Since the time of Alexander the world had obeyed the Occidentals alone, and the east seemed to be for these merely what America and Australia afterwards became for the Europeans; with Mithradates I the east re-entered the sphere of political movement. The world had again two masters.

Maritime Relations Piracy

It remains that we glance at the maritime relations of this period; although there is hardly anything else to be said, than that there no longer existed anywhere a naval power. Carthage was annihilated; the war-fleet of Syria was destroyed in accordance with the treaty; the war-marine of Egypt, once so powerful, was under its present indolent rulers in deep decay. The minor states, and particularly the mercantile cities, had doubtless some armed transports; but these were not even adequate for the task--so difficult in the Mediterranean--of repressing piracy. This task necessarily devolved on Rome as the leading power in the Mediterranean. While a century previously the Romans had come forward in this matter with especial and salutary decision, and had in particular introduced their supremacy in the east by a maritime police energetically handled for the general good,(40) the complete nullity of this police at the very beginning of this period as distinctly betokens the fearfully rapid decline of the aristocratic government. Rome no longer possessed a fleet of her own; she was content to make requisitions for ships, when it seemed necessary, from the maritime towns of Italy, Asia Minor, and elsewhere. The consequence naturally was, that buccaneering became organized and consolidated. Something, perhaps, though not enough, was done towards its suppression, so far as the direct power of the Romans extended, in the Adriatic and Tyrrhene seas. The expeditions directed against the Dalmatian and Ligurian coasts at this epoch aimed especially at the suppression of piracy in the two Italian seas; for the same reason the Balearic islands were occupied in 631.(41) But in the Mauretanian and Greek waters the inhabitants along the coast and the mariners were left to settle matters with the corsairs in one way or another, as they best could; for Roman policy adhered to the principle of troubling itself as little as possible about these more remote regions. The disorganized and bankrupt commonwealths in the states along the coast thus left to themselves naturally became places of refuge for the corsairs; and there was no want of such, especially in Asia.


A bad pre-eminence in this respect belonged to Crete, which, from its favourable situation and the weakness or laxity of the great states of the west and east, was the only one of all the Greek settlements that had preserved its independence. Roman commissions doubtless came and went to this island, but accomplished still less there than they did even in Syria and Egypt. It seemed almost as if fate had left liberty to the Cretans only in order to show what was the result of Hellenic independence. It was a dreadful picture. The old Doric rigour of the Cretan institutions had become, just as in Tarentum, changed into a licentious democracy, and the chivalrous spirit of the inhabitants into a wild love of quarrelling and plunder; a respectable Greek himself testifies, that in Crete alone nothing was accounted disgraceful that was lucrative, and even the Apostle Paul quotes with approval the saying of a Cretan poet,

--Kretes aei pseustai, kaka theria, gasteres argai--.

Perpetual civil wars, notwithstanding the Roman efforts to bring about peace, converted one flourishing township after another on the old "island of the hundred cities" into heaps of ruins. Its inhabitants roamed as robbers at home and abroad, by land and by sea; the island became the recruiting ground for the surrounding kingdoms, after that evil was no longer tolerated in the Peloponnesus, and above all the true seat of piracy; about this period, for instance, the island of Siphnus was thoroughly pillaged by a fleet of Cretan corsairs. Rhodes--which, besides, was unable to recover from the loss of its possessions on the mainland and from the blows inflicted on its commerce(42)--expended its last energies in the wars which it found itself compelled to wage against the Cretans for the suppression of piracy (about 600), and in which the Romans sought to mediate, but without earnestness and apparently without success.


Along with Crete, Cilicia soon began to become a second home for this buccaneering system. Piracy there not only gained ground owing to the impotence of the Syrian rulers, but the usurper Diodotus Tryphon, who had risen from a slave to be king of Syria (608-615), encouraged it by all means in his chief seat, the rugged or western Cilicia, with a view to strengthen his throne by the aid of the corsairs. The uncommonly lucrative character of the traffic with the pirates, who were at once the principal captors of, and dealers in slaves, procured for them among the mercantile public, even in Alexandria, Rhodes, and Delos, a certain toleration, in which the very governments shared at least by inaction. The evil was so serious that the senate, about 611, sent its best man Scipio Aemilianus to Alexandria and Syria, in order to ascertain on the spot what could be done in the matter. But diplomatic representations of the Romans did not make weak governments strong; there was no other remedy but that of directly maintaining a fleet in these waters, and for this the Roman government lacked energy and perseverance. So all things just remained on the old footing; the piratic fleet was the only considerable naval power in the Mediterranean; the capture of men was the only trade that flourished there. The Roman government was an onlooker; but the Roman merchants, as the best customers in the slave market, kept up an active and friendly traffic with the pirate captains, as the most important wholesale dealers in that commodity, at Delos and elsewhere.

General Result

We have followed the transformation of the outward relations of Rome and the Romano-Hellenic world generally in its leading outlines, from the battle of Pydna to the period of the Gracchi, from the Tagus and the Bagradas to the Nile and the Euphrates.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
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