Marcus Claudius Marcellus: Difference between revisions

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== Early life: distinguished soldier and politician ==
Little is known of Marcus Claudius Marcellus’ early years since the majority of biographical information pertains to his military expeditions. The fullest account of Marcellus’ life was written by [[Plutarch]], a Greek biographer in the time of the Roman Empire. Plutarch’s biography, the "Life of Marcellus," in ''Parallel Lives'' focuses on Marcellus’ military campaigns and political life, and largely skips over his earlier life before 225,<ref name=Plutarch>Plutarch "Life of Marcellus", ''The Parallel Lives'', 30 Apr. 2008, 26 Nov. 2008.</ref> although Plutarch supplies some general information about Marcellus’ youth. Marcellus’ exact birth date is unknown, yet scholars are certain he was born prior to 268&nbsp;BC because he had to be over 42 when elected consul for 222 and he was elected to a fifth (and final) consulship for 208&nbsp;BC, after he was&nbsp;60. Marcellus was said to have been the first in his family to take on the [[cognomen]] of Marcellus; yet there are genealogical records of his family line tracing the cognomen all the way back to 331 BC.<ref name=Smith>Smith, William, Sir, ed. "M. Claudius M. Ff. M. Nn. Marcellus", ''A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology'' (Boston: Little, 1867) 927; Plutarch "The Life of Marcellus", ''The Parallel Lives'', 30 Apr. 2008, 26 Nov. 2008</ref> According to Plutarch, Marcellus was a skilled fighter in his youth and was raised with the purpose of entering military service.<ref name=Plutarch/> Marcellus’ general education may have been lacking. In his youth, Marcellus quickly distinguished himself as an ambitious warrior, known for his skill in hand-to-hand combat. He is noted to having saved the life of his brother, Otacilius, when the two were surrounded by enemy soldiers in [[Italy]].<ref name=Plutarch/>
 
As a young man in the Roman army, Marcellus was praised by his superiors for his skill and valor. As a result of his fine service, in 226&nbsp;BC, he was elected to the position of [[curule aedile]] in the Roman Republic. The position of curule aedile was quite prestigious for a man like Marcellus. An aedile was an overseer of public buildings and festivals and an enforcer of public order. This is generally the first position one might take in seeking a high political career. Around the same time that he became an aedile, Marcellus was also awarded the position of [[augur]], which Plutarch describes as being an interpreter of omens.<ref name=Plutarch/> By about the age of&nbsp;40, Marcellus had already become an acclaimed soldier and public official. Marcellus’ early career came to a close in 222&nbsp;BC, at which time he achieved greater historical importance upon his election as consul of the Roman Republic—the highest political office and military position in ancient Rome.
 
== Middle life: the spolia opima ==
Following the end of the [[First Punic War]], in which Marcellus fought as a soldier, the [[Gauls]] of northern Italy declared war on Rome in 225 BC. In the fourth and final year of the war, Marcellus was elected consul with Cn.Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus. The previous consuls had defeated the [[Insubria]]ns, the primary [[Gauls|Gallic]] tribe involved, all the way up to the [[Po River]]. Following such terrible defeats, the Insubrians surrendered, but Marcellus, not yet consul, persuaded the two acting consuls not to accept the terms of peace. As Marcellus and his colleague were ushered into office as the new consuls, the Insubrians mustered 30,000 of their Gallic allies, the Gaesatae, to fight the Romans.<ref name="Polyb. 2.34">Polyb. 2.34.</ref> Marcellus invaded Insubrian lands up to the Po River, just as the previous consuls had done. From here, the Gauls sent 10,000 men across the Po and attacked [[Clastidium]], a Roman stronghold, to divert the Roman attacks.<ref name="Polyb. 2.34"/> This battlefield was the stage for Marcellus’ confrontation with the Gallic king, Viridomarus, which cemented his place in history.
 
The confrontation, as told by Plutarch, is so heavy in detail that one might question the veracity of his narration. Plutarch recounts that, prior to the battle, Viridomarus spotted Marcellus, who wore commander's insignia on his armor, and rode out to meet him. Across the battlefield, Marcellus viewed the beautiful armor on the back of the enemy riding toward him. Marcellus concluded that this was the nicest armor, which he had previously prayed would be given by him to the gods. The two engaged in combat whereupon, Marcellus, “by a thrust of his spear which pierced his adversary's breastplate, and by the impact of his horse in full career, threw him, still living, upon the ground, where, with a second and third blow, he promptly killed him.”<ref name=Plutarch/> Marcellus extracted the armor from his fallen foe, upon which he pronounced it as the ''spolia opima''. The ''spolia opima'', meaning "ultimate spoil," is known in Roman history as the most prestigious and honorable prize that a general can earn. Only a general who kills the leader of the opposing army prior to a battle may be honored with taking a ''spolia opima''.
Marcus Claudius Marcellus re-emerged onto both the political and military scene during the [[Second Punic War]], in which he took part in important battles. In 216 BC, the third year of the Second Punic War, Marcellus was elected as a [[praetor]]. A praetor served either as an elected magistrate or as the commander of an army, the latter of which duties Marcellus was selected to fulfil in Sicily.<ref name=Smith/> Unfortunately, as Marcellus and his men were preparing to ship to Sicily, his army was recalled to Rome owing to the devastating losses at [[Battle of Cannae|Cannae]], one of the worst defeats in Roman history.<ref name=Lendering>Lendering, Jona. "Marcus Claudius Marcellus", ''Livius: Articles on Ancient History'', 26 Nov. 2008.</ref> By the orders of the Senate, Marcellus was forced to dispatch 1,500 of his men to Rome to protect the city after the terrible defeat by [[Hannibal]] of [[Carthage]]. With his remaining army, along with remnants of the army from Cannae, (who were considered to have been disgraced by the defeat and by surviving it), Marcellus camped near [[Suessula]], a city in the region of [[Campania]] in Southern Italy. At this point, part of the Carthaginian army began to make a move for the city of [[Nola]]. Marcellus repelled the attacks and managed to keep the city from the grasp of Hannibal. Although the battle at Nola was rather unimportant in regards to the Second Punic War as a whole, the victory was “important from its moral effect, as the first check, however slight, that Hannibal had yet received.”<ref name=Smith/>
 
Then, in 215 BC, Marcellus was summoned to Rome by the [[Roman Dictator|Dictator]] [[Marcus Junius Pera|M. Junius Pera]], who wanted to consult with him about the future conduct of the war. After this meeting, Marcellus earned the title of [[proconsul]].<ref name=Smith/> In the same year, when the consul [[Lucius Postumius Albinus (consul 234 BC)|L.Lucius Postumius Albinus]] was killed in battle, Marcellus was unanimously chosen by the Roman people to be his successor. Livy and Plutarch tell us a bad omen occurred, allegedly because the other consul was also a plebeian. Marcellus stepped aside and Q. [[Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus]] Cunctator took his place. Supposedly, the senate (interpreting the gods) disapproved of having two plebeian consuls.<ref name=Smith/> Marcellus was appointed proconsul, whereupon, he defended the city of Nola, once again, from the rear guard of Hannibal’s army. The following year, 214 BC, Marcellus was elected consul yet again, this time with [[Fabius Maximus]]. For a third time, Marcellus defended Nola from Hannibal and even captured the small but significant town of [[Casilinum]].
 
===Sicily and Syracuse===
After Marcellus returned and continued the siege, the Carthaginians attempted to relieve the city, but were driven back. Overcoming formidable resistance and the ingenious devices of Archimedes, the Romans finally took the city in the summer of 212 BC. Plutarch wrote that Marcellus, when he had previously entered the city for a diplomatic meeting with the Syracusans, had noticed a weak point in its fortifications. He made his attack at this fragile spot, using a night attack by a small group of hand-picked soldiers to storm the walls and open the gates.<ref name=Smith/> During the fighting, Archimedes was killed, an act Marcellus regretted.<ref name="death">{{cite web |first=Chris |last=Rorres|url = http://www.math.nyu.edu/~crorres/Archimedes/Death/Histories.html|title = Death of Archimedes: Sources|publisher = [[Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences]]|accessdate = 2010-09-28}}</ref> Plutarch writes that the Romans rampaged through the city, taking much of the plunder and artwork they could find. This has significance because Syracuse was a Greek city filled with Greek culture, art and architecture. Much of this Greek art was taken to Rome, where it was one of the first major impacts of Greek influence on Roman culture.<ref name=Lendering/>
 
Following his victory at Syracuse, Marcellus remained in Sicily, where he defeated more Carthaginian and rebel foes. The important city of [[Agrigentum]] was still under Carthaginian control, though there was now little the Carthaginian leadership could do to support it, as the campaigns against the Romans in Spain and Italy now took precedence. At the end of 211 BC, Marcellus resigned from command of the Sicilian province, thereby putting the praetor of the region, M.Marcus Cornelius, in charge. On his return to Rome, Marcellus did not receive the triumphal honours that would be expected for such a feat, as his political enemies objected that he had not fully eradicated the threats in Sicily.<ref name=Smith/>
 
== Death in battle ==
The final period of Marcus Claudius Marcellus’ life began with his fourth election to Roman consul in 210 BC. Marcellus’ election to office sparked much controversy and resentment towards Marcellus because of accusations by political opponents that his actions in Sicily were excessively brutal.<ref name=Smith/> Representatives of Sicilian cities presented themselves before the senate to complain about Marcellus' past actions. The complaints prevailed and Marcellus was forced to switch control of provinces with his colleague, so that Marcellus was not the consul in control of Sicily. On switching provinces, Marcellus took command of the Roman army in [[Apulia]],<ref name=Smith/> leading it to many decisive victories against the Carthaginians. First, Marcellus took the city of Salapia and then continued along his way by conquering two cities in the region of [[Samnium]]. Next, when the army of Cn.Gnaeus Fulvius, another Roman general, was completely dismantled by Hannibal, Marcellus and his army stepped in to check the progress of the Carthaginian leader. Then Marcellus and Hannibal fought a battle at [[Numistro]], where a clear victory could not be decided, although Rome claimed a victory. Following this battle, Marcellus continued to keep Hannibal in check, yet the two armies never met in a decisive battle.
 
In 209 BC, Marcellus was named as a proconsul and retained control of his army. During that year, the [[Roman Army]] under Marcellus faced Hannibal's forces in a series of skirmishes and raids, without being drawn into open battle. Marcellus defended his actions and tactics in front of the senate and he was named a consul for the fifth time for the year 208 BC. After entering his fifth consulship Marcellus, re-entered the field and took command of the army at [[Venusia]]. While on a reconnaissance mission with his colleague, T.Titus Quinctius Crispinus, and a small band of 220 horsemen, the group was ambushed and nearly completely slaughtered by a much larger Carthaginian force of Numidian horsemen.<ref name=Plutarch/><ref name=Smith/> Marcellus was impaled by a spear and died on the field.<ref name=Smith/> In the following days, Crispinus died of his wounds.
 
In the year 23 BC, Emperor [[Augustus]] recounted that Hannibal had allowed Marcellus a proper funeral and even sent the ashes back to Marcellus’ son.<ref name=Plutarch/> The loss of both consuls was a major blow to Roman morale, as the Republic had lost its two senior military commanders in a single battle, while the formidable Carthaginian army was still at large in Italy.
 
== Historical significance ==
Marcus Claudius Marcellus' winning of the ''spolia opima'' earned him great fame in his lifetime. The ''spolia opima'' was one of the highest honors that could be bestowed on a Roman general. Plutarch informs how the ''spolia opima'' was acquired. He stated that, “only"only those spoils are ‘''opima’'' which are taken first, in a pitched battle, where general slays general." Only two others in Roman history, Romulus, the founder of Rome, and [[Aulus Cornelius Cossus]], were allegedly honored with this prize. Marcellus is the only one of the three whose achievement has been historically confirmed. In terms of the history of the ''spolia opima'', Marcellus holds great significance because he reinvigorated the meaning of the honored prize. Prior to Marcellus, the ''spolia opima'' was not of special importance in the minds of Romans because it had happened only twice before, if at all. Furthermore, the actual ritual of the ''spolia opima'' was not confirmed until Marcellus made it customary to dedicate the armor to Jupiter Feretrius. No one else accomplished the same feat to continue the tradition. In this way, Marcellus publicized the winning of the ''spolia opima'' and turned it into a legend.
 
Marcellus was an important general during the Second Punic War and his five time election as a consul has its place in Roman history. His decisive victories in Sicily were of history altering proportions, while his campaigns in Italy itself gave Hannibal himself pause and reinvigorated the [[Roman Senate]]. But it is Marcellus’ triumph as a warrior and winner of a [[spolia opima]] that confirmed his place in ancient Roman history. Due to all of this, he is known as the ''Sword of Rome''.<ref>[http://classics.mit.edu/Plutarch/marcellu.html ''Marcellus'' By Plutarch]</ref>