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Hi and welcome to Dance Notes History. Got some big anniversaries this week, significant events in history. The ancient world were marked in American history. So keep your eyes and ears peeled for our new Ancient's podcast, which I'll be featuring here for the first time on Thursday. Today, though, I got another episode from our sister series, How and Why History, in which we ask the big questions. And this week's questions are about the Romans in the Mediterranean.
How did they come to dominate the Mediterranean world and especially how they fought off those pesky pirates? If you like this episode, please search How and Why History podcast and subscribe. There are 30 other episodes that you may well not have heard yet. But in the meantime, let's push off and setting what an order smike astounding feroze and set sail to ancient Rome.
While the Romans were embroiled in civil wars at the gates of Rome, the sea was left unguarded and gradually drew and entice the pirates on until they no longer attacked. Navigator's only but also laid waste islands and maritime cities that flutes and stringed instruments and drinking boats along Ivory Coast. The seizures of persons in high command and their ransoms have captured cities where a disgrace to the Roman supremacy for you see the ships of the pirates no more than a thousand, and the cities captured by then 400.
That was the influential Greek philosopher Plutarch describing how pirates dominated the Mediterranean Sea by the first century B.C. The nuisance of piracy had become a plague in the region. The Romans dispatched Pompey, whose fleet swept across the sea, freeing the way for the expansion of commerce and the Roman Empire. But why was this so significant? How did Rome go about ruling its waves and how did the decline of the empire impact the Mediterranean? History is Rob Weinberg has been asking the big questions about this important stretch of water to Dr.
James Corke Webster at King's College, London. This is how and why history.
James, thanks for joining us. Thanks very much for having me. Why was the Mediterranean so significant?
There's been a lot of different answers to the question of why the Mediterranean is so significant. Of course, it's you know, traditionally people saw that as being the kind of the birthplace of civilization. But we've as we've come to learn more about global history, we know that in many ways other parts of the world got there first. But what is unique about the Mediterranean is that connection that it enables between a lot of different regions. So you don't just get the birth of individual civilizations, as you might do elsewhere, but you have this kind of clustering of developing civilizations around one almost circular.
See, that enables connections, which is, of course, important not just for trade. So you get kind of economic interaction and the development and benefits that come from that, but also social interactions. So you have cultures that are learning from each other, developing from each other, growing together. And of course, it enables antagonism between cultures that are so close to each other and are forced into close proximity once they start trading.
Who are the dominant powers in the Mediterranean before the rise of Rome?
When we say before the rise of Rome, what we really mean is before the period in which Rome becomes dominant because Rome has been around for much of the first millennium B.C., but just playing in the sandpit while other cultures are more dominant. We need to go back really to Alexander the Great, who from Macedon moves through Greece out east and creates a dominant cultural hegemony that stretches right the way to India in the east. And what Alexander dies this very quickly fragments and you get what's called the growth of the successor kingdoms.
And these are named after kind of prominent generals of Alexander. They carve up the territory between them. And so the dominant three really are what we call and taking it, Macedonia, Ptolemaic, Egypt and saluted Syria. So these are the kind of the three main players. You then have some sort of lesser areas in Greece that remain independent. So Rhodes, Pergament and certain of the Greek city states that are in what we call two leagues. So to groupings of city states.
So that's the occasion. And the Italian leagues. So kind of the interaction between them is dominant in the Greek world and in Asia Minor. And then you also, of course, have the rise of Carthage in North Africa. And Carthage was originally a colony of them much earlier civilisations, Phoenicia. But it becomes one of the dominant players, certainly in trade in this period and know that all of these are either in the east or in North Africa.
I mean, in the West, there are really no dominant players. We're still talking about tribal groups at this time. And Italy, really, until the growth of Rome is in a similar position of being lots of separate tribal groups and including a number of Greek colonies that have gone further west. So was it the fact that Rome began to coalesce into this very powerful empire that enabled it to exert this dominance over the Mediterranean?
Essentially, yes. So Rome is, of course, a city. So Rome is just one city amongst many other cities, urban settlements in Italy at the time. And it slowly starts to exert pressure and ultimately dominance over the many other Italian Winkelman city states. So cities and their kind of rural environs around before the period where it starts to dominate the Mediterranean. But this is not a kind of simplistic story of conquest. So Rome doesn't just kind of fight one neighbor.
It's not like it's each one neighbor. Then it's the next neighbor, then it's the next one.
What it does is create almost bespoke arrangements for all of the other city states, some of which it engages in kind of military antagonism with. But it essentially forms a series of alliances with these other cities in which it is the dominant partner to a greater or lesser extent. And over a long period of time, it kind of gains more and more power over these other regions in Italy until eventually in the third century B.C., middle of that century B.C., it sort of finally overcomes the Etruscans who are the last to hold out.
At that point, you can really say Rome dominates the Italian peninsula with the whole of the territory that we think of as being Italy. And so you can start to talk about Rome as not just a city, but as almost a country. But we wouldn't really call this an empire at this point. But certainly Rome, in the initial stage of its dominance, goes from being a city state to a city that exert influence over an entire peninsula. How did Rome then start to have this wider influence on territories outside of Italy?
The key is what we call the Punic Wars, so a series of three conflicts with Carthage that take place through the third and second centuries, and it's in the process of exploring this conflict with a foreign power in North Africa, that Rome gains foreign territories almost by accident and then has to figure out what to do with them. So Rome's gaining of an empire is very much an accident. It doesn't set out to gain an empire. Some in Rome are very against the idea that it ever should control foreign territories.
And once it does sort of end up accidentally with foreign territories, it then is only grudgingly prepared to administer them. And the key initial territory is actually not Carthage itself in North Africa, but Sicily, where Rome and Carthage had coexisted for quite some time before the middle of the third century when hostilities arise. And they quite clearly both decided to avoid hostility. And in a way, they're both drawn into conflict unwillingly. And it's over the question of influence in Sicily.
There are a number of Greek colonies on Sicily with which Carthage had been vying for prominence, and Rome and Carthage had put in place a series of treaties to try and avoid direct conflict.
And what ultimately prompts aggression is actually the same thing that at this stage prompts aggression further east as well, which is Rome likes to think of itself as living by a kind of almost a moral code or certainly a diplomatic code where it makes an alliance with another group. Another territory will make what we call a deterioration in freedom. Essentially, Rome agrees to come to the aid of other groups in return for their alliance and its other groups that Paul Rome into conflict in Sicily, ultimately with Carthage and in Greece and Asia Minor as well.
And so that first Punic War with Carthage develops quite slowly. It's quite a complicated series of catalysts, you know, rather like you think of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand as a sort of small catalyst. The catalyst in the first Punic War is a group called the Mammoth Teens who are terrorizing parts of Sicily. They're attacked by the king of Syracuse, the mammoth Tienes appeal to Carthage for help. Then the Carthaginians won't go home. And so the teams then appeal to Rome.
And so Rome is sort of pulled into a conflict. And it's really at this point that Rome has to sort of explore how do we fight a group who are across the sea from us, for example, they realize they need a Navy Rome until this point has no Navy. And so they speed build a Navy, for example, and the conflict goes on for the first been at war for almost 20 years, back and forth. Rome is successful.
Carthage is successful. But it's very obvious that Rome had no clear plan for expansion. And when the dust settles, they sort of end up in the position where they have foreign territory in Sicily. And they end up then having to think about, well, what do we do with this? We're going to have to appoint a governor of some sort. So then you start to have that extra Prater's are appointed to deal with the territory. So that's the first Punic War.
Things then don't really happen for a while. There's a kind of truce or an alliance between Rome and Carthage. Second, Punic War comes much later in the third century. So it's between two eighteen into a one note again that it takes a very long time. This is the famous Punic War. This is the one with Hannibal, the one that leads to really serious conflict between Carthage and Rome within Italy. But again, it erupts over foreign territory, over Spain.
So Carthage has been getting stronger in Spain. Hannibal has been gaining territory there.
Rome's ally, a place called Mycelia, is worried about cottagers influence. And so they agree to something which is called the Abreau Treaty, where the Carthaginians can't cross the river apro. And then again, you get a sort of inevitable slide towards conflict rather than a desire to gain territory on either side. And Rome ends up in this conflict with Hannibal, which goes on for twenty years. And we tend to think about conflicts today. Wars is as lasting six months, a year, two years.
But in fact, these wars with Carthage are much more like what the war in Afghanistan or the war with Iraq became a long twenty year campaigns that ebb and flow. And it's very difficult to achieve anything and that are not waged with clear strategic aims, certainly on the Roman side. And this is partly because of the way Roman generals are appointed. The generals tend to be the console's for the year and they are reappointed every year. So it's like having an army and changing general every year.
And each general has a different strategy and a different idea of what the. War should be trying to achieve, but in the process of these first two wars, in particular, Rome, for example, gains a Navy, it gains territory abroad, it starts to see that it is in order to protect its own interests, it's going to have to engage in increasing numbers of or intervene and increasing numbers of foreign conflicts.
And it starts to see the money to be made essentially. And once money starts to flow in to Rome, people get a taste for it. The appetite for further campaigns increases, and so you start in the second century B.C., some scholars would say, to get a changing motivation in Roman terms, that it starts as an accidental empire. Then increasingly Rome starts to think, well, maybe we should be doing this deliberately because it's proving so beneficial. So what kind of activities would Rome be engaged in around the Mediterranean?
So, you know, the most important is trade. There's already a thriving Mediterranean trade before Rome gets there and Rome starts to take equal part with the Greeks and the Carthaginians, for example. There's also quite extensive piracy at the same time, which I suppose the two go hand in hand where you have rich traders on the oceans. You also have poor pirates seeking to profit from the former. And so Rome ends up getting drawn into the piracy question.
First piece in the puzzle is the development of a Navy. So in the first Punic War, in order to deal with Carthage and Carthage, his influence in Sicily, Rome builds and equips a Navy. Once as a Navy, it can start to exert influence on the seas. And between two 30 and two to nine, Rome attempts to deal with the so-called El-Erian pirates, which was the sort of the center of piracy in the region. And so it sends its fleet and a significant number of resources to try and deal with that problem, which works to a certain extent.
Piracy is one of those hydrous problems where you cut off one head and another head rises to deal with it. And one of the most famous attempts the Romans made to deal with it is actually much later in the first century B.C., where they give Pompeii, now known as Pompeii, the great special command to deal with the pirates. And they essentially give him imperium over the seas. And Pompeii dedicates time and energy to ridding the Mediterranean pirates.
The power of pirates extended its operations over the whole of our Mediterranean Sea, making it unnavigable and closed to all commerce. This was what most of all, including the Romans, who were hard put to it to get provisions and expected a great scarcity to send out Pompeii with a commission to take the sea away from the pirates. Kubilius, one of Pompey's intimates, drew up a law which gave him not an admiralty, but an outand out monarchy and irresponsible power over old men for the law gave him dominion over the sea, this side of the pillars of Hercules and over all the mainland to the distance of 400 furlongs from the sea.
These limits included almost all places in the Roman world, and the greatest nations and most powerful kings were comprised within them. And this is relatively successful in terms of kind of real plagues of pirates, but, you know, piracy on the small scale as a problem continues right the way through the Republican and imperial period. And we have Greek novels written as late as the second century A.D. that tell dramatic stories of young maidens being captured by pirates, for example.
So it's clear from that literature that pirates are still, at least in the popular imagination, current and present threat. How long did Rome's domination of the Mediterranean last and how did it begin to crumble?
So, I mean, Rome starts to gain territories, as we've said in the third century B.C., the great increase in territory comes in the second century B.C. and most famously, the Carthage and Corinth were both sacked in the same year in 146 B.C., which leads to a huge influx of wealth into Rome. But Rome keeps gaining territories right through the Republican period. Augustus gains quite a lot of territory. So Spain, for example, Rome has been fighting in Spain since much earlier.
But really, Spain has only brought properly into the empire under Augustus and OD's emperors add odd bits of territory that the Emperor Claudius, for example, fights in Britain for a while. The Empire reaches its biggest extent in one one seven. So under the Emperor Hadrian. So this is the point where Rome's empire is at its largest. Trajan goes and conquers new territories in the north and in the east. His successor, Hadrian, immediately gives it back so the empire shrinks again.
And at that point you start to get, I think, what we'd call the crumbling. So I would say in the later second century, you know, Marcus Aurelius, for example, the philosopher emperor, actually spends a lot of his time putting out fires on the northern frontier. You have increasing numbers of barbarian incursions from the Goths, as we call them now as an umbrella term on the northern frontier. In the third century, things start to go really wrong.
So you have regular Gothic incursions on the northern frontier. You get the rise of a new what we call saluted Persia in the east. So you get repeated invasions and Rome starts losing quite regularly on that frontier. The empire splits into three pieces at one point in the third century, but is then put back together again by Aurélien. It limps on through the end of the third century in the Tetrarchy period. We then transition to sort of late antiquity where you get the formal split of the Roman Empire into east and west on the death of the.
So at that point, I suppose you could say the Roman Empire has changed in kind, but it's still Rome in some sense. Four, seven, six is the date commonly bandied about for the fall of the Western Empire. So you get the last Roman Empire of the West, Romulus Augustus in the East. So people often use that date for sort of the fall of empire in the West, but then Byzantium carries on. So it depends whether you think there's Byzantium counts as the Roman Empire in the east.
And it's worth saying that the Austra Goths who take over in Italy, for example, after the fall of Romulus Augustus, they still think of themselves as being Roman and the Roman Empire. So from that point of view, the Roman Empire is going on. So when given rights in 1776 have been given rights as history of the decline of all of the Roman Empire. People always talk about that for the Roman period, but he takes that right up to the Ottomans.
So in some ways you can say that Rome's empire falls in the third century, the fifth century. You can argue in some ways it carries on in the east, at least Constantine moves the capital from Rome to or at least establishes a second capital in Constantinople. One day, Istanbul, you can argue the Roman Empire carries on to the 14th, 15th century. And obviously the Holy Roman Empire in some ways, you could argue, kind of continues in some sense in the Vatican.
So the question of when wars is is a kind of almost an unanswerable question. I would say the more interesting way of looking at it is, you know, Rome gains an empire by accident. Initially, it doesn't really want one, and you can, I think, make quite a good case that it never really figures out how to have one, the gaining of territory causes the fall of the Roman Republic. The Roman Empire is a sort of stopgap that plugs the holes.
But in many ways, Rome's empire is falling before it's even gained.
Of course, the influence of Rome is still very prevalent when you go to Italy and certain other parts of the Mediterranean. But what do you think the lasting mark that Rome made on the Mediterranean still is today? When people look at the great classical civilisations, they usually see that the twin legacies of being from the Greek world, we got, you know, political systems, democracy, for example, but from the Roman world, we got law. And I think this is one way in which we still see the influence of Rome today.
The Roman legal project, which develops throughout the Republican and Imperial and latency periods, produces the great codification projects of late antiquity and in particular the theodicy and just the law codes. So they try and kind of collect law together, the laws from previous centuries together and make some attempt to systematize them. And those law codes become the basis of the law codes of the successor kingdoms. So the kingdoms that crop up in the West, the Austra, Goths, the Goths, Vanel Africa, the Burgundian, the Franck's, for example, which are in some way the foundations in a roundabout way for the modern nations that have come afterwards.
And many law codes today could still find that basis in Roman law through the law codes of the successive kingdoms. So certainly that approach to jurisprudence is one legacy. I would be inclined to say that it's difficult to get away from. The influence of the Romans much more widely, you know, all of our architecture is heavily influenced by classical models. The Renaissance is likely to have been influenced by the rediscovery of various ruins in the city of Rome. So kind of much of what we think about the early modern period is also influenced by Rome and also more culturally.
I think the big thing that marks out Rome's empire, which is different from any empire which went before and a lot that came afterwards, is that Rome was prepared to share citizenship. This is actually an extraordinary thing. You know, if you think about it, the idea for a lot of people are having an empire is that you exert dominance over another people. And the Romans do that, certainly. But they're also prepared to give membership in the city of Rome to people who have never been to Rome.
And might never go to Rome, and this leads in to 12 to the declaration of universal citizenship by the Emperor Caracalla, where huge numbers of people are given citizenship at once. And one of the reasons for Rome's success in imperial terms is the buy in to the project that that helps cultivate in other people. And I think that cultural project. Which is also aided by what we call the Pax Romana, so Rome creates the sort of environment in the Mediterranean where people can travel, people can move, people can be influenced by other societies.
That cosmopolitanism is, I think, the greatest legacy of Rome.
And it's that one of the first kind of civilizations in which you can genuinely talk about multiculturalism. James Cook Webster, thank you for joining us. Thank you very much. How and why history?