A blade and an attitude, two things Republic statesmen brought into every negotiation. But why was ancient Rome so hostile? It’s this belligerent posturing and the ready promise of war that interested me. Let’s examine the challenges surrounding Rome in 264 B.C. at the start of the 1st Punic War.
To the East of Rome:
On the far side of the Ionian Sea were Sparta, Athens, Thebes, and other Greek city-states. 63 years after Alexandria the Great’s death, the power of the Greeks was reduced by war and infighting. Yet, Greek colonies dotted the east coast of the Italian peninsula. Some had signed treaties with the Roman Republic while others resisted. Aided by the Greek city-states, those colonies were urged to spin-up unrest in the eastern region. Side by side, it seems with philosophy and art in ancient Greece, was aggression.
“Molon labe,” Spartan King Leonidas, 450 B.C. – 480 B.C., declared when Xerxes I of the Achaemenid Empire demanded that the Spartans surrender their weapons. “Come and take them.”
“Only the dead have seen the end of the war.” – Athenian writer Plato 428 B.C. – 423 B.C.
“I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion,” stated Macedonian King Alexander the Great 356 B.C. – 323 B.C.
In 284 B.C., the Romans extended the Appian Way from the mountains of central Italy to Brundisium on the east coast. War, just twenty years before, had brought most of the colonies to the treaty table. But rebellion stirred along the coast and in the mountains among violent factions of the Samnite Tribes.
Across the Adriatic Sea to the east crouched Illyria and its pirate fleet.
“According to the law of the Illyrians, piracy is a lawful trade,” Illyrian Queen
Teuta exclaimed when asked about stopping piracy. “My government has no right to interfere with it as a private enterprise.”
In 264 B.C., the Roman navy of just 20 warships was in no position to be proactive when faced with the antics of seagoing bandits. They contained where they could but, were unable to take the fight to the ports of Illyrian.
The fledgling Mediterranean power could only guard small numbers of merchant vessels. And while the Legions were formidable, at the time, Rome didn’t have a large enough navy to suppress the pirates.
To the South:
Fearing vengeance from Syracuse, the Mamertines on Sicily in the port city of Massina called on both the Roman Republic and the Carthaginian Empire for help. The Empire responded first, the Republic sometime later. In their first attempt to cross the Messina strait, Legion Tribune Gaius Claudius and his advance units failed.
“Roman’s will never be permitted to even wash their hands in the sea,” Hanno, Carthaginian Admiral in 264 B.C. said upon returning Gaius Claudius’ wrecked transports.
But Tribune Claudius and his Centuries eventually reached and secured Messina. Two Legions followed, unfortunately, arriving in Sicily between an army from Syracuse and an army from Carthage. In two days of fighting, the Legions announced their prowess to the world by defeating both.
To the West:
160 miles across the Tyrrhenian Sea, rested the island of Sardinia. The self-governed portion offered no danger. But the southern part of the island housed Carthaginian bases. They were the threat. In response, the Republic remained ever vigilant, fearing the Empire would launch an invasion of Rome from Sardinia.
To the North:
In Tuscany, tensions between the Etruscans and Romans continued while the neighboring Umbria slowly began joining the Republic. Further north, the Gauls rampaged along the southern edge of the northern territory.
One could rightly describe Rome’s situation in 264 B.C. as being the center of 360 degrees of enemies. With threats all around, there was no debate as to why representatives from the Roman Republic carried attitude into every treaty tent. Or why the Legions hovered like sharp, steel blades over every trade negotiation.
J. Clifton Slater
I am J. Clifton Slater and I write Military Adventure both Future and Ancient.
The question of how the Legionaries heard commands while in combat came to me while doing research for my historical adventure series. The Clay Warrior Stories are books set in the framework of the First Punic War. They are epic tales designed to make you want to strap on a shield, grab a gladius, and join a Century’s battle line.
Available on Amazon.com in paperback, Kindle, and Kindle Unlimited.
Clay Warrior Stories
Set in the backdrop of the 1st Punic War, the books tell the tales of a hot-headed young swordsman in the growing Republic.
The Clay Warrior Stories are Available at Amazon.com in paperback, on Kindle, and Kindle Unlimited.