ncient Roman Republic from 509 B.C. until 31 B.C. when it transformed itself into Roman Empire
GENERAL REMARKS:JOHN RICH — Ph.D. – Professor University of NottinghamDear Dr. Kolkey,These are interesting questions that you raise and they connect with ongoing debates in the study of the Roman Republic.(1) Individual interests as factors in Roman war decisions. Individual participants, from the commander down, stood to benefit from successful war, and this must clearly have been a factor in war decisions. How important a factor is disputed. William Harris, in his classic War and Imperialism in the Roman Republic, 327-70 BC (1979), made this the decisive factor, along with Roman habituation to war, and this view has been very influential. I argued for a more balanced view in my paper ‘Fear, greed and glory: the causes of Roman war-making’, in Rich and Shipley, War and Society in the Roman World (1993). The two books by A.M. Eckstein (Mediterranean Anarchy, Interstate War and the Rise of Rome, 2006; Rome Enters the Greek East, 2008), which constitute the most recent substantial contribution to this discussion, are informed by a ‘realist’ International Relations perspective; Eckstein argues for focusing on the international system of which the Romans formed a part rather than just one unit, namely the Romans, as Harris does.Time and space were important differentials here. In the Middle Republic (say third and second centuries BC), the most important overseas wars, against Carthage and the kings of the Greek East, arose from a decision-making process conducted on the Roman side at Rome, in the senate. Other wars could arise locally, as with the extensive second-century warfare in Spain, by then the location of two Roman provinces: here it was the commanders on the spot who often initiated campaigning (or responded to enemy attacks), and triumph-hunting was clearly sometimes a factor (though I have argued against exaggerating its importance). In the last years of the Republic, great military achievements enabled some individuals to attain political pre-eminence: thus first Pompey, then emulated by others — Caesar conquered Gaul, on thin pretexts, to acquire glory comparable to Pompey’s, and the same motive prompted Crassus’ disastrous invasion of Parthia.In the Middle Republic major commands always went to one of the consuls elected for the year, and the allocation of commands between the two consuls was customarily conducted by the lot. However, once a war was under way, the continuation of command often became a highly contentious issue, and sometimes affected the conduct of the war itself. Traditional practice had been for commanders to be replaced every year, but the senate could also authorize the continuation of commands, and, where a war was particularly important and glorious, disputes sometimes arose. Thus in 203 and 202 there were unsuccessful attempts to oust Scipio from the command in Africa by which he finished the war against Carthage. In the Second Macedonian War the first two commanders were replaced, but Flamininus managed to secure his renewal in 197 and subsequently, and Polybius and Livy tell us a good deal about the machinations surrounding this.By the later Republic, new political elements sometimes entered the allocation of commands. Thus in 107 Marius exploited discontent against the nobles to get himself elected consul and appointed to the command against Jugurtha, and in 88 he conspired with a tribune to get the command against Mithridates transferred from the consul Sulla to him although he was then a private citizen, and Sulla responded with civil war; in 66 the command against Mithridates was transferred to Pompey by popular vote.(2) Factions. It used to be customary to postulate factional groupings in the senate and to attribute different foreign policy positions to the various factions. For a classic statement of such a view see Scullard, Roman Politics 220-150 BC (1952). This remained the dominant view in the 1960s, but it was based on a mechanistic analysis which went far beyond the evidence, and it quietly went out of fashion from the 1970s. Since then, almost all scholars have accepted that senators’ political connections were a complex, interlocking web of relationships rather than solid factional groupings, and that decisions of state policy tended to be taken as they arose rather than in terms of continuing policy viewpoints. In recent years debate has focused particularly on the importance of the popular assemblies in the republican political system: Fergus Millar has argued strongly for the significance of this element; there have been sophisticated critiques in reply, but most recently Peter Wiseman has adopted a position comparable to Millar’s (Remembering the Roman People, 2009, esp. ch. 1).We are rather poorly informed on senatorial war-debates, but we do hear of major differences of view before at least the first two wars with Carthage (264, 218). In the latter case, we are told that a Fabius argued against war, and this was perhaps the view of the Fabii as a family (and of their friends??). The issue may have turned on whether the Carthaginian government could be held responsible for Hannibal’s actions, and family connections between the Fabii and Carthaginian aristocrats may have played a part: see my discusson of the origins of the war in Cornell et al, The Second Punic War: A Reassessment (but for another view see Hoyos, Unplanned Wars)…..Best wishesJohn Rich——————————————————————————————————————————————-RONALD MELLOR — Ph.D. Yale University – Professor at University of California, Los AngelesDear Dr. Kolkey, Scholarship of the past fifty years on Rome supports the view that personal interests and family alliances were more important incentives for the policies of Roman officials than “party politics” or ideology. Some of the most important scholars on the late Republic are Ronald Syme (The Roman Revolution), Erich Gruen, and Lily Ross Taylor, but the German research into prospography and family links goes back to the 1920. The wars of Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar in Gaul are all driven by personal interests. So your thesis is unlikely to surprise Roman historians…. Best, Ron Mellor —————————————————————————————————————————————————–MICHAEL FRONDA — Ph.D. Ohio State University — Professor at McGill UniversityJonathan,In short, yes I agree with you suspicions, but I would have to qualify this. Inmy own work on city-states/interstate relations, I have tended to adopt theso-called Realist position, which assumes that states behave more or less asrational, unitary actors. States tend to seek to maximize their own resourcesand security, and tend to place self-preservation (or self-enhancement) aboveall other criteria when deciding policy.In other words, I have a hard time believing that a state–especially a smallerstate–would go to war simply for factional reasons, when such a policy wereclearly at odds with the interests of the state, or indeed posed an existentialthreat to the community itself (i.e., faction X is not going to decide to go towar with Rome just to stick it to faction Y, when going to war with Rome meanssure obliteration).This being said, it does appear to me that factional/family/personalrivalries/competition do crosscut policy decisions in several instances. I alsosuspect that when a policy decision is difficult and the outcome is hard topredict (“should we side with Hannibal or Rome”), it is likely that individuals(or groups) convince themselves that their own interests and those of thecommunity are in sync.However, you are asking more about the decision to go to war–which is similarbut not exactly the same as situation. This is a bit tougher to observe,because we have so little evidence for Italic states other than Rome. And ofcourse, Rome is an outlier–at least after the third century–because it neverhad to face an existential threat (after Hannibal). As such, Roman policymakers never had to worry that their decisions would result in the destructionof the Roman state. Moreover, I am convinced that the Romans were extremelyconfident in their own destiny (as it were) to win, regardless of the exact paththey took to victory. Still, you can see factionalism and self-interest playinginto war-related policy decisions, especialy when it came to how wars wereconcluded. The locus classicus, following Gruen’s interpretation, is T.Quinctius Flamininus’ negotiations with Philip V. Philip and Flamininus agreedto peace terms, which were then forwarded to the senate. Polybius claims thatFlamininus told his allies in Rome to get a sense of whether he would be [A]prorogued the next year, or [B] be replaced by the new consul. If [A], he toldhis allies to argue AGAINST accepting the peace terms, so that he could wingreater glory the next year. If [B], he told his allies to argue FOR acceptingthe peace terms, so he would get credit for concluding the war. Again, this isa pretty clear case of self-interest shaping policy.As for a decision to go to war? That’s tougher. You might want to look at thewars between Rome and Veii, during the early Republic (the evidence is of coursetreacherous). One of the wars, during the fourth century (?) was fought,allegedly, exclusively by the Fabian clan, who presumably had some greaterinterest in fighting against the people from Veii. T.J. Cornell has writtensome on this….I agree with your suspicions, but it is hard to locate explicit evidence.Best,m.
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