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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IX Chapter 17: Comparison of the Strength of Rome and of Macedonia under Alexander the Great[319 BC]
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Nothing can he thought to be further from my aim since I commenced this task than to digress more than is necessary from the order of the narrative or by embellishing my work with a variety of topics to afford pleasant resting-places, as it were, for my readers and mental relaxation for myself. The mention, however, of so great a king and commander induces me to lay before my readers some reflections which I have often made when I have proposed to myself the question, "What would have been the results for Rome if she had been engaged in war with Alexander?" The things which tell most in war are the numbers and courage of the troops, the ability of the commanders, and Fortune, who has such a potent influence over human affairs, especially those of war. Any one who considers these factors either separately or in combination will easily see that as the Roman empire proved invincible against other kings and nations, so it would have proved invincible against Alexander. |
Let us, first of all, compare the commanders on each side. I do not dispute that Alexander was an exceptional general, but his reputation is enhanced by the fact that he died while still young and before he had time to experience any change of fortune. Not to mention other kings and illustrious captains, who afford striking examples of the mutability of human affairs, I will only instance Cyrus, whom the Greeks celebrate as one of the greatest of men. What was it that exposed him to reverses and misfortunes but the length of his life, as recently in the case of Pompey the Great? Let me enumerate the Roman generals -- not all out of all ages but only those with whom as consuls and dictators. Alexander would have had to fight -- Marcus Valerius Corvus, Gaius Marcius Rutilus, Gaius Sulpicius, Titus Manlius Torquatus, Quintus Publilius Philo, Lucius Papirius Cursor, Quintus Fabius Maximus, the two Decii, [Note 1] Lucius Volumnius, and Manlius Curius. Following these come those men of colossal mould who would have confronted him if he had first turned his arms against Carthage and then crossed over into Italy later in life. Every one of these men was Alexander's equal in courage and ability, and the art of war, which from the beginning of the City had been an unbroken tradition, had now grown into a science based on definite and permanent rules. It was thus that the kings conducted their wars, and alter them the Junii and the Valerii, who expelled the kings, and in later succession the Fabii, the Quinctii, and the Cornelii. It was these rules that Camillus followed, and the men who would have had to fight with Alexander had seen Camillus as an old man when they were little more than boys.
Alexander no doubt did all that a soldier ought to do in battle, and that is not his least title to fame. But if Manlius Torquatus had been opposed to him in the field, would he have been inferior to him in this respect, or Valerius Corvus, both of them distinguished as soldiers before they assumed command? Would the Decii, who, after devoting themselves, rushed upon the enemy, or Papirius Cursor with his vast physical courage and strength? Would the clever generalship of one young man have succeeded in baffling the whole senate, not to mention individuals, that senate of which he, who declared that it was composed of kings, alone formed a true idea? Was there any danger of his showing more skill than any of those whom I have mentioned in choosing the site for his camp, or organising his commissariat, or guarding against surprises, or choosing the right moment for giving battle, or disposing his men in line of battle and posting his reserves to the best advantage? He would have said that it was not with Darius that he had to do, dragging after him a train of women and eunuchs, wrapped up in purple and gold, encumbered with all the trappings of state, He found him an easy prey rather than a formidable enemy and defeated him without loss, without being called to do anything more daring than to show a just contempt for the idle show of power. The aspect of Italy would have struck him as very different from the India which he traversed in drunken revelry with an intoxicated army: he would have seen in the passes of Apulia and the mountains of Lucania the traces of the recent disaster which befell his house when his uncle Alexander, King of Epirus, perished.