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Bill Thayer

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Ch. 6
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Romans
on the Riviera and the Rhone

by W. H. Hall

originally published by Macmillan & Co., Ltd.,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Ch. 8

 p69  Chapter VII
Conquest of the Ingauni at Albium Ingaunorum (Albenga)

The Apuani having been finally disposed of by wholesale deportation, the coast was cleared for the advance of the Romans beyond the Magra towards Genoa. This stretch of coast-line is called by the modern Italians 'Riviera di Levante' ('rising sun') to distinguish it from that to the west of Genoa known as 'Riviera di Ponente' ('setting sun'). So precipitous, however, are the cliffs, especially as far as Sestri-Levante, about half-way between Spezia and Genoa, that the coast is practically only approachable from the sea, even to this day. At the period with which we are dealing, it could only have been occupied by isolated clusters of rude dwellings, settled on ledges in the black rock, wherever a few yards of beach could be found below between two sheltering promontories from which to push off a fishing boat. But even fish are scarce along the inhospitable coast.

Inland, the region is mostly as wild as the coast, the wooded slopes of the Apennines extending right down to the shore. Cultivation is rare, even at the present day, and almost confined to the mouths of the occasional valleys which break the continuity of the mountains. There is therefore little to tempt the few inhabitants inland, or to encourage road-making. Even the modern high road from Genoa to Spezia abandoned in despair the attempt to follow the coast beyond Sestri-Levante,  p70 where it turns inland. The old Roman road — Via Aemilia Scauri — may with difficulty be traced a few miles further along the edge of the cliffs as far as Moneglia (ad Monilia), beyond which point it ceased to follow the shore.

The railway, however, keeps on close to the sea, being mostly tunnelled through the black rock, with occasional light and air-holes. This portion of Corniche road travelling has been wittily compared to a journey down a flute.

Considering the nature of the ground, it is hardly surprising that this impossible tract of some sixty miles of coast-line is practically ignored by Livy. We are not even told how far eastward the territory of the Genuatae extended, nor furnished with the name of any Ligurian tribe intervening between them and the Apuani.

To the westward of the Genuatae, the tribe of the Sabatii occupied the coast as far as Vada Sabata — the modern Vado — a suburb of Savona. From the absence of any record of their taking up arms against them, we may assume that the Romans had made an alliance with the Sabatii, before proceeding further westward to the Ingauni.

We have now to deal with the important expedition of the consul L. Aemilius Paulus — famous later on as the conqueror of Macedonia — which resulted in the final subjection of the Ingauni. For the main features of this campaign we are happily not only indebted on Livy, for Plutarch, in his life of Aemilius Paulus, supplies some material.

As Aemilius Paulus is one of the greatest characters in Roman history, and a very typical Roman, I may be excused for digressing from my narrative to give a brief extract from Plutarch's life of him,​a to shew what a light view the Romans took of the marriage tie.

"His first wife was Papiria, the daughter of Papirius Maso, a man of consular dignity. After he had lived  p71 with her a long time in wedlock he divorced her, though she had brought him very fine children; for she was mother to the illustrious Scipio and to Fabius Maximus. History does not acquaint us with the reason of this separation; but with respect to divorces in general, the account which another Roman, who put away his wife, gave of his own case, seems to be applicable to Aemilius Paulus.

"When his friends remonstrated and asked him, 'Was she not chaste? was she not fair? was she not fruitful?' he held out his shoe and said, 'Is it not handsome? is it not new? yet none knows where it pinches him but he that wears it. . . . . . .'

"Aemilius, thus separated from Papiria, married a second wife, by whom he had also two sons. These he brought up in his own house, the sons of Papiria being adopted into the greatest and most noble families in Rome, the elder by Fabius Maximus, who was five times consul, and the younger by his cousin-german the son of Scipio Africanus, who gave him the name of Scipio."​1

I may be permitted to add that it was the melancholy fate of Aemilius Paulus to lose both his sons by his second wife at an early age. For the one died five days before, and the other three days after, the splendid triumph by which he celebrated his Macedonian victories. So after all he left no legal son to succeed him.

The reader will recollect that, after their abandonment by Mago twenty years previously, the Ingauni were left to make the best terms they could with the Romans, in a treaty concluded with the consul P. Aelius, B.C. 201. For the next sixteen years, from B.C. 201‑185, the terms of this treaty seem to have been faithfully observed. But in the latter year the Ingauni again rose in arms against the Romans.

The consuls for the year B.C. 185 were Appius Claudius and M. Sempronius. While the latter, as  p72 related in the preceding chapter, was engaged in chastising the Apuani, it fell to the lot of Appius Claudius to deal with the Ingauni on the western Riviera. We read in Livy​2 that Claudius on the western Riviera fully equalled the success of his colleague Sempronius on the Magra. For he captured six of the oppida or strongholds of the enemy, took many thousands prisoners, and had forty-three of the ringleaders of the revolt publicly executed. If the remains of a fortress on the heights overhanging Vintimiglia, bearing the name of 'Castel d'Appio,' are correctly supposed to commemorate the victories of Appius Claudius, they are an indication of the co-operation of the Intemelii with the Ingauni in their resistance to the Romans.

In spite of this sharp punishment, in the year B.C. 181 — only four years later — the Ingauni determined to make one more desperate effort to free themselves from the yoke of the Romans. Patching up their feud with their former opponents the Epanterii Montani, they persuaded them to join in a general rising.

If Plutarch is to be trusted, the forces of the combined Ligurians amounted to 40,000 fighting men, opposed to the force of 8000 brought against them by the Romans. This number probably represents a consular army of two Roman legions, without the usual contingent of socii. These were desperate odds, as the Ingauni, having fought side by side with the Carthaginians, and been subjected to some sort of military discipline, were far more formidable opponents than the more uncivilized Ligurian tribes.

On the present occasion, as soon as Aemilius Paulus pitched his camp in their territory, the Ingauni, pretending to be anxious to make peace, applied for an armistice of ten days, nominally to give time to the chiefs to reason their tribesmen into laying down their arms. The armistice being granted, the crafty Ingauni extracted in addition a promise from the Roman commander  p73 that he would abstain from foraging beyond the limits of the plain on which they were encamped.

Meanwhile, effectually screened by the mountains, which at a distance of seven or eight miles form the arc of the semi-circular plain of which the sea is the chord, the Ingauni and Epanterii were engaged in treacherously massing their forces. All of a sudden, pouring across the mountains, they made a rush at the Roman camp, and were within a little of carrying it by storm.

During the whole day, dense masses of Ligurians surged round the camp, hemming the Romans in so effectually as to prevent any possibility of a sortie. But as the enemy withdrew at nightfall, in accordance with the custom prevalent with Gauls and Ligurians, Aemilius seized the opportunity of despatching horsemen to Baebius, the proconsul at Pisae, with an urgent appeal for reinforcements.

As ill luck would have it, Baebius could render no assistance, his legions having just sailed for Sardinia, nor could any help be got from Placentia, which had been denuded of troops required for a war which had just broken out in Histria, arising out of opposition to the foundation of a Roman colony at Aquileia.

When the news of Aemilius' desperate position reached Rome, the Senate ordered the immediate enrolment of every available man under fifty, directing the consuls to assume the paludamentum (or military cloak worn in war-time in place of the toga) and proceed forthwith to Pisae. At the same time, the naval force lying in the Gulf of Lyons under C. Matienus, one of the naval duumvirs, received orders to proceed at once to Albenga.

But all these preparations could be of no immediate avail in relieving the beleaguered camp, within which Aemilius strictly confined his troops during the anxious period of awaiting reinforcements. At length, however, despairing of outside succour, the Roman commander ordered preparations to be made for a simultaneous  p74 sortie, from all four gates of the camp, on the first favourable opportunity.

It was to the invariable rule followed by the Romans of entrenching their armies within the shelter of a camp even when they halted, for a single night, that Napoleon mainly attributed their military successes. On this subject, writing at St Helena, Napoleon remarks: "Pendant dix ou douze siècles de l'histoire Romaine, on ne voit point d'exemple, qu'un de leurs camps ait été forcé. Cicéron, lieutenant de César, surpris dans son quartier d'hiver sur la Sambre, soutint pendant un mois, avec 6 ou 7000 hommes, les attaques réitérées d'une armée de 60,000 Gaulois et donna le temps à César d'arriver à son secours."​3 The experience of Quintus Cicero was an almost exact repetition of what proved true in the case of Aemilius Paulus.

Securely entrenched within their camp, the 8000 troops of Aemilius Paulus could calmly defy the attacks of the 40,000 Ligurians. Day after day, sallying forth at sunrise, the Ligurians approached the Roman camp in order of battle, in the vain hope of tempting the Romans to engage them in the open. At nightfall, however, they always retired to their own encampments.4

Preserving good order at first, the Ligurians soon got tired of these fruitless parades, and relaxing their discipline, took to indulgence in drink before advancing to the attack.

On one of these occasions, observing the disorder in their ranks, Aemilius Paulus seized his opportunity, giving orders for the sortie for which the troops were anxiously waiting.

The Roman consular camp at this period was square, and constructed to contain two Roman legions and the usual complement of socii — 18,600 men in all. Each side measured 2017 ft.​5 It was surrounded by a ditch  p75 and rampart, the dimensions of which varied according to circumstances. The camp was divided into three nearly equal segments by two parallel roads called 'Via Principalis' and 'Via Quintana' respectively. A clear space 200 ft. wide was left all round between the vallum and the tents.

There were in all four gates, one in each of the four sides, called respectively:—

1. Porta Praetoria, fa­cing the supposed direction of the enemy.
2. Porta Decumana, furthest from expected danger, at the opposite end of the camp, by which wood, water, etc., were introduced.
3. Porta Principalis dextra at either end of the Via Principalis.
4. Porta Principalis sinistra

The praetorium of the general was right opposite to the Porta Praetoria. The area of a consular camp in the days of the Republic contained about 87 acres, but Roman camps necessarily must have varied in dimensions according to circumstances. As our military authorities calculate that, in ordinary ground, an unskilled man can excavate one cubic yard per hour, throwing the soil inwards to form the rampart, it would have taken each man two hours to excavate every yard run of ditch two yards deep. As the total 'run' or front of the four sides of the consular camp to be fortified amounted to 2689⅓ yards, it would have required three times that number or 8068 men to dig a ditch three yards wide and two yards deep in two hours. Another hour would have been occupied on the fortification of the camp, while the other half was available for protecting the workers, if the camp had to be fortified in the presence of the enemy.

Pouring simultaneously out of all the four gates, the Roman legionaries fell with irresistible impetuosity on the half-drunken Ingauni, who finding themselves assaulted  p76 from all sides at once were thrown into complete confusion, and offered little resistance. Endeavouring to retain the shelter of their camps, they were pursued and overtaken by the Roman cavalry, who cut them to pieces with great slaughter. It is related by Livy that 15,000 Ligurians were slain and 2500 taken prisoners on this occasion.

On the top of this crushing defeat by land, at the hands of Aemilius Paulus, the Ligurians lost thirty-two of their piratical ships, captured by the Roman admiral C. Matienus at sea.

This double disaster was followed by the unconditional surrender of the Ingauni, who paid the penalty of their treachery and repeated revolts by the forfeiture of their independence. They were in other respects leniently treated, and henceforward furnished contingents of socii to the Roman armies. Like our plucky allies, the Sikhs and Goorkhas in India, fighters by instinct and with no bond of national coherence, they readily took service under the Romans, and supplied some of the best material to their armies. At the greatest crisis of the fortunes of the later republic, when the Cimbri and Teutones threatened to overrun Italy, the Italian Ligurians in the army of Marius were the first to turn the tide of victory in favour of Rome.

The Author's Notes:

1 Afterwards famous as Scipio Africanus Aemilianus, the hero of the third Punic War, the destroyer of Carthage, and friend of Polybius.

2 XXXIX.32.

3 Correspondance de Napoleon I, Vol. XXXI, p463.

4 Bina cis montes castra Ligurum erant. Livy, XI.38.

5 Smith's Dict. Greek and Roman Antiquities, under 'Castra.'

Thayer's Note:

a Life of Aemilius Paulus, ch. 5.

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Page updated: 26 Aug 16