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marcus silanus

Pyrrhus and the Roman Republic

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The Pyrrhic war is viewed by many as the military proving ground of the Roman Republic. There is an uncorrupted view of Roman virtue derived from Greek commentators that presents Rome as a hardy state, immune to the idea of capitulation.

 

All that said, I would be very interested to hear how members view the development of Roman tactics, during the previous century that affected the outcome of the Pyrrhic conflict and also; who is in agreement with the views of Cineus that Pyrrhus was dealing with a "council of kings".

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The romans only needed a draw on the battlefield to win the war and they had some serious advantages to get it: larger army, much cheaper army, familiar with the land, short supply lines, trusted allies, etc. Besides that they proved themselves hard to defeat in battle and immune to diplomatic maneuvering.

Pyrrhus allies in Italy and Sicily were always shaky in their support and he had to leave while still in control of most Sicily and South Italy.

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The Pyrrhic war is viewed by many as the military proving ground of the Roman Republic. There is an uncorrupted view of Roman virtue derived from Greek commentators that presents Rome as a hardy state, immune to the idea of capitulation.

 

All that said, I would be very interested to hear how members view the development of Roman tactics, during the previous century that affected the outcome of the Pyrrhic conflict and also; who is in agreement with the views of Cineus that Pyrrhus was dealing with a "council of kings".

There can be little doubt that the famous quotation of Cineas was little more than unpolluted Roman jingoism.

 

This war was to some extent like a blind spot for classical narratives, presumably mostly because it was a bit embarrassing for both Romans and Greeks.

By the time of this war (early III century BC) Rome and Greece were still considered "Barbarians" by each other.

Roman historiography was virtually absent, and it would continue to be so for decades, while its Hellenistic counterpart had been extensively developed for centuries.

 

Even before crossing to Italy, Pyrrhus was already a living legend on his own; we know that contemporary historians depicted him mostly as an utterly romantic and chivalrous character, virtually the quintessential Hellenistic warrior, even if not always a terribly effective ruler.

Such heroic depiction was presumably embellished even further in later times, simply because of natural Greek national pride.

 

When the Roman historiography eventually developed, its was in general terms friendly enough to the Greeks not to embarrass too much one of their favorite heroes; therefore, the obvious alternative was to attribute an even more romantic and chivalrous character to his Roman opponents, naturally adjusted to the Roman republican values.

 

Our main available sources, notably the Roman-Greek Plutarch, ultimately ought to assemble a heterogeneous mixture of chauvinistic anecdotes from both sides, trying not to offend anyone across the edition process.

 

The famous anecdote of the poison plot against Pyrrhus is an excellent example.

 

The description of the senate as a council or parliament of kings is found in other sources other than Plutarch. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that a remarkable compliment, not necessarily in those words, was payed to the Republic. There is no logical reason to doubt that there was a huge amount of mutual respect between Pyrrhus and Fabricius, simply because it is dramatic. Furthermore, I was not aware that the Romans regarded the Greeks as barbarians at any time, although the converse is widely attested. The Roman view of Greek culture may well have been that it was effete, but certainly not barbarian.

 

In many respects, because there was no Roman history at the time, you seem to be saying that the Greek sources are chauvinistically Roman, which is a little illogical. Complimentary references to the republic can be found in Diodorius and Dionysius and profound doubt about their loyalties is difficult to understand. What perhaps the Greek writers admired, was the fact that Rome was a nation that may foster national pride, whereas Greece and Hellenic culture had always been something to be proud of but riven by conflict between either city state or successor kingdom.

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The description of the senate as a council or parliament of kings is found in other sources other than Plutarch. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that a remarkable compliment, not necessarily in those words, was payed to the Republic. There is no logical reason to doubt that there was a huge amount of mutual respect between Pyrrhus and Fabricius, simply because it is dramatic. Furthermore, I was not aware that the Romans regarded the Greeks as barbarians at any time, although the converse is widely attested. The Roman view of Greek culture may well have been that it was effete, but certainly not barbarian.

 

In many respects, because there was no Roman history at the time, you seem to be saying that the Greek sources are chauvinistically Roman, which is a little illogical. Complimentary references to the republic can be found in Diodorius and Dionysius and profound doubt about their loyalties is difficult to understand. What perhaps the Greek writers admired, was the fact that Rome was a nation that may foster national pride, whereas Greece and Hellenic culture had always been something to be proud of but riven by conflict between either city state or successor kingdom.

What I stated was entirely different; let me try again:

- Contemporary Greek sources depicted Pyrrhus as a heroic chivalrous figure; such tendency was presumably accentuated in later times, when Rome was already conquering their world and the Greeks ought to recover their own old heroic figures.

- When Roman historiography emerged, it was intimately sponsored by the Greek culture; the Hellenes were “Barbarians” no more. Understandably, such historians were prevented from embarrassing Greek heroic figures too much, even when dealing with anti-Roman characters like Pyrrhus.

- The obvious option for the Roman historians was to praise the same qualities now in the Roman side, naturally adapted to the Roman republican values.

 

Diodorus and Dionysius were both from the Augustan period; they were already Roman, and their works tried to reconcile the Greeks with such fact. Dyonisius was especially relevant to the narrative on Pyrrhus, giving always the account from the Roman side; just compare his narrative with that of Hieronymus, the main source contemporary to Pyrrhus.

 

Plutarch is a tertiary source that wrote some four centuries after Pyrrhus; being simultaneously a Roman and a Greek, one of his main goals was to constantly highlight and promote the symbiosis of both cultures. As usual, he used plenty of sources, both Roman and Greek; this is evident from the laudatory (sometimes even chauvinist) quotes and anecdotes for both sides.

 

Unsurprisingly, that laudatory depiction of the Cineas’ embassy came from Latin sources, not Greek (not even the Pro-Roman Dionysius); Plutarch presumably took the kingly metaphor for the senate from Livy. Such kind of laudatory statements from the Roman enemies was typical of the exemplary narrative from the latter.

 

Naturally, it’s always possible that the Roman enemies were constantly expressing their amazement for the Roman Republican institutions, even the Hellenistic courtier Cineas; it just seems a bit unlikely.

 

EDIT; Just for comparison purposes, please try to remember how many times was Livy (or BTW any other Roman historian) openly praising the political institutions of any active Roman enemy all along his extensive work.

 

I think that I need to restate what I'm trying to get at here. It can not be proved empirically what was said by whom in any matter of ancient history, but that does nor mean that there is no thread of positive impressions from the Greek world about that of the Roman Republic. Perhaps we will get to the question of the development of Roman tactics during this period, but for now I do not understand why, without a sword to the throat, a Hellenic writer would promote the positive aspects of the Republic without having accepted its virtues for practical, rational and pragmatic reasons before they did so.

 

I would suggest that the Greeks, perhaps grudgingly, admired the grave bearing of the Roman magistrates. They may well at the time of the Pyrrhic war have considered any Hellenic colony as more important, but as Roman dominance increased the only explanation to the Greek world was that the republic's institutions were superior in their functionality, their fostering of national pride and their incorporation of conquered peoples into the body politic.

 

It is not enough to debunk as propaganda the complimentary comments of either the Roman or Greek writers when considering the Republic's rise. The fact was that Rome rose to be the dominant regional power for many very good reasons. One of those was surely the incorruptability and steadfastness of Roman gravitas and virtus referred to by so many, regardless of the veracity of the actual, often romantic, stories attached.

Edited by marcus silanus

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There is an uncorrupted view of Roman virtue derived from Greek commentators that presents Rome as a hardy state, immune to the idea of capitulation.
That view is hardly derived from independent (non-Roman) Greek commentators; people like Diodorus and Dionysius were already proud Roman peregrini writing for the Roman elite.
I would be very interested to hear how members view the development of Roman tactics, during the previous century that affected the outcome of the Pyrrhic conflict ...
Sadly, a good deal of the already scanty available information is utterly contradictory.

 

Strictly speaking, Pyrrhos and his army were mercenaries hired by Tarentum for the war declared by Rome, itself a natural extension of the Samnite Wars that eventually become a huge clash between a Hellenistic-Italian coalition and the Roman-Punic alliance, tangential to the even larger chronic global warfare of the last Diadochi.

 

Aside from minor skirmishes, Pyrrhos fought against Rome two times, in 280-279 and in 275 BC. From a purely military standpoint, this relatively short conflict was largely inconclusive; Heraclea and Ausculum were certainly not Cannae, but Beneventum was not Zama either.

Up to Pyrrhos

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Regarding our recurrent Phalanx/Legion comparison, if we are to believe in Dionysius
Edited by barca

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Regarding our recurrent Phalanx/Legion comparison, if we are to believe in Dionysius

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In addition of the improvement of the manipular tactics (a point that IMHO has been a bit exaggerated), the Roman army had far better and more homogenous weapons for the Macedonian Wars, including the famous gladius hispaniensis; besides, it was now supplemented by the most powerful navy of the time and many excellent auxiliary units, like the Balearic slingers, the Cretan archers, the Gallic and Numidian cavalry and even the Numidian elephant herd, an extremely valuable unit that the Roman commanders constantly required, in spite of the contempt expressed by some modern historians.

 

 

Could you advise some sources for information/evidence on Roman use of the cretan Archers and the Numidian elephant herd during the Macedonian wars ?

 

Thanks

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