It is not impossible that Alexander may have cherished such thoughts; nor is it necessary to resort for an explanation of their origin to the mere difficulty which an autocrat, who is fond of war and is well provided with soldiers and ships, experiences in setting limits to his warlike career. It was an enterprise worthy of a Greek great king to protect the Siceliots against Carthage and the Tarentines against Rome, and to put an end to piracy on either sea; and the Italian embassies from the Bruttians, Lucanians, and Etruscans,(1) that along with numerous others made their appearance at Babylon, afforded him sufficient opportunities of becoming acquainted with the circumstances of the peninsula and of entering into relations with it. Carthage with its many connections in the east could not but attract the attention of the mighty monarch, and it was probably one of his designs to convert the nominal sovereignty of the Persian king over the Tyrian colony into a real one: it was not for nothing that a Phoenician spy was found in the retinue of Alexander. Whether, however, these ideas were dreams or actual projects, the king died without having interfered in the affairs of the west, and his ideas were buried with him. For but a few brief years a Greek ruler had held in his hand the whole intellectual vigour of the Hellenic race combined with the whole material resources of the east. On his death the work to which his life had been devoted--the establishment of Hellenism in the east--was by no means undone; but his empire had barely been united when it was again dismembered, and, amidst the constant quarrels of the different states that were formed out of its ruins, the object of world-wide interest which they were destined to promote--the diffusion of Greek culture in the east--though not abandoned, was prosecuted on a feeble and stunted scale. Under such circumstances, neither the Greek nor the Asiatico-Egyptian states could think of acquiring a footing in the west or of turning their efforts against the Romans or the Carthaginians. The eastern and western state-systems subsisted side by side for a time without crossing, politically, each other's path; and Rome in particular remained substantially aloof from the complications in the days of Alexander's successors. The only relations established were of a mercantile kind; as in the instance of the free state of Rhodes, the leading representative of the policy of commercial neutrality in Greece and in consequence the universal medium of intercourse in an age of perpetual wars, which about 448 concluded a treaty with Rome --a commercial convention of course, such as was natural between a mercantile people and the masters of the Caerite and Campanian coasts. Even in the supply of mercenaries from Hellas, the universal recruiting field of those times, to Italy, and to Tarentum in particular, political relations--such as subsisted, for instance, between Tarentum and Sparta its mother-city--exercised but a very subordinate influence. In general the raising of mercenaries was simply a matter of traffic, and Sparta, although it regularly supplied the Tarentines with captains for their Italian wars, was by that course as little involved in hostilities with the Italians, as in the North American war of independence the German states were involved in hostilities with the Union, to whose opponents they sold the services of their subjects.

The Historical Position Of Pyrrhus

Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, was himself simply a military adventurer. He was none the less a soldier of fortune that he traced back his pedigree to Aeacus and Achilles, and that, had he been more peacefully disposed, he might have lived and died as "king" of a small mountain tribe under the supremacy of Macedonia or perhaps in isolated independence. He has been compared to Alexander of Macedonia; and certainly the idea of founding a Hellenic empire of the west--which would have had as its core Epirus, Magna Graecia, and Sicily, would have commanded both the Italian seas, and would have reduced Rome and Carthage to the rank of barbarian peoples bordering on the Hellenistic state-system, like the Celts and the Indians--was analogous in greatness and boldness to the idea which led the Macedonian king over the Hellespont. But it was not the mere difference of issue that formed the distinction between the expedition to the east and that to the west. Alexander with his Macedonian army, in which the staff especially was excellent, could fully make head against the great-king; but the king of Epirus, which stood by the side of Macedonia somewhat as Hesse by the side of Prussia, could only raise an army worthy of the name by means of mercenaries and of alliances based on accidental political combinations. Alexander made his appearance in the Persian empire as a conqueror; Pyrrhus appeared in Italy as the general of a coalition of secondary states. Alexander left his hereditary dominions completely secured by the unconditional subjection of Greece, and by the strong army that remained behind under Antipater; Pyrrhus had no security for the integrity of his native dominions but the word of a doubtful neighbour. In the case of both conquerors, if their plans should be crowned with success, their native country would necessarily cease to be the centre of their new empire; but it was far more practicable to transfer the seat of the Macedonian military monarchy to Babylon than to found a soldier-dynasty in Tarentum or Syracuse. The democracy of the Greek republics--perpetual agony though it was--could not be at all coerced into the stiff forms of a military state; Philip had good reason for not incorporating the Greek republics with his empire. In the east no national resistance was to be expected; ruling and subject races had long lived there side by side, and a change of despot was a matter of indifference or even of satisfaction to the mass of the population. In the west the Romans, the Samnites, the Carthaginians, might be vanquished; but no conqueror could have transformed the Italians into Egyptian fellahs, or rendered the Roman farmers tributaries of Hellenic barons.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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