Ancient History & Civilisation

CHAPTER V

The Fall of Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece fell as a result of gradual erosion that was brought about by the towering influence of the Roman Republic.

Despite the constant resistance of the kingdoms, Greece, overpowered by the rising influence of the republic, progressively succeeded its territories. The Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. signaled the conclusion of the Hellenistic era and thus Ancient Greece.

The Course of Empire Destruction, by Thomas Cole (1836)

First Roman-Greek Collision

During the Hellenistic age the Roman Republic was beginning to rise to prominence. The Roman-Greek clashes commenced when the Roman Republic invaded a Greek colony in the Italian peninsula. The confrontation led to a naval warfare after which the Greek colonies appealed to Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus, for military support. Pyrrhus responded by sending a troop of 25,000 men in Italy in 280 B.C.

Pyrrhus, understanding that he was situated in a rather unpropitious position, withdrew from Italy. The two warring parties met again in 275 B.C. at the Battle of Beneventum. The triumphant party was undetermined, but Pyrrhus withdrew again when learning that his crew had been fatigued and diminished by years of foreign wars.

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Pyrrhus and his Elephants, by Helene Guerber (1896)

This war was a decisive event that emboldened the Roman Republic. One of the unparalleled forces in the Mediterranean basin was challenged by this young yet threatening force. Now Rome was off to challenge the other superpower—the Carthaginian Kingdom.

Shortly after the Battle of Beneventum, Rome fell foul with the Carthaginian Kingdom over the island of Sicily. This led to the First Punic War (264–241 B.C.). Rome defeated Carthage, retaining full control over the island. The republic then continued to supplant Greek rule in the Italian peninsula and gained full domination over the peninsula.

First Macedonian War

Pirate attacks of Roman merchants in Illyria, drew the attention of the Roman Republic to the Balkans. Following the first and second Illyrian Wars, the republic invaded the region.

It was when the Macedonian king Philip V offered one of the major pirates Demetrius of Pharos refuge that tension between Rome and Macedonia arose. And it was in the course of the Second Punic War (218–201 B.C.) Philip V allied with Carthage to weaken the influence of Rome in the Balkans. At the time, Hannibal (of Carthage) had managed to strike a hard blow on the Romans at the Battle of Cannae (216 B.C.). Its army was depleted when Philip V declared war.

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Philip V of Macedon, by Adam Carr (2004)

The war came to be known as the First Macedonian War (215–202 B.C.). Besides asserting Philip V as Rome’s arch nemesis, the war yielded no real results.

Second Macedonian War

The Roman Republic emerged as the victor in the Second Punic War. After the restoration of its army’s strength, the republic set out to assert its authority in the Balkans and undercut the spread of  Philip V’s influence in the region. Rome waged war on Macedonia in 200 B.C. and also made allies with Philip V’s enemies, the Aetolian League of Greek city-states.

Rome defeated Philip V in the Battle of Cynoscephalae (197 B.C.); the republic subjected his kingdom to a devastating indemnity, and confiscated his fleet. This signaled the conclusion of Macedonia’s preeminent rule in the Mediterranean.

Roman-Syrian War

The defeat of Macedonia left the Seleucid Empire in great bewilderment. This was because in 203 B.C. the Seleucid Antiochus III had joined forces with Philip V. The two forces were in cahoots to overthrow Ptolemy V, the boy-king of Egypt.

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Antiochus III, by Auguste Giraudon (1902)

Antiochus III managed to defeat Ptolemy in the Fifth Syrian War and forged ahead in pursuit of possessing the Ptolemaic territory in Asia Minor. This endeavor brought him in conflict with the Roman allies in the region— Rhodes and Pergamum. Eventually, this led to a cold war between Antiochus III and the Roman Republic.

On the other front, the earlier allies of Rome, the Aetolian League, which had helped bring Philip V to his defeat, began to resent the presence of the Romans in Greece. To Antiochus III this was the perfect window. Under the pretext of ‘liberating Greece from the influence of Rome’, he invaded Greece. This commenced the Roman-Syrian War (192–188 B.C.).

The Romans were able to trounce the army of Antiochus III and thus bring another Greek kingdom to its demise.

Third Macedonian War

The Macedonian kings could be held responsible for the empire’s colossal failure. It was their inordinate ambition and their inadvertent provocation of Rome that gave way to the Republic’s dominance.

The Third Macedonian War (171–168 B.C.) was initiated by Perseus (the son of Philip V) who had hoped to reaffirm the power of Macedonian and the autonomy of Greece. Rome not only came out the victor in this battle but also ousted the kingdom of Macedonia and replaced it with four puppet republics.

Macedonia remained under their reign for two decades until its final annexation to the Roman Republic in 146 B.C.

Mithridatic Wars

The Mithridatic Wars can be seen as the last resistance of the Greeks. In 88 B.C., King Mithridates of Pontus marched with his army to Anatolia and murdered 100,000 Roman and Roma allies throughout Asia Minor. Emboldened by his intrepid feat, the Greek cities—Athens included— toppled Roman puppet rulers and participated in the Mithridatic Wars.

Despite the momentous rally of the people of Greece, the rebellion was crushed when in 65 B.C. Mithridates was eventually trounced by Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great).

The cities of Greece were further plagued by the Roman civil wars which had taken place on their land. This not only destroyed the cities but also depopulated and dispirited the population.

The Battle of Actium

The Roman Empire continued to undermine the rags of Ancient Greece, either by supplanting the kingdoms by its puppet republics or depleting the forces of the monarchies. The Greek kingdoms disintegrated as they became vulnerable to the incursions of the tribes hailing from the fringes.

What sounded the knell of ancient Greece was the Battle of Actium, fought between Octavian (later Augustus) and Cleopatra VII, the last Ptolemaic monarch, and her lover Mark Anthony.

In a way this could be seen as the Roman Republic’s civil war in that Mark Anthony— a former ally of Octavian— was fighting against the Roman Republic under which he had served throughout his whole life.

In the naval battle of Actium on September 2nd,, 30 B.C., Octavian triumphed, conquering the whole of Egypt. Mark Anthony and Cleopatra withdrew to the city of Alexandria and suicided.

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The Death of Cleopatra, by Reginald Arthur (1892)

Octavian asserted the demise of both Ancient Greece and the Roman Republic. In 27 B.C., he annexed Greece to the Roman Empire; she came to be known as ‘the province of Achaea.’

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