War With The Pirates

The maritime war against the pirates, which began at the same time with the continental war and was all along most closely connected with it, yielded no better results. It has been already mentioned (20) that the senate in 680 adopted the judicious resolution to entrust the task of clearing the seas from the corsairs to a single admiral in supreme command, the praetor Marcus Antonius. But at the very outset they had made an utter mistake in the choice of the leader; or rather those, who had carried this measure so appropriate in itself, had not taken into account that in the senate all personal questions were decided by the influence of Cethegus(21) and similar coterie-considerations. They had moreover neglected to furnish the admiral of their choice with money and ships in a manner befitting his comprehensive task, so that with his enormous requisitions he was almost as burdensome to the provincials whom he befriended as were the corsairs.

Defeat Of Antonius Off Cydonia

The results were corresponding. In the Campanian waters the fleet of Antonius captured a number of piratical vessels. But an engagement took place with the Cretans, who had entered into friendship and alliance with the pirates and abruptly rejected his demand that they should desist from such fellowship; and the chains, with which the foresight of Antonius had provided his vessels for the purpose of placing the captive buccaneers in irons, served to fasten the quaestor and the other Roman prisoners to the masts of the captured Roman ships, when the Cretan generals Lasthenes and Panares steered back in triumph to Cydonia from the naval combat in which they had engaged the Romans off their island. Antonius, after having squandered immense sums and accomplished not the slightest result by his inconsiderate mode of warfare, died in 683 at Crete. The ill success of his expedition, the costliness of building a fleet, and the repugnance of the oligarchy to confer any powers of a more comprehensive kind on the magistrates, led them, after the practical termination of this enterprise by Antonius' death, to make no farther nomination of an admiral-in-chief, and to revert to the old system of leaving each governor to look after the suppression of piracy in his own province: the fleet equipped by Lucullus for instance(22) was actively employed for this purpose in the Aegean sea.

Cretan War

So far however as the Cretans were concerned, a disgrace like that endured off Cydonia seemed even to the degenerate Romans of this age as if it could be answered only by a declaration of war. Yet the Cretan envoys, who in the year 684 appeared in Rome with the request that the prisoners might be taken back and the old alliance reestablished, had almost obtained a favourable decree of the senate; what the whole corporation termed a disgrace, the individual senator was ready to sell for a substantial price. It was not till a formal resolution of the senate rendered the loans of the Cretan envoys among the Roman bankers non-actionable-- that is, not until the senate had incapacitated itself for undergoing bribery--that a decree passed to the effect that the Cretan communities, if they wished to avoid war, should hand over not only the Roman deserters but the authors of the outrage perpetrated off Cydonia--the leaders Lasthenes and Panares--to the Romans for befitting punishment, should deliver up all ships and boats of four or more oars, should furnish 400 hostages, and should pay a fine of 4000 talents (975,000 pounds). When the envoys declared that they were not empowered to enter into such terms, one of the consuls of the next year was appointed to depart on the expiry of his official term for Crete, in order either to receive there what was demanded or to begin the war.

Metellus Subdues Crete

Accordingly in 685 the proconsul Quintus Metellus appeared in the Cretan waters. The communities of the island, with the larger towns Gortyna, Cnossus, Cydonia at their head, were resolved rather to defend themselves in arms than to submit to those excessive demands. The Cretans were a nefarious and degenerate people,(23) with whose public and private existence piracy was as intimately associated as robbery with the commonwealth of the Aetolians; but they resembled the Aetolians in valour as in many other respects, and accordingly these two were the only Greek communities that waged a courageous and honourable struggle for independence. At Cydonia, where Metellus landed his three legions, a Cretan army of 24,000 men under Lasthenes and Panares was ready to receive him; a battle took place in the open field, in which the victory after a hard struggle remained with the Romans. Nevertheless the towns bade defiance from behind their walls to the Roman general; Metellus had to make up his mind to besiege them in succession. First Cydonia, in which the remains of the beaten army had taken refuge, was after a long siege surrendered by Panares in return for the promise of a free departure for himself. Lasthenes, who had escaped from the town, had to be besieged a second time in Cnossus; and, when this fortress also was on the point of falling, he destroyed its treasures and escaped once more to places which still continued their defence, such as Lyctus, Eleuthera, and others. Two years (686, 687) elapsed, before Metellus became master of the whole island and the last spot of free Greek soil thereby passed under the control of the dominant Romans; the Cretan communities, as they were the first of all Greek commonwealths to develop the free urban constitution and the dominion of the sea, were also to be the last of all those Greek maritime states that formerly filled the Mediterranean to succumb to the Roman continental power.

The Pirates In The Mediterranean

All the legal conditions were fulfilled for celebrating another of the usual pompous triumphs; the gens of the Metelli could add to its Macedonian, Numidian, Dalmatian, Balearic titles with equal right the new title of Creticus, and Rome possessed another name of pride.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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