He showed himself in the conduct of Asiatic affairs no unworthy successor of his instructor and friend Sulla. A Philhellene above most Romans of his time, he was not insensible to the obligation which Rome had come under when taking up the heritage of Alexander--the obligation to be the shield and sword of the Greeks in the east. Personal motives--the wish to earn laurels also beyond the Euphrates, irritation at the fact that the great- king in a letter to him had omitted the title of Imperator--may doubtless have partly influenced Lucullus; but it is unjust to assume paltry and selfish motives for actions, which motives of duty quite suffice to explain. The Roman governing college at any rate--timid, indolent, ill informed, and above all beset by perpetual financial embarrassments--could never be expected, without direct compulsion, to take the initiative in an expedition so vast and costly. About the year 682 the legitimate representatives of the Seleucid dynasty, Antiochus called the Asiatic and his brother, moved by the favourable turn of the Pontic war, had gone to Rome to procure a Roman intervention in Syria, and at the same time a recognition of their hereditary claims on Egypt. If the latter demand might not be granted, there could not, at any rate, be found a more favourable moment or occasion for beginning the war which had long been necessary against Tigranes. But the senate, while it recognized the princes doubtless as the legitimate kings of Syria, could not make up its mind to decree the armed intervention. If the favourable opportunity was to be employed, and Armenia was to be dealt with in earnest, Lucullus had to begin the war, without any proper orders from the senate, at his own hand and his own risk; he found himself, just like Sulla, placed under the necessity of executing what he did in the most manifest interest of the existing government, not with its sanction, but in spite of it. His resolution was facilitated by the relations of Rome towards Armenia, for long wavering in uncertainty between peace and war, which screened in some measure the arbitrariness of his proceedings, and failed not to suggest formal grounds for war. The state of matters in Cappadocia and Syria afforded pretexts enough; and already in the pursuit of the king of Pontus Roman troops had violated the territory of the great-king. As, however, the commission of Lucullus related to the conduct of the war against Mithradates and he wished to connect what he did with that commission, he preferred to send one of his officers, Appius Claudius, to the great-king at Antioch to demand the surrender of Mithradates, which in fact could not but lead to war.

Difficulties To Be Encountered

The resolution was a grave one, especially considering the condition of the Roman army. It was indispensable during the campaign in Armenia to keep the extensive territory of Pontus strongly occupied, for otherwise the army stationed in Armenia might lose its communications with home; and besides it might be easily foreseen that Mithradates would attempt an inroad into his former kingdom. The army, at the head of which Lucullus had ended the Mithradatic war, amounting to about 30,000 men, was obviously inadequate for this double task. Under ordinary circumstances the general would have asked and obtained from his government the despatch of a second army; but as Lucullus wished, and was in some measure compelled, to take up the war over the head of the government, he found himself necessitated to renounce that plan and--although he himself incorporated the captured Thracian mercenaries of the Pontic king with his troops--to carry the war over the Euphrates with not more than two legions, or at most 15,000 men. This was in itself hazardous; but the smallness of the number might be in some degree compensated by the tried valour of the army consisting throughout of veterans. A far worse feature was the temper of the soldiers, to which Lucullus, in his high aristocratic fashion, had given far too little heed. Lucullus was an able general, and--according to the aristocratic standard-- an upright and kindly-disposed man, but very far from being a favourite with his soldiers. He was unpopular, as a decided adherent of the oligarchy; unpopular, because he had vigorously checked the monstrous usury of the Roman capitalists in Asia Minor; unpopular, on account of the toils and fatigues which he inflicted on his troops; unpopular, because he demanded strict discipline in his soldiers and prevented as far as possible the pillage of the Greek towns by his men, but withal caused many a waggon and many a camel to be laden with the treasures of the east for himself; unpopular too on account of his manner, which was polished, haughty, Hellenizing, not at all familiar, and inclining, wherever it was possible, to ease and pleasure. There was no trace in him of the charm which weaves a personal bond between the general and the soldier. Moreover, a large portion of his ablest soldiers had every reason to complain of the unmeasured prolongation of their term of service. His two best legions were the same which Flaccus and Fimbria had led in 668 to the east;(14) notwithstanding that shortly after the battle of Cabira they had been promised their discharge well earned by thirteen campaigns, Lucullus now led them beyond the Euphrates to face a new incalculable war--it seemed as though the victors of Cabira were to be treated worse than the vanquished of Cannae.(15) It was in fact more than rash that, with troops so weak and so much out of humour, a general should at his own hand and, strictly speaking, at variance with the constitution, undertake an expedition to a distant and unknown land, full of rapid streams and snow-clad mountains--a land which from the very vastness of its extent rendered any lightly-undertaken attack fraught with danger. The conduct of Lucullus was therefore much and not unreasonably censured in Rome; only, amidst the censure the fact should not have been concealed, that the perversity of the government was the prime occasion of this venturesome project of the general, and, if it did not justify it, rendered it at least excusable.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book