Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Brennus and the First Sack of Rome

I'm about two-thirds of the way through Steven Saylor's latest epic novel, "Roma", and am enjoying it very much. I just finished a section about the first sack of Rome by the Gauls under the command of Brennus. Most of my study has concentrated on the Late Republic so I didn't know much about this first sack other than when it occurred and it was the Gauls who did it.

However, Steven's characters are among the defenders that fortified themselves up on top of the Capitoline and held off the Gauls for seven months. I always assumed the sack was over in a few days like most sacks but it went on for quite a prolonged period. I also did not realize that the Veii question was so disruptive. I knew the Romans had conquered Veii but I assumed they simply added its people to the expanding Republic. I didn't realize the people were sold away into slavery and the city was left abandoned. Perhaps its people were treated so harshly because of the legendary massacre of the 300 Fabii at Cremora.

"Within a year of the victory at Cremora, the Etruscan navy, in conflict with Greece, was destroyed by Hieron of Syracuse, off of Cumae. The result was a military disaster for the Etruscans that they never really seemed to recover from. The various city states of the Etruscan league, including Veii, devolved more and more into separate unrelated entities, thereby losing the strength of mutual protection. Veii, despite its recent upper hand at Cremora, was forced to make a treaty with Rome.

Within this time frame a more consequential series of events were taking place, however. Celtic Gauls had been migrating into northern Italy from the 6th century BC and establishing themselves at or near Etruscan territory. Raids and warfare with these people would have a debilitating effect on the Etruscans and play directly into the growing strength of Rome. The Gauls so weakened the Etruscans that the Romans, between 406 and 396 BC, went on the offensive.

It's about this period in history that Livy tells us of the legendary Roman hero M. Furius Camillus. Under his command Fidemae was retaken from Veii, and then the city of Veii itself came under siege. According to the legend, the Siege of Veii lasted 10 years, but its description is so closely paralleled to the Homeric Siege of Troy, that we must take into account the propaganda used by ancient sources to inflate the glory of Rome. The actual siege probably lasted considerably less time, though the introduction of a paid professional legion during this course of events indicates that it was a protracted campaign. The siege was finally broken, in 396 BC, when the Romans supposedly drained Alban Lake. This not only would divert water supplies from the city but allowed access for Roman soldiers to sneak under the walls through empty stream beds. In the end, whatever the truth behind the legend may be, Camillus was credited with saving Rome and bestowed with the unending admiration of the Romans throughout its history.

Gaining Veii, the Romans, in stark contrast to their general conquest policies of incorporation, destroyed much of the city and drove out many of the Etruscan residents. The territory was allotted to Roman citizens, and four new tribes were created: the Stellatine, Tromentina, Sabatina and Aniensis." - Veii and the Etruscans,

Therefore, when the Gauls practically destroyed Rome, the hotly debated question became whether to rebuild Rome or to transfer her entire population to the empty city of Veii only twelve miles away. The hero Camillus was instrumental in persuading the people to rebuild Rome although those jealous of his success constantly complained that he was enriching himself through building contracts since he controlled most of the spoils and property from the Veii conquest.
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