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Florus: Scattering the flames of war over the whole world

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Florus: World war, something worse than war

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Lucius Annaeus Florus
From Epitome of Roman History
Translated by E. S. Forster

As the fate of Corinth followed upon that of Carthage, so the fate of Numantia followed upon that of Corinth; and thereafter not a single place in the whole world was left unassailed by the arms of Rome. After the burning of these two famous cities, a single war was waged far and wide everywhere at once, and not merely against one nation after another; so that it seemed as if these two cities, as by the action of winds, had scattered the flames of war over the whole world.

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Fighting continued in Spain over a period of nearly two hundred years, from the earliest of the Scipios down to the first Caesar Augustus, yet not continuously and without intermission, but at the call of circumstances; and the first hostilities were directed not against the Spanish but against the Carthaginians in Spain, from whom the contagion spread…

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It is easier to create than to retain a province. Generals were, therefore, sent to deal with the inhabitants in detail, now to this region and now to that, who, with much toil and after sanguinary encounters, taught submission to savage races who had hitherto been free and were, therefore, impatient of the yoke. Cato, the well-known censor, broke the resistance of the Celtiberians, the flower of Spanish manhood, in several battles. Gracchus, the famous father of the Gracchi, punished the same race by the destruction of a hundred and fifty cities.

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Numantia, however inferior in wealth to Carthage, Capua and Corinth, in respect of valour and distinction was the equal of any of them, and, if one judges it aright, was the greatest glory of Spain. This city, without any walls or fortifications and situated on only a slight eminence on the banks of a stream, with a garrison of 4,000 Celtiberians, held out alone against an army of 40,000 men for eleven years, and not only held out but repulsed its foes with considerable vigour on several occasions and drove them to make discreditable terms. Finally, when they found that the city was undefeated, they were forced to call in the general who had overthrown Carthage.

Scarcely ever, if the truth may be confessed, was the pretext for any war more unjust. The Numantines had harboured their allies and kinsmen the Segidians who had escaped from the hands of the Romans. The intercession which they made on their behalf produced no result. When they offered to withdraw from all participation in the war, they were ordered to lay down their arms as the price of a regular treaty. This demand was interpreted by the barbarians as equivalent to the cutting off of their hands; and so they immediately had recourse to arms under the leadership of the brave Megaravicus. They attacked Pompeius, but, when they might have utterly defeated him, they preferred to conclude a treaty. They next attacked Hostilius Mancinus; him too they reduced by inflicting continual losses upon him, so that no one could endure even to look in the eyes or hear the voice of a Numantine. Nevertheless, when they might have wreaked their fury in wholesale destruction, they preferred to make a treaty with him, being content to despoil his men of their arms. But the Roman people, as much incensed at the dishonour and shame of this Numantine treaty as they had been at that of the Caudine Forks, wiped out the disgrace of the disaster of the moment by surrendering Mancinus to the enemy, and then, under the leadership of Scipio, who had been trained for the destruction of cities by the burning of Carthage, at last their desire for vengeance burst into flames. At first he had a harder struggle in the camp than in the field, and more with our own soldiers than with the Numantines; for, worn out with continual, excessive and, for the most part, servile tasks, on the ground that they did not know how to fight they were ordered to carry more than the usual number of stakes, and because they refused to stain themselves with blood, they were bidden to befoul themselves with mud. In addition to this, the women and camp-followers and all the baggage except what was absolutely necessary were dispensed with. It is a true proverb which says that a general has the army which he deserves. The troops having been thus reduced to discipline, a battle was fought, and the sight of the Numantines in flight, which no one had even expected to see, was actually realized. They were willing to surrender if conditions were imposed to which men of spirit could submit. But since Scipio desired a complete and unqualified victory, they were first reduced to the necessity of rushing into the fray resolved to die, after they had first gorged themselves with, as it were, a funeral banquet of half-raw flesh and caelia,a name which they give to a local drink made from corn. Their intention was perceived by the general, and so, ready though they were to die, no opportunity was given them of fighting. When famine pressed hard upon them – for they were surrounded by a trench and breastwork and four camps – they begged the general to allow them to engage him, so that he might slay them like men, and, when their request was refused, they determined to make a sortie. This resulted in a battle in which very many of them were slain and, as hunger pressed them hard, they lived for a while on the dead bodies. Initially, they made up their minds to flee, but this was prevented by their wives, who cut the girths of their horses – a grievous wrong, but due to their affection. Despairing, therefore, of escape and in a revulsion of rage and fury, they, at last, under the leadership of Rhoecogenes, made an end of themselves, their families and their native city with the sword, with poison and with general conflagration.

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Aquilius finally brought the Asiatic war to a close by the wicked expedient of poisoning the springs in order to procure the surrender of certain cities. This, though it hastened his victory, brought shame upon it, for he had disgraced the Roman arms, which had hitherto been unsullied, by the use of foul drugs in violation of the laws of heaven and the practice of our forefathers.

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