The Roman Recessional 

WE may if we wish believe - as Livy would have us believe - that the Romans conquered their entire empire in self-defence, or at least out of a sense of justice and fair play. There was always another oppressed people to be succoured or a more distant enemy who needed humbling; and so the Roman Empire grew by a chain of circumstances that in retrospect at least seems inevitable. Philip V of Macedon and Antiochus the Great were crushed. Eumenes II of Pergamon and the Rhodian republic had been Rome's allies; but once the more formidable enemies had been overcome, they in their turn were too conspicuous and had to be humiliated. And, on the other side of the Aegean, Greece was finally reduced to impotence by Roman arms. The effect of this heavy/handed intervention on the political initiative of the Hellenistic states was stultifying. Attalus III recognised the futility of trying to postpone the inevitable outcome. He made Rome his heir; and after his death in 133 bc the kingdom of Pergamon became a Roman province. Before long, Italian business corporations were conv peting with provincial governors for the profits of Roman rule; Italian capital was invested in the neighbouring kingdom of Bithynia, and the independent spirit of the ruler of Pontus soon appeared as a cause of offence.
Mithridates VI of Pontus was descended from a noble Persian family; and a natural impetuosity, combined with the traditional Iranian virtues and a Greek cultural background, mark him out as the last picturesque monarch of free Anatolia. Neither he nor the Roman Senate wished to become involved in a major war. But there was not room in Asia Minor for Mithridates' ambition as well as Italian business interests. When war at last came in the year 88 bc, the King swept through the province of Asia; he was hailed as a liberator by the Greeks, and at his command tens of thousands of Italians were massacred. For a moment there was jubilation. But Mithridates could not hold what he had won; and it was only because of the many distractions that beset Rome as a world power that he was able for a quarter of a century to maintain a state of uneasy peace or open defiance. Eventually, in 66 B.c, he was driven out of Asia Minor to his last refuge in the Crimea; and Pompey the Great thereupon laid the foundations of a lasting settlement in which all Asia up to the Euphrates was brought under direct or indirect Roman rule.


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