Ancient History & Civilisation

XII

ROME AND ANTIOCHUS

1. THE DIPLOMATIC CONFLICT

Antiochus had landed in Europe. After conquering Palestine, he turned to his hereditary possessions in Asia Minor and Thrace, now held by Ptolemy or Philip. In 197 he started a military promenade along the coast of Asia Minor. He was checked momentarily by Rhodes, who refused him the opportunity of joining his ally Philip. But when news of Cynoscephalae arrived, the danger was past and he easily bought over the Rhodians by some territorial concessions in Caria. He gradually made his way to the Hellespont, though respecting the boundaries which he had long ago guaranteed to Attalus.1 Eumenes, Attalus’ successor, however, was alarmed to find Pergamum surrounded on all sides by the advancing tide. At his advice the cities of Smyrna and Lampsacus, who had refused to submit to Antiochus and were being taken by force, appealed for protection to Rome, although they had no substantial claim on her. The appeal was welcomed and the Senate, which was concluding peace with Philip, issued its proclamation that ‘Greeks in Europe and Asia were to be free and autonomous’. Beside this warning, which extended their philhellenic policy to Asia, the Senate tried to embarrass Antiochus by sending to him an ambassador who was to protect the interests of Egypt which Rome had conveniently neglected for three years. Undaunted, Antiochus crossed to Europe by the early summer of 196 and established himself on the Thracian coast. ‘To him this was his last conquest, the recovery of the last piece of his heritage; but in the eyes of the Romans, Thrace could only be the first stage of an invasion planned to drive them from Greece.’ (Holleaux, CAH, VIII, p. 184.)

A diplomatic duel followed which merely caused Rome and Antiochus to harden their hearts. Antiochus who had sent envoys to Flamininus at Corinth, received a brusque reply after the Isthmian Games: ‘he must abstain from attacking autonomous cities in Asia and go to war with none of them; he must evacuate those which had been subject to Ptolemy or Philip; he was forbidden to cross into Europe with an army (which he had as a matter of fact already done); for no Greek henceforth was to be attacked in war or to be enslaved to any one; finally ambassadors would wait on Antiochus.’2 These ambassadors, supported by the knowledge of Rome’s alliance with Philip, explained the situation to Antiochus in much the same terms. The king replied that he could not understand the Romans interfering in Asia when he did not in Italy; he was merely recovering his ancestral kingdom in Thrace. He then played his trump card: the Romans need not worry about Ptolemy’s possessions because he had just concluded an alliance with him. The Romans were outwitted. Though not admitting their claim to interfere, Antiochus took the wind out of their sails still more by offering to submit the cases of Lampsacus and Smyrna to the arbitration of Rhodes. Matters were thus brought to a standstill. The king would not admit, and the Romans would not abate their demands. Neither side wanted war and the question might have been settled amicably by an equitable recognition and definition of the king’s ‘sphere of influence’ in Thrace. But Rome could neither believe that his intentions were pacific, nor tolerate a great power in the east which might one day grow to rivalry and hostility. The conference was interrupted by a report of Ptolemy’s death. This was false, but it occasioned the ending of the king’s minority and his accession to the throne as Epiphanes Eucharistos (an event celebrated on the Rosetta stone).

The next year, 195, Antiochus sent an offer to Flamininus to renew conversations about arranging a treaty of friendship with Rome; when told to deal direct with the Senate, he refused. Yet he had shown that he was ready to treat on his own terms and had no evil intentions against Rome. Rome’s fears were increased by the movements of Hannibal, whose political opponents alleged, probably falsely, that he was intriguing with Antiochus. The Senate foolishly rejected Scipio’s generous advice of non-interference and thereby drove Hannibal to join Antiochus (pp. 276f). This seriously complicated the eastern situation and fanned into a flame Hannibal’s latent hatred of Rome. In 194 Scipio, elected to his second consulship, urged that Greece should remain one of the consular provinces, because he sincerely believed that it must be held a little longer as a barrier against the Syrian; to evacuate it would create a vacuum into which Antiochus with Hannibal behind him would inevitably be drawn. Scipio keenly supported a philhellenic policy, but he saw clearly the danger of pressing it to extremes. Yet to occupy Greece any longer would have strained to the breaking point the belief of the Greeks in Rome’s sincerity. So the Senate followed Flamininus’ advice and Greece was evacuated. But Scipio showed how deep his fears were by founding eight maritime colonies at unprotected sea-ports in southern Italy; if Hannibal should provoke an invasion of Italy, he should find it prepared.

In the winter of 194–193 Antiochus sent two envoys to propose a treaty of friendship with Rome. This was in effect an ultimatum of peace or war. If the offer was accepted, it would imply the recognition by Rome of Antiochus’ authority in Thrace and Asia; if it was rejected, war might follow. But Flamininus, as the spokesman of the Senate, proposed a compromise: let Antiochus renounce his claims either to Thrace or to the autonomous Greek cities of Asia. Of the two alternatives, Rome apparently hoped to realize the evacuation of Thrace, since Flamininus told delegates of the Asiatic towns, then in Rome, that Rome would uphold their claims unless Antiochus withdrew from Europe. It is perhaps too severe to suppose that Rome’s interference on behalf of these towns had been a mere diplomatic manoeuvre, but clearly Rome was willing to sacrifice their claims to avert war, especially as they might not suffer severely under Syrian rule. Yet it is difficult to believe that the Senate really anticipated that these terms would be acceptable to Antiochus; perhaps they were merely trying to postpone the evil day. The proposal is interesting, for it shows that Rome was now ready to adopt from the Greeks the theory of ‘spheres of influence’, and Antiochus was perhaps foolish in refusing to sacrifice his rather useless European annexe.3 But such a compromise could only be lasting if Rome could once and for all overcome her mistrust of Antiochus. In any case little was achieved; the king’s representatives, having no power to compromise, withdrew. The Romans contented themselves with sending an embassy to the east to obtain further information and to continue the negotiations. The sequel was not happy. After long delay a conference was held at Ephesus (193), where delegates from the Greek cities were instigated by Eumenes to speak out boldly.4 This merely annoyed Antiochus further, negotiations again broke down, and when the embassy returned to Rome in the late summer war was looming large on the horizon. The same year the Aetolians invited Antiochus to liberate Greece.

When news reached Rome that Antiochus was preparing for war with the help of Hannibal, a commission headed by Africanus was sent to Carthage, where Hannibal’s agent Ariston was fomenting trouble. Little could be accomplished because of the extreme delicacy of relations with Antiochus, but doubtless the current rumours were investigated. Hannibal was said to be urging Antiochus to give him 10,000 infantry, 1,000 cavalry and 100 ships. With this force he would stir up Carthage against Rome and then land in Italy; meanwhile Antiochus was to lead his main army into Europe and to paralyse Rome’s efforts by taking up a strong position in Greece. It is uncertain what truth such rumour embodied: Antiochus certainly did not approve of a more ambitious scheme which Hannibal is said to have proposed later at a council of war at Demetrias. Probably the details of this first plan are exaggerated. Hannibal could scarcely have planned an immediate invasion of Italy with so small a force and such limited naval resources. It would be difficult to reinforce the infantry, as the Carthaginians, who were now without their Spanish and Numidian allies, would find it hard to raise mercenaries; and they would be attacked by Masinissa in their own country. The force landing in Italy could not expect to evoke widespread rebellion in the south before being overwhelmed, while if they landed in the north they would be too far from their base and from their objective, and might meet the fate of Hasdrubal or Mago. Hannibal may have suggested the invasion of Italy as an ultimate object; probably his immediate proposal was to stir up Carthage. This would satisfy his hatred and suit Antiochus’ plan by distracting the attention of Rome away from Greece; if it succeeded beyond their hopes, Antiochus would welcome the rise of Carthage as a power to balance Rome in the western Mediterranean. Thus Antiochus probably encouraged Hannibal to make trouble in Carthage, but their agent provocateur failed and affairs in Greece soon claimed all Antiochus’ attention and precipitated him into the war with Rome.5

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