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Far from reducing the legions and tribes to names and numbers, historian ...
Far from reducing the legions and tribes to names and numbers, historian Ludwig H. Dyck reveals how they lived and fought, and what their world was like in The Roman Barbarian Wars. Through his exhaustive research and lively text, Dyck chronicles the history of this tumultuous time, spotlighting particular battles and leaders with a discerning eye.
Romans and barbarians, iron legions and wild tribesmen clashed in decisive battles on whose fate hinged the existence of entire peoples and at times, the future of Rome. Dyck tells of how early Gallic invaders crushed Rome's fledging legion on the Allia River, how the Celt-Iberians repeatedly outwitted Roman commanders in Spain, and much more.
This exploration of ancient history offers a stunning window into the epic world of the Roman barbarian wars.
"Pythian Apollo, guided and inspired by thy will I go forth to destroy the city of Veii, and a tenth part of its spoils I devote to thee." Prayer of Dictator M. Furius Camillus quoted from Livy
The River Tiber arose from springs that poured forth from Mount Fumaiolo. Joined by creeks and brooks that trickled from limestone caverns and gullies, the Tiber twisted its way through the deep valleys of the Apennines Mountains. On the river banks and up the slopes, there grew highland woods of oak, beech and chestnut. Volcanic summits towered far above the river and the woods. Lakes nestled in the craters, whose clear waters would ripple now and then from minor tremors. The volcanoes lay dormant, though, like the snoring of sleeping giants, the tremors served as a reminder that they could waken again. The Tiber flowed on, leaving the mountainsides, to meander through hillsides of scattered, evergreen, shrubs. From out of the hills, the river's swollen waters inundated the coastal plains before emptying into the turquoise Tyrrhenian Sea.
The land of the Tiber was blessed with short, mild winters and, for most of the year, basked below crystal blue skies. Upon its sylvan landscape, at the beginning of the Italian Iron Age, c. 800 BC, were sown the seeds of Rome. At that time, Rome, the city, the republic and the empire, was not even a dream of the people who made the land their home.
The Tiber was deep and difficult to ford even in the arid summers. It was thus only natural that the river came to form the natural boundary of the two cultures that dwelt north and south of the river. Both cultures proved instrumental in the genesis of Roman civilization. South of the Tiber estuary to the Circeian promontory, and inland to the Apennines, lay the land of Latium. It was home to the Latini and a number of lesser clans. They were among the youngest of the great mosaic of peoples that called Italy their home. The Latini built their villages on the hillsides and protected them with wooden palisades to keep out invaders. In times of peace, the inhabitants ushered forth to tend their flocks of sheep and to till the lowland soils. Although illiterate, the Latini and their neighboring clans shared a common language and the worship of Jupiter (the sky god), Diana (a fertility and nature goddess) and Venus (originally a garden goddess). The volcanic base of Latium's soil made it unusually fertile and allowed for the human population to blossom. Life was simple and idyllic. At the time no one could have imagined that one day, the world's mightiest Empire would evolve here. Such a fate would have seemed much more appropriate for Latium's northern neighbor, the Etruscans.
As shall later be seen, the Etruscans played a major role not only in the early history of Rome but, more specifically, in Rome's first war with the "barbarian" Celts. The origin of the Etruscans remains somewhat of a mystery. Their exotic language is unrelated to the other Indo-Aryan tongues of Europe, indicating perhaps a West Asian background, but against this the archaeological records indicates that their society evolved from a local people.
The heartland of the Etruscans, Etruria, reached north along the coast and the Apennines to the River Arno. The Etruscans carried out much land clearing, drainage and road building in the surrounding wilderness. The hilly country favored the emergence of individual city-states, whose agricultural base was supplemented by hunting and fishing. Unlike Latium, Etruria was rich in minerals, especially in copper and in iron but also in tin, lead and silver. By the 8th century BC, this mineral wealth was in high demand by Greek and Phoenician merchants. Exporting her wealth, Etruria grew into an affluent civilization of a league of twelve cities. With such power and influence, Etruscan dominion did not remain limited to Etruria and from the seventh century onwards spread southward into Latium.
The Etruscan conquests in Latium included the settlement of Rome, right on the southern Etrurian border. Rome was founded sometime during the eighth century on the Palatine Hill (Palace hill). The Palatine rose amidst a low group of hills on the eastern bank of the Tiber. Perched on the hill, Rome lay above the seasonal inundation of river and allowed her to reap the bounty of the fertile Latin plain. With its location in the middle of Italy and with the Tiber's estuary and the sea being only 15 miles away, Rome was perfectly positioned to become Italy's future capital.
Native legend identified the hero Romulus with the founding of Rome. Born out of wedlock, the babe Romulus was thrown into the Tiber. He was saved by fate when the current cast him back on shore and a she-wolf found and suckled him. The shepherd Faustulus discovered Romulus in the wolf's lair, adopted the child and raised Romulus on the Palatine Hill. When Romulus grew to manhood, he founded the city of Rome and named it after himself on the traditional date of 753 BC.
The basic tale of Rome's founding originated in the fourth century and was later embellished to make it more heroic, as was befitting to the powerful city that Rome was to become. Greek and Etruscan influences provided the hero Aeneas, a Trojan fugitive from the legendary Trojan War, as the brothers' ancestor. Romulus gained the twin brother Remus and both of them were born to a virgin priestess seduced by Mars, the protector god of Rome. The two brothers became part of a dynastic struggle. After having been saved by the she-wolf and shepherd, Romulus and Remus slew a tyrant and returned their deposed grandfather to the throne of the nearby settlement of Alba Longa. When the two brothers decided to build a new city on the Palatine Hill, Remus mockingly jumped over the walls his brother had constructed. Romulus became enraged and murdered his brother. Other additions to the tale include Romulus' rape of the neighboring Sabine women to provide wives for the settlers. Romulus is credited with giving Rome her military and political institutions, including the Senate. The more popular version of Romulus' death was that he was carried to the heavens by storm clouds to become a god. There, however, remained a rumor that the senators had murdered Romulus, literally tearing him to pieces. Romulus the warrior king was followed by a priest king who set up the religious establishments of Rome. The next two kings expanded local Roman influence but thereafter Rome fell under Etruscan sway.
Of the last three kings of Rome, the first and last were Etruscan while the second was a Latin son-in-law of the first. It was during the reign of these kings, from 616 to 510 BC, that the villages around the Palatine Hill were merged into the city-state of Rome. From the Etruscans the Romans absorbed many customs and traditions that became representative of Roman culture: the sacred arts of divinations, chariot racing, gladiatorial fights and a strong admiration of Hellenism. During this period the Romans also learned the alphabet, either from the Etruscans, who themselves had learned it from the Greeks, or from the Greeks themselves, whose colonies spread over southern Italy. Rome prospered, lands were drained and Etruscan architectural and engineering skills gave birth to monumental buildings like the Forum with its temple precinct. Nevertheless, the Latins continued to resent being ruled by foreigners and around 510 the Romans cast out the last Etruscan king in an allegedly bloodless revolution. According to the historian Hans Delbrück, Rome's dominion at the time covered a bare 370 square miles and some 60,000 inhabitants. Not much, but it was soon to become larger.
The Roman monarchy had become so unpopular that the Romans forever resented being ruled by any Rex. A republic gradually became the new form of government. Other Latin cities followed Rome's example and found a new ally in Rome against their Etruscan overlords. A like-minded ally was also found in the Greek colony of Cumae. Located to the south of Latium, in Campania, Cumae already had its own history of clashing with the local Etruscan colonies. Around 506 BC, the fate of Latium was decided at Aricia when the Etruscans met defeat at the hands of Romans, other Latin tribes and Greeks. The issue of who would rule Campania remained undecided for some time. In the end it was neither the Greeks nor the Etruscans who would lay undisputed claim to the land. By 420 a mountain tribe known as the Sabellians, descended from the high country and overran the whole area.
For the next century Rome was busy asserting its dominance among the Latin tribes, subduing its own local hill peoples, the Sabines, Aequi and Volsci, and eliminating the city of Fidenae, the last Etruscan bridgehead into Latium. In 405 BC, after having secured her home ground, Rome set foot on the road of the conqueror. Mars was transformed from an agricultural deity into a war god. "Mars Vigila" (Mars awake!) Rome's warriors shouted out, as they struck north across the Tiber and into Etruria herself. There, a mere twelve miles from Rome stood the Etruscan City of Veii.
The war of Rome with the city of Veii lasted ten years. Rome and her Latin allies were greatly helped by lack of military co-operation among Etruscan cities. The powerful city of Tarquinii, two minor southern Etruscan states and an assortment of volunteers from other Etruscan towns came to Veii's aid but as a whole the twelve-city Etruscan league abstained from the war. In 396 BC, the war came to an end. The Roman commander Marcus Furius Camillus finally captured Veii. The city had endured a lengthy and grueling siege and was finally carried by assault; its people massacred or sold into slavery by the Romans. The siege itself became part of Roman legend, the equivalent of the equally lengthy and mythical Greek Trojan War.
Expelled from Latium and Campania, the Etruscans looked for new conquests to the north of their homeland and from 500 BC onward spread into the Po River valley. Here their colonies at Felsina, Spina and Marzabotto flourished for another century. However, during these years, the Etruscans had not been the only civilization to extend its dominion over Italy and her adjacent seas. In addition to Greek colonies in southern Italy, Phocaeans from the Middle East and Carthaginians from Africa vied for control of the western sea and the islands. But Etruria's newest threat, one equal to that of Rome, came from a people that marched out of the north and would shake the foundations of the Mediterranean civilizations; the Celts.
"When the tribune protested, the insolent Gaul threw his sword into the scale, with an exclamation intolerable to Roman ears, "Woe to the vanquished!" Titus Livius "Livy," Roman historian (59 BC – AD 17)
Around 2000 BC the Indo-European peoples wandered the great steppe lands north of the Black Sea, between the Danube and Volga rivers. Their language branch included many of the cultures that would so prominently come to shape the future history of mankind. It included the dialect spoken on the Latium plain, which probably originated somewhere in the Danube area. It also included the language of the Celts, who drifted into central Europe.
Celtic culture in central Europe thrived during the first half of the first millennium. From the east, the Celts learned the use of the war chariot and the mystical secret of iron to supplant the weaker bronze. The Celtic warriors became more formidable. They were proud and fierce men, particularly those that served as the personal retainers of chiefs and warlords. The nobility lorded over an agricultural people, who cultivated and harvested wheat and oats, lentils, peas and common vetch. In the fields, the common people tended herds of pigs and cattle. No doubt there were woodsmen who spent much time in the forest, but for the most part hunting only provided a minor portion of the Celtic diet. The Celts were merchants too and trade flourished with the Greeks and the Etruscans. Raw minerals, crops and slaves, flowed south in exchange for oil, exquisite pottery, jewelry and above all wine.
Large hilltop fortresses appeared among villages of farmers and herdsmen that lay scattered among vast primordial forests. One such fort was first built somewhere between the 5th and 4th centuries BC, on the 2000-foot-high Dollberg, in the Saarland of Germany. Due to the impenetrable rock base of Taunus quartzite, the fortress springs provided water all year round. For early Celtic tribes who settled in the area to mine local iron-ore deposits, the Dollberg fortress provided a handy refuge or a seat of rulership.
The wealth of trade flowed into the hands of the powerful Celtic warrior chiefs, who were buried under huge mounds alongside their treasures, weapons, wagons and horse gear. Social stratification gave rise to Kings, nobles and free commoners and small states, the tuath. The tribes, however, never formed a unified Celtic empire. The walls of fortresses like the one that towered on the Dollberg, protected the tribes not only against the savage Germanic tribes to the east, but also against other Celtic tribes.
The 1st century AD Greek geographer Strabo wrote of the Celtic nature:
"The whole race, which is now called Celtic or Galatic, is madly fond of war, high spirited and quick to battle, but otherwise straightforward and not of evil character ... At any time you will have them ready to face danger, even if they have nothing on their side but their own strength and courage ... To the frankness and high-spiritedness of their temperament must be added the traits of childish boastfulness and love of decoration."
Successive waves of Celts spread west and northwest. The natives they encountered were themselves proto-Celtic cultures, who more than a thousand years earlier had settled among Stone Age farmers and hunters. They proved unable to withstand the long slashing swords, cavalry and war chariots of the Bronze Age and Iron Age Celts. From the Alps to Spain and northward to the British Isles, most of Western Europe was transformed into a Celtic world.
To the literate civilized cultures of Greece and Italy, the Celts were barbarians. The Greeks called them the keltoi, a loose reference applied to the people north of the Alps. Those Celtic tribes who settled in today's France were generally known to the Romans as the Galli, or Gauls. The Greeks and the Romans paid the Celts scant attention and neither considered them a serious threat. Their perception was put to the test when the wealth of the Mediterranean countries induced the Gauls, led by the Senones tribe, to drift southward into the northern Italian plain. The Roman historian Livy mentions the tradition that the Celts "attracted by the report of the delicious fruits and especially the wine– a novel pleasure to them–crossed the Alps." A contemporary of Livy, Pompeius Trogus, further adds that the Gauls outgrew their land, which is refl ected in the growth of the number of cemeteries found in the archaeological record.
The initial Celtic inroads into northern Italy may have been peaceful but after 400 BC they turned violent. Calls for war and raids were proclaimed during banquets like the one described in the writings of Athenaeus.
"When several dine together, they sit in a circle; but the mightiest among them, distinguished above the others for skill in war or family connections, or wealth, sits in the middle like a chorus leader. Beside him is the host and next on either side the others according to their respective ranks. Men-at-arms, carrying oblong shields stand close behind them while their bodyguards seated in a circle directly opposite, share in the feast like their master."
Probably present too, at these Celtic councils, were their priests, the druids, whose creed even at this time was considered ancient and whose origin may have dated to proto-Celtic times.
Excerpted from THE ROMAN BARBARIAN WARS by Ludwig Heinrich Dyck Copyright © 2011 by Ludwig Heinrich Dyck. Excerpted by permission of TRAFFORD PUBLISHING. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted March 8, 2012
My friends dad who is a history prof recommended this book to me. I knew a little about Caesars wars with the Gauls but the Roman Barbarian Wars got me interested in that time period again. It's not dry and long-winded like most history books. It's fast-paced and focuses on the important battles and charismatic characters. Highly recommended.
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Posted December 23, 2012
For a very well researched book, I found that this book is an easy read. The text flows and the colorful descriptions of the various historical figures and battles brings to life the events during this era. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about this period and for students of history.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 22, 2012
I had read a review of this book in a history magazine and was looking forward to getting it. Unfortunately when I received my paperback copy the glue in the binding was so bad that the pages were literally falling out. As such I am unable to give an actual review but can give a warning to be sure to immediately check the book out if you order so if you have the same problem you can return it within the 14 day period to get your money back.
I may still see if I can buy the hardback version so I can give an actual review.