Roman History Research Proposal

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Roman History

Rome v. Carthage III: Return of the Empire

There can be no doubt that the Roman Empire was central to the shaping of Western civilization and our modern world. Arguably no nation before or since the Roman Empire has been as successful in large scale civic planning and widespread infrastructure, a fact that is made all the more amazing given the technological and energy limitations the Romans were working with compared to the innovations made in the last few centuries. Certain examples of Roman architecture and engineering remain unparalleled -- the Colosseum remains one of the most iconic buildings in the world, and the fact that it is still largely intact despite centuries of wear without any attempt at upkeep is a testament not only to the Romans' ability to plan, coordinate and carry out such massive projects, but to their skill and efficiency at such projects, too. The entertainments that took place here included flooding it to reenact naval battle, and being able to drain it for gladiator fights soon after. Such feats were indicative of the culture of the Roman Empire both in terms of the scale of the undertaking and in the violence that was an inherent part of much of Roman civilization's constituent parts.

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Other civic undertakings were of an even larger scale, and of greater practical benefits to the inhabitants of the Roman Empire and successive generations of occupants on Romanized lands. Bridges, roads, and aqueducts connected large swathes of the Empire, and many of these structure remained in used for centuries after Rome's fall. In fact, many modern roads exist on top of ancient Roman ones -- the saying "all roads lead to Rome" was a reference to the massive and widespread transportation infrastructure undertaken by the Empire during its heyday. These facilitated trade and ensured security during travel to a far greater degree. This too, however, was only possible because of Rome's dedication to militancy.

Research Proposal on Roman History Assignment

The Roman concepts concerning the creation and implementation of a widely deployed standing army is perhaps, for better or worse, the feature of the Roman Empire that subsequent Western nations and societies (including modern ones) have been most willing and even eager to emulate. Many subsequent empires -- in fact, all of them -- have found it necessary to employ the same or similar military methods in order to retain control of the disparate lands under their dominion. From European holdings in Africa and South America, to the United States' appropriation of land from the Native Americans and even arguably to many of the international military installations and actions taken by Western nations and organizations today, retaining the political and economic cooperation of large geographical areas and disparate groups of people and/or civilizations has required a standing military presence.

It is not only in the presence of an occupying military force that more modern events could be seen to reflect ancient Roman techniques of empire construction and maintenance. Some of the strategies employed by superpowers in regions outside their own domestic boundaries, and at home to garner support for such efforts, are also remarkably similar. At its heart, war is always about control, usually of wealth and power (which generally work and exist in tandem). This was just as true during the time of the Romans as it is now, but it was also just as unpopular and untenable to state the thirst for power or greed for another nation's wealth as the purpose for war. Instead, other motives needed to be created to justify such action.

Without drawing any direct comparisons to modern military actions, the similarities in the main falsified justifications of war made by both the Romans and more modern empires and nations can easily be seen in the Roman's third war against Carthage in 149 B.C.E. With little real basis, Roman officials decided after a visit to Carthage that the Carthaginians presented a very real and growing threat, and that their proximity to Rome and the Empire was simply to close to allow for a hostile enemy. Because of the supposed threat that the Carthaginian city-state presented to Rome, the Empire made a pre-emptive attack on the city in order to prevent any military action by Carthage on any part of the Roman Empire or its allies. The ethical and political validity of a pre-emptive attack is a major matter of debate, perhaps more in the modern era than it was then, but such esoteric quibbles are of little importance when the more practical elements of military prowess and overall wealth are considered.

It is difficult to believe that the official powers in Rome truly felt threatened by Carthage. In his Roman History, Appian notes that after Cato's trip to Carthage, during which he and his fellow ambassadors noted the growing prosperity and immense resources of the region, that he "continually expressed the opinion in the Senate that Carthage must not exist."

Appian does not mention Cato noting any explicit threat that he perceived during his visit to Carthage. Instead, it was the wealth of the city-state that inspired fear in Cato and the others -- if the fear itself was even real. It is true that wealth is necessary for the waging of war, and Carthage would present more of a threat simply by being more prosperous, but it is perhaps more likely that Cato saw the opportunity to appropriate a greater share of the Carthaginian wealth for the Roman Empire and its nearby allies, and was motivated by greed more than fear.

There is a great deal of evidence to support this theory on many different levels. The Third Punic War, the final installment of the century-long conflict between Rome and Carthage which ended in the utter destruction of Carthage, came fifty years after the Second Punic War. These fifty years of nearly uninterrupted peace were hugely prosperous for the area despite militarily restrictive components of their treaty with Rome.

At the same time, the Romans were consistently supporting the Numidians and their King Massinissa in territorial disputes with Carthage, which not only created a sense of unfairness and imbalance in the region, but also made the Carthaginians much less trusting of their Roman neighbor's intentions.

Rome's closer relationship with Massinissa necessarily had economic benefits for the Empire, especially after the expiration of Carthage's fifty-year tribute that came as a condition of the end of the Second Punic War.

Carthage's persistent growth and prosperity in the face of the limitations and unfairness imposed upon them could have been a thorn in Rome's side.

There are other reasons to question the logic of Rome's claim to feel threatened by Carthage's success and growing wealth. Most importantly, Massinissa's taking of Carthaginian lands, which met with tacit support from the Roman emissaries sent to arbitrate the issues, made him quite prosperous as well.

Yet far from going to war with Numidia, Rome continued to help the kingdom prosper. It cannot, then, be any threat, real or imagined, that Carthage posed due its prosperity that was the driving force behind Rome's decision to go to war.

This does not mean that the perception of a threat could not be used to stir people to war. Appian is not the only Roman historian to cite the importance of Cato's impassioned diatribes against Carthage as cementing support for military action; Pliny tells a more explicit version of Cato's beliefs, stating that he was "burning with a mortal hatred of Carthage," and citing a specific instance in which Cato produced a very fresh looking fig at a house in Rome and exclaimed that "it was picked the day before yesterday at Carthage -- so near is the enemy to our walls!"

This type of argument, stressing not only the prominence but also the proximity of Carthage to Rome, was no less effective at stirring up sentiments against Carthage for its insincerity, at least according to the Roman historians looking back at the incident.

Even the explanations given by Pliny and Appian concerning Cato's rather baseless rabble-rousing have been called into question by modern scholars, however. Some even maintain that "it may be doubted whether Cato really went to Africa at all," and that the historians who first recorded such a trip and Cato's attitude towards Carthage in its aftermath were themselves attempting to justify similar military actions.

Fear mongering has remained a popular way for garnering public support for otherwise unjustifiable wars, and these historians shows that it was popular even as a retroactive measure two thousand years ago. When war against a particular enemy or region is desired but no reasonable and ethical motive presents itself, most nations in history have not found a great deal of repugnance in creating a feeling of threat or injustice in order to justify their actions, and they may (like these historians) even believe it.

This is almost certainly what was occurring in the run-up to the Third Punic War. In fact, in the early part of the war, the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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