Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Internal Threats to the Roman Republic

Though the simmering conflict with the Italian allies had largely been avoided, tranquility was not completely restored to the Roman Republic.  The upper and lower classes were still locked in a pitched battle over their respective rights, and sporadic political violence occurred whenever tensions rose too high.  More dangerous to the Republic, several attempts at seizing absolute power in Rome, on both sides, were made.

The first serious attempt to overthrow the republic took place in the wake of the Third Servile War, also known as  Crixus' revolt, which began in the year 674 AUC (80 BC).  Crixus was a Gallic slave who was engaged as a gladiator near the town of Ancona.  He eventually, along with several other gladiators, slaughtered their masters, seizing whatever weapons they could find and fleeing the gladiatorial school.  Once free, Crixus was chosen to lead the small band.  They defeated the early attempts subdue them, growing stronger with each victory.

Soon, they numbered in the tens of thousands, and the Republic was induced to strong action.  The first army was sent under the command of Gneaus Domitius Ahenobarbus, who led his legions against Crixus, and was promptly defeated and killed in action.  The slave band was left virtually unchecked for the better part of a year as the Republic gathered its forces, with every minor attempt to fight the slaves ending in defeat.

Eventually, an army under the command of Gaius Flavius Fimbria was sent out against Crixus, who had begun marching south to plunder what they could.  The two armies met in battle, which was relatively inconclusive; neither side held much of an advantage at the end of the day.  However, Crixus was convinced of the threat that this army posed towards his, and began to lead his followers north, to escape Italia.  Fimbria's army was able to keep pace with Crixus, despite his best efforts.  He was forced into pitched battle with the Roman forces, not too far from Ancona, where the rebellion had begun.  The result of this battle was a resounding victory for Fimbria, utterly crushing Crixus' revolt.

Unfortunately, Fimbria became very emboldened by his success and ignored calls to disband his army, claiming to be hunting down stragglers from the battle as he marched towards Rome, while attempting to orchestrate his election as Consul.  Though he is not recorded as stating any ambition other than election to the magistracy, the Republic was understandably suspicious of his motives and called upon Sulla to force Fimbria, by force of arms, to submit.

Sulla raised an army and marched on Fimbria's camp.  Fimbria then marched to the north, where he hoped to link up with the legions under command of those with whom he had good ties, such as Gaius Valerius Flaccus and Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius, near the Pannonian and Gallic frontiers.  However, whatever their personal allegiences may have been, neither Flaccus nor Metellus Pius were swayed to Fimbria's cause.  Sulla was able to outmarch Fimbria and defeat him in battle, with a portion of the cohorts under Fimbria's banner defecting to the Republican army under Sulla.

Sulla then intended to march against Flaccus and Metellus Pius, under the impression that they intended to support Fimbria.  However, Flaccus and Metellus were both quite popular with the Senate and were generally considered to be of upstanding character, to put it mildly.  Sulla was ordered to cease and desist his campaign and return to Rome.  Further complicating the matter, the order was delivered by an exceptionally pompous and rude citizen, who's name has been lost to history.  Perceiving the order to be more of a threat, Sulla decided to march on Rome.  His exact intentions were, and still are, unknown, but the Senate once more was forced to raise an army in defense of the city.

The new consular army, under Quintus Sertorius and Lucius Julius Caesar, was able to hold off Sulla's forces just outside of Rome, in 676 AUC (78 BC).  Both armies were bloodied, but Sulla was forced to withdraw and regroup his forces, retreating to the coast and across the Adriatic in good order.  Before Sertorius and Caesar could pursue him, however, yet another slave uprising held their attention.

The latest slave revolt would be the most unique, led by a charismatic and beautiful slave-girl named Varinia.  Her nationality is unknown, but her intelligence and quick learning were such that after escaping with a few other slaves from their master, she was able to lead the band.  Though initially unskilled in combat, she quickly took to it and led the slaves in battle frequently, their band eventually growing powerful enough to concern the thoroughly paranoid Republic, though, at its largest, Varinia's army may have been a third of that of Crixus'.  It was determined that Caesar should engage Varinia, while Sertorius would contain Sulla and gather reinforcements.

This course of action went more or less according to plan. Caesar met Varinia in battle a few miles north of Brundisium and defeated the large bulk of her army at that battle.  However, Varinia and a portion of the army were able to flee and escape Italia, as had been their original objective.  Where she ultimately went is a matter of conjecture; the most popular theories being that their ships were wrecked at sea, that they joined the Cilician pirates, or that they went to live along the Euxine Sea.  Whatever the matter was, that threat was neutralized, and Caesar embarked to Greece.

Meanwhile, Sertorius was busy at rallying various allied kingdoms to his cause, a task at which he excelled.  Various tribes and states in Illyria sent troops, most notably, Thracia, sending a large contingent of infantry under the command of the general Spartacus.  The combined armies eventually were able to corner Sulla's forces at Thessalonica, laying siege to the city.  Before the Republican forces could complete a circumvallation of the city, however, Sulla's forces sallied out and sought to break through the Thracian forces, which he calculated to be the weakest link in the opposition's army.

Spartacus' troops were able, however, to repulse the attack, while Sertorius took the initiative to assault the Thessalonica itself, cutting Sulla's forces off from retreat back into the city.  Pinned down by Caesar's army on one side, the city and ocean on another, and the Thracians on the last side, Sulla again attempted to break through the Thracian lines.  Again, the Thracians under Spartacus were able to repulse the attack, and the majority of Sulla's remaining forces surrendered.  The remainder, however, fought on, and were annihilated, Spartacus taking Sulla himself captive before handing him over to the Consular forces.

The crisis thus averted, Caesar and Sertorius disbanded their armies and returned to Rome.  Sulla was able to commit suicide en route, with some accounts stating that Caesar himself provided him the opportunity to avoid the humiliation of being put on trial.  Caesar and Sertorius moved on to govern Roman provinces, Sertorius in Illyria and Caesar in Hispania.  Spartacus, for his assistance, was greatly rewarded, and soon was able to use his prestige to great effect, being recognized as the ruler of the Odrysian Kingdom of Thracia afterward, in 680 AUC (74 BC).

The insurrections of Fimbria and Sulla, as well as the revolts of Crixus and Varinia, served to motivate the fears of the Republic greatly.  Further compounding their fears was an aborted conspiracy on behalf of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus to overthrow the Republic and declare himself Dictator, around the time of the war against Sulla.  The conspiracy proved to be little more than a footnote to history, and was suppressed before any damage could be done.


A fun entry to write, with all sorts of dramatics.  The obvious inspiration for the events is the Third Servile War of our history, which occurs a decade earlier in this history, and is followed shortly after by the smaller, Fourth Servile War.  A key difference being that Spartacus does not lead the slaves, instead, they are lead by a Gallic man named Crixus.  Whether or not this is the same Crixus that served under Spartacus in our history, I will leave to the reader.

After Spartacus was defeated in our history by Crassus, with some help from Pompey, the two men marched their armies to Rome while they stood for election for consul, which they won, likely through the implied threat of their armies.  I have Fimbria attempting a similar maneuver which, unfortunately for him, backfires and results in Sulla being sent against him.

I've never been too fond of Sulla, though he certainly possessed many admirable characteristics, so, I have him give into a sense of megalomania and march against the Republic, and eventually defeated.  The sideshow slave uprising that occurs at the same time was inspired by reading a synopsis of Kubrick's Spartacus, so I threw in the slave girl from the movie, and allowed her to escape, much as Spartacus attempted.  Speaking of Spartacus, I leave it again to the reader to decide if he's the same as the Thracian commander.

Lastly, pretty much all the actors in this entry that aren't on the side of Fimbria or Sulla were renowned in our history for their good judgement and virtue.  Metellus Pius, for example, didn't get his name, Pius, for nothing.  Sertorius, on the other hand, was renowned in our history for his ability to co-opt local tribes, generally hostile to Rome, to his cause, even setting up a mixed Roman-Hispanic Republic during the civil wars against Sulla.  So, overall, events are largely inspired by our history still, and other than the actors, dates, and locations, the gist of events is still the same.

Tigranes the Great

While Mithridates was occupied fighting the Roman Republic, his ally and son-in-law, Tigranes II of Armenia, focused his efforts in other directions.  The terms of the alliance between the two kings were basically that Tigranes would expand to the east and Mithridates to the west.  Thus, the two states of Pontus and Armenia would defend against Rome and Parthia, respectively.  Where Mithridates met defeat, however, Tigranes would enjoy much success.

Coin depicting Tigranes the Great

Tigranes ascended to the throne of Armenia in 658 AUC (96 BC), having been a hostage of the Parthian court until that time.  He ceded much of Atropatene (Azerbaijan) to Mithridates II of Parthia, in return for being allowed to return to his homeland to rule.  He quickly set about centralizing his rule and bringing the the feudal lords of Armenia under his control.  Tigranes also began construction of a new capital for Armenia, named Tigranocerta.

As he solidified his rule over Armenia, Tigranes began to expand his influence.  To the north, he secured Armenia's borders, placing a candidate of his own choosing on the Albanian throne after a brief succession crises in the small Caucasian state.  He also induced the king of Iberia, Artaxias, who happened to be Armenian, into submission.  By 664 AUC (90 BC), the northern border was secure and the state was firmly under his control.

It was in 665 AUC (89 BC) that an excellent opportunity presented itself to Tigranes.  The Parthian king, Mithridates II, who has placed Tigranes on his throne, had just died.  The Parthians immediately took to squabbling over the throne, the main contenders being Gotarzes, Orodes, Sinatruces, and Phraates.  Further, Parthia was facing increasing pressure from Scythian nomads, further weakening the empire.

With a mixed infantry and cavalry army, Tigranes descended upon the Parthians, quickly reclaiming the territory he had ceded them in Atropatene.  He met a relatively large force along the Tigris river, near Arbela, and defeated it utterly.  He continued to march down through Mesopotamia, reaching the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon and capturing it.  He also, while occupying the city, was heralded as a liberator by the Greeks in nearby Seleucia.

It was while he was campaigning in that area that the Romans were finally victorious over Mithridates.  Concerned at being exposed to invasion by the Rome, he sent envoys to the Republic, proclaiming his friendship.  He also claimed that his wife, Cleopatra, Mithridates daughter, had recently been discovered to being involved in an affair while he was on campaign.  He ended his marriage with her and handed her over to the Romans as part of Mithridates' family.  Whether or not the accusation was true, or was invented by Tigranes to justify handing over his wife, it cannot be certain.  However, she had yet to bear him any son that had lived beyond a young age, and only one daughter, so it is not inconceivable that he was looking for a new wife.  Whatever the case may be, the Republic, not entirely eager for a new war with such an illustrious general, seemed placated by his envoys, and accepted his friendship.

With relations with the Romans stable for the time being, Tigranes redoubled his efforts against the Parthians, and eventually reached Ecbatana.  The Parthian vassals, most notably that of Persia, began to rise up against their overlords, heartened by Tigranes' victories.  The Parthian kingdom seemed to be on its last legs.  However, as Tigranes campaigned, particularly while away from the easy transport available in Mesopotamia, his supply lines became more and more vulnerable.  Further, Roman sentiment was not amicable to his total domination of Parthia, further jeopardizing Tigranes' conquest.

Mindful of the risks he faced, Tigranes slowed his campaign and treated with the Parthians in 667 AUC (87 BC).  He would ally himself to whichever claimant was willing to recognize his conquest of  northern Mesopotamia and all of Atropatene and the independence of Persia, Characene, and Elymais.  It would be Phraates, styling himself Phraates III, who first accepted Tigranes offer.  With Armenian support, Phraates quickly solidified his position and defeated his rival claimants, marrying his sister off to the now single Tigranes.

Thus, Tigranes had expanded Armenia greatly at the expense of Parthia, which still retained it Iranian core and the central region of Mesopotamia.  Tigranes then topped off his defeat of Parthia by being invited to take the crown of Syria, where the locals had grown tired of the waning Seleucids.  This campaign was short, taking less than a year.  By 669 AUC (85 BC), Tigranes' empire stretched from the Mediterranean in the west,  the Caspian in the east, the Caucasus in the north, and down into Mesopotamia in the south.

Having conquered so much, he spent much of the rest of his reign consolidating his holdings, having the most success in the mountainous regions to the north, where the locals were most closely related to the Armenians.  Tigranes, now deservedly called 'The Great', styled himself 'King of Kings' and was attended by various kings under him at all times.  Not even the Parthian kings could claim such prestige at that time, particularly having lost most of their vassal states.  Tigranes' most daunting task lay in holding at bay Roman expansionist designs, a task to which he had mixed success.


Once more, the basic outline of this piece of history is not radically different from the events of our history.  Largely, dates have been altered by a year or two in many cases.  The most radical changes come from the early defeat and capture of Mithridates.  In our history, Tigranes provided refuge to the Pontic king after he was finally defeated, decades later.    This invited invasion from Rome, and Tigranes' conquests were largely undone, his eponymous capital razed, and Armenia reduced to a client state.

However, with Mithridates a captive in Rome, Tigranes is free to weasel his way out of conflict with Rome.  I also changed the progeny of his marriage to Cleopatra, to make it easier for him to betray her to Rome.  With conflict with Rome delayed for the time being, Tigranes is able to expand upon his conquests in Parthia, nearly crippling the Arsacid dynasty.