Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Key Dates of European History: 386 BC

If the Greek culture that could freely blossom after the events of 479 BC was the intellectual birth of Europe, then what happened in 386 BC could be considered as its political birth.

In the early 4th century BC, a Gaulic tribe known as the Senones invaded northern Italy. Led by a warlord called Brennus, the Senones wrought havoc to much of rural Italy before encountering a small confederation of city states known as the Latin League. The Latin League was weak, unorganised and disloyal. So when the Senones appeared at the river Allia, the Romans stood there alone. And were defeated. Soon afterward, the Senones appeared at the outskirts of Rome.

Legend has it that the Senones attacked the city at night, while the people were sleeping. When they attempted to storm the Capitol, however, the sacred geese of Iuno woke up and alarmed the entire town. The population fled to the Capitol and withstood the Senones for seven months until buying their freedom with a humiliating tribute that led Brennus to say, “vae victis” – “woe to the vanquished”.

So far, so good. During all of antiquity, cities of varying size and importance were besieged, conquered and plundered. Some survived, some didn’t. Why was this different?

The Romans, humiliated and scared, vowed to never let something like this happen again. The ‘Gaulic Scare’ became a vision of horror that accompanied them for centuries to come, and they saw only two methods to stop the ruthless barbarians from attacking their home again: First, build a wall. Second, expand their resources.

In the following decades, the Romans managed to turn the Latin League into a tool of their domination. It didn’t go without fighting and wars, but in the end, the League was not much more than an embryonic Roman Empire, soon to become the province of Latium. At the same time, the Romans pushed back whatever it perceived a threat from the Apennine Mountains. It went fast. By 270 BC, the Romans were undisputed lords over all of Italy, including the powerful Greek city states of the south. Rome was strong enough to challenge Carthage, the greatest power of the western Mediterranean- and win. Perhaps their victory over Hannibal was luck, the Romans considered it fate. In 203 BC, the terrible Gauls of northern Italy were defeated, and by the mid-2nd century BC, Rome had gained the upper hand against the powerful Hellenistic kingdoms of the east. Province after province fell to the Romans, and it was only with the death of emperor Augustus in 14 AD – a full 400 years after Brennus’ invasion – that the breathtaking expansion of the Roman empire slowed down. Within the next 100 years, few, however major, provinces fell to the Romans, and only the death of emperor Trajan in 117 halted Roman expansion. By 166, the Romans were no longer expanding, but defending their empire against foreign threats. In 455, Rome itself was conquered by the Vandals- the first time since 386 BC that the city was under foreign occupation.

386 BC was the starting point of the Roman Empire. For five centuries, the Romans did nothing but expand, bringing the greater part of Europe under their control and shaping it their way. Undoubtedly, the Romans were the most influential civilisation in European history, and their traces can be found deep in territories that have never been under their direct control, and entire libraries could be devoted to the influence the Romans had. In their expansion, the Romans also spread Greek wisdom spoken of in the previous post, and for the first time tied Europe together politically and spiritually.

No comments:

Post a Comment