Nothing can be found farther from my intention, since the commencement of this history, than to digress, more than necessity required, from the course of narration; and, by embellishing my work with variety, to seek pleasing resting-places, as it were, for my readers, and relaxation for my own mind:
nevertheless, the mention of so great a king and commander, now calls forth to public view those silent reflections, [p. 583]
with which it has oftentimes occupied my mind; and disposes me to inquire, what would have been the consequence, respecting the affairs of the Romans, if they had happened to have been engaged in a war with Alexander.
The circumstances of greatest moment in war seem to be, the number and bravery of the soldiers, the abilities of the commanders, and fortune, which exerts a powerful sway over all human concerns, and especially over those of war.
Now these particulars, to one who considers them both separately and collectively, must clearly convince an observer, that not only other kings and nations, but that even Alexander himself, would have found the Roman empire invincible. And first to begin with comparing the commanders.
I do not, indeed, deny that Alexander was a captain of consummate merit; but still it renders him more illustrious that he was single in command, and that he died young, while his affairs were advancing in improvement, and while he had not yet experienced a reverse of fortune.
For, to pass by other illustrious kings and leaders, who afford exemplary instances of the decline of human greatness, what was it, but length of life, which subjected Cyrus (whom the Greeks, in their panegyrics, exalt so far beyond all others) to the caprice of fortune? And the same was, lately, the case of Pompey the Great.
I shall enumerate the Roman chiefs; not every one of every age, but those very ones with whom, either as consuls or dictators, Alexander might have been engaged:
Marcus Valerius Corvus, Caius Marcius Rutilus, Caius Sulpicius, Titus Manlius Torquatus, Quintus Publilius Philo, Lucius Papirius Cursor, Quintus Fabius Maximus, the two Decii, Lucius Volumnius, Manius Curius.
Then follow a number of very extraordinary men, had it so happened, that he had first engaged in war with Carthage, and had come into Italy at a more advanced period of life. Every one of these both possessed powers of mind and a capacity equal with Alexander;
and also a regular system of military discipline had been transmitted from one to another, from the first rise of the city of Rome; a system now reduced into the form of an art, completely digested in a train of fixed and settled principles.
According to these principles kings had carried on wars; and afterwards, the expellers of those kings, the Junii and Valerii; according to these the Fabii, the Quintii, the Cornelii, and so too Furius Camillus, who was an old man in the earlier years of those with [p. 584]
whom Alexander must have fought.
Manlius Torquatus, had he met him in the field, might, perhaps, have yielded to Alexander in discharging military duties in battle (for these also render him no less illustrious); and so might Valerius Corvus; men who were distinguished soldiers, before they became commanders.
The same, too, might have been the case with the Decii, who, after devoting their persons, rushed upon the enemy; or of Papirius Cursor, though possessed of such powers, both of body and mind.
By the counsels of one youth, it is possible the wisdom of a whole senate, not to mention individuals, might have been baffled, [consisting of such members,] that he alone, who declared that “it consisted of kings,” conceived a correct idea of a Roman senate.
But then the danger was, that with more judgment than any one of those whom I have named he might choose ground for an encampment, provide supplies, guard against stratagems, distinguish the season for fighting, form his line of battle, or strengthen it properly with reserves.
He would have owned that he was not dealing with Darius, who drew after him a train of women and eunuchs; saw nothing about him but gold and purple; was encumbered with the trappings of his state, and should be called his prey, rather than his antagonist; whom therefore he vanquished without loss of blood, and had no other merit, on the occasion, than that of showing a proper spirit in despising empty show.
The aspect of Italy would have appeared to him of a quite different nature from that of India, which he traversed in the guise of a reveller, at the head of a crew of drunkards, if he had seen the forests of Apulia, and the mountains of Lucania, with the vestiges of the disasters of his house, and where his uncle Alexander, king of Epirus, had been lately cut off.