We’ve all heard the old saw ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ and this is true. Of course this is true of every city ever built anywhere, but there is something massive about ancient Rome both in a literal sense and in a spiritual sense. But what is generally forgotten is that the empire was created in a lifetime. From the end of the Second Punic War through the smashing victories over the Greeks, Phillip the V, the Seleucid Empire, and others, Rome carved a bloody track that led from regional Italian power to world super power. Less than 70 years was all it took, but why?
Most empires emerge in a power vacuum, old powers become weak or cease to exists and a new comer picks up the pieces. This was how the Persian empire rose from the ashes of old empires like Assyria and Egypt. And Egypt rose where no empire had ever existed. But the Roman empire was unique. There were powers all around the Mediterranean basin at the time of Rome’s ascendancy and Rome beat them all in direct conflict. True, Alexander beat Persia but he never smashed another empire afterward, Rome did, more than once. And after all the Greeks had struck down the power of Persia long before Alexander.
Part was the revolution in military science created by Rome. The legion was more flexible and capable over a broader range of terrain types than any other competing army.
Roman strategic thinking was in the main clear: Find, fix and defeat the enemy. This simple prescription meant that any tactical finesse by the enemy availed them nothing while Roman Legions were beating on the gates of their capital city. And Roman victories were complete. The Romans thought in terms of campaigns, let me re-emphasize this last point: Rome thought in terms of CAMPAIGNS not single battles, NEVER single battles. The Romans would bleed and suffer for years, even decades to gain the victory. No other ancient nation was as prepared to carry on war for the length of time and use whatever resources or manpower needed to win.
Manpower was another Roman ace in the hole. During the first eight months of the Second Punic War, Rome lost some 100,000 legionaries. No other nation could have sustained such loss and continued to fight on. No ancient nation could have sustained a Cannae; 60,000 causalities in ONE DAY, more causalities than the British lost in the first day of the Somme offensive in 1916; and continue. This may have been in the mind of Hannibal as he waited around Cannae for Roman peace offerings that never came. By being able to create Legions even after terrible defeats meant Rome could sustain wars until if nothing else the enemy was exhausted from winning.
Lastly the Roman character admitted no equal let alone a superior to themselves. Anyone that has traveled to Italy as I have, has noted the tone of Rome and Romans. In their hearts they are still the seat of a great empire. This attitude meant that Romans where never intimidated by anyone. Carthaginian quinqueremes with trained rowers simply had to be imitated. The grandeur of the Alexander the Great and his Macedonians meant nothing to the Legions as they smashed through the Phalangists, Sarissa’s or no.
If a term can be used for this mindset it is this: The Romans carried the warrior virtues at all times. And it won them an empire.