Ancient History & Civilisation

3. THE HELLENISTIC EAST9

In Asia Minor the power of Eumenes of Pergamum had not been unchallenged. In 186 Prusias of Bithynia, who at Rome’s bidding had remained neutral during the war with Antiochus, attacked Eumenes and welcomed Hannibal, but he quickly obeyed an order from the Senate to cease hostilities; Hannibal took his own life to avoid extradition (183). Thereafter Bithynia caused little trouble. Prusias II (c. 181–149) showed his humility by appearing in Rome dressed as a freedman. When later he attacked Pergamum after Eumenes’ death Prusias had to face a hostile coalition of other states and was soon forced to make an unfavourable peace in the presence of three Roman commissioners (154). Attalus II of Pergamum retaliated a few years later by inciting Nicomedes to dethrone his father, Prusias, who appealed to Rome. But the Senate was so slow sending out commissioners that Nicomedes anticipated them by murdering his father and ruling in his stead; as this involved the renewal of good relations between Bithynia and Pergamum, Rome acquiesced (149).

Pergamum suffered further hostility from King Pharnaces of Pontus, whose imperialistic aggression was curbed in a four year war by a coalition of Pergamum, her erstwhile foe Bithynia, and Cappadocia (183–179). For although Ariarathes IV of Cappadocia had supported Antiochus in his recent war, the good offices of Eumenes had secured a large reduction in his indemnity to Rome: in return he supported Pergamum. Pharnaces, though undaunted by Rome’s half-hearted intervention on behalf of the coalition, was duly checked. After this neither Pontus nor Cappadocia gave Rome much trouble for many years. Mithridates III of Pontus (169–121) helped Rome against Carthage, and Ariarathes V (163– c. 130) maintained friendship with Rome and even died fighting for her cause.

Eumenes’ secret dealings with Perseus naturally discredited him in the eyes of the Romans, who repaid this seeming lack of good faith by hinting to his brother, Attalus, that he might aspire to the Pergamene throne (167). When Eumenes announced that he was coming to Rome to plead his cause, the Senate immediately decreed that no king should be received in Rome, though King Prusias had just been welcomed. Attalus, however, remained loyal to his brother, who lived till 159. His own reign (159–138) was marked only by a defensive war against Prusias, which Rome approved; nor did he incur the Senate’s displeasure by his encouragement of Nicomedes (see above). In fact, this client prince served Rome well, and diplomatic pressure through such an agent proved a good substitute for armed intervention. Indeed, the kingdom of Pergamum remained undisturbed until it was jolted out of existence by the unexpected action of Attalus III in bequeathing it to Rome (133).

Rhodes sank into obscurity even sooner. The Rhodians had received Lycia and Caria for helping Rome against Antiochus (189), but unfortunately the Senate had not specified the status of the Lycians, who regarded themselves as allies of Rhodes, while Rhodes regarded them as subjects. This resulted in war and Lycia appealed to the Senate, who ruled that the Lycians had been given to Rhodes not as a free gift but as friends and allies (177). The attitude of Rhodes became somewhat frigid, and during the war with Perseus the anti-Roman faction became more prominent, but there was as yet no open breach. In 168 an unfortunate episode occurred: Rhodes sent an embassy to Rome to

 

MAP III

try to mediate in the quarrel with Perseus. When the ambassadors learnt that news of Perseus’ defeat at Pydna had just arrived they did their best by hastily substituting a congratulatory speech in place of the one they had come to deliver; but it was not convincing. A praetor even proposed that war should be declared, but Cato promptly quashed the idea; the Rhodians in gratitude sent a golden crown and humbly sought alliance with Rome. This was not granted till after a dignified interval (165). Meanwhile the Senate punished Rhodes by declaring that the Lycian and Carian cities assigned to her in 188 should be free and by creating commercial competition at Delos, which was handed over to Athens on condition that no harbour dues should be imposed. Both these measures struck hard at Rhodes’ revenue, and the greatness of the island began to fade. Rome was later hoisted on her own petard when the pirates whom Rhodes had long kept in check became the scourge of the eastern Mediterranean. The chief centre of piracy was Crete, which was distracted by internal dissensions; Rome had intervened to settle these in 189 and 174 with little effect. When in 155 a united Crete fought against Rhodes, Rome failed to help her sister Republic, who could no longer keep the seas clear for her trade.

After the battle of Magnesia the Seleucid monarchy, despite the loss of Asia Minor, Armenia, Parthia and Bactria, gradually revived. More isolated from the western world, it began under Antiochus IV Epiphanes (from 175) to strengthen its authority in the east, to check internal disintegration and nationalistic movements, and finally was ready to break another lance with Egypt for the age-long debated possession of Coele-Syria. Rome’s relations with Egypt were slightly strained: antagonized by the alliance of Egypt with Antiochus III in 196, she had not rewarded Egypt at the settlement of Apamea, although she had originally been anxious to protect Egyptian dependencies. Further, Egypt had made some tactless overtures to the Achaean League in 185 and 183, but native revolts kept the country out of European politics. By 170 Egypt was planning to renew the invasion of Coele-Syria, when Antiochus IV crashed through her frontier defences. The young Ptolemy VI Philometor was captured and the Alexandrines replaced him by his brother Ptolemy VII, Euergetes Physcon. But instead of fighting his way back to the Egyptian throne, as Antiochus hoped, the deposed king came to terms and set up a joint kingship with his brother. Antiochus, who had withdrawn, thereupon re-entered Egypt and seized Cyprus (168). Rome had been too busy in Macedon to assist either of the Ptolemies, although a centenary renewal of the friendship between Rome and Egypt had been effected, but after Pydna the Senate sent a peremptory order to Antiochus to evacuate Egypt and Cyprus. The Roman envoy, Popillius, handed the Senate’s despatch to the king, who asked for time to consider; but Popillius merely drew a circle round Antiochus in the sand and bade him answer before stepping out of it. The king meekly obeyed and withdrew from Egypt.

The two Ptolemies did not reign in amity for long. In 164 Philometor was expelled from Egypt and appealed to Rome, making a theatrical appearance in the Senate-house dressed in a suppliant’s rags; the Senate intervened by diplomacy alone. After another reconciliation between the brothers, Philometor obtained Egypt and Cyprus, Euergetes Cyrene, but when soon afterwards Euergetes appeared in Rome to ask for Cyprus (162), the Senate agreed but took no military action to enforce his claim and merely broke off diplomatic relations with Philometor. Later Euergetes alleged that his brother had tried to murder him, and in 154 he returned to Rome where he supported his accusation by displaying to the Senate some knife-marks on his body. Before leaving Cyrene, however, he had tried to propitiate the Romans and to show his subjects that a revolt during his absence would not lead to freedom or union with Egypt: he set up a public inscription stating that should he die without legitimate heirs he bequeathed to the Roman people his rightful realm, the protection of which he entrusted to them. This document, the earliest known testament of a Hellenistic king in favour of Rome, did not, in fact, become operative, but it illustrates the humility which the Hellenistic world now adopted towards the rising sun of Rome.10 In reply to his friendly gesture and Ptolemy’s personal appeal, the Senate ordered their eastern allies to co-operate in restoring Cyprus to him. But when the promised help did not materialize, it seems that the king attempted to reinstate himself and was captured. He was, however, generously restored to Cyrene by his brother Philometor, who continued to reign in Egypt and Cyprus at peace with Rome, where Cato supported his cause. Though Polybius (xxxi, 10) criticizes Rome’s policy towards Egypt as an example of how she profited by the mistakes of another, it is in fact noticeable that Rome seemed to procrastinate and often did not insist on the immediate execution of her requests. Indeed, her hesitancy towards Egypt may have inspired Carthage and the Achaean League with unwarranted hopes.

Further trouble arose in Syria on the death of Antiochus IV (163). The rightful heir to the throne was his nephew Demetrius, the son of his predecessor Seleucus IV; but Antiochus left his son Antiochus V to succeed him. The Senate ordered commissioners to settle the difficulty. When they proceeded to enforce some disarmament clauses of the Peace of Apamea an insurrection broke out, in which the angry crowd at Laodicea mobbed the embassy and killed its leader (162). Further, Demetrius, who was a hostage at Rome, escaped to Syria without the Senate’s permission, and recovered his father’s kingdom.11 He secured the death of Antiochus V, but had to face a pretender, Timarchus, governor of Babylonia, who had won verbal recognition from the Senate. Perhaps with a view to checking his power the Senate received the overtures of Judas Maccabaeus from Jerusalem and concluded a treaty with the Jews, promising Roman help and friendship if they were attacked (161).12 The next year Demetrius, who had overthrown the rebel Timarchus, at length obtained official recognition from the Senate through the good offices of Tiberius Gracchus. Rome continued to avoid active intervention in Syria. About 150 a pretender, Alexander Balas, gained recognition from the Senate and overthrew Demetrius, who was constantly making trouble and enemies. In 147 a son of Demetrius challenged Balas and was supported by Ptolemy VI. When the people of Antioch offered Ptolemy the Seleucid crown, fear of provoking Rome sufficed to make him decline it, and he withdrew in favour of the young Demetrius, who requited him by seizing Coele-Syria at his death; so ended the long struggle between the Ptolemies and Seleucids (145). Thus in the years which followed the death of Antiochus the Great, Rome often exerted diplomatic pressure against Syria where she liked to see a weak king on the Seleucid throne. But as Syria became weaker and her revival less possible, indifference took the place of that suspicion and fear which had often driven Rome to intervention and once to arms.

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