How Senate Corruption Caused the Demise of the Roman Republic

Hannibal of Carthage: Military Commander and Greatest ...

Hannibal leading his elephants over the Alps during his invasion of Northern Italy

Episode 21: Building the Roman Republic

The Big History of Civilizations (2016)

Dr Craig G Benjamin

Film Review

According to Benjamin, the Roman republic was formed when residents of city-state Rome overthrew the last Roman king (535 BC) and created an assembly of nobles (called the senate), which elected two consuls to oversee the government.

In 493 BC, there was another major revolt, in which the plebians  (commoners) refused to work or serve in the military. The Senate ended the general strike by allowing the plebs to elect tribunes with the power to veto the consuls’ decisions. However the vast majority of agricultural land continued to be owned by the nobility, who treated the peasants who farmed it as virtual serfs.

From 309 BC, when marauding Gauls sacked the city, Rome became increasingly militarized. During the Pyrrhic War (280-275 BC), Greek colonies in southern Italy hired Pyrrhus, the mercenary king of Epirus, to protect them against Roman aggression. Pyrrhus technically won all the battles he launched against Rome. However his forces were too weakened to defend themselves against further Roman assaults. By 270 BC, Rome had brought all the Greek city-states of southern Italy under Roman control.

The three Punic Wars (264-164 BC), directed against the Phoenicians who controlled Carthage, were the first military engagements involving hundreds of thousands of troops in multiple arenas throughout the Mediterranean. They were also the first wars in history to result in large numbers of civilian deaths.

In 203 BC, the Carthaginian general Hannibal occupied all of northern Italy for eight months and was preparing to march on when the Roman general Scipio attacked Carthage. In doing so, he forced Hannibal to withdraw from Italy and return to North Africa. As the Romans perfect the capacity to sustain war on multiple fronts, they eventually took control of the former Carthaginian empire, virtually extinguishing Carthaginian culture by 146 BC.

In 197 BC, the Romans attacked Macedonia to punish them for allying with Carthage, and in 146 BC, they put down an uprising in Corinth and annexed the entire Greek peninsula.

In 133 BC, the king of Pergamon (in modern day Turkey), bequeathed his kingdom to Rome. This meant the republic of Rome now had colonies in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Following the conquest of Greece, the Roman elite learned the Greek language and became avid consumers of Greek literature, philosophy and art. Meanwhile the city of Rome underwent a major social crisis as senators gobbled up more and more agricultural land, and troops released from the military returned from war to form an unemployed proletariat.*

Meanwhile extreme corruption prevented the Senate from enacting necessary reforms to prevent the Republic from collapsing. In 133 BC, Tiberius Gracchus attempted to enact a law to limit the size of senatorial farms, and the senate had him murdered along with 300 of his followers. In 123-122 BC his brother Gaius Gracchus was elected tribune and established the “dole,” a grain subsidy for unemployed Romans. He also tried to establish military colonies for veterans in Europe and Africa. He was also killed,  along with 3,000 followers in violent rioting.

In 107 BC, the peoples assembly elected the tough general Gaius Marius as tribune. The latter established the destabilizing precedent of recruiting his own army among peasant followers. The creation by Gaius Marius and Sculla of personal armies to put down an uprising in Asia Minor would lead to Rome’s first civil war.

In 59 BC, Julius Caesar, elected consul in 64 BC, triggered the second civil war by refusing to disband the army he had led in Gaul. This caused his co-consul and most of the senate to flee to Greece.

After the senate appointed Caesar “dictator,” he declared the republic dead and passed laws to reduce debt, establish colonies for returned veterans. He also declared that one third laborers on senators’ estates had to be freemen. These reforms effectively reduced the number of Romans receiving the “dole” from 320,000 to 100,000 (out of a total population of 500,000_.

The alleged reason for Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC was to restore “liberty” to Rome. His 18-year-old adopted son Octavian formed an alliance with Marc Antony and the Senate to pursue and kill the assassins. Mark Antony ruled Rome until he fell in love with Cleopatra. This led Octavian to declared war on Egypt and proclaim Antony a traitor.**

Granted the titles Augustus and imperator (emperor) by the senate, Augustus went on to reduce corruption, professionalized the army and establish 40 overseas colonies for veterans.


*From the Latin word “proles” (offspring).

**Both Antony and Cleopatra subsequently committed suicide

 

 

 

 

 

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/building-roman-republic

The High Status of Women in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian culture, woman's cosmetics and ...

Episode 10: The Society and Culture of Ancient Egypt

The Big History of Civilizations (2016)

Dr Craig G Benjamin

Film Review

In this lecture, Benjamin contrasts the society and culture of ancient civilization with those of Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, East Asia and the Americas.

Unlike other early cities, those of Egypt were really small. The majority of prehistoric Egyptians lived in villages alone the Nile River. Because early Egyptian farmers created their own irrigation systems, there was no need to create a bureaucratic state irrigation works. Likewise, owing to its geographic isolation, Egypt went through long war-free periods. Unsurprisingly this was a major factory in its long periods of economic and political stability.

Like Mesopotamia, ancient Egyptian cities produced enough food to support a thriving middle class engaged in non-farming occupations (eg pottery, textile weaving, wood working, leather working, stone cutting masonry. Women in Egypt had more power than those of Mesopotamia, Greece or Rome. Although the kingdom was a patriarchy, women were employed outside the home as scribes, priestesses, musicians, dancers and artisans). They also had legal rights. A woman in ancient Egypt could legally buy, sell and own property, institute court proceedings, borrow money, adopt children, and buy and sell slaves.

Bronze metallurgy reached Egypt and Nubia in 1700 BC (in contrast to 3200 BC in Mesopotamia). It would be largely replaced by iron metallurgy in 1300 BC.

Starting in 3500 BC, Egyptian sailing vessels engaged in trade along the Nile. From 3000 BC on, they traveled the Mediterranean trading with the Phoenicians, Minoans and Mycenaeans. Egypt imported copper and pottery from Cypress (to combine with eastern desert tin, cedar wax cylinders (for record keeping) from Mesopotamia and cedar (from the Phoenicians). It exported ebony, ivory, leopard skins, gemstones, gold and slaves (they acquired from sub-Saharan Africa) to Mediterranean cities and linen, to southern Africa.

Written language (in the form of hieroglyphics) began around 3200 BC. It initially began as pictographs but Egyptian scribes soon added new symbols for new sounds and abstract ideas.

According Benjamin, the Egyptians had hundreds of household, regional and national gods. Their pharaohs built large elaborate temples overseen by a powerful priesthood with extensive landholdings.

The most prominent Egyptian gods were

Amon – god of creation and fertility

Ra – the sun god (which came to be combined with Amon as Amon-Re) during the Middle Kingdom

Osirus – fertility god, father of Horus and Isis

Unlike the Sumerians, the Egyptians believed in an afterlife. The main reason the pharaohs and other elites had themselves mummified was to help their souls recognize their bodies in the afterlife.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/society-and-culture-egypt

1177 BC: The Year Civilisation Collapsed*

When Civilisation Collapsed

The Histocrat (2019)

Film Review

I have always been morbidly fascinated by ancient history, largely because most public schools refuse to teach it. I wanted to major in ancient history at university but was scared off by the surplus of PhD cab drivers in the late sixties.

This intriguing documentary concerns a four-century “dark age” in the late Bronze Age between 1200 and 800 BC. It began when four powerful empires collapsed more or less simultaneously. Because literacy also collapsed, there is no written history describing this period. Thus nearly everything we know about it is based on archeological evidence and oral history Homer captured in the Iliad and the Odyssey.

The four Bronze Age Empires that collapsed are Egypt, the Hittite empire (in Asia Minor), the Mycaenean empire (Greece), and the Assyrian empire (in Mesopotamia).

For several centuries prior to their demise, these prehistoric empires battled each other on their borders and traded territory back and forth.

Since the late 19th century, most historians have blamed their collapse on an invasion by mysterious “Sea Peoples.” However as laid out in this documentary, except at Troy (aka Ilium, aka Wilusa), there is no archeological evidence supporting a major military invasion.**

Based on contemporary archeological evidence, the film argues that a combination of natural disasters (earthquakes, droughts and famines) internal revolts, and a surge in sea piracy*** is a more likely explanation.

By the time written language reappeared in the 8th century BC, a number of new tribes and languages had appeared. Athenian and Dorian tribes had migrated into Greece, Phoenicians and Philistines had migrated into the Levant,**** the new kingdom of Lydia had expanded to cover most of Asia Minor. Assyria would ultimately expand to become the largest empire the world had seen.


*Professor Eric H. Cline’s book 1187 BC: The Year Civilisation Collapsed is credited as a main source for this documentary.

**According to archeological evidence, the Greco-Trojan war most likely occurred between 1300 and 1200 BC.

***All four empires were dependent on Mediterranean trade, especially for copper (from Asia Minor and Cyprus) and tin (from Afghanistan and the Balkans) needed to make bronze.

****Area including modern day Syria, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon.

 

The Celts: Advanced Seafarers or Uncivilized Barbarians?

The Celts: Search for a Civilization

By Alice Roberts

Heron Books (2015)

Book Review

Were the Celts of northern Europe the uncivilized barbarians the Greeks and Romans made them out to be? Alice Roberts thinks not. Her book examines the origin of the Celts, the prehistoric tribe responsible for populating Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and early Britain. The conventional view is that the Celts originated in central Europe and gradually migrated west to occupy ancient Gaul (France), Britain, Scotland, Wales an Ireland; south to Egypt and northern Italy; and west as far as Kiev and Turkey. Roberts sides with the more recent view that Celtic civilization developed along the Atlantic coast of Europe – a well-connected group of Bronze Age societies extending from Portugal – and migrated westward to occupy Gaul, parts of Germany, the Balkans, Turkey and northern Italy..

The Celts gives a full inventory of all available archeological, linguistic and genetic evidence, as well as accounts from historical texts and oral myths. The picture Roberts paints is totally at odds with Roman and Greek efforts to portray Celts as uncivilized barbarians. Thanks to their great sophistication in mining, smelting metals into weapons and jewelry, and advanced seafaring, the Celts established major trading centers throughout continental Europe. The Tartessos referred to in the Old Testament at the time of Solomon were early Celts who sailed great ships laden with silver, gold, ivory, apes and peacocks to trade with Mediterranean settlements.

The Phoenicians, the first Eastern Europeans they made contact with, traded wine and manufactured goods for their silver, gold, copper and tin. The earliest written evidence of the Celtic language comes from the beginning of the Iron Age in Southwest Portugal.

In addition to well-developed religious practices, the Celts had a written language and appointed druids to serve as judges, guardians of knowledge, and  priests.

During the Iron Age, they developed a reputation as great warriors and often hired themselves as mercenaries to various kings and emperors. In 387, they sacked Rome for the first time, and in 280 BC they conquered Macedonia and moved south into Greece. Julius Caesar’s primary reason for invading and occupying Gaul was to end the constant Celtic raids on Roman territory.