A misty history of Roman Portugal – Part 3

in Curiosità · 12-07-2021 11:23:00 · 0 Commmenti

Roberto Knight Cavaleiro

Part 3 - Pompeu Magno, Julius Caesar and the mighty Emperor Augustus

The 1st century BC marked the last days of the Roman Republic and creation of the province of Lusitania as part of the nascent Empire. Two of the most important protagonists were Julius Caesar and Pompey Magno whose lives were curiously intertwined. Both men were born in the year 100 BC and both were to be treacherously assassinated in years 48 and 44 respectively. Each was highly skilled as a military strategist and politician. In the early years they were great friends and the relationship was cemented by the marriage in 59 of Caesar´s daughter, Julia, to Pompey and by their mutual dependency on the financial help and guidance of Marcus Lucius Crassus, fifteen years their senior and the wealthiest citizen of Rome having made his fortune as a dealer in land , slaves and precious metals. In 60 BC the three men formed a triumvirate which was intended to bypass Senate control and handed the spoils of Gaul to Caesar, Hispania to Pompey and Syria to Crassus. But the rivalry between the three became increasingly bitter and , after the death of Crassus in 53 BC, fell into civil war.

Following the end of the Sertorian war in 73 BC, the annals are strangely silent concerning the fragile peace in the two provinces of Hispania which continued under the military governance of Pompey Magno until year 67 when the Senate, considering his task to have been accomplished, directed his military prowess to be employed elsewhere in the Republic. He was replaced by Praetor Publius Pifo , a peaceful man, who aimed to gain the confidence of the people but he was succeeded by Cneus Pifo who alienated the natives by repression causing a series of confrontations which might have been more serious had it not been for the divisions in the ranks of the autochthones.

Then , in 61, along came Julius Caesar fresh from his successes in Gaul . His governance started badly with harsh disciplinary actions against several of the tribes which had skirmished with the Romans in Castile and Andaluzia. He then showed clemency to the people who occupied the mountainous Herminius district (Serra da Estrela) and persuaded them to surrender their weapons in return for a truce which would compensate for the plunder by his troops of their temples dedicated to the local god Endovelicus . But Caesar was not so considerate when ordering the relocation of some Lusitanian tribes from their hill-forts to the Beira hinterland. Many women and children and their beasts died when trying to cross the river Douro while their menfolk , fighting as a rear-guard with backs to the water, were decimated. But a fairly large body escaped to the Ocean and there succeeded in passing the estuary at ebb tide to the “island” of Peniche. Their pursuers tried to follow using improvised rafts but the flow was too strong and many Roman soldiers were drowned. Despite this, Julius Caesar claimed to be victorious and continued the policy of “divide and rule” which enabled him to win the Gallic Wars.

From his military HQ at Caceres Caesar ordered the creation of direct routes to Viseu and Santarem where large fortified camps were built each with an adjacent vici (planned village) to accommodate native victuallers and provide home comforts for the troops. Additionally the forts of Brutus were either enlarged or abandoned to form a strategic network for the administration of his military government. Olissipo was granted the status of a Roman city and renamed Felicitas Julia. Later, Ebora (Evora) was renamed Liberalitas Julia and with Myrtilis (Mértola) were each given the title of city with rights under Latin law. To re-construct these locations in Roman style , Caesar encouraged the immigration from Italica of skilled craftsmen and their families who created the colony named Scallibis (Santarem) Praesidium Julium.

In year 56 Caesar departed for Rome to make his bid to be elected as one of the two annual consuls and was then absent from Iberia for twelve years. During that period, the two provinces were under the jurisdiction of Pompey who ruled initially through Proconsul Publius Cincinnatus assisted by his military commanders as governors .They dealt effectively with a number of local “commotions” but did little to continue with the reconstruction started by Caesar preferring instead to preserve the status quo. In this, they were aided by the disunity of the peoples of Hispania Ulterior who quarrelled concerning land boundaries and the degree to which they should cooperate with their Roman rulers. The services of some warriors of the Lusitanian tribes could be provided to the highest bidder as happened in year 56 when ambassadors from Gaul recruited in Hispania “a mighty army” of militia but they were defeated in France by the legions of Julius Caesar led by Legate Publius Crassus. Such disaffection only served to widen the enmity between Caesar and Pompey which ended the Triumvirate by opening a civil war which was contested not only in Rome but throughout the provinces of the Republic.

From 47 their followed a series of confrontations in Hispania Ulterior between the armies of Caesar led by Quintus Cassius Longinus , a cruel man, whose actions caused the people to invite the sons of Pompey , Cneus and Sextus, to take command of their forces. Bitter civil war ensued with Romans and allied tribes fighting each other. But after the battle of Munda in March 45 ,when Pompey´s forces were defeated, Caesar´s authority was not disputed until his assassination one year later after which chaos reigned in the Iberian peninsular.

At the time of Caesar´s demise the eighteen year Gaius Octavius was training as a soldier in Illyria when he was informed that his great-uncle had bequeathed to him two thirds of his estate and the loyalty of his veteran legions who rallied to protect him from the continuing vendetta in Rome. With extraordinary political skill he joined Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus in the 2nd Triumvirate to defeat the enemies of Caesar and then used his inherited wealth and military force to eliminate his opponents finally culminating in the exile of Lepidus and the defeat of Antony at the battle of Actrium in 31BC. Four years later he was acclaimed as Imperador Augustus and remained as such until he died in 14AD . One of his immediate acts in 27BC was to create three new provinces out of the former Hispania Ulterior of which Lusitania stretched between the boundaries of the rivers Guardiana and Douro for a distance of nearly 400 km to the east. Of this we shall recount in : Part 4 – the State of Lusitania.



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