An Alternative History of the Rise of Rome
This was a paper I wrote for a class dealing with the causes of war. It was meant to explore wars throughout history, and attempt to understand what leads to war. For my paper I used Sid Meier’s Civilization IV as a tool to plot out four possible paths the Roman empire could have taken other then war in its conflicts with Carthage. This is not a scientific study. It was primarily meant to use an excellent simulation software to explore the idea of alternatives to war, and thus is best thought of as a philosophical or mental exercise. I’m neither an expert on the Punic Wars, nor a historian. I am also not a pacifist, and do believe in justified wars. As with most people though (I hope), I would prefer war as the last available option. I’ve left off my reference list, but if anyone REALLY wants to see it, I can always make it available.
The purpose of this paper is to ask a simple question. What would have happened had Rome decided not to go to war with Carthage, but instead governed it’s state in a less violent manner. Due to limited information about the war and the time in which it took place (as most accounts of the events are written by a very Roman perspective and are thus of questionable historic accuracy), it is hard to realize the full extent of how “inevitable” the war was. Surely after the first Punic War, it seems to have been impossible to slow the snowballing effects of further fighting and future wars. Seeing as re-writing history from that point on is simple fiction, the aid of the computer game “Sid Meier’s Civilization” was employed to test out 4 scenarios of pacifistic governance by the Roman nation during the period of the three Punic Wars. The four play-throughs each followed one of four elements decided upon by the class (for which this paper is written) as its leading civic policy, in place of militarization. The four scenarios fall under the categories of economics, politics, morality, and ideological expansion. Each run utilizes one of these approaches to governance as its leading policy, whilst avoiding military build-up and expansion to the point of embracing pacifism. For it seems a brief window was made available in Rome just before her eventual confrontation with Carthage where the Roman senate hotly debated the issue of war, and being unable to reach a decision, “the matter was turned over to the popular assembly for consideration… This was a very rare occurrence in a matter of such importance, and must mean an equal division of opinion among leading senators (handout.)”
I will begin by giving a brief summary of some of the events leading up to each of the Punic Wars, followed by a review of pacifism and how it can work. Finally, I will delve into the different scenario’s listed above. This is not so much to say that the way “Civilization” simulates the events are exactly accurate, but is meant more as a philosophical exploration of the idea of pacifism in nation building and what it could imply in place of warfare. The game was tweaked in small ways to move it away from its relatively war-centric coding to make diplomacy and negotiation slightly more viable.
The Punic Wars occurred as the small and new nation of Rome grew in power through military expansion and the destruction of Carthage, eventually to be the dominant power in the Mediterranean. It can’t be argued that Rome’s militaristic attitude didn’t make it more powerful, or limit its ability to expand. In fact, when Carthage was sacked in 146 BC, large portions of North Africa, Greece and Spain were very much under Roman influence. As many warlords have claimed: unification through war is the only way towards peace, and Rome’s victories in the region seem to affirm this philosophy as it’s hard to argue that war doesn’t reap benefits for the winners such as land expansion. It is also equally hard to argue however, that these same wars have their price: a nation destroyed, many civilians killed or enslaved, and a continuation of violence in the region that never ceased despite Roman unification (handout).
As was stated above, war didn’t exactly limit Rome’s power, and indeed greatly expanded it. But at what cost? After all when Carthage burned at the hands of the Roman army, the Roman general “Scripio, beholding this spectacle, is said to have shed tears and publicly lamented the fortune of the enemy (handout.)” Scripio goes on to wonder about the fate of his own nation, and it’s inevitable fall at the hands of yet another violent war. And indeed, despite Rome’s near absolute rule of the region for many centuries to come, violent uprisings, wars, and militarization lead the way though-out this same period. It would seem that once on the militarized path, it was impossible for Rome to change its policy, and was simply experiencing the cyclical horror of violence breeding more violence.
Had the Roman’s decided against coming to Messana’s “aid” and let their tentative peace with Carthage continue, the history of the region and perhaps the world would have been wildly different, especially after considering Rome’s eventual influence in the world with the rise of the Roman catholic church many centuries later. So why did Rome decide to break it’s treaty with Carthage and knowingly start a war that in some respects went on for the next 118 years. Going back to the same senatorial debate on the subject as mentioned above, there was a seeming split in the Roman politicians. As is stated in one history however, “There was a substantial element among the senators who regarded the prospect of war with equanimity, believing that it would bring them political and military distinction, while many voters saw the prospect of material gain (handout.)” As could be said is the usual case for war, self-interest, and for lack of a better word, greed seems to be the driving force of the policies made by Rome. An arguably short sighted and reactionary thought process leads very easily to the idea that the best way to make gains is through aggression and hostility.
To point out the important element of self-preservation, many Romans also feared that should Carthage gain control of Sicily, they would in essence have Rome surrounded and have easy access to further expansion into Italy proper through the Straits of Messina, a small land bridge connecting Sicily to the mainland. And it’s obvious by Rome and Carthage’s three treaties signed before the warfare began that “Rome was.. apprehensive about Carthaginian encroachment on the Italian coast for the Romans had stipulated.. that [Carthage] must not establish a permanent foothold on Italian soil (handout.)” So aside from self interest and economic/political/ideological gains that some in Rome could except from a successful campaign, it was also about not letting the “enemy” strike first or get an upper hand. After all, Sicily being under both Greek and Carthaginian control, and not being unified meant a sort of buffer or shield for mainland Italy. Despite Carthage’s entirely diplomatic relationship with Rome up to this point, enough people saw this as the beginning of the end for that situation.
After the first of the three wars with Carthage, Rome added insult to injury by not only winning the war, but by also invading and taking both Sardinia and Corsica; two islands west of Italy and north of Carthage. This was an open exploitation by Rome taking advantage of Carthage’s military being weak and in need of serious bolstering. The result was the same that we see over and over again in history. When Rome attacked with violence, Carthage responded with more of the same. By this point it would appear that peace was next to impossible without serious losses to Roman interests. It is said that in response to the outrage caused by Rome, the Carthaginian “general Hamilcar Barca, made his nine-year-old son swear that he would hate Rome ever after (handout).” Of course, this young boy was none other than Hannibal himself, who would later lay waste to large parts of Italy “in response” to Rome’s aggressions, and further the cycle of violence.
By the end of the second war with Carthage and Hannibal, the situation had escalated far out of control and the elements of greed were far to entrenched in the policy making bodies of Rome. She carried out her attacks on Carthage one final time from 149-146 BC, leading to Carthage’s final destruction.
Before going into the experiment itself, it is important to take a moment to address political pacifism itself as a viable alternative to the policies of war. A concept so unfamiliar to so many in our violence ridden world is hard to take seriously by most. It’s easy for people to dismiss pacifism as unrealistic, and critics seem to take particularly pleasure in tearing it down as some sort of juvenile, idealistic, and unrealistic approach to “the real world.” Andrew Alexandra, in his article “Political Pacifism” points out some of these criticisms. He writes: ““’Jan Narveson, for example, in his influential paper on pacifism, finds the doctrine of pacifism to be at the same time ‘incoherent,’ ‘self-contradictory,’ and ‘logically untenable.’” “According to Tom Regan, ‘[t]o regard the pacifist’s belief as ‘bizarre and vaguely ludicrous’ is, perhaps, to put it mildly.” “Elizabeth Anscombe says of pacifism that ‘[i]t is an illusion, which would be fantastic if it were not so familiar,’ and claims further that it ‘has corrupted enormous numbers of people’”( Alexandra, 589.)” With such hostile views of a philosophy of non-hostility, it seems the argument itself is an argument against pacifism. After all, if the very idea of non-violence is treated with such contempt and hostility, how would the actual practice of said philosophy possibly have a chance, seeing as people seem to not take it seriously enough to put into practice.
Fortunately, Mr. Alexandra goes on to point out a recent example of pacifism in action, where it seems to have worked. He cites Lithuania’s proclamation of independence from the USSR in 1990, and Russia’s eventual withdrawal from combat in the face of pacifistic resistance put up by the Lithuanian citizens.
“On 11 January 1991, paratroopers opened fire on unarmed civilians in the capital who were trying to protect the Press Building. In the early hours of 13 January, a tank and infantry attack took place against civilians guarding the television tower; fourteen people were killed and 702 injured. After the seizure of the tower, the people did not disperse, but moved to the center of the city to join the crowd surrounding and protecting the Supreme Council from the threat of imminent attack. No attack came. The Lithuanian philosopher Grazina Miniotaite, from whose account these details are drawn, claims that “undoubtedly, the Soviet government’s decision to refrain from the assault was due to the people’s dogged determination despite the loss of lives at the television tower.” The U.S.S.R. eventually withdrew its troops [and] international recognition of the state of Lithuania was granted in late 1991 ( Alexandra, 589.)”
It is important to point out examples such as this that show pacifism succeeding, to help shift the general societal views of the philosophy towards greater acceptance. The small nation of Costa Rica (which is a lovely place to visit) is also an obvious example of a pacifist state that has not only survived for many years in a very militaristic region with no standing army, but has actually thrived, being a symbol of stability in central America. As reported in the Christian Science Monitor: “”The greatest challenge to democracy in Latin America – not just in Central America – is to prove democracy works,” says Oscar Arias Sanchez, former president of Costa Rica and 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner. “We don’t want to arrive at the end of this century with new dictators,” he says. “But democracy must deliver the goods. For democracy to deliver the goods we need to eliminate economic distortions and the Army is one of the greatest distortions and obstacles to economic growth” (Civilian.)” And the New York Times reported: “Costa Rica has long maintained stable democracy and relative economic stability without an army. Not only that; the absence of an army has created a climate of international good will; when Costa Rica ran into debt problems last year, it was able to win generous relief (Panama.)” In contrast, neighboring Panama has suffered one loss after another trying to control its territory through militaristic approaches. Though brief, these are just a couple examples of pacifism in action and working effectively.
Having discussed briefly the situation in Rome prior to the Punic Wars, and giving a quick overview of the concept of pacifism, we now come to the study itself. As the following charts and graphs will show, Rome theoretically could have not only sustained itself, but possibly even thrived under a more pacifistic rule. The results seem to suggest the strength of morals and ideology are much more far reaching then they would appear at first glance, with a Rome driven by religion (in its Roman mythos as opposed to the later Catholic Church), and culture could have done very well for itself. Below I will compare how the state fared in the following areas under particular civic codes: The economy, production and manufacturing, farm and crop output, land acquisition, and finally the ruler’s approval ratings or how the citizens viewed the direction of the state. I also compare these elements against where they were when the simulation first began in 300 BC, where it was at the start of the 1st historic Punic war, and where it was during the historic fall of Carthage. Finally, I compare the Roman empire against that of other powers in the region such as Greece, Carthage, the Celts (or Gaul ), Egypt, and a number of smaller nations such as the tribes of Hispania. The graphs each show one field of growth under each civic model, and any growth/contraction they experienced as time went on.
Gold gained by each model.
Starting with the economic growth of Rome, the graph below shows very similar growth for both the policies of economic and political rule. Curiously, however, where one would assume that a policy driven by economic growth would lead to the greatest actual economic prosperity, I found almost the exact opposite to happen. In both a politically and economically driven simulations, Rome ended up fairing much worse than the two other runs. That’s not to say that they didn’t experience growth, but instead didn’t seem to do so with such speed as the other two. It would be hard to explain this in a real world sense in large part due to my limited knowledge on the real world economics of either then or now, but if one were to venture a guess, perhaps this would show the same failings that the self-interest driven policies of war seem to encourage, in that by looking inward for growth, and using the market as your main leveraging tool, the all important human element is left out, and much like we see in our current economic crisis, when driven entirely by greed and capital, the system eventually collapses under its own eventual corruption. Where as in the simulations encouraging cultural growth, a much more balanced growth in terms of the civilization itself was able to take place.
The manufacturing industry seemed to fair much better under the economic model as seen below, and comes as no real surprise. When all your resources are applied to trade, you can develop large industrial gains. Interestingly, the “moral” run also produced improved industry, and an explanation of the polices governing that simulation could explain that. Finding their attempts at converting pre-existing nations to the Roman mythos being very difficult, Rome decided to instead use the somewhat colonial model of sending out religious settlements one after another to set-up communities north of Rome. Though often harassed by marauding brigands and the like, Rome managed to keep diplomatic ties with the neighboring Celtic tribes and minimize the threat from that angel. Perhaps it was this rapid expansion that also prompted industrial growth, and even perhaps the religious Rome’s great financial success.
Manufacturing under each model.
The next graph is perhaps the least relevant for the purpose of this paper, but is more for anecdotal information about infrastructure during these different Romes. It shows the amount of crops produced to sustain its own citizens. There is little to be said aside from the religious or moral Rome had the greatest output, likely due to the above stated policy of religious expansion. The more settlements you have the more food you need to produce. A lack of sufficient food of course could lead to unhappy and traitorous settlements, and obviously needs to be avoided.
Perhaps the most frequently cited example of the historic Rome’s success is its vast gains in land, one of the bigger factors of expansion, and perhaps a better explanation of why some of the growth took place in the economic realm. Both the religious and the cultural Romes controlled almost twice as much land as the economic and political Romes by the year 146 BC. The settlement policies of the religious Rome would be an obvious reason for the massive accumulation of land, but why the cultural Rome’s growth? Surprisingly, when Rome focused on the arts rather than warfare, their cultural influence grew to such proportions, that the surrounding landscape started becoming more culturally Roman. One after another, small settlements and even the island of Corsica began to identify themselves as Roman. In the case of Corsica, there was a people’s revolution, prompting the placement of a new governor and control of the region. And unlike the historic taking of the island, this didn’t spur retaliation by Carthage, and though it may have heightened political tensions, profited both Rome and its people by providing them with a rich culture and a war free life.
Land and expansion.
Next we see the approval ratings by the people of the actions of Rome. Much like most political powers, a new ruler enters with higher approval ratings only to watch them slowly melt away with time. The goal here then is to try to prevent this slip, and at the least, keep its fall as slow as possible. Both the religious and cultural simulations left the citizenry in about the same state of happiness in their rulers. The political modal was really the only example which fared significantly worse than the other here, but that has been consistently true for every graph shown. It would seem that ignoring all else in favor of politics (back room deals and what have you), is the least effective way to lead a nation (at least according to this simulation). Consistently, politics failed Rome where culture, religion, and even trade succeeded, raising questions of the actual worth of politicians and whether they do more harm than good. Many a joke or political cartoon can be drawn from such conclusions, but it seems apparent that slick talk is never enough.
Finally, we compare Rome to the rest of the region by applying hierarchical rankings to each model. What we see is that consistently, Rome did better relying on winning people’s hearts and minds instead of their pocket books. The only time Rome really did well in the political and economic models was in manufacturing, where they seem to soar compared to the rest. But as all the other graphs show, this lead to no real gains outside of crating more “stuff,” and had questionable value in the long term.
From 1st to last.
It seems the biggest surprise comes in the success of the religious Rome. On further observation however, one needs only think of the Catholic Rome ruled by its Popes (for better or for worse) that for so long held great influence in most of Europe long after the days of the Cesar’s. Also a point of consideration would be the success of a cultural Rome. To observe the real world Catholic Rome once again here, it’s important to point out that the church was also instrumental in developing and expanding culture in the Europe of the middle ages, leading to the eventual start of the renaissance, spurred almost entirely by the churches interest and funding of the arts. Having no immediate real world comparison of a civilization basing the bulk of its growth on culture, it’s hard to really compare the pros and cons of culture versus religion. It would be interesting to note however, that the United Stated popularity the world over seems to have been at its high point when the country abandoned (or at least de-prioritized) its religious stance and expanded its culture in the form of music, literature, and film from the 1950’s to the 1960’s.
Perhaps this is my own opinion, but I would forward the idea that though the religious model did slightly better than the cultural model, I would advocate for culture in the end, as both the simulation (in the constant attacks of the settlements and the hostile view of powers subscribing to differing religious viewpoints suggests) and the real world example of Rome in the middle ages show a great loss of life can also occur from religious policies. Where-as when we look at modern day Costa Rica and its success in the region (despite being a very catholic country), it can easily be argued that they have done as well as they have by promoting Costa Rica for its culture and natural beauty.
As stated in the beginning, the purpose of this paper hasn’t been so much as to promote any particular view over another on any sort of scientific grounds, but instead to provide some alternative view points and ideas for how history could have progressed. At least in this instance, it seems Rome could have done well for itself by avoiding armed conflict, and instead looking towards creation and the arts. As a final bit of anecdotal information, the first “test” simulation I ran allowed Rome to act in its historically militaristic manner, and lead to large parts of the region coming under the military control of the Empire, and also leading to the destruction of both Greece and Carthage. Though Rome had more land at the end then the pacifistic policies we looked at more closely in this paper, it was at the loss of many lives, and any cultural or infrastructural growth. In the end, it was just a large army that needed to continue fighting to justify its existence, and it needed to continue growing to stave off the growing list of enemies Rome made in the process, thus once again repeating the cycle of violence.