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Our Young Folks' Plutarch by  Rosalie Kaufman


 

 

FLAMININUS

FROM his boyhood Flamininus was trained to the use of arms, because Rome was engaged in a number of wars, and as her young men grew up there was no lack of opportunity to make themselves famous. Therefore at a very early age they prepared themselves to become soldiers.

[303] Titus Quintius Flamininus was only twenty years old when he was appointed tribune under the consul, Marcellus, in the war with Hannibal. Marcellus, as we have related in his life, was taken in an ambuscade and slain. Later, when Tarentum was recaptured by the Romans, Flamininus was appointed governor, and proved that he was quite as well able to fill such a post as he was to command an army. So great was the confidence he had in himself that he determined to run for the consulship without going through the stages of prætor and ædile as other men did.

It was an unheard-of thing for so young a person to aim at the highest office in the state, particularly as he had had no experience in public affairs; so some of the tribunes opposed him; but the senate left the matter to the voice of the people, and Flamininus was elected. He was not quite thirty years of age when this occurred.

Sextus Ælius was chosen for consul also. When the lots were cast to see what provinces each should go to fight, that of the Macedonians fell to Flamininus; and it was fortunate for the Romans that such was the case, because that department needed a general who was not violent, and Flamininus was remarkably gentle.

Up to that period the Greeks and the Romans knew little about each other, and it was important that the beginning of their intercourse should be agreeable if it was to be lasting. Philip was king of Macedon, and received his supplies from his own country for a war with the Romans; but should the contest last very long, he would have to depend on Greece for a great many things. Therefore the Romans felt the necessity of gaining the Greeks over to their side, so that they would not be friendly to Philip. In order to do this they had to have a general who was kind, gentle, courteous, pleasant in his bearing towards others, and, above all, perfectly just. Titus Flamininus combined all these qualities, and was, therefore, as a foreigner, more likely to gain authority over the Greeks than if he had been rash and ferocious.

No sooner was he elected consul than, feeling anxious to distinguish himself, Flamininus requested the senate to place his brother Lucius in command of the navy, and, selecting three thousand of the troops that had lately won glorious victories under Scipio, he crossed the sea and went to Epirus. His army encamped near the [304] river Apsus, and, after examining the face of the country, he determined to make his way to the tops of the neighboring mountains. But the enemy held that position, and showered down their arrows from all quarters on the Romans; many were killed on both sides, but nothing was decided.

Meanwhile, some shepherds went to Titus and told him of a winding road by which they promised to lead him to the top of the mountain in three days if he would take them for guides. He believed them, and sent a tribune with four thousand foot and three hundred horse soldiers, that they were to lead. They marched only at night, and lay still in the hollows of the woods during the day, so that the enemy could not discover them, while Flamininus kept up some slight skirmishing to divert attention from them. Early on the day when he expected them to reach the top of the heights he drew out all his forces, and, dividing them into three parts, himself led the van along the narrowest path by the side of the river. The Macedonians had the best position, but although they harassed the Romans with their darts they did not subdue them.

When day dawned, there arose a smoke resembling the mist one sees about the tops of hills. As it was behind the enemy, they did not observe it, but it was the signal for which the Romans had been watching, and as it increased and mounted higher and higher they knew that it came from the fires their friends had lighted. Loud shouts rent the air as with renewed vigor they charged the Macedonians. The shouts were re-echoed from the tops of the mountains, and then the enemy fled. It was impossible to pursue them because of the steep ascent, but the Romans pillaged their camp, seized all the money and slaves, and became masters of the pass.

The Roman army was then led through Epirus, with so much order and discipline that nobody's property was injured. Though far from his ships and unable to procure the monthly allowance, Flamininus gave his men strict charge to buy all they required, and to plunder no part of the country. Now, this behavior formed such a contrast to that of the Macedonians, who on entering Thessaly had compelled the people to take shelter in the mountains, burnt their houses, and carried off all they could lay hands on, that several Greek tribes threw open their gates to the Romans, while [305] others actually sent for Flamininus and put themselves under his protection.

They had been told by the Macedonians that the Roman invader led an army of barbarians ready to kill and destroy at every turn, and when they beheld a young man of mild, attractive manners, who spoke Greek well and desired to be just and humane towards them, they were greatly pleased with him, and began to believe that in him they might find the protector of their liberty. And they were right; for when Philip offered to make terms of peace, and Flamininus agreed on condition that the Macedonian troops were withdrawn and the Grecians left in freedom, it was plain that the Romans had come not to oppose the Greeks, but to fight for them against the Macedonians.

As Flamininus marched into Bœotia, the chief men of Thebes came out to meet him and show him honor. They were allied to the Macedonians, but the Roman general did not leave until he had talked them over to his side and made a formal league with them.

He next marched into Thessaly to continue the war with Philip. He had twenty-six thousand men in his army, of which the Ætolians furnished six thousand foot and three hundred horse; but Philip had quite as many, and each general was ambitious of the fame that he would secure to himself if he defeated the other. Both harangued their men just before going into battle, according to custom, and urged them to feats of courage, telling them that their foe was worthy of their steel, and the country in which they were fighting the most glorious spot in the world for victory.

The Macedonians, who always fought in a phalanx, which they formed by locking their shields together, made a charge with their projected spears that no army could withstand. The strength of such a phalanx was tremendous as long as it remained unbroken, but if the men got separated, and had to fight hand-to-hand with their heavy, unwieldy armor, they were at a great disadvantage. So at their first charge the Romans gave ground, but Flamininus attacked the enemy from the other side, broke the phalanx, and created so much confusion that they threw down their arms and fled. No less than eight thousand of their number were slain, and five thousand were taken prisoners. Philip himself would not have [306] escaped had the Ætolians done their duty, but while the Romans went in pursuit of the enemy they stayed behind to plunder the camp. When the Romans got back and found nothing left for them they were very angry, and the ill feeling was greatly increased when the Ætolians claimed the victory, and declared that the Romans would have been put to flight if their cavalry had not protected them.

Flamininus, who particularly desired the praises of Greece, determined after that to manage everything by himself and pay no attention to the Ætolians. But they would not submit to being slighted, and out of revenge circulated a report that Flamininus was on the point of making peace with Philip at a time when he had it in his power to destroy his empire. Flamininus proved that this was not the case later, when he treated with Philip in person, for he granted him his kingdom only on condition that he would give up all claim to Greece and pay a large fine. Then all his ships, except ten, were taken from him, and his son, Demetrius, was sent to Rome as hostage.

Thus Flamininus put an end to the war. When the Isthmian games were celebrated, and an immense crowd had assembled to witness the exercises, a herald appeared in the arena and sounded a trumpet. All present were silent, and wondered what this could mean. They had not long to wait, for a crier proclaimed that the Roman senate and Titus Quintius Flamininus, the general and proconsul, having vanquished King Philip and the Macedonians, restored their lands, laws, and liberties to the Corinthians, Locrians, Phocians, Eubœans, Achæans, Magnesians, Thessalians, and Perrhæbians.

It was long since Greece had known peace, and the shouts of joy that went up as soon as the people had recovered from their astonishment were heard many miles away. If Flamininus had not hidden himself when he saw the crowd rushing towards him, he would certainly have been suffocated by their embraces, for they were beside themselves with delight, and declared again and again that none of their own statesmen had ever done so much for them as this foreigner, who had relieved Greece from her greatest distress and restored her liberty.

It may well be believed that great honors and gifts were heaped [307] upon Flamininus wherever he went, but there was only one present upon which he set real value, and that was made by the Achæans in this manner. The Romans who, in the war with Hannibal, had the misfortune to be captured, had been sold here and there into slavery. There were twelve hundred of them in Greece, and when in the Roman army they now beheld their brothers, sons, and acquaintances free men and conquerors while they were slaves and captives, their position became unbearable. Flamininus grieved for them, but he was too honest to take them from their masters. The Achæans bought them at five pounds a man, and, just as Flamininus was going to set sail, marched them in a body to the sea-shore and presented them to him. At that moment the Roman general felt fully repaid for his glorious services, and declared the return of his countrymen the most blessed part of his victory.

At his triumph the liberated slaves followed his chariot, each wearing a cap of liberty. To add to the splendor of this display, there were Grecian helmets, Macedonian targets, and long spears borne in procession through the city, besides thousands of pounds of massive gold and vast sums of coined money. Afterwards, Flamininus used his influence to have the hostage son of Philip returned to him.

There were more wars in Greece, beginning with an attack made by Antiochus, not long after peace had been made with the Macedonians. Flamininus went there again, added to the number of his achievements, and did not return to Rome until Greece was rid of her enemies and all her colonies were reconciled to one another.

Titus Flamininus was then raised to the very highest office in Rome, that of censor. His associate was the son of Marcellus, who had been consul five times. While Flamininus was censor, his brother Lucius, whom we have mentioned as being placed in command of the navy when Titus went to Epirus, was guilty of a shameful deed. He had a favorite boy, who went with him everywhere and loved him extremely. One day, when Lucius was drinking a little too freely, the boy said to him, "I love you, sir, so dearly that, wishing to please you, I came away from the show without seeing the gladiators, though I never saw a man killed in my life."

[308] Lucius was delighted with the flattery, and replied, "Let not that trouble you, for you shall be gratified." He then ordered a convict to be brought from prison, and, having summoned an executioner, had him strike off the man's head in the very room where he was carousing.

When Marcus Cato became censor, he examined into the lives of the senators, which was part of his duty, and expelled Lucius for this shameful piece of cruelty.

Titus felt the disgrace so keenly that, appearing with his brother before an assembly of the people, he demanded that Cato should give his reason for casting a stain upon an honorable family. Thereupon Cato related all the details of the execution of the poor convict in the midst of a feast, and challenged Lucius to deny it if he could. Lucius was silent, and the censor was applauded for his justice.

Flamininus did not show his usual good sense on this occasion, for he was very indignant, and took sides with Cato's enemies in opposing all he said and did in the senate. Yet Cato had done no more nor less than his duty in disgracing a man too unworthy to be defended even by a brother.

Flamininus was much blamed for this, as well as for another action of his, prompted by desire for increase of fame. It was against Hannibal, the Carthaginian general.

Hannibal had been obliged to fly from his country and seek refuge here and there until, at last, worn out with old age and grief, he went to Bithynia, and put himself under the protection of Prusias, the king. The Romans knew perfectly well where he was, but saw no reason for interfering with the now harmless, unfortunate old man. But Flamininus was sent by the senate on an errand to Prusias, and, when he beheld Hannibal at court, declared that he could not stand seeing him alive. Prusias begged him not to trouble the old warrior, who was under the sanction of his hospitality, but Titus would not listen to him.

Hannibal had from the first felt little confidence in Prusias, and so he had ordered seven underground passages to be dug from his house, all running in different directions, and not visible above ground. When he heard that Flamininus was bent on taking his life he tried to escape through these passages, but found them [309] guarded by the king's soldiers. He then knew that he had nothing to hope for, but was determined that Flamininus should not have the glory of killing him. So mixing a cup of poison, that he always kept in case of need, he took it in his hand and said, "Let us deliver the Romans from their cares and anxieties, since they think it too tedious and dangerous to wait for the death of a poor, hated, old man. Titus shall not have a conquest worth envying." He drank the dose, and died before Flamininus saw him again.

Some historians say that Flamininus was sent by the senate of Rome to kill Hannibal, because they felt that while a warrior who hated them as he did remained on earth they were in great danger. This is probable; for so generous and humane a man as Titus Flamininus would scarcely have been guilty of such a cruel deed; he was hasty and passionate, but he never nursed a feeling of hatred towards any one.

No further political or military acts of Flamininus are recorded, and he died in peace.


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