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Bill Thayer

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Ch. 11
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. 13

 p119  Chapter XII
The Roman Province from Marius to Julius Caesar

The victories of Marius and Catulus over the Teutones and Cimbri had so flooded Italy with German slaves that a servile war was added to the other dangers with which the Romans had to cope at this stormy period.

After Caesar's great victory over Vercingetorix at Alesia,​1 a Gallic prisoner was assigned to each of Caesar's soldiers as his share of the booty. As an able-bodied slave was worth about £10 as a labourer or common fighting gladiator, and a much higher figure if he was skilful at any craft, it was in the eyes of the Romans sheer waste of good money to shed more barbarian blood on the battle field than was necessary to secure a victory.

It proved however a highly dangerous game to preserve human beings, like wild beasts, alive for the purpose of sport and satiating the public thirst for displays of bloodshed in the arena. The Servile War, which raged in Sicily some years before the Cimbric invasion of Italy, had opened the eyes of the Romans to some extent to this risk.

But as the victims of the fearful outrages which were enacted in that island belonged mostly to the Greek land-owning class, they were not as yet fully brought home to Roman imaginations.

 p120  But before the Servile War burst upon Italy, the Roman state was torn asunder by a succession of internecine struggles between the optimates led by Sylla and the popular party led by Marius and Cinna, which deluged the city of Rome with blood. The only wonder is that there was any energy left in such a distracted community for the prosecution of the war against Mithridates, or against the Italian allies, who were in arms asserting their claims to Roman citizen­ship.

That Provincia was neglected or misgoverned, during the years which succeeded the victories of Marius, is in no way surprising.

It is related by Plutarch that in order to test the loyalty of the recently conquered provincials during the period of expecting the return of the Cimbri from Spain, Marius had sent round to the chiefs sealed letters, with instructions not to open them before a certain date. But before the arrival of that date, he sent to recall those letters, which had all been already opened. This convinced the Roman general that the natives were intriguing with barbarians.

The general spirit of disaffection which smouldered amongst the provincials at the period of the Germanic invasion, only breaking out into actual flame in the case of the Volcae Tectosages at Toulouse, was by no means allayed by the annihilation of the barbarians, and the triumph of the Roman arms on the battle field of Pourrières.

To what extent more territory was annexed by the Romans for the purpose of providing farms for the Marian soldiery, we are nowhere precisely told. But we can hardly doubt but that large tracts of land in the Provincia which had been rescued from barbarism and preserved as Roman by their valour, were apportioned out as farms amongst the veterans of Marius.

From that day to this the name of Marius has maintained a firm hold of the popular imagination in Provence. Marius is still by far the most popular Christianº name to  p121 give to boys, and is strangely associated with the name of "Maria." With the two names Marius and Maria, a third — that of Martha, is commonly associated. As Martha was both the name of the sister of Lazarus, first legendary bishop of Marseilles, and of the Syrian prophetess who was the spiritual adviser of Marius throughout his campaign, there is a wide field open to controversialists in determining the identity of the individuals making up the sacred Trio or so‑called "Tre Marie" in different parts of Provence. A very ancient bas-relief carved in the rock at Les Baux near Arles represents three human figures known by that name.

The period of forty years which elapsed between Marius and the appointment of his nephew Julius Caesar to the proconsul­ship of both hither and further Gaul, was marked by a succession of revolts.

Twelve years after the battle of Aix, the Salluvii, in spite of the bloody scenes which had so recently been enacted in their territory, again took up arms against the Romans. Their revolt, which appears to have been their final effort to shake off the Roman yoke, was put down, as we learn from the epitome of Livy, Lib. 73, by the Roman general C. Caecilius.2

In the Fasti Capitolini for the year B.C. 81, the name of Valerius Flaccus is recorded as having triumphed over Gauls and Celtiberians — a conjunction of names, which seems to prove that the imperium of the Governor or Proconsul of Gallia Narbonensis extended at this period over both slopes of the Pyrenees.

We are reminded of this Valerius Flaccus by a reference to him in Caesar's De Bello Gallico,​3 from which we learn that it was he who conferred the Roman franchise on the father of Caesar's confidential Gallic agent, Caius Valerius Procillus, who was employed by Caesar as interpreter during the negotiations with Ariovistus.

Provincia, the first big slice cut out of Gallia Transalpina,  p122 the colonization of which by landless Roman citizens had always formed part of the Radical programme at Rome, naturally became a stronghold of the Marian faction.

Situated just outside the political frontier of Italy, and yet resembling it in climate and fertility of soil, Provincia soon bid fair to rival the mother country in the production of wine and oil, which had hitherto been almost the monopoly of the Roman nobility.

Pliny​4 the elder writing of it about two centuries after its conquest by the Romans, describes it as "Agrorum cultu, virorum morumque dignatione, amplitudine opum, nulli provinciarum postferenda, breviter Italia verius quam Provincia." But it was far from having reached this stage of civilization as yet.

To save their lives from the proscriptions of Sylla, which succeeded his triumphal return to Italy from the East B.C. 83, numbers of the Radical faction, which was reduced to its lowest ebb by the deaths of Marius and Cinna, had fled for refuge into Provincia. Most of these, sooner or later, found their way across the Pyrenees into Spain, to take service under Sertorius, who had raised the standard of rebellion in the Iberian Peninsula.

It was the misfortune of Provincia during the ten years, B.C. 82‑72, over which the rebellion of Sertorius lasted, to serve as a thoroughfare and to be called upon to support the succession of Roman armies which were used up in the vain effort to put down a movement which was really more like an attempt to set up a rival government of Romans in Spain, than a mere insurrection.

As long as Sylla lived, the Marian faction remained powerless to disturb public order in Italy, confining its energies to sending supplies and recruits to Sertorius.

However, on the death of Sylla B.C. 78, the Marians succeeded in getting their candidate M. Aemilius Lepidus  p123 elected consul in conjunction with Quintus Lutatius Catulus, the son of the former colleague of Marius in his triumph over the Cimbri. At the expiration of his year of office, Lepidus contrived to get himself appointed proconsul of Provincia.

Had he reached his province, it is morally certain that Lepidus would have eventually carried the legions placed under his orders across the Pyrenees to join the ranks of Sertorius in Spain. But having rashly determined to employ them in a preliminary attempt to stir up civil war afresh in Italy, Lepidus got the beating which he richly deserved, in a battle fought at the Milvian bridge against his Conservative rival Catulus. Upon this Lepidus fled for refuge to the island of Sardinia, where he soon after died.5

After the death of Lepidus, his legate Perperna crossed from Sardinia into Spain, bringing, according to Plutarch, 53 cohorts and large sums of money to the aid of Sertorius.

In the place of Lepidus, L. Mallius was sent as proconsul into Provincia. But he too appears to have passed very little of his time within the bounds of his Gallic province. For before he had settled down to his work, which must have already fallen heavily into arrear from the failure of Lepidus even to put in an appearance, Mallius was summoned into Spain, to the assistance of Q. Metellus. For the war which Sertorius had stirred up in Spain was assuming such alarming proportions that we find it described by the epitomist of Livy​6 as an "ingens bellum." But instead of contributing to the suppression of the rebellion the expedition of Mallius into Spain had just the opposite effect. For it turned out an utter failure, resulting in disaster and defeat on both sides of the Pyrenees, lending encouragement to rebellion everywhere. Badly beaten in further Spain by  p124 Hirtuleius, the able quaestor of Sertorius, Mallius with the remnant of his legions retreated across the Western Pyrenees into Aquitania, hoping to regain the Roman province unmolested.

But the fierce and as yet unconquered Aquitanians, surprising the dispirited Romans on their march, created a panic amongst them, and put them to flight, with the loss of the whole of their baggage train.

The state of affairs in Spain had now become so critical, that it became clear that Pompey was the only general of sufficient calibre to cope with it. Although still a youth (he was in his 30th year), Pompey already enjoyed a reputation hardly inferior to that of Marius when he was summoned by popular acclamation to save Italy from the Cimbro-Teuton invasion.

From Pompey's famous letter, which was addressed to the Roman Senate from Spain, when he was at the height of his operations against Sertorius, we learn the interesting fact, that at the moment of Pompey's appointment the war had spread over Provincia right up to the Alps.

This daring attempt on the part of Sertorius to carry his forces across the Alps and transfer the field of his operations to Italy appears to have been completely frustrated by Pompey, if we are to believe his own account of it.

As being the first occasion on which a Roman army was ever, as far as we know, carried across the Alps, the passage of Pompey is singularly interesting to us. Hitherto in their successive invasions of Provincia, as we have seen, the Roman legions had been conveyed to their destination by sea.

But now that the forces under Sertorius were reported to be scaling the Alps, it was necessary to send an army by land to oppose their passage. Unfortunately, the letter of Pompey to the Senate only refers incidentally to his passage of the Alps, and his encounter with Sertorius. It runs thus:—

"Having equipped my army  p125 in the short space of forty days, I pushed the enemy, whom I found threatening Italy from the Alps, right back into Spain, having opened up a new road through the Alps, more convenient for us than that by which Hannibal crossed."

"I won back Provincia as far as the Pyrenees to our allegiance, and successfully bore the brunt of the attack of Sertorius' victorious veterans with my untrained troops."​7

The new route over the Alps referred to by Pompey as more convenient 'to us' can have been no other than that of the Mont Genèvre. For it must be fixed to the south of Hannibal's road (by the Mt Cenis) in order to make it more convenient for reaching Arles and Spain, for which he was bound.

To anyone sufficiently familiar with the Alps to enable him to make a comparison between the Mont Genèvre and other passes, it can excite no wonder that Romans adopted it as their favourite line of communication between North Italy and Spain across the Roman Province. For it presents hardly any of the features and difficulties incident to the ordinary Alpine pass.

At the highest point of the so‑called Pass, which is about the same elevation as the Rigi-Culm, the road is carried for two or three miles almost on the level, across a broad plateau commanded by heights crowned with pine and larch. In the centre lies the smiling village of Mt Genèvre with its neat church surmounted by a stone spire. It is by a long way the most human of the Alpine passes, and a spot, where you feel disposed to linger rather than to hurry through. If other considerations did not prevent us from adopting it as Hannibal's pass, the sunny plateau would have been most suitable for the two days' rest, which Hannibal is said by Livy to have given to his tired-out followers on the summit. The classical name of the mountain top  p126 'Mons Matrona' seems strictly in harmony with the 'genius Loci,' offering as it does a broad lap for the repose of the weary.

In the same letter to the Senate, Pompey represents the urgent need in which he stood of money and supplies. He threatens the Senate with the almost certain prospect of the transfer of the war into Italy, owing to the exhaustion of supplies both in Spain and Provincia, adding that owing to a failure of the harvest in the latter country, there was barely enough cornº for the inhabitants. This threat conveyed in Pompey's letter seems to have brought the Senate to its senses. For money and supplies were dispatched in response to it, and the insurrection of Sertorius was henceforth confined to Spain.

In what remains to us of his oration on behalf of M. Fonteius, who was governor of the Provincia Romana during three years of the period during which Pompey was operating against Sertorius, i.e. from 76 to 74 B.C., Cicero supplies us with some valuable material for forming a picture of the state of Provincia at that period. Entrusted by Pompey with the pacification of the province and with the execution of his decrees of confiscation of the estates of the provincials, who had joined in the rebellion of Sertorius, Fonteius appears to have carried out his commission so rigorously and to have exasperated the natives so effectually, that five years after his retirement they got him brought to trial at Rome on the charge of extortion and embezzlement of public funds.

That the rebellion in Provincia was widespread and formidable is proved by the important fact, which we learn solely from the speech of Cicero, that the insurgents even laid siege to the Roman colony of Narbonne. That Fonteius successfully relieved the capital from falling into their hands is dwelt upon by Cicero as one of his client's titles to the enduring gratitude of the Roman settlers in the earliest colony in Gaul.

 p127  In appraising the value of Cicero's estimate of the Gallic element in the population of Provincia, we must always bear in mind that he speaks as an advocate, endeavouring to get a verdict of acquittal from a prejudiced Roman jury.

Had Cicero been retained for the prosecution, we can easily imagine from reading between the lines of his defence, what a case might have been made out against his client Fonteius by the orator, who had denounced Verres so vigorously only the year previously (B.C. 70).

In picturing the Gauls as the enemies of all religion, and referring to their former exploits in besieging Jupiter in his temple at Rome on the Capitoline Hill and outraging the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, Cicero raked up old stories which were as irrelevant as the addresses of advocates in our own time often are.

In going on to accuse the Gauls of the Provincia of his day as continuing the practice of human sacrifice, in order to discredit them as witnesses, it looks as if he must wilfully have departed from the truth. For only 20 years later, Julius Caesar​8 expressly remarks on the superior "cultus atque humanitas" which distinguished Provincia from the rest of Gaul. After this highly coloured and distorted description of the Gauls, Cicero proceeds thus:

"In this same Provincia, there is planted Narbo Martius, a colony of our own citizens — the very image of the Roman people, an advanced post of civilization thrown into the jaws of those savages. There is too the city of Marseilles — a community of our most valiant and trusty allies, who from time immemorial have stood by us in sharing the risks and burdens of Gallic wars. There is, too, an unlimited number of Roman citizens, most trustworthy individuals."

Further on, Cicero remarks "Besides, while Fonteius was governor, the numerous and fully equipped army of Cnaeus Pompeius was quartered for a whole winter in  p128 the Roman Province, which was crammed full of Roman knights, military tribunes and legates, constantly passing backwards and forwards between the armies and generals in both the Spanish provinces."9

That not a single one of these honourable Romans could be got to bear witness against Fonteius was, according to Cicero, sufficient proof of the innocence of his client.

However, with the guilt or innocence of Fonteius we are not here concerned. It is sufficient for us that Cicero admits and puts it down to his client's credit, that he extracted from the unfortunate provincials immense sums of money and supplies of corn to carry on the war in Spain, in addition to providing Roman armies all over the globe with complements of cavalry.

We are not specifically informed, which native tribes were the ringleaders in the revolt of the provincials, put down by Pompey's legate Fonteius. But we gather from a reference in the De Bello Civili, I.35 that it was the Volcae and Helvii, who were on this occasion mulcted of territory which Pompey handed over to the Republic of Marseilles, acquiring thereby its support when the Civil War broke out between him and Julius Caesar.

Although the Allobroges are represented as being loudest in their complaints against Fonteius, it is doubtful whether they actually took up arms against his exactions. At all events, their territory lying as it did well out of reach of annexation by the Republic of Marseilles was left to them whole, although subjected to heavy taxation and arbitrary exactions.

Within the next few years, however, they broke out twice into open insurrections, the first of which was put down by Calpurnius Piso in B.C. 66, and the second by C. Pomptinus in 61.

Between these two risings, namely in the year of  p129 Cicero's consul­ship B.C. 63, the Allobroges sent an embassy to Rome to endeavour to get some redress from the Senate from the unbearable exactions of the Provincial governors. It so happened that the presence of their ambassadors in Rome coincided with the plotting of the Catiline conspiracy.

Disappointed in their hopes of getting satisfaction from the Senate, the ambassadors of the Allobroges were approached by the leaders of the Catiline conspiracy, who promised them complete redress of their grievances, in the event of their contributing to make the conspiracy successful by getting up a rising in their own country.

Feigning readiness to co-operate in the manner indicated by the conspirators, and having obtained written promises of rewards from the authors of the conspiracy, the ambassadors of the Allobroges left Rome at night-fall on their homeward journey.

They had, however, already betrayed the secret of their negotiations to Cicero, the consul, who by agreement with them had made arrangements to have the whole party arrested at the Milvian bridge, about a mile and a half to the north of the city, where the Via Flaminia crosses the Tiber.

On the indisputable evidence of the compromising documents seized on the persons of the Ambassadors, Lentulus and Cethegus, two of the leading conspirators, were arrested by Cicero, and shortly afterwards summarily put to death. Although Catiline himself contrived to escape from the city and openly raised the standard of rebellion in Etruria, the danger of a rising at Rome was averted. But in spite of this important service rendered to the Republic by their ambassadors at this crisis, the Roman Senate continued to turn a deaf ear to the legitimate complaints of the Allobroges.

Having exhausted every expedient of getting redress by peaceful means, the Allobroges were at last provoked into taking up arms, but not in conjunction with the  p130 conspiracy of Catiline. For that rebellion had been effectually stamped out, before Cicero and the Senate dared finally to reject the appeal of the Allobroges for more lenient treatment.

The praetor Caius Pomptinus, who had been Cicero's right hand man in the suppression of the Catiline conspiracy, was now sent into the Roman Province, with the commission to spare no severity in the repression of the rising of the Allobroges.

But before his arrival on the scene, Catugnatus the leader of the Allobroges so completely out-generalled Manlius Lentinus, the legate of Pomptinus, that the Roman army was only saved from destruction by the occurrence of a tempest of unusual violence.

When however Pomptinus took the field in person, he soon turned the tables upon the enemy, and having contrived to draw a cordon around the insurgent forces, made prisoners of the whole. Catugnatus nevertheless contrived to escape.

The rebellion of the Allobroges being thus effectually put down, Pomptinus set out for Rome confidently expecting that the Senate would grant him the honours of the triumph, to which he considered himself justly entitled. In this expectation he was however doomed to disappointment. For taking advantage of a technical irregularity in the conferring of his 'imperium' his enemies in the Senate were successful in preventing the passing of the requisite decree.

So determined however was Pomptinus to achieve his purpose in spite of the Senate, that he had the patience to wait six whole years outside the city, taking up his residence in the Pomoerium.​a Had he set foot within the city, his chance of triumphing would have been forfeited.

This extraordinary patience was ultimately rewarded. For although the Senate persisted in its refusal, Servius Sulpicius Galba, who had formerly served as legate under Pomptinus, got a triumph voted by popular  p131 resolution, B.C. 54. Although it was alleged that this resolution was illegal, as having been carried before daylight, Pomptinus was notwithstanding permitted to enjoy the honours of a triumph.

That he richly deserved them for the signal services rendered to the Republic can hardly be doubted. For up to their final reduction by Pomptinus B.C. 61, the Allobroges had been a constant source of trouble to the Romans, having been in a chronic state of secret or open rebellion.

Chafing under the Roman yoke from which their most fortunate Ligurian neighbours, the Vocontii, were left entirely free, the Allobroges were keenly sensible of their inferior status as mere provincial subjects of Rome.

The attempt to govern such a restless people from distant centres, such as Aquae Sextiae or Narbonne, having entirely broken down, Vienna (Vienne-en‑Dauphiné) now became the seat of Roman administration of the country comprised between the Isère, the Rhone and the Alps.

The Author's Notes:

1 De Bello Gallico, VII c. 89.

2 This name seems to require the addition of 'Metellus.'

3 De Bello Gallico, I.53.

4 Nat. Hist. III.3.

5 This M. Aemilius Lepidus was the father of Lepidus the Triumvir, of whom we shall read later on.

6 Livy, Epit. 90.

7 Sallust. Appended to the Teubner Edition of the Bellum Jugurthinum.

8 De Bello Gallico, I.1.

9 Oratio pro M. Fonteio, ch. 13‑16.

Thayer's Note:

a Sic — but there is clearly a problem here. With a lesser writer I'd just lay this down to incomprehension, since the pomoerium is not a place so much as the ritual boundary of the city of Rome, and "in", or more properly "within", the pomoerium is precisely where a general could not go as long as he was under arms. At any rate, Hall has made some kind of slip here; as Dio for example states XXXIX.65, Pomptinus waited all that time outside the city, i.e., explicitly, outside the pomoerium. For the ritual details, follow my link in the opening sentence of that passage.

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