Ancient History & Civilisation

2. THE THIRD MACEDONIAN WAR

The consul P. Licinius Crassus landed on the Illyrian coast near Apollonia, where he had some 37,000 men, many of whom were recruits. The officers and men were less experienced than in earlier days; the generation which had fought with Hannibal was passing, while the wars with Philip and Antiochus had not afforded such a hard apprenticeship. Perseus mustered an army of 43,000 men, half of whom were the kernel of Macedon’s power and formed the phalanx. This loyal force, which was larger than that with which Alexander the Great had crossed to Asia, was well-armed and well-disciplined by years of frontier warfare, though its officers lacked ability. But, like his father, Perseus was fighting for a lost cause and was the architect of his own downfall. Without the support of Greece, without naval power, he could not expect ultimate success; Rome’s resources could stand defeat after defeat. Like Philip, he could only hope that the Romans, if wearied by initial failures, might drop the war as they had the invasion of Africa after the defeat of Regulus. Strategically, the Second Macedonian War had shown the difficulty of a Roman attack from the Adriatic coast up through the mountain valleys to Macedon. Perseus chose rather to defend his kingdom in the south, though he may have strengthened the forts in the western valleys. From Macedon to Thessaly ran the strong Olympus range which continued after the pass of Tempe as Ossa and Pelion. Here was a strong defensive position where he could control the passes to Macedon and from which he could take the offensive in the plains of Thessaly, when opportunity offered, and fight in the enemy’s country.

Acting on this bold scheme, Perseus advanced past Tempe along the west of Ossa and took up a position near Larissa (spring 171). Here he was met by the Romans, who had advanced from the west past Gomphi. Near a hill named Callinicus the Romans were trounced in a severe cavalry engagement, but they refused Perseus’ offer to treat, rejecting anything short of unconditional surrender. They retired northwards on the west of the Peneus, while Perseus marched up the east bank. A second engagement, which the Roman annalists magnified into a great victory, was fought near Phalanna, and Perseus withdrew from Thessaly for the winter, though he left garrisons at critical points. Thereupon Licinius marched off to Boeotia. His failure can be partly explained by the smallness of his force; also he had not been adequately supported by the Roman fleet. The Roman admiral, instead of operating on the Thessalian coast, had spent his time plundering Boeotia by land: possibly Rome wished to win the war by land and thus avoid any obligation to her naval allies, Pergamum and Rhodes.

The campaign of 170 was uneventful. Hostilius Mancinus, who failed to force the passes of the Olympus range and withdrew from Larissa to Pharsalus, tried to curb his marauding troops and to protect his allies, though the commander of the fleet captured Abdera with great cruelty. The Senate also took measures to right some of the wrongs suffered by the Greeks: several officers were punished. Perseus busied himself securing his communications with Epirus and campaigned successfully in the north against the Dardani, though his attempt to march south to win over the Achaeans failed. In 169 the consul Q. Marcius Philippus succeeded in reaching the Macedonian coast. Advancing north from Pharsalus he had the choice of three passes: Portaes, which led to the heart of Macedon; Pythion-Petra, which debouched near Pydna; and the pass of Lake Ascaris (Nezero) which reached the sea near Heracleum. All three passes together with Tempe were held by Macedonian troops. Marcius chose the third. Coming on the enemy’s force he feigned retreat and then swung through a thick wood, Libethron (Ziliana), and reached the coast north of Heracleum. Perseus, who had scattered his forces to guard the passes from Tempe to Portaes and had only a small central force on the coast at Dium, thought that his men at Lake Ascaris had been defeated, and withdrew to Pydna where he concentrated his whole army. Thus the Romans had turned the Olympus range, but being short of provisions as the fleet had failed to co-operate they retired along the coast to Tempe. Perseus was thus enabled to move south again to a strong position near Dium on the Elpeus. This largely cancelled out Marcius’ success in forcing the Olympus range, for the Romans only held a narrow strip of coast, of which the north end was blocked by Perseus’ strong position.

These mediocre results caused considerable dissatisfaction among Rome’s allies, some of whom began to waver in their loyalty, though the fragmentary state of the text of Polybius precludes a detailed judgement on their intrigues. The anti-Roman party at Rhodes got the upper hand and received envoys from Perseus; later they tried to mediate, but their envoys unfortunately arrived in Rome just after news of Perseus’ defeat had been received, which naturally annoyed the Senate. Mysterious negotiations also took place between Perseus and Eumenes although they came to nothing. When the Achaean League offered the Roman army definite help, it was declined by Marcius, perhaps from mistrust (the historian Polybius, who was now the second officer of the Achaean League, took part in these negotiations). Perseus was also corresponding with Antiochus IV; and it is significant that the Macedonian navy began to operate off Asia Minor. But amid much vague intrigue Perseus obtained one solid advantage, in the autumn of 169. He bought, though by a trick he avoided paying in full for, the support of Genthius, the Illyrian chieftain who reigned in Scodra (Scutari).

At Rome decisive action was demanded; an efficient general, L. Aemilius Paullus, consul of 168 and son of the consul who fell at Cannae, was sent to Macedon, and the legions were brought up to full strength. At the same time the praetor Anicius operated in Illyria. Taking the offensive against Genthius who had mustered an army and navy at Lissus, he stormed Scodra, captured the king, and then made a demonstration through Epirus. In thirty days he had fought the Third Illyrian War. Paullus had a more difficult task. He determined to turn Perseus’ position by the Elpeus which he recognized was impregnable. Under cover of a movement which suggested that he was embarking a force at Heracleum, a body of about 8,000 men under Scipio Nasica retired to Tempe and round the Olympus range; then advancing over the Pythion-Petra pass they took Perseus in the rear. The king thereupon withdrew to a weaker position in the plain south of Pydna, for he wished to retain the ability to give battle if he judged fit. Paullus joined Nasica and advanced against the enemy; wisely refusing to fight the same day, he encamped for the night. Perseus, who let slip this chance of attacking the enemy, was in a desperate situation; Paullus could penetrate Macedonia, while Anicius after defeating the Illyrians could advance from the north as Galba had in 199. The next day, 22 June 168, the two armies were drawn up for battle. Between them flowed a shallow stream, the Leucus. Paullus resolutely refused to attack. At midday Perseus withdrew to his camp, hoping to induce the enemy to advance; but the Romans remained stationary, if indeed they had yet been drawn up in battle array. Later in the day a skirmish took place between some advance guards by the river which was crossed by some of Perseus’ Thracians. He thereupon determined to fight, and one after another his detachments advanced over the river. His left wing, composed of the Thracians and light troops, was quickly vanquished by the Roman allies, strengthened by twenty-two elephants. The Macedonian phalanx in the centre at first made headway against the legions, but it was disordered by the broken ground when it advanced up towards the Roman camp. The legionaries showed great flexibility and brilliance in manoeuvre, by hurling themselves into its gaps or round its flanks where their Spanish swords made short work of enemy spearmen. The fate of the northern wings is unknown; perhaps they were not even engaged. The Macedonian losses were terrific. Perseus fled to Pella and thence to Samothrace where he was finally betrayed to the Romans.6

The war was over and the towns of Macedonia surrendered in quick succession. It remained to make a settlement. This was carried out by Paullus and a senatorial commission. The guiding principle was unchanged: freedom for Greece and Macedon and no annexation of territory. On this the various parties in the Senate were united though for different reasons. Paullus represented the old policy of Flamininus and the Scipios, who wished Greece to be free, although his outlook had been tempered by the disillusioning passage of time. Cato also argued that ‘Macedonia must be set free, since we cannot guard her’ because he wished to have nothing to do with eastern conquest and its demoralizing influences. Consequently a proclamation was made that the Macedonians should be autonomous, that they should pay to Rome annually half what they had paid to their king in direct tax, that the royal mines and estates should be closed and that the land should be divided into four Republics. A general disarmament was imposed, but frontier tribes might maintain armed forces to check the barbarians. This was a generous decision. The tribute was merely another form of war indemnity, which could not be exacted when the central government no longer existed. The importation of salt and the exportation of timber were also forbidden; the measure was not for the benefit of Italian merchants, but to secure for the people the monopoly which the kings had exercised. The king’s personal estate, which now became Rome’s public property, was not managed by Roman agents. The gold and silver mines were temporarily closed, but the iron and copper ones were worked by contractors, probably Macedonians. The four Republics were formed in accordance with the geographical features of the land. They were to be independent, without political or economic interconnections with each other. Thus Rome, by imposing a freedom on the Macedonians which perhaps they did not much desire, violated their sense of nationality. But the charters which were given to individual cities and states were sound enough to outlast two centuries. Further, an interesting experiment was tried regarding the constitution of the Republics. The Senate of each state was elected by the separate communities, while the chief magistrate was chosen by the direct vote of a popular assembly. Representative government had been tried by Achaea, Aetolia and Arcadia, and in the old Boeotian League, but there the representative body had been limited by other bodies; in the Macedonian Republics the local Senate was the primary authority.7

The settlement of Illyria was similar. Freedom from taxation was granted to those towns which had been loyal to Rome; the rest paid about half of the former royal land tax. Their territory was abandoned by the Romans and divided into three separate regions. In Greece it was proposed to make no radical alterations, but if the country was again to be abandoned it must be taught the full weight of Roman authority. The cities were cleared of all Macedonian sympathizers in a brutal putsch. In Aetolia five hundred of the anti-Roman party were put to death after a farcical trial, and throughout northern Greece the predominance of Rome was explicitly recognized; Athens alone received preferential treatment. In Achaea, on the advice of the infamous Callicrates one thousand men were deported to Italy on the pretext of being tried at Rome; among them was the historian Polybius. In Epirus Rome’s treatment was still more brutal. Aemilius Paullus was ordered to plunder the country systematically; at one fell swoop 150,000 Epirotes were carried off to the Roman slave market and the country was left desolate. This inexcusable barbarity shocked even a world on whose conscience cruelty did not lie heavily.8

Thus Paullus settled Greece and returned to hold the greatest triumph yet witnessed in the streets of Rome (September 167). Greece was left free and beyond light taxation in lieu of war indemnity Rome made no attempt to exploit her victory. But her attitude had changed. True, she still preferred diplomacy to war, but the old philhellenic policy was dead, killed by the unending bickerings of the Greeks themselves and by Rome’s apprehension, which gradually turned to a tired desire to wash her hands of all things Greek, accompanied by a steady deterioration of the character of many of her outstanding men.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!