Born to Be Wolves The Origins of Rome – War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires – Peter Turchin
Trigger warning: – lo scontro di civiltà come motore della civiltà – teoria della frontiere meta-etnica – la mostrificazione del nemico come fattore di crescita – la guerra tempra, la pace infiacchisce – la benedizione di avere i barbari alle porte – in guerra tutti più uguali e più integrati –
Roman achievement of peace across such a large area—Pax Romana-put an indelible stamp on how the peoples of western Eurasia imagined an ideal state. The very word empire comes from the Latin (imperium means “military power”).
Christian theologians imagined their kingdom of God as a better, cleaner, and more just version of the Roman Empire.
In the eastern Mediterranean, we see the zone of old civilizations, dominated by the brilliant Achaemenid Persian Empire. Asia Minor, the Levant, and Mesopotamia are directly governed by the Achaemenids, Egypt is about to secede and regain its independence, and Greece is the only area that had successfully fought off Persian advances earlier in the century.
Note:LA VECCHIA CIVILTÀ…I PERSIANI
Some of this spread was accomplished by colonization of new areas by the seafaring peoples—the Greeks and the Phoenicians. In addition, the literate urbanized culture spread by diffusion to several formerly barbarian peoples, the most notable of which were the Etruscans of central Italy.
Note:COLONIZZAZIONE DEL MEDITERRANEO
The bulk of Europe and North Africa, by contrast, was inhabited by stateless and illiterate tribal peoples. A highly aggressive culture, known to archaeologists as the La Tène Celts, had been expanding from its homeland in northern Europe and had come in contact with the civilized areas in several places.
The most interesting is the zone of contact between “civilization” and “barbarism” in Europe. It runs along the Mediterranean shore in southeastern Iberia, south France, central Italy, and northern Greece (see Map 5). This zone is a typical metaethnic frontier, where two very different kinds of people come in contact and conflict.
Note:ZONA DI CONTATTO
The metaethnic frontier theory predicts that new aggressive empires should originate from this contact zone. Indeed, the three “great powers” of the Mediterranean in the next two centuries will be Carthage, Macedon, and Rome.
Note:TEORIA DEGLI IMPERI
As far as we know, the Etruscans were never unified under a single central authority, but instead operated as a loosely confederated league of “12 cities,” united by common language and a shared religious cult. In the seventh century, the Etruscans dominated central Italy and expanded north into the Po Valley.
The Latins were a real nation, and they themselves were aware of it. Along the Tiber River, where the two nations came in contact, a cultural frontier formed between the more advanced civilization of the Etruscans and the Latins.
Rome began as a frontier town at the interface between the Etruscan and Latin cultures.
Note:NASCITA DI ROMA
From the evidence of the Roman chronicles, supported by archaeological data, it seems the Roman nation arose as a result of a classic process of frontier ethnogenesis. According to the Roman tradition, the population of early Rome was divided into three tribes—Ramnes, Tities, and Luceres. Their names come from Romulus, a Latin; Titus Tatius, a Sabine; and Lucumo, an Etruscan. Clearly a fusion of Latin, Sabine, and Etruscan ethnic elements led up to the rise of the Roman nation. The tale of the Rape of the Sabines, of Romans capturing wives from the Sabines and eventual unification of the two groups, also attests to the multi-ethnic origin of the Romans.
Note:CIVILTÀ DI FRONTIERA
Another indication of the openness to outsiders is the mottled ethnic origin of the Roman rulers during the Archaic period, who included the Sabine Titus Tatius and Numa Pompilius, and the Etruscan Tarquins.
The ability to incorporate groups and individuals of foreign origin into the social fabric of their society served the Romans well when they expanded beyond the boundaries of Latium.
Note:L ARTE DI INCORPORARE
Note that Rome was located not in the center of Latium, but on its very edge
Note:MAI AL CENTRO, SEMPRE A MARGINE
If Rome achieved such preeminence in central Italy at the end of the regal period (509 B.C.), why didn’t it continue to expand during the fifth century and unify the Mediterranean centuries before it actually happened? The answer has two parts. First, the Etruscan-Latin frontier does not qualify as a true metaethnic fault line. Both cultures were heavily influenced by the urban Mediterranean civilization, which was transmitted to them by the Greeks and the Phoenicians. The somewhat mild nature of the frontier could produce at best a regional state, not a world-class empire.
The time of troubles began with the revolt of a part of aristocracy against the last king of Rome, Tarquin the Proud. They were successful in deposing Tarquin and establishing an oligarchic form of government (somewhat misleadingly called the Republic) that would rule Rome for the next five centuries.
Note:I GUAI DI ROMA
As a result of population growth during the sixth century, land became scarce and many people were impoverished. To feed their families, they borrowed heavily from the wealthy. Roman laws were very harsh to insolvent debtors. Creditors could enslave a debtor who could not pay what he owed.
Note:SCHIAVITÙ PER DEBITI
The fifth century saw that kind of urban class struggle between the wealthy aristocrats and the impoverished commons
Dyonisius writes that during the plague of 463 B.C., the corpses of the very poor had to be thrown into the Tiber, and again in 451, when the corpses were thrown into the sewers as well.
Note:PESTE E CARESTIE
As a result of epidemics, famines, and ceaseless warfare, the population declined, freeing land for the landless. The aristocrats became poorer, and after a few generations their descendants became used to the less-ostentatious way of life.
Note:SPOPOLAMENTO E POVERTÀ RITEMPRANO E ARRICCHISCONO LA DISCENDENZA
Opulent burials disappeared. Wealth inequality decreased. The social system, so disturbed around 500 B.C., returned slowly and painfully to an equilibrium.
Rome was subjected to a tremendous shock that would first bring it to the brink of precipice, but in the long run set it on the path to empire. The traumatic event, as terrifying as a Nazi blitzkrieg or a terrorist mass murder, was the Gallic sack of Rome in 390.
Note:SPARTIACQUE: SACCO GALLICO
The Etruscan cities in the Po Valley succumbed to the Gallic pressure, and the north of Italy became Gallic (and was henceforth known to the Romans as the Cisalpine Gaul, as distinguished from the Transalpine Gaul—modern France and Belgium).
during the fifth century, the “barbarism-civilization” frontier shifted south to the Apennine hills dividing the Po Valley from Tyrrhenian Italy.
Note:LA GRANDE FRONTIERA: ROMA BARBARI
The intensity of the new frontier dwarfed ethnic divisions on the Italian Peninsula, such as that between the Etruscans and the Latins. …The “savage Gauls” were an entirely different kind of people. …
“When the [Roman] envoys asked by what sort of justice they [the Gauls] demand land, under threat of violence, from their rightful owners, and what business Gauls had to be in Etruria anyway, they received the haughty reply that all things belonged to the brave who carried justice on the point of their swords. Passions were aroused and a fight began.”
Note:L’INCONTRO/SCONTRO CON I BARBARI
The war leader of the Gauls, Brennus, first led his troops to attack and drive away the Roman reserves, and then fell on the main body with all his might. “… the main body of the army, at the first sound of the Gallic cry on their flank and in their rear, hardly waited even to see their strange enemy from the ends of the earth; they made no attempt at resistance; they had no courage even to answer his shouted challenge, but fled before they lost a single man. None fell fighting; they were cut down from behind as they struggled through to force a way to safety through the heaving mass of their fellow-fugitives.” After the defeat at the Allia, some of the surviving Romans escaped to Veii; others ran to Rome and locked themselves up in the Citadel on the Capitoline Hill. The Gauls entered Rome unopposed, pillaged it, and besieged the Citadel. One night they almost managed to capture the Capitol by stealth, but fortunately the geese sacred to the goddess Juno raised an alarm, and the Gallic assault was repelled.
Note:BRENNO SCONFIGGE I ROMANI
Marcus Furius Camillus (later esteemed as one of the fathers of the Roman nation) gathered troops from Veii, where a part of the defeated Roman army escaped, and from the Latins. He arrived in Rome just in time to put a stop to the shameful transaction, and drove the Gauls away after inflicting two defeats on them.
The Gauls were an alien and terrifying enemy. In several places, Livy stresses how different they were from people whom Romans knew: “outlandish warriors armed with strange weapons,” … The whole experience left deep scars on the Roman psyche. …
Cicero said in one of his speeches, “In the opinion of all who have ever deliberated soundly about this Commonwealth of ours, Gaul has always been the greatest threat to this empire, ever since its inception.”
Many modern historians tend to overlook the significance of the Gallic frontier during the formative period of the Roman state (which I call Roman ethnogenesis), and for the Roman success in unifying Mediterranean within a single empire.
The importance that Polybius assigns to the formative influence of the Gauls in the rise of the Roman Empire is made clear at the beginning of his history: “The date I have chosen, then, to mark the beginning of the establishment of Roman power in Italy” is the year when “the Gauls captured Rome by storm and were occupying the whole city except for the Capitol.”
In a chapter titled “Rome and the Gauls,” Polybius describes the almost continuous wars the Romans fought against the Gauls during the fourth and third centuries, and concludes: “There were two great advantages which the Romans gained from these struggles. In the first place, once they become accustomed to suffering great losses at the hands of the Gauls, there was no more terrifying experience than this which they need expect either to undergo or fear. Secondly, by the time they had to meet Pyrrhus they came to contest like trained and seasoned athletes in military operations.
THE ROMANS WERE FATED TO STRUGGLE against the Gauls for four centuries, finally triumphing over them only with the conquest of the Transalpine Gaul by Julius Caesar.
In 218 B.C., Hannibal crossed the Alps with his African and Spanish troops and 20 elephants, and for the next 17 years he ravaged central and southern Italy. What is often not appreciated is that the troops that Hannibal brought with him were outnumbered by the Gallic troops he recruited in the Po Valley. …the Hannibalic war can be thought of as yet another episode in the struggle of Rome against the Gallic hordes. …
Even in an age when atrocities were regularly committed by all sides, the Roman treatment of the Gauls was especially brutal. Unlike other Italian peoples who were frequently admitted as allies, or even citizens, in the Roman commonwealth after being defeated by the Romans (as discussed earlier in this chapter), this treatment was never extended to the Gauls.
when the Romans definitively conquered the Po Valley, they “ethnically cleansed” Gauls from it. Such treatment of the inhabitants of a conquered territory was exceptional in Roman practice.
the sack of Rome, which shocked both the aristocracy and the commons, and convinced them that they must cooperate to overcome the external threat.
Note:IL NEMICO CHE UNIFICA. NECESSITÀ DI UN NEMICO PER LA GRANDE IMPRESA
The Licinio-Sextian Laws of 367 ended all sorts of discrimination against the plebeians (for example, they opened the highest office of the Republic—consulship—to them) and merged the patricians and noble plebeians into a united ruling class.
Note:PLEBEI NON PIÙ DISCRIMINATI
In addition to increasing the internal cohesiveness of the Roman nation, the Gallic frontier also made the job of unifying Italy and eventually the Mediterranean much easier. …The Veneti, who were the most exposed to the Gallic pressure, proved to be the staunchest Roman allies. …
Note:IL NEMICO RENDE COESI
Polybius describes integrative effect of the Gallic threat. On learning that a Gallic invasion was imminent, the Roman authorities began to enroll the legions and summon the Italian allies. “Help was readily provided on all sides, for the other inhabitants of Italy were so terror-stricken by the invasion of the Gauls that they no longer thought of themselves as allies of Rome, nor regarded this as a war to uphold the Roman hegemony.
Note:POLIBIO SUL SERRATE LE FILE
The logic of metaethnic frontier aided not only Roman unification of Italy, but her expansion into the Mediterranean, too. By the second century B.C., the Celt became the chief kind of barbarian on the European frontier of the Mediterranean civilization.
Note:COESIONE => ESPANSIONE
Lesser civilized states on the Celtic frontier, such as Massilia and Pontus, never needed to be conquered by force. They first sought Rome’s protection against their enemies, then became faithful allies, and eventually were incorporated into empire in a consensual, noncoerced manner.
Note:CONQUISTA = RICERCA DI PROTEZIONE
WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE WERE THE ROMANS?
Livy often contrasts the rampant luxury and conspicuous consumption of his own times, the first century B.C., with the simpler, less-materialistic mores of the ancestors—and the archaeological record confirms that Roman aristocrats of the fourth and third centuries led very Spartan lives.
Note:LUSSO IN PACE AUSTERITÀ IN GUERRA
The early Romans developed a set of values, called mos maiorum (ancestral custom), which governed their private and public lives. Probably the most important value was virtus (virtue), which derived from the word vir (man) and embodied all the qualities of a true man as a member of society. Virtus included the ability to distinguish between good and evil and to act in ways that promoted good, and especially the common good.
It also meant the devotion to one’s family and community, and heroism in war. Unlike Greeks, Romans did not stress individual prowess, as exhibited by Homeric heroes or Olympic champions.
Note:EROISMO… DIFFERENZA CON IGRECI
Other important Roman virtues included piety, faith, gravity, and constancy. Piety (pietas) was a family virtue—devotion and loyalty by men and women to the family group, willing acceptance of parental authority. It also meant reverence to the gods,
Faith (fides) meant keeping one’s word, paying one’s debts, and fulfilling obligations
Gravity (gravitas) meant discipline, absolute self-control—a dignified, serious, and calm attitude toward both good and bad fortune.
ROMAN VALUES WERE PART OF RELIGIONES
The ancients recognized the importance of religion in strengthening the state. Socrates reportedly said, “Those who honor the gods most finely with choruses are best in war.”
Note:RELIGIONE E STATO
Religion was the glue that cemented the people together and gave the early Roman society an extremely high degree of asabiya. The cohesiveness of the society was so high that until the first century B.C. Romans did not need a police force to keep public order.
Note:IL CEMENTO DELLA RELIGIONE
Note how the Roman virtues served to limit individualism (gravity and constancy), strengthened ties within family (piety) and community (faith), and sacrifice for the common good (virtus).
Note:VIRTÙ E INDIVIDUALISMO
The typical sequence of any war between the Romans and their numerous opponents was to lose battles early in the war, but then, nevertheless, win the war.
Note:PERDERE LE BATTAGLIE E VINCERE LE GUERRE
Perhaps the best illustration is the Second Punic War. Hannibal was a brilliant general and inspired leader. With his heterogeneous army, half of which was brave but undisciplined Gauls, he smashed one Roman army after another—at the Ticinus, at the Trebia, at lake Trasimene, and the worst one, at Cannae. Fifty thousand Romans died at Cannae, one third of the senate was wiped out. “No other nation in the world,” says Livy, “could have suffered so tremendous a series of disasters and not been overwhelmed.” What distinguished the Romans from their adversaries was that they were able to overcome such disasters.
Note:ESEMPIO GUERRA PUNICA
Perhaps the ultimate expression of this sacrificial spirit was the Roman ritual of “devotion.” If a battle was going against the Romans, the Roman commander could devote himself and the enemy army to the gods of the underworld. The basic idea was to place a potent curse on oneself and carry it in the midst of the enemy, thus saving the Roman legions. …Devotion, thus, was a kind of suicide bombing. … The Romans, after losing their general (which on other occasions is generally a cause for alarm), checked their flight and wanted to renew the fighting; …
Note:RITO DELLA DEVOZIONE… PROTO KAMIKAZE
VERTICAL INTEGRATION OF A SOCIETY
the degree of solidarity felt between the commons and aristocracy, is one of the most important characteristics explaining its success at empire building.
Note:COESIONE ARISTOCRAZIA E PLEBE
social structure, which was intimately connected to Rome’s military organization. It was no accident that the original meaning of the Latin word “people”—populus—was “army.”
Citizens with property valued at 50,000 to 100,000 asses (an as was a bronze coin; during this period Romans did not use silver or gold coinage) served as hoplites—infantrymen armed with helmet, shield, spear, and sword. These heavily armed infantrymen were the mainstay of ancient Mediterranean armies, and are familiar to us from many Greek depictions. Poorer citizens with property valued at 11,000 to 25,000 asses served as light infantrymen (armed with a sling or javelin).
At the bottom of the social scale were those who did not serve—propertyless citizens (proletarii), foreigners, and slaves.
Note:NIENTE GUERRA PER I POVERI
Wealthier citizens served as cavalry, and for this reason the Roman aristocratic class was known as equestrians or knights.
Note:RICCHI A CAVALLO
At the top of the Roman hierarchy were the senatorial families, who served as cavalry and top officers.
the richest 1 percent of the Romans during the early Republic was only 10 to 20 times as wealthy as an average Roman citizen. …Economic inequality in a typical ancient or medieval state was much greater than in the early Rome, or even in the United States today. …
The frugal lifestyle of the senatorial aristocracy in early Rome also did not distinguish them greatly from the common citizens.
Note:IN GUERRA TUTTI UGUALI
when Cincinnatus was summoned to be dictator, while working at the plow, he reportedly exclaimed: “My land will not be sown this year, and so we shall run the risk of not having enough to eat!”
When Alexander was conquering the Persian Empire, he wore homespun clothes made by his sisters. During the campaigns, Alexander ate the same food and slept under the same conditions as his soldiers.
When 50,000 Romans, a staggering one fifth of Rome’s total manpower, perished in the battle of Cannae, as mentioned previously, the senate lost almost one third of its membership.
Note:MORTI IN GUERRA DIVISI PER CENSO
The wealthy classes were also the first to volunteer extra taxes when they were needed.
When the leaders do not hide behind rank and shoulder their share of the common burden, the common people are much more likely to fall in line. This is perhaps why the plebs and the aristocracy had coexisted in rather harmonious relations
Two FACTORS EXPLAIN THE RISE of the Roman Empire: the high degree of internal cohesiveness of the Roman people, or asabiya, which reached a peak c. 200 B.C.; and the remarkable openness of the Romans to the incorporation of other peoples, often recent enemies.
Note:DUE FATTORI DI SUCCESSO: 1 INTEGRAZIONE 2 INCORPORAZIONE
The internal organization of the Spartans shows that the great degree of internal solidarity characterizing Rome was not unique. Of all Greek nations, the Spartans appear to be most similar to the early Romans. The grave demeanor of the Spartans, their abhorrence of excesses and luxury would have met with approval in Rome. More importantly, the two ancient nations had similar ideas about service to the country, up to and including giving up life. One does not need to go further for an example than the sacrifice of the 300 Spartans in the Thermopylae Pass.
Note:SPARTA E ROMA
How did the Spartans develop this unusual but highly effective social organization? …The turning point occurred toward the end of the eighth century when Sparta conquered the neighboring area of Messenia. The Spartans divided the land into allotments and turned the Messenians into serfs (helots) who were required to work the land. The rent from each allotment supported an individual Spartan household. In other words, the Spartans turned themselves into a ruling class with leisure (if it can be called that) to devote to military training. The helots were not particularly happy with this state of affairs, and during the succeeding centuries periodically revolted in an attempt to free themselves from the Spartan subjugation. The perpetual threat of helot rebellion (who were ready to rise any time Sparta would encounter military difficulties) was a constant reminder to the Spartan masters not to slacken off on their training and relax their discipline. …
Note:ORIGINI DI SPARTA
Note here the great difference between the arrangements that Sparta made in Messenia and Rome’s treatment of her defeated enemies. Through the fourth, third, and second centuries, Rome continued her policy of admitting former adversaries to the commonwealth. At the end of the last Latin war in 338, Rome absorbed all Latin communities. By the end of the fourth century, Latium and Campania were merged together into a Roman-Campanian state,
Note:DIFFERENZA CON ROMA: CAPACITÀ DI INCORPORARE
There were, however, limits to the Roman willingness to incorporate aliens. Most significantly, their openness did not extend across the metaethnic divide. Although the definition of Romanitas (“Romanness”) was gradually extended to include Latins, Campanians, Etruscans, and Greeks, the Gauls were most definitely beyond the pale, and were likely to be treated quite harshly.
Note:LIMITI: GLI ALIENI SONO FUORI
The Spartans treated the Messenians as a race to be enslaved—because Sparta was not located on a metaethnic frontier. The absolute ethnic difference between a Spartan and a Messenian was much less than between a Roman and a Tarentine.
Note:SPARTA NON EBBE IL GRANDE NEMICO
The Athenian Empire started as a cooperative venture—the Delian League, put together by lonians to better resist the Persian Empire. Note that it was the overwhelming external threat of Persian invasion in the early fifth century B.C. that briefly united the Greeks.
Note:INIZIO DELL’ IMPERO ATENIESE E MINACCIA PERSIANA
however, the Persians withdrew from the Greek heartland after they lost the naval battle of Salamis. When the external threat was gone, the Athenians proceeded to use the Delian League for their own selfish purposes rather than for the common good.
Note:RITIRO DEI PERSIANI DOPO SALAMINA. L’INIZIO DELLA FINE
In contrast to Sparta and Athens, Rome was not abandoned by all her allies when she found herself in desperate straits during the Hannibalic war. Hannibal was able to detach various Italian communities from Rome only by threatening them with overwhelming force. Only the Bruttians, a hill tribe of southern Italy, went over to Hannibal wholeheartedly (and were later brutally punished by Rome for this). Many Italian cities fought loyally for Rome, and suffered greatly from Hannibal as a result.
Note:GLI ALLEATI DI ROMA FURONO FEDELI
The final comparison in this chapter is between the Macedonians and other Greeks. Macedon arose as a typical frontier state on the periphery of the Hellenic civilization.
The Macedonians were first confronted with the nomadic Thracians, and then they were conquered by the Persians. After a brief stint as the marchland of the Persian Empire, they regained independence, and immediately came under strong pressure from the expanding Celts.
Note:CELTI E PERSIANI I LORO NEMICI METAETNICI
Macedon from its inception was a territorial state. It is a telling distinction. When the Athenians acquired the island of Salamis, they did not incorporate it into Attica (“Athenian land”). Instead, they planted some colonies of Athenians on the best land and treated the natives of Salamis as inferiors. Salamis continued to be a separate unit from Attica. The Spartans, similarly, did not expand the definition of Laconia when the conquered Messenia, but continued to call the two regions …By contrast, every time the Macedonians conquered any land, they incorporated it into Macedon. …
Note:UNO STATO TERRITORIALE
World empires arise from regions where civilizations clash.
È LO SCONTRO DI CIVILTÀ A CREARE GLI IMPERI E LA PAX IMPERIALE