Had previous chroniclers neglected to speak in praise of History in general, it might perhaps have been necessary for me to recommend everyone to choose for study and welcome such treatises as the present, since men have no more ready corrective of conduct than knowledge of the past. But all historians, one may say without exception, and in no half-hearted manner, but making this the beginning and end of their labour, have impressed on us that the soundest education and training for a life of active politics is the study of History, and that surest and indeed the only method of learning how to bear bravely the vicissitudes of fortune, is to recall the calamities of others. Evidently therefore no one, and least of all myself, would think it his duty at this day to repeat what has been so well and so often said. For the very element of unexpectedness in the events I have chosen as my theme will be sufficient to challenge and incite everyone, young and old alike, to peruse my systematic history. For who is so worthless or indolent as not to wish to know by what means and under what system of polity the Romans in less than fifty-three years have succeeded in subjecting nearly the whole inhabited world to their sole government — a thing unique in history? Or who again is there so passionately devoted to other spectacles or studies as to regard anything as of greater moment than the acquisition of this knowledge?
How striking and grand is the spectacle presented by the period with which I purpose to deal, will be most clearly apparent if we set beside and compare with the Roman dominion the most famous empires of the past, those which have formed the chief theme of historians. Those worthy of being thus set beside it and compared are these. The Persians for a certain period possessed a great rule and dominion, but so often as they ventured to overstep the boundaries of Asia they imperilled not only the security of this empire, but their own existence. The Lacedaemonians, after having for many years disputed the hegemony of Greece, at length attained it but to hold it uncontested for scarce twelve years. The Macedonian rule in Europe extended but from the Adriatic region to the Danube, which would appear a quite insignificant portion of the continent. Subsequently, by overthrowing the Persian empire they became supreme in Asia also. But though their empire was now regarded as the greatest geographically and politically that had ever existed, they left the larger part of the inhabited world as yet outside it. For they never even made a single attempt to dispute possession of Sicily, Sardinia, or Libya, and the most warlike nations of Western Europe were, to speak the simple truth, unknown to them. But the Romans have subjected to their rule not portions, but nearly the whole of the world and possess an empire which is not only immeasurably greater than any which preceded it, but need not fear rivalry in the future. In the course of this work it will become more clearly intelligible by what steps this power was acquired, and it will also be seen how many and how great advantages accrue to the student from the systematic treatment of history.
The date from which I propose to begin my history is the 140th Olympiad [200-216 B.C.], and the events are the following: (1) in Greece the so-called Social War, the first waged against the Aetolians by the Achaeans in league with and under the leadership of Philip of Macedon, the son of Demetrius and father of Perseus, (2) in Asia the war for Coele-Syria between Antiochus and Ptolemy Philopator, (3) in Italy, Libya, and the adjacent regions, the war between Rome and Carthage, usually known as the Hannibalic War. These events immediately succeed those related at the end of the work of Aratus of Sicyon. Previously the doings of the world had been, so to say, dispersed, as they were held together by no unity of initiative, results, or locality; but ever since this date history has been an organic whole, and the affairs of Italy and Libya have been interlinked with those of Greece and Asia, all leading up to one end. And this is my reason for beginning their systematic history from that date. For it was owing to their defeat of the Carthaginians in the Hannibalic War that the Romans, feeling that the chief and most essential step in their scheme of universal aggression had now been taken, were first emboldened to reach out their hands to grasp the rest and to cross with an army to Greece and the continent of Asia.
Now were we Greeks well acquainted with the two states which disputed the empire of the world, it would not perhaps have been necessary for me to deal at all with their previous history, or to narrate what purpose guided them, and on what sources of strength they relied, in entering upon such a vast undertaking. But as neither the former power nor the earlier history of Rome and Carthage is familiar to most of us Greeks, I thought it necessary to prefix this Book and the next to the actual history, in order that no one after becoming engrossed in the narrative proper may find himself at a loss, and ask by what counsel and trusting to what power and resources the Romans embarked on that enterprise which has made them lords over land and sea in our part of the world; but that from these Books and the preliminary sketch in them, it may be clear to readers that they had quite adequate grounds for conceiving the ambition of a world-empire and adequate means for achieving their purpose. For what gives my work its peculiar quality, and what is most remarkable in the present age, is this. Fortune has guided almost all the affairs of the world in one direction and has forced them to incline towards one and the same end; a historian should likewise bring before his readers under one synoptical view the operations by which she has accomplished her general purpose. Indeed it was this chiefly that invited and encouraged me to undertake my task; and secondarily the fact that none of my contemporaries have undertaken to write a general history, in which case I should have been much less eager to take this in hand. As it is, I observe that while several modern writers deal with particular wars and certain matters connected with them, no one, as far as I am aware, has even attempted to inquire critically when and whence the general and comprehensive scheme of events originated and how it led up to the end. I therefore thought it quite necessary not to leave unnoticed or allow to pass into oblivion this the finest and most beneficent of the performances of Fortune. For though she is ever producing something new and ever playing a part in the lives of men, she has not in a single instance ever accomplished such a work, ever achieved such a triumph, as in our own times. We can no more hope to perceive this from histories dealing with particular events than to get at once a notion of the form of the whole world, its disposition and order, by visiting, each in turn, the most famous cities, or indeed by looking at separate plans of each: a result by no means likely. He indeed who believes that by studying isolated histories he can acquire a fairly just view of history as a whole, is, as it seems to me, much in the case of one, who, after having looked at the dissevered limbs of an animal once alive and beautiful, fancies he has been as good as an eyewitness of the creature itself in all its action and grace. For could anyone put the creature together on the spot, restoring its form and the comeliness of life, and then show it to the same man, I think he would quickly avow that he was formerly very far away from the truth and more like one in a dream. For we can get some idea of a whole from a part, but never knowledge or exact opinion. Special histories therefore contribute very little to the knowledge of the whole and conviction of its truth. It is only indeed by study of the interconnexion of all the particulars, their resemblances and differences, that we are enabled at least to make a general survey, and thus derive both benefit and pleasure from history.
I shall adopt as the starting-point of this Book the first occasion on which the Romans crossed the sea from Italy. This follows immediately on the close of Timaeus' History and took place in the 129th Olympiad [264-261 B.C.]. Thus we must first state how and when the Romans established their position in Italy, and what prompted them afterwards to cross to Sicily, the first country outside Italy where they set foot. The actual cause of their crossing must be stated without comment; for if I were to seek the cause of the cause and so on, my whole work would have no clear starting-point and principle. The starting-point must be an era generally agreed upon and recognized, and one self-apparent from the events, even if this involves my going back a little in point of date and giving a summary of intervening occurrences. For if there is any ignorance or indeed any dispute as to what are the facts from which the work opens, it is impossible that what follows should meet with acceptance or credence; but once we produce in our readers a general agreement on this point they will give ear to all the subsequent narrative.
It was, therefore, the nineteenth year after the battle of Aegospotami and the sixteenth before that of Leuctra, the year in which the Spartans ratified the peace known as that of Antalcidas with the King of Persia, that in which also Dionysius the Elder, after defeating the Italiot Greeks in the battle at the river Elleporos, was besieging Rhegium, and that in which the Gauls, after taking Rome itself by assault, occupied the whole of that city except the Capitol. The Romans, after making a truce on conditions satisfactory to the Gauls and being thus contrary to their expectation reinstated in their home and as it were now started on the road of aggrandizement, continued in the following years to wage war on their neighbours. After subduing all the Latins by their valour and the fortune of war, they fought first against the Etruscans, then against the Celts, and next against the Samnites, whose territory was conterminous with that of the Latins on the East and North. After some time the Tarentines, fearing the consequences of their insolence to the Roman envoys, begged for the intervention of Pyrrhus. (This was in the year preceding the expedition of those Gauls who met with the reverse at Delphi and then crossed to Asia.) The Romans had ere this reduced the Etruscans and Samnites and had vanquished the Italian Celts in many battles, and they now for the first time attacked the rest of Italy not as if it were a foreign country, but as if it rightfully belonged to them. Their struggle with the Samnites and Celts had made them veritable masters in the art of war, and after bravely supporting this war with Pyrrhus and finally expelling himself and his army from Italy, they continued to fight with and subdue those who had sided with him. When, with extraordinary good fortune, they had reduced all these peoples and had made all the inhabitants of Italy their subjects excepting the Celts, they undertook the siege of Rhegium now held by certain of their compatriots.
For very much the same fortune had befallen the two cities on the Straits, Messene and Rhegium. Certain Campanians serving under Agathocles had long cast covetous eyes on the beauty and prosperity of Messene; and not long before the events I am speaking of they availed themselves of the first opportunity to capture it by treachery. After being admitted as friends and occupying the city, they first expelled or massacred the citizens and then took possession of the wives and families of the dispossessed victims, just as chance assigned them each at the time of the outrage. They next divided among themselves the land and all other property. Having thus possessed themselves so quickly and easily of a fine city and territory, they were not long in finding imitators of their exploit. For the people of Rhegium, when Pyrrhus crossed to Italy, dreading an attack by him and fearing also the Carthaginians who commanded the sea, begged from the Romans a garrison and support. The force which came, four thousand in number and under the command of Decius, a Campanian, kept the city and their faith for some time, but at length, anxious to rival the Mamertines and with their co-operation, played the people of Rhegium false, and eagerly coveting a city so favourably situated and containing so much private wealth, expelled or massacred the citizens and possessed themselves of the city in the same manner as the Campanians had done. The Romans were highly displeased, yet could do nothing at the time, as they were occupied with the wars I have already mentioned. But when they had a free hand they shut up the culprits in the city and proceeded to lay siege to it as I have stated above. When Rhegium fell, most of the besieged were slain in the actual assault, having defended themselves desperately, as they knew what awaited them, but more than three hundred were captured. When they were sent to Rome the Consuls had them all conducted to the forum and there, according to the Roman custom, scourged and beheaded; their object being to recover as far as possible by this punishment their reputation for good faith with the allies. The city and territory of Rhegium they at once restored to the citizens.
The Mamertines (for this was the name adopted by the Campanians after their seizure of Messene) as long as they enjoyed the alliance of the Romans together with the Campanians who had occupied Rhegium, not only remained in secure possession of their own city and territory but caused no little trouble to the Carthaginians and Syracusans about the adjacent territories, levying tribute from many parts of Sicily. When, however, they were deprived of this support, the captors of Rhegium being now closely invested, they were at once in their turn driven to take refuge in their city by the Syracusans owing to the following causes. Not many years before the Syracusan army had quarrelled with those in the city. They were then posted near Mergane and appointed two magistrates chosen from their own body, Artemidorus and Hiero, who was subsequently king of Syracuse. He was still quite young but because of his royal descent qualified to be a ruler and statesman of a kind. Having accepted the command, he gained admittance to the city through certain relatives, and after overpowering the opposite party, administered affairs with such mildness and magnanimity that the Syracusans, though by no means inclined to approve camp elections, on this occasion unanimously accepted him as their general. From his first measures it was evident at once to all capable of judging that his ambition was not limited to military command.
For observing that the Syracusans, every time they dispatch their forces on an expedition accompanied by their supreme magistrates, begin quarrelling among themselves and introducing continual changes, and knowing that Leptines had a wider circle of dependents and enjoyed more credit than any other burgher and had an especially high name among the common people, he allied himself with him by marriage, so that whenever he had to take the field himself he might leave him behind as a sort of reserve force. He married, then, the daughter of this Leptines, and finding that the veteran mercenaries were disaffected and turbulent, he marched out in force professedly against the foreigners who had occupied Messene. He met the enemy near Centuripa and offered battle near the river Cyamosorus. He held back the citizen cavalry and infantry at a distance under his personal command as if he meant to attack on another side, but advancing the mercenaries he allowed them all to be cut up by the Campanians. During their rout he himself retired safely to Syracuse with the citizens. Having thus efficiently accompanied his purpose and purged the army of its turbulent and seditious element, he himself enlisted a considerable number of mercenaries and henceforth continued to rule in safety. Observing that the Mamertines, owing to their success, were behaving in a bold and reckless manner, he efficiently armed and trained the urban levies and leading them out engaged the enemy in the Mylaean plain near the river Longanus, and inflicted a severe defeat on them, capturing their leaders. This put an end to the audacity of the Mamertines, and on his return to Syracuse he was with one voice proclaimed king by all the allies.
The Mamertines had previously, as I above narrated, lost their support from Rhegium and had now suffered complete disaster at home for the reasons I have just stated. Some of them appealed to the Carthaginians, proposing to put themselves and the citadel into their hands, while others sent an embassy to Rome, offering to surrender the city and begging for assistance as a kindred people. The Romans were long at a loss, the succour demanded being so obviously unjustifiable. For they had just inflicted on their own fellow-citizens the highest penalty for their treachery to the people of Rhegium, and now to try to help the Mamertines, who had been guilty of like offence not only at Messene but at Rhegium also, was a piece of injustice very difficult to excuse. But fully aware as they were of this, they yet saw that the Carthaginians had not only reduced Libya to subjection, but a great part of Spain besides, and that they were also in possession of all the islands in the Sardinian and Tyrrhenian Seas. They were therefore in great apprehension lest, if they also became masters of Sicily, they would be most troublesome and dangerous neighbours, hemming them in on all sides and threatening every part of Italy. That they would soon be supreme in Sicily, if the Mamertines were not helped, was evident; for once Messene had fallen into their hands, they would shortly subdue Syracuse also, as they were absolute lords of almost all the rest of Sicily. The Romans, foreseeing this and viewing it as a necessity for themselves not to abandon Messene and thus allow the Carthaginians as it were to build a bridge for crossing over to Italy, debated the matter for long,