Livy Speculates on a Confrontation between
the Macedonians Under Alexander the Great and the Early Roman Republic.
[Titus Livius. The History of Rome, vol. 2 (London: George Bell, 1903), bk. ix, ch. 17-19]
17. Nothing can be found farther from my intention, since the commencement of this history, than to digress, more than necessity required, from the course of narration; and, by embellishing my work with variety, to seek pleasing resting places, as it w ere, for my readers, and relaxation for my own mind: nevertheless, the mention of so great a king and commander, nor calls forth to public view those silent reflections, with which it has oftentimes occupied my mind; and disposes me to inquire, what would have been the consequence, respecting the affairs of the Romans, if they had happened to have been engaged in a war with Alexander. The circumstances of greatest moment in war seem to be, the number and bravery of the soldiers, the abilities of the commanders, and fortune, which exerts a powerful sway over all human concerns, and especially over those of war. Now these particulars, to one who considers them both separately and collectively, must clearly convince an observer, that not only other kings and nations, but that even Alexander himself, would have found the Roman empire invincible. And first to begin with comparing the commanders. I do not, indeed, deny that Alexander was a captain of consummate merit; but still it renders him more illustrious that he was single in command, and that he died young, while his affairs were advancing in improvement, and while he had not yet experienced a reverse of fortune. For, to pass by other illustrious kings and leaders, who afford exemplary instances of the decline of human greatness, what was it, but length of life, which subjected Cyrus (whom the Greeks, in their panegyrics, exalt so far beyond all others) to the caprice of fortune ? And the same was, lately, the case of Pompey the Great. I shall enumerate the Roman chiefs; not every one of every age, but those very ones with whom, either as consuls or dictators, Alexander might have been engaged: Marcus Valerius Corvus, Caius Marcius Rutilus, Caius Sulpicius, Titus Manlius Torquatus, Quintus Publilius Philo, Lucius Papirius Cursor, Quintus Fabius Maximus, the two Decii, Lucius Volumnius, Manius Curius. Then follow a number of very extraordinary men, had it so happened, that he had first engaged in war with Carthage, and had come into Italy at a more advanced period of life. Every one of these both possessed powers of mind and a capacity equal with Alexander; and also a regular system of military discipline had been transmitted from one to another, from the first rise of the city of Rome; a system now reduced into the form of an art, completely digested in a train of fixed and settled principles. According to these principles kings had carried on wars; and afterwards, the expellers of those kings, the Junii and Valerii; according to these the Fabii, the Quintii, the Cornelii, and so too Furius Camillus, who was an old man in the earlier years of those with whom Alexander must have fought. Manlius Torquatus, had he met him in the field, might, perhaps, have yielded to Alexander in discharging military duties in battle (for these also render him no less illustrious); and so might Valerius Corvus; men who were distinguished soldiers, before they became commanders. The same, too, might have been the case with the Decii, who, after devoting their persons, rushed upon the enemy; or of Papirius Cursor, though possessed of such powers, both of body and mind. By the counsels of one youth, it is possible the wisdom of the whole senate, not to mention individuals, might have been baffled, [consisting of such members,] that he alone, who declared that " it consisted of kings," conceived a correct idea of a Roman senate. But then the danger was, that with more judgment than any one of those whom I have named he might choose ground for an encampment, provide supplies, guard against stratagems, distinguish the season for fighting, form his line of battle, or strengthen it properly with reserves. He would have owned that he was not dealing with Darius, who drew after him a train of women and eunuchs; saw nothing about him but gold and purple; was encumbered with the trappings of his state, and should be called his prey, rather than his antagonist; whom therefore he vanquished without loss of blood, and had no other merit, on the occasion, than that of showing a proper spirit in despising empty show. The aspect of Italy would have appeared to him of a quite different nature from that of India, which he traversed in the guise of a reveller, at the head of a crew of drunkards, if he had seen the forests of Apulia, and the mountains of Lucania, with the vestiges of the disasters of his house, and where his uncle Alexander, king of Epirus, had been lately cut off.
18. We are now speaking of Alexander not yet intoxicated by prosperity, the seductions of which no man was less capable of withstanding. But, if he is to be judged from the tenor of his conduct in the new state of his fortune, and from the new disposition, as I may say, which he put on after his successes, he would have entered Italy more like Darius than Alexander; and would have brought thither an army who had forgotten Macedonia, and were degenerating into the manners of the Persians. It is painful, in speaking of so great a king, to recite his ostentatious change of dress; his requiring that people should address him with adulation prostrating themselves on the ground, a practice insupportable to the Macedonians, had they even been conquered, much more so when they were victorious; the shocking cruelty of his punishments; his murdering his friends in the midst of feasting and wine; with the folly of his fiction respecting his birth What must have been the consequence, if his love of wine had daily become more intense? of his fierce and uncontrollable anger? And as I mention not any one circumstance of which there is a doubt among writers, do we consider these as no disparagements to the qualifications of a commander ? But then, as is frequently repeated by the silliest of the Greeks, who are fond of exalting the reputation, even of the Parthians, at the expense of the Roman name, the danger was that the Roman people would not have had resolution to bear up against the splendour of Alexander's name, who, however, in my opinion, was not known to them even by common fame; and while, in Athens, a state reduced to weakness by the Macedonian arms, which at the very time saw the ruins of Thebes smoldering in its neighbourhood, men had spirit enough to declaim with freedom against him, as is manifest from the copies of their speeches, which have been preserved; [we are to be told] that out of such a number of Roman chiefs, no one would have freely uttered his sentiments. How great soever our idea of this man's greatness may be, still it is the greatness of an individual, constituted by the successes of a little more than ten years; and those who give it pre-eminence on account that the Roman people have been defeated, though not in any entire war, yet in several battles, whereas Alexander was never once unsuccessful in a single fight, do not consider that they are comparing the actions of one man, and that a young man, with the exploits of a nation waging wars now eight hundred years. Can we wonder if, when on the one side more ages are numbered than years on the other, fortune varied more in so long a lapse of time than in the short term of thirteen years [The duration of Alexander's military career.]? But why not compare the success of one general with that of another? How many Roman commanders might I name who never lost a battle ? In the annals of the magistrates, and the records, we may run over whole pages of consuls and dictators, with whose bravery, and successes also, the Roman people never once had reason to be dissatisfied And what renders them more deserving of admiration than Alexander or any king, is, that some of these acted in the office of dictator, which lasted only ten, or it might be twenty days; none, in a charge of longer duration than the consulship of a year; their levies obstructed by plebeian tribunes; often late in taking the field; recalled, before the time, on account of elections; amidst the very busiest efforts of the campaign, their year of office expired, sometimes the rashness, sometimes the perverseness of a colleague, proving an impediment or detriment; and finally succeeding to the unfoltunate administration of a predecessor, with an army of raw or ill-disciplined men. But, on the other hand, kings, being not only free from every kind of impediment, but masters of circu stances and seasons, control all things in subserviency to their designs, themselves uncontrolled by any. So that Alexander, unconquered, would have encountered unconquered commanders; and would have had stakes of equal consequence pledged on the issue Nay, the hazard had been greater on his side; because the Macedonians would have had but one Alexander, who was not only liable, but fond of exposing himself to casualties; the Romans would have had many equal to Alexander; both in renown, and in the greatness of their exploits; any one of whom might live or die according to his destiny, without any material consequence to the public
19. It remains that the forces be compared together, with respect to their numbers, the quality of the men, and their supplies of auxiliaries Now, in the general surveys of that age, there were rated two hundred and fifty thousand men; so that, on every revolt of the Latin confederates, ten legions were enlisted almost entirely in the city levy. It often happened during those years, thnt four or five armies were employed at a time, in Etruria, in Umbria, the Gauls also being at war, in Samnium, in Lucania Then as to all Latium, with the Sabines, and Volscians, the Aequians, and all Campania; half of Umbria, Etruria, and the Picentians, the Marsians, Pelignians, Vestinians, and Apulians; to whom we may add, the whole coast of the lower sea, possessed by the Greeks, from Thurii to Neapolis and Cumae; and the Samnites from thence as far as Antium and Ostia: all these he would have found either powerful allies to the Romans, or deprived of power by their arms. He would have crossed the sea -with his veteran Macedonians, amounting to no more than thirty thousand infantry and four thousand horse, these mostly Thessalians. This was the whole of his strength. Had he brought vith him Persians and Indians, and those other nations, it would be dragging after him an encumbrance rather than a support. Add to this, that the Romans, being at home, would have had recruits at hand: Alexander, waging war in a foreign country, would have found his army worn. out with long service, as happened afterwards to Hannibal. As to arms, theirs were a buckler and long spears; those of the Romans, a shield which covered the body more effectually, and a javelin, a much more forcible weapon than the spear, either in throwing or striking. The soldiers, on both sides, were used to steady combat, and to preserve their ranks. But the Macedonian phalanx as unapt for motion, and composed of similar parts throughout: thc Roman line less compact, consisting of sevaral various parts, was easily divided as occasion required, and as easily conjoined. Then what soldier is comparable to the Roman in the throwing up of works ? Who better calculated to endure fatigue ? Alexander, if overcome in one battle, would have been overcome in war. The Roman, whom Claudium, whom Cannae, did not crush, what line of battle could crush ? In truth, even should events have been favourable to him at first, he would have often wished for the Persians, the Indians, and the effeminate tribes of Asia, as opponents; and would have acknowledged, that his wars had been waged with women, as we are told was said by Alexander, king of Epirus, after receiving his mortal wound, when comparing the wars waged in Asia by this very youth, with those in which himself had been engaged. Indeed, when I reflect that, in the first Punic war, a contest was maintained by the Romans with the Carthaginians, at sea, for twenty-four years, I can scarcely suppose that the life of Alexander would have been long enough for the finishing of one war [with either of those nations]. And perhaps, as both the Punic state was united to the Roman by ancient treaties, and as similar apprehensions might arm against a common foe those two nations the most potent of the time in arms and in men, he might have been overwhelmed in a Punic and a Roman war at once. The Romans have had experience of the boasted prowess of the Macedonians in arms, not indeed under Alexander as their general, or when their power was at the height, but in the wars against Antiochus, Philip, and Perses, and not only not with any losses, but not even with any danger to themselves. Let not my assertion give offence, nor our civil wars be brought into mention; never were we worsted by an enemy's cavalry, never by their infantry, never in open fight, never on equal ground, much less when the ground was favourable. Our soldiers, heavy laden with arms, may reasonably fear a body of cavalry, or arrows; defiles of difficult passage, and places impassable to convoys. But they have defeated, and will defeat a thousand armies, more formidable than those of Alexander and the Macedonians, provided that the same love of peace and solicitude about domestic harmony in which we now live, continue permanent.