Have you ever asked yourself how a small village on the banks of a river in the middle of Italy was able to become a global power and dominate large parts of the ancient world?
In the following, I would like to present a chronological walkthrough from the establishment of the roman republic in 510 BC to it becoming a global power.
Let`s find out how Rome expanded from a small village into a global empire!
Let`s look at the different steps separately.
It took Rome from 396 to 168 BC to rise from a middle-sized city in central Italy to a global power. After 168 BC Rome directly controlled Italy, the Po-delta, Sicily, Sardinia & Corsica, and the 2 Spanish Provinces while indirectly controlling the rest of the Medditeraneum.
- 1 Expansion of Early Rome – 510-264 BC
- 1.1 The location of Rome – crucial for expanding
- 1.2 396 BC – the start of the Roman expansion
- 1.3 How the early expansion increased the military potential of Rome
- 1.4 Latin War (340-338 BC)
- 1.5 First Samnite War
- 1.6 Events before the 2. Samnite war
- 1.7 Second Samnite War (326-304 BC)
- 1.8 Third Samnite War – Rome expanding south
- 1.9 282-272 BC: Rome at war with Tarent & Pyrrhus of Epirus
- 2 Conclusion: Rome as the dominant power in Italy
- 3 The Punic Wars – Rome becomes a global power
- 4 Rome expands into the eastern Mediterranean
- 5 Visual Illustration of the Roman expansion
- 6 Conclusion: 168 BC – Rome is a global power
- 7 Sources
Expansion of Early Rome – 510-264 BC
Since I will start in the year 510 BC I will not be able to cover the earliest roman history. If you wonder how Rome was founded – both the founding myth and the actual scientific truth – I would like to recommend you my article here.
We enter the story of how Rome became a global superpower in the year 510 BC.
The Romans had just expelled their Etruscan kings, more on that in my article here, and established the roman republic.
The political system of the roman republic is also a fascinating story. You can find that story here.
Now before we start with the actual expansion of Rome we have to take a closer look at the location of Rome. Because the location should prove extremely instrumental for Romes´ early expansion.
The location of Rome – crucial for expanding
Rome was founded in an extremely beneficial spot. Not only did both the trading routes for amber from the baltic sea and salt from the Medditeraneum cross in Rome, but Rome was also an important cross point on the routes that shepherds took when they drove their livestock from the winter- to the summer pastures.
Additionally, Rome was also situated in an area that was situated between the Etruscan influence to the north and the Greek influence to the south. Now being located between two strong local powers might not seem beneficial for a weaker third state like early Rome.
But that location actually helped Rome! More on the importance of that location between Etruscan and Greek lands in my article here.
The area between the Etruscan sphere of influence to the north and the greek sphere of influence to the south was called „Old Latium“ and was inhabited by Latin city-states.
It was here in Old Latium that the Latin League was formed to fight common enemies.
Although Rome was the mightiest city within the Latin League it was not the leading city. The Latin League was made up of around 30 sovereign communities in the central Italian region of Latium.
Now that system of Rome being an equal amongst other sovereign communities worked from around 500 to 396 BC.
Then things changed…
396 BC – the start of the Roman expansion
Until 396 BC Rome was still only controlling a small area. But that was about to change.
The era of Roman expansion began in 396 BC when the roman general M. Furius Camillus conquered and plundered the important Etruscan trading city of Veii. Veii, situated 10 miles north of Rome, was integrated into Roman territory, doubling or even tripling the ager romanus.
There were different ways Rome would govern newly conquered territories. Integrating them into the Roman territory, the ager romanus, was one but not the only way.
Please check out my article here for more information on the different ways Rome could rule conquered territories either directly or indirectly. There you can also find the advantages and disadvantages of direct and indirect rules.
Now doubling or even tripling (historians are not entirely sure) the territory that Rome directly controlled was huge and made Rome a serious contender for control over central Italy.
Now you might ask how doubling your territory had such a big influence.
How the early expansion increased the military potential of Rome
The significance of that kind of expansion is closely linked to how the early roman military functioned.
During the early roman republic, the military consisted of militiamen. Wealthy farmers & craftsmen that had to supply their own weapons, armor, and provision were drafted for individual campaigns. After a campaign, these men would return to their normal lives.
And that is why the expansion of the Roman territory was so crucial. The newly conquered and integrated territories were settled by Romans.
These new roman settlers had previously been members of the Roman poor. And since they didn`t have enough income to buy armor and weapons they could not be drafted into the heavy infantry.
And because of that, they could not participate in the phalanx. More on how the phalanx worked and why it was so effective in my article here.
By the way, not only the requirements for being able to be drafted but also equipment and fighting style were quite similar to the Greek Hoplites. More on the Hoplites and their way of warfare in my article here.
Now, these men were given farms in the conquered area where they could make a living. By the way, that was not only beneficial. Soon the roman expansion worsened the fate of the small roman farmers. But that is a story for another time. More about it in my article here.
Many of the formerly destitute Romans now owned farms in the newly conquered areas which made them wealthy enough to be drafted into the Roman infantry.
So by integrating the newly conquered area of Veii in 396 BC and settling it with roman farmers Rome increased its military potential while simultaneously reducing the number of destitute families in Rome.
But the growing military power of Rome and the more and more aggressive roman way when it came to interacting with its allies inside the Latin League came at a price.
Romes`allies inside the Latin League began to fear the growing power of Rome. That resulted in the Latin War.
Latin War (340-338 BC)
The Latin War lasted from 340 to 338 BC. It originated in the growing fear of the communities of the Latin League of an overbearing and increasingly powerful Rome.
In 338 BC the Latin War ended with a Roman victory. The Latin League was dissolved and the communities came either under the direct or indirect control of Rome. In 338 BC Rome controlled an area from Etruria to the gulf of Naples that was limited by the Apennine mountains to the east.
Please check out my article here for more information on how Rome governed newly conquered territories. And why both a direct and an indirect control made sense.
Now I`ve got to say that the Latin War is not really familiar to most people. So I would like to offer some context to what happened simultaneously in 338 BC in other parts of the Mediterranean.
It was actually in 338 BC that a certain Alexander (who would later be called Alexander the Great) had his first military command under his father King Phillip II of Macedon during the battle of Chaeronea.
And two years later in 336 BC, Alexander would claim the throne of Macedonia. In 334 BC Alexander used the army his father had built, here you can find out more about the units of Alexander’s army, to invade the Persian empire.
First Samnite War
Roman writers also claim that in the years prior to the Latin War Rome had fought the first Samnite War. But since historians nowadays are relatively sure that the first Samnite War didn`t exist I will not go into more detail and instead continue with the second Samnite war
Events before the 2. Samnite war
After the Latin war, Rome controlled territory from Etruria in the north to the Gulf of Naples in the south.
But in the east, the roman territory was limited by the Apennine mountains. East of these mountains the territory of the Samnites began.
In the following years, both Romans and Samnites extended their territories south into Campania. That expansion escalated in 326 BC into the second Samnite War when Rome conquered the city of Naples that was allied with the Samnites.
And that brings us to the 2. Samnite War…
Second Samnite War (326-304 BC)
Between 326 and 304 BC, the Romans and the Samnites waged a war without one side winning or losing, between the years 320 and 315 BC the war basically paused.
After 315 BC Rome started new offenses into southern Italy which increased the Samnite fear of getting surrounded by roman territories. As a response, the Samnites allied with the Etruscans and Celts in 311 BC.
But the badly organized alliance between Samnites, Etruscans, and Celts broke apart in 308 BC after Rome conquered several Etruscan cities.
In 304 BC the Second Samnite War ended in a peace treaty. But that treaty only cemented the current situation and did not solve the conflict between Rome and the Samnites which led to the third Samnite War.
Third Samnite War – Rome expanding south
Between 298 and 290 BC the 3. And last Samnite War was fought.
The third Samnite War was started by the Samnites in 298 BC to regain their leading position in southern Italy. That attempt failed and in 290 BC the Samnites had to accept a peace that was dictated by Rome and were integrated into the roman confederation.
After the Roman victory, the territory of the Samnites was split up and partially integrated into the ager romanus (the roman territory).
By the way, many of the Samnite POWs would eventually find their way into the Gladiator fights, more on that in my article here.
And the equipment of the popular Gladiator type of Provocator also goes back to the Samnite wars. Please check out my article here.
Other parts remained under indirect roman control. More on the different direct and indirect ways Rome could control conquered territories in my article here.
But after the last Samnite War Rome was almost immediately engaged on its northern borders. An old enemy had started to cause troubles again….
Even after the Samnite Wars, Rome feared another enemy. In the past, the celts had regularly invaded Latium and the alliance between Samnites and Celts during the second Samnite war had brought back bad memories.
Since that alliance, Rome was in constant fear of a Celtic invasion.
The Celts settled around the delta of the river Po in an area that today is Northern Italy. The Celtic tribe of the Senones for example settled in the area of the modern city of Rimini.
In 284 BC the Celtic tribe of the Senones started an attack into Etruria arousing the roman fear even further.
The Romans answered that attack with a quick counteroffensive into the native territory of the Senones where they annihilated almost the entire tribe. Only a few of the Senones managed to escape north and save themselves.
After the annihilation of the Senones Rome established settlements on the former lands of the Senones, the so-called ager gallicus (=the fields of the Gauls) which stretched the roman influence into the Po delta.
More on the different ways Rome could govern over territories here.
After 203 BC these settlements would become a part of the freshly established province Gallia Cisalpina (=the cisalpine Gaul)
Right after Rome had managed to gain control over the ager gallicus and get rid of the Celtic threat problems increased in the south.
282-272 BC: Rome at war with Tarent & Pyrrhus of Epirus
Simultaneously with expanding north Rome was also working on stabilizing and expanding its position in southern Italy since 285 BC.
In 282 BC the Roman expansion in southern Italy caused a conflict with the Greek city of Tarent. Normally, Tarent would not have been a serious enemy for Rome but Tarent was able to enlist Pyrrhus of Epirus and his well-equipped army.
Pyrrhus of Epirus himself had ambitions to rule in southern Italy and since the rulers in Greece and the Middle east were quite relieved when they heard that the troublemaker Pyrrhus was planning on sailing to Italy they supported him.
Pyrrhus’ army was quite powerful and like most Hellenistic armies since Alexander the Great, he also used war elephants. More on the use of war elephants and the question of if Alexander used elephants in my article here.
In the years following 282 BC Pyrrhus was able to defeat several roman armies but was not able to win a decisive victory. Every time the roman army was defeated another army was raised and sent to fight Pyrrhus.
Now that had drastic consequences for the small roman farmers who made up a large part of these armies. More on that here in my article.
Since Pyrrhus was not only a threat to Rome but was also threatening Carthaginian territories in Sicily Rome and Carthage allied to fight Pyrrhus together in 279/278 BC.
That by the way wasn`t the first official contract that was signed between Rome and Carthage. But that is a story for another time.
The alliance between Rome and Carthage allowed both powers to focus on the warfare that they were the most familiar with. While Rome fought Pyrrhus on land Carthage would attack Pyrrhus by sea and cut his supply lines bringing reinforcements from Greece.
That by the way is where the saying Pyrrhic victory comes from. Yes, Pyrrhus was able to defeat several Roman armies. But unlike Rome, he was not able to replace his losses. So while Pyrrhus won several battles Rome won the war.
The city of Tarent capitulated in 272 BC and Rome was able to stabilize its rule over southern Italy.
The tribes of the Brutii and Lucanii were made socii and were integrated into the roman confederation. More on the different ways Rome could govern newly conquered territories in my article here.
After Etruscan rebellions in the 280s and 270s BC Rome was also able to integrate the remaining Etruscan city-states into the roman confederation. And to better control these Etruscan trading cities, a 100 miles long corridor along the Tuscan coastline was put under direct Roman control.
That meant that these trading cities that were dependent on sea trade were now cut off from the sea making it easier for Rome to control them.
Conclusion: Rome as the dominant power in Italy
After 264 BC Rome was either directly or indirectly controlling all of Italy from the line Pisa-Areminum to the Strait of Messina including around 4 Mio inhabitants. Through the roman confederation, Rome was able to take advantage of a massive military & economical potential.
But that kind of military & economical potential combined with the roman interest in expansion brought Rome into a conflict with the two previous dominating powers of the western Mediterranean:
These powers were Carthage and Syracuse.
And that brings us to the next paragraph during which Rome will rise from the dominant Italian power to a global power and ruler over the western Mediterranean.
The Punic Wars – Rome becomes a global power
Originally Rome and Carthage had been allies. They had fought and defeated Pyrrhus of Epirus together.
And since the Philinos treaty (also called the 3. Roman-Carthaginian treaty) of 306 BC Rome and Carthage had agreed on their different spheres of influence. Rome would control southern Italy while Carthage would control Sicily.
That changed in the year 264 BC. With Rome now being a recognizable power, it started to get in contact with Carthaginian territories. And that started a rivalry between Rome and Carthage. Please check out my article here for more information on what exactly sparked that rivalry.
But let`s now find out more about the wars that were the result of that rivalry…
First Punic War
In 264 BC a Campanian group of mercenaries called the Mamertines conquered the Sicilian city of Messina with the help of Rome. It is assumed that Rome wanted to gain control over the important trading routes in the Strait of Messina by controlling the Sicilian city of Messina.
The roman help for the Mamertines was a direct breach of the Philinos treaty since Messina as a Sicilian city was within the Carthaginian sphere of influence.
Messina on the other hand was connected to the important city of Syracuse which in return was allied with Carthage.
At the beginning the first Punic war (264-241 BC) was fought over the city of Messina. It wasn`t until the spring of 262 BC that the war extended onto all of Sicily.
In 263 BC a regular Roman army landed in Sicily and was able to press Syracuse to turn on Carthage and ally with Rome.
Rome was quickly able to conquer most of the rural Sicilian areas but was unable to conquer the main Carthaginian fortresses at the coastline. A good example of one of these Carthaginian fortresses is Lilybaeum.
Rome developing its first own navy
Carthage was still the dominant naval power in the western Medditeraneum. And while Rome was able to cut off the Carthaginian fortresses by land they could still be supplied by the Carthaginian fleet.
To cut off the naval supply lines for the besieged Carthaginian fortresses in Sicily Rome built its first fleet and was able to gain a first naval victory at the Battle of Mylae in 260 BC.
But naval warfare needed not only experienced sailors but also experienced oarsmen to maneuver the Quinqueremes.
The Quinquereme was the backbone of both the roman and the Carthaginian fleet. These Large warships were rowed by 280 oarsmen, handled by another 20 sailors & officers, and manned with 40-120 marines.
Usually, these ships were used to ram enemy ships. But that kind of maneuver needed an extremely experienced crew. It is estimated that in order to perform such a maneuver at least half of the oarsmen had to be experienced.
And that was a massive advantage for Carthage. Until 260 BC Rome had never had its own fleet but had relied on its allies to provide ships and crews. Because of that, Rome did not have the necessary amount of experienced oarsmen. But Rome had excellent infantry.
Transforming naval warfare into land-based warfare on ships
So Rome had to come up with a clever solution.
By introducing the Corvus, a 4 ft wide and 36 ft long bridge with a massive spike at one end, as a boarding device Rome managed to turn naval battles into land-based battles that were fought on ships.
The Corvus basically pinned both ships together so that the roman legionaries acting as marines could enter the Carthaginian ship. That also balanced out the naval advantage the Carthaginians had since such a maneuver was way easier to perform than ramming a ship.
But even with a new fleet and a new naval style of warfare, Rome was not able to conquer the Carthaginian sea fortresses on Sicily.
First Roman invasion into Africa in 256/257 BC
It wasn`t until the Roman victory at the naval battle of cape Ecnomus that Rome was able to launch a campaign into Africa in 256/257 BC. The goal was that by threatening the city of Carthage Rome would be able to convince Carthage to make peace.
The plan failed since not only the roman army was defeated but the Roman fleet that was tasked with rescuing the survivors was badly damaged during a storm.
Neither Rome nor Carthage would be able to gain an advantage until 242 BC.
It wasn`t until 241 BC that another roman victory forces Carthage to agree to a peace treaty.
The 1. Punic War ended in 241 BC with a peace treaty according to which Carthage did not only have to give up Sicily but did also have to pay 125.134 pounds of silver within 10 years.
Consequences of the First Punic War
Since Carthage had to give up Sicily Rome took over.
In 241 BC Sicily became the first Roman province. In 237 BC Sardinia and Corsica were annexed and became the second roman province. Following the year 227 BC, both provinces were governed by a praetor.
Now Rome annexing Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica obviously strained the relationship between Carthage and Rome even further. But for the time being, both had other problems than entering a new war.
While Rome had to deal with another Celtic threat on its northern border, that would finally be pacified in 218 BC, Carthage had a homemade problem.
Since Carthage had lost lots of lands and had to pay massive reparations it tried to not pay the mercenaries that they had employed to fight Rome. Now obviously these mercenaries were not overly happy that Carthage refused to pay them.
The mercenary war would last from 240 to 238 BC.
Carthage expands into the Iberian Peninsula
Following 237 BC the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal, expanded the Carthaginian territory into southern Spain to make up for the territories that had been lost to Rome.
Since Rome wasn`t really interested in the Iberian peninsula another treaty was made between Rome and Carthage.
In 226/225 BC Rome and Carthage agreed on the river Ebro as the northern border of Carthaginian expansion on the Iberian Peninsula.
Events leading up to the Second Punic War
In the years leading up to the second punic war, Carthage and a young general called Hannibal aggressively pushed the borders of Carthaginian influence on the Iberian Peninsula north. As Hannibal came closer and closer to the river Ebro, the river that had been defined as the limit of Carthaginian expansion in Spain, Rome grew more and more nervous.
Rome installing an early warning system against Hannibal
Since Rome feared that Hannibal might cross the Ebro and breach the treaty of 226/225 BC Rome allied with the city of Saguntum.
Technically Saguntum was south of the Ebro and as such inside the Carthaginian sphere of interest. But Rome still allied with the city.
The idea was that Saguntum should function as kind of an early warning system if Hannibal should approach the river Ebro.
But there were was a problem. Saguntum put a lot of trust into the alliance with Rome. And trusting in that alliance it started conquering & plundering several Carthaginian cities.
Hannibal retaliated in 219 BC when he besieged Saguntum for 8 months before he was finally able to sack the city.
Second Punic War
The second punic war started because of a conflict in Spain. The city of Saguntum that was allied with Rome had plundered several Carthaginian cities. Hannibal retaliated by conquering Saguntum. The war started in 218 BC after Carthage had refused to extradite Hannibal to Rome.
Following the sacking of Saguntum and the start of the 2. Punic war Hannibal marched north and crossed the Alps in late 218 BC. After crossing the Alps he was able to defeat two Roman armies at Trebia in December of 218 BC.
Hannibals strategy to defeat Rome
It was here that Hannibal was able to detect a roman weakness that he wanted to exploit. And that weakness was the roman conföderation. Please check out my article here for more information on how Rome would directly or indirectly control the conquered territories.
After Hannibal had won the battle of Trebia in 218 BC he allowed the surviving troops of roman allies to return to their cities and told them to spread the word that he, Hannibal, had come to liberate them from roman suppression.
While Hannibal was already trying to get roman allies on his side he was not succeeding yet. Later, in southern Italy, that strategy should prove quite valuable…
In 217 BC Hannibal marched into Etruria and advances south. Since his army already had problems with its supply chain he was forced to allow his men to plunder.
That was definitely necessary to keep his army feed but plundering Etruria certainly didn`t help convince the roman allies in the region of Hannibals claim that he had come to liberate them from roman suppression.
August 2 216 BC: Battle of Cannae
On August 2 216 BC Hannibal was able to annihilate 8 roman legions and a similar number of roman allies (all in all 80.000 men) at the battle of Cannae. After that, he controlled southern Italy and the roman allies of the region apostatized from Rome.
For Rome, the battle of Cannae was a tragedy. Not only did they lose many of their socii, especially the ones in southern Italy that were relatively freshly integrated into the roman conföderation, but they also lost 8 legions.
Since these legions were mostly made up of small farmers and craftsmen that had a lasting impact on Roman society. Please check out my article here for more information on how that kind of event impacted the small roman farmers.
The alliance between Hannibal and Phillip V of Macedon
So things were looking pretty desperate for Rome. And things became even worse as Phillip V of Macedon, we will deal with him and his conflict with Rome later made an alliance with Hannibal.
But even though the chances were stacked against Rome Rome kept on fighting!
Between 214 and 211 BC Rome managed to bring most of their apostatized allies back into the roman confederation and also managed to tie down Hannibal in Southern Italy.
Rome picking up speed against Hannibal
Simoulantiously the 25-year-old roman Publius Cornelius Scipio started a counteroffensive in Spain.
In 209 BC Scipio was able to conquer Carthago Nova and in 206 BC the Carthaginian influence over the Iberian Peninsula was finally over.
It must have been as early as 207 BC that Hannibal realized that he could not expect any more reinforcements from Spain.
Especially since the army that was sent to reinforce him in Southern Italy and that was led by his younger brother Hasdrubal had been defeated in Northern Italy.
The southern Italian territory that Hannibal controlled was shrinking drastically!
The young Publius Cornelius Scipio on the other hand was not satisfied with driving Carthage out of Spain.
Rome attacking Carthage
During the summer of 204 BC, Scipio and the Numidian king Massinissa who was a former ally of Carthage prepared to attack Carthage together. Because of that Hannibal was called back to Africa in late 203 BC.
It was here in Africa that Scipio was able to gain a decisive victory over Hannibal at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC.
After the battle of Zama in 202 BC, the war was lost for Carthage and Rome was able to dictate the conditions of a peace treaty!
The aftermath of the second punic war
The roman goal of the peace treaty was to control and weaken Carthage. That led to several points Carthage had to agree to
- Carthage is not allowed to wage war in Africa without explicit roman permission & no war outside of Africa at all
- Carthage had to reduce its navy to 10 warships
- Carthage had to pay 567.792,63 pounds of silver within 10 years
Because oft hat Carthage was eliminated as a serious contestant for the political & military power in the western Medditeraneum.
After 201 BC Rome had become the undisputed number 1 in the western Mediterranean.
The system of the roman conföderation with its mixture of indirect and direct control, more on that here, had proven to be effective. But despite this, the former Carthaginian territories of Spain would be put under direct Roman control.
And that should prove to be more difficult than expected…
Spain – Vietnam of Rome?!
After the victory over Carthage Rome wanted to gain direct control over Spain, especially over its rich silver mines. There was only one problem: Dominating Spain and the Iberian tribes proofed more of a challenge than expected.
In 197 BC two provinces were established in Spain. The area around Granada in southern Spain would become the province of Hispania ulterior (=distant Spain) and Hispania citerior (=closer Spain) further north.
The Iberian tribes of these regions had already shown in 206 BC that they were not willing to accept a roman presence. Because of that Rome had to permanently station strong military forces in these two new provinces.
Until 133 BC Spain would be a constant theatre of war with a total of 4 legions, at times even more than 1/3 of the entire roman military potential, deployed to these provinces earning the Iberian peninsula the nickname of Rome`s Vietnam.
That constant military presence did hurt the small roman farmers even more. They had already suffered greatly under the burdens of the first two punic wars. Please check out my article here for more information on why these wars were such burdens on the small roman farmers.
A further burden to the class of the small farmers and craftsmen was the simultaneous war in northern Italy. In both the Po-delta and Liguria Rome once again had to wage war against Celtic tribes.
These wars would last until 190 BC.
According to the roman writer Appian, both the wars in Spain and Liguria were extremely costly in human lives and money but did barely bring in any money neither to the state treasury nor to the soldiers fighting the wars.
Third punic war – the end of Carthage
According to the ancient writer, Polybios Rome was still nervous over the thought of a recovering Carthage. Because oft hat he claimed that Rome had been looking for a reason to finally destroy Carthage for quite some time.
That reason should present itself in 150 BC when the Numidian king Massinissa, an ally of Rome, expanded his territory into the Carthaginian territory. Now according to the peace treaty of 201 BC, Carthage was not allowed to wage war in Africa without Rome’s explicit permission.
Massinissas troops advancing into the Carthaginian territory was used by Rome to interfere in the dispute between Massinissa and Carthage.
Since Carthage wanted to prevent anything that could give Rome a reason to intervene it immediately capitulated to Rome. But Rome demanded that the city of Carthage should be completely destroyed – a condition the Carthaginians were not able or willing to meet.
Rome’s demand to completely destroy the city of Carthage led to the resistance of the Carthaginians.
After 3 years of siege from 149-146 BC, Carthage was conquered, destroyed, its territory was plowed up, salt was scattered to make it uninhabitable, and its population was sold into slavery. That ended the punic wars (264-146 BC) and Africa became the 7th Province of Rome.
By the way. Some of the surviving Carthaginian warriors probably found their way into the Gladiator schools. Please feel free to check out our article on how the roman Gladiators actually fought here.
Rome expands into the eastern Mediterranean
Now it is a good time to look at the roman expansion into the Hellenistic east of the Medditeraneum. We will start with the first roman actions in Illyria, the northwestern part of the Balkan Peninsula before we will look at the conflicts between Rome and Macedonia
Illyria – Rome’s first engagement in the east
Rome had been active in Illyria since 229 BC. But since the region of Illyria was situated in the north-western part of the Balkan Peninsula not only Rome but also Phillip V of Macedon was interested in that area.
Now Macedonia had lost a lot of the power of its heydays under Phillip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great. But after the death of Alexander Macedonia was one of the realms that were created of Alexander’s empire.
You can find more information on why Alexander’s empire was split up after his death and who would rule the individual realms in my article here.
But even though much of its former glory had been lost Phillip V of Macedon still commanded a sizeable army that fought in a similar way to the army of Alexander the Great.
Please check out my article here for more information on the different types of units that fought in Alexanders` army and how these units interacted with each other.
Tensions between Rome and Phillip V of Macedon increased in 216 BC when Phillip V allied with the Carthaginian general Hannibal.
Remember, 216 BC was the same year that Hannibal had not only secured his position in southern Italy but had also annihilated 8 roman legions and a similar number of roman allies (all in all 80.000 men) at the battle of Cannae!
An alliance between Hannibal who as a Carthaginian controlled the resources of North Africa and Spain and Phillip V of Macedon who controlled Macedonia and large parts of Greece meant that Rome was in danger of getting sandwiched.
Now the actual significance of that alliance didn`t turn out to be great. But the threat of another invasion, that time from the east (after Hannibal already had crossed the Alps coming from Spain) meant that Rome had to act.
First Macedonian War – 215-205 BC
Between 215 and 205 BC, Rome and Phillip V of Macedon waged the first Macedonian war that ended in 205 BC with the peace treaty of Phoenice. That treaty only cemented the status quo. Rome had solidified its position in Illyria.
The first Macedonian War itself was not really that eventful, especially since Rome had to focus most of its attention on winning the second punic war.
Winning the second punic war would take Rome until 201 BC and, as mentioned, came at a high price. That price was especially paid by the small roman farmers, more on that here.
A roman alliance with the greek enemies of Phillip V of Macedon, most notably Attalus I of Pergamon (Turkey) and the Aetolian League (central Greece) was formed in 212 BC mostly to relieve Rome on its eastern theatre of war.
Since Rome had to focus all of its military potential on fighting Carthage most of the fighting in Greece was done by Rome’s greek allies. But after the Aetolian League, the dominant state of central Greece had left the war in 205 BC Rome was forced to make peace with Phillip V of Macedon resulting in the treaty of Phoenice (205 BC)
The peace treaty of Phoenice (205 BC) fixated the status quo. Rome had established its presence in Illyria. But apart from that, the treaty was a roman loss since it was an obvious compromise. And that didn`t really fit the traditions of Roman Politics.
Speaking of Roman politics. Have you ever asked yourself how an ancient republic like Rome could function? I at least wondered that for quite some time, so I put together an article here. Please feel free to check it out!
The aftermath of the First Macedonian War
While the peace treaty of Phoenice was a roman loss of face it increased Phillips V’s reputation.
In the years following 205 BC, Phillip V of Macedon would expand his rule into Thrace and Greece where he would especially occupy the straits to further expand into the aegis sea and western Asia Minor.
It seems like Phillip V of Macedon attempted to bring Macedonia back to the glory & importance it had during the days of Phillip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great.
But there was a problem.
The Macedonian expansion worried both Pergamon in Asia Minor and the iland of Rhodos, one of the naval powers of the eastern Mediterranean. Both had previously put them under the protection of larger states but since Egypt was no longer in a position to help and the Seleucids were not seen as an acceptable allied Pergamon & Rhodos turned to Rome.
But Rome was hesitant to emerge itself in yet another war.
In 201 BC it actually took two attempts to pass the decision for war against Phillip V of Macedon through the Comita Centuriata. Please check out my article here for more information on the significance of the Comitia Centuriata.
The hesitance to agree to yet another war can be explained by the massive sacrifices that had been necessary to finally win the second punic war in 201 BC.
Especially the small farmers and craftsmen, basically the middle class, had suffered greatly. More on that here.
Second Macedonian War (200 – 197 BC)
The first phase of the second Macedonian war lasted until 198 BC and was marked a lack of noteworthy events.
In 198 BC first peace negotiations failed because Phillip V of Macedon didn`t want to give up the so-called fetters of Greece.
The fetters of Greece were the 3 essential fortresses Demetrias, Acrocorinth, and Chalkis that were necessary to control Greece.
In June of 197 BC, the battle of Cynoscephalae ended with a Roman victory. It was there that the Roman legions defeated the Macedonian phalangites. It is noteworthy that around 1/3 of the Roman army consisted of troops that were contributed by the Greek allies.
More on the Macedonian phalangites (their origins go back to Philipp II) in my article here. (
After the battle of Cynoscephalae Phillip V of Macedon had to accept a peace treaty that was dictated by Rome.
The aftermath of the Second Macedonian War
Phillip V of Macedon had to give up all territories outside of Macedon, had to limit his military, and had to pay 56.879,26 pounds of silver in war reparations.
The Macedonian fleet for example was reduced to 6 warships.
Rome on the other hand did not install provinces in Greece. Instead, Rome relied on indirect control over Greece by dividing Greece into 5 realms (Pergamon, Rhodos, Macedon, Aetolian League, and Achaean League) that were all allied with Rome.
That had one big advantage. Except for Roman garrisons at the fetters of Greece Rome did not have to uphold a constant military presence in Greece while the greek allies would provide a buffer zone between Rome and the Seleucid empire in the east.
More on how the Seleucid empire emerged from the fractured empire of Alexander the Great in my article here.
The last roman troops would leave Greece in 194 BC only to be deployed to Asia Minor in 192 BC to help Pergamon fight a Seleucid invasion.
The so-called war of Antiochos would be fought between Rome and the Seleucid empire from 192 to 188 BC and would end with Asia Minor being connected by Pergamon & Rhodos and with Rome becoming the last major power in the Medditeraneum.
The Macedonian king Phillip V had actually aided Rome in its fight against the Seleucid empire and had hoped to be rewarded with his former territories. And while Rome gave back a few of the former Macedonian territories the bulk was not only not returned but Rome refused Phillips demand in the most humiliating way possible.
After that Phillip V mobilized all forces that Macedon had left and started expanding into the tribes of the north-eastern Balkan Peninsula.
Rome realized the growing danger and tried to interfere by supporting Demitrios, the second son of Phillip V. But that only led to Phillip favoring his first son Perseus even more.
Dimitrios was then killed by assassins that had been sent by his brother.
Perseus was crowned as king of Macedon in 179 BC after the death of his father Phillip V. He would be the last king to wear the crown of Alexander the Great.
His end was decided after the third (and last) Macedonian war.
Third Macedonian War (171-168 BC)
The actual cause of the third Macedonian war was an assassination attack on the king of Pergamon. Eumenes of Pergamon was on his way back from Rome when he was attacked at Delphi. Rome pointed the blame to Perseus, king of Macedon, even though there was no proof.
Rome demanded the unconditional surrender of Macedonia, a condition that Perseus had to refuse. Because of that Rome declared war on Macedon in 171 BC.
On June 22, 168 BC Roman troops under the command of Consul Lucius Aemilius Paullus were able to defeat the Macedonian phalangites. Perseus was able to escape with his cavalry but had to recognize that his cause was lost.
Perseus and his family were captured and presented during a triumphal procession through Rome in 167 BC.
That did not only mean that Perseus was the last to wear the crown of Alexander the Great, more on how Alexander the Great dealt with his royal Macedonian insignias during his Persian campaign here.
After 168 BC the kingship in Macedon was abolished, Macedon was split up into four parts, and large parts of the Macedonian elite were deported to Italy.
The aftermath of the Third Macedonian War
But these measurements were not limited to Macedonia. In all of Greece actual and supposed supporters of Perseus were purged by the Romans.
The inhabitants of Epiros, Epiros had supported Perseus, met an even worse fate. Their lands were plundered and 150.000 people were sold into slavery. By the way, some of them probably made their way into the Gladiator schools. Please check out my article here were I go into more detail about if all Gladiators were slaves.
The territory of the Achaean League also suffered under roman retaliation.
Because of unfounded accusations of colluding with Perseus of Macedon 1.000 noble Achaeans (including the historian & writer Polybios) were deported to Italy where they would be kept as hostages.
The island of Rhodos that until then had been a leading naval power in the east was also punished.
Not only was the island stripped of its on-shore territories in Asia Minor (Caria & Lycia). The importance of Rhodos as a trading station was also undermined in 166 BC with the inauguration of a free port in Delos.
Following the year 168 BC, the kingdoms of Asia Minor were now dependent on the mercy of Rome.
But it would take until 146 BC that Macedonia would be put under direct Roman control and be made the province of Macedonia. And the territory of Pergamon in Asia Minor wasn`t transformed into the Roman province of Asia until 129 BC.
Visual Illustration of the Roman expansion
Conclusion: 168 BC – Rome is a global power
It took Rome from 396 – 168 BC to rise from a middle-sized city in central Italy to a global power. After 168 BC Rome directly controlled Italy, the Po-delta, Sicily, Sardinia & Corsica, and the 2 Spanish Provinces while indirectly controlling the rest of the Medditeraneum.
It is safe to say that Rome was one of the most successful empires of all time. But what did make Rome so much more successful? What was the secret sauce of Rome? Find it out in my article here.
In general, the expansion of Rome from a small city to the global leader between 396 and 168 BC was based on 3 steps that were repeated during/after every campaign. First, a military success would lead to the annexation of the territory to the Roman sphere of influence, then that area would be integrated, and then it would become part of Rome’s extensive network of alliances.
But while we often admire Rome’s rise to power it is also important to recognize the losses that occurred. While the expansion of the roman republic was transformed Rome into the ruler of the world it was less kind to the small roman farmers. More on them and how their demise was connected to the rise of Rome here in my article.
I hope you enjoyed our journey through the history of the expansion of the roman republic just as much as I did.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
Heuß, G. Mann (Hrsg.); Propyläen Weltgeschichte. Eine Universalgeschichte, Band IV Rom – Die Römische Welt (Frankfurt a. Main 1986).