Roman Defence in Depth Against the Pictish Threat

Rome’s strategy in dealing with the Pictish threat after c.340 was essentially defensive and reactive. Retaliatory strikes deep into the Highlands were no longer part of the plan. Instead, the prime objective was maintenance of a static frontier supplemented by covert military operations between the two walls and in the wild lands further north. In an effort to maintain the integrity of Hadrian’s Wall the Romans were helped by Britons living in the lands beyond. The native population of this region between the Hadrianic line and the disused Antonine ramparts became a first line of defence. Such an arrangement suited the economic constraints and political uncertainties facing Rome at that time. It allowed a dwindling number of imperial troops to be redeployed elsewhere. At the hub of the new defensive network lay Hadrian’s Wall with its forts and crossing-points. Behind the great barrier stretched an infrastructure of roads, forts and watchtowers providing both an early warning system and a capability for rapid response. In theory at least, this strategy of ‘defence in depth’ shielded the people of Britannia from hostile attacks by Picts, Saxons, Irish and other predators. North of Hadrian’s Wall the four outpost forts garrisoned in the third century were still occupied at the dawn of the fourth. Although situated outside the Empire’s boundary, none of the quartet lay more than twenty miles from the Wall. Their garrisons supervised the natives of the intervallate zone, a population whose status vis-à-vis the imperial authorities after 300 remains a matter of debate. In this region four large amalgamations of Britons already existed in the second century: the previously mentioned Damnonii, Votadini, Selgovae and Novantae. Whether these groups owed their origin to Rome’s onslaught in the first century or were formed in spite of it we are unable to say. By c.300, they may have been in existence for two hundred years or more, but how much longer they endured is unknown. Ptolemy’s map shows their positions relative to one another and identifies their chief centres of power. Although the map shows a snapshot of political geography as perceived by Roman geographers in the second century, the distribution of peoples in the intervallate region may have remained largely unchanged two hundred years later.

On Ptolemy’s map we see the Novantae inhabiting the northern shorelands of the Solway Firth, in territory corresponding to present-day Dumfriesshire and Galloway. Although their lands were vulnerable to raids from Ireland and the Hebridean seaways, their main centres of power were sited on the western coast, in the vicinity of Loch Ryan and modern Stranraer. Here, the long peninsula of the Rhinns of Galloway, marked on the map as Novantarum Chersonesus, protrudes into the Irish Sea. The key settlements were Rerigonium (possibly Innermessan) and Loucopibia (possibly Gatehouse of Fleet). Directly north, in what is now the county of Ayrshire, lay territory associated with either the Novantae or with a people called Damnonii (or Dumnonii). Damnonian lands included the lower valley and estuary of the River Clyde, together with parts of what later became the medieval earldom of Lennox. An important centre of power in this area was the imposing mass of Dumbarton Rock, a volcanic ‘plug’ jutting into the Firth of Clyde and dominating the surrounding area. Traces of elite occupation on the summit indicate that it was used by high-status Britons as far back as pre-Roman times. Later, when local native leaders were apparently co-operating with Rome, the great Rock may have guarded imperial interests in the north-western seaways. Through the Damnonian heartlands ran the western extremity of the Antonine Wall, its turf ramparts and abandoned forts already falling into dereliction by c.300. Further east, in Stirlingshire and Lothian, the redundant barrier meandered through the northern borderlands of the Votadini, another of the four intervallate groupings. Votadinian territory extended south of the Firth of Forth to the River Tweed and perhaps even as far as Hadrian’s Wall. Its hub was evidently the Castle Rock at Edinburgh, but other hilltop strongholds, such as a probable oppidum on Traprain Law, were also used in Roman times. The northern borderlands of the Votadini faced the Maeatae of Stirlingshire and the Picts of Fife. On the south-western flank lay the Selgovae (‘Hunters’), another large amalgamation of peoples. Selgovan territory included the central and upper vales of Tweed together with vast tracts of uncharted forest. Unlike their neighbours, the Selgovan elites of the third and fourth centuries were closely supervised by Rome. Within their territory lay the last of the outpost forts: Bewcastle and Netherby in the valleys north of Carlisle, and Risingham on the strategic Dere Street highway.

The nature of the relationship between the Empire and the intervallate Britons in Late Roman times is difficult to ascertain. It may have been sustained by regular payments from the imperial coffers to purchase the continuing goodwill of the four groups described above. One theory imagines their kings and chiefs as foederati, ‘federates’, of Rome, their domains constituting a buffer-zone between Hadrian’s Wall and the northern barbarians. If these Britons did indeed serve as allies of Rome, they would have been expected to bear the brunt of raids on the imperial frontier. Thus, while nominally independent, they may have pledged to protect Roman interests against the Pictish menace. Nevertheless, to all but the most trusting Roman officials, the intervallate Britons would have represented a potential threat. Keeping an eye on them was arguably the main function of the exploratores, ‘scouts’, a class of troops whom we can envisage patrolling beyond the outpost forts. These men were perhaps similar to the colonial rangers of eighteenth-century North America, using local knowledge to gather intelligence and launching punitive raids on troublemakers. The outpost fort at Netherby became so closely associated with these ‘special forces’ that it was known along the frontier as Castra Exploratorum (‘Fort of the Scouts’). Operating alongside the exploratores were the shadowy areani or arcani, members of a secret service responsible for covert operations, whose agents spied on the Picts and other barbarians. Historians sometimes regard them as a kind of ‘Roman CIA’ and the analogy may be broadly accurate.

Little is known of the kings and chieftains who ruled the intervallate Britons during the fourth century. Some appear to be named in genealogical texts preserved in medieval Wales but possibly drawing data from much older northern sources. The Welsh genealogies or ‘pedigrees’ show the lineages of a number of North British kings who lived in the sixth and seventh centuries. Each pedigree uses a sequence of patronyms (‘X son of Y son of Z’) to extend a royal ancestry back to the Late Roman period and, in some cases, to an even more remote time. Any hope of gleaning genuine fourth-century history is hindered by the stark fact that the texts containing the pedigrees were written no earlier than the ninth century. Most survive only in manuscripts of the twelfth century or later and none can be shown to be original creations by North Britons rather than by Welshmen. The pedigrees cannot therefore be regarded as storehouses of reliable information, especially for any period before the time of the historical North British kings. As repositories of genealogical data relating to the fourth century their value is even more limited. They require very careful handling if they are to be used at all.

Several pedigrees include figures whose chronological contexts seem to coincide with the final phase of Roman rule in Britain. Cinhil and Cluim, for instance, are two individuals listed as ancestors of a ninth-century king who ruled on the Clyde. We cannot be certain that these two are anything more than fictitious ‘ghosts’ inserted into the pedigree to give it a longer and more impressive lineage. If they existed, they probably belong to the second half of the fourth century and may have been members of the Damnonian elite. Another example is Padarn, apparently a Votadinian, to whom the genealogists gave the epithet or nickname Pesrut (‘Red Tunic’). Alongside Cinhil and Cluim, Padarn Pesrut is often regarded as a Briton of the intervallate zone in Late Roman times. It has been suggested that all three sprang from Romanised or pro-Roman families, their names being seen as medieval Welsh renderings of Quintilius, Clemens and Paternus. Upon this a more or less plausible scenario of loyal native foederati defending the Empire’s northern frontier has been constructed, with Padarn’s red tunic being interpreted as a Roman military garment, a gift from an imperial official to a trusted ally. Such theories are imaginative but need not be taken seriously. Regardless of whether or not the later Welsh names derive from Latin-sounding originals, we have no reason to believe that such naming was exclusive to the imperial authorities or to foederati in their service. Many non-Romans, friends and foes of the Empire alike, arguably bestowed Roman-sounding names on their children if it pleased them to do so. A young North Briton bearing a name such as Quintilius or Clemens was just as likely to develop anti-Roman sentiments as a compatriot who bore a non-Latin name. Nor is there anything uniquely Roman about the colour of Padarn’s tunic, which could have been obtained from any competent tailor whose skills included the extraction of red dye from plants such as madder. There were no doubt many red tunics among Rome’s friends in the lands north of Hadrian’s Wall, but probably just as many blue or green ones. Indeed, it is easy to imagine the nickname Pesrut being bestowed on any Pictish warrior in the hostile country beyond the Firth of Forth who chose to wear a bright red garment on military expeditions.

The Crisis of 367

The effectiveness of security arrangements on the northern frontier was put to the test in the second half of the fourth century when barbarian attacks increased. As well as the ever-hostile Picts the imperial garrison also endured raids by Gaelic-speaking groups in the western seaways – the Irish and the ‘Scots’. At this time the name Scotti seems to have been borne by, or bestowed upon, any marauding band from Ireland or Argyll. Indeed, it is likely that Roman observers regarded all the Gaels as one people. Like the Picts, these raiders from the West had taunted Rome since the time of Agricola. Three more groups now joined them: the Franks, whose descendants in the following century would leave their mark on Roman Gaul by turning it into France; the Saxons, who were soon to play a similarly important role in Britain; and a mysterious people called Attacotti who were perhaps of Irish or Hebridean origin. Eventually, the leaders of these hostile nations devised a barbarica conspiratio, a ‘barbarian conspiracy’, to co-ordinate their attacks on Roman Britain. Their plans came to fruition after crucial information was provided by traitors on the Roman side: corrupt officials, army deserters and rogue agents among the arcani. In 367, a huge barbarian assault was unleashed, its impact sweeping away the imperial defences. Seaborne raids from east and west drove far inland into the rich countryside of southern Britain, bringing death and destruction to the bewildered citizens. Towns were ransacked and villas were looted. Down from the north came the Picts, some to overwhelm the garrisons of Hadrian’s Wall while others swarmed along the eastern coast in flotillas of boats. The outpost forts north of the Wall were either bypassed or overwhelmed. In a battle between the frontier army and Pictish marauders, Fullofaudes, the senior Roman general in Britain, was taken prisoner. Leaderless and demoralised, the entire imperial garrison was thrown into chaos. Some soldiers cast off their uniforms and deserted their posts, while others roamed the land in lawless gangs. Fearing the total loss of Britain, the emperor Valentinian despatched a strike force of elite regiments led by the renowned Count Theodosius. Two years of hard fighting eventually led to the expulsion of the barbarians and, after Theodosius issued an amnesty for deserters, stability was gradually restored. The soldiers returned to their forts and Hadrian’s Wall was reinstated as the boundary of the Empire. In the wake of the crisis, however, the outposts beyond the Wall were finally abandoned. Theodosius redeployed what remained of their garrisons, disbanded the treacherous arcani and withdrew all Roman forces behind the Tyne–Solway line.

After the disaster of 367, the Britons beyond Hadrian’s Wall were effectively cut off from their countrymen south of it. Both groups had suffered grievously during the barbarian onslaught, but there is no record of Theodosius driving Pictish raiders from the lands of the Damnonii or Votadini. The natives of the intervallate zone were presumably left to fend for themselves. One medieval Welsh legend tells of a Votadinian prince or chieftain called Cunedda who led a warband to North Wales to expel a colony of Irish pirates from Gwynedd. Cunedda’s position in the genealogies makes him a figure of the late fourth to mid-fifth century and this chronology has led some historians to see him as a Roman federate transferred from Lothian during the Theodosian reorganisation. Much detailed speculation about Rome’s relationship with the Votadini has been woven around this scenario, but the data is too fragile to support it. A more sceptical, more objective view sees the story of Cunedda as a later Welsh attempt to create a fictional link between the kings of Gwynedd and their fellow-Britons of the North.

Among the repercussions of the barbarian conspiracy the most ominous development, at least for the native population of Roman Britain, was the recruitment of Germanic foederati to guard the southern towns. These were mostly Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians from the North Sea coastlands of what are now Denmark and Germany. In northern Britain there were fewer towns and villas than in the south, but one area where Romanisation had taken root was the fertile Vale of York. There are archaeological hints that German warriors were settled in this district in the late fourth century, either by Theodosius after 367 or by the imperial usurper Magnus Maximus in 383. Serving Rome as mercenaries, the Germans initially performed a useful gatekeeping role against seaborne attacks by Pictish and Saxon pirates. Like all hirelings their services were not given freely, but were bought with regular gifts of cash from the imperial treasury. Any disruption to these payments was likely to turn friendship and service to ill-feeling and hostility.

In the 370s, the lands south of Hadrian’s Wall returned to a position of watchfulness. The northern frontier remained on a high state of alert, as did the lines of forts and signal-towers along the western and eastern coasts. North of the Wall the independent Britons, almost certainly without Roman help, repelled marauding bands of Picts and regained control of their own borders. But the barbarians were not so easily cowed and their raids continued to gnaw Britannia from all sides. With the situation deteriorating once more, the conspirators of 367 may have watched in gleeful disbelief as parts of the imperial garrison began to leave the island in the period after 380. The first big troop-withdrawal came in 383 when Magnus Maximus, a high-ranking officer in Britain, resolved to make himself emperor. Ironically, he had previously inflicted heavy defeats on the Picts and Scots, but now he poured his energies into his personal ambitions. Supported and encouraged by other officers, he led a substantial army across the sea to Gaul, thereby depleting Britain of forces essential for her protection. The barbarians are likely to have taken full advantage of his departure, but this time there was no Theodosius to confront them. Troubles elsewhere in the Empire made it impossible to send reinforcements to Britain. Another famous general, the half-Vandal Flavius Stilicho, is depicted in a contemporary Latin poem leading an expedition against the Picts at the end of the fourth century. It seems, however, that this campaign existed only in the imagination of the poet Claudian who used it as a literary device to illustrate the far-reaching extent of Stilicho’s fame. In reality, the Empire lacked the will to rescue Britain from the brink of catastrophe. To compound the situation, the Roman authorities now faced a peril much closer to home.

On the last night of the year 405, the imperial frontier in Germany was overwhelmed by a host of Vandals, Alans and other barbarians who crossed the Rhine to begin the dismemberment of Roman Gaul. In Britain the garrison reacted by rallying around Constantine, an ambitious officer with an auspicious name, and proclaimed him emperor. Leading a large force, Constantine sailed over to Gaul to assert his claim against forces loyal to the legitimate emperor Honorius. The loyalists were victorious and the usurper was executed. By 410, his henchmen in Britain were rooted out, but they bequeathed a desperate situation. With the depleted imperial troops struggling to stand firm against barbarian raids, the native elites of the southern towns seized control of the imperial administration. Taking the initiative, these Romanised Britons restored a semblance of order before appealing to the emperor for aid. But Honorius was grappling with the problems of a disintegrating Empire and had no help to offer to beleaguered subjects in a faraway land. Instead, he sent a letter urging the anxious Britons to organise their own defence. This had profound consequences for the remaining Roman troops, all of whom relied on wages issued by the imperial treasury. Their pay had probably been arriving erratically for some time, but now it ceased altogether. Without it the soldiers had no incentive or obligation to defend the Empire. On the northern frontier, groups of disillusioned men gradually abandoned their forts, taking their families with them and vanishing into the countryside. In the lands to the south, the last vestiges of imperial bureaucracy were swept away as power was seized by native leaders. By c.420, the Roman occupation of Britain was over.

Rome and the North Britons

Reconstruction of the Antonine Wall at Callendar Park, reproduced courtesy of Falkirk Museum and M. J. Moore DA FSA Scot

Consolidation of the Frontier

If the imperial authorities hoped that the Antonine Wall would bring a period of stability to Roman Britain, their optimism was dashed when trouble broke out among the northern tribes in 154 or 155. Which tribes were involved is a matter of debate, as is the question of how much disruption was caused. It is possible, for instance, that the unrest was confined to communities living north of Hadrian’s Wall, or that these were joined by neighbours in Dumfriesshire, or even that the main troublemakers lay further north in Caledonia. Whatever the location of the uprising it was put down by Julius Verus, governor of Britain, and special coins were minted to celebrate the restoration of order. In the next few years, however, a decision was taken to abandon the Antonine frontier and withdraw to Hadrian’s Wall. The presence of troublesome natives in the region between the two walls may have influenced the decision, but other factors, such as the strain on military resources, could have played a bigger role. When the withdrawal commenced in 158, it evacuated the Antonine line but stopped short of abandoning the region between the two walls. Some of the intervallate forts were even refurbished at this time. Buildings destroyed by fire at Birrens, known as Blatobulgium (‘The Flour Sack’) because of the distinctive shape of the nearby Burnswark Hill, were once thought to have succumbed to the native uprising of AD 154/5, but were more likely to have been demolished by the fort garrison during a makeover.

Before 160 the Antonine Wall was recommissioned and its soldiers came back to the forts, if only for a brief time. Their return to the Forth–Clyde isthmus was temporary and did not outlast the end of the decade. Trouble flared again in the early 160s, soon after the accession of Marcus Aurelius as emperor. A Roman general with the portentous name Calpurnius Agricola was ordered to quell it. The contemporary sources do not identify the culprits, who were either rebellious Britons on the northern frontier or Caledonian raiders from the lands beyond. Whoever these troublemakers were they were defeated and a semblance of stability returned. Roman sources describe another outbreak of hostilities in 169 when unidentified Britons caused trouble somewhere in the North. A war was seemingly averted by nipping the unrest in the bud, but, by 170, the Antonine Wall was again evacuated when Marcus Aurelius needed reinforcements for a campaign on the Danube. This time the troop withdrawals were intended to be permanent and many forts sustained deliberate demolition of buildings and defences. The turf frontier was abandoned, the Stirlingshire forts were left empty and the imperial boundary shrank back to Hadrian’s Wall. Some forts in the intervallate region remained in use, but these were engulfed in 181, during the reign of the emperor Commodus, when the Caledonii swept down from their Highland fastnesses to plunder the wealth of the Roman province. A high-ranking general marched out to meet the marauders, but he and his troops were slain. The ensuing wave of destruction left several forts along Hadrian’s Wall in ruins and spelled disaster for vulnerable outposts such as Newstead. Commodus, son and successor of Marcus Aurelius, dismissed the hapless governor of Britain and appointed a more effective replacement. The new governor, Ulpius Marcellus, defeated the Caledonii and restored control before following up his victory by making changes to troop dispositions in the interval-late region. Some forts were rebuilt and regarrisoned, but others, including Newstead, were condemned to dereliction. By the end of the second century, only a handful of outposts north of Hadrian’s Wall remained in use, their soldiers providing a token military presence in a region now regarded as a buffer-zone between the imperial province of Britannia and the badlands of Caledonia. The outposts lay in the south of the intervallate region, in lands nominally given over to native rule but under the watchful eye of Rome. Beyond them, in a broad band of territory encompassing Clydesdale and Lothian, the North Britons retained a measure of independence under the authority of their own leaders. It is likely that this arrangement was monitored by the Roman army during ceremonial events and tribal assemblies at specific sites called loci. The Latin word locus simply means ‘place’, but in the context of barbarian tribes bound in clientship to Rome these ‘places’ may have held administrative and diplomatic significance. Each of the four major groupings of North Britons had one or more loci within its territory, some being centred on sacred stones of immense antiquity which had long been used for ceremonial purposes. A public gathering at a locus would have given Rome an opportunity to remind the natives of their obligations to her Empire. How much autonomy was actually delegated to the intervallate Britons is unclear, but the surviving outpost forts were doubtless a constant reminder of imperial authority. At Birrens the Roman garrison used a native hillfort at nearby Burnswark for target practice by bombarding its decaying ramparts with catapults, an exercise which may have served the dual purpose of providing in-house artillery training as well as discouraging dissent among the North Britons. The latter thus approached the third century sandwiched between two implacably hostile forces: the Empire to the south and Caledonia to the north. Treaties forged in the aftermath of troop withdrawals from the Antonine Wall created an uneasy peace between the protagonists, but neither side, still less the Britons caught in the middle, expected it to last. It was little more than a temporary respite, a breathing-space, before a new round of raiding and retribution began.

Native communities in the land between the two Roman walls dwelt in the shadow of a conquering power. Their fellow-Britons living south of Hadrian’s Wall in what is now northern England were subjects of the Empire and, by the third century, had grudgingly or willingly accepted the situation. Earlier revolts by the Brigantes had been brutally crushed and were never to be repeated. Acceptance of subjugation was an easier option, even if it meant a loss of pride and a tax obligation to the imperial treasury. North of the Hadrianic frontier the Britons of the intervallate region remained nominally independent while acknowledging some measure of Roman authority. Unlike their Brigantian neighbours they continued to be ruled by their own leaders but these had presumably forged long-term treaties with Rome.

South of Hadrian’s Wall, the Brigantes and other conquered Britons experienced the full impact of the Roman occupation. The native upper classes, comprising the major landowning families, had watched their privileged status slip away after the conquest. Their lifestyles had collapsed as soon as Rome dismantled the old economic networks. Tithes of agricultural produce formerly rendered to local headmen were now collected by imperial tax-gatherers, while a strict prohibition of civilian military activity brought an end to tit-for-tat raids by predatory bands of Britons upon their neighbours. The resulting net loss of plunder severed the native upper class from its traditional methods of amassing surplus wealth through the acquisition of cattle and slaves. In such circumstances the neutered elites of Brigantia had little choice but to accept new roles delegated to them by the imperial administration. Some were probably allowed to retain a measure of authority in local contexts, as leaders nominated by Rome to oversee districts where their ancestors had once held substantial power. Such folk would have become more or less Romanised, maintaining their elevated status by exploiting opportunities for social advancement in the northern military zone. Some, no doubt, were allowed to remain on their ancestral estates and would have continued to receive tithes from tenant farmers.

A wholly new type of civilian settlement, the vicus, appeared in the wake of conquest. The typical vicus was a small village established outside the main gate of a Roman fort and along the primary access road. It tended to attract entrepreneurs seeking business opportunities at places where large numbers of military folk had disposable incomes. By definition, the vicus owed its existence to the presence of the fort and was wholly dependent on the patronage of soldiers. Its inhabitants, known as vicani, were generally a mixed bag of individuals drawn from local native communities and from places further afield. Some manufactured clothes, shoes or craft goods in small workshops, while others established taverns and hotels. Female vicani included wives and girlfriends of the garrison, their residence outside the fort initially being a requirement of the Army’s prohibition on married soldiers until Septimius Severus changed the law. In reality, even before the Severan reform, the authorities routinely turned a blind eye to liaisons between soldiers and native women, many of whom bore sons who eventually succeeded their fathers in the garrison.

North of Hadrian’s Wall, the much briefer occupation of Roman forts made the vici a fleeting addition to the landscape. Even when the Antonine Wall provided a temporary screen against Caledonian incursions, the intervallate region was not a place where civilians could put down roots outside a fort. Thus, while some vici south of Hadrian’s Wall thrived for two hundred years or more, in the lands further north a long period of habitation for vicani was out of the question. No fort north of today’s Anglo-Scottish border was permanently garrisoned after the end of the second century, a statistic which helps to explain why archaeologists have identified so few vici in Scotland. One of the few examples unearthed by excavation is a large village clustering outside the east gate of the fort at Inveresk near Musselburgh in East Lothian. Another has been discovered at Carriden, known to the Romans as Veluniate, a fort perched on the eastern extremity of the Antonine Wall overlooking the Forth estuary. The vicani at Carriden were a community of sufficient stability and cohesion to be granted a measure of self-government by the military authorities. However, neither of these settlements endured for long. They were wholly dependent on their forts and disappeared when these were abandoned.

Caledonii and Maeatae

Beyond the Antonine Wall lay the enemies of Rome: the Caledonii and their neighbours. During the northern campaigns of the second century, the Empire’s relationship with these barbarians was characterised by raid and counter-raid across the borderlands around the Firth of Forth. This region became a volatile conflict zone while Roman troops still garrisoned the Antonine forts, and likewise in the years following its final abandonment in the 160s. Hostilities continued until Rome forged treaties with the main barbarian groups at the end of the century, probably by paying them to stop raiding. At that time the Caledonii were still the main threat, but another people, the Maeatae, were recognised as an equally belligerent foe. Roman writers located the Maeatae immediately north of the Antonine Wall in what are now Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire. They may have been a fusion of smaller groups on the model of the Caledonian ‘confederacy’ further north. Some historians wonder if these political fusions may have occurred because an aggressive foreign power held sway south of the Forth–Clyde isthmus. They see Rome’s occupation of the southern part of Britain as a catalyst for political developments in the North. In this scenario the creation of large tribal confederacies is viewed as a logical progression arising from the proximity of large numbers of Roman troops. An alternative theory sees amalgamation as an outcome of conflict between neighbouring communities, rather than as a voluntary or co-operative response to the threat of Roman invasion. Indeed, Rome might even have been responsible for creating tensions by favouring some native groups while neglecting others. Thus, it is possible that the pro-Roman queen Cartimandua might not have been a ‘pan-Brigantian’ sovereign after all, but merely a local ruler who exploited imperial patronage to impose her will on other Pennine peoples. By applying this model further north, we might envisage the Caledonii not so much joining with their neighbours as subjugating them by force. Such a process may have placed the Caledonian leadership at the head of a large, powerful amalgamation of tribes in a region centred on the valley of the River Tay. If this is what happened, then the Maeatae may have similarly seized the initiative among their own weaker neighbours.

High on a shoulder of the Ochil Hills, commanding a wide vista across Stirlingshire and the Firth of Forth, stood the great oppidum or tribal centre of the ancestors of the Maeatae. This stronghold may already have been abandoned when the Maeatae themselves first came to Rome’s attention, but it remained an imposing feature in the landscape. Its ancient name is unrecorded, but the hill on which it stands is known today as Dumyat, a name deriving from Gaelic Dun Myat (‘The Fort of the Maeatae’). Five miles south-east, and a little to the south of the modern town of Clackmannan, stood an unshaped boulder venerated in pre-Christian times as a sacred stone. In the medieval period this monument became known as King Robert’s Stone after its role in a folktale about Robert the Bruce, but its original name was Clach Manonn (‘The Stone of Manau’). The stone’s proximity to the heartlands of the Maeatae suggests its adoption by their forefathers as a venue for sacred rites and public ceremonies. It now sits on top of a pillar beside the old tolbooth in Clackmannan and has given its name to the town.

The Maeatae make their first appearance in the historical record around the year 200. At that time, according to the Roman writer Cassius Dio, they overturned a treaty with Rome and mustered their forces for war. They chose the right moment, for substantial numbers of Roman troops had recently been withdrawn from Britain by Clodius Albinus, an ambitious governor who hoped to set himself up as emperor. Seeking to exploit the situation, the Maeatae crossed the abandoned Antonine Wall to rampage southward, wreaking havoc wherever they went. To make matters worse, the Caledonii were preparing to break their own treaty with the Empire by joining the assault. In a desperate bid to avert a major crisis the newly appointed governor of Roman Britain, Virius Lupus, tried to placate the Maeatae with a substantial payment. The offer was accepted: the raiders went home and released a small number of Roman prisoners. But peace did not last and a new spate of raiding began. This time, no bribe was forthcoming from the imperial treasury. What the barbarians received instead was a full-scale assault. In 208, the warlike emperor Septimius Severus arrived in Britain to deal personally with the situation on the northern frontier. With him came his sons, Geta and Caracalla, two young men rescued from the sleaze of Rome by a father who regarded the Forth borderlands as a somewhat more wholesome environment. Assembling a large army, Severus marched north to hammer the Maeatae into submission and to discourage the Caledonii from joining them. His strategy seemed to work: he received pledges of peace from the barbarians and returned to his base at York. In 210, however, the Maeatae again reverted to their old ways. They may have heard a rumour that Severus was sick and unable to leave his bed. He was indeed too ill to command a new campaign, but, despite his infirmity, he had no intention of letting the enemy run amok. Leadership of the counter-attack was delegated to Caracalla who unleashed upon the Maeatae a harsh retribution. He arrived in Stirlingshire with a clear instruction from his father to slaughter the natives and to leave none alive. Until this point, the Caledonii had merely observed from the sidelines, but new tales of Roman savagery towards their neighbours brought them swiftly into the fray. They had another incentive to confront the invader, for Severus intended to build a massive fortress at Carpow at the mouth of the River Earn on the southern edge of their heartlands. The new base was designed to accommodate an entire legion and, when completed, would have posed a major threat to native ambitions. A prolonged and bitter conflict seemed unavoidable until fate intervened to remove Severus from the equation. In February 211, at his military headquarters in York, he finally succumbed to illness. Caracalla became emperor, but no longer shared his father’s enthusiasm for the northern campaign. He saw little gain in resuming it: the fighting was hard, the short-term rewards were meagre and the prospect of a lasting solution looked increasingly remote. Moreover, the drain on military resources was becoming acute and difficult to justify at a time when other parts of the Empire demanded urgent attention. Foremost among Caracalla’s anxieties was a bitter rivalry with his younger brother, Geta, whose growing influence at the imperial court was an irritation. Caracalla therefore called a halt to the war, made peace with the Maeatae and Caledonii and relinquished any serious claim on their lands. He returned to Rome to assert his authority and, within a few months, masterminded his brother’s assassination. Meanwhile, in northern Britain, the forward bases occupied during the Severan campaign were evacuated. Construction at Carpow was halted and the soldiers withdrew. A token military presence lingered at Cramond on the Forth until it, too, was abandoned in the 220s. The imperial frontier again retreated to Hadrian’s Wall, leaving only four outpost forts in the lands beyond: Risingham and High Rochester in the east; Bewcastle and Netherby in the west. With this retreat the Roman adventure in the Highlands finally came to an end.

The Emperor, his sons and the military leadership wintered in York. Sadly for them however the terms which had so satisfied the Romans in AD 209 were not so agreeable to at least the Maeatae as in AD 210 they revolted again. The Caledonians predictably joined in, and Severus decided to go north again to settle matters once and for all. On this occasion he’d obviously had enough of the troublesome Britons, giving his famous order to kill all the natives his troops came across.

This second campaign re-enacted the AD 209 campaign exactly, though this time solely under Caracalla as Severus was too ill. It was even more brutal than the first as afterwards there was peace along the northern border for four generations afterwards, the longest in pre-modern times. Archaeological data is now emerging to show this was because of a major depopulation event, indicating something close to a genocide was committed by the Romans in the central and upper Midland Valley.


Some Roman writers poured scorn on Caracalla’s readiness to let the barbarians off the hook, but his treaties held firm and ultimately proved the doubters wrong. The third century passed in relative peace. No new outbreaks of trouble on the northern frontier are known from the surviving literary sources. Only in the century’s last decade did the situation once again grow volatile. In 297, the poet Eumenius referred to a people called Picti (‘Picts’), whom he named alongside the Irish as enemies of the Britons. He did not say where they came from, but they plainly lived outside the Empire. Their location was made clearer by an anonymous writer of the early fourth century who referred to ‘the woods and marshes of the Caledones and other Picts’. This clearly identifies the Caledonii of earlier times as a component of the Picti. It also shows that Perthshire, the ancient Caledonian heartland, must have lain within Pictish territory. Later in the fourth century, the historian and ex-soldier Ammianus Marcellinus regarded the Picts as a fusion of two distinct peoples, the Verturiones and Dicalydones. The latter name relates in some way to Caledonii and indicates that this ancient grouping still functioned as a political force three hundred years after the Agricolan invasion. The Verturiones are previously unknown, but their name connects them to Fortriu, an area of importance during the second half of the first millennium AD. In the nineteenth century, the Scottish antiquary William Forbes Skene equated Fortriu with the later earldom of Strathearn and Menteith. This identification remained largely unchallenged until 2006, when its weakness was highlighted in a groundbreaking paper. Fortriu is now regarded as a more northerly territory centred on Moray. In another recent development, some historians have adopted the adjective ‘Verturian’ when referring to the land and people of this region.

Picti means ‘Painted People’ or ‘People of the Designs’. When and why this name originated are questions to which several plausible answers can be offered. So far, no consensus has yet been achieved. The name may be derived from, or related to, a collective term used by the Picts of themselves, but it is equally possible that no such term existed until the Romans began to distinguish the peoples of northern Britain from one another. Sadly, the Pictish language vanished after c.900 and, as no Pictish writings have survived, there is now little hope of ascertaining whether or not a native precursor of Latin Picti ever existed. Historians are left instead to muse on the nature and purpose of the ‘designs’ that gave rise to the name. Did the Picts tattoo their skin, or did they merely daub their bodies with warpaint? Tattooing was regarded as archaic and primitive by the Romanised Britons living south of Hadrian’s Wall, but it possibly lingered as a custom further north. If so, its continuing use far beyond the frontier might explain why the poet Claudian, writing in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, referred to Roman soldiers observing the decorative body-art of slain Pictish warriors.

Whatever the origin of their name, the Picts posed a major threat to Roman Britain throughout the fourth century. They were a numerous people whose lands encompassed a broad swath of territory stretching from the Western Isles to Fife and from Shetland to the Ochil Hills. Within this large area many communities shared cultural traits we now regard as essentially ‘Pictish’. They shared a common language similar to, and no doubt once indistinguishable from, the language of the Britons. On a political level, however, the Picts were not a single entity but a patchwork of separate groups, each of which was probably ruled as a small kingdom. In early times, when they first came to Rome’s attention, their most frequent foes were likely to have been fellow-Picts rather than people living south of the Forth–Clyde isthmus. Much of the slave-raiding and cattle-reiving undertaken by Picts in Roman times was surely conducted within their own homelands. Ambitious leaders would have had little incentive to act in unison against an external power unless persuaded or coerced to do so. Thus, although the notion of pan-Pictish unity might have simplified matters for Roman chroniclers, we should not feel tempted to run too far with it. Temporary pooling of military forces in response to Roman aggression perhaps occurred from time to time, but the Picts were not a homogeneous group. Their default political framework was rooted in local allegiances rather than in abstract concepts of nationhood. Although this pattern began to change in the sixth century, with the emergence of one or more Pictish overkingships, the marauding bands of ‘Painted People’ who troubled Roman Britain in 297 were almost certainly not acting in unison.

What distinguished the Picts from other indigenous peoples of the British Isles? The simplest answer to this question is that Pictish culture must have been unique, distinctive and recognisable to outsiders. It was sufficiently distinct for Roman writers to differentiate the Picts from the Britons and the Irish. All three were part of a Celtic cultural zone, but, despite this shared heritage, they each exhibited certain traits that set them apart from one another. One important difference was language: the Picts and Britons spoke variants of a Brittonic language of the ‘P-Celtic’ group, while the Irish used Goidelic or Gaelic speech which modern linguists define as ‘Q-Celtic’. The Pictish and British varieties of Brittonic represented separate dialects which, although mutually intelligible, may have sounded quite distinct when spoken. The date at which the two diverged is unknown but their separation perhaps began in Roman times, when the influence of Latin south of Hadrian’s Wall might have made northern dialects seem barbarous and different. By 297, when the Picts emerged into recorded history, it is possible that their speech already sounded sufficiently different to set them apart.

In ethnic terms the Picts of the third and fourth centuries were simply the most northerly of the Britons. There is no doubt that they were a ‘Celtic’ people. Like their southern cousins they had been exposed to Celticisation during the first millennium BC when cultural influences from Continental Europe spread throughout the British Isles. Unsurprisingly, the Pictish landscape contains a number of ‘Celtic’ features, the most visible being hilltop fortresses defended by concentric walls of unmortared stone laced with timber. Certain other structures are not found elsewhere in the Celtic world, or are encountered only rarely, and seem to be indigenous to the Pictish zone. Of these, the best-known are the brochs, the enigmatic towers found all over the Pictish area, with a major concentration north and west of the Great Glen. Isolated examples in southward districts such as Lothian suggest that the design was not confined to what is usually regarded as the main Pictish zone. As previously noted, archaeological study has dated their main occupation phase to the period 500 BC to AD 100 which means that they had probably fallen out of use when Roman writers first mentioned the Picts. The northern concentration of brochs has led to their builders being seen as ‘proto-Pictish’ ancestors of the later raiding bands. A simpler explanation is that the brochs were built by ‘Britons’ whose descendants in the early centuries AD remained largely untouched by Romanisation.

The Picti were none other than the Caledonii, Verturiones and other indigenous peoples previously recorded as separate entities but now appearing under a new collective name. Aside from this ‘rebranding’ of Rome’s old enemies, the situation on the northern frontier remained largely unchanged for much of the fourth century, except perhaps for an increasing number of barbarian raids. Whether these incursions became as serious as those of the Severan era in the early 200s is unknown, but they caused sufficient anxiety to provoke a Roman response. In 305, the respected general Constantius Chlorus marched from his base at York to deal with the Picts. He presumably defeated them. Likewise, his son Constantine, whom the frontier army proclaimed emperor in 306, took a break from civil war in Europe to wage a Pictish war in 312. Hostilities with the Picts continued up to the middle years of the fourth century when the emperor Constans, son of Constantine, came to Britain to oversee the imperial response.

The Achaean War and After

In the summer of 147 BC when Aurelius Orestes arrived in Corinth. The Roman legate brought with him a diplomatic bombshell. Not only had the Senate decided that Sparta could leave the League, but Corinth, Agos, Orchomenus and Heraclea were to leave as well. This effectively ripped the heart out of the League, leaving basically a rump of cities in the northern Peloponnese. It is difficult to see how the Senate expected the League to go along with this directive, especially as none of these cities, apart from Sparta, had shown any inclination towards independence. In the absence of clear information about the Senate’s motivation, several theories have been advanced.

One is that, as the Epirots had discovered twenty years before, the Romans were at their most dangerous when they were annoyed and had a spare army in the region with which to demonstrate the fact. The League was intended to keep the peace in Greece, and having clearly proven itself unfit to do so, it could pay for flouting the explicit requests of Metellus to stay away from Sparta. Now the League could either disband, or face the consequences.

Another theory is that the Romans had decided to make Macedon a province of their growing empire, and concluded that they might as well take over Greece at the same time. Therefore the proposal of Orestes was a deliberate attempt to force the Achaeans into a war that would end with Greece under direct Roman rule.

Alternatively, it has been suggested that what Orestes proposed was more of a threat than an ultimatum, and that the Achaeans were supposed to be shocked at how far the Romans were prepared to go. By this theory, the Romans expected the Achaeans to send tearful embassies to the Senate abjectly apologizing for flouting the directives of Metellus and begging to be allowed to keep the League intact. The Senate would agree, and the partition of Sparta from the League would then pass through with the Achaeans grateful things had been no worse than that.

If this latter was indeed the plan, it backfired spectacularly, for when the Roman directive became public there was a wave of popular outrage amongst the Achaeans that left Orestes feeling in actual physical danger. Certainly any Spartans whom the mob could catch suffered badly, and other Spartans in Corinth were arrested, including those who had fled to the Romans for protection. Orestes left hurriedly and later complained of his ill-treatment to the Senate. It is highly likely that the Senate itself was at this point undecided about what to do about Achaea. It may well be that different sections of the Senate held one apiece of the opinions suggested above, and that the only consensus was that the situation in Greece needed to be sorted out one way or the other. Certainly, Rome’s next move indicated no fixity of purpose. A senior ambassador was sent (the consul of 157 BC, Sextus Julius Caesar) and his tone was decidedly conciliatory.

The Achaeans too were rather regretting their strong words and sent an equally-conciliatory embassy to Rome. The leaders of Achaea were too sensible to fall out with their mighty neighbour, and for a while they might have hoped that the issue of splitting the League was going to be quietly dropped. Unfortunately, the common people of Achaea were outraged with the Romans, and this outrage was harnessed by one Critolas to secure leadership of the League in the autumn of 147 BC. Critolas had a delicate balancing act to perform. He had to convince the Achaean people that he stood with them in their anger at Rome, but at the same time he had to try as hard as possible not to actually offend the Romans. This turned out to be an impossible task, not least because of a cultural gulf between Greek and Roman approaches to warfare. The Greeks regarded warfare as an extension of politics. When reason failed to achieve a desired object, the Greeks readily enough turned to war as a way of achieving political ends. This was not the view from Rome. The Romans had been fighting wars almost every year since their city’s foundation. For them politics was a way of achieving the goals of warfare without actually fighting. When politics failed, the Romans dropped back to warfare as the default condition. Consequently, Critolas needed to be careful of bringing Rome toward a political impasse, but his own perceptions caused him (wrongly) to believe that the attempted solution to any impasse would, at least initially, be political rather than military.

Critolas invited Caesar to a conference at Tegea to discuss the Spartan issue. But, after Caesar and the Spartans had been kept waiting, Critolas eventually turned up alone without the Achaean delegation and announced that whatever decision the conference came up with would have to be ratified by the Achaean assembly, which was not going to meet for another six months. Caesar could not reasonably be expected to kick his heels in Greece for this period, and returned to Rome decidedly miffed about the whole business. This probably suited Critolas. He had now six months leeway to calm the situation before anyone committed themselves to anything, and maybe in that time negotiations with the Romans would produce a discreet deal that Critolas could sell to his people. This opinion would have been reinforced by a delegation from Metellus that arrived after Caesar had delivered his report to the Senate. Though Caesar had complained about the prevarication and high-handedness of Critolas, Metellus’ delegates were softly spoken, and it appeared that, like the Achaean leaders, the Romans were looking for a way back from the brink.

Unfortunately, these delegates came into contact not just with the Achaean leadership, but also the common people of Achaea, and these made their feelings about Rome and Sparta very clear. If Critolas wanted to keep his job, and possibly his neck, he had to be seen to be doing something, and he decided that the least damaging something he could do was to make highly ostentatious moves indicating the seriousness of his intentions towards Sparta. Consequently he began to put the country on a war footing. To Roman objections Critolas made the point that he was dealing with an internal League matter, and whilst he welcomed the Romans as friends, he and the Achaeans were not in any way bound to or subordinate to Rome.

To say that this was a dangerous line to take is putting it mildly. However, little as the Romans might have liked what they were hearing, to some degree Critolas had a point. The Achaeans were friends and allies rather than subjects of Rome, and the Romans themselves had repeatedly accepted that Sparta was a part of the Achaean League. Nevertheless, in his efforts to avoid bringing his people into conflict with Rome, Critolas had greatly underestimated the danger of bringing Rome into conflict with his people. The Roman response to Critolas’ vigorously-expressed opinions about Achaean autonomy was silence; from the Roman perspective there was no more to discuss. The Achaeans had been warned, and would take the consequences if they ignored the warning. However, the Achaeans may have taken the lack of response as a sign that the Romans had washed their hands of the entire business. Nevertheless, Critolas decided to play it safe. Although he had mustered his army, it seemed a good idea to test the waters of Roman opinion by first taking it not against Sparta, but against the small city of Heraclea in Otea which had, like Sparta, renounced its ties to the League. If the Romans did not object to the forcible reintegration of Heraclea, then perhaps it would be safe to move on and deal with Sparta afterwards.

Thus, in the early summer of 146 BC, Critolas marched on Heraclea. His soldiers were still some distance from the city when the army’s outriders reported hostile contact. To their appalled horror, the Achaeans discovered that the hostile force was not the Heraclean militia but the Roman army of Metellus. The scale of Critolas’ blunder was now fully apparent; military action in the face of Roman objections had been interpreted as a de facto declaration of war. The Achaeans now had to face the legions which had conquered Andriscus, not instead of, but as well as the Heraclean levies – and Sparta.

That the Achaeans were utterly unprepared for this development is evident from the way that their army recoiled back to Locris. Metellus followed the Achaeans there with the celeritas that was becoming his personal trademark, and not unexpectedly defeated them soundly at a place called Scarpheia. Critolas chose this moment to vanish from the pages of history, leaving later commentators to ponder his fate (Livy says he committed suicide by poison). Metellus brushed past the Arcadians at Chaeronea and marched against the Boeotian League, at this point an Achaean ally. After repeated setbacks and sackings in the past decades, Thebes was already in a sorely reduced state. The population simply abandoned their city to the Romans who proceeded to dilapidate the place a good deal further.

With Critolas vanished, Diaeus took over the defence of the League. It must have been plain to him that Achaea was now fighting for survival, and the chances of coming out with the League intact were minimal. News now reached the Achaeans that in addition to Metellus, the consul L. Mummius was on the way with an army of 23,000 men to fight a full-scale war. With him was the same Orestes who had delivered the unacceptable ultimatum which had sparked the present crisis. Given that Achaea had neither the manpower nor mountain defences of Macedon, or the support of allies either in Greece or overseas, it was evident that resistance would be futile. In a very real sense, the end of Greek independence came with the outbreak of war rather than with its inevitable conclusion.

This does not mean that the Achaeans failed to go down fighting. Diaeus returned to command, and tried desperately to negotiate with the Romans even as every town mustered troops and prepared its defences. Slave volunteers were added to the Achaean army, which has been estimated at about 14,000 strong. The Boeotians, who had probably joined in the war under the mistaken belief that they were simply going to terrorize the Heracleans, had already been effectively knocked out by Metellus. Boeotian aggression had also probably incited the Eritreans to declare for the Romans, practically the only city in Greece to do so. Certainly nearby Chalcis did not, and later suffered grievously for taking the Achaean side.

The advance of Metellus took him to the isthmus, where he came to a halt against the walls of Corinth. The Corinthian resistance brought to an end the participation of Metellus in the war. Mummius was consul to Metellus’ praetor, and as soon as the senior politician arrived on the scene, Metellus was sent back to his province, where he stayed to help with the post-war settlement. Thereafter Metellus returned to Rome where he displayed the hapless Andriscus, who was executed after the customary triumph, and he received the cognomen (honorary nickname) of ‘Macedonicus’ for his efforts on behalf of Rome.

Diaeus meanwhile appears to have noted that Mummius had no great military reputation. Indeed, he had already sustained a slight reverse from a successful Achaean ambush on part of his army. However, this success was transitory, since when the Achaeans followed up Mummius sallied out of his camp and drove the Achaeans back to their lines. Now, with the Roman fleet getting established outside Corinth, the city could either stand a prolonged siege or the garrison could risk everything on a surprise assault on the Romans as they were digging in. Diaeus opted for the latter. It is quite possible that Achaean morale was flagging in any case and, without a quick victory, surrender would have come sooner rather than later. On the other hand, a short, sharp setback might bring the Romans back to the negotiating table, where things had looked rather promising until discussions were broken off.

Accordingly, Diaeus mustered his entire force and offered battle at Leucopetra, just outside Corinth. Heartened by Mummius’ refusal to draw up his army against him, Diaeus marched into the valley leading to the Roman camp. Mummius now proved that he knew a thing or two himself about ambushes and hit the Achaeans in the flank with a surprise attack by cavalry charging down the hillside. With exquisite timing, the legions hastened out and broke the Achaean vanguard whilst it was still working out what had hit them. Thereafter the battle became a rout. Diaeus returned to his native Megalopolis, burned his house and possessions and committed suicide. Those Corinthians who could immediately fled the city in anticipation of the inevitable Roman sack.

This brief action was the last fought by an independent Greek army, for thereafter the Achaean League effectively dissolved itself, with its component cities scrambling to make peace with the Romans before they arrived in the Peloponnese. According to Pausanias the war ended in 140 BC, with the final settlement of the region by Roman commissioners, but to all intents and purposes the war was over in 146 BC. Rome, which had seemed so peripheral to Greek affairs when it had sent ambassadors to Queen Teuta of Illyria in 230 BC, was now, eighty-four years later, the undisputed ruler of Greece. Likewise Greece’s former hegemon, Macedon, once all-conquering, awaited Rome’s decision as to its fate.


Mummius had won his war in a single engagement. This engagement had been outside Corinth, the city which had been at the centre of Achaean-Roman friction over recent years. It was in Corinth that Orestes had been abused for his proposal to break up the Achaean League, and it was here that Spartans who had fled to the Romans had been unable to receive protection. It was Corinth which had baulked the advancing army of Metellus, and it was Corinth which the Romans chose to symbolize their wrath with the Achaean League as a whole.

Accordingly, Mummius called a final meeting of the League. Its constituent cities, he told them, were to be ‘free’ (a word the Greeks must by now have regarded with considerable cynicism). The exception was Corinth. Mummius ordered that all Corinthians at the meeting should be seized and enslaved. Many Corinthian women and children had already been enslaved in any case, but after the taking of the city many of the men who had not been put to the sword had fled to other cities for shelter.

The lands of Corinth were declared ager publicus – fields belonging to the Roman people (the territories of Thebes and Chalcis suffered the same fate). Corinth itself was sacked. Not just in the usual comprehensive Roman fashion, but with the same thorough determination to make the place uninhabitable for the immediate future that the Romans were also showing with freshly-conquered Carthage on the other side of the Mediterranean. Mummius did not go so far as to sow salt in the fields, as the Romans did at Carthage, but his legions made sure that hardly any stone was left standing on another.

Everything of value was crated and shipped to Rome, where the populace were so impressed with what they saw, that ‘Corinthian wealth’ became a byword for opulence. Polybius, who was to play an important part in the post-war settlement, was at Corinth for the occasion. Though his report has not survived, the geographer Strabo says that he wrote heartbreakingly of

the disregard shown by the army for the works of art and votive offerings; for he [Polybius] says that he was present and saw paintings that had been flung to the ground and saw the soldiers playing dice on these. Among the paintings he names that of Dionysus by Aristeides, to which, according to some writers, the saying, ‘Nothing in comparison with the Dionysus’, refers.

Mummius himself is portrayed in legend as the archetypical Roman philistine, incapable of understanding the scale of what he was perpetrating. One story has him telling the dockers to be careful with priceless statues that he was shipping off to Rome. If any of these were damaged, he allegedly threatened, the dockers would have to replace them personally. It is quite possible that Mummius himself perpetrated some of these stories; the Romans of the day, and for some time after, liked to pose as bluff soldiers immune to the decadent influence of Greece. However, what we know of Mummius shows that he was more sophisticated than this. For example Plutarch tells us that he freed a young Corinthian who movingly quoted Homer at him when he was testing potential slaves for literacy. It is reasonably sure that Mummius was well aware of the historical and cultural significance of the city he was so comprehensively destroying.

So why did he do it? The Roman destruction of Corinth was an act of inhumanity and cultural vandalism which has been decried by generations since. Indeed Cicero, who visited the site in the early 70s BC, confessed himself deeply affected by the ruins. We can rule out those apologists such as Polybius who claim that Mummius acted impulsively and under the bad advice of those in his entourage. Such a far-reaching act must have been decreed by the Senate, and been carried out after due deliberation.

It was above all an act of terrorism, and as such it succeeded. Rome was prepared to utterly destroy Corinth, a city ancient before Rome was founded and from which, according to legend, came the ancestors of Tarquin, king of Rome. What then would Rome do to any other Greek city which aroused its anger? The intention was to utterly cow Greece, and so it did. If, as others have claimed, Rome acted to destroy a trading rival (Corinth was a centre of Mediterranean trade until its decease), then this too was successful. It should be noted that the two motives are not mutually exclusive, but the Roman Senate seldom acted purely from economic motives.

The Settlement

This time the Senate refrained from any social experiments in Macedonia. The Macedonians had shown that they were happiest as a single state under a sole ruler. This ruler, the Senate decreed, should be a Roman governor, and henceforth Macedonia was to be ruled as a province of Rome. In fact the province was expanded to take in Epirus, Thessaly and parts of Illyria and Thrace. Ironically, in being conquered, the Macedonians finally realized the ambition of their kings who had sought domination of these areas for centuries. Building began of the Via Egnatia, the great Roman highway which brought Macedon from its mountain fastnesses, and allowed trade with the west to flourish.

Macedon was not left entirely in peace, as it was briefly conquered by Mithridates of Pontus during the early 80s BC, and it suffered considerable disruption during the civil wars which brought about the end of the Roman Republic. However, with the accession of Augustus, Macedon became an ever more Romanized province. As with the equally once-troubled province of Hispania, Macedon became a quiet and productive part of the Roman Empire, and enjoyed centuries of peace before the Gothic invasions which heralded the fall of Rome in the west.

The rest of Greece was still ‘free’, but by now the Greeks had come to understand that this freedom was not eleutheria, or complete freedom in the Greek sense, but libertas, the freedom which a subordinate Roman had under his patron, bound about with duties and obligations.

The usual Roman post-war settlement commission came to Greece and Macedon in 146 to sort out matters once the dust of war had settled, and Polybius earned praise by refusing to accept any rewards for the work which he and his friends had put into ensuring that the settlement was as equitable as possible. The commissioners stayed for six months, and the main effect of their work was (as has been seen) to add to the province of Macedonia those states of southern Greece which they felt were most likely, otherwise, to cause problems for Rome in the future. Much of the commission’s time would have been spent in drawing up the lex provincia, the set of laws under which the new province would be governed. This was a task greatly complicated by the number of non-Macedonian cities added to the new province, many of which would have needed virtually new constitutions of their own. Fortunately, Metellus had spent much of the ten months or so between his dismissal from the Achaean war zone and his return to Rome on the organization of Macedon into a proto-province, and the commission evidently built upon his work.

It is (almost) certain that the same commission that sorted out the provincialization of Macedonia was also responsible for settling affairs further south. This was guided by Mummius, and at least some cities were pleased with the result, as shown by the fact that a number of monuments dedicated to Mummius have since surfaced in Greece (and one in Macedonia).

At least some of the cities of southern Greece were made subject to tribute to Rome, and laws were passed to stop members of one state holding land in another. Steps were also taken to stop Greek cities federating once more into leagues. Henceforth, each Greek polis was to be on its own under Roman tutelage. Perhaps the major winner from the war was Sparta, which finally achieved its long-desired liberation from the Achaeans, though it never regained its former dominance of southern Greece. The traditional Spartan constitution was restored in a somewhat modified form, and in its declining years the city became something of a parody of itself for the benefit of the Roman tourist trade.

Later History

Unlike Macedon, which appears to have been largely peaceful apart from the disruption caused by the Pontic invasion of the 80s, life in Greece was far from relaxing over the next century. Some of the bloodiest battles in Greek history lay in the immediate future. For a start, Mithridates invaded not only Macedonia but also central Greece.

The most enthusiastic supporters of Mithridates were the Athenians, and they paid for their defection from Rome after a bloody siege by Sulla in 87/86 BC. When the city fell in March 86, the killing spree which followed was so intense that the blood was said to have run in a small stream through the gutters and out of the city gates. Thereafter Athens, like Sparta, was a shadow of its former self. Sulla went on to fight Mithridates at Chaeronea, in a battle involving over 100,000 men, and then in a rematch at Orchomenus which involved armies of the same scale. To pay for his campaign, Sulla looted the sacred treasuries at Delphi. He was by no means alone in his looting of Greece, and the country continued to suffer from the attentions of Roman senators thenceforward. Though southern Greece, unlike Asia, did not have to pay Roman taxes and largely escaped the predatory Roman publicani (tax gatherers), the Romans had other methods of squeezing cash even from allegedly ‘free’ peoples.

One favourite technique was forcing a loan at predatory rates of interest on a city, and refusing to accept the capital back until compound interest had forced the city deep into debt. Even the noble Brutus, the assassin of Caesar, used this technique of enrichment.

Before he was assassinated, Caesar too had been on Greek soil. Greece was the unhappy host of the final rounds of the civil war between Caesar and Pompey. In fact, Caesar finally won supreme power in Rome at the Battle of Pharsalus, not far from where Philip V was defeated at Cynoscephalae.

However, this victory did not settle matters, as Caesar’s death once again brought Roman civil war to Greece, with a further bloody battle at Philippi in 42 BC which saw off Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Caesar. The victors of that battle, Octavian and Mark Antony, returned to Greece a decade later for a final showdown at Actium, where Octavian, later Augustus, finally became emperor and master of the Roman world. Between senatorial depredations and the effects of armies marching and countermarching across its territory for the best part of 150 years, much of Greece was economically devastated.

Most Greeks of any ambition or talent took advantage of the many opportunities offered by Rome’s cosmopolitan empire, and took themselves either to Rome (where later poets such as Juvenal complained bitterly of their presence) or to the large and prosperous cities that flourished in Asia Minor under the pax Romana. A previous generation which had arrived in Rome as slaves had already helped to accelerate the fusion of Greek and Roman culture to the point where the poet Horace could remark that Greece had ‘conquered her rough conqueror’.

Augustus finally made Achaea a province in 27 BC, and included in its bounds most of south and central Greece. However, by then Greece was already a backwater in geopolitical terms.

Illyria and Dalmatia

Ironically, the last part of the peninsula to fall under Roman control, was where it all had begun: in the Balkans. Since the capture of Genthius, the fortunes of the northern and southern Illyrians had varied. The Romans had divided Illyria into four regions, rather as they had attempted with Macedonia, and with about the same degree of success. By and large, the southern areas abutting the long-established Roman protectorate were readily absorbed and partially Romanized, but the northern areas were more strongly influenced by the Dalmatians, and any control exercised by Rome tended to be transitory and limited to the ground that Rome’s soldiers stood on at any given time. Caesar was assigned Illyria as a province at the start of the 50s, but the word ‘province’ was used here in the old sense of ‘area of military operations’, rather than that of ‘administrative region’.

This was clearly demonstrated by the northern Illyrians and Dalmatians who took an opportunistic role in the civil wars. A Roman army under Julius Caesar’s henchman, Gabinius, was passing through Dalmatian territory when the Dalmatians trapped the soldiers in a narrow gorge and gave it a severe mauling which resulted in the near-total loss of the army and its standards. Caesar, preoccupied with his intentions to invade Parthia, was not prepared to undertake an Illyrian war of revenge. Therefore, he accepted Illyrian submission once he had gained power, and sent a small force of legionaries across the Adriatic to enforce that submission. However, when news of Caesar’s assassination reached the north, the locals rose up in arms once more and destroyed most of Caesar’s cohorts, with only a small force reaching safety in the south under the command of Vatinus, a general who was later to campaign successfully in Syria. This provoked a Roman response, but this was diluted by the contingencies of the civil wars raging at the time, and the weakened army which was finally dispatched was wiped out in Pannonia.

Thereafter, the Romans decided to leave this recalcitrant part of the peninsula alone until they had time to deal with it properly. Once he was emperor, Augustus started the project by an attack on the Segestani, a people in the far north of Greece. Having established a bridgehead there, he pushed southward against the Dalmatians and Illyrians. He soon found that whilst conquests were hard to come by (the terrain was both wooded and mountainous) the fractious and rebellious peoples of the area ensured that any gains were very easily lost.

Campaigning in the 30s saw several minor sieges and battles, resulting, eventually, in the return by the Dalmatians of the standards that had been captured from Gabinius. The area was still not subdued, and rose again in a major revolt a generation later. It was in this region also that Augustus’ successor, Tiberius, learned his military skills. It was not until AD 9 that the northeast was finally settled (though the difficulties of campaigning there inspired a mutiny in AD 14).

However, expansion from Rome’s bases at Dyrrhachium and Salona steadily pacified the wilder parts of Illyria, especially the obdurate Taulanti tribe of the central interior. By 27 BC, at the same time as Achaea was made a Roman province, the northwest was divided into the provinces of Illyricum and Dalmatia.

The long military tradition of the Balkans meant that when its peoples finally became reconciled to rule by Rome, they took enthusiastically to service in the legions. As Rome grew ever more cosmopolitan, Dalmatians and Illyrians were found at ever-higher ranks of the army. In the third century AD these men came into their own. Rome was beset by a series of barbarian invasions and found salvation under the guidance of a series of ‘Illyrian’ generals and emperors such as Aurelian, Diocletian, and the family of Constantine the Great. It was Constantine who founded the Roman Empire’s second capital, Constantinople, on the Bosporus, a capital which stood firm even when the western empire was overwhelmed.

Consequently Greece and Macedon remained part of the empire for hundreds of years after the fall of Rome. While barbarian cowherds grazed their flocks in the shadow of the Senate house, the Greeks and Macedonians still considered themselves Romans. One wonders what the ghosts of Queen Teuta and King Philip would have made of that.

Caesar’s Final Campaigns in Gaul I

Caesar’s own narrative ends with the entry of the legions into winter quarters. This seems to imply that he meant to continue his narrative into the following year but the political chaos at Rome and then the civil war intervened and his narrative was never finished. The book covering his last campaign in Gaul is the work of Aulus Hirtius, one of Caesar’s legates, who completed the work at the request of Caesar’s close friend Balbus. Hirtius’s narrative is our best source for the events of this year but does not have the scope or quality of the work of his former commander. This is most clearly visible in his assertion that the Gauls had an overall war plan at the beginning of 51. He claims that the Gallic tribes had decided that a strategy based on confronting the Romans with a single coalition army had failed and that they now adopted an approach in which the Roman army would be faced with too many simultaneous rebellions to respond to all of them. On the face of it this seems highly unlikely. It would demand a level of consultation and planning among the various tribes that seems impossible. It is much more likely that internal political calculations as well as a continuing underestimation of the threat posed by Caesar’s army determined the war-making policy of the individual tribes.

Leaving his quaestor Mark Antony in charge at Bibracte, Caesar on the last day of 52 moved against the Bituriges who had already suffered heavily at Avaricum. He was accompanied by a guard of cavalry and made his way to the Thirteenth Legion under Titus Sextius, which was too small a force to keep the Bituriges under control, and combined it with the Eleventh under Reginus stationed nearby. After leaving two cohorts behind to guard the baggage Caesar advanced with his customary speed and appeared before the Bituriges were aware of his arrival. He sent his cavalry on a wide sweep, capturing many of the Bituriges who, unaware of his coming, were peacefully working in their fields. Those who were warned in time made their escape to neighbouring peoples but Caesar pursued them relentlessly. He cowed the neighbouring tribes, who abandoned their resistance and so deprived the fugitives of any hope of sanctuary. The Bituriges, unable to oppose Caesar, quickly surrendered. As he had in the case of the Arverni and Aedui Caesar treated them leniently. Once the campaign was over Caesar led his men back to their winter quarters after promising a bonus for their service and returned to Bibracte. He had only been there for eighteen days when a delegation from the Bituriges arrived to complain of an attack by the Carnutes. The attack may have been set in motion by Caesar’s own expedition against them: the tribe, which was seriously weakened by his attack, would have been an attractive target for raiding. Caesar responded immediately. A campaign against the Carnutes would make clear the benefits of being a dependent of Rome and at the same time strike at an important centre of resistance in central Gaul. He took the Sixth and Fourteenth Legions, who were stationed near the Saône on logistical duties, and set out to punish the Carnutes.

The Carnutes were already weakened after having suffered severely during the rebellion. The fate of Cenabum and other towns that had fallen to Caesar had persuaded them to abandon a number of their own and seek safety in temporary shelters scattered over the countryside, even though it was winter. Instead of simply letting his soldiers loose to plunder and burn their lands as he had done with the Bituriges, to spare his men constant exposure to the harsh weather Caesar chose Cenabum as his base and sent out cavalry and auxiliary units to ravage the countryside. These raids were extremely effective and the soldiers returned to Cenabum loaded down with booty. The effects of the weather and the plundering expeditions proved too much for the Carnutes who fled to the neighbouring peoples after suffering greatly.

After these campaigns Caesar considered that there was little threat of any large-scale resistance except among the Belgae. The Bellovaci and their neighbours were planning an attack on the Suessiones, a client of the Remi who lived near modern Soissons. It was less the fate of the Suessiones that concerned him than that of their patrons the Remi. They had been consistently loyal to the Romans even during the rebellion of the year before and had been an important source of supplies for the army. In addition to practical considerations it was absolutely essential that he be seen to offer effective protection to those tribes that supported him. Leaving two legions at Cenabum to keep watch on the Carnutes under Trebonius, he assembled a force of four legions to confront the Bellovaci.

Once he arrived in their territory he sent out cavalry to reconnoitre and to collect prisoners to question about the Bellovaci’s plans. They revealed that most of the tribe had fled except for a few scouts who were captured and brought back to camp. From them Caesar learned that the Bellovaci had assembled a coalition of tribes to oppose him including the Ambiani, the Aulerci, the Caletes, the Veliocasses and the Atrebates. The coalition army had chosen to camp in a naturally strong location on high ground covered with trees and surrounded by a marsh. Their heavy baggage had been hidden out of sight deep in the forests. The precise location is unknown but it was probably in the forest of Compiègne near the town of the same name close to the confluence of the Rivers Aisne and Oise. The Belgae had several leaders but the most important were Correus of the Bellovaci who had earlier conducted successful guerrilla operations against the Romans, and Commius who had served Caesar well in Britain and had been made king of the Atrebates by him but who had joined the revolt and had been one of its major commanders. Commius had sought support from nearby German groups and brought back about 500 cavalry. The Bellovaci and their allies had developed a dual strategy depending on the number of troops Caesar brought against them. If he came with a force no larger than three legions (about 15,000 men) they would face him in battle, but if he had a larger army they would stay in their easily defended position and try to cut off his supplies as Vercingetorix had planned to do. The scarcity of grain and forage in winter would probably have made this an easier task than it had been in the summer of the previous year. Although Caesar does not specify the size of the enemy force, given their plans that might have been perhaps 30,000 men.

The strength of the confederates’ position prompted Caesar to devise a plan to draw them out. If they would engage a force of three legions he would try to persuade them that that was the total of his forces. He placed his three most effective legions, the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth, at the head of the column preceding the baggage, while he positioned the Eleventh at the rear to give the enemy the impression that he only had three legions with him. Perhaps he remembered the attack launched by many of these tribes on his column nearly six years before. His marching formation could be easily reformed to repel an attack or deploy for battle. The Belgae at the approach of the legions, which seemed to be ready for battle, drew up in front of their camp but did not move down from higher ground. They did not engage nor did Caesar, who was surprised at the size of the Gallic force. His plan had failed. He pitched camp facing the enemy with a deep, narrow valley in between. His camp was heavily fortified, with a 12 feet (3.6m) rampart surmounted by a parapet and fronted by a double ditch 15 feet (4.5m) wide with perpendicular sides. These were far more impressive fortifications than the normal marching Roman camp in the field. In addition, towers were constructed on the ramparts with gangways running between them so that the troops would be able to throw missiles at the enemy from two different levels. These defences could be held by a comparatively small garrison, a necessity at this time of year since a number of soldiers were needed for foraging.

Both sides were active and there were often skirmishes between Roman auxiliaries and the Belgae. Nonetheless the Gallic strategy of attacking the foragers was effective. The scarcity of supplies meant that Roman foraging parties were widely spread and that left them vulnerable to attack. The only obvious solution for Caesar was a direct attack on the Gallic camp but the Gauls kept to their camp and the natural strength of the site meant that if he did attack the camp directly he might not succeed and suffer heavy losses. Clearly this was a much more difficult campaign than the relatively easy victories over the Bituriges and Carnutes. He summoned three more legions to join him as quickly as possible. In addition, to defend against the raids on his foraging parties he ordered the Remi, Lingones and other Gallic states to supply additional cavalry. The Belgae set up an ambush using one of the oldest of all tactical tricks. They lured the cavalry of the Remi into the trap by placing a few horsemen where the Remi would easily see them and when the Remi attacked these men they fled back to the much larger cavalry force posted in ambush. The Remi were encircled and sustained heavy casualties.

The attacks and the skirmishing continued until the Bellovaci learned of the approach of the additional legions. The siege of Alesia was still fresh in their minds. They began organizing an evacuation of their camp. The heavy baggage and non-combatants were to form the head of their column, to be followed by their troops. The column was originally scheduled to depart during the night but the need to organize the wagons delayed the column’s departure until dawn, when their preparations were now visible to the Romans. To protect the rear of the column they formed up their infantry in front of their camp facing the Romans. Anxious to stop the enemy’s withdrawal Caesar reconnoitred the marsh and discover a ridge that almost stretched across it to the enemy camp. Only a narrow depression separated it from the enemy’s camp. It is not clear why the ridge had not been found earlier. It may be that the enemy had stationed troops there that hid it from the Romans. Caesar had boards laid over the marsh and quickly crossed it and moved up to the plateau at the top of the ridge. There he drew up the legions in battle formation and set up artillery, as the enemy was still in range.

The Gauls, confident in the natural strength of their position, were ready to give battle. Caesar was equally aware of it so instead of attacking he drew up a screen of twenty cohorts (two legions) and began to build a camp. Once this was completed he posted the cohorts and cavalry with their horses at the ready. Caesar’s new camp created a serious problem for the Bellovaci. They had had to halt their withdrawal as they were afraid that if they began withdrawing the Romans would attack them as they did so. They hit upon a plan to disguise their withdrawal. They collected bundles of straw and piles of twigs and placed them in front of their camp facing the Romans. When they were ready to move they set them alight. Their movements were hidden by the fire and smoke. They withdrew as quickly as they could. The fire and smoke also held the Romans back. Their cavalry was uncertain about what was waiting for them on the other side of the blaze, fearing a possible ambush, and the smoke so obscured their vision that they could not move forward. The Gauls were able to withdraw ten miles in safety and pitched another camp in a second naturally strong position. Despite Caesar‘s claim that they retreated in disorder it is clear that they had executed a well thought out and successful plan. Once in place at their new position they renewed their attacks on Roman foraging parties.

Once again Caesar’s intelligence gathering served him well. He learned that one of their leaders, Correus, had assembled a force 6,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry to set an ambush near an area rich in grain and forage. Caesar hurried to the spot, sending his cavalry ahead with light-armed infantry dispersed among them, and then cautiously following with the legions. The cavalry and light-armed would screen his approach and would be taken by the enemy for a normal foraging party. The place that the Gauls had chosen for an ambush was an isolated valley that extended no more than a mile in any direction and was ringed by a river and forests. The Roman cavalry advanced into it and the Gauls sprung their trap. With the knowledge that the legions were coming up in support the cavalry fought well and for a long time both sides were evenly matched. Then the pendulum began to swing in the Romans’ favour as both sides became aware of the legions’ approach. Their arrival was decisive. The Bellovaci turned and fled, but the woods and river created a death trap. They prevented easy escape and more than half their force was lost during the flight, including Correus. After such a heavy defeat Caesar feared that the Gauls would once again retreat. Knowing that their camp lay only 7 miles (11.6km) away on the other side of the Oise he brought his troops across it and hurried to confront them.

The defeat proved too much for the Bellovaci, who opened negotiations for surrender. They argued that the loss of so many men had been punishment enough for them and they blamed the revolt on Correus, who was now conveniently dead. Caesar recognized the falsity of their second argument but decided that clemency was preferable to continued fighting. The Gauls persuaded the other rebel states to join in the surrender and spare Caesar the trouble of further campaigning. Commius had escaped and remained irreconcilable. Before the rebellion of the previous year he had been agitating among various tribes to restart the revolt. Labienus had discovered this and sent a unit of soldiers to assassinate him. The attempt failed but it ended any possibility of reconciliation. Later in 51, as winter approached, Commius and his men had fought a skirmish with Roman cavalry that was indecisive. But he had not given up hope of inciting his fellow Atrebates to rise in rebellion. Meanwhile, he used his cavalry to launch a number of raids on Roman supply convoys. Antony, the legate stationed in the area, dispatched a cavalry unit in pursuit and finally, after a number of skirmishes, Commius was defeated, although at some cost. Seeing no hope of success he entered into negotiations with the Romans. He handed over hostages and was ordered to remain where he was and follow orders in the future. Commius asked one thing in return: that he might never again have to look on another Roman, and Antony granted him his wish.

Major opposition was now crushed but many of the Gauls were still not reconciled to the new dispensation. To deal with the continuing resistance Caesar dispatched Fabius with twenty-five cohorts to support the two under-strength legions under the command of Rebilus in the land of the Pictones south of the Loire, in what later formed part of the province of Aquitania. The Fifteenth Legion, which had been with Labienus in winter quarters, was sent to Cisalpine Gaul to guard against attacks on the citizen colonies. Caesar feared a repeat of an attack launched in the previous summer against the settlement of Tergeste in Illyria (modern Trieste) and he remembered the attempt in 52 to invade the province.

Caesar now turned his attention to Ambiorix and the Eburones. Ambiorix had been one of his most consistent and unyielding opponents. He had been behind the destruction of Cotta and Sabinus in 54 and had sought to forge an alliance of Belgic tribes, including the Treveri, to oppose the Romans. A number of attempts to capture him had all ended in failure. This would seem to indicate that he could draw on substantial support from his own people. Unable to capture him, Caesar determined on a strategy that would make the price of supporting him too costly. He sent out columns consisting of legionaries and cavalry to ravage the lands of the tribe and to kill or capture as many of the Eburones as possible. Labienus was sent with two legions against the Treveri, who had as usual been unwilling to meet Roman demands and had operated with Ambiorix in 54. Labienus defeated the Treveri and their German allies in a cavalry battle. Despite the devastation inflicted on the Eburones and the defeat of the Treveri Ambiorix was never taken prisoner.

The subjugation of Aquitania in 57 by Crassus had been incomplete and events there were affected by the rebellion in central and the northern Gaul. A large rebel force had gathered in the land of the Pictones and part of it under a leader of the Andes, Dumnacus, was laying siege to the town of Lemonum (Poitiers), held by the pro-Roman Duratius. Learning of the siege, Rebilus set out to bring help. Nearing the town and reluctant to face the enemy with a weak force he camped in a secure location. When Dumnacus learned of his arrival he broke off the siege and turned to attack the Romans. His assault ended in failure and resulted in heavy casualties; he abandoned the attack and turned back to renew his siege of the town.

While these events were taking place another legate, Fabius, had been in action nearby and had received the submission of a number of tribes. Rebilus informed Fabius of the attack on Lemonum and Fabius set out to lift the siege. As he approached, Dumnacus and his army withdrew over the Loire. Fabius, informed by locals about the route of Dumnacus’s retreat, decided to follow the rebels. Reaching a bridge over the Loire they had used he crossed and sent out his cavalry in pursuit. They caught up with the enemy column while it was still in marching formation and inflicted a severe defeat on it, but despite the losses the Andes continued their withdrawal. The next night Fabius sent his cavalry on ahead to slow the progress of the column. They met stiff resistance as the Andes’ cavalry knew that their infantry was coming up in support. The Romans began to also attack the infantry who had formed a battle line. This was not sound tactics as cavalry usually could not successfully break infantry in formation. Its main effect was to fix the enemy column, which was exactly what Fabius had intended. The battle was not going well for the Roman cavalry when the legions came into view. The Gauls had been unaware of their presence and their sudden appearance created a panic among them. Their formation dissolved and many were killed during the pursuit: 12,000 died and their baggage train fell into Roman hands.

Dumnacus survived the defeat and remained at large. There was still the possibility that he could cause further trouble among the tribes that had joined the rebellion but had not been defeated. Fabius moved quickly and the opposition collapsed. Even the Carnutes, who had caused the Roman so much trouble and had never yet surrendered, finally did so. Dumnacus had now become a liability to the Gauls and had to seek safety in flight.

Caesar’s Final Campaigns in Gaul II

Other problems remained. A Senonian chief named Drappes had mustered a small army of 2,000 survivors from Fabius’s campaign and was moving on the province. He had already launched successful attacks on Roman supply convoys. He had been joined by Lucterius the Cadurcan, who had tried to launch a similar attack in 52 but had failed. Rebilus set out in pursuit with his two legions, which were more than sufficient to deal with the small enemy force. The arrival of Rebilus put an end to any hope of invading the province and the two Gallic chieftains halted in the territory of the Cadurci and seized control of the town of Uxellodunum in the modern Dordogne, its identification being uncertain.

Rebilus pursued them there but the capture of the town presented serious difficulties. It was perched on a sheer rock cliff with limited access. Storming it was impossible so that the only practical alternative was to starve it out. Rebilus, dividing his cohorts into three groups, constructed a camp for each of them and then as quickly as he could he began construction of a circumvallation linking the camps and enclosing the town. The sight of the construction of the siege wall stirred memories of Alesia and the other Gallic towns that the Romans had taken among the troops and townspeople. A plan was needed to maintain the town’s grain supply. Two thousand troops remained to defend the town while light-armed infantry was sent out under the command of Drapes and Lucterius to bring in grain while this was still possible. Within a few days a large amount of grain had been collected and the Gauls set up camp about ten miles from the town. Meanwhile, they launched night attacks on various forts that brought the construction of the siege wall to a halt, as Rebilus had too few soldiers to adequately man it and defend against the attacks.

Drappes and Lucterius planned to send small grain convoys to the town in order to avoid detection. They divided their responsibilities between them; Drappes stayed to guard the camp while Lucterius took charge of conveying the grain. Lucterius set out at night to avoid detection but the noise of the wagons alerted the Romans, who sent out scouts who returned and informed Rebilus of what the enemy was doing. Cohorts were dispatched from the nearest forts at dawn and attacked the convoy. The unexpected assault threw the Gauls in the convoy into a panic and they fled back to the guard posts that Lucterius had established along the route. The Romans made short work of these and few of the enemy survived. Lucterius managed to escape with a few men but did not return to camp. This was a stroke of luck for Rebilus, as the Gauls in the camp were unaware of the fate of Lucterius and the convoy. He sent his cavalry ahead along with German infantry who advanced at full speed and followed up with one of his legions. He left the other to guard his own camp and the newly-constructed fortifications. The Germans and the rest of the cavalry launched a vigorous attack on the enemy camp and then the appearance of the legionaries completed the rout. The camp was taken and all of the Gauls were either killed or captured. Drappes was among the prisoners. No longer facing external threats, Rebilus now turned his full attention to the siege of the town.

While this was happening Caesar was making a progress among the rebellious tribes. He left Antony with fifteen cohorts among the Bellovaci to watch Belgica. At this point he received letters from Rebilus informing him of the fate of Lucterius and Drappes and the progress of the siege. He also informed Caesar that although the force in the town was small it was putting up a determined resistance.

Caesar now decided to put an end to all opposition. It was not the importance of Uxellodunum that mattered but the fact that in holding out against him it could serve as a potent symbol of continued Gallic resistance. His failure at Gergovia in 52 had helped ignite the great rebellion and he was determined that there should be no repetition of it. He decided to act immediately. He ordered his legate Calenus to follow him with two legions and raced ahead with all of his cavalry to Uxellodunum.

When Caesar arrived he found the town enclosed by the Roman siege works. The problem that confronted him was how to avoid a protracted siege that would set back other projects, especially as his political position at Rome was becoming more precarious and resistance elsewhere in Gaul had not yet been suppressed. Since the town was well-supplied with grain Caesar turned his attention to cutting off its water supply. A river ran around the base of the hill on which the town sat and served as its water supply. The obvious course was to divert the stream but the nature of the ground made that option impossible. The river also presented difficulties for the besieged. The way down to it was steep and exposed to missile attack. Archers and slingers and artillery were posted covering the easiest approaches to the river. It now became too dangerous to use.

There was another source of water, a spring beneath the town walls that was made use of now that access to the river was cut off. It flowed out at a point where there was an area of about 300 feet that the river did not enclose. Caesar now moved to deprive the Gauls of that water supply as well. Soldiers brought up moveable shelters to protect themselves and began to build an earthwork, although they were subject to constant attack during the construction. The Gauls’ missiles often found their mark as they were thrown down from the town walls. The Romans also began digging mines towards the water channels that fed the spring and its source. Construction of the earthwork stopped when it had reached a height of 60 feet so that it now loomed over the spring. A tenstorey tower was mounted on it, as well as catapults to cover the spring. As it was now too dangerous for the townspeople to approach the spring they began to suffer from thirst.

Their only way to end their torment was to destroy the tower and ramp. They launched a fierce attack trying to set the tower on fire. They pressed the Romans hard and inflicted a number of casualties. To divert the attackers Caesar ordered his troops to climb the hill encircling the town and to pretend to mount a general attack on the walls. The ruse worked. The Gauls recalled their men to defend the walls and ended their attacks on the tower. The Roman mines had now reached the spring’s sources and its flow was diverted. Resistance was now hopeless and the town surrendered. This time Caesar’s clemency was hardly in evidence: he decided on judicious use of terror to deter those still holding out. He ordered that the hands of all those who had fought were to be cut off.

All that now remained in central and northern Gaul were mopping up operations. These were successfully carried out. Labienus won a cavalry engagement with the Treveri and their German allies. He captured the leaders of the revolt and all resistance ended.

Caesar then turned his attention to Aquitania in the south-west where he had never campaigned. His appearance had the desired effect; all of the tribes sent delegations and turned over hostages. All open resistance was now at an end. He turned south to the province and to Narbo its administrative centre. There he heard cases arising from the rebellion and distributed rewards to those who had supported Rome. Caesar once more claims that Gaul had now been pacified and this time he was correct. He sent his legions into winter quarters; four were posted to Belgica to watch for unrest, two were quartered among the Aedui, another two among the Turones who bordered the Carnutes, and the final two on the borders of the Arverni. After completing his business in the province Caesar moved north-east to join his legions in Belgica and wintered at Nemetocenna (modern Arras in the Pas de Calais). Although Gaul was finally at peace the Roman conquest was so recent and the area so large that further revolts remained a possibility. Caesar was especially concerned about this as the situation at Rome grew worse. He adopted a policy of reconciliation with the Gauls and made a special effort to win over the nobles and chiefs who controlled Gallic society with large cash payments.

At the end of winter 51/50 Caesar headed to Cisalpine Gaul to canvass for his quaestor Antony, who was standing for a priesthood. By the time he reached the province he heard that Antony had been elected at the end of September. This was good news as Cato and his enemies were intensifying their attacks. With the problem of Antony’s candidacy resolved Caesar spent his time making a circuit of the communities there to garner support for his own candidacy for the consulship of 49. In addition, Cisalpina was the most prolific recruiting area in Italy. If it came to civil war it was crucial for Caesar to have its support. He then returned to Nemetocenna and conducted a purification of his army, signalling the end of campaigning in Gaul.

The conquest of Gaul north of the old province and extending from the Atlantic to the Rhine was due solely to Caesar. His motivations were those of any other Roman noble in his position: wealth and military glory. The need for both was particularly pressing when Caesar arrived in Gaul in 58. He had obtained his command in Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum in the face of intense opposition and hatred. His finances were in terrible shape and his creditors barely allowed him out of Rome. Without adequate funds he could not compete politically; Cato and his friends would, if given the chance, politically isolate and destroy him. The triumvirate on whose support he relied was unstable. There was the intense jealousy between Pompey and Crassus that constantly threatened to tear it apart. Pompey, whom Caesar’s enemies found the most acceptable of the three and who eventually moved into the camp of Cato, remained a constant worry for Caesar. Pompey was the most intractable of all of Caesar’s problems. His conquests in the east and his other military successes had given him a status that even his political ineptitude did little to undermine. Caesar needed an arena in which to equal Pompey’s achievements and Gaul provided it.

The addition of Transalpine Gaul to Caesar’s province was merely an afterthought brought about by the fortuitous death of the man who was to have governed the province. It is likely that Caesar had hoped to launch a campaign in Illyricum but the events of 58 changed that. The movements of the Helvetii and the threat of Ariovistus drew Caesar north. In both instances it could be argued that he was protecting Roman interests. The Helvetii did pose a threat to the province and the Aedui as Roman allies had to be protected for the sake of Rome’s prestige if nothing else. The stationing of the legions in the north during the winter of 58/57 was a clear indication that Caesar had adopted a policy of conquest that probably even this early included all of continental Gaul. The area was large enough to allow for extensive campaigning and conquest. Just as importantly, it was agriculturally rich and would offer the prospect of immense amounts of booty. Imperial expansion was a virtue, as it had always been for the Roman ruling class, and here was a vast field in which to exercise it. Political and personal rewards that came with it exerted a magnetic attraction. This explains the two British expeditions of 55 and 54, which were hardly serious attempts to subjugate Britain but brought Caesar a twenty-day thanksgiving and increased his popularity at Rome. The bridge over the Rhine in 55 was a similar undertaking as well as his raids into Germany, which yielded little of practical value. The conquest of all of Gaul north and west of the old province was not a strategic necessity but the product of Caesar’s personality, his needs and desires.

Caesar’s success resulted from a combination of superior Roman equipment, technique and logistics, and Caesar’s individual qualities as a general. Perhaps the most important ingredient was his ability to win and then keep his men’s loyalties. A noticeable feature of Gallic War is the frequent praise for the common soldier and in particular of centurions, who are often mentioned by name and whose individual exploits receive extensive narration. Caesar maintained his bonds with them by a judicious use of favours and rewards. But it is clear both from his own work and that of other writers that his personal bravery and willingness to share the hardships of his men were crucial ingredients in maintaining their loyalty.

His speed of movement was astonishing and time and again he arrived earlier than his opponents thought possible. It was a virtue that could sometimes get him in to trouble, as it did during his first expedition to Britain and as it was later to do in 46 when he landed in Africa with an inadequate force during the civil war. In addition, Caesar had a marvellous ability to discern the enemy’s weaknesses and to devise tactics that capitalized on it. During the rebellion of 52 he deceived Vercingetorix, whom he misled by sending troops ahead who successfully convinced the Gallic commander that the Romans had moved up river and so was able to cross the Allier River without opposition.

At Uxellodunum he saw that the water supply was the key to taking the town and devised tactics that cut off access to it. He personally suffered only one serious defeat, at Gergovia. The first British expedition was a minor failure but his other reverses such as the fifteen cohorts lost with Cotta and Sabinus during the winter of 54 or Galba’s failure in the Alps in 57 were not primarily his fault. He possessed a military machine far more effective than any Gallic army he faced and he used it with great daring and skill.

The conquest of Gaul was more than the product of military force. Crucial to Caesar’s success was his ability to forge ties with the Gallic elite. He built up links to the leading men in each of the Gallic communities. In return for their support he conferred benefits upon them and solidified their position within their own tribes. Perhaps the most striking example was Diviciacus among the Aedui who not only supported Caesar but gave him valuable military intelligence. There were others as well such as the Nervian Vertico or the two leading men among the Remi, Iccius and Andecomborius. Caesar was not always successful in his choices. The most striking example is that of Commius, who Caesar made king of the Atrebates in 57 but who later joined the great rebellion in 52 and then, when it failed, fled to Britain. Other men he supported were either unpopular or murdered by their political enemies, such as Tasgetius of the Carnutes who had loyally supported Caesar who raised him to the kingship. His unpopularity among his fellow tribesmen, as well as political rivalry with other nobles, led to Tasgetius’s assassination. There are other cases as well. But one of the key ingredients of Caesar’s success was his ability to often pick the right Gallic notables and establish lasting ties with them that endured after Caesar left Gaul.

The cost of the campaigns in human life and in the devastation of large areas of Gaul was high. We have little information about Roman losses. There are only occasional references such as the 700 legionaries and forty-six centurions killed in the siege of Gergovia, or the fifteen cohorts or approximately 6,000 men lost with Cotta and Sabinus in 54. Eight years of campaigning, often under difficult conditions, must have taken their toll. The ancient sources do preserve figures for Gallic losses but they vary greatly and their value is uncertain. Plutarch claims that Caesar took 800 towns and conquered 300 tribes. He adds that Caesar faced 3,000,000 men in battle and killed 1,000,000 while taking the same number prisoner. Other sources give 400,000 and approximately 200,000. Probably the latter figures are nearer the truth, although in no case do we know how these writers arrived at their figures, which all refer to combatants. The higher figures may reflect at least in order of magnitude the total of civilian and military casualties including those sold into slavery. The only precise figure we have is for the 53,000 Atuatuci sold into slavery, but such sales are frequently mentioned in Gallic War and the numbers must have been substantial. The devastation certainly led to starvation, which was fatal for many, the Carnutes being an obvious example. It is likely that the total of civilian casualties greatly outnumbered those killed in the fighting.

Before January 49 when the civil war began and Caesar moved to confront his enemies in Italy, he had already begun the work of turning Gaul into a province. He set a relatively-low level of tribute for the new province, which probably reflected the loss and destruction that his years of campaigning had caused.8 Gaul was a relatively unimportant backwater in the four years that the civil war lasted. No major battles were fought there and there were no major actions, except for the siege of the city of Massilia (Marseille), which chose to side with Pompey and which Caesar besieged on his march to Spain in 49. After a courageous and ingenious defence it fell to Caesar’s legate Trebonius and was leniently treated. The major battles of the civil war took place in Spain, Africa and the East. What is striking is the lack of any large-scale resistance after Caesar’s departure.

Gothic Incursions

Map of the Gothic invasions of 267–269 AD (according to the two invasions theory)

The Goths had a momentous impact on Roman history, appearing as if out of nowhere in the early decades of the third century. When we first meet them, it is in the company of other barbarians who, together, made devastating incursions into the eastern provinces of the Roman empire. The mid third century, particularly from the 240s till the early 300s, was an era of constant civil war between Roman armies, civil war that in turn encouraged barbarian invasions. Contact with the Roman empire, and particularly with the Roman army, had helped to militarize barbarian society, and opportunistic raids all along the imperial frontiers exploited Roman divisions and distraction in the civil wars. When the Goths first appear, it is in this world of civil war and invasion. Unfortunately for the modern historian, it is not always easy to distinguish third-century Goths from other barbarians. The problem stems from the way ancient writers talked about barbarians in general and the Goths in particular.

‘Scythians’ and Goths

To the Greek authors who wrote about them, the Goths were ‘Scythians’ and that is the name used almost without exception to describe them. The name ‘Scythian’ is very ancient, drawn from the histories of Herodotus, which were written in the fifth century B.C. and dealt with the Greek world at the time of the Persian Wars. For Herodotus, the Scythians were outlandish barbarians living north of the Black Sea in what are now Moldova and Ukraine. They lived on their horses, they ate their meat raw, they dressed in funny ways, and they were quintessentially alien not just to the world of the Greeks, but even to other barbarians nearer to the Greek world. Greek historical writing, like much of Greek literary culture, was intensely conservative of old forms, and canonized certain authors as perfect models to which later writers had to conform. Herodotus was one such canonical author and his history was regularly used as a template by later Greek historians. In practice, this meant that authors writing 500 or 1,000 years after Herodotus talked about the world of their own day in exactly the same language, and with exactly the same vocabulary, as he had used all those centuries before.

For Greek writers of the third, fourth and fifth centuries A.D., barbarians who came from the regions in which Herodotus had placed the Scythians were themselves Scythians in a very real sense. It was not just that classicizing language gave a new group of people an old name; the Greeks and Romans of the civilized imperial world really did believe in an eternal barbarian type that stayed essentially the same no matter what particular name happened to be current for a given tribe at any particular time. And so the Goths, when they first appear in our written sources, are Scythians – they lived where the Scythians had once lived, they were the barbarian mirror image of the civilized Greek world as the Scythians had been, and so they were themselves Scythians. Classicizing Greek histories often provide the most complete surviving accounts of third- and fourth-century events, and the timelessness of their vocabulary can interpose a real barrier between the events they describe and our understanding of them. However, the testimony of our classicizing texts sometimes overlaps with that of less conservative writings that employ a more current vocabulary. Because of such overlaps, we can sometimes tell when actions ascribed to Scythians in some sources were undertaken by people whom contemporaries called Goths.

The Earliest Gothic Incursions

Because of this complicated problem of names in the sources, we cannot say with any certainty when the Goths began to impinge upon the life of the Roman empire, let alone precisely why they did so. The first securely attested Gothic raid into the empire took place in 238, when Goths attacked Histria on the Black Sea coast and sacked it; an offer of imperial subsidy encouraged their withdrawal. In 249, two kings called Argaith and Guntheric (or possibly a single king called Argunt) sacked Marcianople, a strategically important city and road junction very near the Black Sea. In 250, a Gothic king called Cniva crossed the Danube at the city of Oescus and sacked several Balkan cities, Philippopolis – modern Plovdiv in Bulgaria – the most significant. Philippopolis lies to the south of the Haemus range, the chain of mountains which runs roughly east-west and separates the Aegean coast and the open plains of Thrace from the Danube valley. The fact that Cniva and his army could spend the winter ensconced in the Roman province south of the mountains gives us some sense of his strength, which is confirmed by the events of 251. In that year, Cniva routed the army of the emperor Decius at Abrittus. Decius had persecuted Christians, and Lactantius, a Christian apologist of the early fourth century, recounts with great relish how Decius ‘was at once surrounded by barbarians and destroyed with a large part of his army. He could not even be honoured with burial, but – despoiled and abandoned as befitted an enemy of God – he lay there, food for beasts and carrion-birds’.

The Black Sea Raids

Gothic raids in Thrace continued in the 250s, and seaborne raids, launched from the northern Black Sea against coastal Asia Minor, began for the first time. What role Goths played in these latter attacks is unclear, as is their precise chronology. The first seaborne incursions, which took place at an uncertain date between 253 and 256, are attributed to Boranoi. This previously unknown Greek word may not refer to an ethnic or political group at all, but may instead mean simply ‘people from the north’. Goths did certainly take part in a third year’s seaborne raids, the most destructive yet. Whereas the Boranoi had damaged sites like Pityus and Trapezus that were easily accessible from the sea, the attacks of the third year reached deep into the provinces of Pontus and Bithynia, affecting famous centres of Greek culture like Prusa and Apamea, and major administrative sites like Nicomedia. A letter by Gregory Thaumaturgus – the ‘Wonderworker’ – casts unexpected light on these attacks. Gregory was bishop of Neocaesarea, a large city in the province of Pontus, and his letter sets out to answer the questions church leaders must confront in the face of war’s calamities: can the good Christian still pray with a woman who has been kidnapped and raped by barbarians? Should those who use the invasions as cover to loot their neighbours’ property be excommunicated? What about those who simply appropriate the belongings of those who have disappeared? Those who seize prisoners who have escaped their barbarian captors and put them to work? Or, worse still, those who ‘have been enrolled amongst the barbarians, forgetting that they were men of Pontus and Christians’, those, in other words, who have ‘become Goths and Boradoi to others’ because ‘the Boradoi and Goths have committed acts of war upon them’.

Ten years later, these assaults were repeated. Cities around the coast of the Black Sea were assaulted, not just those on the coast of Asia Minor, but Balkan sites like Tomi and Marcianople. With skillful seamanship, a barbarian fleet was able to pass from the Black Sea into the Aegean, carrying out lightning raids on islands as far south as Cyprus and Rhodes. Landings on the Aegean coasts of mainland Greece led to fighting around Thessalonica and in Attica, where Athens was besieged but defended successfully by the historian Dexippus, who would later write an account of these Gothic wars called the Scythica. Though only fragments of this work survive, Dexippus was a major source for the fifth- or early sixth-century New History of Zosimus, which survives in full and is now our best evidence for the third-century Gothic wars. As Zosimus shows us, several imperial generals and emperors – Gallienus, his general Aureolus, the emperors Claudius and Aurelian – launched counterattacks which eventually brought this phase of Gothic violence to an end. Gothic defeat in 268 ended the northern Greek raids, while Claudius won a smashing and much celebrated victory at Naissus, modern Niš, in 270.

Aurelian and a Problematic Source

In 271, after another Gothic raid across the Danube had ended in the sack of several Balkan cities, the emperor Aurelian (r. 270–275) launched an assault across the river that probably had considerable success. Aurelian was an extremely capable soldier, and one who spent his five-year reign in continuous motion from one end of the empire to the other, rarely out of the saddle, and rarely pausing between campaigns. A Gothic war is entirely in keeping with the evidence for Aurelian’s movements, and a late fourth-century collection of imperial biographies which we call the Historia Augusta records that Aurelian defeated and captured a Gothic king named Cannobaudes. Here, however, we run into the sort of problem with the sources that we will encounter more than once in the pages that follow. The Historia Augusta is the only Latin source we have for large chunks of third-century history, and even where it refers to events known from Greek historians, it often preserves details that they do not. If it could be trusted, its circumstantial and anecdotal content would be invaluable. Unfortunately, the whole work is heavily fictionalized, its anonymous author sometimes using older – and now lost – texts as a jumping off point for invention, sometimes making things up out of thin air. The biographies of late third-century emperors are the least reliable part of the work, and some of them contain no factual data at all. For that reason, even though he appears in many modern histories of the Goths, we cannot be entirely sure that this Gothic Cannobaudes was a real historical figure.

In this case, however, we are able to confirm at least part of the Historia Augusta’s testimony from another type of evidence altogether, because inscriptions make clear that Aurelian did definitely campaign against Goths. From a very early stage in Roman history, whenever a Roman general won a victory over a neighbouring people, he would add the name of that people to his own name, as a victory title. When the Roman Republic gave way to the one-man rule of the empire, the honour of such victory titles was reserved for the emperor, and whether he won a victory personally, or whether a general won it in his name, it was the emperor alone who took the victory title. In this way, a Persian campaign would allow the emperor to add the title Persicus, a campaign against the Carpi would make the emperor Carpicus, and so on. Since these victory titles became part of the emperor’s name, they were included in the many different types of inscriptions, official and unofficial, that referred to the emperor. This provides a wealth of information for the modern historian, because victory titles often attest campaigns that are not mentioned by any other source. Thus we will sometimes be able to refer to a particular emperor’s Gothic campaign only because an inscription happens to preserve the victory title Gothicus – as in the present case, Aurelian’s use of the name shows that he did in fact fight against the Goths and felt able to portray that campaign as a success. We can also infer that success from the fact that his Gothic victory was still remembered a hundred years later, and from the rather limited evidence for Gothic raids in the decades immediately following his reign: although we hear of more seaborne raids in the mid-270s that penetrated beyond Pontus deep into Cappadocia and Cilicia, after that Goths disappear from the record until the 290s, by which time major changes had taken place in the empire itself.

Explaining the Third-Century Invasions 

As the past few pages have demonstrated, the earliest evidence for Gothic invasions of the empire is not well enough attested to allow for much analysis, but that does not mean we should underestimate its impact. The letter of Gregory Thaumaturgus gives us a rare glimpse into just how traumatic the repeated Gothic raids into Asia Minor and other Greek provinces could be. But it does not answer basic questions of causation: what drove these Gothic raids, what made them a repeated phenomenon? The Graeco-Roman sources are content to explain barbarian attacks on the empire with an appeal to the fundamentals of nature itself: to attack civilization is just what barbarians do. That sort of essentialist explanation can hardly be enough for us. Rather, we need to seek explanations in the historical context. Now it happens that the third century was a period of massive change in the Roman empire, which saw the culmination of social and political developments that had been set in motion by the expansion of the Roman empire in the course of the first and second centuries A.D. Against this background, the first appearance of the Goths and the Gothic raids of the third century become comprehensible. Roman expansion had transformed the shape of Europe and the Mediterranean basin. It affected not just the many people who became Romans for the first time, but also the political constitution of the empire and even the many different peoples who lived along the imperial frontiers. One by-product of these changes was a cycle of internal political violence in the third-century empire that produced and then exacerbated the instability of the imperial frontiers.

The Roman empire had been a monarchy since the end of the first century B.C., when Augustus (r. 27 B.C.–A.D. 14), the grand-nephew and adoptive heir of Julius Caesar, put an end to a full generation of civil war that had ripped the Roman Republic apart. Augustus brought peace to the empire, but it came at the expense of the free competition amongst the Roman elite that had created a Roman empire to begin with. In its place, Augustus founded an imperial dynasty that lasted until A.D. 68. By that year, when the regime of the detested emperor Nero collapsed and he himself committed suicide, three generations had passed since the end of the Republic. The imperial constitution was fully entrenched – what mattered most was the relationship of the emperor to the powerful clans of the Roman elite, particularly the senatorial families of Rome itself, who now competed amongst themselves for the emperor’s favour and the offices and honours it bestowed. Until 68, emperors had been made at Rome, and loyalty to the dynasty of Augustus had been an essential element in their creation. The civil wars of A.D. 68/69 changed that forever: their eventual victor was Vespasian, a middle-aged commander born of a prosperous but undistinguished Italian family and raised to the imperial title in the eastern provinces of the empire, just as some of his immediate rivals had seized the purple in Spain or Germany. This revealed what Tacitus called the arcanum imperii, the ‘secret of empire’ – that an emperor could be made outside Rome. Italy remained the centre of the empire, but it was no longer the sun around which provincial planets revolved. These provinces increasingly had a life of their own and political influence that could, in time, impose itself on the Italian centre.

To be sure, the provinces might be very different from one another, and they might stand in different relationships to the imperial capital in Rome. Some provinces, like Spain, southern Gaul, or the part of North Africa that is now Tunisia, had been part of Rome’s empire for a century or more. Others, like Britain, much of the Balkans, or what is now Morocco were only a generation away from their conquest by Roman armies. Well into the late third century, these different provinces continued to be governed according to many differing ad hoc arrangements that had been imposed on them when they were first incorporated into the empire. But all the imperial provinces were more and more integrated into a pattern of Roman life and ways of living, much less conquered territories administered for the benefit of Roman citizens in Italy. Indeed, the extension of Roman citizenship to provincial elites was an essential element in binding the provinces to Rome. As provincial elites became Roman citizens, they could aspire to equestrian or senatorial rank, and with it participation in the governance of the larger empire. Already by A.D. 97, a descendant of Italian immigrants to Spain named Trajan had become emperor. Trajan’s successor Hadrian was likewise of Spanish descent, while his own successor and adopted son came from Gallia Narbonensis, the oldest Roman possession in Gaul.

Roman Citizenship and Roman Identity

These provincial emperors are the most impressive evidence for the spread of Roman identity to the provinces, but the continuous assimilation of the provincial elites into the Roman citizenship was ultimately more important in creating the sense of a single empire out of a territorial expanse that stretched from the edge of the Arabian desert to Wales, from Scotland to the Sahara. These imperial elites could communicate with one another, linguistically and conceptually, through a relatively homogeneous artistic and rhetorical culture. This culture was founded on an educational system devoted almost exclusively to the art of public speaking, the rhetorical skills that were necessary for public, political life. Mainly Greek in the old Greek East, frequently Graeco-Roman in the Latin-speaking provinces of the West, this elite culture nurtured an aesthetic taste devoted, in Greek, to the fashions of the Classical and early Hellenistic period and, in Latin, to those of the very late Republic and early empire. It thereby provided a set of cultural referents and social expectations shared by Roman citizens and Graeco-Roman elites from one end of the empire to the other, and allowed them to participate in the common public life of the empire at large, even if they came from wildly divergent regions.

The use of Roman law, which came with the acquisition of Roman citizenship, provided a framework of universal jurisdiction that, for the elites who used it, also overcame regional differences. Because of the growing elite participation in the Roman world and its governance, those lower down the social scale began in time to feel some measure of the same integration, helped along by the hierarchies of patronage that permeated the whole Roman world. The cult of the Roman emperors, and of the personified goddess Roma, was another effective means of spreading the idea of Rome and participation in a Roman empire to the provinces. Greg Woolf has examined in detail how incorporation into an ordered network of provincial government – with the assimilation of local elites into Roman citizenship – could transform an indigenous society. In northern and central Gaul, less than two generations after the organization of the local tribal territories into a Roman province, both old Celtic noble families and the larger Gallic population had learned to express traditional relationships of patronage and clientship, power and display, in Roman terms, eating off Roman tableware, living in Roman houses, and dressing as Romans should. The same process is observable in the Balkans, at a slightly later date but at the same relative remove from the generation of the conquest. In the Greek world, ambivalent about its relationship to a Latin culture that was younger than – and partially derivative of – Hellenic culture, assimilation was more complicated, but even if Latin culture had little visible presence, the sense of belonging to a Roman empire was very strong in the ancient cities of the East.

This convergence on a Roman identity within the empire culminated in a measure taken by the emperor Caracalla in A.D. 212. Caracalla was himself the heir of an emperor from Africa – Septimius Severus, a man who could attest indigenous Punic ancestry in the very recent past. Much given to giganticism and delusions of grandeur, Caracalla undertook all sorts of massive building projects, and it is in this light that we should understand his decision to extend Roman citizenship to every free inhabitant of the empire in 212. The effects of this law, which we call the Antonine Constitution from Caracalla’s official name of Antoninus, were varied. It both acknowledged the convergence of local elites on a Roman identity and encouraged its continuation, but it also created the dynamic of political violence which dominated the middle and later third century. Once all inhabitants of the empire were Romans, any of them could actively imagine seizing the imperial throne if they happened to be in an opportune position to do so. This was a radical step away from the earlier empire in which only those of senatorial status could contemplate the throne. The Graeco-Roman reverence for rank and social status was extraordinary, and there was a world of difference between accepting the son of a provincial senator as emperor and accepting a man whose father had not even been a Roman citizen. And yet by the middle of the third century, such recently enfranchised Romans not only seized the throne, but their doing so quickly ceased to occasion surprise and horror among the older senatorial nobility.

Warfare and the Rhetoric of Imperial Victory

If the expansion of citizenship and the broadening definition of what it meant to be Roman permitted such men to imagine themselves as emperor, it was increasing military pressures that made their doing so practicable. Much earlier, in the era of Augustus when Roman government was for the first time in the hands of one man, the security of monarchical rule was by no means guaranteed. The authority of the emperor – or princeps, ‘first citizen’, as Augustus preferred to be called – rested on a number of constitutional fictions related to the old public magistracies of the Republic. More pragmatically, however, the authority of Augustus and his successors rested on a monopoly of armed force: that is to say, it rested on control of the army. Empire could not exist without army, and it is hardly an exaggeration to say that the whole apparatus of imperial government developed and grew ever more complex in order to redistribute provincial tax revenues from the interior of the empire to the military establishments on the frontiers. These armies were the ultimate sanction of imperial power, and they needed not only to be paid but also to be kept active: soldiers were far less inclined to mutiny or unrest when they were well supplied and occupied in the business they were trained for, rather than in more peaceable pursuits. This made periodic warfare consistently desirable.

The regular experience of warfare, in turn, fed into the pre-existent rhetoric of imperial victory and invincibility which provided part of the justification for imperial rule: the emperor ruled – and had the right to rule – because he was invincible and always victorious in defending Rome from its enemies. Thus even after imperial expansion stopped early in the second century, the need for Roman armies to win victories over barbarians was ongoing. The result was a constant stream of border wars, which allowed emperors to take victory titles and be seen to fulfill their most important task – defending the Roman empire from barbarians and from the eastern empire of Parthia, the only state to which Roman emperors might reluctantly concede a degree of equality. As we shall see in a moment, the militarization of the northern frontier had for many years had a profound effect on the barbarian societies beyond the Rhine and Danube, but at the start of the third century, a more acute transformation took place on the eastern frontier, again as a result of Roman military intervention.

Usurpation, Civil War and Barbarian Invasions

When Alexander Severus was killed in 235, rival candidates sprang up in the Balkans, in North Africa and in Italy, the latter promoted by a Roman senate insistent on its prerogatives. Civil war ensued for much of the next decade, and that in turn inspired the major barbarian invasions at which we have already looked, among them the attack by the Gothic king Cniva that ended in the death of Decius at Abrittus in 251. Decius’ successors might win victories over such raiders, but the iron link between invasion and usurpation was impossible to break. This is clearly demonstrated in the reign of Valerian (r. 253–260), who was active mainly in the East, and that of his son and co-emperor Gallienus (r. 253–268) who reigned in the West. Our sources present their reigns as an almost featureless catalogue of disastrous invasions which modern scholars have a very hard time putting in precise chronological order. We need not go into the details here, and instead simply note the way foreign and civil wars fed off each other: when Valerian fought a disastrous Persian campaign that ended in his own capture by the Persian king, many of the eastern provinces fell under the control of a provincial dynasty from Palmyra largely independent of the Italian government of Gallienus. Similarly, every time Gallienus dealt with a threat to the frontiers – raids across the Rhine into Gaul, across the Danube into the Balkans, or Black Sea piracy into Asia Minor and Greece – he was simultaneously confronted by the rebellion of a usurper somewhere else in the empire. Thus Gallienus had to follow up a campaign against Marcomanni on the middle Danube by suppressing the usurper Ingenuus, while the successful defence of Raetia against the Iuthungi by the general Postumus allowed him to seize the imperial purple and inaugurate a separate imperial succession which lasted in Gaul for over a decade. Even when Gallienus attempted to implement military reforms to help him counter this cycle of violence, the reforms themselves could work against him: he created a strong mobile cavalry that allowed him to move swiftly between trouble spots, but soon his general Aureolus, who commanded this new force, seized the purple for himself and Gallienus was murdered in 268, in the course of the campaign to supress him. As we have now come to expect, his death inspired immediate assaults on the frontiers, by ‘Scythians’ in the Balkans and across the Upper Danube into the Alpine provinces as well.

Again, a full list of invaders and usurpers is an arid exercise and one unnecessary here. The successors of Gallienus – Claudius, Aurelian, Probus, and their many short-lived challengers – faced the same succession of problems as their predecessor had done. Claudius successfully defeated an invading army of Scythians twice, at Naissus and in the Haemus mountains, and won for himself the victory title Gothicus which assures us that those Scythians were Goths. We have already seen that Aurelian won a Gothic campaign, but his energies and attentions were constantly distracted by other invasions, some reaching as far as Italy, and by the civil wars in which he suppressed the independent imperial successions in Gaul and the East. Aurelian fell to assassins, and so too did his immediate successor Tacitus, the latter struck down while in hot pursuit of Scythian – perhaps Gothic – raiders deep in the heart of Asia Minor. Though Probus managed to hold the throne for a full six years, he too was killed in a mutiny that broke out in the face of yet another Balkan invasion, and his praetorian prefect Carus was proclaimed emperor by the legions.

The Romans Strike Back!

Hannibal’s allies in Italy.

Publius Cornelius Scipio’s military campaign in Africa (204–203 B.C.)

Scipio was in no hurry. In all probability he did not even arrive in Sicily until the late spring of 205, and would not push off to Africa for another year.

There certainly would have been pressure to make his move sooner. Up north, Mago Barca had already crossed over to Liguria with an army and would soon stir up sufficient trouble that the authorities in Carthage would send him reinforcements and Rome would bolster their blocking force in Etruria with more troops and the reliable M. Livius Salinator. However, this probably didn’t satisfy nervous souls along the Tiber. Meanwhile, in North Africa, Masinissa, in the midst of fighting and losing a civil war with Syphax over his father’s kingdom, grumbled about the delay in the Roman invasion. Yet Scipio’s only concession was to send his trusted wingman, Laelius, off on a raid of the African coast, which provided nothing more tangible than a spate of panic in Carthage, some booty, and contact with Masinissa, who met him with a few horsemen and many complaints.

Scipio’s consulship lasted only a year, as did technically his African imperium. Still, Scipio seems to have understood that his support was sufficient to extend his imperium indefinitely (though not without controversy, as we shall see). The New Carthage raid in Spain had removed all doubt that he could move quickly if the situation demanded it. However, he did not move swiftly against Africa. It seems he had his own internal clock, in this case paced by the need to lay his plans carefully, to ensure logistical support for what promised to be a vast operation, and above all to build a winning army out of what amounted to scraps.

Livy (29.1.1–11) opens his description of Scipio’s sojourn in Sicily with an anecdote that may or may not be apocryphal but certainly exemplifies Scipio’s ingenuity in putting together a fighting force. Upon arriving with his volunteers, who apparently were just in the process of being divided into centuries, he withheld three hundred of the most strapping young men, who were neither armed nor assigned to units, and were probably pretty puzzled. He then conscripted an equivalent number of Sicilian horsemen, all of them from the local nobility and none too willing to serve on what was likely to be a long and dangerous expedition. When a nobleman, appropriately coaxed, expressed his reservations, Scipio posed an alternative: house, feed, train, mount, and arm one of the unassigned youths; a proposition all of the remaining Sicilians jumped at, thereby creating an enthusiastic nucleus for his cavalry out of a recalcitrant pack, what amounted to something out of nothing. True or untrue, Scipio was about to attempt something comparable on a much larger scale.

Upon inspecting the troops stationed in Sicily he had inherited, Livy tells us, Scipio selected the men with the longest service records, particularly those who had served under Marcellus and who were skilled in siege and assault operations. Plainly, Livy was referring to the legiones Cannenses—now called the 5th and 6th legions, made up of the survivors of Cannae and the two battles of Herdonea. Scipio did not have any reservations about their record, for he understood, Livy adds, that “the defeat at Cannae had not been due to their cowardice, and that there were no other equally experienced soldiers in the Roman army.”

Yet at this point the military disaster was eleven years in the past, and many would have reached the age of marginal military utility; hence Scipio inspected the men individually, replacing those he thought unfit with the volunteers he had brought from Italy. This process generated two exceptionally large legions, which Livy sizes at sixty-two hundred foot soldiers and three hundred horse apiece—a figure that is open to debate by modern historians but that probably reflected the general’s innovative approach and the danger he faced. It also left him with units that would have been to some degree heterogeneous, and certainly unacquainted with his tactical innovations. In all probability, then, he began training them early, and this process consumed much of the time it took to get ready for the invasion.

Livy also adds that upon selecting the veterans “he then billeted his troops in various towns,” which was significant, since earlier the Cannenses—when they’d been joined by the survivors of the First Battle of Herdonea—had been burdened by the senate with the additional indignity of not being allowed to winter in any settled area. In countermanding this prohibition, Scipio not only thumbed his nose at the establishment along the Tiber, but demonstrated yet again his keen understanding of how to build loyalty. Livy describes the Cannenses ready to depart for Africa as “sure under Scipio and no other general, they would be able … to put an end to their ignominious condition.” For these men understood what they would be up against with Hannibal—had already been served a bitter draft of his trickery—and therefore must have seen Scipio and his new model for fighting as their vehicle to revenge and rehabilitation. Unexpectedly, though, they would have the opportunity of returning the favor, of saving their commander from disgrace, long before they had the chance to confront their Carthaginian tormentor.

It all began with a target of opportunity. Late in 205 a group of prisoners in Scipio’s camp, a group from Locri—deep in Bruttium on Italy’s toe and one of the last cities loyal to Hannibal—offered to betray its citadel to the Romans. Scipio jumped at the opportunity, sending a force of three thousand from nearby Rhegium under two military tribunes, with one Quintus Pleminius acting as legate and overall commander. After some complications, Locri was taken, with the physical abuse and looting proceeding in a particularly brutal fashion, including even the plunder of the famous shrine of Persephone. But that was just the beginning. The Roman garrison formed two rival gangs, one loyal to the tribunes and the other to Pleminius, and began openly fighting over booty. As a result, Pleminius had the tribunes flogged—highly unusual for men of their rank—and was in turn beaten nearly to death by the other side.

When Scipio got wind of the situation, he hopped a galley to the mainland and sought to slap a tourniquet on what at this point was merely a distraction, acquitting Pleminius and having the tribunes arrested. He’d made a bad choice. After the general returned to Sicily, Pleminius had both tribunes tortured and then executed, and did the same thing to the Locrian nobles who had complained to Scipio in the first place.

Word of these outrages reached the senate in early 204, and Scipio’s enemies, led by Fabius Maximus, leapt at the chance to exploit the situation. Compounding matters, the senate had been primed by a string of scandalous rumors pertaining to Scipio’s conduct, the source being the quaestor in Sicily, Marcus Porcius Cato, destined to become Scipio’s lifelong enemy. Cato is known to history as a stern embodiment of austere Roman virtues and as an inveterate hater of things Greek, and of Carthage and Carthaginians. According to Cato, Scipio had been cavorting in Syracuse like a Hellenistic dandy—dressed in effete cloaks and sandals, spending way too much time in the gym, and lavishing money on his soldiers, who were using it to wallow in corrupting activities.

In his denunciation of Scipio, Fabius fastened onto this last aspect. Reminding his colleagues of the mutiny in Spain, which he maintained had cost Rome more troops than had been killed in battle, Fabius argued that Scipio “was born for the corruption of military discipline” and therefore should be relieved of his command forthwith. Pleminius and the situation in Locri were bad enough, but claiming the discipline of the entire expeditionary force had been undermined by indulgence, when that force was largely made up of suspect Cannenses, would not be overlooked. Scipio’s ally Metellus did what he could in the way of damage limitation, but in the end the senate took a very senatorial tack, sending a commission of ten to Sicily to judge Scipio’s culpability and, more to the point, to examine the readiness of his forces. Ready or not, now was the time for the ghosts to step into the limelight.

They did not disappoint. After settling matters in Locri, the commissioners crossed over to Syracuse, where Scipio had assembled his entire army and fleet in a state of readiness sufficient to conduct an immediate amphibious operation. The commission was then treated to a rigorous series of maneuvers, not simply parades but actual tactical evolutions and even a mock sea battle in the harbor. After a further inspection of war materiel, the commissioners were convinced that if Scipio and his army could not defeat Carthage, then nobody could. They left in a mood more reflective of victory than simply of good preparations—a view they impressed upon the senate, which promptly authorized the invasion at the earliest opportunity using whatever troops in Sicily the general desired. The Cannenses had vindicated their commander and were at least partway down the road to redemption.

Probably sometime in the late spring of 204 the invasion force assembled at Lilybaeum on the western tip of Sicily approximately 140 miles across open water from Carthage. Livy’s (29.25.1–2) estimates of the force’s size range widely from around twelve thousand men up to thirty-five thousand, so it’s impossible to say with any precision how big the army really was. But two legions of six thousand, plus two alae of equal size, along with cavalry numbering around 2400—basically a pumped-up consular army totaling approximately 26,400—is a ballpark figure. With considerable ceremony—suitable sacrifices, speechifying, and throngs of spectators lining the harbor—the army, along with forty-five days’ worth of food and water, were stuffed into four hundred transports guarded by only forty war galleys. (Scipio may have been short of oarsmen. Besides, the Carthaginian navy had not proved much of a threat.) Then the fleet headed out to sea in the general direction of Africa.

Without navigational equipment, such a voyage was always something of a leap of faith, but after a foggy night, land was sighted early the next day. Scipio’s pilot declared the spot to be the Promontory of Mercury (modern Cape Bon). But rather than head for what Livy says was his original destination—the Emporia, a rich area far to the south—Scipio allowed the wind to take him forty miles west to the “Cape of the Beautiful One” (modern Cape Farina), where he landed. This put him in the vicinity of the city of Utica and about twenty-five miles north of Carthage, which lay at the base of the semicircular Gulf of Tunis bounded by the two capes. It was a good location, close enough to throw a scare into the Carthaginians but far enough off to allow the Romans some breathing room to get unpacked. It worked.

The sight of the Romans, who set up camp on some nearby hills, panicked the entire countryside, sending a stream of inhabitants and their livestock back toward the safety of fortified places, particularly Carthage. Livy tells us that a thrill of dread spread through the city, which spent a night without sleep and prepared for an immediate siege. The next morning a force of five hundred cavalry under Hanno, a young nobleman, was sent up the coast to reconnoiter and if possible disrupt the Romans before they could fully establish themselves.

They arrived too late. Scipio had already posted cavalry pickets, who easily repelled the Carthaginians, killing a good many in the ensuing pursuit, including Hanno himself. Meanwhile, Roman marauders were already abroad gathering up who and what had not managed to flee. This was a substantial haul, including eight thousand captives, which the savvy Scipio promptly shipped back to Sicily as the first fruits of war paying for war.

More good news for the Romans appeared shortly in the form of Masinissa, who arrived, Livy says, with either two thousand or two hundred horsemen. It was probably the latter, since the Numidian prince was basically on the lam from Syphax, but Scipio understood that when it came to Masinissa, numbers meant nothing; he was a veritable “army of one.”

Back in Carthage, plans to resist were plainly in disarray. Hasdrubal Gisgo, the city’s most experienced available soldier, had been sent elsewhere. He’d belatedly been charged with putting together an army, and was camped about twenty-five miles inland with his hastily formed force, waiting to be joined by Syphax’s Numidians before attempting to engage the Romans. In his absence, the Carthaginians almost reflexively threw together another cavalry force under yet another Hanno—this force composed of a core of Punic nobility and apparently just about any local tribesman who could ride a horse and was available for hire—for a total of around four thousand men.

It was summer, and when Scipio heard the cavalry were quartered in a town rather than camped out in the countryside, he marked them as a bunch of potential victims and planned accordingly. Masinissa would act as the bait, riding up to the gates of the place—Livy calls it Salaeca, about fifteen miles from the Roman position—to draw the Punic riders out with his small detachment. Masinissa would then gradually lure them into a chase, which would end with the main body of Scipio’s cavalry advancing under the cover of hills to cut them off. As it turned out, the enemy was so sluggish that Masinissa had to ride up to the place repeatedly before they would even come out, and he spent additional time in mock resistance and retreat before they took up the pursuit toward the line of hills where the Romans were hiding. But in the end the Punic riders went for it and were surrounded by the Romans and Masinissa’s men for their troubles, losing Hanno plus nearly a thousand men in the initial engagement, and another two thousand in the ensuing thirty-mile chase, two hundred of the Punic nobles being among the victims. Another bad day for Carthage.

It would be hard to maintain that the city reacted promptly or well to the crisis. They must have known it was coming; many Carthaginians remained in Sicily, and Lilybaeum was reputedly swarming with spies. Nevertheless, there seems to have been no attempt by the Carthaginian navy to intercept the Roman armada or contest its landing, nor, Livy tells us, had an army of any strength been prepared in advance.

This is hard to explain, and the explaining is not made easier by history having been written by friends of Rome. Carthage’s fortifications were formidable—Scipio would not even attempt a siege—so it is possible to argue this as a source of negligence and overconfidence. But the invasions of Agathocles and Regulus had already shown just how vulnerable the surrounding areas were, and how much of a danger this vulnerability was to the entire city. Nor does Carthage’s presumed overconfidence explain the obvious terror of the city’s population once Scipio arrived. Arguably the Carthaginians were never very good at war, only persistent, and this could help account for their lack of planning.

A lack of support for this particular war would have been more telling. The political environment within Carthage during the Second Punic War is impossible to reconstruct, but we know from the statements of Hanno the Great that there was opposition to the conflict. Also, a Punic peace delegation would later lay the blame for the war at the feet of Hannibal and his faction. Whether true, partially true, or not true at all, the Romans were not about to accept such excuses from Carthage. Like the proverbial accomplice to the crime, perpetrators or not, the Carthaginians were now caught in the clutches of blame and would suffer the penalty for their weakness.

But they were far from finished. Winter found Scipio cut off from his supply base in Sicily and camped around his beached fleet on a barren promontory (castra Cornelia) about two miles east of Utica, which he had earlier tried and failed to take. Parked in front of him about seven miles away in two separate encampments were the armies of Syphax and Hasdrubal Gisgo, which both Polybius (who is back in another fragment) and Livy maintain totaled eighty thousand infantry and thirteen thousand cavalry—numbers most modern sources reject as too large to feed in the winter, but still probably exceeding those of the Romans.

Other commanders might have been depressed; Scipio took to scheming. First, Scipio plotted to win over Syphax, whom he hoped might be weaned from the Carthaginians once he had tired of Sophonisba, Hasdrubal Gisgo’s daughter, to whom he was now wed. But the spell she had cast over the Massaesylian king proved stronger than merely the pleasures of the flesh; so the Roman commander began playing a deeper and, as it turned out, more infernal game.

He deceitfully accepted Syphax’s good offices in negotiating a peace treaty. Then he sent centurions disguised as servants in his delegations to the enemy camps, and the centurions accordingly scouted the camps’ configuration. The Numidians, Scipio’s spies reported back, were housed in huts made of nothing more than reeds, while the Carthaginians’ were not much better, being put together with branches and available pieces of wood. Like the first two of the Three Little Pigs, they were fatally vulnerable. The talks intensified, framed around the basic principle of mutual withdrawals—the Carthaginians from Italy and the Romans from Africa—and Scipio’s agents continued piling up details on the camps, especially the entrances. Scipio even made it look as though any military plans he had were related to renewing the siege of Utica. For their part, the Numidians and Carthaginians increasingly let their guard down around their camps as the negotiations seemed to mature. Finally, and tellingly in terms of Punic motivation, Syphax was able to send a message that the Carthaginians had accepted terms. Scipio played for time and set about preparing for his real intention—a night attack on the two camps.

It was a barn burner of an operation. Scipio divided his force in halves, and marched them over a carefully surveyed route, timing it so they reached their targets around midnight. The first group, under Laelius and Masinissa, hit the Numidian encampment first, breaking in and torching the reed huts so that within minutes the whole place was engulfed in flames. Many of the men were incinerated in their beds, others were trampled at the gates, and those who managed to get out were cut down by waiting Romans. For the horribly burned, death must have been a form of mercy.

When the Carthaginians saw the conflagration in the other camp, a number concluded it was an accident and rushed out unarmed to help the Numidians—only to fall prey to the other half of Scipio’s legionaries, already lurking in the shadows. The Romans then forced their way into the Carthaginian camp and set fire to the place, which burned just as furiously and with the same deadly consequences. Both Hasdrubal and Syphax managed to escape, the former with around four hundred horse and two thousand foot soldiers, but we can be sure that fire and sword took a terrible toll on those who remained. Livy puts the dead at forty thousand, but this is based on his exaggerated estimation of the size of the force. Polybius provides no numbers, but does say of the attack that “it exceed[ed] in horror all previous events.” But then, putting aside the morality of broiling thousands of human beings in their sleep, Polybius adds, “of all the brilliant exploits performed by Scipio this seems to me the most splendid and most adventurous.” It certainly was a trick worthy of the master; if nothing else, it demonstrated that he was ready for Hannibal.

Back in Carthage, news of the disaster was greeted with dismay and dejection. Many citizens, including a number of notables, had been killed, and there was a general fear that Scipio would immediately lay siege to the city. When the suffetes called the council of elders into session, three positions emerged. There were those who wanted to treat for peace with Scipio immediately (probably a nonstarter, given the results of recent negotiations). The second position was held by those who were for recalling Hannibal to “save his country.” (This could be interpreted as an intermediate position, since it would not only help Carthage defend itself, but might also mollify Rome by removing him and presumably Mago from Italy.) And then there were those who wanted to rebuild the army and continue the war. (Livy tells us that Hasdrubal Gisgo, who was back in the city, plus the whole of the Barcid faction, combined to push this proposition, which “showed a Roman steadfastness.” Hasdrubal retained overall command and took to recruiting Carthaginians, whose enthusiasm probably increased when Scipio failed to show up but instead seemed intent on taking Utica. Meanwhile, envoys were sent to Syphax, who was inland at a place called Abba, to encourage him to stay the course.

But another Carthaginian already had the Massaesylian king well in hand, stiffening, this time, his resolve. Sophonisba had delivered such a passionate plea not to desert her father and the city of her birth that Syphax was now fully in tune with the Punic program and was busy arming every Numidian peasant he could round up. Almost simultaneously further good tidings arrived in the form of four thousand newly enlisted Celtiberian mercenaries, whose presence was something of a trenchant commentary on Scipio’s lack of thoroughness in subduing Spain. Syphax soon marched with these forces to join Hasdrubal’s, so that within thirty days (late April to early May 203) there gathered an army of around thirty thousand at a place known as “Great Plains”—likely the modern Souk el Kremis.

When Scipio heard of this concentration—good intelligence was another advantage of having Masinissa on your side—he reacted immediately. Leaving his fleet and part of his army to maintain the impression that the siege of Utica continued as his primary objective, he headed inland with the remainder of his force—all the cavalry and perhaps most of his infantry, though he may have brought along only the legiones Cannenses, since allied contingents are not specifically mentioned. Traveling light, they arrived at the Great Plains after a march of five days.

Scipio’s objective was clear, to nip this new threat in the bud—to engage posthaste what was obviously an inexperienced and disjointed force, and obliterate it. This should have been equally apparent to his adversaries. The Romans were deep inland, far from their base of supply, without visible means of support. The Punic strategy should have been avoidance, harassment, and then, when Scipio was forced to withdraw, attrition.35 Instead, within four days they allowed themselves to be drawn into a set-piece battle. The outcome was never in doubt.

Hasdrubal Gisgo placed his best troops, the Celtiberians, in the center, with the Carthaginian infantry (those salvaged from the camp fire, plus new recruits) flanked by the Punic cavalry on the right, and Syphax’s Numidians—infantry, then cavalry—positioned on the left. The Romans lined up their own legionaries in the center—possibly but not necessarily covered on each side by an ala—with the Italian cavalry occupying the right wing and Masinissa’s Numidian horse on the extreme left.

According to both Polybius and Livy the battle was over almost as soon as it began, the first charge of each of Scipio’s cavalry wings scattering the Carthaginians and Syphax’s troops, horse and foot soldiers alike.36 It has been argued that Scipio’s cavalry, which would have numbered fewer than four thousand, was simply not numerous enough to break up such a large body of men (around twenty-six thousand) and that there must have been an intervening infantry engagement. Nevertheless, Livy is pretty clear that both the Carthaginian and Numidian components of the Punic force were largely untrained and that it was Scipio’s cavalry specifically that drove them from the field, so this intermediate stage may not have been necessary. At any rate, nobody disputes the result—the Celtiberians were left very much alone.

Even if it was only the legiones Cannenses facing them, the Celtiberians would have been decisively outnumbered. However, they had no choice but to fight. Africa was alien territory if they ran, and they could expect no mercy from Scipio if they surrendered, since he undoubtedly remembered it was Celtiberian desertions that had led to the death of his father and uncle, not to mention their joining the Punic cause after he had supposedly pacified Spain.

The Celtiberians would have been roughly equal in number to the two legions’ worth of hastati facing them. But rather than feeding the remaining elements of the triplex acies directly ahead, Scipio resorted to his now-characteristic maneuver, turning the principes and triarii into columns and marching them right and left out from behind the front line to attack the Celtiberians on the flanks. Pinned by the forces ahead, and beset on each side, the Spaniards met death obstinately. In the end, Livy tells us, the butchery lasted longer than the fighting. The ghosts of Cannae, on the other hand, were very much alive, and, having exacted a measure of revenge for their commander, they were plainly ready for more.

Yet, the sacrifice of the Celtiberians, by keeping the Romans preoccupied until nightfall, had allowed the escape of Hasdrubal Gisgo, who eventually made it back to Carthage with some survivors and Syphax, who headed inland with his cavalry. Determined to retain the initiative, Scipio called a war council the next day and explained his plan. He would keep the main body of the army and work his way back from the Great Plains toward the coast, plundering and sowing rebellion among Carthage’s subject communities as he went, while he sent Laelius and Masinissa with the cavalry and velites after Syphax.

Both Polybius (14.9.6–11) and Livy (20.9.3–9) provide similar but internally contradictory descriptions of Carthage’s reaction to the defeat. On the one hand, they say the news was greeted with utter panic and loss of confidence; but then go on to describe the citizenry’s determined preparation for a siege, plans for manning and equipping the fleet for a naval offensive against Scipio’s armada gathered around Utica, and the recall of Hannibal as the only general capable of defending the city. As always, we can catch only glimpses of the true nature of Punic politics. One possible explanation for Carthage’s apparently contradictory reactions is that the intermediate position of the three courses cited above was now dominant. Livy states clearly that “peace was seldom mentioned,” and it is also probable that the Barcid faction (not to mention the general himself) did not want Hannibal (and presumably Mago) brought back, since it was tantamount to admitting that their great scheme had failed. In the interim, the Punic mainstream seems to have fallen back on the city’s traditional naval shield of war galleys as a way out of their troubles.

It was certainly an audacious scheme, with the fleet and the delegation to Hannibal being launched simultaneously the day after the resolution passed. Scipio, now less than thirteen miles away, having just taken over the abandoned town of Tunis, observed the launch with horror. For he understood that the descent of the Carthaginian flotilla would come as an utter surprise to the Romans at Utica. He also understood that his warships, burdened with all manner of siege equipment, were in no condition to maneuver in a naval engagement. The offensive would have worked had not the Punic battle squadron, which likely was manned mostly by inexperienced oarsmen, dawdled, taking most of the day to arrive and then anchoring for the night before forming up to attack at dawn.

This gave Scipio at least some time to prepare, and as usual he responded ingeniously to what could have been a very bad situation. Rather than have his warships protect his transports, he did the reverse. Polybius tells us just before his narrative breaks off that Scipio abandoned any idea of advancing into battle, drew the ships together near shore, and girded the whole mass with three or four layers of merchant vessels, lashed together with their masts and yards to form a wooden coat of armor.

The next morning the Punic force waited in vain for the Romans to come out, only belatedly moving in to attack Scipio’s transport-encrusted force. What followed bore no resemblance to a sea fight, Livy says, but instead “looked like ships attacking walls,” since the transports’ much greater freeboard enabled the thousand or so picked fighters Scipio had stationed on board to cast their ample supply of javelins directly down at the low-slung Punic galleys, effectively stymieing the attack. It was only when the Carthaginians began using grappling hooks that they achieved a measure of success. They managed to haul away sixty transports, which were greeted back home with more joy than the episode deserved—a small ray of sun shining through an unmitigated series of setbacks. Meanwhile, Scipio’s fleet was saved, and he would soon receive news from the hinterlands that would send Carthage reeling to the brink of surrender.

After a fifteen-day march Laelius and Masinissa were in the heart of Numidia, reaching first the eastern kingdom of Massylia, where the natives joyfully accepted the young prince as their ruler. But there was still the matter of Syphax, who had withdrawn to the home territory of Massaesylia and was again busy reconstituting his army. Yet again he managed to cobble together a force basically as large as its predecessors, but with each iteration the quality had dropped, now to the point where the army consisted of little more than the rawest of recruits. Nonetheless, he brought them forward to confront the advancing Romans in what turned out to be a ragged cavalry engagement, which was eventually decided when the velites stabilized their line to the point where Syphax’s men refused to advance and instead began to flee. Either to shame them or out of desperation, the king charged the Romans, whereupon his horse was wounded and he was captured—and was now very much a sinner in the hands of an angry Masinissa.

But also a shrewd one. Masinissa told Laelius that if he would let him ride ahead with Syphax to Cirta, the eastern capital of the Massaesylians, the psychological impact might cause a complete collapse. It did. Upon arriving, Masinissa arranged a conclave with the city fathers, who remained adamant until he dragged Syphax before them in chains, at which point they opened the gates.

Once inside, Masinissa headed for the palace. Here Livy turns cinematic, staging one of the more romantic, though not necessarily implausible, confrontations in all of historical literature. For at the threshold, “in the full flower of her youthful beauty” and with the mind of a true temptress, was Sophonisba. She clasped Masinissa’s knees, congratulated him on having better luck than Syphax, and told him she had really only one request: “choose my fate as your heart may prompt you, but whatever you do, even if it means my death, don’t surrender me to the arrogant and brutal whim of any Roman…. What a woman of Carthage—what the daughter of Hasdrubal—has to fear from a Roman is all too clear.” As she spoke, Livy adds perhaps unnecessarily, “her words were now more nearly those of a charmer than of a suppliant.”

Masinissa was a goner—probably after the first sentence—and upon further reflection, doubtless from within a cloud of lust, a solution came to mind—marriage … marriage so fast that it would become a fait accompli. (“That’s no Punic subverter of Rome’s allies; that’s my wife!”)

Predictably, the Romans didn’t buy it. When Laelius arrived at the palace, he was ready to drag her out of her marriage bed and send her back immediately to Scipio with Syphax and the other prisoners. Masinissa prevailed upon him to leave her in Cirta while the two of them conducted mopping-up operations. This would give Scipio more time to decide what to do with this veritable man magnet.

Sophonisba’s future was probably a foregone conclusion, but Syphax may have sealed her fate. When Syphax was delivered back to castra Cornelia, Scipio asked his former guest-friend what had possessed him to refuse that amity and instead wage war. It’s not surprising that Syphax fell back on the femme fatale defense. Sophonisba was the venom in his blood, the avenging Fury, who with her plying words and caresses had addled his mind. He then turned the knife by adding that his sole consolation was that this monster of treachery was now his worst enemy’s wife.

When Laelius and Masinissa returned from the hinterlands, Scipio took the latter aside and, recalling his own forbearance in the face of the beauteous captive back in New Carthage, made it clear that political expediency demanded that the young man give up his new wife, either as a prisoner or … He left the alternative unsaid. Masinissa extemporized and had a slave bring Sophonisba a cup of poison as his means of delivering her from the Romans. She drank without flinching, remarking that if this was the best he could do in the way of a wedding present, she would accept it, but she also instructed the slave to tell her wannabe widower that she would have died a better death had she not married him in the first place.

So perished Sophonisba, still another in a long line of aristocratic Punic suicides. Yet she likely had done more in bed to keep her city safe than Hannibal had accomplished on the battlefield. Nor is this meant as a backhanded compliment. Because of her, Syphax had given Scipio far more trouble than he’d bargained for, and a marriage alliance with Masinissa had held out the promise of neutralizing an adversary who would later prove highly instrumental in the city’s ultimate destruction. The match had probably been doomed from the beginning, and she paid for it with her life. But it is hard to deny she died a hero’s death.

Back in Carthage, this sort of resolve was fast becoming a diminishing quantity. The narratives of both Polybius and Livy make it pretty clear that Carthaginian resistance had become increasingly dependent on Numidian support, and news of Syphax’s capture had tilted the political balance, at least in the council of elders, in the direction of the anti-Barcid proprietors of the vast inland food factory, who were sick of seeing their properties ravaged by Romans and now wanted peace.

Sometime in late 203 the inner council of thirty key elders was dispatched to Scipio’s camp to negotiate an end to the war. As Livy tells it, the elders’ inclination was immediately betrayed by their prostrating themselves. Essentially, they begged Rome for mercy, blaming Hannibal and the Barcid party as the instigators of the war. This was plainly self-serving, but it was also likely to have been true.

As it happened, Scipio was ready to deal. He could see the strength of Carthage’s fortifications, and understood that an unacceptably protracted and costly siege was the only option if he wanted to continue fighting. He was also well aware of Rome’s war-weariness and desire to end this terrible conflict. Finally, he must have been aware that there were those back home who wanted his command, so victory on his watch must have had its attractions.

The terms he offered were not unreasonable but were certainly calculated to remove Carthage permanently as a military competitor with Rome. According to Livy, Scipio proposed that the Punic side hand over all war prisoners, deserters, and runaway slaves; withdraw the armies of both Hannibal and Mago; cease interfering in Spain; evacuate all the islands between Italy and Africa; supply large quantities of grain to feed his army and animals; and surrender all but twenty of their warships. As far as a war indemnity, the historian tells us that his sources differed, some saying five thousand talents, others five thousand pounds of silver, and still others double pay for Scipio’s troops. Appian also adds several clauses that, if true, make the terms considerably harsher (e.g., forbidding Carthaginians from hiring mercenaries, restricting their territory to the so-called “Phoenician trenches”—an area inland roughly between the east coast of modern Tunisia and its border with Algeria—and giving Masinissa dominion over his home kingdom and all he could take of Syphax’s). Finally, Scipio gave the Carthaginians three days to accept, whereupon a truce would take hold while they sent envoys to Rome for final negotiations. The council of elders agreed, and envoys were dispatched, but Livy maintains it was all a ruse to give Hannibal time to return to Africa. This is debatable.


Rome and Carthage at War

Dexter Hoyos

Gergovia: Vercingetorix’s Victory

As the survivors from Avaricum neared Vercingetorix’s camp he took special precautions to conceal their flight and the fall of the town. He posted his own supporters as well as tribal leaders at some way from the camp to intercept the fugitives and secretly take them to their own tribes’ quarters.

The next day Vercingetorix gathered his men and delivered a speech that was designed to minimize the impact of the fall of the towns on the Gauls’ morale. He claimed that it had fallen due to superior Roman siege technology and trickery, not because of the bravery of the Romans. He disassociated himself from its fall by rightly claiming he had never been in favour of defending it but had yielded to the pleas of the Bituriges. He glossed over the prior defeats the Gauls had sustained at Cenabum and elsewhere, claiming that such reverses were a normal part of warfare. He promised to extend the alliance to those Gauls who had not yet joined. He then suggested that the best course at present was to fortify their camp.

The speech was well-received. The fall of Avaricum enhanced Vercingetorix’s standing and weakened his opponents. The Gauls were well aware that he had advised against the attempt to hold the town and he had now been vindicated. There was also strong support for extending the war to as much of Gaul as possible. Doing so would not only add to the rebels’ manpower but it would also create problems for the Romans who would find themselves overextended. The capture of Avaricum as well as the earlier victories at Vellaunodunum and Cenabum had brought Caesar no political benefit. They had only served to strengthen Vercingetorix’s position and further unify the rebels.

Vercingetorix took immediate steps to implement his proposals. He sent out representatives to the tribes that had so far kept aloof from the rebellion, enticing them with gifts and promises. He then set about making up the losses suffered at Avaricum by instituting quotas from the tribes and requiring them to come to his camp on a set day. These actions soon made up for his losses. His diplomatic offensive also produced results. Teotomatus, a son of Ollovico, the king of the Nitiobriges who had been given the title of friend by the Senate, joined him with a large cavalry force and with mercenaries hired in Aquitania.

For a few days Caesar remained at Avaricum. The captured town provided him with an abundant supply of grain and the army needed to rest and refit after the strains of the siege. The winter was now almost over, which would make campaigning easier, and he set out in pursuit of the enemy in the hope of bringing them to battle or starving them out by a blockade. Before he could set out the leaders of the Aedui arrived to ask for Caesar’s help. Once again, tribal politics created problems. The election to office of the vergobret, their supreme annual magistrate, was at issue. Two men were claiming that they had been legally elected while only one could hold office. One of them was Convictolitavis, a distinguished young man, while the other, Cotus, was an aristocrat with considerable connections and influence. Both men had strong support and the dispute threatened to tear the fabric of the state apart. The Aedui asked for Caesar’s help to resolve the matter. The delay the request imposed was unwelcome. If he agreed to it, it would postpone the campaign against Vercingetorix and give Vercingetorix further time to prepare. But Caesar could hardly ignore such a request from the Aedui, Rome’s oldest allies in the area. On occasion they had provided useful military support to him, but more importantly they had been a major source of supply. In addition, one side or the other might call in Vercingetorix as an ally. He had already seen some evidence of the tribe’s less-than enthusiastic collaboration. Their negligence in delivering grain during the siege of Avaricum hinted at disaffection among the tribal elite.

To avoid breaking tribal laws which specified that vergobret could not leave Aeduan territory, Caesar summoned the two men involved as well as the entire council to Decetia, modern Decize, at the confluence of the Loire and the Aron, within their territory. After hearing the facts of the case Caesar awarded the office to Convictolitavis. It was a decision that stored up trouble for the future.

After a conciliatory speech calling on the Aedui to set aside their disputes he ordered them to send all of their cavalry and 10,000 infantry to serve as guards for his grain supply. Clearly Vercingetorix’s strategy had had some effect. Caesar divided his army into two columns; four legions were assigned to Labienus to conduct operations against the Senones and the Parisii, while Caesar would take the remaining six legions along the valley of the Allier towards Gergovia, the capital of the Arverni.

Vercingetorix, learning of Caesar’s arrangements, moved up the western bank of the river while Caesar made his way along the eastern side. He kept pace with the Romans, breaking down the bridges over which they might cross, and he posted scouts to deny the Romans the opportunity of constructing their own. This manoeuvre put Caesar in a difficult position. The Allier would not be fordable until the autumn. To wait until then would mean the loss of an entire campaigning season. The only course open to him was to trick Vercingetorix. He encamped in a wood opposite one of the bridges that had been torn down. The next day he hid two of the legions in the woods while he sent on the remainder, who were formed up so as to conceal the absence of the legions he had kept behind. When he estimated that those legions were now in camp he ordered his two legions to rapidly construct a bridge. The task was made easier because the piles of the original bridge had been left standing. He took his two legions across, encamped and summoned the other legions to him. Vercingetorix, realizing what had happened, moved on by forced marches to avoid a fight.

The march to Gergovia consumed five days and on the last day a minor cavalry skirmish occurred. Caesar then examined the site, which posed formidable problems. It was situated on a mountain rising 1,200 feet (367m) above the plain about 3.5 miles (6km) south of Clermont Ferrand. The northern side of the mountain was broken by precipitous cliffs, which made an attack impossible. An attack on the eastern side was equally out of the question. It was rugged, steep and dotted with ravines. Looked at from the south the town was situated on an oblong plateau that formed the mountain’s summit, and the higher terraces were linked to an outlying height by a ridge on which the Gauls were encamped. Their tents were protected by a stone wall that ran for the entire length of the southern side of the mountain. There was no hope of taking Gergovia by storm. Even on the south side where the ascent was easiest the ground was steep and dangerous. The Gallic encampment on that side meant that such an attack could not succeed. The only possibility was to cut off the town’s food supply with a siege. But Caesar could not start the operation until his own grain supply was secure.

Vercingetorix had seized control of a height close to the town and had placed various tribal contingents at intervals along the ridge. He was in constant contact with the tribal chiefs and did as much as possible to involve them in the planning as a way to cement their loyalty and maintain his army’s cohesion. He constantly sent out his cavalry accompanied by archers to keep up his men’s morale.

Opposite the town there was a hill with precipitous sides, the modern Roche Blanche, which was strongly fortified. The Gauls had also installed a garrison on it but only of moderate strength. If Caesar could gain control of it he would greatly ease the difficulties of besieging Gergovia, as he could cut the enemy off from their main water supply, the River Auzon, and prevent their forces from foraging. Caesar launched a night attack by which he was able to dislodge the garrison and seize control of the hill. He built a second smaller camp there with two legions, and linked it by a double ditch 12 feet (3.6m) wide to his main camp.

Despite this success Caesar was threatened by developments among the Aedui that remain difficult to explain. Convictolitavis, whom Caesar had recently installed in the tribe’s chief magistracy, had begun a plot to end the Aedui’s allegiance to Rome. Caesar claims he was bribed, but it is difficult to accept that this was the only reason for his change of heart. The money may have been an incentive, but even for the Aedui who had benefitted from Caesar’s victories the Roman presence was a heavy burden. They had been under constant pressure to provide Caesar with supplies and troops, which must have created extensive unrest. The tribal elite had as much to fear from its Roman ally as the other Gallic states if the Romans established permanent control. The Roman alliance had been attractive when it could be used by the Aedui in their conflicts with their neighbours, but Caesar’s campaigns had ended that possibility. The success of the Gallic revolt would once again open up the options that Caesar’s campaigns had closed.

Convictolitavis seems to have been convinced of the success of that revolt and saw it as an opportunity to enhance his position. He began talks with younger members of the elite who had less to lose and more to expect from a radical change in the political and military situation. The most important faction among these young men was that of Litaviccus and his brothers. The conspirators came to an agreement and began to plan their strategy. They managed to have Litaviccus placed in charge of the 10,000 infantry that Caesar has requested to guard his supply lines to the Aedui. The Aeduan cavalry had already arrived at Caesar’s camp before the infantry had set out. When the infantry had advanced within 27 miles (43km) of Gergovia Litaviccus called an assembly of the troops. With tears streaming from his eyes he addressed them as follows:

Where are we going soldiers? Our entire cavalry force, all our nobility are dead. Eporedorix and Viridomarus without being allowed to offer a defence have been executed. Know this from these men here who escaped the slaughter. I am overwhelmed by grief at the butchery of brothers and all my relations and am unable to speak.

The men who came forward had been coached by Litaviccus and confirmed his version of events. The troops were convinced by the story and begged Litaviccus to tell them what to do. He pressed on them the urgent need to head for Gergovia and to join the Arverni in their struggle with the Romans to avenge the wrongs they had suffered. He then pointed to the Romans who had accompanied his force under his protection and urged the troops to take their revenge on them. Their goods were stolen and they were murdered. An act that he must have known would, as the massacre at Cenabum had done, irretrievably commit the Aedui to the rebel side. He then sent men back to Bibracte to rouse the Aedui to revolt with the same fabrications that had already proved so successful.

Meanwhile further trouble was brewing among the Aedui in Caesar’s camp. Two young men, Eporedorix and Viridomarus, were disputing the leadership of their cavalry contingent. This quarrel was only a continuation of an earlier disagreement they had had over the appointment of the vergobret. After hearing of Litaviccus’s plan Eporedorix had gone to Caesar during the night to inform him of it and to beg him to prevent the Aedui from defecting.

Caesar was clearly upset. Along with the Remi in Belgica the Aedui were his most important allies. His ability to carry on the siege of Gergovia depended on the Aedui provisioning him with grain and other supplies. If they rebelled his position there would become untenable. He immediately assembled a force of four legions and all of his cavalry and marched out of camp after issuing orders that Litaviccus’s brothers should be arrested, but they had already fled. He left his legate Gaius Fabius in charge of the siege with two legions but had had no time to reduce the size of the camp to make it easier for the smaller number of troops to defend it. The Romans advanced 23 miles (37km) and came in sight of the Aeduan column. Caesar sent his cavalry ahead to slow the column’s march but forbade his horsemen to kill any of the Aedui. He also commanded Eporedorix and Viridomarus to accompany them and show themselves to their fellow tribesmen. They rode up and called to them. When they were recognized the lies that Litaviccus had fed them were revealed. They immediately threw down their arms and begged for mercy. Finding himself exposed Litaviccus along with his clients fled to Gergovia. Caesar sent messengers to the Aedui to reassure them and to remind them that he could have put their infantry to death but had generously refrained doing so.

After resting his army for only three hours Caesar began his march back to Gergovia. As he advanced he was met by cavalry sent by Fabius to inform him that the camp was in danger. The small garrison that he had left behind was now under siege by a much larger force. The enemy had sufficient troops to fight in relays and the legions were on the point of exhaustion, since the size of the camp meant that no one could be spared in manning its defences. All of the camp’s gates but two had been blocked and a screen had been erected on the ramparts as a defence against the Gauls’ missiles. The threat to the camp spurred Caesar and his soldiers on. They reached the camp before sunrise.

Litaviccus’s men reached the Aedui before Caesar’s messengers. His accusations against the Romans were accepted as fact and they began to plunder the goods of the Roman citizens in Bibracte and then massacred or enslaved them. The ease with which his news was accepted points to how far the relationship with the Romans had deteriorated. Convictolitavis did all he could to support the uprising. Romans were expelled from Aeduan towns and then attacked and stripped of their baggage: among them was a military tribune, Marcus Aristeus, who was on his way to join his legion. However, once they had learned that their infantry was in Caesar’s power they immediately halted their attacks and approached Aristeus claiming that what had taken place was not done publically but had been carried out by private individuals without community sanction. To give substance to this claim they set up an inquiry into the stolen goods and confiscated the property of Litaviccus and his brothers. An embassy was dispatched to Caesar to try to clear the tribe of any wrongdoing. Regardless of their pleas for forgiveness, the Aedui seem to have taken these steps to rescue their men from Caesar; in fact, they seem to have already decided to throw in their lot with the rebels.

Caesar claims to have been aware of all this and to have decided on a withdrawal from Gergovia. It is difficult to assess the truth of his statement. The fact that he later did so after suffering one of his few reverses suggests that he may be exaggerating his foresight as a way of at least partially excusing his failure at Gergovia. He claims that a chance opportunity arose that offered the possibility of success and that led to a change of plans.

On an inspection tour of the works at the smaller camp Caesar noticed a hill that had previously been fully occupied by the Gauls now appeared empty of defenders. He questioned Gallic deserters and his own scouts and learned that there was a crest along the ridge of high ground on the rear of the hill that gave access to the plateau on which Gergovia sat. To close off this approach Vercingetorix had withdrawn his men from the hill so that they could fortify the line of the ridge. The ridge was probably part of the heights of Risolles, north-west of la Roche Blanche, where Caesar’s smaller camp was located. Questions have been raised as to whether such an action by the Gauls makes any military sense and if Caesar has altered the details to help excuse his failure at Gergovia. It is however perfectly plausible that after the loss of La Roche-Blanche Vercingetorix had decided to create a fallback position from the hill along the ridge to prevent the Romans from reaching the plateau. Caesar, in claiming the hill was devoid of men, is probably exaggerating. Vercingetorix probably left a smaller than normal garrison while most of his men were engaged in fortifying the ridge.

Caesar now saw the possibility of drawing the Gauls off from their main camp below the town so that it could be attacked. He dispatched a number of cavalry to the hill around midnight, instructing them to create as much disruption as possible. The next morning at dawn he sent drovers mounted on their mules and pack-horses disguised as cavalry and interspersed with a small number of real cavalry to ride around the hill and create a diversion. Caesar then sent a legion towards the same high ground but it halted short of the hill and concealed itself in some woods nearby. All of these movements drew off the Gauls from their main camp to defend the height. In preparation for his real objective, the attack on this camp, Caesar began to move his legions to his smaller camp nearer the enemy camp in small detachments to conceal his intentions. He then instructed his legates, each in command of a legion, that it was especially important to keep their men under control. The ground was unfavourable and the speed of the advance was crucial. He reminded them that his plan was not for a full-scale battle but simply to seize an opportunity that had presented itself. He ordered the Aedui to make an ascent to his right to further draw off the defenders.

In a straight line the distance from the town wall to where the ascent began was just over a mile. Although there were paths that led up that were less precipitous, their turnings increased the distance to the walls. The Gallic camp, which was composed of a number of separate tribal encampments, lay halfway up the hill and was protected by a 6 foot stone wall that followed the contours of the mountain. Their tents filled the space between this fortification wall and the town walls. The area in front of the 6 foot wall was unoccupied.

At the signal for attack the Romans quickly reached the fortification wall, crossed it and captured three of the enemy encampments, including that of the Nitiobriges. Caesar claims that this was all he intended and now he ordered that the retreat signal should be sounded. Caesar was with his favourite Tenth Legion, which immediately halted. He says that the others, because of a wide gully, did not hear the call for retreat but were held in check by their officers, but apparently not very effectively. They continued their pursuit of the fleeing rebels. The town wall was reached, creating panic inside the town. Some of the soldiers of the Eighth Legion, led by their centurion Lucius Fabius, managed to scale the town wall. However, the Gauls employed in fortifying another part of the town heard the uproar. They sent their cavalry on ahead and followed with all of their infantry at full speed. The Romans were exhausted by their climb, fighting on disadvantageous ground and faced by a much larger enemy force. Caesar became anxious about the situation and sent to his legate Titus Sextius who was in charge of the smaller camp to bring up cohorts quickly and to station them at the bottom of the hill on the enemy’s right flank. If the Romans were forced back Sextius’s troops would deter the Gauls’ pursuit. Caesar then advanced closer to the fighting with the Tenth and awaited its outcome. Although Caesar does not say so he presumably kept the Tenth as a reserve.

The Roman position deteriorated further when the Aedui, who had been ordered to ascend the hill, appeared and were mistaken for enemy reinforcements. Meanwhile Lucius Fabius and his men were killed and thrown headlong from the walls, while another centurion of the same legion Marcus Petronius, who was attempting to force the town’s gates, saved his men at the expense of his own life by fighting back the enemy and giving his men time to escape. The Romans were overwhelmed and forced back down the hill. The Tenth, stationed on lower ground, served as a rally point while the cohorts of the Thirteenth that had been brought up from the smaller camp and stationed on higher ground moved down to the Tenth’s former position. Once they had reached level ground the legions reformed and faced the Gauls, who now turned and made their way back to their own fortifications. The toll had been heavy, with the loss of 700 soldiers and forty-six centurions.

The next day Caesar assembled his troops and reprimanded them for their The next day Caesar assembled his troops and reprimanded them for their lack of discipline, although he made admiring remarks about their courage after so many tribulations. He then urged them not to despair. The defeat was due not to the Gauls’ bravery but rather to their fighting at a disadvantage because of the uneven ground. Right after the assembly he led the legions out and deployed them for battle on level ground. Vercingetorix brought his own troops down but after a cavalry skirmish in which the Romans prevailed he led his men back to their fortifications. Caesar formed up once again the following day and again the Gauls refused battle. It is clear that Caesar did not expect the Gauls to fight. The manoeuvre was designed to restore his men’s confidence rather than to threaten the enemy.

The fact that this was the gravest defeat that Caesar personally suffered in Gaul is indisputable but there has been much controversy over what Caesar intended at Gergovia. It is clear that his string of successful sieges at Avaricum and elsewhere led him to underestimate the strength of the Gallic resistance. Gergovia was a tempting prize. If he had captured it along with Vercingetorix he would have been able to extinguish a tribal alliance that was by far the most dangerous threat to Roman control of Gaul. However given the natural strength of the site and the large number of Gallic troops he faced, his forces were inadequate. Once he realized that capturing it by storm was a near impossibility his only option was to starve it out but he simply did not have the manpower to do so. The attack on the Gauls’ camp is mystifying. Did he simply intend a demonstration? If he did it is difficult to discern the purpose of it. Was it simply a demonstration to the Aedui and other tribes whose loyalty was ebbing away? It is hard to see what that would accomplish as long as he failed to take the town. It seems likely that Caesar intended to take Gergovia by drawing off the Gauls but that they responded too quickly and the Romans were defeated. Caesar has attempted to disguise his failure by obscuring the purpose of the attack and blaming his losses on his men’s lack of discipline rather than on the failure of his gamble. In spite of Caesar’s attempt to restore Roman prestige by offering battle to the Gauls, the failure to take Gergovia dealt a severe blow to his prestige. His legates had suffered reverses but Caesar had remained undefeated. Gergovia shattered any illusions the Gauls might have held about his invincibility and opened the way for a mass defection of the Gallic tribes now that they thought the Romans could be defeated.