December 01, 2008

What happened when the Gauls arrived

The Gauls arrived in the city of Rome- the consequence of their arrival was the diminution of the power of Rome within Italy. A city under seige cannot be a major power, unless the situation is unusual. The situation in Rome was not unusual- her armies were tied down either defending Rome or massing in Latium and Veii in order to retake the city. Livy invokes the idea of the contrast between the Italians and the Barbarian Gauls- but what his invocations miss are features within his own history which suggest that there were plenty of Italians who were not unhappy with Rome's fall, and plenty of Italians furthermore who assisted the Gauls.

Livy himself tells us this when he tells us of Etruscan forces who drove off 'the cattle they had stolen' from the Romans (V 45) and 'had shown so little sympathy for a city which for nearly four hundred years had been their neighbour' (V 45). The Etruscan forces that Livy mentions were easily defeated by the Roman armies at Veii (V 45) but there were more than one group- and Livy mentions at least two battles fought by Romans against Etruscans: one of which was 'bloody' (V 45). This little account by Livy is interesting- there are two features which fascinate me about it. Firstly there is the fact that these Etruscan forces existed- obviously the internal politics of Italy was not such that all Italians saw the Gauls as a barbarian force and the Romans as defenders of civilisation.

The second aspect that is interesting is the way that Livy couches the story. For Livy this is not a moment within diplomatic history but a moment with domestic history. It is a story about the betrayel of 'neighbours'- notice the domesticated noun- those whom Rome had earlier saved from a Gallic invasion (V 45) (a moment that Livy fails to mention)- to aid Rome or even to have pity on Rome in her hour of need. It is a story that reinforces one of the points of Livy's narrative- that the story of Italy is the story of Rome, indeed that the story of civilisation is the story of Rome. Livy in this sense looks at a diplomatic incident in the 4th century BC through the eyes of the imperial masters of Italy- the embodiers of civilisation in the 1st century AD- and tells us to look at it that way too.

In that sense the Etruscan diplomatic decision to harry Rome whilst she succumbed to the Gallic sword, became not a diplomatic incident between equals, but a betrayel of the city that embodied civilisation and Italy itself. What might be thought of as the exploitation of a political moment turns, in Livy's eyes, into a heinous treason.


Georg said...

I wonder how much objectivity was on Livius' agenda. As you told some weeks before the Romans decided to pillage the town of Veii. So why should these people be thankful to Rome??

I suppose the Etruscans thought: "let them taste of their own medecine"

Very human, easy to understand.


Gracchi said...

Yes of course- I think that was partly the point I was trying to get at. Livy's point was about civilisation and barbarism and the Etruscans behaving like quislings to the barbarians.

The Etruscans of course I think did see it differently and its one of those instances where Livy's story actually reveals a perspective that he would not have agreed with.