The Annalist: The Year 188 BCE

Summary

  • The people’s tribune Gaius Valerius Tappo bypasses the Senate and sends a proposal to grant full Roman citizenship to the citizens of Formiae, Arpinum and Fundi directly to the popular assembly;
  • Scipio Africanus is once again nominated princeps senatus by the censors;
  • Marcus Fulvius Nobilior captures Same on Kephallenia after a four-month siege;
  • Believing it has Roman backing, the Achaean League attacks and defeats Sparta after it tries to secede from the League;
  • King Ariarathes IV of Cappadocia becomes a ‘friend of the Roman people’ after paying 300 talents;
  • The Peace of Apameia formally ends the war between Rome and the Seleucid Empire;
  • While marching through Thrace, Gnaeus Manlius Vulso and his army are attacked by Thracian tribes, who kill many soldiers and steal much of the Roman loot.

The new consuls Marcus Valerius Messalla and Gaius Livius Salinator seem to have had a fairly easy year. The former was given the war against the Ligurians as his province, the latter Gallia Cisalpina. In the end, they did not achieve or even do much. The most exciting event of their year of office seems to have been a solar eclipse on 17 July.

Constitutional issues

Bust of Cicero, a native of Arpinum (photo: José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC BY-SA 4.0).

This year, a constitutional issue arose when the people’s tribune Gaius Valerius Tappo tabled a proposal to grant full Roman citizenship to the citizens of Formiae, Arpinum and Fundi. These already possessed citizenship without the franchise (civitas sine suffragio) and the tribune wanted to give them the right to vote as well. His proposal was initially vetoed by four of his colleagues because it had not been discussed in the Senate first. The tribunes withdrew their objections after they had been told that it was the people, and not the Senate, who made new laws. Tappo had not violated any constitutional rules by bypassing the Senate. Although the more famous tribune Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (ca. 168-133 BCE) is often credited with (or blamed for) being the first to bypass the Senate in the legislative process, Tappo’s case presents us with a much earlier precedent.

The citizens of Formiae and Fundi were enrolled into the tribus Aemilia, those of Arpinum into the tribus Cornelia. Arpinum – as a town of the Volsci once a lethal enemy of Rome – was now fully part of the Roman world. Two important Romans were born here: Gaius Marius and Marcus Tullius Cicero. The enrolment of citizens into one of the 35 tribes was the job of the censors, and this year Titus Quinctius Flamininus and Marcus Claudius Marcellus concluded the census. Together they counted 258.318 Roman citizens. Marcellus then led the lustrum ceremony, the ritual cleansing of the Roman people. Scipio Africanus had once again been nominated princeps senatus and only four senators had been struck from the roll.

Greece

Now that he had subdued the Aetolians, Marcus Fulvius Nobilior sailed to the strategically important island of Kephallenia (now Cephalonia) to occupy it. The island had been mentioned in the peace treaty with the Aetolian League, but it had been explicitly excluded from the treaty’s provisions. All but one of the cities on the island surrendered to the Romans: only the polis of Same decided to resist. Fulvius had brought his siege equipment from Ambrakia to Kephallenia and soon began to direct rams against the walls of Same on two locations. The defenders, however, constructed new walls and frequently sallied. Livius – citing the Achaean Polybius, who no doubt himself cited a pro-Achaean source – claims that the sorties could only be defeated by using 100 slingers from Aigion, Patras and Dyme. The slings they used were said to be extremely accurate and powerful, more effective even than the slings used by the famous Balearic slingers. In the end, Same was taken after a four-month siege. The city was pillaged, its citizens sold as slaves.

Map of Greece (source: Ancient World Mapping Center. “À-la-carte”; CC BY 4.0).

The Romans now quickly found out that Greece was a genuine quagmire, from which they could not easily extract themselves. Aigion, the traditional venue for meetings of the Achaean League, complained that Philopoimen wanted to introduce a new system, in which every League city would in turn host the League meetings. Sparta tried to secede from the Achaean League, a league it had been forced to join 192 BCE. When the League declared war on Sparta, the Spartans tried to invoke Roman help, but Fulvius simply told all parties to send envoys to the Senate in Rome. One of the Achaean envoys happened to be Lykortas, the historian Polybius’ father. The Senate gave an incomprehensible reply (i.e. it basically refused to take sides), and the Achaeans interpreted this as a green light for military action. The League army immediately attacked Sparta and the action was a complete success. The Spartans were forced to tear down their walls, their constitution was abolished, foreign mercenaries were expelled and Spartan exiles were allowed to return. The Romans could not care less, but they could not remain indifferent forever.

Asia Minor

The so-called Ludovisi Gaul, a Galatian committing suicide (Palazzo Altemps, Rome).

During the winter, the proconsul Gnaeus Manlius Vulso welcomed envoys from cities all over Asia Minor who had come to congratulate him on his victories over the Galatians the previous year. They brought rich gifts with them, which the consul happily accepted. King Ariarathes IV of Cappadocia had sent a delegation to Ephesos as well. The king had made the wrong choice of first supporting his father-in-law King Antiochos and then sending aid to the Galatians. His envoys were told that the king could become a ‘friend of the Roman people’ in exchange for a tribute of 600 talents, basically a heavy fine for the king’s hostile actions. Ariarathes had no option but to accept. Luckily for him, King Eumenes of Pergamum later intervened and managed to reduce the sum to ‘just’ 300 talents.

At the beginning of spring, Vulso took his troops to the border with Pamphylia to receive the first 2.500 talents of the indemnity that King Antiochos was to pay to the Romans (500 had already been paid directly after the king’s defeat at Magnesia). The proconsul also accepted grain for his army before marching on to Apameia further east, which he reached after eight days and where he was joined by the decemviri sent from Rome. Here the Peace of Apameia was formally made. The terms did not differ much from those agreed after Magnesia (see 190 BCE). Among other things, the king was to withdraw his troops from Asia Minor west of the Taurus Mountains, he was to pay the Romans an indemnity of 12.000 talents[1] in twelve annual instalments and he had to surrender all of his elephants and most of his fleet. 20 hostages, among them the king’s son Antiochos, had to be sent to Rome to ensure the king’s loyalty. Hannibal and some Greek rabble rousers had to be extradited (if possible). The king was also required to provide the Romans with 540.000 medimnoi of grain (roughly 28 million litres!).

Drachme of King Philippos V (source: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.)

The parties to the treaty all swore the required oaths, Vulso for the Romans. The proconsul then sent his brother Lucius and the decemvir Quintus Minucius Thermus to Syria to have King Antiochos swear an oath as well. When both had returned and everything had been settled in Asia Minor, Vulso and the decemviri took the army back to Europe. Their return journey through Thrace would be a disaster. When Lucius Scipio had travelled from Europe to Asia Minor with his army in 190 BCE, he had made sure that King Philippos of Macedonia watched over his flank while he marched through this dangerous region full of hostile tribes. Vulso and the decemviri seem to have taken no precautions at all. Laden with booty, the Roman column slowly wound its way through Thrace. The Romans were asking for trouble.[2]

Not long after leaving Lysimacheia, the Thracians attacked the Roman baggage train, which was in the centre of the Roman column. There was heavy fighting and many men fell on both sides, but the Thracians managed to snatch away much of the Roman loot. In a second fight, the aforementioned Quintus Minucius Thermus was killed. There was a third fight between Ainos and Maroneia. Since it was fought in open terrain, the Romans came out on top and drove back the Thracian attackers. Roman losses both in terms of men and loot had been considerable, but at least the Romans had now reached friendly territory again. Vulso marched his army to Apollonia where he would spend the winter.

Sources

Primary sources

Notes

[1] Or rather 15.000, but 3.000 had already been paid.

[2] Livius 38.40 blames King Philippos for the subsequent Thracian attacks, but his accusations seem to be spurious.

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