Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία

Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία
Ελληνική ιστορία και προϊστορία

Τρίτη, 5 Φεβρουαρίου 2019

Greeks in the Roman navy (Part A) : The history of Roman fleet and the contribution of the Greek naval intelligence

The Roman navy (Latin: Classis, lit. 'fleet') comprised the naval forces of the ancient Roman state. The navy was instrumental in the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean Basin, but it never enjoyed the prestige of the Roman legions. Throughout their history, the Romans remained a primarily land-based people and relied partially on their more nautically inclined subjects, such as the Greeks and the Egyptians, to build their ships. Because of that, the navy was never completely embraced by the Roman state, and deemed somewhat "un-Roman". In antiquity, navies and trading fleets did not have the logistical autonomy that modern ships and fleets possess. Unlike modern naval forces, the Roman navy even at its height never existed as an autonomous service but operated as an adjunct to the Roman army. During the course of the First Punic War, the Roman navy was massively expanded and played a vital role in the Roman victory and the Roman Republic's eventual ascension to hegemony in the Mediterranean Sea. In the course of the first half of the 2nd century BC, Rome went on to destroy Carthage and subdue the Hellenistic kingdoms of the eastern Mediterranean, achieving complete mastery of the inland sea, which they called Mare Nostrum. The Roman fleets were again prominent in the 1st century BC in the wars against the pirates, and in the civil wars that brought down the Republic, whose campaigns ranged across the Mediterranean.
In 31 BC, the great naval Battle of Actium ended the civil wars culminating in the final victory of Augustus and the establishment of the Roman Empire. During the Imperial period, the Mediterranean became largely a peaceful "Roman lake". In the absence of a maritime enemy, the navy was reduced mostly to patrol, anti-piracy and transport duties. The navy also manned and maintained craft on major frontier rivers such as the Rhine and the Danube for supplying the army. On the fringes of the Empire, in new conquests or, increasingly, in defense against barbarian invasions, the Roman fleets were still engaged in open warfare. The decline of the Empire in the 3rd century took a heavy toll on the navy, which was reduced to a shadow of its former self, both in size and in combat ability. As successive waves of the Völkerwanderung crashed on the land frontiers of the battered Empire, the navy could only play a secondary role. In the early 5th century, the Roman frontiers were breached, and barbarian kingdoms appeared on the shores of the western Mediterranean. One of them, the Vandal Kingdom, raised a navy of its own and raided the shores of the Mediterranean, even sacking Rome, while the diminished Roman fleets were incapable of offering any resistance. The Western Roman Empire collapsed in the late 5th century. The navy of the surviving eastern Roman Empire is known as the Byzantine navy.
There is evidence of Roman warships in the early 4th century BC, such as mention of a warship that carried an embassy to Delphi in 394 BC, but at any rate, the Roman fleet, if it existed, was negligible. The traditional birth date of the Roman navy is set at ca. 311 BC, when, after the conquest of Campania, two new officials, the duumviri navales classis ornandae reficiendaeque causa, were tasked with the maintenance of a fleet. The Republic acquired its first fleet, consisting of 20 ships, most likely triremes, with each duumvir commanding a squadron of 10 ships. However, the Republic continued to rely mostly on her legions for expansion in Italy; the navy was most likely geared towards combating piracy and lacked experience in naval warfare, being easily defeated in 282 BC by the Tarentines. This situation continued until the First Punic War: the main task of the Roman fleet was patrolling along the Italian coast and rivers, protecting seaborne trade from piracy. Whenever larger tasks had to be undertaken, such as the naval blockade of a besieged city, the Romans called on the allied Greek cities of southern Italy, the socii navales, to provide ships and crews. It is possible that the supervision of these maritime allies was one of the duties of the four new praetores classici, who were established in 267 BC.
The first Roman expedition outside mainland Italy was against the island of Sicily in 265 BC. This led to the outbreak of hostilities with Carthage, which would last until 241 BC. At the time, the Punic city was the unchallenged master of the western Mediterranean, possessing a long maritime and naval experience and a large fleet. Although Rome had relied on her legions for the conquest of Italy, operations in Sicily had to be supported by a fleet, and the ships available by Rome's allies were insufficient. Thus in 261 BC, the Roman Senate set out to construct a fleet of 100 quinqueremes and 20 triremes. According to Polybius, the Romans seized a shipwrecked Carthaginian quinquereme, and used it as a blueprint for their own ships. The new fleets were commanded by the annually elected Roman magistrates, but naval expertise was provided by the lower officers, who continued to be provided by the socii, mostly Greeks. This practice was continued until well into the Empire, something also attested by the direct adoption of numerous Greek naval terms. Despite the massive buildup, the Roman crews remained inferior in naval experience to the Carthaginians, and could not hope to match them in naval tactics, which required great maneuverability and experience. They therefore employed a novel weapon which transformed sea warfare to their advantage. They equipped their ships with the corvus, possibly developed earlier by the Syracusans against the Athenians. This was a long plank with a spike for hooking onto enemy ships. Using it as a boarding bridge, marines were able to board an enemy ship, transforming sea combat into a version of land combat, where the Roman legionaries had the upper hand. However, it is believed that the corvus' weight made the ships unstable, and could capsize a ship in rough seas. Although the first sea engagement of the war, the Battle of the Lipari Islands in 260 BC, was a defeat for Rome, the forces involved were relatively small. Through the use of the corvus, the fledgling Roman navy under Gaius Duilius won its first major engagement later that year at the Battle of Mylae. During the course of the war, Rome continued to be victorious at sea: victories at Sulci (258 BC) and Tyndaris (257 BC) were followed by the massive Battle of Cape Ecnomus, where the Roman fleet under the consuls Marcus Atilius Regulus and Lucius Manlius inflicted a severe defeat on the Carthaginians. This string of successes allowed Rome to push the war further across the sea to Africa and Carthage itself. Continued Roman success also meant that their navy gained significant experience, although it also suffered a number of catastrophic losses due to storms, while conversely, the Carthaginian navy suffered from attrition. The Battle of Drepana in 249 BC resulted in the only major Carthaginian sea victory, forcing the Romans to equip a new fleet from donations by private citizens. In the last battle of the war, at Aegates Islands in 241 BC, the Romans under Gaius Lutatius Catulus displayed superior seamanship to the Carthaginians, notably using their rams rather than the now-abandonedcorvus to achieve victory.
After the Roman victory, the balance of naval power in the Western Mediterranean had shifted from Carthage to Rome.This ensured Carthaginian acquiescence to the conquest of Sardinia and Corsica, and also enabled Rome to deal decisively with the threat posed by the Illyrian pirates in the Adriatic. The Illyrian Wars marked Rome's first involvement with the affairs of the Balkan peninsula. Initially, in 229 BC, a fleet of 200 warships was sent against Queen Teuta, and swiftly expelled the Illyrian garrisons from the Greek coastal cities of modern-day Albania. Ten years later, the Romans sent another expedition in the area against Demetrius of Pharos, who had rebuilt the Illyrian navy and engaged in piracy up into the Aegean. Demetrius was supported by Philip V of Macedon, who had grown anxious at the expansion of Roman power in Illyria. The Romans were again quickly victorious and expanded their Illyrian protectorate, but the beginning of the Second Punic War (218–201 BC) forced them to divert their resources westwards for the next decades. Due to Rome's command of the seas, Hannibal, Carthage's great general, was forced to eschew a sea-borne invasion, instead choosing to bring the war over land to the Italian peninsula. Unlike the first war, the navy played little role on either side in this war. The only naval encounters occurred in the first years of the war, at Lilybaeum (218 BC) and the Ebro River (217 BC), both resulting Roman victories. Despite an overall numerical parity, for the remainder of the war the Carthaginians did not seriously challenge Roman supremacy. The Roman fleet was hence engaged primarily with raiding the shores of Africa and guarding Italy, a task which included the interception of Carthaginian convoys of supplies and reinforcements for Hannibal's army, as well as keeping an eye on a potential intervention by Carthage's ally, Philip V. The only major action in which the Roman fleet was involved was the siege of Syracuse in 214–212 BC with 130 ships under Marcus Claudius Marcellus. The siege is remembered for the ingenious inventions of Archimedes, such as mirrors that burned ships or the so-called "Claw of Archimedes", which kept the besieging army at bay for two years. A fleet of 160 vessels was assembled to support Scipio Africanus' army in Africa in 202 BC, and, should his expedition fail, evacuate his men. In the event, Scipio achieved a decisive victory at Zama, and the subsequent peace stripped Carthage of its fleet.
Rome was now the undisputed master of the Western Mediterranean, and turned her gaze from defeated Carthage to the Hellenistic world. The victories, which were invariably concluded with the imposition of peace treaties that prohibited the maintenance of anything but token naval forces, spelled the disappearance of the Hellenistic royal navies, leaving Rome and her allies unchallenged at sea. Coupled with the final destruction of Carthage, and the end of Macedon's independence, by the latter half of the 2nd century BC, Roman control over all of what was later to be dubbed mare nostrum ("our sea") had been established. Subsequently, the Roman navy was drastically reduced, depending on its Socii navales. Socii navales or "naval allies", were a class of the socii or foederati (allies) of Rome, that provided naval support. A large number of them were Greek cities in Sicily and mainland Greece. They were often used to augment the main fleet, often with lighter ships that the Romans or their adversaries had, such as triremes or pentekonters. The number of ships provided by the socii navales is disputed, with some saying that by 260 BC 42 ships were being supplied however others argue that by 210 BC only 12 were supplied, and that by 195 BC 25 ships were being supplied. The men provided by the socii navales were sailors and rowers.
The last major campaigns of the Roman navy in the Mediterranean until the late 3rd century AD would be in the civil wars that ended the Republic. After suffering a defeat from Sextus in 42 BC, Octavian initiated massive naval armaments, aided by his closest associate, Marcus Agrippa: ships were built at Ravenna and Ostia, the new artificial harbor of Portus Julius built at Cumae, and soldiers and rowers levied, including over 20,000 manumitted slaves. Finally, Octavian and Agrippa defeated Sextus in the Battle of Naulochus in 36 BC, putting an end to all Pompeian resistance. Octavian's power was further enhanced after his victory against the combined fleets of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, in the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, where Antony had assembled 500 ships against Octavian's 400 ships. This last naval battle of the Roman Republic definitively established Octavian as the sole ruler over Rome and the Mediterranean world. In the aftermath of his victory, he formalized the Fleet's structure, establishing several key harbors in the Mediterranean. The now fully professional navy had its main duties consist of protecting against piracy, escorting troops and patrolling the river frontiers of Europe. It remained however engaged in active warfare in the periphery of the Empire.
In 12 BC Drusus ordered the construction of a fleet of 1,000 ships and sailed them along the Rhine into the North Sea. The Germanic tribes of Frisii and Chauci had nothing to oppose the superior numbers, tactics and technology of the Romans. When these entered the river mouths of Weser and Ems, the local tribes had to surrender. In 5 BC the Roman knowledge concerning the North and Baltic Sea was fairly extended during a campaign by Tiberius, reaching as far as the Elbe: Plinius describes how Roman naval formations came past Heligoland and set sail to the north-eastern coast of Denmark, and Augustus himself boasts in his Res Gestae: "My fleet sailed from the mouth of the Rhine eastward as far as the lands of the Cimbri to which, up to that time, no Roman had ever penetrated either by land or by sea...". The multiple naval operations north of Germania had to be abandoned after the battle of the Teutoburg Forest in the year 9 AD. In the years 15 and 16, Germanicus carried out several fleet operations along the rivers Rhine and Ems, without permanent results due to grim Germanic resistance and a disastrous storm.By 28, the Romans lost further control of the Rhine mouth in a succession of Frisian insurgencies. From 43 to 85, the Roman navy played an important role in the Roman conquest of Britain. The classis Germanica rendered outstanding services in multitudinous landing operations. In 46, a naval expedition made a push deep into the Black Sea region and even travelled on the Tanais. In 47 a revolt by the Chauci, who took to piratical activities along the Gallic coast, was subdued by Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo. By 57 an expeditionary corps reached Chersonesos (Charax, Crimea). It seems that under Nero, the navy obtained strategically important positions for trading with India; but there was no known fleet in the Red Sea. Possibly, parts of the Alexandrian fleet were operating as escorts for the Indian trade.
As the 3rd century dawned, the Roman Empire was at its peak. In the Mediterranean, peace had reigned for over two centuries, as piracy had been wiped out and no outside naval threats occurred. As a result, complacency had set in: naval tactics and technology were neglected, and the Roman naval system had become moribund. After 230 however and for fifty years, the situation changed dramatically. The so-called "Crisis of the Third Century" ushered a period of internal turmoil, and the same period saw a renewed series of seaborne assaults, which the imperial fleets proved unable to stem. In the West, Picts and Irish ships raided Britain, while the Saxons raided the North Sea, forcing the Romans to abandon Frisia. In the East, the Goths and other tribes from modern Ukraine raided in great numbers over the Black Sea. These invasions began during the rule of Trebonianus Gallus, when for the first time Germanic tribes built up their own powerful fleet in the Black Sea. Via two surprise attacks (256) on Roman naval bases in the Caucasus and near the Danube, numerous ships fell into the hands of the Germans, whereupon the raids were extended as far as the Aegean Sea; Byzantium, Athens, Sparta and other towns were plundered and the responsible provincial fleets were heavily debilitated. It was not until the attackers made a tactical error, that their onrush could be stopped. In 267–270 another, much fiercer series of attacks took place. A fleet composed of Heruli and other tribes raided the coasts of Thrace and the Pontus. Defeated off Byzantium by general Venerianus, the barbarians fled into the Aegean, and ravaged many islands and coastal cities, including Athens and Corinth. As they retreated northwards over land, they were defeated by Emperor Gallienus at Nestos. However, this was merely the prelude to an even larger invasion that was launched in 268/269: several tribes banded together and allegedly 2,000 ships and 325,000 men strong, raided the Thracian shore, attacked Byzantium and continued raiding the Aegean as far as Crete, while the main force approached Thessalonica. Emperor Claudius II however was able to defeat them at the Battle of Naissus, ending the Gothic threat for the time being. Barbarian raids also increased along the Rhine frontier and in the North Sea. Eutropius mentions that during the 280s, the sea along the coasts of the provinces of Belgica and Armorica was "infested with Franks and Saxons". To counter them, Maximian appointed Carausius as commander of the British Fleet. However, Carausius rose up in late 286 and seceded from the Empire with Britannia and parts of the northern Gallic coast. With a single blow Roman control of the channel and the North Sea was lost, and emperor Maximinus was forced to create a completely new Northern Fleet, but in lack of training it was almost immediately destroyed in a storm. Only in 293, under Caesar Constantius Chlorus did Rome regain the Gallic coast. A new fleet was constructed in order to cross the Channel, and in 296, with a concentric attack on Londinium the insurgent province was retaken.
By the end of the 3rd century, the Roman navy had declined dramatically. Although Emperor Diocletian is held to have strengthened the navy, and increased its manpower from 46,000 to 64,000 men, the old standing fleets had all but vanished, and in the civil wars that ended the Tetrarchy, the opposing sides had to mobilize the resources and commandeered the ships of the Eastern Mediterranean port cities. These conflicts thus brought about a renewal of naval activity, culminating in the Battle of the Hellespont in 324 between the forces of Constantine Iunder Caesar Crispus and the fleet of Licinius, which was the only major naval confrontation of the 4th century. Vegetius, writing at the end of the 4th century, testifies to the disappearance of the old praetorian fleets in Italy, but comments on the continued activity of the Danube fleet. In the 5th century, only the eastern half of the Empire could field an effective fleet, as it could draw upon the maritime resources of Greece and the Levant. Although the Notitia Dignitatum still mentions several naval units for the Western Empire, these were apparently too depleted to be able to carry out much more than patrol duties. At any rate, the rise of the naval power of the Vandal Kingdom under Geiseric in North Africa, and its raids in the Western Mediterranean, were practically uncontested. Although there is some evidence of West Roman naval activity in the first half of the 5th century, this is mostly confined to troop transports and minor landing operations. The historian Priscus and Sidonius Apollinaris affirm in their writings that by the mid-5th century, the Western Empire essentially lacked a war navy. Matters became even worse after the disastrous failure of the fleets mobilized against the Vandals in 460 and 468, under the emperors Majorian and Anthemius. For the West, there would be no recovery, as the last Western Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed in 476. In the East however, the classical naval tradition survived, and in the 6th century, a standing navy was reformed. The East Roman (Byzantine) navy would remain a formidable force in the Mediterranean until the 11th century.
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