Ancient History & Civilisation

4. THE SECOND MACEDONIAN WAR

When Rome and Philip settled down to play the game of war, the dice were heavily weighted in Rome’s favour, though the Greeks at first acted with great circumspection. Beside Rhodes and Pergamum, which could not put land forces into the field against Macedon, Rome only had the help of Athens, which provided a good naval base in the Aegean, and of the semi-barbarous princes of Illyria, Dardania, and Athamania in the north; the Aetolians were waiting to see which way the wind would blow. Philip’s Greek allies were equally slow to rally to his banner. The Achaean League, his nominal ally, sent no material help, though some volunteers came from Boeotia, Acarnania and Epirus. The wealthier Greeks distrusted his ideas of social revolution, and the upper classes in most towns inclined rather towards Rome.13 Finally, two savage raids on Attica in the autumn of 200 increased his unpopularity. The initial neutrality and caution of Aetolia and Achaea was natural, because the Hannibalic War had revealed the measure of Rome’s strength. They could hardly doubt that ultimate victory would fall to Rome; by taking up arms they might delay this, but then they would have to face Rome’s vengeance. Or even if they thought victory possible, what would they gain by it? Might it not make Philip’s hand on Greece still heavier to bear? And Rome was coming, nominally at any rate, to protect a Greek city from Macedon.

The Romans can scarcely have anticipated great difficulty in launching an attack on Philip. Their naval supremacy allowed them to strike wherever they wished. They could devastate part of the enemy’s land before Philip could concentrate his strength there. Their own and their allies’ forces could surround him on most sides. True, if he made a spectacular start, he might hope to turn the balance in Greece in his favour and elicit help from Achaea and the continued neutrality of Aetolia; but otherwise he must expect to see more Greeks gradually rallying to the Roman cause and the net being drawn more tightly around him. Further, the Romans could count on their big battalions; if one expeditionary force was defeated, they could send out another, but Philip would find it very difficult to raise a second army if his forces were worsted in open battle. He was thus forced to renounce the offensive and plan a cautious but energetic defensive, however alien it was to his impulsive nature. He must try to wear down the Romans’ patience. After all, they were weary of war, and the struggle in Greece was not vital, as they did not premeditate territorial expansion: possibly it might be fought to a standstill. The First Macedonian War provided good reason for such a hope; the Romans in weariness had left the Greeks to settle it by themselves; and their final intervention had been somewhat half-hearted. It had also trained Philip in the requisite strategy. Small fights, plundering raids, and surprise attacks had gradually exhausted both sides. But such a defensive strategy, although the best that Philip could devise, had many drawbacks: he must divide his forces to protect all fronts, and every loss he suffered, every unpunished devastation or strategic retreat would encourage his allies to desert and would drive the neutrals into the enemy’s arms. But despite its shortcomings this plan was the only feasible reply to Rome’s invasion. It was impossible to rally the Greeks to unite against a foreign invader. The Greek spirit had seldom permitted that, while now Rome was coming to protect Greece from Macedon. Thus Philip did not lack boldness in entering the lists in so unequal a contest.14

Landing with two legions near Apollonia in the autumn of 200, Sulpicius Galba sent a force to ravage the Macedonian frontier and a squadron to protect Athens. The former captured Antipatreia, the latter raided Chalcis en route. The next year Sulpicius planned to encircle Macedon; the Dardanians were to attack from the north, the Athamanes from the south, the navy from the east at Chalcidice. He himself advanced boldly from the west along the line of the later Via Egnatia and penetrated into Macedonia notwithstanding difficulties of commissariat and communications. Philip meantime advanced from Pella and after some manoeuvring gave battle at Ottolobus, where he suffered a slight defeat, which Sulpicius did not follow up. Though trivial, the engagement had the important result of deciding the Aetolians to support Rome. From the plain of Lyncestis (modern Monastir) Sulpicius might have turned north to join his Dardanian allies, but he preferred to march south, perhaps to join the Aetolians. Philip in vain contested his passage through the pass of Banitza and was again defeated. But hampered by practical difficulties in the heart of the enemy’s country Sulpicius prudently turned westwards and returned to the Adriatic after completing a great circuit. Philip did not attempt to hinder him, for danger threatened on other fronts. His general beat back the Dardanians who had entered Paeonia, while he himself hurried south to Gomphi to drive back the Aetolians who had broken into Thessaly. The Roman naval attack in the Aegean, though unopposed by Philip, had produced only small successes apart from its capture of Oreus. Thus the year’s campaign, notwithstanding Philip’s activity, had seriously damaged his prestige in Greece; Aetolia had sided with Rome, while Achaea was tending in this direction and was only stopped by certain territorial concessions from Philip.

Sulpicius’ successor found that Philip had occupied a strong position on his western front near Antigoneia, which controlled the Aoüs valley to Thessaly and covered the Drinus valley to Epirus, thus preventing the Romans from joining the Aetolians by either valley.15 Evidently Philip realized the need to take the offensive, at least in appearance, and not to wait for a Roman army to invade his territory. The Roman commander, however, was almost immediately replaced by the consul T. Quinctius Flamininus, who arrived with reinforcements in the spring of 198. On the banks of the Aoüs the Epirotes arranged a meeting between Flamininus and Philip. Flamininus declared that Philip must abandon all the Greek states which he held and must offer compensation where actual restoration was impossible. Philip was ready to abandon what he had taken, but not what he had inherited, and to submit the question of indemnities to arbitration: that is, he was clearly prepared to sacrifice much. When Flamininus suggested that he should start with Thessaly, Philip indignantly broke off negotiations. From this it is clear, as it must have been clear to the Greeks, what Rome’s intention was. Philip was to be driven out of Greece. The terms he offered might have prevented the war, but were inadequate to stop it when once started. If they were accepted Macedon would remain an autonomous great power, though humbled. But future peace and security could only be obtained by breaking the power of Macedon. As Scipio had realized that lasting peace could not be secured merely by driving Hannibal from Italy, so now Flamininus wished to conquer Macedon and to deprive her, like Carthage, of an independent foreign policy. His rousing proclamation not only expressed his own desire, but showed the official policy of the Senate.16

When negotiations had failed, Flamininus, unable to force Philip’s position, turned it by guile. He learnt of a track which led round behind the enemy and by this means he was able during a battle to fall on their flank. Philip was forced to retire; after considerable loss he rallied his men and withdrew along the Aoüs valley and the Zygus Pass to the vale of Tempe. The Romans could now overrun Thessaly and central Greece. Their allies, the Aetolians and Athamanes, promptly fell on Thessaly and captured Gomphi. Flamininus also approached through Epirus and the Peneus valley, but finding that many strongholds withstood him he turned south towards the Corinthian Gulf, where the allied fleet arrived after capturing Eretria. Here Flamininus brought pressure to bear on the Achaean League and at last won their support by promising to help them recover Corinth. However, Corinth and its Macedonian garrison unexpectedly resisted the attack, and shortly afterwards Argos seceded from Achaea to Philip.

With so much of Greece slipping from his grasp, notwithstanding events at Corinth and Argos, Philip was ready to seek terms; in November a conference was held at Nicaea in Locris. Polybius (xviii, 1–11) gives an interesting account of the proceedings, at which Philip’s sardonic humour found full scope. It is unnecessary to follow the details: Rome clearly pursued the same policy, and though Philip was willing to concede more than earlier in the year he stubbornly refused to surrender the ‘Fetters of Greece’, Demetrias, Chalcis and Acrocorinth. But Rome, and still more her allies, insisted on the complete evacuation of Greece; for the allies hoped to free Greece from Macedonian and Roman alike and so deprive Rome of the excuse or necessity for future intervention. The Senate refused to accept Philip’s terms, broke off the negotiations and prolonged Flamininus’ command.

Philip’s desperate efforts to retain what he still held met with little success. Unable to protect Argos he handed it over to the tyrannical king of Sparta, Nabis, who betrayed his trust. After instituting a reign of terror in Argos, Nabis calmly threw in his lot with the Romans, who thus controlled the whole Peloponnese. Next Boeotia fell away from Philip, after Flamininus had thrown a body of Roman troops into the Theban assembly to influence the voting. Thus virtually all Philip’s Greek allies, except Acarnania, Chalcis and Corinth, had been brought over to Rome; the Hellenic League was broken. This success, which had been reached partly by arms, partly by diplomacy, was due largely to Flamininus. He was a genuine admirer of Greek culture and met the Greeks on their own ground. His magnetic personality, his enthusiasm, the tact and adaptability which he displayed instead of the Romans’ all too common blunt and almost brutal self-assertiveness, all appealed to the Greeks. In his un-Roman qualities he resembled Scipio Africanus, though he lacked Scipio’s strength and loftiness of character. If Rome wished to free Greece there were few men better suited than Flamininus to accomplish this with less loss of blood and without robbing the Greeks of their remaining shreds of self-respect. Here was a Roman consul seeking their friendship and promising their freedom, not spurning their ideals and exposing their weakness.17

The end was at hand. In 197 Philip marched south with 23,000 infantry and 2,000 horse. At Pherae he came into contact with the Roman army which was slightly larger. The ground was not suited for a battle, so both armies marched westwards on the opposite sides of a range of hills named Cynoscephalae (Karadagh). Near Scotussa detachments of the two armies met unexpectedly and a general engagement ensued.18 On the rough ground on the southern slopes of Cynoscephalae the legion faced the phalanx. The right wing of each army was successful, the left was retreating. Victory hung in the balance, when an unknown tribune decided on his own initiative what ought to be done. Detaching twenty maniples from the two rear ranks of the victorious Roman right wing, he led them to the left where they outflanked the enemy and charged on them from the rear. The battle was won; to the astonishment of the Greek world the Roman legion had defeated the Macedonian phalanx. This was achieved partly owing to the nature of the ground and Philip’s lack of cavalry, but mainly through the tactical flexibility which Scipio Africanus had given to the legion. The troops employed by Flamininus were largely composed of Scipio’s veterans from Spain and Africa and there can be little doubt where the tribune had learnt his lesson in tactics. Flamininus was the victor of Cynoscephalae, but he was building on the foundations laid by another. And he was soon to realize that it was almost more difficult to make peace than war among the bickering states of Greece.

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