PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Syria (Seleucids) vs. Rome (with Rhodes and Pergamum)
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Asia Minor
DECLARATION: Rome on Syria, 192 B.C.E.
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Syria wanted Rome’s compliance in the conquests of its ally Aetolia.
OUTCOME: Rome attacked a Syrian fleet, triggering a war that proved disastrous for the Syrians, who lost their seaports and became landlocked.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS:
Syrian forces, 75,000; Roman-Pergamenian forces, 40,000
Following the defeat of Macedonia at the Battle of Cynoscephalae in 197, during the Second MACEDONIAN WAR, the Aetolians of central Greece jockeyed for position to take Macedonia’s place as the dominant state in Greece. After attacking the allies of Rome among the Greek states, they appealed to Syrian king Antiochus III (the Great; 242–187 B.C.E.) to intervene with Rome on their behalf.
Taking this as an invitation from the Aetolian League to invade Greece, Antiochus sailed with an army of 10,000 across the Aegean in 192 and was met by a Roman army at Thermopylae. Under the leadership of M. Acilius Glabrio (d. 152 B.C.E.), the Roman forces defeated Antiochus, who fled with the remainder of his forces back to Ephesus. However, the naval fleets of Rhodes and Pergamum collaborated with the Romans against Antiochus’s navy, winning three victories at sea, first at a location between Ionia and Chios (191 B.C.E.), then at Eurymedon and Myonessus, both in 190 B.C.E. The Romans capitalized on these triumphs by invading Asia Minor with an army under the command of two great generals, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (237–183 B.C.E.) and his brother Lucius Cornelius Scipio (fl. second century). They met the Syrians at the Battle of Magnesia near Smyrna in December 190. After initial gains, Antiochus III made a serious tactical blunder by pursuing a flank of the Roman cavalry too far, laying himself open to encirclement by another Roman flank. This infantry force destroyed most of the Syrian army. As a result, Syria gave up all of its coastal territories, surrendered all but 10 of its warships, gave up its war elephants, and agreed to pay a heavy indemnity. Landlocked, Syria’s power was greatly diminished.
Further reading: John D. Grainger, Roman War of Antiochos the Great (Boston: Brill Academic, 2002); Susan Sherwin-White and Amelie Kuhrt, From Samarkhand to Sardis: A New Approach to the Seleucid Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).