The Sword of Rome – Jeremiah McCall

This book is a biography of Marcus Claudius Marcellus.

Deutsch: Porträt eines augusteischen Prinzen, ...

Deutsch: Porträt eines augusteischen Prinzen, möglicherweise Marcus Claudius Marcellus, Neffe und Schwiegersohn des Augustus. In den Kapitolinischen Museen in Rom. vgl. den Abguss (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who?  Exactly.  Pen and Sword Books seems to be putting out books about different historical periods and actors than the usual Caesar/Cicero/Scipio group.  I find these interesting as we are not going over the same tired ground again.

Marcellus was the first in his family to reach true prominence, a situation that would persist until the very end of the Republic.  In the years of the Punic Wars he grew to be one of the effective generals facing Hannibal.  In the end he was elected consul 5 times, a record that was only surpassed later by Gaius Marius.  He was continually in the field for about a decade, mostly against Hannibal, during the bulk of the Second Punic War.  Given the frequency that Hannibal killed Roman generals, this is no mean feat,  And in the end, Hannibal did get him, in an ambush.

He first came into prominence for his action at the battle of Clastidium.  Here he, as the general in chief, managed to kill the opposing Gallic general Virdumarus with his own hand and strip him of his armor and weapons.

This feat, called the spolia opimawas only done two other times in Roman History, and those were in the mythical past.  Marcellus was apparently quite the self promoter, resurrecting this old legend back to the present day.  The populace loved this kind of thing, and his political opponents did not.  We have a hint of this by the interesting fact that Polybius, a historian attached to a rival house, leaves this entire incident out!

This is a part of the book I found very interesting.  A part of historiography of the late republic is how the “Senate” – more accurately a faction in the senate – was a bloc and their opponents – the Gracchi, Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Caesar, Clodius – were uniquely dangerous and evil monsters to oppose them.  Back in the good old days, this never happened!

Well this is the good old days, and factionalism and self promotion seem to be here all the same!  With Hannibal at the gates, Marcellus’ opponents tried to deny him a triumph for the capture of Syracuse, put him on trial, and shunt him off to minor theatres repeatedly.  It seems the golden age had some tarnish on it.

Marcellus had an interesting response.  When denied a triumph, and granted an ovation, a lesser, nearly forgotten celebration, he pulled out an even older tradition and celebrated a triumph ‘on the Alban Mount’ outside of Rome.  Then he celebrated the ovation, and the novelty of the new celebration actually made it more popular than the relatively common triumph.  And the loot that he spread around helped too!

Marcellus was an effective general even against Hannibal.  He kept him hemmed in the boot of Italy, won some skirmishes and kept him busy while towns like Capua and Tarentum were captured, and got caught napping a time or two.  The last time was the worst (for him at least).  Hannibal noticed a hilltop that made a good observation area and set and ambush there.  Marcellus went there with his commanders, and was killed at the age of 60.

The Marcelli remained players in Rome.  In fact, the consuls that forced a confrontation with Julius Caesar in 50 and 49 BC were Marcelli, and hardliners compared to the more well known earlier opponents like Cato, Cicero, and Bibulus.  There were factions even among those who opposed him!  Augustus decided to co-opt the family by marrying his daughter Julia to a Marcelli and making him his heir.


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