Salvatore La Rosa




To analyze what was the behaviour of the Locrian rulers in the events just narrated you won't have to make the mistake of reading superficially the actions taken by them. At first glance, in fact, one might think that their actions, surrendering to one or other side, have been dictated solely and exclusively by pure opportunism. The truth is that, going into the detail of the story, when in 215 b.C. the city was handed over to the Carthaginians, the Locrians chose the only rational option they had available; on one hand because the Carthaginians would not have thought twice about retaliating against the prisoners they captured in the case of a refusal to surrender, and on the other because, even if they wanted to resist, the small Roman garrison and the not very numerous citizen militia would have been swept away by the invading army in a short time. In addition, allowing the same Roman garrison to leave the city secretly and safely before opening the doors to the Carthaginians, at the risk of incurring in their wrath, is a further evidence of the fact that, if it had not been cornered Locri, unlike other cities that turned against the Romans almost immediately, would have still been loyal to Rome. That said it is easier to understand the betrayal made against the Carthaginians in 205 b.C., because if on one hand it is true that the changing tide of the war suggested a realignment with the Romans, now close to the final victory, on the other hand the abuses and harassment that the Locrian people (reminiscent of the peaceful years spent under Rome's banners) was subjected during a decade of Carthaginian control, led the people to give a hand to the Romans when it seemed that the Carthaginian garrison in the city could have the best and repel the attack.

This, however, did not spare Locri and its people from the wrath of Rome.

After retaking the control of the city, in fact, Scipio had no qualms about immediately sentence to death those who had handed the city over to the Carthaginians in 215 b.C., not taking at all into account the protection that had been given to the Roman garrison moved away from the city, nor the vital (as emphasized in the already mentioned excerpt from Livy - see previous chapter) help that the entire Locrian population had given to the Roman soldiers when the tide of the battle for Locri seemed to turn again in favor of the Carthaginians. Having done this, before setting sail for Sicily, Scipio informed the population that the juridical fate of the city did not depend on him, but on the Senate of Rome, and that to it the Locrians should have sent their ambassadors to learn about what would have been the fate of the ancient polis.

Meanwhile, the city was left under the control of Quintus Pleminius and of the military tribunes Marcus Sergius and Publius Matienus, and soon Pleminius, taking advantage of the situation of confusion (due to the still ongoing war) and of the trust that Scipio had in him, let himself go to all sorts of nefariousness, of violence and of robbery against the Locrian population so much so that Livy was induced to comment this way on the situation that was created in Locri (Ab Urbe Condita, XXIX 8, 6-7):

"Ita superbe et crudeliter habiti Locrenses ab Carthaginiensibus post defectionem ab Romanis fuerant ut modicas iniurias non aequo modo animo pati sed prope libenti possent; verum enimvero tantum Pleminius Hamilcarem praesidii praefectum, tantum praesidiarii milites Romani Poenos scelere atque avaritia superaverunt ut non armis sed vitiis videretur certari".


"The Locrians had been treated by the Carthaginians with such arrogance and cruelty after their rebellion against the Romans that they could have tolerated (some) minor wrongs not only peacefully but almost willingly; however, in reality, as much Pleminius (compared to) Hamilcar as commander of the garrison, as the Roman soldiers of the garrison did surpass (so much) in crimes and robberies the Carthaginians that it seemed they were competing (with each other) not in arms but in vices".

Pleminius went so far as to plunder, exactly as Pyrrhus had done decades before, the famous sanctuary of Persephone; and as was the case for Pyrrhus, highlights again Livy (Ab Urbe Condita, XXIX 8, 9 and 9-11, 1-7), this wicked act marked the beginning of the end of the misgovernment of Pleminius. In fact, the hidden discontent that already proliferated across the Roman soldiers of the city garrison for the contemptuous way in which Pleminius led the administration in the name of Rome, after such an act broke out in increasingly frequent confrontations between factions within the garrison, a part of which had openly sided with the military tribunes Marcus Sergius and Publius Matienus against Pleminius and his men, seen as unworthy to wear the insignia of Rome. After one of these skirmishes Pleminius, tired of the behaviour of the military tribunes, commanded to beat them furiously, causing the reaction of the men faithful on them who pounced on Pleminius scaring and seriously injuring him.

Therefore the situation was getting increasingly worse and immediately Scipio, become aware of the situation, returned to Locri to restore calm and after a quick trial ruled that Pleminius was right and that the military tribunes had to be arrested and taken to Rome to be judged by the Senate. But, once Scipio left again the city, Pleminius went back to govern as he had always done and, substituting himself for the Roman Senate, sent to death the two military tribunes and revenged himself with ferocity against those Locrians who had "dared" to complain about his government with Scipio.

But enough is enough and the Locrians decided to address directly to the Senate of Rome, by sending ten ambassadors, to put an end to the terrible situation they were living and to seek justice. And justice Locri obtained.

After the ambassadors had been allowed to present their case to the Senate, the oldest of them took the floor describing minutely all the vicissitudes that the Locrian population had suffered from the installation of Pleminius in the city. But not only that. Showing a remarkable oratorical skill the Locrian ambassador did not attempt neither to avoid nor to minimize the fact that the Locrians in 215 b.C. handed over the city to the Carthaginians turning their backs on Rome, quite the contrary. Instead he tried to point out, with success, how such a situation was due to a small number of members of the ruling class (however already executed by Scipio in the aftermath of the recapture) while, on the contrary, the population as a whole was always faithful to Rome; and by doing so the old ambassador was able to leave toothless the only argument that the Roman Senate could have used to justify the behaviour of Pleminius. Also, speaking about a subject that the senators had at heart, the Locrian ambassador described with abundance of details the sacrilegious act made against the Persephoneion by Pleminius and his men, without any regard for the goddess, noting that such an act was a harbinger of misfortune for Pyrrhus several decades earlier and stressing the fact that Pleminius and his men were able to far exceed the Carthaginians and in such unimaginable way in terms of cruelty and wickedness.

The facts reported by the Locrian ambassador in his long narration left the Roman senators stunned and outraged; the first senator to take the floor was Quintus Fabius that, after having deplored what had happened in Locri, proposed a series of actions to be taken to wash away the sin and to defend the reputation of Rome. These actions included the return to Rome of Pleminius bound in chains to put him on a public trial, the restitution to the Locrians of all the ill-gotten gains and the restoration of the Persephoneion treasure chambers with twice the values that it held before the sacrilegious act as well as a series of sacrifices to take in favor of the goddess (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 19 XXIX, 6-9):

"[...] Locrensibus coram senatum respondere quas iniurias sibi factas quererentur eas neque senatum neque populum Romanum factas velle; viros bonos sociosque et amicos eos appellari; liberos coniuges quaeque alia erepta essent restitui; pecuniam quanta ex thesauris Proserpinae sublata esset conquiri duplamque pecuniam in thesauros reponi, et sacrum piaculare fieri ita ut prius ad collegium pontificum referretur, quod sacri thesauri moti aperti violati essent, quae piacula, quibus dis, quibus hostiis fieri placeret [...]".


"That the assembly of the Senate should openly answer to the Locrians for the wrongs which they complained, since neither the Senate nor the Roman people wanted that (those wrongs) had been ever inflicted upon them; (that the Locrians) must be declared good men, good allies and good friends; (that) the children, the wives and whatever else had been taken away must be restored (to them); (that) after having researched the exact amount of money stolen from the treasure chambers of Proserpina twice that amount had to be restored to her treasury and (that) an expiatory rite had to be performed after having sought the advice of the college of pontiffs, since it involved the removal and the profanation of a sacred treasure, what expiations they would suggest to be made, to which divinities and with what victims".

In addition Quintus Fabius, more for strictly political reasons than for actual needs, suggested harsh measures even against the same Scipio, going much further than what had been the demands made by the Locrian ambassador that, speaking about the role of Scipio in this vicissitude, at most ascribed to him a negligence caused, in times of war, by commitments considered much more important to deal with than the administration of a city just reconquered.

The final decision of the Senate fully accepted the demands made by Quintus Fabius, except for the part regarding the role played by Scipio. For the Roman general (at this point it is good to remember that when the Senate enacted its decisions the war was still in progress) in fact, it was preferred to follow the directions of Senator Quintus Metellus who had proposed the dispatch to his encampment in Sicily of a Senatorial committee of inquiry led by a praetor (Marcus Pomponius) and made up of ten senators, two tribunes of the plebs (Marcus Claudius Marcellus and Marcus Cincius Alimentus) and one aedile, that was supposed to investigate any misconduct made by Scipio against the Locrians.

As a result Pleminius was brought in chains to Rome with other men recognized as his accomplices, but his trial had not a conclusion since he died at the Mamertine prison, in which he was held, before a judgment could be delivered. The Senatorial committee of inquiry which had to investigate Scipio turned out to, as was clear from the beginning, nothing more than just a formal act which did not find anything reprehensible in the behaviour of the Roman general. The Locrian population was compensated as established and the Persephoneion treasure was returned twice as much as the original while expiatory sacrifices were dedicated to the deity. In addition, the Senate gave back to Locri its status of free city, allied of Rome, with the faculty of self-governing itself according to its own laws (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, XXIX 21, 7):

"Locrensium deinde contionem habuit atque iis libertatem legesque suas populum Romanum senatumque restituere dixit [...]".


(In this excerpt Livy refers to the words used by the Praetor Marcus Pomponius) "Then he publicly declared during an assembly of the Locrians that the Roman People and the Senate restored them their indipendence and their own laws."

We are now in 204 b.C.; with the restoration of the foedus amicitiae and thanks to the broad autonomy granted by Rome the Locrian city was able to still maintain in use laws and customs belonging to its Greek origin, but the vicissitudes of the third century b.C. caused a significant downsizing of the city itself, both from an economic and from a demographic point of view. Large areas of the city were abandoned during this period (amongst these the area of Centocamere) and began the development of various farming settlements in the surrounding areas. The ancient splendor, then, was gradually blurring but the city will continue to be of some importance in the years after the events just narrated although, from now on, the peculiarities of the ancient Greek polis will leave more and more room, as we shall see, to the Roman world, being absorbed in such a way that they can no longer be distinguished from it.




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