Marcus Claudius Marcellus
Marcus Claudius Marcellus, five times elected as consul of the Roman Republic, was an important Roman military leader during the Gallic War of 225 BC and the Second Punic War. Marcellus gained the most prestigious award a Roman general could earn, the spolia opima, for killing the Gallic military leader and king Viridomarus in hand-to-hand combat in 222 BC at the Battle of Clastidium. Furthermore, he is noted for having conquered the fortified city of Syracuse in a protracted siege during which Archimedes, the famous mathematician and inventor, was killed. Marcus Claudius Marcellus died in battle in 208 BC, leaving behind a legacy of military conquests and a reinvigorated Roman legend of the spolia opima. Little is known of Marcus Claudius Marcellus’ early years since the majority of biographical information pertains to his military expeditions; the fullest account of Marcellus’ life was written by Plutarch, a Greek biographer in the time of the Roman Empire. Plutarch’s biography, the "Life of Marcellus," in Parallel Lives focuses on Marcellus’ military campaigns and political life, skips over his earlier life before 225, although Plutarch supplies some general information about Marcellus’ youth.
Marcellus’ exact birth date is unknown, yet scholars are certain he was born prior to 268 BC because he had to be over 42 when elected consul for 222 and he was elected to a fifth consulship for 208 BC, after he was 60. Marcellus was said by Poseidonius to have been the first in his family to take on the cognomen of Marcellus. According to Plutarch, Marcellus was a skilled fighter in his youth and was raised with the purpose of entering military service. Marcellus’ general education may have been lacking. In his youth, Marcellus distinguished himself as an ambitious warrior, known for his skill in hand-to-hand combat, he is noted for having saved the life of his brother, when the two were surrounded by enemy soldiers in Italy. As a young man in the Roman army, Marcellus was praised by his superiors for his valor; as a result of his fine service, in 226 BC, he was elected to the position of curule aedile in the Roman Republic. The position of curule aedile was quite prestigious for a man like Marcellus.
An aedile was an enforcer of public order. This is the first position one might take in seeking a high political career. Around the same time that he became an aedile, Marcellus was awarded the position of augur, which Plutarch describes as being an interpreter of omens. By about the age of 40, Marcellus had become an acclaimed soldier and public official. Marcellus’ early career came to a close in 222 BC, at which time he achieved greater historical importance upon his election as consul of the Roman Republic—the highest political office and military position in ancient Rome. Following the end of the First Punic War, in which Marcellus fought as a soldier, the Gauls of northern Italy declared war on Rome in 225 BC. In the fourth and final year of the war, Marcellus was elected consul with Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus; the previous consuls had pushed the Insubrians, the primary Gallic tribe involved, all the way up to the Po River. Following such terrible defeats, the Insubrians surrendered, but Marcellus, not yet consul, persuaded the two acting consuls not to accept the terms of peace.
As Marcellus and his colleague were ushered into office as the new consuls, the Insubrians mustered 30,000 of their Gallic allies, the Gaesatae, to fight the Romans. Marcellus invaded Insubrian lands up to the Po River. From here, the Gauls sent 10,000 men across the Po and attacked Clastidium, a Roman stronghold, to divert the Roman attacks; this battlefield was the stage for Marcellus’ confrontation with the Gallic king, which cemented his place in history. The confrontation, as told by Plutarch, is so heavy in detail that one might question the veracity of his narration. Plutarch recounts that, prior to the battle, Viridomarus spotted Marcellus, who wore commander's insignia on his armor, rode out to meet him. Across the battlefield, Marcellus viewed the beautiful armor on the back of the enemy riding toward him. Marcellus concluded that this was the nicest armor, which he had prayed would be given by him to the gods; the two engaged in combat whereupon, Marcellus, “by a thrust of his spear which pierced his adversary's breastplate, by the impact of his horse in full career, threw him, still living, upon the ground, with a second and third blow, he promptly killed him.”
Marcellus extracted the armor upon which he pronounced it as the spolia opima. The spolia opima, meaning best spoils is known in Roman history as the most prestigious and honorable prize that a general can earn. Only a general who kills the leader of the opposing army in single combat may be considered to have gained the spolia opima. After he had slain the formidable warrior, whom he learned was the king, Marcellus dedicated the armor, or spolia opima, to Jupiter Feretrius, as he had promised before the battle. Herein lies a wrinkle in Plutarch’s retelling of the event; when Marcellus first saw the finely dressed warrior, he did not recognize him as a king, but a man with the nicest armor. But following the battle, Marcellus prayed to Jupiter Feretrius, saying that he had killed a king or ruler; this inconsistency indicates that Plutarch’s story may have been exaggerated for dramatic effect, causing discrepancies. Furthermore, Plutarch had written the account to glorify Marcellus as a hero of Rome, instead of as a record of history.
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The Roman Republic was the era of classical Roman civilization beginning with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom, traditionally dated to 509 BC, ending in 27 BC with the establishment of the Roman Empire. It was during this period that Rome's control expanded from the city's immediate surroundings to hegemony over the entire Mediterranean world. Roman society under the Republic was a cultural mix of Latin and Greek elements, visible in the Roman Pantheon, its political organisation was influenced by the Greek city states of Magna Graecia, with collective and annual magistracies, overseen by a senate. The top magistrates were the two consuls, who had an extensive range of executive, judicial and religious powers. Whilst there were elections each year, the Republic was not a democracy, but an oligarchy, as a small number of large families monopolised the main magistracies. Roman institutions underwent considerable changes throughout the Republic to adapt to the difficulties it faced, such as the creation of promagistracies to rule its conquered provinces, or the composition of the senate.
Unlike the Pax Romana of the Roman Empire, the Republic was in a state of quasi-perpetual war throughout its existence. Its first enemies were its Latin and Etruscan neighbours as well as the Gauls, who sacked the city in 387 BC; the Republic nonetheless demonstrated extreme resilience and always managed to overcome its losses, however catastrophic. After the Gallic Sack, Rome indeed conquered the whole Italian peninsula in a century, which turned the Republic into a major power in the Mediterranean; the Republic's greatest enemy was doubtless Carthage, against. The Punic general Hannibal famously invaded Italy by crossing the Alps and inflicted on Rome two devastating defeats at the Lake Trasimene and Cannae, but the Republic once again recovered and won the war thanks to Scipio Africanus at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC. With Carthage defeated, Rome became the dominant power of the ancient Mediterranean world, it embarked in a long series of difficult conquests, after having notably defeated Philip V and Perseus of Macedon, Antiochus III of the Seleucid Empire, the Lusitanian Viriathis, the Numidian Jugurtha, the great Pontic king Mithridates VI, the Gaul Vercingetorix, the Egyptian queen Cleopatra.
At home, the Republic experienced a long streak of social and political crises, which ended in several violent civil wars. At first, the Conflict of the Orders opposed the patricians, the closed oligarchic elite, to the far more numerous plebs, who achieved political equality in several steps during the 4th century BC; the vast conquests of the Republic disrupted its society, as the immense influx of slaves they brought enriched the aristocracy, but ruined the peasantry and urban workers. In order to solve this issue, several social reformers, known as the Populares, tried to pass agrarian laws, but the Gracchi brothers, Saturninus, or Clodius Pulcher were all murdered by their opponents, the Optimates, keepers of the traditional aristocratic order. Mass slavery caused three Servile Wars. In this context, the last decades of the Republic were marked by the rise of great generals, who exploited their military conquests and the factional situation in Rome to gain control of the political system.
Marius Sulla dominated in turn the Republic. These multiple tensions lead to a series of civil wars. Despite his victory and appointment as dictator for life, Caesar was murdered in 44 BC. Caesar's heir Octavian and lieutenant Mark Antony defeated Caesar's assassins Brutus and Cassius in 42 BC, but turned against each other; the final defeat of Mark Antony and his ally Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, the Senate's grant of extraordinary powers to Octavian as Augustus in 27 BC – which made him the first Roman emperor – thus ended the Republic. Since the foundation of Rome, its rulers had been monarchs, elected for life by the patrician noblemen who made up the Roman Senate; the last Roman king was Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. In the traditional histories, Tarquin was expelled in 509 because his son Sextus Tarquinius had raped the noblewoman Lucretia, who afterwards took her own life. Lucretia's father, her husband Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, Tarquin's nephew Lucius Junius Brutus mustered support from the Senate and army, forced Tarquin into exile in Etruria.
The Senate agreed to abolish kingship. Most of the king's former functions were transferred to two consuls, who were elected to office for a term of one year; each consul had the capacity to act as a check on his colleague, if necessary through the same power of veto that the kings had held. If a consul abused his powers in office, he could be prosecuted. Brutus and Collatinus became Republican Rome's first consuls. Despite Collatinus' role in the creation of the Republic, he belonged to the same family as the former king, was forced to abdicate his office and leave Rome, he was replaced as co-consul by Publius Valerius Publicola. Most modern scholarship describes these events as the quasi-mythological detailing of an aristocratic coup within Tarquin's own family, not a popular revolution, they fit a narrative of a personal vengeance against a tyrant leading to his overthrow, common among Greek cities and theorised by Aristotle
The Gauls were a group of Celtic peoples of West-Central Europe in the Iron Age and the Roman period. The area they inhabited was known as Gaul, their Gaulish language forms the main branch of the Continental Celtic languages. The Gauls emerged around the 5th century BC as the bearers of the La Tène culture north of the Alps. By the 4th century BC, they spread over much of what is now France, Spain, Switzerland, Southern Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia by virtue of controlling the trade routes along the river systems of the Rhône, Seine and Danube, they expanded into Northern Italy, the Balkans and Galatia. Gaul was never united under a single ruler or government, but the Gallic tribes were capable of uniting their forces in large-scale military operations, they reached the peak of their power in the early 3rd century BC. The rising Roman Republic after the end of the First Punic War put pressure on the Gallic sphere of influence. After this, Gaul became a province of the Roman Empire, the Gauls culturally adapted to the Roman world, bringing about the formation of the hybrid Gallo-Roman culture.
The Gauls of Gallia Celtica according to the testimony of Caesar called themselves Celtae in their own language, Galli in Latin. As is not unusual with ancient ethnonyms, these names came to be applied more than their original sense, Celtae being the origin of the term Celts itself while Galli is the origin of the adjective Gallic, now referring to all of Gaul; the name Gaul itself is not from the Germanic word * Walhaz. Gaulish culture developed out of the Celtic cultures over the first millennia BC; the Urnfield culture represents the Celts as a distinct cultural branch of the Indo-European-speaking people. The spread of iron working led to the Hallstatt culture in the 8th century BC; the Hallstatt culture evolved into the La Tène culture in around the 5th century BC. The Greek and Etruscan civilizations and colonies began to influence the Gauls in the Mediterranean area. Gauls under Brennus invaded Rome circa 390 BC. By the 5th century BC, the tribes called Gauls had migrated from Central France to the Mediterranean coast.
Gallic invaders settled the Po Valley in the 4th century BC, defeated Roman forces in a battle under Brennus in 390 BC and raided Italy as far as Sicily. In the 3rd century BC, the Gauls attempted an eastward expansion in 281-279 BC, towards the Balkan peninsula, which at that time was a Greek province, with the ultimate goal to reach and loot the rich Greek city-states of the Greek mainland, but the majority of the Gaul army was exterminated by the Greeks and the few Gauls that survived were forced to flee. A large number of Gauls served in the armies of Carthage during the Punic Wars, one of the leading rebel leaders of the Mercenary War, was of Gallic origin. During the Balkan expedition, led by Cerethrios and Bolgios, the Gauls raided twice the Greek mainland. At the end of the second expedition the Gallic raiders had been repelled by the coalition armies of the various Greek city-states and were forced to retreat to Illyria and Thrace, but the Greeks were forced to grant safe-passage to the Gauls who made their way to Asia Minor and settled in Central Anatolia.
The Gallic area of settlement in Asia Minor was called Galatia. But they were checked through the use of war elephants and skirmishers by the Greek Seleucid king Antiochus I in 275 BC, after which they served as mercenaries across the whole Hellenistic Eastern Mediterranean, including Ptolemaic Egypt, where they, under Ptolemy II Philadelphus, attempted to seize control of the kingdom. In the first Gallic invasion of Greece, they achieved victory over the Macedonians and killed the Macedonian king Ptolemy Keraunos, they focused on looting the rich Macedonian countryside, but avoided the fortified cities. The Macedonian general Sosthenes assembled an army, defeated Bolgius and repelled the invading Gauls. In the second Gaulish invasion of Greece, the Gauls, led by Brennos, suffered heavy losses while facing the Greek coalition army at Thermopylae, but helped by the Heracleans they followed the mountain path around Thermopylae to encircle the Greek army in the same way that the Persian army had done at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, but this time deafeating the whole of the Greek army.
After passing Thermopylae the Gauls headed for the rich treasury at Delphi, where they were defeated by the re-assembled Greek army. This led to a series of retreats of the Gauls, with devastating losses, all the way up to Macedonia and out of the Greek mainland; the major part of the Gaul army was defeated in the process, those Gauls survived were forced to flee from Greece. The Gallic leader Brennos was injured at Delphi and committed suicide there. (He is not to be confused with another Gaulish leader bearing the same name who had sacked Rome a century earlier. In 278 BC Gaulish settlers in the Balkans were invited by Nicomedes I of Bithynia to help him in a dynastic struggle against his brother, they numbered about 10,000 fighting men and about the same number of