Ancient History & Civilisation

World Empire, 201-150 BC

The war with Carthage ended in 201, but it left a legacy of continuing conflict which was to occupy Rome for several decades. Hannibal had launched his invasion from Spain, and in order to prevent anyone else following his example two provinces were created and a Roman military presence permanently maintained in the Spanish Peninsula. This involved the Romans in near constant warfare, in part prompted by the resentment of Spanish communities at the presence of a new occupying force, but also as they became involved in traditional patterns of warfare. Roman rule was only secure so long as they were able to protect their allies from raiding. After over two decades of intensive campaigning, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, son of the consul killed in 212, managed to create a lasting settlement through a judicious mixture of force and diplomacy. This produced a period of relative tranquillity for nearly a generation.5

Hannibal's invasion was just another episode in the ongoing struggle between Rome and the tribes of Cisalpine Gaul. His victories and those won by the Gauls themselves inspired a new generation to resist Roman incursions in the Po valley. One Carthaginian officer, a certain Hamilcar who had probably arrived with Mago, remained with the tribes and continued to lead them in battle after 201. Complaints were sent to the Punic authorities, who denied that the man was acting under orders, but the problem was only solved when Hamilcar was killed. In the first decade of the second century more consuls and more legions went to Cisapline Gaul than any other area, and the Senate exercised close control over the campaigns there, which was after all not far from Rome's heartland. This effort brought about the final defeat of the Gallic tribes in the Po valley, some of which were virtually destroyed as political entities and others absorbed. The suppression of the Ligurians took longer, their loose political structure, independent nature and rugged homeland prolonging their resistance and making it necessary to defeat each village in turn. A sizeable part of the population was transplanted and given land in southern Italy left vacant after the Hannibalic War, where they proved successful and peaceful farmers.6

In 200 the consul Publius Sulpicius Galba presented a motion to the Comitia Centuriata for the declaration of war against Macedonia. The pretext was an appeal from Athens for aid against Philip V. Nearly all of the voting centuries voted against the proposal, one of the very few occasions when the Roman People seemed reluctant to go to war. The prolonged effort against Carthage had left all classes weary and hesitant about embarking on a major overseas war. The Comitia Centuriata was not a forum for debate and could simply vote for or against a proposal. Before Galba summoned the Assembly to vote again, he addressed the centuries at an informal meeting (or contio). Livy gives the consul two main arguments in favour of the war. Philip V had shown himself to be Rome's enemy by his unprovoked attack during the crisis of the Second Punic War. If the Romans did not attack him now and fight the war in Greece, then at some time in the future the Macedonians might use their sizeable fleet to land an army in Italy. Athens must be protected from Philip, since the failure to defend another ally, Saguntum, from Hannibal had encouraged him in his plans to attack Italy. When the Comitia voted a second time, the motion was passed easily and war declared on Macedonia. There may have been other reasons for the decision. Philip V and the Seleucid King Antiochus III had secretly decided to benefit from the accession to the Egyptian throne of a minor, Ptolemy V, by carving up his territory. This threatened to upset the balance in power between the three great kingdoms, but it is difficult to know to what extent the Romans were aware of this. In the end, Philip V was a clear enemy and the settlement at the end of the First Macedonian War had been most unsatisfactory by Roman standards. As a result, the renewal of war was almost inevitable.7

The Second Macedonian War led on directly to conflict with the Aetolian League, Rome's former allies, and in turn to the Syrian War with the Seleucids. All of these enemies had been utterly defeated by 189 BC, the conflicts being swifter and far more quickly decisive than the First Macedonian War. Defeat in a single pitched battle was enough to persuade the Hellenistic kingdoms to concede defeat. The Roman armies which achieved these victories were not especially large, nearly all being the standard consular-sized force of two legions and two alae with the addition of local allies, just like the army which had won at Zama. At one point two such armies were operating, one in Greece and the other in Asia, but there proved no need to draw heavily upon Rome's reserves of manpower in these campaigns. Hellenistic armies were far more homogenous than the mixed mercenary and allied forces of Carthage. Their soldiers were mainly professionals, highly trained and disciplined, but relatively few in number and hard to replace.

The principal strength of every army was the phalanx, eight or more ranks deep of men armed with 21-foot (6.4 m) sarissae or pikes. These were held in both hands and weighted near the butt, so that two thirds of the weapon reached in front of the soldier. When the army was properly formed the spear points of the first five ranks of a phalanx projected in front of the formation, whilst the men in the rear held their pikes up at an angle, the dense mass of shafts providing some protection from missiles. The Hellenistic phalanx was very difficult for other infantry to defeat in a frontal attack and tended to win combats because of its immense staying power. The close-packed, very deep formation and the physical presence of the long sarissae made it very difficult for the men to flee. The phalanx was also a very intimidating sight as it bore down on the enemy, one Roman commander describing it as the most frightening thing he had ever seen in his life. Philip II and Alexander had used the pike phalanx to pin the enemy army and exert steady pressure, creating opportunities for devastating cavalry charges to be delivered at a weak point in their line. By the later period the role of cavalry had diminished, largely because none of the Successor Kingdoms were ever able to field as high a proportion of good cavalry as their predecessors in the fourth century. Instead the phalanx delivered the main attack, a task for which it had never really been intended.8

The Romans first met a modern Hellenistic army in the war with Pyrrhus and Tarentum in 280-275. Defeated in two hard-fought and bloody battles, the legions had finally prevailed in a third and final encounter. The second-century encounters proved to be less close. The Roman soldiers who fought in the eastern Mediterranean in the early second century rapidly showed themselves to be markedly superior to their professional opponents. These legionaries were the men who had grown into manhood during the long struggle with Hannibal. The vast majority of them had many years of military experience, far more than was normal for most Roman armies. The army sent to Greece in 200 even included a sizeable contingent from the Cannae legions, the unfortunate men still waiting for their discharge. The officers of all ranks in these armies were on average both younger and more experienced than was usual. Many former praetors and consuls served as legati or even military tribunes. Titus Quinctius Flamininus, the man who brought the Second Macedonian War to a successful conclusion, won the consulship in 198 at the age of 30, and without having held the praetorship. His success was the last example of the constitutional flexibility which had allowed the rise of Scipio Africanus. Soon the career pattern was to become far more rigid. The combination of experienced soldiers and leaders led to exceptionally efficient armies, as well-trained and tactically flexible as those of the last years of the Punic War.9

This was amply demonstrated in the major battles of these conflicts. At Cynoscephalae in 197, Flamininus' and Philip V's marching columns unexpectedly bumped into each other as they approached a pass from opposite directions. In the usual way, the rival armies deployed into a battle line by wheeling their columns to the right. In each case the right wing of the army and thus the head of the column was able to form up more quickly and charge, routing the unprepared enemy left wing. Philip's army was composed of a single line, according to normal Hellenistic practice, and had no reserves. The Romans were in the usual triplex acies and an unnamed tribune with the right wing of the army peeled off twenty maniples and led them round to outflank the successful Macedonian right. Philip was unable to respond and his men were massacred. In 190 Lucius Cornelius Scipio, younger brother of Africanus, faced Antiochus III at Magnesia. The king, leading after the manner of Alexander the Great, personally led a cavalry attack which seems to have broken through one of the legions. Without reserves, and with their commander too closely involved to see what was going on in the rest of the battlefield, the Seleucids were unable to exploit this success. Antiochus' cavalry were first stopped by the pickets left outside the Roman camp, which they had rashly attacked, and then beaten as reserves were brought up by one of the Roman subordinate commanders. In the meantime, the gap in the Roman line had been filled by reserves and everywhere else the enemy was in rout. At Pydna in 168 bickering between the outposts of the Roman and Macedonian armies escalated into a full-scale battle as more and more troops were fed into the fight. This confusion, and the long distance traversed in formation, speeded the usual process by which the phalanx broke up into its constituent units. After the Romans had put together enough of a fighting line to stop the Macedonian advance, individual centurions took the initiative and started to lead men into the gaps between the different sections of the phalanx. Pikemen were defenceless against flank attacks and, as the Macedonians began to panic, the whole formation collapsed into rout.10

Pydna decided the Third Macedonian War (172-167), and was really the last gasp of the Second Punic War generation. Even by this time there were beginning to be concerns that recruits for the army no longer possessed the martial virtues of their predecessors. In an effort to restore traditional practices, Lucius Aemilius Paullus was elected consul for the second time in 168. The son of the man who fell at Cannae, he was now over 60, far older than most field commanders since Fabius Maximus and Marcellus. Paullus took with him many experienced officers, carefully trained the army in Greece and brought the campaign to a successful conclusion. The causes of the war help to illustrate the Roman attitude to defeated enemies. After Cynoscephalae Philip had accepted peace terms similar to those given to Carthage. He was no longer allowed to wage war outside Macedon without Rome's permission and had to pay an indemnity of 1,000 talents over a ten-year period. The king acknowledged the independence of communities in Greece and Asia Minor, withdrawing from those subject to him in both areas. In addition the Macedonian fleet was reduced to a token force, removing Roman fears of an attack on Italy, and all Roman prisoners and deserters were returned without ransom. In fact, during the years Flamininus spent in Greece organizing the settlement, he discovered a number of slaves who had been captured by Hannibal, probably in the Cannae campaign, and sold to traders when the Senate refused to permit their ransom. Scrupulously, Flamininus purchased the freedom of these men and returned them to Italy.11

The Treaty ending the Second Macedonian War made it clear that the kingdom was now subordinate to Rome, even if it remained free to regulate its internal affairs. Rome now directed its foreign policy, arbitrated in disputes between Philip and the Greek cities and expected him to behave as a loyal ally. The army that had beaten the Macedonians was fed, at least in part, on grain from recently defeated Carthage. When Lucius Scipio took his army into Asia against the Seleucids, Philip V used a mixture of diplomacy and force to secure their route through passes controlled by predatory Thracian tribes. When the Roman army returned by the same route under the command of Manlius Vulso, he failed to request assistance from Macedon and as a result suffered badly in a series of ambushes. Antiochus III was obliged to accept similar peace terms to those agreed by Philip V after Magnesia. He agreed to withdraw from Asia Minor, was forbidden from making war in Asia or Greece, and was only to fight defensively if attacked by another state in this area. An indemnity of 15,000 talents was to be paid to Rome, more than had been demanded from Carthage, but not an impossible sum for the wealthy Seleucids. In addition, Antiochus gave up almost all of his warships and war elephants.12

Although Philip V studiously obeyed the terms of his treaty with Rome, both he and his son Perseus made every effort to strengthen their power within Macedonia. The army was increased and carefully trained, more control gained over the Thracian and Illyrian tribes on their borders, and connections renewed with cities in Greece. This was not the behaviour the Romans expected from a subordinate ally, although entirely legitimate by Greek standards. It is extremely doubtful that Macedonia posed a threat to Rome in the way that Livy claims, or that Perseus had any plans for an invasion of Italy, but clear that the Romans viewed these developments with extreme suspicion. Military strength and an increasingly independent foreign policy were not to be tolerated in former enemies. After the defeat of Perseus, the kingdom was abolished, although the Romans were still very reluctant to add another province to their existing four. Instead Macedonia was divided into four self-governing regions or Merides, each with its own laws and magistrates. Elements of this settlement were to last for several centuries.13

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