June 07, 2009

Capua

From now on the wars described will be of greater importance. Our enemies were more powerful and campaigns lasted longer and were mounted in remote areas. For this (343 BC) was the year an attack was launched against the Samnians, a people who were strong in both resources and arms. After the Samnite war, which was inconclusive, Pyrrhus was the enemy, and after him the Carthaginians. What a series of momentous events! How often were we in mortal danger, to enable us to raise up our empire to its present height of grandeur, where only with difficulty is it sustained. (VII 30)

Livy begins his account of the First Samnite war with this statement. In a sense he is right- the Samnite war led to Rome's dominance of central Italy, the war with Pyrrhus to its dominance of the south and that with Carthage to its dominance of the western meditereanean. These wars were of a different scale in the historian's opinion to the wars before- what we have been dealing with up until now are the adventures of a city state, leading a confederacy of neighbours, however now we begin to deal with an empire. Livy begins his account of this imperial quest for Rome which leads in his view from the early Republic to Augustus, with an account of Rome's first subjection- Capua. I want to pause over this subjection because the manner of it is important ideologically within Livy's history and within the mission of Rome to become an empire, and of course the idea of empire within the West.

Capua, the principle city of Campania, sat to the south of Rome and was threatened by the Samnites who inhabited the south and central Appenines. According to Livy its envoys came to Rome and requested the aid of the Romans within the Senate. Their argument for aid is interesting:

The people of Campania have sent us as envoys to you Conscript Fathers, to beg for your aid at the present moment and your friendship for all time. If we had sought this friendship when times were happier for us, though this could have arisen more quickly, the ties binding us would not have been so strong; for in that case we could have recalled that we had entered friendship with you on equal terms and though perhaps as much your friends as we are now, we would have been less obliged and beholden to you. As things are won over by your pity, defended by your assistance in times of trouble, we must have no less in our heart the benefit we have received from you, lest we appear ungrateful and unworthy of all aid human and divine.... We Campanians even if you present situation prevents our boasting, are not inferior to any people, except yourselves, in the grandeur of our city and fertility of our soil and our contribution to your prosperity in becoming your friends will not, I believe be insignificant. (VII 30)

The Senate did not rush to judgement in hearing this speech, after which the Campanians made even clearer their argument:

Since you refuse to take justly violent action to protect what is ours against violence and injustice, at least defend what is your own. To your authority Conscript Fathers and that of the Roman people, we therefore submit the people of Campania, the city of Capua, our territory [and] the shrines of the Gods' (VII 30)

This last speech clarifies the previous one- the offer from Capua to Rome (and in a sense the model of provincial requests to the centre) was an exchange of freedom for protection. Livy is doing two things here- firstly he is suggesting conjecturally a reason for the development of Rome as an imperial state. It made sense for its subjects to be subject to a fellow city rather than fall to a tribe like the Samnites. But he is also developing a powerful weapon of argument- the argument is for how the Empire developed and for why it is a good thing.

Modern understandings of imperialism rest mostly on violent acquisition- we think of Kitchener's soldiers mowing down the Sudanese at Omdurman or some such other violent event. Livy's justification though for Rome's empire is not based on violence- he does not assert here the right of conquest (though that right was to be asserted by others as a legitimate way of attaining government- witness Robert Brady on the Norman Conquest for example) but he asserts that empire was invited and was for the protection of the subject. Livy here is providing us with a new state formation in a sense- Capua has contracted with Rome. Where Rome can provide protection, Capua can provide subjection. In a sense what we have here is a voluntary assent to empire- a model that Rome was to employ in later cases and becomes a type for the Roman Empire as a whole. This is important for it shows that empire was not a selfish enterprise- the selfishness is that of the enemies who would harass the provincial populations- but a mutual enterprise. Rome of course was keen to isolate its own benefits and the senate discuss the ways that Campania, known for its grain, will strengthen Rome: but Livy is trying to present here the benefits for the Campanians as well as the Romans.

The problem of course at the heart of this is whether the Campanians can perform the contract that they are offering: we are in a sense at the heart of a dilemma for most liberal and Western philosophers- can someone actually alienate their freedom. Livy subsumes this question within a narrative about Rome's mission (one reason I suspect why the opening paragraph is there) which is to fulfill the imperial contract and the ways that this contract reflects back onto the history of Rome. What we do not have, and would wait to Tacitus to have, is the account of the other side: Livy will tell us the effect on Rome of the imperial signature, what we do not have from him is an account of what the colonial signature does to the colony.

1 comments:

James Higham said...

What I admire about you, Tiberius, is that you are so steeped in today. :)