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Florus: World war, something worse than war

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Florus: Scattering the flames of war over the whole world

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

Almost the whole world having been now subjugated, the Roman Empire was too strong to be overcome by any foreign power. Fortune, therefore, envying a people that was sovereign of the world, armed it to its own destruction. The fury of Marius and Cinna had, indeed, formed a prelude, and as it were a preliminary trial, within the city; the thunder of the storm raised by Sulla had rolled over a wider area, but within the confines of Italy. The rage of Caesar and Pompeius, like a flood or a fire, involved the city and Italy, and then tribes and nations, and finally the whole extent of the empire. It cannot, therefore, justly be called merely a civil war, nor a war between allies, nor yet a foreign war, but was rather a war with all these characteristics and something worse than a war. If one looks at the leaders, the whole senate was ranged on one side or the other; if one considers the forces engaged, on one side were eleven legions, on the other eighteen, all the flower and strength of Italy’s manhood; if one looks at the aid given by the allies, one finds on one side the levies of Gaul and Germany, on the other side Deiotarus, Ariobarzanes, Tarcondimotus, Cotys and Rhascypolis, all the strength of Thrace, Cappadocia, Macedonia, Cilicia, Greece and the whole East. If one considers the duration of the war, it lasted for four years, a short period in view of the destruction which it wrought. If one looks at the ground and space which it covered, it began in Italy, it next directed its course into Gaul and Spain, and then, returning from the West, settled in full force upon Epirus and Thessaly; thence it suddenly leaped across into Egypt, whence it cast a backward glance upon Asia, brooded over Africa, and finally wheeled back into Spain, where at last it died out. But the close of the war did not see the end of party hatred, which did not subside until the rancour of those who had been defeated sated itself with the murder of the victor in the city itself, in the midst of the senate.

The cause of this great calamity was the same which caused all our calamities, namely, excessive good fortune. In the consulship of Quintus Metellus and Lucius Afranius, when the majesty of Rome held sway throughout the world and Rome was celebrating in the theatres of Pompeius her recent victories and her triumphs over the peoples of Pontus and Armenia, the excessive power enjoyed by Pompeius excited, as often happens, a feeling of envy among the ease-loving citizens…Crassus happened at this time to be at the height of a reputation due to his birth, wealth and the high offices which he had held, and yet he wished to increase his riches; Gaius Caesar’s fame for eloquence and courage was now enhanced by his tenure of the consulship; but Pompeius occupied a higher position than either of them. Caesar, therefore, being desirous of winning, Crassus of increasing, and Pompeius of retaining his position, and all alike being eager for power, readily came to an agreement to seize the government. So, each striving with the support of the others to win glory for himself, Caesar entered upon the government of Gaul, Crassus upon that of Asia, and Pompeius upon that of Spain. They possessed three great armies, and the rule of the whole world was vested in these by association of the three leaders

Pompeius being routed and in flight, Caesar preferred to set the provinces in order before he pursued him…Marseilles, however, as he was passing through on his way at once attack Pompeius’ armies in Spain, dared to close its gates to him; the luckless city, desirous of peace, became involved in war through its dread of war. But since it was protected by walls, he gave orders that it should be reduced for him in his absence…Brutus, to whom the operations had been entrusted, defeated and overcame them by land and sea. They quickly surrendered and were deprived of everything which they possessed except the most valued of all their possessions, their liberty.

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With the death of Pompeius, who could but suppose that the war was over? Yet the embers of the conflagration in Thessaly burst forth again in flames with far greater fury and violence. In Egypt, indeed, a war broke out against Caesar which had no connection with the party faction…In Asia too a fresh disturbance arose from Pontus…[I]n Africa Caesar had a much more bitter struggle against his fellow-countrymen than at Pharsalia. It was on the coast of Africa that the tide of flight had cast ashore the remnants of the shipwrecked faction – remnants, indeed, one can hardly call them, but rather material for a fresh war. Their forces had been scattered rather than defeated, and the fate of their leader had in itself confirmed the obligation of their oath, and they were no degenerate leaders who succeeded him; for the names of Cato and Scipio had a sufficiently imposing sound to take place of that of Pompeius. Juba, king of Mauretania, also joined their forces…Just as though there had been no fighting hitherto, warfare and party spirit broke out afresh, and Spain outdid Africa, just as Africa surpassed Thessaly…How great was the rage and fury of the victors in the slaughter of the enemy can be gathered from the fact that, when the fugitives had retreated to Munda, and Caesar immediately ordered that his conquered foes should be besieged, a rampart was constructed of corpses piled up and held together by the javelins and missiles which were thrust through them…

How powerful is fate! The plot had become widely known; on the very day fixed for its execution, written information of it had been presented to Caesar, and, though he sacrificed a hundred victims, he had been unable to obtain favourable omens. Yet he came into the senate-house thinking of his campaign against Parthia. As he was seated there in his curule chair the senators attacked him, and he was borne to the ground wounded in twenty-three places. Thus he who had filled the whole world with the blood of his fellow-citizens at last filled the senate-house with his own.

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In the consulship of Marcus Antonius and Publius Dolabella, while fortune was already transferring the Roman Empire to Caesar, diverse and manifold confusion afflicted the State. Just as, in the annual revolutions of the heavens, the constellations by their movements cause thunder and make known their changes of position by storms, so, in the change which came over the Roman dominion, that is, the whole world, the body of the empire trembled through and through and was disturbed by every kind of peril, by wars, civil, foreign, and against slaves, by land and by sea.

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