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nec fuit cum Tusculanis bellum: Bloodless Conquests and the Rhetoric of Surrender in Livy

Elizabeth Palazzolo

Thesaurus Linguae Latinae

Immediately preceding Capua’s fall to the Romans in 211 BCE, Livy describes a debate in the Capuan senate that centers on the question of what treatment Capua can expect from Rome if they choose to surrender the city. One of the Capuan ringleaders, Vibius Virrius, cites the utter destruction of Alba Longa as evidence that Rome will not show any mercy for their defeated foes (26.13.15-16), but Livy’s own narration of the destruction of Alba Longa, which occurs not following a surrender but in the immediate aftermath of the Roman defeat of the Albans on the battlefield (1.29), does not provide a close parallel to the Capuans’ situation.

Instead, this episode can best be understood by looking at it alongside Livy’s treatment of other surrenders and attempted surrenders by Rome’s enemies. This paper considers the way in which Livy depicts cities surrendering themselves to the Romans, and demonstrates that narratives of surrender that end in clemency share specific characteristics distinguishing them from ones that result in harsh punishment for the capitulating city. I examine two examples in detail: the surrender of Tusculum in 381 BCE (6.25-26) and of Caere in 353 BCE (7.19-20).

These depictions of “bloodless conquests,” in which a hostile city hands itself over to Rome willingly when faced with the overwhelming odds of defeat, characterize the surrendering city as completely submissive to Rome’s power, but also offering itself as a willing ally for Rome’s benefit. When compared to other episodes in Livy in which cities surrender themselves to the Romans, Capua’s treatment does indeed appear to be exceptionally harsh, but a close consideration of these divergent accounts demonstrates that the circumstances of the surrender, in Livy’s narrative, correlate closely to the ultimate outcome. The Capuans—despite the fact that they eventually open their gates to the Romans—do not effect a complete and total surrender, but only grudgingly consider surrendering to Rome after an extended siege of the city.

In contrast, Tusculum and Caere are shown to be wholeheartedly repentant in the face of overwhelming Roman superiority. Livy’s detailed depiction of the behavior of these surrendering cities, including speeches reporting their motivations and their appeals to Rome, allows the reader to distinguish between otherwise similar surrenders that had drastically different outcomes. The difference between the bloodless conquest of Tusculum and Caere and the exceptionally violent treatment of Capua, in Livy’s narrative, does not originate in some arbitrary variation in Rome’s response to similar circumstances, but in the attitude behind the surrender.

The resulting scenes of Tusculum and Caere’s surrenders focus not on the subjugation or inferiority of the defeated group, but on the intelligence and strategy behind their decision to surrender to the Romans. While the decision to surrender is depicted as an active choice, it is characterized as the only viable choice for deterring Rome’s military might. This subtle interplay preserves the overall trajectory of Rome’s military dominance and inexorable rise to power within Livy’s narrative while nevertheless presenting the actions of Tusculum and Caere as proactive and strategic.

Building on recent work addressing the complicated rhetoric surrounding the act of surrendering in the Roman Republic, including Clark 2014 and de Libero 2012, this paper focuses specifically on the surrender of Rome’s enemies as belonging to a unique category of potential outcomes of military ventures—neither defeats nor straightforward martial victories. Ultimately, I argue that Livy’s nuanced depiction of such conquests, which might otherwise seem to be clear victories for the Romans, is based on their aftermath, as the cities that surrendered willingly had ongoing and positive relationships with Rome: Livy’s narrative explicitly ties Tusculum’s surrender to the city subsequently gaining Roman citizenship (6.26.8), while Caere is said to regain its status as a privileged ally with a long history of supporting Rome against her enemies (7.20.8).

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Livy and Tacitus

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