The following extracts are fragments of a wider work written around the 1st century A.D. by the noted Etruscan Greek moralist, essayist and philosopher Plutarch of Chaeronia. Plutarch wrote a series of character portraits of notable leaders of the Etruscan world, including many non-Etruscan leaders. Only a few of these famous paired 'Lives' remain. Below are four of the most important of his works, covering figures from the period of the early unification of Italy in the third and fourth centuries B.C. under the Etruscan republic. They cover the lives of two of Etrusca's most famous leaders, contrasted against the lives of two foreign ones.
On the Lives of Leaders
Of all the ancient figures drawn in my Lives from the dawn of the Second Golden Age, two clearly stand as Titans above all others. Spurius Vitellius Valens and Secundus Claudius Mercator were both great yet flawed men, and rivals for each other's glory from the first. It was to be the luck of the republic that their virtues complimented and concealed each other's weaknesses. Both men made many mistakes in their years in office, and suffered unjustly at the hands of the other. It is the bane of the most successful men that they strive to outdo each other in vaulting ambition and abandon all moderation towards their rivals. Yet in the end Valens and Mercator left behind them a Republic that has flourished down to our own time. Neither could have achieved this by himself, Valens because he lacked experience and vigor in the field and had an unadventurous spirit, and Mercator because his famous bellicosity and overconfidence would have led him to overreach and exhaust the Republic many times were it not for the check of Valens on his ambition. Meanwhile the kingdoms of their counterparts have not prospered so well, being overcome by the power of the Etrurians in the course of history. Nevertheless I believe that the reader has as much to learn from the characters of our ancestor's enemies as from their own. How else are we to take the true measure of these men except by the greatness and strengths of those they overcame? I have therefore selected from the sources that remain to us some several likely specimens from the other races around Our Sea with whom to compare the characters of our own great men.
Life of Spurius Vitellius Valens
I have begun my commentaries with the life of Spurius Vitellius Valens, as he was over ten years longer in public life and had well begun his career when Secundus Claudius Mercator was just a new man in the Senate. Even in his first term as consul he envisaged a union of Italy against the barbarians such as had been achieved under Philip of Macedon in Greece. Valens restored the peace and security of the republic, started the policy of settling the barbarous lands north of the republic, and began a system of cooperation with his neighbors against Rome and barbarian aggression that led to the League of Bovianum [Editor's note: Plutarch is referring to alliance system used by the early Etruscan Republic to regulate its hegemony over the southern Italian states.]He began the taming of the vast pool of wild Gallic nations whose warlike wanderings caused Italy so much trouble at that time, and it was his Lex Bononia that set the precedent to assimilate formerly barbarian peoples into the state, which has turned Etrusca into such a mighty nation today.
Valens was of an old established line of Senators going back to the first Golden Age. The family name was well-spoken of but their fortunes had dwindled over time. The recent generations had achieved nothing worthy of the glories of their ancestors. It is said that the father of Valens was a worthy man, keen to reverse this and the other causes of the decline in the fortunes of the Republic. Yet, being somewhat unsound of body from a weakness of the lungs, he pushed his oldest son into public life at the early age of twenty-five in his stead. He also kindled in him a burning love of his country and a desire to see it raised up once more. Valens' dearly-held opinions set him early against the older men who then managed the precarious existence of the state, and led him to downplay his noble origins. He fell in with the popular party and became a leading orator for the people. Yet he never became a demagogue and a flatterer, and would always state the unpopular truth over the easy lie. This won him the respect of the people, and with the help of some of his by-then deceased father's relatives, he was elected Consul of the republic for the first time at the astonishing age of thirty. Under his leadership the populist faction would hold the office for more then half of the next twenty years.
Many men seek the honor of public office simply for the glory of their family name or to flatter their own vanity, and achieve nothing worthy of the time and expense they waste. Others seek only war, as the quickest and most obvious path to praise and riches within the body politic. Valens had the gift of a statesman, to be clear of vision and careful in executing its design. He never believed that the state could only be ennobled through the clash of iron and the shedding of blood. Yet he moved with striking boldness in joining Faustus Julius Brutus in his war against Rome. Valens never held command in the field, the Etrurians of that time still following the Athenian example of dividing power between those who rose through the army and those who addressed the assemblies of the people and the Senate. Valens therefore entrusted command of the battlefield to others more suited. Yet he is very fairly credited as the real author of the war, as the Italians had never before beheld such a large conflict, involving so many cities of rank and distinction from across the whole peninsula. Polybius claims that a large bribe was paid by Brutus to Valens to secure his alliance, but I have investigated this implausible story and found it emerges from the private papers of Tiberius Claudius Martialis, a skilled user and corrupter of men, and a political enemy of Valens. I therefore do not give it too much credence, and in fact the use of money for this purpose was in any case then not widespread in Etruscan public life.
Valens placed the city in a difficult position with his declaration of war for he involved the state in a struggle his allies were already losing to their more numerous enemies, and striped the country of young men to defend it from incursions to the north. But at that time the consular armies of Rome were depleted and engaged in training fresh recruits. Valens hoped to end the conflict with a swift stroke against the vassals of the Romans before that great city could overwhelm the allies with a torrent of men and arms. He had already determined to secure the north by hiring a strong force of Greek mercenaries to hold the passes for the Etrurians. This bold gamble did not go uncriticized either at the time or by later historians. To entrust the security of the country to paid foreigners whilst honorable citizens go abroad to fight may seem a paradox to some. But before Valens the republic had been in perpetual crisis, caught between warlike neighbors to its north and south, and this necessitated a hard struggle in one place or the other. History teaches us that those who let others fight their battles for them rarely prosper or achieve anything of true greatness, and Valens was determined to make Etrusca great.
Equally fortune rarely gives us examples of untrammeled success or failure in our lives, and so it was for Valens in the 1st Italian War. In the records of the Senate at the time we hear of Secundus Claudius Mercator opposing his battle plans. With his overweening opinion of himself as an unmatched military leader, Mercator gave a fiery speech in support of a direct attack on Rome, before it could ready its forces. This resolution excited the Senate against the wishes of Valens, but by nominating his friend Quintus Octavius Ignatius as general of the Auxillia he was able to avoid trouble for a time. This may be what first incurred Mercator's animus against Valens and Octavius, for he ever afterwards opposed them both in policy, and as Consul he ingloriously robbed the latter of his command and forced him to retire from public life in disgrace.
Ignoring Mercator's advice, Valens continued to pursue a general Italian alliance to surround the Romans. With bold promises of action he tempted the leading men of the Lucani to join with Etrusca in alliance, but could not get them to take to the field against Rome until the allies had struck. Octavius marched south and besieged the Picentii city of Perugia with the Auxillia but could achieve nothing of note against its stubborn defenders. Meanwhile the Roman Consul Fabius Maximus and the Picentii vassel forces inflicted several severe defeats on the Samnites and drove Brutus out of his homeland in disarray. This string of victories made Fabius too confident however. Swollen with his recent success and eager to finish Brutus and relieve Perugia for his vassals' sake, he ordered the Samnite capital of Bovianum to be stormed. The consul suffered a terrible defeat, with the flower of his men being cut to pieces at the gates. Some say that this was a plan of Brutus' all along and that he left behind a picked garrison whilst leading out the Samnite youth so as to harden them in petty skirmishes within the enemy's country. If so, he badly miscalculated, and almost brought disaster upon the Etrurians when he did not wait for their support.
The war now seemed to swing in favour of the policies of Valens, for the Samnites attacked the besiegers outside the city walls. The behavior of the Romans disgraced their proud city; for they fled before those they had previously beaten and left their Picentii allies as rearguard to shield them. Trapped between the garrison of Bovianum and the army of Brutus, the Picentii suffered an ignominious loss. [Editor's Note- the crucial Battle of Samnium/Bovianum (309 BC) swung events in favour of the Samnites and their allies and marked the high water-mark of Roman successes in Italy. After this an increasingly broad coalition of Greek and Italian states were mobilized to contain the expansionist republic]. The conduct of the Romans and their consul outside Bovianum so disgraced them in the eyes of all Italy that it allowed Valens to at last push the Lucani into honouring their treaty with arms. With Perugia on the verge of starvation, the Picentii at last consented to make terms. Though their undoubted valour had carried them to many victories in the field they had little to gain from renewing the struggle. Valens had managed to deprive the Romans of their only ally, and unite Italy against them. In this moment of seeming triumph he now ordered Octavius to march south to aid the Samnites who had borne so much of the burden of the war.
However the impatient Brutus could not restrain his hatred of his country's enemy and hazarded battle before the Etrurians arrived. Some say he believed that the glory of defeating the Romans was due the Samnites alone as they had suffered so many of the losses of the conflict. Whatever the reason, the Fabius met his deserved fate and was routed at the first Battle of Roma. Fleeing to Campania he found himself surrounded by the hostile forces of all three Italian allies. He hazarded a second desperate battle outside the walls of his capital but failed to break through the lines of the besiegers. Brutus destroyed the remnants of the Roman army outside Capua a few days later. The citizenship rolls and records of Rome in this period show how depleted the population became, for the public auction of the goods of the departed ceased afterwards, as there were too few buyers. The Etrurians and the Samnites restored the Picentii to their ancient liberties and laid siege to the cities of the Romans, determined to break the power of their confederacy once and for all.
However here chance undid all the hard work and plans of Valens, for, having achieved the near-impossible he was checked by Fate. A divine scrounge was loosed on all Italy in the form of the Semnones, a most warlike people who crossed into Cisalpine Gaul from the Gallia Narbonensis. It was the custom of these barbarians, like their Germanic cousins, to leave their homelands and swarm about as birds and bees do, in search of new lands whenever their numbers grew too great. With the unsettled state of Italy evident in the reports reaching their homes across the Alps, this people attacked the passes held by Valens' Greeks and massacred all who stood in their path. 160,000 strong, they crossed into Italy and all the peoples trembled. Yet these were but the first of the tribes to try their might against the Italians. Some evil god had let loose the movements of the barbarian peoples and they would wander unchecked for the next twenty years in search of new pastures. The ghosts of the Semnones, the Allobroges, the Menapii, the Quadi and the Lexovii are forever etched into Italy's memory.
In this crisis Valens proved himself a patriot first and a politician second. For though he was the first to gain from the end of the Romans, yet he was the first to speak out for peace and the return of the men to Tarquinia. For this he was bitterly denounced
by his enemies for not heeding their first advice to strike hard at Rome, not Perugia, and for now trapping the Auxillia between two hostile foes. The Samnites also accused him of the deepest treachery and of allowing them to do the fighting whilst he reaped the gain. This was his darkest hour, when even many in his own party deserted him. Yet history proved him right, for the enemy boiled like a raging sea into the country of the Picentii and ravaged poor Pergua, so lately relieved from the horrors of war. Weakened from their defeats in the war the men of Picentis could only hide behind the walls of their capital, and abandoned their second city to the Gallic conquerors. Encouraged by their easy victories the Semnones marched further south in hopes of more gain, and reached the walls of Rome, where the Samnites had replaced the Etrurians as besiegers. Though forewarned by Valens of the ferocity of the Semnones, Brutus underestimated their numbers. A lengthy battle ensued, which saw the victory fall to the Samnites, but so weakened their army they were forced to retreat to their own country and make a cold peace with their Roman enemies. Chastened and bloodied, the Gauls settled down to invest the Romans, who now found themselves besieged for the third time by outsiders at their own gates, and so far from masters of their own realm that foreigners fought battles on their sacred ground whilst they watched from their walls. The 1st Italian War thus ended in confusion, with the Samnites robbed of the just reward for their valour, and Italy as disunited in the end as in the beginning.
As his first consulship drew to a close Valens reflected on what could have been. He had restored the Republic to peace and relative safety, despite sacrificing potential opportunities to annex territory from its enemies and gain greater glory for the realm. He had acted in the best interests of the people, but had allowed his public career to suffer as a result. One last act remained to his consulship. He approved a law giving land to Etruscan veterans allowing them to settle beyond the northern frontiers of the state in Bononia. This policy of military settlement outside Etrusca became the hugely successful legacy of his first term and would expand the Republic to great and glorious heights. He retired from his post and returned to the Senate as a private citizen once more. But the sack of Rome occurred shortly after this, proving his decision to recall the legions and settle a buffer between Etruscan and Cisalpine Gaul to have been the wisest course. In Bononia around this time also, a horde of the Germanic Quadi crossed the Alps and were driven back in several hard-fought engagements by Octavius, Valens' old comrade and mentor.
The Semnones broke through the beleaguered Romans' defenses after a long siege and stormed into the city in by the thousands, inflicting a brutal sack of the entire area. For days afterwards, the citizens of Rome were subjected to mass slaughter, rape and enslavement by the merciless Gallic conquerors. The Semnones went on to pillage much of Samnium before General Brutus, once again the saviour of his country, broke their strength in second pitched battle. The Romans themselves were so reduced in numbers they were forced to extend their citizenship to their mountain cousins, the rustic Sabini. The two peoples were interbred because the early Romans, being in part descended from the Trojans who fled with Aeneas to Italy had, a short time after the founding of their city, stolen the daughters of their neighbors from that country and married them, thus becoming a mixed race. The outbreak of peace in Italy and the renewed threat of Gallic and Germanic incursions from the north led the people to reconsider their formerly harsh opinion of Valens' leadership and he was much praised for his handling of events.
However the ancient Etrurians still held to the rule that a man could not hold the Consulship twice within ten years, designed to prevent the office becoming monarchical. Therefore whilst he was thus blocked from the supreme office, he used his oratory and powers of persuasion to have elected his distant cousin Tertius Vitellius Vitalis to the Consulship. This man, afterwards so often his party enemy, is widely held to have followed his cousin's direction in his first term, strengthening the Auxilla and encouraging popular expressions of religion. Valens always paid the most scrupulous attention to omens in matters of public business, believing his affairs held a certain grace about them that reflected the attentions of benevolent higher beings. Vitellius and Valens also checked the higher spirits amongst the Estruscans when they would have declared war in response to the kingdom of Picentis and Romans re-establishing their old alliance in Italy. For the same reason they had welcomed the conquest and annexation of the southern Ager Brutii some years previously by their Lucanii allies, for the Brutii had remained aloof from the quarrels of Italy and offered the allies no aid in the war. The affairs of Italy would remain settled as long as no party grew too strong at another's expense and to them the main threat now seemed to come from the savage north.
The end of the first consulship of Vitalis came with the fall of the hopes of Valens for continued peace for the Republic. A third horde of savages, known as the Allobroges, crossed from Gaul into Liguria, seeking to settle in that wild country. But the Etruscan city of Volaterrae proved too tempting to the tribesmen, and they marched into the Republic and invested the city. This confederacy, whose numbers were estimated at 170,000, was the largest to ever enter Italy. Even by scraping together every Auxillia veteran that he could Octavius could only muster a third of the men. He had an old commander's patience however, a quality barbarians are notably lacking in. He knew from hard experience at Perugia how long a besieged city can take to fall, and planned accordingly. The Allobroges, being in some want of food to feed their vast numbers could not afford a long wait outside the walls. Octavius therefore directed the Etrurians to mass behind the besiegers and attempt the baggage train with their treasure and women as soon as the enemy attacked the walls. Contemptuous of the small numbers of Auxillia behind them the Allobroges soon made ready to storm the walls of Volaterrae. Octavius waited until they were fully committed, then fell against their rearguard and swiftly put it to flight. As his men began plundering the women and the baggage the Allobroges began to panic and scatter hither and thither with their families. The horde dispersed into the hills in rout. However, in the confused pursuit the Auxillia lost its order of battle and Octavius was glad to let many Gauls escape in order to hold the field and regroup his men. The Gallic survivors retreated into Liguria to lick their wounds and recover.
The affairs of Valens and his clique now a less propitious turn in the Senate. The conduct of Octavius in the field had not been inglorious, either against barbarians or Italians, yet he was lacking an offensive spirit. Few generals have won so many victories for so little gain, and an impression had grown amongst the tribes north of the Alps that one could march into Italy with no fears of retaliation against Gaul. There was justified criticism of Valens for his support of the Auxillia leader and his aristocratic enemies in the Senate now took this chance to reduce his influence within the commonwealth. The bombastic Secundus Claudius Mercator became the new Consul at the elections that year. He promptly removed Octavius from command and replaced him with himself. Ashamed of this public disgrace, Octavius withdrew to his estate and never again held military command. The humiliation of his mentor strongly angered Valens against Mercator and fuelled their bitter party rivalry. This mutual jealousy would poison Etruscan politics for the next two decades and balance the life of the Republic of a knife's edge; such are the volatile natures of great and ambitious men.
After the battle of Volaterrae, the Allobroges had made common cause with the native inhabitants of Liguria. Reinforced and re-provisioned, they then persuaded their old neighbors the Menapii to join them in a new invasion of Italy. As has been recounted in the Life of Mercator, their confederacy became a great scourge of the republic and was only finally defeated at great cost and after much further loss of life. During their second invasion of Etrusca, the Gauls did not make the mistake of attempting a siege but sought out the Auxillia repeatedly for pitched battles until at last through weight of numbers they wore it down and drove Consul Mercator back to the capital. The Allobroges and their allies laid waste to the whole country north of the Tarquinia and besieged the major Etruscan towns there. In this moment of national crisis, when all sensible men were rallying around General Mercator for one last desperate effort, Valens weakly petitioned surrender to the Allobroges to save the city, and the replacement of Mercator with another general [Editor's note- Mercator's allies tried to pass a motion in the Senate to declare to give the Consul dictatorial powers to deal with the invasion. Valens blocked this but was unable to remove his rival from power]. As is recorded in his Life, Mercator defeated this proposal with the help of Tertius Vitellius Vitalis. A military man as well as a politician, Vitellius realized what many did not; by separating to ravage the countryside the Allobroges had over-stretched themselves, and were vulnerable to a hard counter-strike.
I have covered the events of the Allobroge invasion more fully in my 'Life of Secundus Claudius Mercator' but I will recount them again briefly here. Mercator led out the men of Tarquinia and went on to relieve the northern settlements one after the other. The general won Liguria for the Republic and settled it with his own veterans to ensure its defence. He then built the Bononian Wall to fortify Bononia against future attacks from the north-east and, in his greatest victory yet, he slaughtered ninety thousand Germans of the Quadi tribe who had migrated into Bononia around this time. The remnants of the tribe were pursued into the mountains, where the men were slain and the women and children captured and sold for the profit of the victorious army. Known in the histories as the 'Great Crisis', these years cemented the reputation of Mercator, gaining him the cognomen Audax, or 'the Valiant'. But the toll of the war had been disastrous for the Republic's population. In Tarquinia alone, three houses in ten had no paterfamilias. Widows and other independent females took up the role under no masculine protection, and this unnatural arrangement long sapped the state of much of its authority and manly vigor. After the Great Crisis, citizens no longer split so much among classes, but between the contrasting approaches of the partisans of Valens and the followers of Mercator. In the Senate, between Valens and Vitalis there was bitter discord. The people trusted Valens the more with their liberties after his stand against dictatorship in the recent disturbances. However his party was split by the defection of Vitalis to the so-called Mars Imperito faction of Mercator. These still dreamed of an Italian future for the republic, one that Valens had denied them with his handling of the 1st Italian War.
Clearly another war in Italy was untenable for the Etrurians after their great losses in Mercator's consulship. Paradoxically therefore the victories of Mercator worked to strengthen the rival Pax Etruria party of Valens. His belief was that further wars would be calamitous to the fragile Republic and that a peaceful colonial expansion towards the northern Alps would be in Etrusca's best interests. Pax Etruria advocates thought that by civilizing the Gauls of Liguria and Bononia, raising up their humble cities and perhaps eventually even extending settlements to the far side of the Alps, they could permanently solve the country's shortage of men and protect Etrusca from barbarian menace once and for all. It was men of this party that governed during most of the consulships in the decade following the Great Crisis. They set out to promote peaceful internal development of the newly acquired northern territories, which had doubled the size of the state. Temples were built for the Etruscan Gauls to bring them into the worship of the true Gods. Their sons were trained in the Etruscan way of war, and inducted into the warrior societies of the Auxillia, where they flourished. The arms of the state became formidable once again. The forums of the northern cities were expanded and trade between them flourished along the viae publicae.
As time passed the people began to recover from the wars, safe behind the Bononian Wall. Valens ended his second Consulship at this time, estimating the rolls of citizens eligible to bear arms at ninety thousand, twenty thousand higher then before the Allobroges' incursion. He therefore declared the republic recovered from the Crisis and stepped down at peace that his efforts had borne fruit. During the term of his Mars Imperito successor Spurius Horatius Gorgonius, he frustrated the Consul's aim to entangle the Republic in a second Italian war, but his influence declined as his cousin Vitalis lured the younger men away from him. The principles of Pax Etruria in the end gave the state the strength Mars Imperito required to attempt their glorious division of Italy with the Greeks. Valens' final achievement was to legislate expanding the citizenship to the inhabitants of Bononia, a first in Etruscan history. This legal principle gradually allowed the republic to progressively civilize and bind the disparate peoples it encountered into itself. If Mercator can be seen as the saviour of the Etruscan republic, Valens was the author of the success of the Etruscan way of life that has spread itself all the way around Our Sea. After the Lex Bononia passed his cousin is held to have eclipsed his power with the Senate, being elected Consul for a second time for the Mars Imperito party. At this time Mercator Audax also finally pacified the Gauls, utterly crushing an insurrection by the Lexovii tribe. No more raids came from Gaul while he lived, so deadly was his name amongst them. The quietness of the north at last allowed the Etrurians to look south at their weakened Italian neighbors with acquisitive eyes.
Valens is said to have retired quietly from major business in the Senate after he passed the Lex Bononia, for he was by then passed fifty, and had over twenty years of turbulent political activities behind him. We do not hear of his active involvement in the 2nd Italian War his cousin succeeded in launching, yet it was some five years after he was last consul. In his role as elder statesman it cannot have been launched without his approval, which in my mind accounts for the long delay before war. It is known that he passed peacefully away at his villa in Tarquina some years after the struggle ended, and would therefore have lived to see his country triumphant over Rome and head of the united Italy that he had always dreamed of [Editor's note: Plutarch is referring to the Bovianum League which cemented Etruscan hegemony over the petty states of southern Italy, and to the Treaty of Syracuse, which divided the peninsula between the Greeks and the Etrurians and allowed the republic to concentrate on reducing its northern barbarian neighbours]. He continued to attend the public business until his final winter. On his death the Senate voted a public funeral with costs paid, and a statue honouring the deceased to be placed in the public square. This could still be seen in our day, though it has been moved to the field of Mars since the expansion of the second forum. It is a simple toga-clad figure holding a scroll of law, its expression quiet and placid. Such was the unassuming nature of leaders in the early days of the republic.
Life of Baalmilco Rex
In contrast to the life of Valens I have chosen the life of Baalmilco the Carthaginian [Editors note: Probably an adopted later in life, the name loosely translated from the Punic means 'Lord-King'] because of all the great ancient tyrants, he holds forth the clearest example of how the private ambition of a single man of strong enough will may corrupt and enslave the entirety of a commonwealth beneath him. Just as young people may be said to better appreciate a good grapes of an excellent vintage if they have tasted the bitterness of the bad, so might we profit from examining the example of a man whose private vices overwhelmed his public duty before judging the qualities of his opposites. Whilst the quarreling ambitions of Valens and Mercauter may have been said to have confused and constricted the policies of the Etrurians, they placed the fortunes of the commonwealth above their own, and restricted their rivalries to speeches on the steps of the forum. Baalmilco, through foreign wars and by exciting the people and the better men against each other, overthrew the state and placed the sources of power into his own hands. So successful was he in this endeavor that his tyranny was passed unbroken into the hands of his son, and his grandson was named king. His progeny continued to rule all Carthage as kings, for a hundred and sixty years until the city's destruction by the Etrurians in the Third Carthaginian War.
When the tyrant was a young man, his city was in the full vigor of its strength. The swords and the sails of the Carthaginians had won for them the lands of the coast between the mouth of Our Sea and Egypt, and also the islands of Malta, Sardinia and Corsica. Colonies were planted in the west of Sicily and south of Spain. The barbarians of Spain and Africa supplied the Carthaginians armies with great numbers of warlike peoples, they themselves being wont to take only to war on the greatest or most hazardous of occasions. Its pomp and splendor were unmatched in the West, and rivaled the luxurious capitals of the Diadochi themselves. The wealth the heirs of Alexander draped themselves in from ruinous wars of despotism, came to the free city of Carthage through trade and tribute [Editor's note: Plutarch exaggerates here. 4th century Carthage had a strong oligarchic element and an overseas empire that required a large standing army to maintain].
At this time a mixture of oligarchs and democrats governed the Carthaginian state, a republic having existed there since ancient times. The chief office of Suffet passed between the leading men of the landholding and maritime families. The Gerousia [Editor's note:gerousia in the Greek tongue, meaning an assembly of elders] and the people were in flux, now attending the calls of the freehold (the landed gentry) men and now the voices of the merchants. In matters of the state the populists among the people would excite the public's mind with visions of bread and games paid for by the city's holdings and the tribute paid by allies. The great merchant families, of a more conservative nature, would argue for the steadier course of trade wealth and avoidance of the risks of shedding blood. The landed gentry would steer a middle course but often sent younger sons into the army or the colonies. This is how the young Baalmilco began his career in Spain and he is said to have distinguished himself several times in the valor of his actions and the boldness of his speech.
Baalmilco's exploits in Spain earned him the regard of Eshmun, a man who frequently held the office of general and was of the most excellent linage and reputation amongst the Carthaginians of the time. It was through this Eshmum that he made the acquaintance of many of the leading citizens and became known to the people. At the end of his military service he was elevated to the Senate by them [Editor's note- while we do not know much about his early exploits in Spain, that this occurred despite his being under the strict age limit required to join this august body indicates his political star was rising]. As senator, he attached himself to ranks of the populists as a client of Eshmun, and always spoke for the people and against the oligarchic party. His disdain of the luxurious and the wealthy earned him a bad reputation with the men of the merchant families, but seems to have been unfeigned. Baalmilco does not seemed to have been interested in wealth beyond its power to add to his own fame in public life, and this was what he truly craved. One of his most infamous remarks was that wealth flowed from power not the other way round, because those who are wealthy cannot remain long so unless they have strength enough to keep it.
The overthrow of the constitutional government was at length accomplished in the following way. The pretext given out was the murder of the lawful Suffet by men claimed as his slaves. The actual reason was the growth in the influence of men of property from Spain, and of the soldiers who had served there. Spain held abundant wealth and lands for its colonizers, but the state treated it as a source of revenue to state the baser appetites of the people, taxing its produce heavily and favoring the Mediterranean goods of the established families. The government, preferring to placate the native Spanish chieftains with silver rather then fight them with gold, was slow in authorizing the expansion of settlements and neglected their defenses in favor of garrisons against the Greeks in Sicily. This arrangement suited the interests of the old noble class of Carthage for several decades, but as the 'Punic-Spanish' grew in wealth and power they became better able to defend themselves and to despise the state of affairs that kept them the lesser men within the Empire. It was a feeling shared among the military men, who chafed at the inaction of life in camp in Sicily or Africa against the fame and fortune that a career of action in Spain could afford them. As the strength of the landholding families in Spain grew, the Senate slowly became factionalised and turbulent. A complicated tug-of-war began between the parties to control the destiny of the city, until the Punic-Spanish side, deciding it no longer cared to share an unequal burden, took up arms and threw down the other.
Using their influence over time the Spanish plotters had arraigned for many of their military supporters to be placed within the leading offices of the government. The chief of these, Baalmilco, was voted the office of general of the city and it was through this august office he subsequently disgraced himself with his illegal actions against the state. For it was he who gave the order that had the-then Suffet assassinated, some say by his own slaves, and as his deputy, who appointed his former patron Eshmun to the newly vacant post (first having modestly declining it for himself). The older man would be one of his staunchest supporters in the coming tyranny. Blaming the sordid business on a foiled plot by the oligarchic faction to abolish the ancient office of the Suffet and remove the liberties of the people, Eshmun allowed Baalmilco's appointment as Dictator [Editor's note- supreme military leader for six months, during which time civil liberties and trials were suspended]. The garrison of the city went over to the usurpers for a modest fee and the Carthaginians' main forces were engaged abroad in a new Spanish war. The barbarian peoples had been provoked to action by new Carthaginian colonies, cynically planted where they would stir the maximum native unrest. Of the Senate, a few of the best men were imprisoned when their opposition to the new government became disagreeable, and some were executed for the murder of the old Suffet. The rest capitulated with little struggle, the seizure of power being almost effortless and seemingly more a change within the government then of it.
The Baalmilco remained in power for the rest of his life, behind a façade of constitutional procedure. For during the dictatorship, which did away with the old Senate as an instrument of oligarchy, he appointed a nine-strong council for the public safety and made himself its head when he became a private citizen again. The council made all the appointments of government, the policies of state and the monetary decisions, and Baalmilco controlled the council, for it was his genius to balance the great families against each other, now favoring one with high office, now another. He had a great many sons and daughters and he married them well, and tied many into his web of patronage. His choice of heir also reassured the nobility, for he was a simple and sickly fellow, apparently unsuited to a life of high office, and this reassured many who feared the name of Monarchy if not its substance. Baalmilco even pardoned and allowed to return to office those who had broken away from the empire to form their own domains or revolted against the payment of their taxes.
For when the state was overturned many thought to create their own private realms rather then restore the proper constitutional order [Editor's note- this seems to refer to the wave of revolts against Carthage that were staged in reaction to the coup throughout the Mediterranean and Africa. These rebellions, by subject peoples and also Carthaginian supporters of the ousted aristocratic faction, wrested large tracks of territory away from central control. The rump of the center was insufficiently prepared to contain the chaos its hard-line policies had created and protracted civil wars would rage on for another two decades], and the tyranncy lost all its island provinces and was threatened by war even within the bounds of Spain and Africa. So for the longest time the power of the government see-sawed, now advancing out to the provinces, now retreating back as a fresh crop of disasters or desertions arose. Baalmilco therefore did not seek to rule with great cruelty, but rather corrupted the Carthaginians with luxury, mildness and clemency. This was his saving, for the people and the better citizens tolerated his rule as the only glue holding the body politic together through the storm of revolt and revolution he had brought down upon the empire. However in the longer run it was disastrous for the health of the state. With the taxes of whole cities were remitted to curb popular unrest, and the revenues of the treasury turned over to buying the loyalty of the provincial leaders the cities became neglected and crumbled for want of the money to upkeep them. The leading men became debauched and enslaved to silver, and the people became insolent against them and riotous from want. The native peoples everywhere were haughty and despised those who feared to take this chance to throw off the foreign yoke. The West came to resemble the petty states of the East, with constant squabbles and no honorable bargain kept.
This turmoil, with events to numerous to account for here, consumed the Carthaginians for over a generation and did not fully end until the monarchy was proclaimed in the time of his grandson Baalmilco I. While this occurred the city was unable to contest its claims to Sicily, nor to forestall the emerging order in Italy under the Etruscan republic. As with the sacking and ruination of our bitterest foe (Rome) by the savage Semnones, we can see the divine hand guiding the rise of our most glorious country at its tenderest stages [Editor's note- Plutarch was born near Chaeronia in Greece in A.D. 46, but he took Etruscan citizenship in later life]. This perhaps was the true legacy of Baalmilco to our time, for he weakened his nation even with a mild despotism, and the strength and wealth of an empire are as nothing compared to the advantages of a healthy body politic [Editor's note: Plutarch was a believer in a mixed system of democracy and oligarchy, which he believed guarded against both one-man rule and political anarchy and infighting. The fate of the city-states in his native Greece under the successor states of Alexander's empire illustrated countless negative examples of either tendency]. An example of which I will show with the Life I mentioned at the beginning of this work, the Life of Valens.
Comparing Baalmilco I & Spurius Vitellius Valens
How then do Valens and Baalmilco seem against the other? If we took physical courage for a virtue we should have to declare the Carthaginian the stronger. Baalmilco served in Spain and won plaudits for his exploits there against the native Spaniards. He was general several times amongst them, including the time he declared the tyranny. Valens never took to the field except in the Senate. His gift was for oratory, not battle. His most courageous action was to deny the dictatorship to Mercator when he most pressed for its use. But here fear of his private enemy may equally have fuelled his public action. Myself I subscribe to the opinion of Nicias who says that physical courage is to be admired in itself but can be placed in the service of vice or virtue equally. However I will add its lack can also feed rash and foolish actions. Valens betrayed his country with his proposal to secede its northern cities to the Allobroges which, had he succeeded, would have prevented his country's glorious rise to prominence and left it cowering under the boots of Gallic savages. However the error of Valens was aborted by the counter-actions of Mercator, who thus rescued the state from the feebleness of his opponent. Here we can see the strength of a republican form of government over a tyranny, in that it is the system most likely to resist an unbalanced course of action such as Valens'. When Baalmilco destroyed the legitimate authorities of his country he not only sickened it with the diseases of arbitrary government and the corruption such unchecked power spawns, he left it's policies dependent upon the judgments of a single, fallible man.
But we are not here to compare governments but men. Valens held strong beliefs and stood by them. Yet he was not afraid to admit mistakes, or to turn his plans upon their head if the course of events demanded it. We see this most clearly in his stunning renunciation of victory in the 1st Italian War of which he had been a principle author. By contrast Baalmilco was an opportunist who held fast to no convictions but was content to exploit those of others in order to reach accommodation with them. He but slew several who opposed his path in political life, preferring to co-opt rather then kill his enemies. It is said that he feared the pollution such actions could bring. Valens is innocent of any political murder, even suffering his own interests to be replaced by a cousin who betrayed him in the Senate, though he maybe blamed for excessive partisanship in the Great Crisis. Nonetheless all his life he held the laws of the republic to be above men, and defended them when others would have undermined the state, though with the best of intentions. The future looks back kindly upon him in part because his action prevented the office of Consul becoming a bulwark of tyranny in the fashion of the office of the Suffet. In this we can credit him the greater grasp of human nature and how it can pervert the long-term interests of a noble people, for he led the Etrurians to their second Golden Age whilst Baalmilco led his first to the soft chains of the monarchy but thence to their doom at the hands of the Etruscan republic.
Both men where held to be extremely likeable by those around them. Baalmilco was said to be most charming in conversation, and had a strong memory for faces and names that allowed him to flatter and amuse clients and patrons alike. He was said to be of a cordial disposition when at ease, and disliked the appearance of domestic disharmony so much so that when his first wife was past her child-bearing years and had begun to be shrewish, instead of setting her aside as any another man had done, he had built across the city a second house and from there would visit her after the close of business at the forum. By all accounts they maintained a cordial relationship well into his old age, though by this time it was the son of his second wife (or, some say, his mistress Dido the Courtesan) who was placed to succeed him. Thus it was that the tyranny he built was more seductive than cruel, and through this way was able to transform itself slowly into a monarchy, as the people became lulled into submission through the passage of time and the deaths of those who remembered the days of true freedom.
Valens was of a sterner appearance, especially to those he did not know. This stemmed partly from his own upright character, which would not tolerate impropriety or immodesty within his roof, and also from the constant care that battles for political office forced upon his brow. While still a young man of thirty-three he was said to have shown a friend the lines of white in his hair and made a rueful remark that each represented a piece of the public business steered past the shoals of the Senate. When the hair was fully white he pledged to retire for fear of future baldness. He is known to have been extremely loyal to those around him, but always to have reminded them to remember the names of their ancestors and city when acting in private life. His dislike of Mercator partly stemmed from the man's actions against his beloved mentor Octavius but were also aggravated by the general's love of boasting, his fondness for wine and his corruption of the people with public feasts and Bacchanalian revelries, which in the opinion of Valens undermined the general respect for morals and established religion. There is no evidence that the Carthaginian was more then ordinarily respectful of the gods, but Valens is famous for his introduction of religious rites into public life and his subsequent pronouncements against those Senators whose actions polluted the public buildings in which the rites had been held.
From this we may conclude that Baalmilco was the more sociable but less trustworthy of the pair. His anarchic spirit we may judge by its other activities well enough. The mind of Valens was more balanced and nuance, capable of greater vision and spiritual depths. But his spirit sometimes lacked the greatness of his mind, a flaw of which no man can accuse the tyrant, who set up a dynasty lasting near two hundred years. In the end we must judge them by their legacies. Valens was but one leader amongst several whereas Baalmilco was greater then all the rest of the Carthaginians. Yet the star of Carthage waned in the east as the sun of Etrusca rose in the west.
Life of Secundus Claudius Mercator
As the old saying 'A lion does not lie down with mice,' has it, so we may speak of this man and his life. Perhaps the greatest Italian general of his age, he was certainly the most trusted by the commonwealth to direct its citizens in war. His is the character that has been the most difficult to research of all the volumes of my Lives, for his virtues are not my own and his vices were many and strong. His career was dominated by the great conflicts of his time and by his personal feuds [Editor's Note- Mercator was a fierce political rival and personal enemy of the Etruscan 'First Man' Spurius Vitellius Valens, Plutarch's role-model of a republican leader]. His talents lent themselves to the fields of battle rather then the steps of the Senate or the rostrum of the forum and in a peaceful age he would have passed on after an uneventful and insignificant life. Instead we remember him for his revival of the Etruscan Auxillia, which became the finest fighting force on the Italian peninsula, and his arms, which drove the barbarians from Italy forever and finally secured lastly unity and stability in Italy. He also attempted to seize the government to himself, lost the sacred buildings of the capital to a foreign enemy, and twice almost wrecked the ship of state on the rocks of his pride and vaunting ambitions. I can commend his ambitions but not the lengths he went to gain them.
Secundus Claudius Mercator was born into a plebian family of good birth and character, and was adopted into the patricians at an early age, on the initiative of his distant relative Primus Claudius Mercator. Primus himself lacked an heir and his plebian relations, though not poor, where grateful to see the stock of their bloodline raised up at so little cost to themselves. Though the aristocracy of Etrusca was not so strong as it had been during the Golden Age two centuries before, yet these were still not the times when a Novus Homo [Editor's Note- literally a 'New Man'], could establish himself in the affairs of Tarquinia without a noble name or a patron. Mercator would live to see such times and flourish in them, but the name of his adoptive family was necessary to make his way into public life. As was traditional for the Mercator family, he was inducted into the army at seventeen and began a life-long career in the military. It is said that he got his first taste of war as youth against the Mecentii tribe. These wandering Gauls were raiding the colonies of Etrusca for a time, until the elders of the Senate bought off the tribe and conspired with his younger brothers to kill its chief. The young Mercator, in a fit of shame at this cowardly behavior, swore never to see such a disgrace repeated in his country so long as he lived. Here we may see the budding promise of his youth, because while barbarians may be gulled by gold and a gilded tongue for a short span, in the end they will always return to try their arms. The sword is the only sure defense against such peoples.
The state at the time was in a mean condition and precariously placed between enemies north and south. As the Picentii, the Samnites and the Romans vied with each other for mastery in Italy the Etruscans stayed in their homes and let their swords rust. It was only the turmoil of the times which kept one of the southern Italian states from swallowing their feeble northern neighbor. To their former vassals the Romans our now-glorious republic was the Publica Inferior, for these people despised their old masters and longed for the day when they would be free to avenge the crimes of Tarquin, the last king of Rome [Editor's note- Rome at this time was a Hellenic-influenced republic but two centuries earlier (Until 509 B.C.) had been ruled over by a royal family backed by the Etruscan state]. The number of the populace had so declined that the Auxillia was barely manned enough to drive away the wild incursions of the Gauls and the Germans. Arguments raged in the Senate as to which of the southern powers the Etruscans should place state under the protection of. I am told that in his youth, the gifted Spurius Valens was a member of the pro-Samnite party. Rejecting this feeble-minded folly Mercator joined a small noble group of philosophical youths who followed the preachings of Atticus and his call to emulate of the heroic lives of the ancient Trojan heroes [Editor's Note- this seems unlikely as the Etrurians of this time were much less influenced by the culture of their Italian Greek neighbors than the Romans or other central and southern Italian states. Atticus in any case means 'Man of Attica' in ancient Greek, suggesting an Athenian origin for this teacher. While the Etrurians had absorbed some Italian Greek religious and political ideas by this time (Such as organization into city-states) there is no evidence to suggest contacts with any Athenians]. Inspired to live by the examples of legend, many members would go on to join the warlike Mars Imperato party of later years, dedicated to reverse the course of their country's declining fortunes with blood and iron.
At first, despite the depth of their commitment and the wealth of their houses, their age denied them the opportunity to act upon such grand schemes. The levers of power were in the hands of their fathers and grandfathers. There did however remain one path open to them, that of action and warlike adventure. Through examples of their courage on the field of battle they attempted to inspire the Etrurians to higher dreams in the theatre of war, and in a sense they may have been said to have succeeded because the insolent barbarian incursions were from this time firmly defied by the people, who clamored to be led out in defense of their homes and farms by their generals. Though the Gauls and Germans would continue their raids, the wild regions of Italy around Etrusca (Liguria and Bononia) were increasingly tamed and opened to Etruscan civilizing influence, in the forms of trade and settlement. Under the youthful generalship of Quintus Octavius Ignatius, the Ultic Germans were given a crushing defeat in the country around the foothills of the Southern Alps. My sources cannot agree on this battle's location- Polyibus says it was near the town of Ligurus, but others claim the mountain pass of Silia. Whichever, the result was that Etrusca was spared from the German or Gallic wrath for more than a decade. Around this time of peace, Mercator, his bored and restless self still eager for action, left the army and tried to qualify for the Senate and political office.
This took him some time, even with his adopted father's wealth and prestige. The standards for the ancient Senate were stricter then for our expanded Senate today, and the membership was strictly controlled through the property qualification and the moral rigor of the Censors. Party strife had not yet begun to dominate what was still a select and unremarkable body reigning over a small country whose best days were behind it. This was to change dramatically over the course of the turbulent career of Mercator within its walls. He always remained disgruntled by his treatment at the hands of the Censors and the elders of the ruling families at the dawn of his career. Only late in life, after being voted the father of his country, did he feel he had achieved his due from his countrymen. They however, fearing his youthful wildness and the autocratic habits he had developed in the Auxillia might lead him to attempt the state and impose a tyranny, delayed his promotion to the Senate a full five years, until it was judged his standing within the Auxillia had declined from the passage of time. He was forced to make a degrading living as a wine merchant in Tarquinia, during which time it was rumored that he debauched himself with his own wares and had more of a personal intimacy with his own family slaves then was respectable. Others claim this was spread by his enemies to undermine his standing with the people, who he always treated generously at feast days. At last, with the Romans and the Samnites beginning their bloody contest for central Italy, it was felt his skills might be useful and he was allowed to enter into official political life.
Mercator entered the Senate at a time when the fortunes of Italy to change radically within the space of a few years. He was a fire-breathing militarist whose efforts to change the direction of the state had been frustrated by oligarchs and democrats alike. The populists charged him with war-mongering, taking the fathers and sons of the people and shedding their blood for no good cause save enhancing his own reputation. The oligarchs feared his course would bring disaster down upon their farms and property from the Romans or others, and destroy their plentiful prosperity. Etrusca should guard Italy from the north as it always had, they believed, and ally with whoever was strongest inside the peninsula. So often will men sell their liberty for imagined safety. Mercator would have none of this. Only war could make the Etrurians strong again, and give them the safety they so desired.
After the Romans reduced Picentis to a vassal and defeated the Samnites in the Roman-Samnite War [Editor's note- the prelude to the 1st Italian War], the Samnites were forced to pay a heavy fine for the cost of the war. Incensed at their treatment and situation they deposed the leaders who had led them previously and appointed Faustus Julius Brutus general to find allies and renew the war at a suitable time. The strength of the Romans had begun to alarm the other Italian states, but at the same time their prowess intimidated, and bought consent for their further expansion. Mercator was firmly in favour of war however, and so, after a visit from Brutus in which he allegedly bribed the leadership of the populists, was the Consul Spurius Valens. The men were not at this time enemies, or even well known to one another. Mercator was far below Valens, who at this time was enjoying the first great successes of his career. This did not stop the lowly Senator from publicly lecturing the Consul on matters of strategy once war was declared. Valens is said to have replied that a wise state left the matters of war to generals and policy to the statesmen and proceeded to ignore Mercator's advice to strike directly at Rome before it could muster its forces.
I have covered the events of the 1st Italian War elsewhere in the Life of Valens. Mercator did not play any significant part in the course of events, though he did serve bravely under Octavius in several battles [Editor's Note- Mercator would go on to serve as Army Quaestor in 303 B.C., right before the second major barbarian invasion by the Allobroges tribal confederacy. Plutarch minimizes his military role here to focus on his leadership in the Senate]. The general made no great use of him, confirming Mercator's opinion of him as an enemy. He returned to the Senate unhappy with the peace that ended the war and determined to wrestle control of affairs out of the hands of the populists, who had dominated the state in recent years, and into the hands of the inchoate war faction. In this mission he found many friends and adherents disappointed with the state of affairs in Italy. The arrival of the Semnones into Italy and the sack of Perugia caused a panic to sweep Etrusca, but when it became clear that the barbarians were intent upon the south, rejoicing broke out and support for Valens and his populists was higher then ever. Many of his friends became downcast, thinking that the time for action had past. Mercator refused to despair however, and spent his time in the Senate lambasting them for inaction while their allies the Samnites battled Rome and the Gauls both. The success of the Semnones revealed the weakness of Italy after years of intestinal conflict and triggered a wave of barbarian invasions into Etrusca. The republic was divided between those who blamed Valens for failing to make an example of the first horde, and those who held that without his ordering the Auxillia back to Etrusca he would have doomed the republic.
Mercator himself energetically prorogated the first position, and by now had begun to get himself noticed, though as much for his generous feasting of the people as his views. As the war continued it grew increasingly serious, into what later historians would call the 'Great Crisis' of the republic. General Octavius was prosecuting the war with no great vigour and for the first time Mercator's star began to rise as he found his interests aligning with those of the conservative aristocracy. They had traditionally viewed the northern threat as more serious to the interests of the commonwealth, since barbarians were less likely to see the need for wealthy local collaborators to entrench their rule, but simply kill, plunder and move on. Others, favoring oligarchy over democracy, welcomed the chance to check the fortunes of the populists, who had dominated the offices of state since the rise of Valens, with the Meractor's militarists. The bungled pursuit of the Allobroges tribe by General Octavius after his victory at Volaterrae gave them their chance. Using Octavius' failure as an example of a string of missed opportunities, the Senate voted to strip the distinguished General of his command and confer it upon Mercator. Recently elevated to Consul, yet with little political experience, these Senatorial intrigues resulted in combining the highest office of state and the highest military office in the body of one man.
That this proved to be a temptation to such a man as Mercator is no surprise, but one cannot help but blame those that would put the selfish short term needs of their class over the long-term needs of the citizenry. Tragically this kind of jealousy is seen in democracies and oligarchies both. In the first the mob leads and the better men must pander to it in the hope of keeping its fickle favor. Under the latter the strength of the state is undermined within by the fear between the many ruled and the few rulers. Philosophers can only conclude that it is the mix of democracy and aristocracy that avoids the extremes of class resentment that build up and eventually poison other body politics. Even then constant vigilance is required for liberty to flourish [Editor's note- Plutarch's ideal political system had an aristocratic and a popular component that theoretically acted as a check upon each other. In his opinion this preserved the privileges of the nobility whilst preventing the rise of a single monarchical or populist figure]. In Etrusca at this time, it nearly fell into tyranny but for the virtue of Valens in resisting it. Had the republic fallen, we would have Mercator as an Etruscan example to rival the villainous tyrant of Carthage, Baalmilco I, whose Life I have written elsewhere. As it is, his greatest splendors began after his moment of greatest infamy. This I will now relate.
Mercator succeeded to a command that would need every bit of his natural boldness and daring, but he replaced a cautious and experienced commander, popular with his men for his care with their lives and his many victories. Indeed we may blame Octavius here for it began to seem that he prized the existence of the Auxillia over the existence of the state, forgetting an army is there to serve the needs of the city, not the city the needs of the army [Editor's Note- Octavius had recently defeated two previous tribal invasions, from Germany and Gaul. The fractious state of Italy in this period made it a target for frequent tribal raids after slaves and plunder]. The new general's brash and arrogant manner did not endear him to those used to the stern yet courteous Octavius, whose dismissal in the middle of an active campaign that had seen nothing but victories was unprecedented. Mercator also faced a foe that had learned from their defeat at the Siege of Volaterrae and engaged in Fabian tactics [Editor's Note- a reference to the roving guerrilla tactics engaged in during the 1st Italian War by Roman Consul Fabius Maximus after the Battle of Samnium in an effort to avoid a decisive battle]. The barbarians avoided a decisive encounter whilst using their superior numbers to wear down the Auxillia in skirmishes and ambuscades. Naturally aggressive, Mercator further exhausted his men by rapid marches around the country as he tried to respond to each incursion while it occurred.
The course of the war was as follows; hearing of the change of commander, and wishing to test the mettle of their new foe, the Allobroges struck at Volaterrae as soon as the snows began to melt. They also sent embassies to their old neighbours the Menapii to persuade them to in the conquest and subjugation of Etrusca. Mercator intercepted the Gauls some distance from the city. The barbarians drew up into a battle-line, but the hard winter in Liguria had depleted them of cavalry and many of them were on foot. The broken nature of the countryside made their advance unwieldy and uneven. Mercator noticed that the enemy's left wing was advancing ahead of the right and ordered his light infantry to shower the enemy there with a double volley of javelins. This discomforted the barbarians and further disordered their line. Before they could recover Mercator personally led the Auxillia's right in a charge against the Gallic left, which was forced into the Allobrogian centre. The result was that the enemy were thrown everywhere into disorder and driven back with great slaughter. Forty-thousand of the barbarians were slain in this battle, and five thousand of the Etruscans. The Auxillia was swiftly victorious in the field but lost many experienced soldiers in rash pursuit of the Gauls through the crags and gullies of the wilderness beyond Volaterrae.
This victory was thrown away scant weeks later through the rashness of his own folly. Determined to pursue the Allobroges to their utter destruction he pushed swiftly north after the horde. Complacent and neglectful of the enemy, owing to their mean and ill-disciplined nature and the Etruscans' many victories over them, he ignored reports from his legates that the Gauls were collecting fresh levies of troops from the men of Gallia Cisalpina and other warlike nations. He divided his troops into two columns to better scout after the defeated foe and instead marched into a narrow defile and a Gallic ambuscade. The first column of the army was entirely inside the pass when the ambush was discovered, and was almost entirely lost. Through hard fighting and a difficult and arduous night march, Mercator was able to escape the jaws of the trap and preserve the remnants of his men in the second column. The men of the Auxillia sold their lives dear; thirty thousand barbarians and thirty thousand Etruscans fell at the 1st Battle of Volaterrae. Nonetheless it was a disaster for the republic. The Gauls seemed swiftly able to replace their losses, but the men of the Republic could not so easily be replaced.
Mercator fell back in some disorder to Volaterrae. The enemy pressed their advantage and soon surrounded the walls of Volaterrae once more. Determined to prevent a lengthy siege bottling up the Auxillia, Mercator impressed the men of Volaterrae into the Auxillia and marched out to face them. A fierce struggle took place outside the gates that ended only at sundown. Both sides claimed the victory but it was the Gauls who left, reluctant to press the issue while the city had such an energetic defender. The Etruscan dead numbered about twelve thousand slain on this occasion, the barbarians twenty thousand. The men of Volaterrae complained loudly of the bloodiness of Mercator's battles to the Senate, and indeed he does seem to have been indifferent to the cost in the lives of citizens his tactics cost. Nonetheless he had slain great numbers of the enemy and his persistence in fighting them was inspiring to his men and terrifying to the Gauls.
At this time the republic was rocked by news of a fresh invasion from the Alps, for 20,000 Menapii warriors crossed the Po to sack and plunder what they could. Taking fresh heart the Allobroges also to returned to attack the republic. Mercator led a valiant defense of Volaterrae after a a day-long struggle at its gates which saw thirty thousand barbarians slain for the loss of seven thousand Etruscans. By this point however the capital appeared in jeopardy and his men were weakened and weary. Afraid for their wives and children the men mutinied and demanded their officers order a return to the chief city of the republic. Their reluctant general was forced to order a march home, having first secured the Volaterrae with a token garrison. These men, all volunteers, where led by night around the Gallic camp to a place where the walls were low and weak, and taken up by ropes. The Gauls were too exhausted to renew battle on the following day but the Auxillia was already retreating south to Tarquinia, its general seething. Mercator camped the exhausted troops outside the city walls and proceeded to the Senate chambers in great haste.
The storm of the Great Crisis that had broken over Etrusca was to reach its highest intensity not upon the battlefield but within the chambers of the Senate house. The provinces of Bonona and Volaterrae had been over-run and devastated. The Auxillia was battered and demoralized by the endless barbarian waves. With everything north of Tarquinia now under barbarian siege panic spread like a wildfire through the city. The streets of the capital lay empty in front of the Consul as the people cowered in their homes in fear. The wailing of newly-made widows as the news spread of the army's defeats added to the people's sense of gloom as the Senate convened to discuss the crisis. Here flattery and the fear of lost glory tempted Mercator into a grievous error. For having been forced to retreat in the face of the enemy he so despised, and feeling the weight of the popular feeling turning against him he began to listen to the words of the flatterers and the agitators within his party that urged him to take upon himself the supreme power of the state and use all methods in this struggle to utterly expatriate the barbarians. His pet creature Ulpius Nasica was the worst of these, actually tabling a motion in the Senate to empower Mercator as Dictator, a lapsed office that had lain empty for two hundred years, but which the conspirators planed to combine with the office of Consul to create a legal semblance of government over their tyranny.
I have already covered how this motion was defeated by the courageous actions of Spurius Vitellius Valens and his allies and how they in turn foolishly attempted to abandon their country to the mercy of the Gaul. Had the temper of the Auxillia been less uncertain and the authority of its general not in question, the republic might have fallen that very night into civil war. It is a blessing of the Gods that wisdom and justice prevailed and that neither party, in its moment of madness, was able to overcome the other. Instead after a long and stormy debate Mercator was able to argue for one last blow, pointing out that the enemy lacked the discipline and patience to hold the places that they had overrun and that their tribal hordes were disunited, spread across the countryside in search of slaves and booty. The Senate granted him permission to conscript citizens usually exempt from the franchise and he recruited liberally from the poorer citizens to replenish his ranks [Editor's Note- At this time Etrusca, like many Latin states, restricted the voting rights of citizens to men of property. Military service was tied to civic rights in most of these cases because a standing army of non-property owners was felt to undermine social stability].
The decisive battle of the Great Crisis took place shortly thereafter, on the plains outside Volaterrae. The beleaguered Etruscan defenders manning the ramparts of the town looked on and cheered as the relieving army faced off against the Allobroges horde now led by Coilus Marganid. Consul Mercator personally led his men charging into battle and ended the struggle in less than an hour. The Gauls, their numbers thinned from previous battles and the subsequent, grueling siege of Volaterrae, were quickly broken by the determined Republican forces and driven from the field in disarray. Coilus and their greatest warriors were left on the field for crows, preferring death to the disgrace of defeat. This reverse finally broke the Allobroges' martial spirit and their remnants dispersed into Liguria as refugees and bandits. [Editor's Note- The 4th Battle of Volaterrae took place on August 18th, 302 B.C. and skirmishes between the Estruscans and the Gauls there would continue for a decade. However from this point on Liguira would never again be a threat to the Etruscan state. Rather it would stand as a barrier between Gaul and Italy's city states and cement Etrusca's grip on northern Italy]. To forestall further barbarian invasions there the Senate, deeming the victory a good omen, enrolled a group of colonists from the public rolls and settled the region, bringing it fully into the Republic. As was the policy of the ancient Etruscans, they began the long process of civilizing the barbarians that lived there and bringing them into the body politic. Many Ligurians would show great merit in the fighting of the next Italian war.
Mercator now moved rapidly to disperse the Menapii besieging the republic's settlements in Bononia. He organized stockpiles of supplies throughout the countryside and led his men to victory in many skirmishes with bodies of raiders throughout the province. By autumn as the weather worsened, the harried tribesmen were completely driven from Italy and dispersed back to their homes in the passes of the Alps, which were now also threatened by an invasion of Qaedi Germans. These Qaedi were another branch of the same people defeated previously by General Octavius. Led by their great Chieftain Hilderic Marbodid, a man of giant stature and ferocious temper, these tribes were the mightiest of the southern Germans. However the Germans' crops had failed over the summer and the autumn brought famine and pestilence [Editor's Note- this had been the third year in a series of bad harvests, perhaps a catalyst for the migration of so many tribes into Italy at this time] Hearing of the defeats of the southern Gauls and correctly reckoning his neighbors weak, Hilderic marched his entire people into Gaul and swiftly defeated the remnants of the Menapii.
Contemptuous of Gallic words of warning he then marched his people south into the warm and fertile valleys of Bononia, intending to winter there. The Qaedi chief may not have intended war but his teeming hordes threatened the peace that had at last been reached in the Po. Mercator and his men had learned an absolute hatred for all things that came from Gaul and the Germans seemed just another hungry barbarian rabble. When the Qaedi refused to return north, their bare-chested warriors faced the full-force of the disciplined and veteran Auxillia in battle and ninety-thousand were slain in the rout. The remainder were hunted down and put to the sword over the next few weeks, and their women and children despoiled and enslaved for the profit of the army. The farms of Bononia were full of German slaves gathering the harvest the next year. The abundance of slaves seized from invading tribes would contribute greatly to the wealth and prosperity that flowered in Etrusca following the victories of Mercator and the wise guidance of Valens in the Senate. Mercator left the Consulship at this time, following the building of the Bononian Wall to separate the people from the barbarians. His achievements had been glorious and may undoubtedly be said to have saved the Republic. His defeats of the Menapii and the Qaedi redeemed his follies in the eyes of the people and the Senate of Etrusca and he was granted the cognomen of Mercator Audax [Editor's Note- 'the Valient'] that we know him by today.
The Great Crisis had ignited greater conflict within the Republic itself however. The fierce debate between Nasica, Mercator and their Populist antagonists within the walls of the Senate, at the moment of greatest danger had left a fissure within the ranks of that great chamber. Men whom would otherwise be colleagues would, for the noblest of motives, break ranks and put party over state or even family. Even the family of Spurius Vitellius Valens was split, for his kinsman Vitalis abandoned him for the faction of Mercator and became the general's right-hand man in the Senate. It is the curse of democracy that it elevates the petty squabbles of great personalities for office and power to the status of life-and-death struggle. Matters of state become a game to be played against ones' own countrymen for the entertainment of the lower-orders. It is only to be preferred to a monarchy or tyranny for the limits it places on a man's power and the time he has to enjoy it. For the elections compel men to rise above themselves and attempt great deeds where a tyrant or a king can loll about at his leisure enjoying the comforts and ease of office and power.
I have already discussed the events of the decade following the Great Crisis at length in the Life of Valens. Suffice it to say here that following his great victories Mercator Audax transformed his popularity with the people and the army into a sea of clients, and built a group of Senators around himself that hungered to settle the unfinished business of Italy and restore Etrusca to her former glory of hegemon over the Italians. Mercator and Valens's factions agreed an uneasy truce following the Crisis that led them to share the Consulship. By Mercator's influence Numerius Vitellius Vitellius was raised to the Consulship. He was seen as a moderate man, and as kin to Valens and loyal to Meracator he was acceptable to both. His term in office was quiet and let the blood of both parties cool after the heat of the Crisis. By his efforts, Mercator gained the Censorship [Editor's Note- in 298 BC. This was a powerful position overseeing Senate membership and some state revenues], a suitable office for a statesman who had twice held imperium and the office on Consul. Meractor disgraced the office for partisan gain, seeking to remove the protégés of Valens and enroll his own into the rolls of membership. His efforts failed to general mockery and the silent shame of his friends. However he still retained enough influence with the People and the Senate to secure the Consulship for a second protégé, Tiberius Claudius Martialis [Editor's Note- In 291 BC. Playing on fears of renewed barbarian invasion, the xenophobic Mars Imperito militarist faction was politically dominant in Etruscan politics in the years immediately after the Great Crisis]. This Martialis was a man of exceptional patriotism and love of country, and a skilled businessman. He was also a man of reckless and passionate character who was the first who practiced bribery, that scourge of political life, albeit upon foreigners.
The case was this; though Etrusca had ample land and living room, the rolls of the citizenry had been small, even before the depletion caused by the Great Crisis. The Republic urgently needed more people to ensure its survival, but lacked the means and the men to defeat and subjugate its warlike neighbours. Martialis's solution was elegant if immoral; the needs of the state do not allow for such fine distinctions as private life. Since Liguria had been secured for the People and Senate by Mercator, the Etruscans had shared a common frontier with the Greek city of Massaila. At this time Greeks and Etruscans did not share the bonds of common alliance that bind them today, and relations between the Republic and the Western Greeks were cool and distant. The Massailians grasped eagerly the gold coin that Martialis shipped to them to pay for peace and friendship however. The secret alliance would be a fortunate stroke for Etrusca, for the gold repaid itself in an alliance that has lasted down to the present, and bought the destruction of Carthage, the Germans and the Gauls. At the time it bought peace on the western border of Etrusca and saved it from encirclement by alien foes.
The two terms which followed were claimed by Spurius Valens and his ally Tiberius Julius Gracchus and saw the Republic recover its strength. Valens expanded the army and brought the Etruscan gods to Boninia. It was he who declared the Republic fully recovered from its trail of strength and ready for war once more. The tacit alliance with Massailia prospered in this time, and the Greeks grew closer to the Etruscans as the southward ambitions of the Republic became clearer to them. Though Mercator's party held the Consulship more frequently than Pax Etruria,the Senate and the people listened to Valens more and continued to reject a formal treaty with the Greeks. The annexation of Etrusca's southern neighbours and the restoration of its ancient Italian hegemony were thus held back ten years until Valens pronounced the state recovered. Though the Romans and Picentis had formed a defensive alliance [Editor's Note- since being sacked in 307 B.C. the Romans had signed a defense treaty with their former vassal Picentis] through the Massailians the Republic had gained a tacit ally who commanded over one hundred thousand men. Its own forces had swelled to ninety thousand following the reforms of Valens and it had proven and trusted allies in the Samnites and the Lucani. The Massailians had great influence in the Western Greek world and held the ears of great kings. By the end of his second term Valens could delay no more; the younger men, reckoning him too old for another Consulship and too timid to seize Etrusca's glory, abandoned him for the patronage of his cousin Vitalis.
In the second Consulship of Tertius Vitellius Vitalis preparations for war with Rome began again [Editor's Note- Vitalis was a hawkish orator who had changed sides in Etrusca's factionalized politics after his first Consulship saw the onset of the Great Crisis]. After securing the Massailian alliance on their western border the Etruscans needed only a quiet Gallic frontier to turn their arms southwards. It was agreed to mount an expedition against the Lexocii [Editor's Note- in 291 BC this powerful Gallic tribe menaced northern Etrusca], and blood the men for the coming campaign. The Lexocii were duly crushed and their fields put to the torch. Having defeated the strongest tribe left of the southern Gauls, Mercator took their chief captive and had him led in his triumph through the city. At the finish the unfortunate creature was ceremonially strangled and his body thrown from the highest rock in the city. Mercator had settled the frontier with Gaul and his name evoked terror amongst the Alpine tribes. At the height of his triumph the victorious general gave a bold speech denouncing Roman influence in Italy and demanding acknowledgement of Etrusca as the protector and guardian of all Italy against the Gallic savages.
His reputation amongst his countrymen was now at its highest peak. His close ally Consul Vitalis passed an open declaration of alliance with Massilia through the Senate, though it was understood by all in the Senate that this was but a precursor to war against Rome, yet the measure narrowly passed both the Etruscan and the Massilian Senates, thanks to the influence of Mercator. Some say the price for its passage came to four silver cups for the house of each Senator in favor. Despite a triumph, a Consulship and the Censorship he was not yet steeped enough in honors to be stated. While I may grant that in his heart he both hated and feared the Romans and wished them destroyed for his country's sake I must still express my dismay at his insatiable appetite for glory that fed the flames of a conflict that saw so many civilised lives wasted. We may perhaps dismiss the rumours of bribery as the scurrilous tongue-waging of later ages, since such a quantity of treasure was scarce to be found even in the Treasury of the Republic at the time. This kind of foppery would only come to fully affect the Etruscans after the final defeat of Carthage. Nevertheless the power of Mercator was misused to pull the Republic into a conflict both dangerous to the state and devastating to Italy. Unlike Acamus I cannot but look upon the shedding of so much noble Italian blood as detrimental to the reputation of the man whose actions caused it.
War with Picentis and Rome for hegemony of Italy duly arrived with an Etruscan demand for Perugia to be restored to the Republic, as it had been in the Golden Age. This was rejected as had been intended, and the criers went out to gather the Auxillia. Together with his allies Mercator stood at the head of a league that held almost half a million men under arms. Such a quantity of men and arms had never before been mustered in Italy [Editor's Note: Like other ancient writers Plutarch is almost certainly guilty of exaggerating the size of ancient armies. Modern historians estimate the size of the Etruscan and their allies in 291 B.C. to have stood at about a tenth of this size. The combined forces of Picentis and the Romans stood at about 11,000 men. The Picentii had taken over leadership of the anti-Etruscan alliance since the sack of Rome in 307 B.C. The new Picentii king Domitius was motivated over fears of Etruscan designs on the Picentii city of Perugia]. The Romans, the Sabines and the Picenti could field only a quarter of their number. With the Senate's blessing the Auxillia invaded Umbria and began to lay waste to that country in preparation for a fresh attempt upon Perugia. It was agreed that the Samnites under the aged but redoubtable General Brutus would strike directly at the Picentii's main force mustering at their capital Ancona. To break the Picentii was to destroy the most important member of the enemy's camp and deprive the Romans of all hope of outside aid. Alas for the Etruscans the conduct of their generals was not matched by the seriousness of the war. Impatient as ever the temperamental Brutus felt no fear of Domitius, who he had defeated eighteen years previously at the Battle of Samnium. Domitius revealed his adversary's overconfidence to the whole of Italy, defeating Brutus handily before Mercator had even reached Perugia and forcing him out of Picenti lands in unruly retreat. The Samnites took no further useful part in the war, confining themselves to their own kingdom as they awaited its outcome. Domitius had succeeded in causing the collapse of one enemy with a single strike, and must have had high hopes of defeating the rest just as speedily.
The defeat of the Samnites stirred the Greeks into action. Though far from the conflict themselves, and guarding the Italian border against Gallic incursions, the Massilians prevailed upon one of their many royal allies, Abraxas of Thrace, for aid. This king sent messengers to the Greeks of Italy urging them to defend the freedom of the Hellenes from the rapacious Romans and their allies. Encouraged by these words and eager for fresh lands to colonize, the Greeks of Magna Graecia also entered the struggle. Thus the Romans paid the price of their avaricious lust for Tarentum [Editor's Note- a strategic Greek town in the heel of Italy], for the Magna Graecians at once began their march towards the city with one hundred and twenty thousand fresh troops. This caused the feckless Romans delay joining Domitius, to remain in Rome guarding their homes and fields. Domitius now faced the whole of Italy united against him and therefore resolved on an audacious gamble. As Mercator encircled Perugia and Brutus retreated, he feigned pursuit. Just as suddenly he wheeled his main column abruptly around and slipped past Mercator's camp and deep into Etrusca. Catching Tarquinia itself unprepared the Picentii overwhelmed the city garrison and seized the Etruscan capital after a brief siege lasting no more then twelve days. Vitalis and the Senate were barely able to escape before the encirclement and fall of the city occurred, and Domitius was master of the heart of the Republic. The Senate fled to Volaterrae and was welcomed by the citizens there. Urgent word was passed back to Mercator in Perugia of the fall of the capital and mighty was his wrath at this dire news. The Etruscans had forgotten they were no longer fighting a Gallic rabble, unskilled at the arts of siege-craft, but a Latin army, maneuverable and swift, and led by a shrewd and able commander.
Tarquinia was not sacked on the strictest orders of Domitius and any looters were hanged outside the gates. The Picenti king's noble nature was tempered from time to time by necessity, but he did not possess the vice of gratuitous cruelty. Like a lion he would stalk and bring down his prey, but not worry and tear at its carcass after his kill [Editor's Note- Having captured the chief capital of his enemies Domitius probably hoped to use it as a bargaining chip in negotiations to end the war with a white peace This would have been impossible if Tarquinia had been sacked like Rome in 307 B.C.]. Uproar broke out within the exiled Senate after his terms for the mutual withdrawal of troops from each other's cities and a forty-year truce were presented. To accept would have dishonoured the alliance with Greece and the rest of Italy and merely postpone the struggle to another day. To refuse invited the destruction of the capital of the Republic and the property of its most eminent families [Editor's Note- Plutarch may be indulging his pen in sarcasm here]. The following Senate session was a stormy one, but the Consul prevailed upon his colleagues to reject peace and prevented the debate from escalating to the shameful heights of the Great Crisis. Events in the rest of Italy were shortly to decide the course of the war with Etruscan arms largely absent.
Victory over Picentis fell to the Lucani, the petty Italian state in the toe of Italy. Years earlier Valens had won their good will by acquiescing in their subjugation of their primitive neighbours the Brutti. They now repaid the debt and mustered their forces, begining a march into the province of Picentis with an impressive 140,000 men. The Lucanii commander Cicero was to prove himself a stouthearted ally against the enemies of Etrusca and be ill-served for it. At the same time the Greeks of Magna Graecia, who had invaded Roman Campania, now invested the Roman colony of Capua. It fell to them shortly afterwards and opened the road to Rome. The Lucani themselves swiftly laid waste to the estates of many noble Picentii and menaced their capital Ancona. Abandoning Perugia to a token blockade, Mercator now stormed north with his Auxillia to the relief of Tarquinia. Seeing the other Italians uninterested in peace, and unwilling to risk his army being trapped within the walls of their capital by the Etruscans while his own country was being burned, Domitius abandoned the Etruscan capital and once again slipped past Mercator, leading his men to join with the Romans in the mountainous province of Sabini. A small garrison was left behind to hold the citadel against the vengeful Etruscans. He recruited as he marched, and when he reached his Roman allies their combined forces had swelled to 180,000 men. It was soon clear that a decisive battle between the warring parties was imminent. With Mercator and the Greeks occupied on other fronts, Cicero took upon himself the bold decision to attack alone.
The two armies met at a place now know as Mount Sabini, after the province where the battle took place. The actual field was not recorded and is unknown to living men. Nevertheless my investigations place it near the town of Phella. According to Cicero's account in his campaign memoirs, the conflict took place in a small valley near the foot of the mountain. The enemy had drawn themselves up upon the higher ground, to their advantage, but had overlooked a marshy stream that ran through the valley to their left. Domitius had given the right wing to the Romans and dispersed his raw recruits amongst his veterans in the centre and left to stiffen his lines. This came at the cost of his men's cohesion when drawn-up in formation, but he did not envision fighting a battle of maneuver. The Romans had insisted on keeping their own camp and commander [Editor's Note- Roman law allowed only a general given Imperium from the Roman Senate to command their troops. As a non-Roman, Domitius did not qualify for it] separate from the authority of their ally however. Alas the divided nature of the army and the inexperience of almost half its troops were to be the undoing of the glory of Domitius, for Cicero, divining the divided nature of his foes, massed his best soldiers on the right against the Romans. He used the stream to shield his flank against Picentii encirclement, negating their advantage in numbers. Were courage and manly vigor alone enough to win wars, Cicero would stand alone amongst the generals in this war as a hero, for he led his outnumbered men uphill deep into enemy lines and commenced a sharp struggle with them. With a picked band of three thousand of the most beautiful and strongest Lucani youth Cicero forced a wedge between the Roman and Picentii formations and split their line of battle [Editor's Note- the Lucani used an elite formation drawn from some Greek cities known as the 'Sacred Band'. Its members were supposedly encouraged to form love-bonds to each other during training to ensure their courage during battle. Their actual numbers at this time probably ranged from three hundred to one thousand men]. As his left continued to drive back the Roman right, Circero's men turned the flank of the Picentii where they faced the Lucani centre and left. The momentum of the Sacred Band was briefly checked by the authority of Domitius, but even he could not rally his men to stand attack from both flank and centre. The army's order disintegrated as the Lucani maintained their assault, and many were slain as they fled, or became trapped between the enemy and the stream and drowned, or perished before they could throw down arms.
The Roman and Picentii forces became fully separated, the former withdrawing in good order back towards Picentis whilst the latter underwent the most appalling bloodshed, as Cicero gave orders that none be spared. It is a blot upon that general's good character, but as he writes in his memoirs to justify the act, Domitius had been the body and soul of the opposition alliance. As long as he had arms and men, the war for Italy would continue. A Domitius reduced to an outcast in his own kingdom would sue for peace. As the Picentii king fled from Sabini with the remnants of his army, worse news came. Mercator had stormed the citadel of Tarquinia with much bloodshed and put its tiny garrison to the sword. Tribal unrest on the Gallic frontier would delay his return to the war, but the fall of Domitius's kingdom was inevitable, for the Romans were a weak and failing shield. Their distant capital, under a protracted siege from the victorious Greeks, was sending begging letters weekly, entreating aid from an allied army that no longer existed. Realizing he had no choice, and dreading the cruelty of the Lucani upon his unfortunate countrymen, Domitius sent messengers submitting to Etrusca and placed himself under the protection of General Mercator, whose vanity he cleverly tickled with this piece of false humility.
Thus did Mercator, whose only contribution to the war had been to lose the capital of the Republic, become the arbiter of the victories of Cicero, whose luster he longed to dim that his own might shine the brighter by comparison. He ordered Domitius to end his alliance with Rome, annexed Perugia and her territories from Picentis and imposed a vast indemnity upon the Kingdom, reducing it to an Etruscan vassal. Domitius accepted these conditions with a heavy heart, but considered them better terms then the ravages of the rapacious Lucani. They so enraged the noble Cicero that he ordered his men to reduce Sabini to ash, only to find himself repulsed and defeated in turn by the ambuscades of the wily allies of Domitius, who knew the mountains much better then their foes. In disgust, and fearing the Romans would take advantage of his straitened circumstances, Circeo took his men and returned home, leaving the alliance to mourn the loss of such a vigorous and distinguished commander. Domitius had seen his fortunes destroyed but had saved his kingdom from total ruin. The retreat of the Lucani now cleared the path of the Roman Consul Appius Claudius Caecus to return home with his legionaries. With the gracious permission of Domitius they duly did so, leaving Picentis and force-marching through Sabini to Rome. The final battle of the war took place outside the Roman capital, where the tired and hungry legionaries were repulsed from the city by the arms of the Greeks. It was the final blow. Rome capitulated to the besiegers the next day. Though the city was spared, it was forced to renounce in perpetuity its claims to Tarentum, the source of much anger to the Greeks. Campania was added to their possessions, and the province of Sabini to the Republic. Rome was stripped of its outside lands, forbidden to make foreign alliances, and reduced to a mere husk of its former self.
Though Mercator laid claim to the success of the war it was the Consul Vitellius who emerged from it wreathed in laurels. His skills at managing the foreign diplomacy between the many cities were credited with the bountiful gains Etrusca made from the conflict. The conduct of the army had shown all the hollowness of Mercator's boastful claims of victory, for it was both under-strength and poorly led. The valor it had shown against the barbarian Gauls during the war had not manifested itself in battle against fellow Italians, and the borders of the north remained perilous to the future of the Republic. It was a lesson not lost on the leaders of the Republic for the future. Before the Auxillia began its great task of bringing Gaul into the civilized world, its statesmen were careful to settle the affairs of Italy to create a just peace for all. Mercator's vision of an Etruscan Italy free of the Roman threat had come to pass, but the man himself was slowly eclipsed by his younger partner Vitellius. Having showered his former colleague with golden words about being the 'Shield of Etrusca', he abrogated his command and sent the general north with his veterans to man the Bononian Wall that Mercator had been the first to envisage. Far from the capital his influence dwindled little by little until, weakened from an arrow wound taken in a border skirmish, he passed away from illness in his sixtieth year. Vitellius arranged a magnificent funeral. His body was interned in a striking stone tomb looking out over the Wall which can still be seen in our own time. It is a suitable resting place for such a turbulent, complex spirit to rest.
Life of Decimus Domitius Rex
I have already covered the wars of Decimus Domitius Dives of Picentis with Etrusca extensively in my Life of Secundus Claudius Mercator, but much remains to be told of the life and character of the man who outwitted and almost overcame the machinations of the vainglorious Shield of Etrusca. Tragically for Picentis his victorious conduct on the field of battle against Samnium early in the 2nd Italian War handed the crown of Italy decisively to the Etruscans, who cemented their position over the Samnites from this time onwards. The Republic would later annex his kingdom to its own domains. Paradoxically this has ensured the survival of the former royal family down to our own time as a respectable noble line. The descendents of Domitius have escaped the degenerations of character so many families granted the monarchical privilege fall prey to. Posterity has honoured him with many such, several of whom still inhabit the area of his former kingdom to this day. I do not think the noble king would begrudge the conquerors of his country the honorable place they have found for his lineage amongst themselves. Domitius himself was not born to the throne of Picentis, but elevated there at a late age as the general choice of the nobles and to the great acclaim of the people. He possessed in considerable quantities those qualities that men recognize as kingly, which, if they could only be passed onto their sons would ensure the continuity of the monarchical principle in almost every nation.
Domitius was the only surviving son of his line, a family of the better class in the Picenti city of Perugia. In his early years he showed great promise as an orator and student of the remarkable female philosopher Lucia, with whom he was widely rumored to be on the most intimate of terms. Wars with Sabine, Rome and Samnium soon put an end to poetry however, and the youthful Domitius was forced to see his country pass beneath the yoke and into Roman vassalage. These years taught him the manly arts of combat and honed his cunning, his agile mind and his pointed speeches. At an age most men are still fastening their Senatorial togas he was leading war bands and haranguing citizen assemblies. He gathered a following and became known as one who spoke his mind without fear or favour. War became him, and in the infrequent bouts of peace in those years he was often to be found training in the gymnasium or out hunting with friends. Wine played little part in his life, though in his later years he was reputed to have become fond of honeyed ales of the Gauls. His ruling passion was the pursuit of distinction in all avenues of life. To this end he wrote many plays and speeches, held many sporting contests and bouts and desired above all else to be thought well of.
He lived simply and within his means, several times returning a portion of the allowance voted him by the assemblies of the people. To them he paid scrupulous attention, without pandering to their idle whims or foolish follies. The voices of the demagogues were firmly checked in his reign and the depredations of the nobles were curtailed. Flattery, the curse of kings, was ignored by a man who had held his own council till the age of fifty winters. All were expected to follow the ancient practices and dress humbly, behave modestly and follow the established rules of decorum. In this he led by personal example. At first the women of Picentis resented his impingement on their vanity, but they soon expressed greater pleasure in the return of their men to more wholesome restraint. Without the need to flaunt themselves to the men the Picenti women swiftly returned to the paths of virtuous female pursuits and the Kingdom was spared the excesses which ravage countries that have made a national pastime from the accumulation of wealth and pleasure.
These manners made seem rude and unformed in our more decadent age, but they represent the hardy virtue of a simpler time already fading into history when Domitius lived [Editor's Note- As a Stoic, Plutarch was critical of many social practices of the Late Republic in which he dwelt. His conservative Greek background led him to condemn the relative financial independence achieved by Etruscan noblewomen for example]. He would survive their passing but a short while, but lives on in our songs and stories. All have heard the tale of how, when he meet a young Picenti man one day who sported a magnificently oiled and be-ringed beard, he shaved off his own white one, though he had had it since his earliest youth. The barbers later held a feast in his honor after the whole court rushed to follow suit. The younger man himself was so ashamed at the king's implied rebuke that he shaved his beard and head and found an honorable death in battle some weeks later against Etruscan troopers. Such was the regard that the people held for their monarch.
The histories tell us he was as skillful and daring general as a king, careful for the lives of his men but able to bear the sacrifice of many on the altar of battle should it serve the greater good of the State and its people. He was already a veteran of more than thirty years when Spurius Vitellius Valens became Consul for the first time and declared war with Rome [Editor's Note- this was the 1st Italian War]. As a client of Rome, Picentis was forced into the conflict, in which it fought with distinction as I have covered in my 'Life of Spurius Vitellius Valens'. Domitius was selected as general by the Picenti leaders, as much by those who wished to see him fail as those who wished him well. The-then king was elderly and frail, unfit for leading armies in the field, and thus he delegated wisely to Domitius. The war went badly for Rome as the initial victories of the Consul Fabius Maximus led him to an ill-advised attempted to storm the walls of the Samnite capital Bovianum. The Consul's defeat there and the reappearance of the Samnite army outside the walls led Fabius to treacherously abandon his Picenti vassals on the battlefield and march back to Rome. Domitius and his Picenti fought a valiant rearguard action to defend their fleeing masters, but were overwhelmed by the numbers and savagery of the Samnite assault. The diplomacy of Valens now brought the Lucani into the war. With its greatest men slain on the battlefield and Perugia on the verge of starvation, the Picenti broke with their Roman masters and made a separate peace.
We cannot say what the thoughts of Domitius on this are because they were not recorded for posterity. However soon after this he would assume a position in the affairs of the kingdom such that nothing was decided on without his agreement. In the years after the war this influence was used to move the Picenti back into the affairs of the Romans and he encouraged their embrace of their Sabine cousins despite the latter's incessant banditry against Picentis. His was the guiding hand behind the Sabine Pact, as the alliance of Rome, Sabine and Picentis would be known. In this alliance Picentis, not Rome, would be the strongest partner. I can only surmise he feared the threat to his native Perugia from the rising Republic, which cast hungry eyes at the prosperous and fertile cities of central Italy [Editor's Note: Picentis cancelled its vassalage with Rome following the Second Battle of Roma in 309 B.C., when a joint Samnite-Etruscan force under General Brutus again defeated Consul Fabius Maximus near Rome, destroying Rome's last field army. The city was subsequently sacked by the Gallic Semnones tribe in 307 B.C. during their rampage down the Italian peninsula, permanently undermining Roman prestige]. The towns of Picentis had been ruled once before by Etruria, in the first Golden Age, and Domitius knew the warlike members of the Senate favored the warm climate of Italy over a snowy kingdom in the Alps. Vengeance upon Brutus and his Samnites may also have appealed to his slighted pride after the slaughter of so many noble friends at Bovianum.
At the time it cannot have seemed that Rome would be so weak, nor Etruria so great, that the kingdoms and cities of Italy would succumb so swiftly so the grasp of the Republic. The sacking of Perugia by the savage Gauls proved the kingdom needed allies abroad to defend itself. Alas for Domitius, he gambled that Rome would prove a better friend than master, and lost. Of his actions in the 2nd Italian War I have already written much in my Life of Secundus Claudius Mercator. I shall confine my words here to saying that he proved himself the greatest of the statesmen and the most skillful of the generals in valor, cunning and political skill. That a fraction of the Kingdom remained after such a shattering defeat [Editor's Note- following the 2nd Italian War a rump Picenti state was briefly maintained ] speaks of his skill at manipulating the goals of his enemies against each other. It did not save his beloved Perugia, but delayed the fall of his kingdom until after his death.
Domitius would fall in his winter years, in a petty skirmish with his Sabini neighbors, of whom he considered it a good sport and kingly to hunt whenever their banditry on his borders became too insolent to be endured. Affairs of the kingdom then passed to his youngest son, whose brothers had all predeceased him. This young man's character was of the sort that ensured that the affairs of the kingdom degenerated in such a short time that the Republic declared him a public enemy and ordered the Etrurian garrison there to seize the royal personage [Editor's Note- in the years after the 2nd Italian War the Etruscans and the Western Greeks divided the peninsula between them, sealing an alliance to combat Carthaginian expansionism in the Western Mediterranean. Picentis was then reduced from a vassal kingdom to an Etruscan province by the Republic]. The deposed king was slain in flight shortly afterwards and the surviving royal family was joined to the Senate and has brought much honor to that august body in the centuries since. Indeed my own patron is none other than Tiberius Domitius Dives, who shares much the renown and qualities of his illustrious ancestor, having vanquished the dreadful hordes of the blue-painted Scoti with only two legions, while governor of Britannia province.
Comparing Domitius & Mercator
The one had the vices of a demagogue in a city with the virtues of a republic. The latter had the virtues of his class in a State with the vice of monarchy. That Domitius did not abuse those beneath him is a testament to his nature, not an argument for monarchy as Zenon would have it. We cannot ensure all who sit on a throne have a kingly nature; Secundus Claudius Mercator's behaviour while Consul will illustrate this fact starkly. History has looked with much favour upon his actions whilst overlooking the character that drove the man to dangerous extremes. Had he been a king its verdict might have been less kind. We see what he lacked in stature when we compare his handling of the Great Crisis to the works of Domitius in his defeat. Mercator's concern was for his own greatness, expressed through his country and faction; Domitius struggled to save his State from total ruin at the risk to his own personage, as when he submitted to Mercator after Sabini. A statesman struggles harder to control the helm of a sinking ship of state than one that is seaworthy, whilst a rising tide lifts all boats as the saying has it. Mercator benefited from the reforms of Valens and the sound alliances that he made as Consul whilst Domitius inherited a weakened kingdom and treacherous allies.
Against this one must remember that Mercator was thwarted for years in his design to subjugate all of Italy to the Republic by the many barbarian invasions from the north. Shielded by other Italian states, this was a danger that Domitius never had to face in his wars. Mercator also had to contend with other statesmen of the Republic whilst Domitius could wave his hand and see his will done. The quality of restraint was forced upon the former to his ultimate benefit. The catastrophic error of allying with Rome, into which Domitius was led for love of his native city, could not be gainsaid by another party simply because it was the design of the king. In this writer's opinion the inferiority of the monarchical system could not be more clearly demonstrated then through this contrast between the fortunes of a State guided by republican principles and the fate of one led by a virtuous monarchy.
In battle both men were warlike and courageous, but I must argue that Domitius holds the victor's crown. He spent the lives of his men less freely than Mercator, who lost thousands. He however spent his men in the higher cause of saving Italy from the barbarians. Domitius fought only his civilized fellows. In strategy Mercator bested Domitius with his wall, his eventual success in annexing Perugia and his taming of the northern frontier, which allowed Etrusca to turn south and complete the work of the 1st Italian War; in tactics Domitius emerges clearly the superior, out-fighting and out-maneuvering all the other generals in his second Italian campaign, except Cicero. Even his conqueror was forced to hazard a risky struggle against superior numbers, and failed to hold Sabini after the king's defeat there.
Both Domitius and Mercator died of battle-wounds with their best days behind them; in death both became legends. Mercator's tomb still marks the limit of the old Italian border with Gaul and has settled into something of a symbol of the divide between barbarism and civilization, much as the settled citizens of today Gaul might resent the slur on what remains our bulwark against German intrusion. If Mercator has become a defender of civilized world, Domitius has been immortalized as a trenchant enemy of Etruscan hegemony in Italy. In particular his seizure of Tarquinia has earned him a special place in the pantheon of foes feared and loathed by later Republican writers of history. No warrior has since repeated this signal feat of arms. Other scholars admire the grace of his character but present him as a misguided man, duped by the promises of his wily Roman allies into a tragic war with Etrusca. The fallacy of this is revealed at once by studying the memoirs of our own statesmen, who candidly talk of the absolute necessity of seizing populous Perugia for the Republic, to solve the Etrurians' chronic shortage of troops for the Auxillia. War with Picentis was the inevitable consequence of this just as when Mercator defended our northern colonies against Gallic invasion. The lives of our ancestors were far less settled than our own, and war was more frequent and bloody than it is today, expect on our most distant provincial borders.
We can judge that both men led glorious lives, yet failed in their ultimate ambitions. Though he fought hard, Domitius was never able to create a strong and independent Picentis, and the kingdom was absorbed into the Republic shortly after his death. Mercator won many victories but his leadership over Mars Imperito was slowly usurped by Vitellius, that distant kinsman of Spurius Vitellius Valens. His defects of character earned him the well-placed mistrust of his countrymen that denied him the ultimate authority he so desired. Instead it is Vitellius who is remembered for healing the divisions between the factions of his cousin and his patron, and for launching the imperial republic in which we live today. His division of Italy with the Western Greeks, his wars with Gaul, and, as an old man, his farsighted stance on Carthage [Editor's Note; the hawkish Vitellius is still remembered for his parting advice to the Etruscan Senate upon retiring; 'Ceterum censeo Carthaginem delendam esse', or 'Furthermore I consider that Carthage must be destroyed'] made him the First Man of Etrusca in a way that Mercator could never achieve with his rash and destructive actions. It is with this similarity between their great military successes and their failure to achieve lasting political attainments that we can best see the close similarities of Domitius and Mercator.