Overview of Rome’s Wars
The history of Rome is complex and far reaching, with the city state having engaged in almost constant warfare since its establishment. Ancient Rome’s wars are defined broadly by three distinct periods – the regal period, the republican period and the imperial period. This article will identify the wars Rome fought during each period and analyze the motivations behind these wars.
Regal Period Wars
The first recorded wars Rome fought were during the rule of its seven kings, starting with Romulus. While initially war was often presented as defensive, such as in the struggle against the Sabines, by the end of the regal period a strong expansionist foreign policy was established. Wars such as the advent of the Latins and the wars against Alba Longa and Veii were presented as Rome working to expand the reach of its civilization.
Republican Period Wars
With the establishment of the Roman Republic in 509 BCE, war became a frequent tool not just for defense but also for the pursuit of wealth and power. Wars such as the First, Second and Third Samnite Wars were waged for resources and land, while the Punic Wars were part of a struggle for domination of the Mediterranean with Carthage. War also became a tool for ideological reasons, such as the Social War which saw Rome fighting its neighboring cities in an attempt to protect their shared Rome-centered system of government in the face of the rising philosophies of the Greeks.
Imperial Period Wars
The imperial era of Rome saw a further increase in the use of military force, with wars such as the Constantine War being fought to establish total dominance over the Mediterranean. During this period, war was also used as a tool to strengthen the unified Roman culture, with campaigns against non-Roman cultures such as the wars against the Britons, the Franks and the Gauls being conducted largely with the goal of Romanizing these people. War was also used for expansion for land and resources, with many of these campaigns being conducted in hope of opening up new sources of labor and wealth for the Roman Empire.
Costs of War
Beyond the obvious effects on the societies being fought, the cost of war was also felt by the Romans. Constant warfare was a drain on resources, with the huge military expenses leading to high taxes and the development of debt-servitude. In addition, the sharp increase in war deaths during this period created a manpower shortage in Rome and favoritism in the military led to a decline in morale and soldier quality.
The legacy of the ancient Roman wars is one of both military success and moral decline. Rome’s military capabilities enabled a period of almost unprecedented dominance over the Mediterranean, but this power came at a heavy cost. In particular, the emphasis on expansion led to much more systematic brutality than seen in other civilisations, with the killing and enslavement of non-Roman peoples becoming widespread.
In conclusion, Rome’s wars played a large part in the city’s success by allowing it to extend its dominance to much of the known world. However, this success came at the cost of huge human suffering, with the effects of the wars still felt today.
The underlying causes of Rome’s wars can be attributed to complex political, social and economic factors. At the political level, Roman leaders were concerned with defending their city’s independence, as well as promoting the Roman agenda through campaigns against rival civilizations. At the social level, there was a cultural belief that Rome was entitled to dominate its neighbors, a belief elevated by military successes. At the economic level, war provided Rome with land and resources, helping strengthen the city’s power and affluence.
The Roman soldiers provided the backbone of Rome’s military success during this period. Most soldiers were volunteers or slaves, who were trained to defeat their foes through a mix of physical and psychological techniques. This included a strong emphasis on discipline and organization, with the soldiers being capable of fighting in formations such as the famous turtle formation. However, there were also issues with low pay and weak efforts at honoring the veterans of these wars, leading to corruption and cynicism in the military.
The Romans used a variety of strategies in their wars. Tactics ranged from siege warfare to open battles, with Rome often making use of its superior engineering capabilities and weapons. Diplomacy was also a factor, with Rome forging alliances with some of its enemies in order to combat rivals. Finally, Rome occasionally used divide and conquer tactics in order to ensure victory.
As Rome’s wars continued, its ideology also began to evolve. From a primarily defensive stance, Rome’s wars became more aggressive and expansionist in nature. This expansionism created a new wave of moral complexities, as Rome found itself fighting against peoples who may not have deserved such violence. This shift in moral attitudes had lasting consequences, with Rome’s wars having a major impact on the development of the concept of just war.