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7 - The recovery of Rome

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

F. W. Walbank
University of Liverpool
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The ancient tradition maintained that Rome had suffered terribly at the hands of the Gauls, but that the calamity was followed by a miraculous recovery. We are asked to believe that, with their city in ruins, their manpower drastically reduced, and their allies in tacit or open revolt, the Romans were able to restore their former position almost immediately. Within a year of the Gauls’ departure the city had been completely rebuilt, and spectacular victories had been won against enemies on all sides. These extraordinary achievements allegedly owed much to the inspired leadership of Camillus, who was regarded as a second founder of Rome.

Modern historians have not allowed this edifying story to pass unchallenged, however, and are apt to modify it in one of two ways. Either they accept that the Sack was indeed calamitous, but dismiss the story of the rapid recovery as fiction; or they accept the basic outline of events in the years after 390, but minimize the effects of the Sack. Both opinions have points in their favour. In support of the former it has been argued that the invention of compensating victories in the aftermath of defeats was a regular habit of the later Roman annalists; that the received version is at variance with that of Polybius, our oldest surviving authority; and that there is no mention of Camillus’ victories in Diodorus, who is generally supposed to have followed an early source. On the other hand, we saw in the previous chapter that there is good reason to doubt the picture of extensive destruction and loss of life which is presented in the annalistic accounts. It was suggested there that the physical damage to the city was superficial, that the civilian population had been evacuated and that the manpower losses at the Allia were not great.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1990

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