Roman Empire > History >The Roman Empire Online
THE CONQUEST OF GREECE, CORINTH, AND CARTHAGE.
It was a great change when Rome, which to the Greeks of Pyrrhus' time
had seemed so rude and simple, was thought such a school of policy that
Greek and half-Greek kings sent their sons to be educated there, partly
as hostages for their own peaceableness, and partly to learn the spirit
of Roman rule. The first king who did this was Philip of Macedon, who
sent his son Demetrius to be brought up at Rome; but when he came back,
his father and brother were jealous of him, and he was soon put to
When his brother Perseus came to the throne, there was hatred between
him and the Romans, and ere long he was accused of making war on their
allies. He offered to make peace, but they replied that they would hear
nothing till he had laid down his arms, and this he would not do, so
that Lucius Æmilius Paulus (the brother-in-law of Scipio) was sent to
reduce him. As Æmilius came into his own house after receiving the
appointment, he met his little daughter crying, and when he asked her
what was the matter, she answered, "Oh, father, Perseus is dead!" She
meant her little dog, but he kissed her and thanked her for the good
omen. He overran Macedon, and gained the great battle of Pydna, after
which Perseus was obliged to give himself up into the hands of the
Romans, begging, however, not to be made to walk in Æmilius' triumph.
The general answered that he might obtain that favor from himself,
meaning that he could die by his own hand; but Perseus did not take the
hint, which seems to us far more shocking than it did to a Roman; he did
walk in the triumph, and died a few years after in Italy. Æmilius' two
sons were with him throughout this campaign, though still boys under
Polybius, their Achaian tutor. Macedon was divided into four provinces,
and became entirely subject to Rome.
The Greeks of the Achaian League began to have quarrels among
themselves, and when the Romans interfered a fierce spirit broke out,
and they wanted to have their old freedom, forgetting how entirely
unable they were to stand against the power of the Romans. Caius
Cæcilius Metellus, a man of one of the best and most gracious Roman
families, was patient with them and did his best to pacify them, being
most unwilling to ruin the noble old historical cities; but these
foolish Greeks fancied that his kindness showed weakness, and forced on
the war, sending a troop to guard the pass of Thermopylæ, but they were
swept away. Unfortunately, Metellus had to go out of office, and Lucius
Mummius, a fierce, rude, and ignorant soldier, came in his stead to
complete the conquest. Corinth was taken, utterly ruined and plundered
throughout, and a huge amount of treasure was sent to Rome, as well as
pictures and statues famed all over the world. Mummius was very much
laughed at for having been told they must be carried in his triumph; and
yet, not understanding their beauty, he told the sailors to whose charge
they were given, that if they were lost, new ones must be supplied.
However, he was an honest man, who did not help himself out of the
plunder, as far too many were doing. After that, Achaia was made a Roman
At this time the third and last Punic war was going on. The old Moorish
king, Massinissa, had been continually tormenting Carthage ever since
she had been weak, and declaring that Phoenician strangers had no
business in Africa. The Carthaginians, who had no means of defending
themselves, complained; but the Romans would not listen, hoping,
perhaps, that they would be goaded at last into attacking the Moor, and
thus giving a pretext for a war. Old Marcus Porcius Cato, who was sent
on a message to Carthage, came back declaring that it was not safe to
let so mighty a city of enemies stand so near. He brought back a branch
of figs fresh and good, which he showed the Senate in proof of how near
she was, and ended each sentence with saying, "Delenda est Carthago"
(Carthage is to be wiped out). He died that same year at ninety years
old, having spent most of his life in making a staunch resistance to the
easy and luxurious fashions that were coming in with wealth and
refinement. One of his sayings always deserves to be remembered. When he
was opposing a law giving permission to the ladies to wear gold and
purple, he said they would all be vying with one another, and that the
poor would be ashamed of not making as good an appearance as the rich.
"And," said he, "she who blushes for doing what she ought, will soon
cease to blush for doing what she ought not."
One wonders he did not see that to have no enemy near at hand to guard
against was the very worst thing for the hardy, plain old ways he was so
anxious to keep up. However, Carthage was to be wiped out, and Scipio
Æmilianus was sent to do the terrible work. He defeated Hasdrubal, the
last of the Carthaginian generals, and took the citadel of Byrsa; but
though all hope was over, the city held out in utter desperation.
Weapons were forged out of household implements, even out of gold and
silver, and the women twisted their long hair into bow-strings; and when
the walls were stormed, they fought from street to street and house to
house, so that the Romans gained little but ruins and dead bodies.
Carthage and Corinth fell on the same day of the year 179.
Part of Spain still had to be subdued, and Scipio Æmilianus was sent
thither. The city of Numantia, with only 5000 inhabitants, endured one
of those long, hopeless sieges for which Spanish cities have in all
times been remarkable, and was only taken at last when almost every
citizen had perished.
At the same time, Attalus, king of Pergamus in Asia Minor, being the
last of his race, bequeathed his dominions to the Romans, and thus gave
them their first solid footing there.
All this was altering Roman manners much. Weak as the Greeks were, their
old doings of every kind were still the admiration of every one, and the
Romans, who had always been rough, straightforward doers, began to wish
to learn of them to think. All the wealthier families had Greeks for
tutors for their sons, and expected them to talk and write the language,
and study the philosophy and poetry till they should be as familiar with
it as if they were Greeks themselves. Unluckily, the Greeks themselves
had fallen from their earnestness and greatness, so that there was not
much to be learnt of them now but vain deceit and bad taste.
Rich Romans, too, began to get most absurdly luxurious. They had
splendid villas on the Italian hill-sides, where they went to spend the
summer when Rome was unhealthy, and where they had beautiful gardens,
with courts paved with mosaic, and fish-ponds for the pet fish for which
many had a passion. One man was laughed at for having shed tears when
his favorite fish died, and he retorted by saying that it was more than
his accuser had done for his wife.
Their feasts were as luxurious as they could make them, in spite of laws
to keep them within bounds. Dishes of nightingales' tongues, of fatted
dormice, and even of snails, were among their food: and sometimes a
stream was made to flow along the table, containing the living companion
of the mullet which served as part of the meal.