In discussing the great figures of antiquity, I will start with African Elder Scipio (Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Maior), who lived in years 235-183 BCE
The Second Punic War broke out in 218 BCE Young Scipio accompanied his father, Publius Cornelius Scipio, consul in 218 BCE, during the battle of Hannibal under Ticinus (218 BCE). Despite the defeat of the Romans, the courage of young Scipio was noticed. In 210 BCE, under the pressure of the legions in Spain, he was elected commander in place of his father, who died last year. In 209 BCE he conquered New Carthage in southern Spain. A year later he won at Bekula Hasdrubal the Younger who went to help his brother Hannibal. He was not helped because the remnants of Hasdrubal the Younger were defeated at the Metaurus River in Nadpadanian Gaul. Hasdrubal died on the battlefield.
Scipio fought in Spain until 206 BCE. He then returned to Rome, where he was elected consul for 205 BCE, but was denied triumph (as he had not previously held a consulate or pretensions). That same year, he went to Sicily to prepare an expedition against Carthage. In 204 BCE he landed at the head of the Roman corps in Africa. In the 202 BCE near Zamma (or Zama) in northern Africa, there was a decisive clash between Scipio and Hannibal. Roman troops, supported by the king of Numidia, in the strength of about 25,000. About 50,000 Carthaginian troops, assisted by 80 war elephants, defeated them. Peace was made, by which Carthage lost all possessions except Africa. The success of the Romans was largely attributed to the superior training of the legions. The Battle of Zamma ended the sixteen-year Second Punic War. Scipio, on his return to Rome, triumphed and was solemnly nicknamed “Africanus” (“African”). In 194 BCE he became consul again, and four years later he was given command of the war against Antiochus III. After returning from the war, offended at Antiochus for bringing him a bribery suit, he withdrew from political life. He died at home in 183 BCE.
African Scipio was a great promoter of Greek culture. His leadership talents broke one of the greatest military and commercial powers of the time – Carthage. His victory over Zamma allowed Rome to flourish, develop and expand on a larger scale than before. Thanks to this, the Roman Empire could achieve its later shape and importance.
Adopted son of Scipio the African Elder, Scipio the Younger (Publius Cornelius Scipio Emilianus), equalled his foster father in war. He was born in 185 BCE. At 34, he fought as an officer in Spain and two years later in Africa. He became a consul in 147 BCE. He was famous for the siege and the capture of Carthage.
He came to Africa as an officer in 149 BCE. the 3rd Punic War was already in its third year. Appion of Alexandria in his “Roman History” described the Carthaginians’ preparations for war:
All the sacred places, the temples, and every other unoccupied space, were turned into workshops, where men and women worked together day and night without pause, taking their food by turns on a fixed schedule. Each day they made 100 shields, 300 swords, 1,000 missiles for catapults, 500 darts and javelins, and as many catapults as they could. For strings to bend them the women cut off their hair for want of other fibers.
– Appian of Alexandria, Roman history, VIII.93
Scipio the Younger immediately started to act vigorously. He became the commander of the troops two years later. In a brilliant attack in 146 BCE, he stormed the city and took it. Scipio wanted to keep Carthage, but at the request of the senate, he demolished the city for example for other enemies. This ended the Third Punic War, which lasted 4 years. After returning to Rome, he triumphed and was nicknamed “Africanus”. In 134 BCE he became consul again. In the same year, he went to Spain as a commander in the war against Numacea. He won it in 133 BCE. In the same year, he triumphed in Rome and received another nickname “Numantibus”.
Scipio was an opponent of the agricultural reforms of the Gracchi brothers, which consisted in granting plots of land to the commoners. Like his foster father, he was a supporter and promoter of Greek culture. The Carthaginian state, reborn after the Second Punic War, disappeared from the maps, opening the way for further Roman expansion in Africa. His shares in Spain increased Roman ownership in the province. He was one of the founders of the later powerful Roman Empire.
After the death of both Scipio until the fall of the republic, Rome had many outstanding commanders, but none of them equalled the man who overthrew the republican system – Gaius Julius Caesar.
Caesar was born in 100 BCE in Rome into a patrician family. At sixteen, he was offered the office of a high priest (Pontifex Maximus), but due to the resistance of political opponents, he did not receive it. Soon after, Caesar became the leader of the popularity in Rome, linked to the popularity by family ties (Caesar was a relative of Marius and married the daughter of his supporter Cynna), he was exposed to Sulla during his dictatorship and had to leave Rome. He returned to Rome after Sulla’s death in 78 BCE and began his political career. Caesar held the following offices in turn:
- in 68 BCE he was a quaestor in Spain
- in 66 BCE – curule edile
- in 63 BCE he became a high priest
- in 62 BCE – praetor; in the following year, he was appointed governor of Spain as propretor.
In 60 BCE he made an agreement with Pompey and Crassus, the so-called 1st triumvirate. A year later, with the support of the triumvirs, he became a consul. The following year, he received the governorship for 5 years in both Galia: in the Pre-Alpine and south-eastern part of Gaul in the Trans-Alpine region, and in Illyria. In 58-51 he conquered the Gaul of the Transalpine, crushed the Gauls uprising led by Vercingetorix (52 BCE) and made Gaul a Roman province. The conquest of Gaul brought Caesar great fame and contributed to the growth of his political importance in Rome. In the years 55-54, he was the first Roman commander to cross to Britain, he reached the Thames, but he did not leave any permanent garrisons there. In 50 BCE a conflict arose between Caesar and Pompey, supported by optimists concerned about Caesar’s successes in Gaul. The dispute concerned the division of power between the two leaders. A year later Caesar, against the prohibition of the senate, entered Italy at the head of his army, which amounted to declaring civil war. Crossing the Rubicon, the border river between Pre-Alpine Gaul and Italy, he was to utter the famous words: “Alea iacta est” (“The dice have been cast”). Pompey, who had much weaker forces at his disposal, was forced to withdraw to Greece. There the decisive battle of Pharsalus (48 BCE) culminated in the victory of Caesar. Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was murdered treacherously. After his victory over Pompey, Caesar became a dictator for an indefinite period. Over the next 3 years, Caesar defeated Pompey’s followers in the Battles of Thapsus in Africa (46 BCE) and Munda in Spain (45 BCE). In the so-called In the Alexandrian War, he enthroned the exiled Cleopatra (47 BCE) on the Egyptian throne; he then defeated the king of the Bosphorus, Pharnakes, in the Battle of Zela (47 BCE), which he reported to the Senate in three words: “veni, vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I won”). After these victories, Caesar became the sole ruler of the Roman state. In 44 BCE he was awarded the title of life dictator (dictator in perpetuum); he carried out a number of reforms in the army, state administration (including increasing the number of senators to 900) and financial ones: he started work on the expansion of Rome, he reformed the calendar (the so-called Julian calendar); he carried out large-scale colonization, arranged the distribution of grain, issued a number of laws against the rip-off of Roman officials in the provinces. Caesar’s efforts to transform the Roman state into a Hellenistic-type monarchy faced stiff opposition in a society tied to the republican form of government. A conspiracy was set up against Caesar and in the Ides of March (March 15) in 44 BCE an assassination attempt was made in the Senate under the leadership of Brutus. Soon after his death, Caesar has proclaimed a god (Divus Iulius – Divine Julius) and a temple was erected for him at the Forum Romanum.
In the history of Rome, Caesar played an enormous role. He became famous as an excellent leader, one of the greatest politicians, diplomats, administrators, speakers and writers. He was characterized by extraordinary energy and endurance in enduring the hardships of war. Caesar also dealt with literary works, he wrote the unpreserved grammatical work “On analogies” and “Diaries of the Gallic War” and “On the Civil War”, which have survived. These works are of great artistic and source value. Thanks to Caesar, Gaul, the territory of later France, found itself within the borders of the Empire. This stopped the subjugation of this country by the Germans and enabled the subsequent conquest of Britain. Caesar hastened the fall of the republic and showed the way of gaining the power to other outstanding individuals.
Marcus Agrippa (Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa) was born in 63 BCE He met Octavian Augustus, later adopted son of Rome’s dictator Gaius Julius Caesar and his later political heir, when he was still very young and intertwined his fortunes with his. He accompanied Augustus in his political life after Caesar’s death. In 40 BCE he became a praetor. As governor of Gaul, he suppressed an uprising in Aquitaine. In an effort to extend Rome’s sovereignty further east, he crossed the Rhine and made peace with the Germanic Ubi tribe. He placed them on the left bank of the river in Oppidum Ubiorum. From that moment, Roman legions were stationed there for a number of subsequent years, repelling subsequent German attacks (in 29 BCE Suebów, and nine years later, the Syganbrians – in battles with them, in 16 BCE, the Romans under the leadership of Marcus Lalius Paulinius suffered a defeat and lost the 5th Legion). Agrippa took office as consul for 37 BCE. The following year, he defeated the pirate fleet of Sextus Pompey in sea battles off the coast of Sicily at Mylae and Naulochos. In the years 35-34 BCE he fought in Illyria. When there was an armed conflict between Octavian Augustus and Marcus Antony for the control of the Roman Empire, he remained completely faithful to his leader. He drew up a plan of action for Octavian’s troops and fleet during the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE. By commanding part of the fleet and troops, he contributed to the victory over the combined forces of Antony and Cleopatra. Antony’s soldiers wanted to fight on land, where they knew their abilities, but their leader, under the influence of Cleopatra, decided to settle in a naval battle. His fleet was routed, and on September 2 he escaped aboard Cleopatra’s galley to Egypt. Marcus Agrippa was again consul for the years 28 and 27 BCE. He helped August in carrying out systemic reforms (introducing the principate). In later years, he exercised the actual governorship in the eastern part of the empire. In 20 BCE he was in Gaul, and then in Spain. Two years later he was given the office of people’s tribune for five years. The following year he participated in the celebration of the Centennial Festival – ludi saeculares. In the years 17-13 BCE he stayed in the east. There he placed King Pelomian on the throne of the Cimmerian Bosphorus (today’s Kerch Strait), and in Palestine he renewed friendly relations with the King of Judea, Herod the Great, who had served him and Augustus before.
Marcus Agrippa died suddenly in 12 BCE. He went down in history by improving the water supply and sewage system of Rome. He erected thermae and Pantheon in honour of the guardian deities of the Julian family (Hadrian built the present Pantheon on the ruins of the Pantheon of Agrippa). He also contributed to the reconstruction of the aqueduct to the city of Nemausus in southern Gaul, partially preserved to this day. From 37 BCE Agrippa’s wife was Cecylia Attica, daughter of Pomponius Attica. He had a daughter with her, Vipsania Agrippina, the first wife of the future Emperor Tiberius. He later married Marcella, the niece of Emperor Augustus, and in 21 BCE married his daughter Julia, who gave him two sons and two daughters.
Trajan (Marcus Ulpius Trajanus) was born in 53 CE in Spain. In 97, Emperor Nerva, under pressure from the army, adopted him and admitted him to the government (October 27, 97). When Nerva died on January 27 of the following year, Trajan was elected emperor, but he did not come to Rome until the second half of 99, because he had previously visited military camps in Pannonia and Moesia, preparing to act against King Decebal. Upon his accession to the throne, Trajan formed two new legions (Trajan II and Ulpia XXX), bringing their total number to thirty. This happened in connection with the preparations of the 99-100 years for the war with the Dacians, a people inhabiting the territory of today’s Romania. This war, in the intention of the emperor, was to bring new territories, and at the same time to secure the provinces of the Danube and erase the memory of Domitian’s not very glorious military activities in this region. At the beginning of 101, the Roman army, with the strength of 10 legions (including auxiliaries, over 100,000 soldiers), crossed the Danube. On March 25, 101, Trajan embarked on the first war with the Dacians. The emperor entered Transylvania through the Carpathian Pass of the Iron Gate, and at the same time, Lusius Quietus attacked from Lower Moesia. The Roman army crossed the pontoon bridge and headed for the capital of Denmark – Sarmizegetuza. Initially, the Dacians were victorious in difficult mountain terrain. Decebal joined the Roxolani and in the winter of 101/102, they crossed the Danube together and attacked Lower Moesia. Roman garrisons resisted. In 102, the emperor crossed the Danube, reached Sarmizegetusa, and forced Decebal to make peace. He had to surrender all his weapons and prisoners, as well as give up part of the territory on the left bank of the Danube. In return, he remained in power and entered into an alliance with Rome. After the end of the First Dacian War, Trajan returned to Rome, where he triumphed and was nicknamed “Dacicus” (“Dacki”). Both sides realized that peace was temporary. Trajan instructed Apollodorus of Damascus to build a permanent bridge across the Danube near the present-day town of Drobeta (Turnu Severin). Decebalus in early 105 attacked the Roman garrisons stationed south of the Danube and entered Moesia, starting the Second Dack War. Trajan, at the head of thirteen legions, crossed the Danube in early 106, conquered Sarmizegetuza and subjugated the whole country to Rome, creating a new province – Dacia. In order not to be forced to take part in the emperor’s triumph, Decebalus committed suicide (details of the death are known from the description of Cassius Dio and from the scenes on Trajan’s column). Trajan sent his head back to Rome as tangible proof of victory. During the war, the legionary’s helmet was modified. It was not resistant to being hit with a Dack combat scythe, so after the First Dac War, two steel reinforcements intersecting at the top were added to it.
After the end of hostilities, Trajan relocated part of the Dacian population and secured the borders of Dacia by building limes. Preparations for the wars in the east began as Trajan planned to subdue Rome’s undefeated enemy – Parthian. In 106, one of Trajan’s chieftains, Cornelius Palma, captured the Nabataean state, which, thanks to its location at the crossroads of trade routes from Syria to the Red Sea, was of great economic importance. In these lands, the province Rocky Arabia (Arabia Petrea) was created with the capital in Petra, while some of the Nabataeans with Damascus were incorporated into the province of Syria. From Damascus, a road was built through Bostra and Petra to the Gulf of Aqaba.
During the reign of Trajan, there were family disputes again in Armenia and the Party, as in the days of Augustus and the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Trajan took advantage of internal Parthian dynastic disputes and with an army of around 100,000 marched against the Parthians. In the spring of 114 he entered Armenia, which, without encountering any resistance, he won without much effort and declared it a Roman province. In the spring of the following year, Trajan set out for northern Mesopotamia. Again, he met no resistance and took two major cities: Nisibis and Edessa. A new province of Mesopotamia was created. Then, after building a fleet over the central Euphrates, the Romans stormed the Media Adiabene and seized the Arsacid capital of Ctesiphon (King Chosroes fled from the Romans). From this land, the province of Assyria was created. Trajan then assumed the nickname “Parthicus”, but the end of the war was still far away. The emperor sailed on the Tiger to the Persian Gulf. On his return, he visited Babylon. However, he did not manage to properly organize and secure the new gains, as numerous uprisings broke out in the occupied cities. In addition, the inciting of revolts by the Jews, first in Cyrenaica and Egypt, and then in Judea, in the immediate vicinity of the Roman army, posed a serious threat. The Roman army was on the defensive. Trajan again exploited family feuds among the Arsacids and proclaimed Parthamaziris, son of Chosroes, king. However, a protege by the Romans, the ruler did not win the Parthian recognition and was soon exiled. The emperor was defeated at the walls of the small but heavily defended city of Hatry. After a dramatic retreat, Trajan reached Selinus in Cilicia in early 117 CE, where he died on August 8. Already on his deathbed, he adopted his cousin Publius Elius Hadrian.
The reign of Trajan was a period of the greatest territorial development of the Roman state. Despite wars, or maybe thanks to them, it was a period of heyday, and the emperor was still alive (in 114), the senate gave the honourable and well-deserved nickname “Optimus Princeps” (“the best princeps”).
After Trajan’s death, Publius Aelius Hadrian (117-138 CE) became emperor. After his accession to the throne, wishing to maintain peaceful relations with the Parthians, he returned their seized lands to them and, as a result of his eastern policy, created a buffer zone in this area in 129 from the possessions of vassal kings and princes. Two years before his death, he adopted Cejonius Commodus, who died in 138, and the emperor, who was already seriously ill (six months before his death), appointed senator Titus Aurelius Antony, later Emperor Antony Pius, his successor. Wishing to resolve the issue of succession not for one, but for two generations (Antony had no sons of his own), he demanded that his adopted son adopt two boys: the son of the late Cejonius Commodus – Lucius Verus and one of Antony’ relatives – Marcus Annius Verus, later Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
The long rule of Emperor Hadrian is one of the few peaceful periods in the history of Rome.
There were no campaigns of importance during his reign… The Parthians always regarded him as a friend because he took away the kingwhom Trajan had set over them. The Armenians were permitted to have their own king,… The kings of the Bactrians sent envoys to him to beg humbly for his friendship.
– Scriptores Historiae Augustae, Hadrian, 21
This somewhat idyllic image conveyed by Elius Spartianus, disrupts the message in Cassius Dio’s “Roman History” (69:12), informing about the eruption in Judea, about the decision to raze Jerusalem and the construction of the Greek-Roman city of Aelia Capitolina in this area, as well as erection of the tabernacle of Zeus on the site of the Jewish temple. However, it must be admitted that the Jews, even during the reign of Trajan and his war with the Parthians, triggered a rebellion in the rear of the Roman army (perhaps under the influence of Chosroes’ agitation), as well as in Cyprus and Cyrenaica. The ruler’s arbitrary decision regarding the fate of Jerusalem was one of the manifestations of the emperor’s efforts to Hellenize the eastern centres and to achieve religious and cultural unification. The emperor was in Jerusalem in 129 or 130 CE on his journey to the East. Then he saw the city lying in ruins for nearly 60 years, from the moment it was captured and destroyed by Titus. In 131, he issued a decree prohibiting circumcision, which deeply outraged the Jews. These decisions led to an uprising in 132 CE, led by Simon with the nickname “Bar Kochba” (Son of the Star) or “Bar Koziby”, as it is called in the Qumran scrolls. In this war called the Second Jewish War, o much more bloody and devastating than the first, 580,000 died people and 50 cities were destroyed. On the site of the completely demolished Jerusalem, the emperor established a veterans’ colony – Colonia Aelia Capitolina (the name was changed to traditional after Hadrian’s death), to which Jews, except for one day of the year, were forbidden to enter. In Judea, the consular province of Syria Palestine was established, with the influx of non-Jewish settlers. This one and only war during the reign of Hadrian (apart from the riots in Mauritania mentioned by Cassius Dio; 68:32) was interrupted by the many years of Pax Hadrian. While pursuing a peace policy, Hadrian also took care of securing the borders of the Roman Empire. He completed the construction of Germanic and Rhaetian limes and began the construction of border fortifications in Britain, the so-called Hadrian’s embankment – Hadriani vallum – between the Solway Firth and the mouth of the River Tyne. Hadrian’s Wall was 80 Roman miles, or 117 km, long. It consisted of a high wall, not less than 2.5 m thick and about 6.5 m high, located in front of it, on the north side, a deep moat, 8 m wide and 4 m deep. Infantry and auxiliary cavalry troops were stationed there, a total of about 15,000 soldiers. Legions were also deployed inland: in Eburacum (now York) – VI Victrix, in Isca (now Caerlon) – II Augusta and in Deva (now Chester – XX Valeria Victrix). He improved and expanded the Danube Limes by erecting many strongholds which from the north, west and east closed the valleys leading into the Transylvanian Upland and passing into the valley of the Aluta River (now Oltul), which is the eastern border of the Dacia province. In 124/125 he divided Dacia into three smaller provinces: Superior, Inferior and Porolissenis. A few years later (in 132), the emperor traveled from Athens to Thrace, where he founded the city of Hadrianopol (Adrianopol, now Edirne located in the European part of Turkey), which was the site of extremely important events in the later history of Europe. He also developed the African limes. In Numidia, a defensive stone wall was erected on the border of the Roman province. Perhaps it was then that a wide (4-10 m) ditch in front of the fortifications was dug, called fossatum Africae, which is still visible in aerial photographs. It is possible, however, that this ditch was built only in the 3rd century. Hadrian also introduced significant changes in the structure of the army aimed at increasing the discipline and efficiency of the army, he also established that the legions can supplement their ranks in the country where they are stationed, which led to the barbarization of the army which at the end of his reign numbered 28 legions, 17 of which were stationed on the western borders (3 in Britain, 4 in Teutons, 4 in Pannonia, 5 in Moesias, 1 in Dacia), and 8 on the eastern borders (2 in Cappadocia, 3 in Syria, 2 in Judea, 1 in Arabia). In addition, single legions were stationed in Egypt, Africa and Spain.
One of the last great Roman leaders was Julian the Apostate (Flavius Claudius Julianus). He was born in 332. He was educated in Athens, studied philosophy and literature. Even then, under the influence of Neoplatonism, moved away from the Christian religion in which he was brought up and returned to the traditional Roman religion. As the nephew of the emperor Constantius II, he was under his protection, but he was put off by the conviction of his brother by the emperor, for whom he was inconvenient. In 355 he was sent to Gaul. Due to the weakening of the defence of this province, it was often invaded and devastated by the Germans. They prided themselves on the fact that there were miles and miles of empty space between them and the Romans. Julian, after taking over Gaul, began to rebuild this province. He paid some of the taxes from his own treasury, began to rebuild border towns, and during the famine, he brought grain from Britain, for which he gained recognition. In the following battles, he defeated the Germans and crossed the Rhine. His soldiers, as citizens of Gaul, had a promise that they would not have to fight outside of their provinces. Therefore, when Constantius II ordered them to go east on the planned expedition against Persia, the soldiers revolted and proclaimed Julian the Apostate emperor. It was in 360. The armies of Julian and Constantius II did not clash, as the latter died a year later.
Julian tried to restore the polytheistic religion to the equal importance of the dominant Christian religion. He tried to frame the Roman religion within the framework of the Christian Church. He started a monetary reform and tried to fight against excessively high prices.
In 363 he declared war on Persia and moved eastward with a great army and river fleet. He defeated the Persian army and destroyed the capital of the king of kings – Ctesiphon. As a result of disinformation, he lost supplies for his army. It was surrounded, and the Emperor himself suffered a heroic death leading his army to attack. It is likely that one of his own soldiers (possibly a Christian) killed him, as no one in the Persian camp claimed a reward for this act. After his death, Jovian became the emperor. After signing the humiliating Romans peace, the imperial army withdrew to the borders of the Empire. The Persian king, seeing the retreating Roman army led by a weak and inept emperor, stated that this was the beginning of the fall of the Roman Empire.
Julian has shown that paganism is not yet forgotten. At the same time, he proved that the Roman army, despite long fratricidal wars, was still a powerful force. His achievements prolonged the existence of the declining Roman Empire.
The leaders mentioned in this work were outstanding individuals of their time. Many of them, like Caesar, reached for power thanks to their achievements. Thanks to them, the Roman Empire gained its shape, power and thanks to them it survived for so long. Their fate and achievements have inspired and inspired many outstanding people, such as Napoleon. As a result, they changed the fate of their time and beyond. The areas incorporated by them into the empire underwent Romanization, remaining centres of high culture, also after the fall of the Empire. Thanks to the spread of Roman culture over a vast territory, it has not disappeared, and the material remains of this era delight us to this day…