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Wars in Cisalpine Gaul at beginning of 2nd century BCE

(1st half of 2nd century BCE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

A Roman sculpture from the 1st century CE showing Galata killing his wife  and himself
Rzymska rzeźba z I wieku n.e. ukazująca Galatę zabijającego żonę i siebie

After the cessation of fighting with Hannibal in 201 BCE almost all areas in Italy returned to Roman rule. Some of them who had fought on the side of Carthage were punished – their status was changed, their lands were confiscated and converted into ager publicus. Capua lost its status as a municipium and all of its land, the inhabitants of Bruttium were recognised as dediciti – a community without any rights guaranteed by the treaties concluded with Rome and half of their land was taken over by the Romans. Other areas – like Tarentum – retained their pre-war legal status.

The hot spot was still Cisalpine Gaul, whose inhabitants took part in the Second Punic War. The local Celtic population significantly supported Hannibal during the war, as Carthaginian victories meant liberation from the attacks of legions for them. The victories of Hannibal and his Gallic allies inspired the younger generation of the Gauls living on the banks of the Po to continue fighting against the Republic after the evacuation of the Carthaginian army. One of their commanders was a Punic officer Hamilcar, who had arrived in the area during the last war. For ten years after its ending, he commanded tribal warriors repelling attacks of legions, exacerbating the already tense relations between Kart Hadeszt and the Republic. Until his death on the battlefield, the Roman authorities sent complaints to Carthage concerning his participation in the fight against Rome. Carthaginian authorities denied that Hamilcar worked for them.

Taking advantage of Rome’s exhaustion caused by victorious war against Hannibal, in 200 BCE the tribes of Cenomani, Boii and Insubres attacked two riverside fortresses – Cremona and Placentia, capturing and destroying the latter. In the next two years, the Gauls successfully fought off the attacks of weak Roman troops sent against them. In 197 BCE the Romans made a coordinated attack on them with two consular armies. One group of troops crossed the Apennines near Genua, attacking along the Po valley, the other crossed the river and on the banks of the Mincio defeated the main forces of the militia of the Cenomani and Insubres. Next year, the army under M. Claudius Marcellus defeated the Gauls on Lake Como. These military failures forced the Cenomani and Insubres to negotiate peace agreements. The lands of both tribes were not confiscated from them, but their representatives had to send military reinforcements to the Romans in certain circumstances. The other Celtic tribe which the Senate treated differently were the Boii. In the years 195-192 BCE the Romans did not take firm military action against them. Only after the defeat inflicted on them by P. Cornelius Scipio Nasica in 191 BCE, half of their territory was confiscated. One part of the tribe moved to the Danube, where they settled down on the territory of the present day Czech Republic. The Latin name of this country Bohemia comes just from the name of the Boii tribe. The lands belonging to the Boii were divided between Roman and Latin colonists. In these areas, the Romans founded a Latin colony in Bononia in 189 BCE and Roman colonies in Parma and Mutina (183 BCE). Apart from the above-mentioned colonies, most of the confiscated territory of the Boii was divided into individual plots of land handed over to colonists on the basis of individual bestowal (viritane). Most of them lay in the Po valley and were adjacent to the new Roman roads. The settlements of the colonists were connected to such thoroughfares as via Aemilia Lepidi, which ran along a high embankment and extended via Flaminia from Ariminum to Placentia.

The Gauls were only one of the peoples from the north of the Apennines, against whom the Romans waged war. The enemy more difficult to defeat were the Ligurians at the north-western tip of the Italian Peninsula. Before the Second Punic War the Senate did not pay attention to their lands ignored for centuries due to soil infertility and poor accessibility. In the opinion of the Romans themselves, the Ligurians were savages. The Senate limited itself to the construction of water posts in Genua and Luna before the war with Hannibal and the construction of a road connecting Genua and the Po valley in 197 BCE However, the need to secure roads connecting the west coast and Cisalpine Gaul as well as waterways from Italy to Spain forced them to be active there. In 187 BCE consul G. Flaminius built a road connecting Bononia and the Arno valley, extending his father’s work – via Flaminia. From 186 BCE on consular armies were regularly sent to Liguria to secure Roman communication routes and destroy indigenous population. Fighting in unknown and mountainous terrain posed a great challenge to heavily-armed legions that were not able to break the resistance of mobile Ligurian troops. Roman armies were constantly defeated and legionaries’ successes were of little benefit. A loose structure of the local tribes meant that the Romans had to conquer every village separately. However, as a result of consistent offensive action the Romans managed to conquer all the mountainous backwoods or starve out the locals. In 181 BCE L. Emilius Paulus subjugated the Ingauni tribe whose headquarters stretched to the west of Genua. A year later, the army commanded by two proconsuls defeated the Apuani living on the lands between Genua and Luna. 40,000 members of this tribe were resettled deep into Italy to Samnium. The effect of the subjugation of Liguria was reflected by raising the status of the Luna water post to that of a colony in 177 BCE However, unlike Cisalpine Gaul, Liguria did not become the object of lively settlement action immediately.

It is worth noting that the time of Roman struggles with the Ligurians is a period of rebellion against Rome raised by the inhabitants of Corsica and Sardinia. The Corsicans engaged in piracy and cooperated with the Ligurians in this regard. Their resistance was broken as a result of a short campaign. What caused more trouble for the Romans was the uprising in Sardinia, where the consular army of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus crushed the resistance of the island’s inhabitants for two years (177-176 BCE). After the fighting had ended, Gracchus displaced most of the locals. Feeling strong in Sardinia and Corsica, the Romans controlled only the shores of both islands from then on.

The people with whom Rome maintained good relations were the Venetii on the north-eastern border of Italy. In order to protect it from the assaults of mountain tribes from this part of the Alps, in 181 BCE a large colony was founded in these areas, which gave rise to the foundation of the city of Aquileia. The settlement controlled mountain passes in the Julian and Carnian Alps and allowed the Romans to observe the Istrians, who engaged in piracy. A. Manlius Vulso’s troops were sent out against the Istrians to intimidate their territorial unions. However, in 178 BCE Vulso exceeded his powers by attacking this people. During the struggle with the Istrians, the Romans initially suffered defeats, but after two campaigns they successfully completed the war. The conquered areas were not colonized, but thanks to the infiltration of private Roman settlers they were merged with Rome over time.

The military operations of the Romans in the north, northwest and northeast of the Italian Peninsula were of great importance for their policy of further conquests in Europe. Absorption of Liguria facilitated communication between Cisalpine Gaul and the western shores of the Mediterranean. The conquest of lands on the Po river allowed to mark the border on the Alps and to reach towards the lands on the Danube in the future. Military activity on the Adriatic was an introduction into further territorial acquisitions on the lands of the Illyrians.

Author: Marcin Bąk
Sources
  • Goldsworthy A., The Fall of Carthage, The Punic Wars 265-146 BC, London 2006
  • Carry M., Scullard H.H., Dzieje Rzymu. Od czasów najdawniejszych do Konstantyna, Warszawa 1992

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