number of former Marian and Sulpician allies, some of whom even numbered amongst the twelve hostes declared by Sulla and Pompeius in 88 BC (see Chapter 6). It was to a Senate that included men such as this, that Sulla left the running of the Republic.

Many at the time would have expected that the figure to lead the breaking of the Sullan settlement would have been Sulla’s own son-in-law, Pompeius Magnus, who had consistently, and publicly, shown that his own interests came first. Yet the man who took centre stage was M. Aemilius Lepidus, who campaigned for the consulship of 78 BC on a platform of anti-Sullan rhetoric and proposals to reverse a number of Sullan measures. Lepidus himself had connections to both factions; his wife was the daughter of L. Appuleius Saturninus and he had served under Cn. Pompeius Strabo. Yet when Sulla invaded Italy, we find him fighting for Sulla in Italy.

However Plutarch states that one of his chief backers was Pompeius Magnus himself, who made no secret of his campaigning for Lepidus in Rome, even with Sulla present. Sulla, bound by his own enforced limitations as a private citizen, could not intervene without undoing all he sought to protect. With such backing, and with such electoral proposals, Lepidus was elected as of the consul for 78 BC, ahead of his colleague, Q. Lutatius Catulus, who seems to have been a solid member of the Senate and a defender of the status quo.

Upon entering office, Lepidus apparently made a speech to the People attacking Sulla as a tyrant, and also his followers for overthrowing the state in a civil war, and denouncing the horrors of the proscriptions that followed. Sallust preserves a text of what is purported to be his speech.Central to the speech are the grievances of the families of the proscripiti, both within Rome and the wider Italian communities. Those in Latium who had been dispossessed came in for special mention. Interestingly, the restoration of the tribunate is not mentioned by Lepidus himself. In fact, Granius Licinianus reports that when the tribunes of 78 BC asked the new consuls to restore their powers, Lepidus was the first to refuse.

The first dissensions came early in 78 BC, when Sulla died, aged 60, of a wasting disease, and the proposal was made for him to be publicly commemorated (following cremation) in Rome, in the Campus Martius. Naturally, Sulla’s closest allies wanted to ensure a magnificent state funeral for him, and equally naturally there were a number of others who opposed it. The consuls clashed over the matter, with Lepidus opposing the lavishness of the celebrations, though he did back down over the matter.

Given the paucity of our sources, we do not have an accurate chronology for the events which followed, but it seems that Lepidus, despite all the promises, only passed (unopposed) a grain law, providing subsidized grain for the people of Rome. In addition, the sources report that promises were made for a law to recall exiles, rescind unnamed acts of Sulla and restore the original owners onto land taken for Sulla’s colonies. In all of these, he was opposed by the majority of the Senate and his colleague Catulus. It seems that, deprived of a fully working tribunate, Lepidus could not pass these measures into law in the face of senatorial opposition. In what seems to be a great irony, this Sullan measure worked only too well and thus meant that if Lepidus wanted to pass his measures into law, he had to do so by force, with all constitutional means blocked – an example of the law of unintended consequences, with regards to Sulla’s reforms of the tribunate.

During their year in office, we have a fragment of Granius Licinianus that provides us with the sole testimony for an unusual incident, an outbreak of violence at the town of Faesulae in Etruria, to which both consuls were dispatched with an army. The fragment of Granius provides us with the following:

The inhabitants of Faesulae broke into the strongholds of the veterans. After killing many of the veterans and reclaiming their land, they defended their actions before the Senate, on the grounds that the rural population had been forced to do this after being driven from their homes. The consuls were assigned an army and set off for Etruria, as the Senate instructed.¹⁰

Thus it appears that, perhaps stirred up indirectly by Lepidus, the inhabitants of an Etruscan town rebelled against Rome once more, and attacked the Sullan settlers there, leading the Senate to send both consuls, including Lepidus himself. We can see echoes of the events of 91 BC here, with Italians rising up after having the issue raised in the Senate by a leading Roman politician. The overall location is no surprise given that Etruria strongly supported the coalition against Sulla during the 83–82 BC period and suffered subsequent reprisals at his hands (see Chapter 6).

We have no details as to what actions the consuls took at Faesulae, but both soon returned to the city.¹¹ With both consuls now at the head of military forces in Italy once more, it seems that the Senate felt the need to make them swear that they would not resort to warfare to settle their quarrels.¹² Remarkably, they then allowed the consuls to cast lots for their consular provinces, which resulted in Lepidus being awarded Transalpine Gaul. Here we see the impotence of the system that Sulla left in his wake. The Senate seemed fearful of a return to civil war, and yet sent Lepidus to crush a rebellion in Italy at the head of an army, and then allowed him an army on the borders of Italy itself, rather than sending him out of harm’s way, to the east, for example.

At what exact point Lepidus turned to open insurrection against both his colleague and the Senate we do not know, again due to the paucity of our sources. Appian refers to Lepidus being recalled to Rome, by a suspicious Senate, but whether this was from Etruria in 78 BC, when still consul, or in 77 BC as proconsul of Transalpine Gaul, is not clear.¹³ Sallust preserves what purports to be a speech from the distinguished senator M. Philippus (who opposed Livius Drusus in 91 BC and survived the various purges in Rome in the period in-between).¹⁴ The speech is an exhortation to the Senate to oppose Lepidus, who was marching towards Rome, and is set in 77 BC. It also states that Lepidus had not laid aside his consulship and thus did not return to Rome at the end of his consular year, probably indicating the time he went rogue.

By 77 BC, it seems that Lepidus had raised at least two forces: one in Cisalpine Gaul under the command of an M. Iunius Brutus (Tr Pl 83), who was the father of the slayer of Iulius Caesar, and one in Etruria under his own command.¹⁵ Orosius interestingly refers to M. Perperna being in Liguria, and it has been suggested that he operated an additional pro-Lepidian force in this region during this insurrection.¹⁶ Iulius Exsuperantius preserves a passage on the recruitment of Lepidus’ army:

Lepidus gathered together the dispossessed, whose land had been taken over by Sulla after his victory to make new colonies for his soldiers, and also the children of the proscribed. In this way, he collected a large army, by promising to restore their ancestral property, if they were victorious.¹⁷

A fragment of Sallust records that the Romans suspected that the whole of Etruria, a stronghold of coalition support, had risen in revolt.¹⁸ In addition, Lepidus had Transalpine Gaul as his consular province, and his legate Brutus controlled Cisalpine Gaul. Thus, once again, northern and western Italy proved to be the heart of the force opposing the Senate. Interestingly, it seems that, as happened throughout this period, different conflicts overlapped, as we find a number of figures with ties to the coalition allied to Lepidus. In terms of blood ties, we find L. Cornelius Cinna, the son of the coalition leader, who joined Lepidus and then fled to Spain with Perperna, as well as an offer made to C. Iulius Caesar himself, which he wisely refused. The most prominent of the surviving coalition commanders (excluding Sertorius) was a certain M. Perperna, a fugitive coalition commander (see Chapter 8), who we find operating as a legate of Lepidus. Thus Lepidus, who backed Sulla in the war of 82–82 BC, now had a fugitive coalition element to his forces, possibly controlling Liguria (also in northern Italy). Unfortunately, how many other coalition figures or relatives sided with Lepidus is not known. The other interesting element would be if there was any contact between Lepidus and Sertorius in Spain (see below). We have no direct evidence that the two commanders were in contact, though Lepidus did now effectively control the route from Italy to Spain.

Again, we have few surviving sources for this stage of the civil war. However, it seems that Lepidus followed the precedent set by Sulla, Pompeius Rufus and Cinna, and marched his army on Rome, hoping for a knockout victory, leaving behind his legates, Brutus and Perperna, in charge of northern Italy. His colleague Catulus took command of the senatorial forces defending Rome, which was without consuls for the start of the year. Following the tumult caused by Lepidus’ revolt and the dissensions between the two consuls, no elections were able to be held for 77 BC. As is common for this period, we are not given any details as to the size of the armies involved.

The Senate also took the unusual step of appointing Cn. Pompeius Magnus as a pro-praetor and gave him command of the army sent to defeat M. Iunius Brutus and recover northern Italy. This action contravened the cursus honorum established by Sulla, as Pompeius was yet officially too young to hold a major command of his own. It also seems strange that the Senate overlooked the fact that Pompeius was seemingly instrumental in ensuring Lepidus was elected to the consulship in the first place. Nevertheless, with a civil war breaking out in Italy once again, the Senate seems to have had no choice but to overlook both factors and chose a proven general to recover northern Italy.

The early fighting in the war seems to have been in northern Italy, with Pompeius rapidly advancing on Brutus, who was headquartered in Mutina (Modena) on the Via Amelia, controlling the route from Etruria into Cisalpine Gaul. Plutarch refers to some initial engagements between Pompeius and Brutus’ forces, but we have no details, other than Pompeius was successful.¹⁹ Brutus chose not to give battle but remained inside Mutina, to which Pompeius laid siege. At the same time, Lepidus moved through Etruria, possibly winning a victory at an unknown coastal location:

A battle was fought on the coast of Etruria, and Lepidus started to gain the upper hand, because of the large number of soldiers who had joined his side out of hatred of Sulla’s government.²⁰

Lepidus then marched his army towards Rome and camped outside of the city demanding, amongst other things, that he receive a second consulship, in order to pass his reforms. Whilst this demand was not granted, it is surprising that the two consuls who were elected for the remainder of 77 BC were both kinsmen of Lepidus and Brutus: D. Iunius Brutus and Mam. Aemilius Lepidus Livianus. It is possible that they were elected as some form of compromise agreement between the Senate and Lepidus.

Whilst Lepidus was camped outside of Rome, Pompeius soon received the swift surrender of Mutina and took Brutus prisoner. Plutarch himself expresses his uncertainty over how Mutina fell, either by Brutus negotiating with Pompeius and surrendering, or via a mutiny in his army which ended in him being handed over to Pompeius. Brutus was escorted to a small town on the Po where he was murdered next day on Pompeius’ orders.²¹

As well as Mutina, it seems that Lepidus also secured the route from Gaul to Spain by garrisoning the town of Alba (in modern Piedmont) under the command of his son, a Cornelius Scipio.²² This town too was put under siege (presumably by Pompeian forces) and fell after being starved into submission. Scipio was also murdered following capture.

Battle of Rome

It seems that news of the fall of Mutina reached Rome during the ongoing negotiations, strengthening the Senate’s hand. When negotiations failed both sides turned to battle, with Lepidus attacking the city. The exact location of this battle is unclear, with only Florus and Appian providing any details (see Map 11):

But Lutatius Catulus and Cnaeus Pompeius, who had been leaders and standard bearers under Sulla’s domination, had already occupied the Milvian Bridge and the Janiculum Hill with another army. Having been immediately driven back by these generals at his first onslaught…²³

A battle was fought not far from the Campus Martius. Lepidus was defeated…²⁴

Florus is clearly inaccurate here in stating that Pompeius was present at the battle for Rome as he was in northern Italy at the time. This is a simple enough mistake given that there were two commanders of the overall senatorial force in this campaign and his account being a highly condensed one. Nevertheless, Florus does provide us with the detail that there were two thrusts to Lepidus’ attack, both from the west of the city. The main attack seems to have been via the Janiculum, the same route used in the attacks of both 88 and 87 BC. Another engagement seems to have been fought further north to secure the Milvian Bridge and thus allow Lepidus’ forces to cross the Tiber and approach Rome on a second front, via the Via Flaminia. We do not know where either Lepidus or Catulus were during this engagement, but as the thrust at the Janiculum was the most logical main point of attack on the city, we can speculate that they were both present.

Neither source adds any further details about the size of the forces or their dispositions. However, taking Florus’ account, it seems that Lepidus was easily driven off, perhaps disheartened by the loss of Gaul. Thus the fifth attack on Rome within the last decade was defeated, as had been the previous one (the Samnite/coalition attack of 82 BC).

Unnamed Battle

With his attack on Rome repulsed, it seems that Lepidus retreated back into his heartland of Etruria. A fragment of Exsuperantius refers to Pompeius returning from Gaul and defeating and destroying Lepidus’ army.

But Pompeius returned from Gaul, in order to prevent Lepidus from harming the state by his impudent madness, and utterly defeated his army, who fled away and fell into a sudden panic. Lepidus lost the majority of his army and escaped to Sardinia …²⁵

Regrettably, no other source refers to this battle between Pompeius and Lepidus, but merely notes that Lepidus was expelled from Italy.²⁶ This could well be the second battle to which Orosius refers. If this is the case then Pompeius can take the lion’s share of the credit for defeating Lepidus, even though it was Catulus who successfully defended Rome. Again, for any meaningful details on Lepidus’ activities following the defeat in Etruria we must turn to Exsuperantius. Interestingly, both Plutarch and Appian do not mention any further fighting, only that Lepidus died soon afterwards. Exsuperantius, however, paints a different picture, that of a war for control of the island.

[Lepidus] escaped to Sardinia, from where he reduced the Roman people to neediness by hindering their trade, while he rebuilt his own forces and supplies. He fought several desperate battles in Sardinia with the pro-praetor [L. Valerius] Triarius, who defended his province so effectively that all Lepidus’ plans were thwarted. Lepidus was shut out of all the towns and could not capture them because of their fortifications. So he was unable to carry out his objectives, and in the midst of his preparations he fell seriously ill and died. His partner and accomplice Perperna, in order to avoid punishment for his great crimes, crossed over from Sardinia to Spain and joined Sertorius, who was then waging war against Rome.²⁷

Thus, it seems that a drawn-out guerrilla war was averted through the death, by natural causes, of Lepidus.²⁸ Once again, the various conflicts of this period cross-fertilized each other, with Perperna, himself a fugitive from the war of 83–82 BC, transporting a significant portion of the Lepidian army to Spain to join the civil war being fought by Sertorius. Once again, we are not given any numbers, but Appian refers to it as the greater part of the remaining Lepidian forces, and Perperna was certainly able to fight in Spain as an independent force (see Chapter 9).²⁹ Despite the death of his son Scipio, Lepidus himself was survived by two other sons, L. Aemilius Lepidus Paullus (Cos. 50) and M. Aemilius Lepidus (Cos. 46 & 42), the future triumvir, both of whom became staunch supporters of Iulius Caesar.

Thus, this conflict showed both the strengths and the weakness of the Republican system in this period. Despite all the bold assertions of Sulla that he had ended the civil war, a fresh outbreak occurred within a year of his death and again another consul marched his army on Rome against his colleague. On this occasion, it seems that Lepidus was no Sulla or Cinna, given the apparent ease with which his attack on Rome was repulsed. The other notable feature is the ease with which Etruria and Gaul rose in rebellion against Rome, and the ease with which that rebellion soon collapsed.

Lepidus’ death ended the immediate threat in Italy, but led to two consequences. The first was that the opponents of the Senate in Spain received reinforcements, in the form of the remnants of Lepidus’ army. The second consequence was the potential threat of Cn. Pompeius Magnus. Whilst he had undoubtedly been the key to the Senate’s swift victory in this war, they placed him at the head of another army, which was soon to have dangerous consequences. In 81 BC, Pompeius used his army for his own ends and faced down Sulla himself, by refusing to disband his troops. On that occasion, all he wanted was a triumph. In 77 BC, the situation was now even more balanced in his favour, as he had an army in Italy, had saved Rome from an enemy and was only facing the Senate. To no one’s surprise, following his victory, Pompeius’ soldiers once again refused to disband. On this occasion, the price was a command in Spain, against Sertorius. Given the situation, the Senate choose the only option they could and again acquiesced in granting him a military command, despite the strictures of the Sullan cursus honorum.

Thus, Pompeius, who had apparently been Lepidus’ original sponsor, emerges as the one clear winner in this period of civil warfare, profiting once again from the turmoil, adding to his military reputation and showing that he had learnt a key lesson of this period; namely that the threat, or even the hint, of force could be just as powerful as the actual use of force itself, and in many cases even more powerful.

As a footnote to this phase of civil warfare in Italy, Cicero records two other mutinies in the Roman army in this period. The first seems to date from around 77 BC and occurred in the army of one of the consuls of that year, Mam. Ameilius Lepidus, although we do not know where.³⁰ A brief note in Cicero refers to a quaestor named C. Staienus being the instigator of a mutiny, though no other details are known.³¹ The second concerns M. Atilius Bulbus, who was tried in the late 70s for treason. Cicero refers to a mutiny he attempted to instigate in a legion in Illyria under the command of C. Cosconius. Although we have no other details, Syme postulates that this was in connection with the civil war of 78–77 BC.³² Thus we can again see that the lack of surviving sources for this period may have seriously obscured much of the detail of this phase of civil conflict. If nothing else, it again shows the instability that plagued Rome’s armies during this period.

2. The Civil War in Spain (78–77 BC)

As a senior figure in the post-Sullan government, it is not a surprise that Metellus Pius remained in command of the war against Sertorius, as governor of Farther Spain. To replace the deceased Domitius Calvinus, Q. Calidius was appointed pro-praetor of Nearer Spain, but appears to have had no part in the war and returned to Rome following his year in office (where he was promptly charged with extortion). Again, we are denied a clear narrative of the year’s campaigning, but our few sources do provide us with more details of some events of this year, even if the year itself is open to question.³³

After his initial victories, the war appears to have turned into one of attrition, with both sides avoiding a set-piece battle. Sertorius appears to have avoided such a direct confrontation until he had worn his opponent down, especially as Metellus would have had a larger fighting force, and one purely of legionaries. Metellus appears to have settled on a policy of besieging towns loyal to Sertorius, thus denying him territory and support. Plutarch provides us with two good passages highlighting the different tactics, equipment and strategies the two sides used:

For Metellus was at his wits’ end. He was carrying on war with a man of daring who evaded every kind of open fighting, and who made all manner of shifts and changes, owing to the light equipment and agility of his Iberian soldiers; whereas he himself had been trained in regular contests of heavy-armed troops, and was wont to command a ponderous and immobile phalanx, which, for repelling and overpowering an enemy at close quarters, was most excellently trained, but for climbing mountains, for dealing within the incessant pursuits and flights of men as light as the winds, and for enduring hunger and a life without fire or tent, as their enemies did, it was worthless.³⁴

For [Sertorius] he would cut off his opponent’s supply of water and prevent his foraging; if the Romans advanced, he would get out of their way, and if they settled down in camp, he would harass them; if they besieged a place, he would come up and put them under siege in their turn by depriving them of supplies.³⁵

Metellus’ forces were being constantly harried and worn down by Sertorius’ tactics, without him needing to give battle. Metellus’ army was operating in hostile territory with a long supply chain and against an enemy who seemed to melt away into the Spanish interior. Plutarch goes to great lengths to demonstrate the deteriorating morale of Metellus’ men, and does provide us with an excellent example of Sertorius choosing his moment to fight openly at the siege of the town of Langobriga.³⁶

Battle of Langobriga

Plutarch provides a detailed narrative of events, with Metellus attacking the town in the expectation of a short siege, due to the town’s lack of water. Sertorius, however, had the town evacuate its non-essential population, leaving only the defenders, and ferried 2,000 skins of water to them, thus denying Metellus his quick siege. Regrettably for Metellus, it seems that he had only brought provisions for his men for five days, expecting a short siege, thus necessitating the need to send out foraging parties. Plutarch details the battle that followed:

[Metellus] sent out Aquinus, at the head of 6,000 men, to forage. But Sertorius learned of this and set an ambush of 3,000 men in the road by which Aquinus was to return. These sallied forth from a shady ravine and attacked Aquinus in the rear, while Sertorius himself assailed him in front, routed him, slew some of his men, and took some of them prisoners. Aquinus, after losing both his armour and his horse, got back to Metellus, who then retired disgracefully, much abused by the Iberians.³⁷

This one example perfectly illustrates the nature of the warfare during this year; with a numerically superior force being steadily worn down through attrition and ambush by a smaller native force. Whilst Sertorius was wearing down Metellus and the main Roman army, his deputy, Hirtuleius, was still operating to the north of him, in central Spain. We hear of no military activity on the part of Calidius, the governor of Nearer Spain, and we have no indication that he took any fresh legions with him. This would have left Nearer Spain with the remnants of the force defeated by Hirtuleius the previous year (one to two legions before losses).

Thus the situation for the Roman government was deteriorating further. In central Spain, Hirtuleius appeared to be operating with impunity, with few Roman forces to defend the region, whilst in southern Spain, Metellus and the main Roman army were being steadily ground down by a war of attrition. In response, the Senate ordered the proconsul of Transalpine Gaul, L. Manlius, to cross into Spain and reinforce the war effort there. Orosius provides us with details of the size of Manlius’ army, which he puts at three legions and 1,500 cavalry.³⁸

What he does not tell us is what Manlius was doing with such a force in the first place. Interestingly, Caesar records that an L. Manlius suffered a defeat in Aquitania, though he does not provide the date.³⁹ If these legions were raised solely to reinforce Spain, then why would they not have been commanded by the new governor of Nearer Spain, Q. Calidius? Given that Pompeius had to fight a tribal war during the 77–76 BC period, it seems likely that Manlius had been sent there with fresh force to combat tribal incursion into the region. A force in Transalpine Gaul would also be able to secure and defend the route from Spain to Italy and mop up any remaining pro-Lepidian forces in the region. We are unable to tell to what degree the tribal incursions were related to the campaigns of Sertorius or Lepidus against the Senate. The clear fear here must have been that the tribes of Gaul would join in rebellion with the tribes of Spain and thus create an alliance of Gallic and Spanish tribes bearing down on Italy.

In any event, the deterioration of the war in Spain meant that Manlius and his legions were sent into Spain instead. However, before they could reach Metellus and the campaign against Sertorius they would have to pass by Sertorius’ lieutenant Hirtuleius and his force, the size of which is again unknown.

Battle of Ilerda

Orosius alone provides scant details of the battle between Hirtuleius and Manlius:

Manlius, the proconsul of Gaul, accompanied by three legions and 1,500 cavalry, crossed to Spain, where he engaged in an unequal battle with Hirtuleius. Deprived of his camp and troops by the latter, Manlius, almost alone, fled for refuge to the town of Ilerda.⁴⁰

Thus, Hirtuleius was able to rout the three legions of Manlius and overrun his camp, though once again, we have no details as to how he actually managed to accomplish this. One of the most interesting aspects of Orosius’ statement is his use of the word iniquam or unequal. Given the size of Manlius’ army (three legions), are we to believe that Hirtuleius seriously outnumbered him? This is unlikely, given that the bulk of the rebel army fought with Sertorius and the sources frequently refer to the rebels being outnumbered. Furthermore, Hirtuleius would not have had an army solely composed of legionaries, but must have had a number of natives, and even African (Mauri), soldiers.⁴¹ As well as unequal, iniquam could have the meaning of uneven, unfavourable or disadvantageous. Thus this could refer to the topography of the battlefield, with Manlius in a poor position, or even being ambushed by Hirtuleius. Given the nature of the guerrilla tactics the rebels were using, an ambush is a possibility, though it would have to be after Manlius had set up camp. Regardless, the result was the heaviest Roman defeat of the campaign to date, with three legions being routed, if not destroyed outright.

Following this battle, the sources again go silent on the campaigning for the rest of the year, but no major encounters are reported in what sources survive. We must assume therefore that the war continued as before, with Sertorius engaging in guerrilla tactics against a demoralized Metellan army in the south and Hirtuleius securing further territory in central Spain. These additional victories would have only strengthened the rebellion, and we must assume that more and more Spanish tribes defected to Sertorius with Roman rule and military might crumbling.

We only have one other reference to activities in Spain this year and it comes from a passing mention by Cicero, who states that in this year the city of Gades (modern Cadiz) on the western coast of Spain sent to Rome to formalize an alliance between the two cities.⁴² Given that the region was in the process of being overrun by Sertorius, it seems that the city remained loyalty of Rome and wanted the formality of a treaty, which was granted, to ensure that even if they were overrun, they would not be thought of as colluding with an enemy of the Roman state. Regrettably, we hear no more about Gades’ role in the rest of the war.

Given the events in Italy and Gaul in the year 77 BC, it is hardly surprising that our few surviving sources shift their focus to the events in Italy (see above) and our narrative for the fourth year of the civil war in Spain disappears altogether. What we can only assume is that there were no other major encounters and that the war continued in the same manner as in 78 BC, with Sertorius increasing his power and harrying Metellus’ ragged army in the south and Hirtuleius securing central and possibly northern Spain. With Hirtuleius’ two victories, up to five legions of senatorial forces had been defeated, and possibly destroyed, meaning that central and northern Spain had no significant Roman forces left to defend it, other than the remnants of the above armies. Certainly, we hear no more of either Calidius, the governor of Nearer Spain, except that he returned home, or of the defeated Manlius. What seems to be clear is that by beginning of 76 BC all the Spanish tribes south of the Ebro were apparently supporting Sertorius.⁴³

In the absence of campaigning detail, what Plutarch does narrate is that slowly but surely Sertorius was creating a whole new infrastructure in the ‘liberated’ areas of Spain to support his war effort. We hear of military, political and social measures taken to Romanize the tribes that backed him and create a solid powerbase for himself in Spain. Plutarch reports that he introduced Roman arms and tactics to the tribes:

…by introducing Roman arms and formations and signals he did away with their frenzied and furious displays of courage, and converted their forces into an army, instead of a large band of robbers.⁴⁴

It is interesting that Sertorius created elements of a hybrid Roman-Spanish society, given that the tribes were originally rebelling against Rome. Although we are certainly seeing this from a Roman perspective, it may well be that the tribes wanted to take some of the strengths of Roman civilization without the direct control of the Senate in Rome. We are also told that Sertorius had around him a bodyguard of men, several thousand strong, who had pledged themselves to him personally and that on one occasion they rescued him from a defeat at a city they were holding (no other details are given) and carried him to the city walls and safety.⁴⁵

In social and political terms, he bound the tribal elites to him by means of establishing a school for their children in the city of Osca (modern Huéscar), where they were educated in the Greek and Roman manner. As Plutarch states, at one stroke he was effectively holding the children of the tribal leaders as hostages, whilst educating them to grow up and support him (and his Rome), when they became adults and returned to their tribes. In terms of overall leadership, we are told that Sertorius also created a rival Senate, of 300 members, which must have contained a number of coalition exiles, such as the younger Cinna.⁴⁶ Thus Sertorius appears to have been creating a rival Roman government in exile and forging Spain from two Roman-held provinces into the heart of a new state, with which to launch his attack on Italy.

Thus by the end of 77 BC, it seems that the vast swathes of Spain south of the Ebro had been secured by Sertorius, who was busy creating a military, social and political infrastructure to unify his powerbase. Konrad provides a discussion on the extent of Sertorius’ control of the Spanish provinces.⁴⁷ The only remaining Roman forces were those of Metellus in the south, who originally had six legions, but which were being constantly harried by Sertorius’ guerrilla tactics and were suffering from logistical problems and declining morale. However, the year ended with the promise of reinforcements for both sides in the conflict, as the consequences from the civil war in Italy spilled over into Spain. This took the form of reinforcements for both sides, in the shape of M. Perperna and Cn. Pompeius, both of whom would ultimately transform this conflict, though for very different reasons.

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