Ancient History & Civilisation

XIII

ROME AND THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN

1. THE GROWING TENSION

During the forty years embraced by this chapter, Rome’s foreign policy underwent a subtle change. Starting with the Greek particularistic principle of temporary alliances which had led to something like a protectorate system, Rome gradually turned to a policy of annexation in Greece. The philhellenic protectorate policy of the Scipios and Flamininus was abandoned in favour of a return to the old system of alliance, which really meant dependence. This reaction, led by Cato, was based on a dislike of things Greek and of the deleterious effect of eastern conquest on the character of Rome’s generals. Further, the people looked askance at the increasing power which foreign conquest vested in the Senate and its prominent members. But beside this partly conscious reaction, Rome was driven on by circumstances. The view that she deliberately encouraged quarrels and rivalries in Greece in order to regain a foothold there is hardly acceptable, but having guaranteed the freedom of Greek cities, she could not disregard their quarrels and still more their appeals. The period shows a welter of disputes referred to the Senate. Rome showed herself slow to intervene, slow even to enforce her decisions, but it is little wonder if her patience was gradually broken down by this bombardment from the Greeks, whom she wished to ignore. We must now trace her relations first with Greece and then with Macedon till the outbreak of the Third Macedonian War.

Even before the Romans left Greece trouble was brewing in the Peloponnese. Though Philopoemen’s dream of the whole Peloponnese united under the Achaean League was fulfilled, it was soon shattered by the revolt of Sparta and by Philopoemen’s own lack of statecraft. Sparta had sent a force against her political exiles who after the recent social revolution were rallying in the liberated towns of the Laconian coast (189). When Philopoemen intervened, Sparta seceded from Achaea and offered Fulvius an explanation of its conduct which had infringed the Spartan-Roman Treaty. The question was referred to the Senate which being more concerned with Asiatic affairs replied ambiguously to an Achaean embassy. Thereupon Philopoemen stormed Sparta, massacred the anti-Achaean party, incorporated the city into the League, dismantled her walls, expelled the Helots, restored the exiles, and abolished the old Lycurgan constitution (188). But the Senate held back. Two years later the restored exiles ungratefully found grounds to complain to Rome about Achaea’s conduct, but the Senate merely expressed disapproval.

In 185 a stiffening is noticeable in the Senate’s conduct, due perhaps to the political decline of the Scipios and the growing ascendancy of Cato, and other political rivals of theirs, together with increasing anxiety concerning Philip’s conduct. Having taken no action for four years despite much provocation, the Senate suddenly intervened. On his return from Macedon, Q. Caecilius Metellus (consul 206) rebuked Achaea for its treatment of Sparta and demanded that the League assembly should be summoned, but he was refused on the legal ground that he had no written instructions from the Senate. The Achaeans then received a sharp rebuke from the Senate, and Ap. Claudius Pulcher ordered a League assembly (184), which was marked by mutual recriminations. Thereafter Rome forced a settlement on Achaea, whose envoys had to sign it though thereby they broke the laws of their League: Achaea retained Sparta in the League at the price of restoring the exiles of 190 and rebuilding her walls. The League refused to endorse the settlement, but came to an agreement with Sparta whereby the exiles were not to be recalled. The Senate swallowed the insult.

In 183 Messene revolted from Achaea. The Senate warned the Achaeans, but did not prevent Italian blockade-runners helping Messene. Nothing daunted, Philopoemen defeated the Messenians, but was himself captured and poisoned. Thus died the ‘last of the Greeks’. He was ultimately succeeded, not by the like-minded Lycortas, father of the historian Polybius, but by Callicrates, who advised the Senate actively to support the pro-Roman at the expense of the patriotic parties in the various cities. Then, relying on Rome’s support, he persuaded the Achaeans to restore the Spartan and Messenian exiles and to allow the refortification of Sparta and the restoration of the constitution of Lycurgus (181). This action of Callicrates marked a new era in the relations of Greece and Rome, whereby Rome tended to support those who appealed to her authority whether right or wrong. As a result she had many flatterers but few friends. Callicrates is adjudged ‘the initiator of great miseries to all the Greeks, but especially to the Achaeans, who because of their good faith had hitherto the privilege of dealing on something like equal terms with Rome.’1 So ended the long Achaeo-Spartan imbroglio, the somewhat tedious details of which have been recorded because they illustrate the changing methods of Roman policy. Next, it will be seen how this was affected by the conduct of Philip.

Philip’s loyalty to the Roman cause during the war with Antiochus was rewarded by the remission of the rest of his indemnity and by permission to keep the cities he had captured – but with a reservation. Glabrio had allowed him to retain those Thessalian cities which he took from the Aetolians, provided that such cities had sided with Aetolia voluntarily and not under compulsion. Though this settlement was in line with the policy adopted towards Eumenes in Asia, it obviously contained seeds of future unrest. Philip controlled a wide area which included the coastal strip of Magnesia with Demetrias, and towns on the Phthiotic coast, in Perrhaebia, in Hestiaeotis, and on the borders of Athamania and Dolopia, but the Romans had tried to limit his activity, and Glabrio’s order to desist from besieging Lamia in 191 still rankled in his mind. If Philip felt aggrieved, Rome felt suspicious of his extraordinary activity in rebuilding the power of Macedon. By fresh taxation, by developing his mines, and by settling many Thracians in Macedon he strengthened his country’s manpower and economic resources. His object may have been entirely pacific, but to Rome this presaged war. Indeed Polybius believed that Philip had decided to renew the war with Rome when his preparations were complete and that his successor Perseus merely followed in his father’s footsteps. However this may be, the revival of Macedon increased Rome’s suspicious fears.

Complaints soon reached Rome from various Thessalian cities that Philip was not observing the terms of the peace by withdrawing his garrisons. The details were very intricate, as it would not always be easy to determine whether a given city had gone over to the Aetolians of its own free will or not. The Senate dispatched a commission of enquiry, led by Caecilius Metellus. At a subsequent meeting at Tempe, although the Thessalians put forward a weak case, Philip foolishly let his tongue run away with him and observed that ‘his sun had not altogether set’; nor did he improve his claims by adding that he knew that he would have to give up what he had received, whether or not his cause was just. He was then ordered to evacuate the cities which were appealing; they were to be added to the Thessalian League. A more serious situation, which had already arrested senatorial attention, arose from his occupation in 187 or 186 of two Thracian cities, Aenus and Maroneia, after their evacuation by Antiochus; Eumenes also on very slender grounds was putting in a counter-claim to these towns. The Roman commissioners required Philip to withdraw his garrisons from the two towns and referred the question to the Senate, which sent out a fresh mission under Appius Claudius and declared the towns free. This, however, so incensed Philip that he cruelly arranged a massacre in Maroneia. An enquiry was instituted and Philip’s agent was summoned to Rome, but he mysteriously died on the journey. Rumour added that Philip was merely taking steps to hush up the affair.

To counter Rome’s increasing suspicion, which was fed by a further mass of complaints from his neighbours in 184, Philip prudently sent his younger son Demetrius to Rome to protect his interests. Demetrius, who had made a good impression in Rome while there as a hostage after the Second Macedonian War, now obtained from the Senate a verdict in his father’s favour which helped to relieve the tension between Rome and Macedon. But reports from Greece were not entirely reassuring, so a message which was sent to congratulate Philip on his compliance ended with a warning. The cause of Rome’s suspicion was that the king, whose activity was now checked on the coast, had turned his attention to his northern boundaries where he planned new fortresses and shifted the population about. And even when he tried to add his name to the list of ancient explorers by climbing Mount Haemus, a high peak in the Balkans (probably Mt Vitocha), to investigate a rumour that the Black Sea, the Adriatic, the Danube, and the Alps could all be seen thence, his action was interpreted as an attempt to plan an invasion of Italy. But if Philip’s public affairs prospered, his private life was less happy. On the return of Demetrius to Macedon his elder brother Perseus accused him of plotting to win the succession to the throne and suggested that Flamininus and other Romans had been playing on his ambitions. Philip ordered the death of Demetrius and only later found that his fears had not perhaps been fully justified. Sick at heart at his own impetuous folly, he himself died soon afterwards (179). Though he did not live to see the dawn of that glorious day of which he dreamed, when Macedon once more should guide the world, he had raised his country to a height which it had not reached since the death of Alexander. Philip, rather than Philopoemen, might be called ‘the last of the Greeks’.2

When Perseus ascended the throne of Macedon in 179 war was in the air, although the storm did not break for some years. He himself was not ready, and the number of Roman embassies to Greece showed that the Republic would welcome explanations rather than war. Perseus renewed ‘friendship’ with Rome and accepted his father’s recent agreement with the Senate. At the same time he continued his father’s policy of building up the power of Macedon. He subdued Dolopia and made a spectacular march through northern Greece to the oracle at Delphi. He repelled the attacks of Thracian tribes and strengthened his position by dynastic marriages; he himself married the daughter of Seleucus IV of Syria and he gave his sister in marriage to Prusias of Bithynia. He also won considerable popularity in Greece by appealing to the democratic and revolutionary elements in the cities. This attempt to pose as the champion of the oppressed and unprotected was not happy; it brought little really solid support and naturally annoyed the Romans, who tended to favour the law-abiding element in the Greek cities, which generally meant the aristocracy. The political parties in Greece were thus more sharply divided in their attitude to Rome and Macedon.3

During the first years of Perseus’ reign many complaints reached Rome concerning his conduct, until in 172 Eumenes of Pergamum arrived with a detailed list of his crimes. Many of these were trivial, many unsubstantiated; and it need not be supposed that the Senate was over-credulous. But the visit of Eumenes was the deciding factor in Rome’s attitude. Nor was Perseus’ position made easier by the fact that on his return home Eumenes was nearly killed by a falling rock at Delphi. Perseus would hardly be foolish enough to precipitate matters by murder, but it served as good propaganda for Eumenes.4 War could not be long delayed. Roman envoys were sent east to pave the way. The Achaean League was ready to support Rome – in fact it had anticipated events by severing relations with Macedon in 175. The Boeotian League hesitated, but under Roman pressure the component cities agreed to support Rome and the League broke up. Several Thracian rulers promised help, though Cotys remained loyal to Perseus. Syria, Egypt and Cappadocia were friendly, while Prusias of Bithynia claimed neutrality because of his relationship with Perseus. The support of Eumenes and Rhodes could be relied on. Finally, Q. Marcius Philippus interviewed Perseus (autumn 172) and tricked him into a truce until the next campaigning season; then war was declared on the ground that Perseus had attacked Rome’s allies and was planning war on Rome (171).5

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