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Destruction of Carthage and Corinth - DID THE EVENTS OF 146 BC


									                                                                                  Ryan Vlcko
                                                              Roman History from 200 – 80 BC
                                                                                    Essay #4

                       ROMAN POLICY?

Without a detailed inquiry into the prior and successive Roman foreign policy, it is
difficult to pass judgment on whether specific events mark a change in that policy,
whether they were merely deviations from the normal policy, or whether they were in
line with the principles and systematic execution of Roman foreign policy. However,
by confining the inquiry into the period leading up to the destruction of Carthage and
Corinth, and by limiting the question to whether these events simply marked a
deviation from the previous modus operandi, one can save oneself the labor of
inquiring into whether the deviation, if in fact that is what occurred, was to become a
consistent policy.

It is clear that there were two main forces that drove Roman foreign policy. One was
the personal glory that ambitious statesmen sought to gain through foreign deeds,
which most often was accomplished through military success. The second force was
Roman imperialism, which was the effort to secure Roman foreign interests and
hegemony. An inquiry into both forces will explain the causes of the destruction of
Carthage and Corinth, and will act as a lens through which to view the changing
principles of Roman foreign policy, or lack there of.

                        I. PERSONAL GLORY — DIGNITAS

One can easily see that the Romans were not bashful about their successes abroad.
There was much to be gained by a commander victorious in battle. Valerius
Maximus writes of the vast spoils the younger Scipio Africanus gained from the fall of
Carthage. He went through a triumphal procession to display the wealth he had
acquired for Rome, and he put on games for the people, brilliant shows which fed the
grandeur of Roman power. In addition he gave the Sicilians back the religious relics
that the Carthaginians had taken from them, and thus improved relations between
Rome and Sicily and became a friend of the Sicilians.

And certainly L. Mummius seized plenty of spoils from the sack of Corinth in the form
of slaves, art work, and money. Besides bringing many of these prizes back to
Rome and displaying them in a triumphal procession, Mummius also gave statues to
the priest who ran the Temple of Good Fortune, according to Strabo, and “he gained
more repute than the man who dedicated them.”1

Other examples of men who increased their personal dignitas and gloria through the
military are the elder Scipio Africanus in the Second Punic War, Q. Flamininus in the
Second Macedonian War, and Aemilius Paulus in the Third Macedonian War. From
these examples it is clear that there was a tradition of men, through their success on
the battlefield, improving their reputation at Rome and gaining much influence for

Having recognized that there was much to gain by military exploits, and that
prominent Romans long recognized this, the question arises as to what extent
Carthage and Corinth were destroyed for the personal glory of those involved.

Goldsworthy offers a very adequate account of the changes in Roman social
dynamics after the Second Punic War2. He asserts that Rome suffered large
casualties to their class of citizens that could afford to pay for their own arms, and
they were forced to enlist poorer men who could not furnish arms for themselves.
Many men of consular rank, or who were ex-consuls, perished in the war, as did
other men from prominent families. This opened the door for new men, or novus
homo, to participate in politics and fill offices. Goldsworthy argues that competition
became more difficult, since families with long-standing political ties became fewer,
and the demand for candidates to finance large festivals and games required many

In addition, after the three wars in Macedonia, the war with Antiochus the Great of
Syria, the Second Punic War, and the conquest of Spain there were six praetors who
were given charge of the various regions of the Mediterranean world. No longer was
election into a praetorship a guarantee that one would become consul. Indeed,
Metellus, praetor of Macedonia, destroyed most of the Achaean army before L.
Mummius arrived with his force to complete the Achaean defeat and destroy Corinth.
However, Metellus was not elected consul upon his return from Macedonia,
according to Briscoe.

With the increase in competition arose a corresponding increase in the need for
greater military glory, larger displays of wealth for the Roman people, and deeds of
longer lasting importance.

    See Strabo, 8.6.23.
    See The Punic Wars, A. Goldsworthy.
On this last point, namely the drive to commit deeds of longer lasting importance,
Parcell writes, “Mythical and historical precedent magnified the greatness of the wars
and of the generals.” He asserts that the choice to destroy Carthage and Corinth fits
in with this drive to make a historical impression. He invokes the story of Dido in
Carthage, and how the city was founded through a burning woman and so ended
with a burning woman – the wife of Hasdrubal, the Carthaginian commander, threw
herself and her children into the flames of her burning city. And likewise, the
destruction of Corinth alludes to the burning of Athens by Xerxes, and even to the
destruction of Troy.

                                     II. ROMAN IMPERIALISM

Another cause for the events in 146 BC can be found in Rome’s effort to secure
foreign interests and hegemony. With regard to Carthage and Greece, there is clear
evidence of a push towards Roman rule. Certainly the Greeks and Carthaginians
were allowed to retain their own constitutions and follow their own laws in respect to
internal affairs, but it was generally accepted that when a state’s foreign policy
treaded on Roman interests, Rome was to take precedence.

In Greece, Polybius and Dio mention Rome’s very active support for the political
careers of pro-Roman demagogues such as Callicrates in Achaea. Polybius writes
that these men pursued a policy of making their own laws and oaths subservient to
Roman requests, and even went so far as to ask Rome for guidance on nearly all
major foreign policy decisions3. And it is difficult to ignore the fact that 1000
hostages were taken from Achaea, including Polybius himself, at the request of the
pro-Roman demagogues, to do their supposed opposition to Roman interests.

Moreover, Pausanias writes that Gallus, the senator sent to arbitrate the boundary
dispute between Sparta and Achaea, was instructed by the Senate to separate “as
many states as he could” from the Achaean League. And certainly this plan was
revealed when Rome passed judgment on the Achaeans, demanding that their most
prominent cities be separated from the League, due to the fact that they were of
Achaean blood.

Likewise, in Africa, one can see from various sources that Roman and Carthaginian
interests clashed, and Rome always came out on top. When Massinissa, King of
Numidia, attempted to seize valuable coastal regions from the Carthaginians, such
as Emporia, the dispute was submitted to Rome for arbitration. Although obviously

    See Polybius, Book 24 Chapters 11 – 13.
running contrary to the treaty between Rome and Carthage, the Romans gave the
region to Massinissa.

Both the Carthaginians and the Achaeans resisted Roman imperialism. Due to
despair at unfair Roman arbitration, the Carthaginians raised a large army to fight
Massinissa when he invaded their land, contrary to the terms of the peace treaty of
the Second Punic War. And the Achaeans, bitter from Roman support for corrupt
politicians such as Callicrates, chose to disregard Roman requests and became
openly hostile to Rome.

With this in mind, one can see that the choice to destroy Carthage and Corinth was
in perfect harmony with Roman imperialism. Both cities were protected by an
isthmus, extremely well fortified and had vast resources of manpower to draw from.
In addition, they were coastal cities – perhaps the most important factor for the
Romans, due to the importance of trade, and what Purcell calls thalassocracy.
Purcell writes:

           “Roman policy had once before involved prohibiting the sea-coast to a defeated foe – the
           Capuans in 210 BC. That coast was speedily adapted to Roman ends, with the
           establishment of coloniae maritimae …. Fiscal innovation and new forms of exploitation of
           local resources characterized the Roman management of their newly won Spanish

In fact, there are many examples of the Roman policy to increase their control over
maritime interests in the Mediterranean, and this became the dominant theme with
regard to Carthage and Corinth, and it is why the Romans ordered the Carthaginians
to relocate their city no less than 10 miles from the sea.

                                        III. CONCLUSION

The principles behind Roman foreign policy centered on securing hegemony over
conquered regions and building a thalassocracy across the Mediterranean, and
these principles were fixed long before the events of 146 BC. It is difficult to assume
that the importance of Carthage and Corinth to securing Roman hegemony across
the Mediterranean escaped the notice of the Senate. In fact, Cicero went so far as
to claim, “Our ancestors decided that there were only three cities in all the lands that
could sustain the burden and the reputation of a world-empire: Carthage, Corinth
and Capua.”4 And this is what prompts Purcell to reach the following conclusion:

    Quoted from N. Purcell.
       “These events were epoch-making for Greeks and Romans not by accident, but because
       they were intended to be. The sophisticated choice of the targets and of their fates made
       statements about thalassocracy, political morality, and precedent which served to pattern
       Rome’s dominion for a century.”

When it became clear that both Corinth and Carthage were resisting Roman
imperialism, ambitious men saw in these conflicts a chance for dignitas and gloria.
This was indeed the most marked change in Roman policy: the ends to which
Roman leaders were willing to go for their own glory. For although there was a long
tradition of building a reputation in the field of battle, the innovation lied in choosing
destruction over mercy. And so the events in Carthage and Corinth offered a
wonderful opportunity to overcome the increasing competition for political office in
Rome. As a result the younger Scipio Africanus led the effort to destroy Carthage,
brought back vast amounts of spoils, put on spectacular displays for the Roman
people, and became nearly a mythical figure in ancient literature – especially for his
reaction to the burning of Carthage by quoting Homer’s description of the burning of
Troy and predicting that Rome itself would one day fall. Likewise L. Mummius
foresaw and enjoyed much of the same benefits from the destruction of Corinth.

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