The Annalist: The Years 238-231 BCE

The years discussed here were unusually quiet for Rome. Not much of interest happened at home and Rome’s armed conflicts mostly involved small-scale warfare against Celtic and Ligurian tribes and the peoples of Sardinia and Corsica. The most remarkable event took place in 235 BCE, when one of the consuls, Titus Manlius Torquatus presided over the first ever closing of the gates of the temple of Janus on the Forum Romanum, indicating that the state was at peace.

War…

Roman northward expansion had led to conflicts with the Celts of Cisalpine Gaul, who for their part had a long tradition of raiding Roman territory. The relations between the Romans and Celts had always been uneasy. In 390 (or 386) BCE, a band of marauding Celts from a tribe known as the Senones had defeated a Roman army at the Battle of the Allia and had subsequently captured most of Rome (save the Capitol Hill). The Romans had to buy off their besiegers and this was a humiliation they would not soon forget. About a century later, in 295 BCE, the Romans defeated a coalition of Celts – mostly Senones – and Samnites at the Battle of Sentinum (near present-day Sassoferrato in the Marche). More – unfortunately poorly documented – battles took place in 284 and 283 BCE. Celts, possibly Senones again, threatened the important city of Arretium (present-day Arezzo), but were defeated. The next year, a coalition of Boii and Etruscans was crushed at Lake Vadimo (near present-day Orte in Latium).

Roman conquests usually led to the annexation and colonisation of enemy territory, and Celtic territory was no exception. After their victory at Arretium, the Romans for instance founded a colony at Sena Gallica (Senigallia on the Adriatic coast), named after the defeated Senones. Colonies helped the Romans to consolidate their conquests, but they were also sources of friction and new conflicts. In 268 BCE, the Romans founded an important colony at Ariminum, present-day Rimini, again in former Celtic territory. Some thirty years later, in 236 BCE, an army of Boii aided by allies from across the Alps advanced on Ariminum and demanded back the land surrounding the colony, claiming it was theirs. The Roman consuls Publius Cornelius Lentulus Caudinus and Gaius Licinius Varus seem to have been loath to intervene, but the Celtic campaign came to nothing when the Boii and their allies began to fight among themselves.

Map of Italy (copyright Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, Gebco, Landsat/Copernicus, Geobasis-DE/BKG, Google, Inst. Geogr. Nacional).

The first conflicts with the Ligurians are documented for 238 BCE, when Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus seems to have won a victory over them. Further campaigns were conducted in 236 BCE, 234 BCE and 233 BCE, but no names of great battles have come down to us. It is fair to assume that these campaigns involved fairly low-level warfare. The Ligurians were a loosely organised and fiercely independent people. They were no match for the Roman legions in the field and mostly resorted to skirmishing actions and ambushes. This was not the type of warfare that the Romans favoured. Still, the consul of 233 BCE Quintus Fabius Maximus managed to chase them into the Alps, thereby ending their raids into Roman territory. Fabius was awarded a triumph for his victory and dedicated a temple to Honour and Virtue. He later became a famous hero of the Second Punic War.

The Roman consul Lucius Cornelius Scipio had already captured the island of Corsica and its most important city of Alalia (later Roman Aleria) in 259 BCE. It is not clear when the Romans decided to permanently occupy and annex the island, but it seems a fair guess that this happened in the aftermath of the annexation of Sardinia in 238 BCE. Both islands soon began to resent the Roman presence and revolts broke out everywhere. The Romans had to send armies to the islands and they seem to have fought a continuous war on Sardinia between 234 and 231 BCE. Similar wars on Corsica are documented for the years 236, 234 and 231 BCE. The Sardinians and Corsicans were guerrilla fighters and their favourite tactic was the ambush. Although they were only capable of inflicting pinpricks on the Romans, these wars must have been frustrating for the legionaries. Ultimately, however, the Romans were victorious and the rebellions were quelled.

… and peace

Janus Bifrons (photo: Loudon dodd, CC BY-SA 3.0 license).

Apparently the Romans did not consider the conflicts on Sardinia and Corsica to constitute genuine wars. In 235 BCE, the consul Titus Manlius Torquatus had closed the gates of the Temple of Janus on the Forum Romanum, indicating that the Republic was no longer at war. Although the gates would be reopened less than a decade later, this was still a historic moment. The construction of the temple of Janus had been attributed to the semi-legendary King Numa Pompilius (early seventh century), who was known for his religious reforms. Numa had died in ca. 673 BCE and the gates of the temple had always been open. Now they were closed for the very first time. The next time they would be closed again was after Caesar Octavian’s victory over Marcus Antonius at Actium in 31 BCE.

In 232 BCE, we first hear of one Gaius Flaminius. Flaminius was a new man (homo novus). He would later be responsible for constructing the Via Flaminia and the Circus Flaminius, but he first served as people’s tribune (tribunus plebis). In this capacity, he managed to have the popular assembly pass a bill distributing land in Picenum among poorer Roman citizens. This land was known as the Ager Gallicus and was presumably located south of the Roman colony of Ariminum. It had been taken from the Senones, who had been expelled. Conservative senators were not happy with Flaminius’ actions, and their feelings were echoed by Polybius, who accused the tribune of populism.

Sources

Primary

Secondary

  • Adrian Goldsworthy, The Fall of Carthage, p. 136-139;
  • Adrian Goldsworthy, In the Name of Rome, p. 37;

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