The Macedonian Monarchy and the Roman Republic

First Macedonian War, (215-205 B. C. E.)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Macedonians vs. Romans

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Northern frontiers of Macedon


MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Philip V of Macedon wanted to expand his empire.

OUTCOME: Indecisive, except to spawn further warfare.



TREATIES: Peace of Phoenice, 205 B. C. E.

King Philip V (238-179 B. C. E.) of Macedon was a warlike and restless monarch ambitious to extend his empire at any cost. He exploited the Second PUNIC WAR, in which the forces of Rome were preoccupied with fighting Carthage, to attack the diminished Roman forces in the east, the region known as Illyria. However, the Romans could not decisively defeat the Macedonians, nor could Philip wear down the Romans, and the result was warfare that consumed a decade, producing little result.

Philip took a new tack. Allying himself with Hannibal of Carthage (247-c. 183-181 B. C. E.), he invaded the Greek city-states. Rome, characteristically neutral in the affairs of these states, saw Philip’s incursions as an opportunity to expand the Roman sphere of influence. Rome concluded the Peace of Phoenice, which was generous to Philip. However, within five years of the end of the First Macedonian War, the Second MACEDONIAN WAR began.

Second Macedonian War, (200-196 B. C. E.)



DECLARATION: Rome against Macedon, 200 B. C. E.

MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Philip V of Macedon wanted to extend his empire into the Greek states. OUTCOME: Rome defeated Macedon, which agreed to an indemnity.

APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: Each side fielded about 20,000 men.

CASUALTIES: At Cynoscephalae, the decisive battle of the war, Macedonian losses were 10,000 killed; Roman losses were much lower.

TREATIES: Indemnity agreement

The First MACEDONIAN WAR ended at the northern frontiers of Macedon. Although the Peace of Phoenice offered many favorable terms to Macedon, much was left unsettled, and, in 200 B. C. E., Philip V (238-179 B. C. E.) of Macedon turned southward, intending to make inroads into the Greek city-states. He menaced Rhodes and Pergamum first, then attacked other city-states. Rome demanded Philip’s pledge to make no further hostile moves. He refused and, seeing gains to be made in defeating Philip in Greece, Rome engaged him. The climactic battle of the Second Macedonian War came in 197 B. C. E., when Rome’s legions soundly beat Philip at Cynoscephalae. Titus Quintius Flaminius (c. 227-174 B. C. E.) led 20,000 Roman legionaries and met the Macedonian force on the heights of Cynoscephalae, in southwestern Thessaly. It was a hard-fought battle, but Philip took by far the worst of it. Half his 20,000 men were killed. Rome’s losses, while substantial, did not approach this magnitude. As a result of his defeat, Philip withdrew from Greece and further agreed to render a large indemnity to Rome, which then proclaimed itself the liberator and protector of the Greek states, asserting a benevolent dominance over them.

Philip’s son Perseus (c. 212-166 B. C. E.) succeeded him as Macedon’s king in 179. Instead of invading Greece, he made alliances among the Greek states. Fearing this kind of influence as well, Rome initiated the Third MACEDONIAN WAR.

Third Macedonian War, (172-167 B. C. E.)


PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Southeastern Macedonia


MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Rome wanted to stop Macedon’s meddling in Greek politics.

OUTCOME: Macedon was defeated; Rome divided Macedonia into republics.


CASUALTIES: Macedonian losses at Pydna (168 B. C. E.) were 20,000 killed and 11,000 made prisoner; in contrast, Rome lost about 100 killed.


After Perseus (c. 212-166 B. C. E.), who had inherited the Macedonian throne from his father Philip V in 179 B. C. E., began to meddle in Greek affairs by making alliances with various Greek city-states, Rome sent an army to attack his forces at Pydna in southeastern Macedonia. Fought on June 22, 168 B. C. E., this battle proved decisive, the Macedonians lost 20,000 killed and 11,000 taken as prisoners; Roman losses amounted to no more than 100 killed. The following year, Perseus was dethroned and made captive. To ensure that Macedon would never again threaten the stability of the Roman world, the victors divided it into four republics. However, this only succeeded in causing internal conflict, as the republics soon fell to disputing with one another. In a climate of discontent and confusion, a pretender to the throne attempted to reestablish the Macedonian monarchy in 152 B. C. E., an action that ignited the Fourth MACEDONIAN WAR.

Fourth Macedonian War, (151-146 B. C. E.)




MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: When a pretender to the throne vowed to reunify Macedon, the Romans decided to subjugate it fully.

OUTCOME: The Macedonian army was no match for the Romans, who conquered Macedon and annexed it.




Following the Roman partition of Macedon into four republics, a pretender to the throne arose, calling for the reunification of the nation under his leadership. This provoked Rome to dispatch forces to fight the Macedonians for a fourth time, and, once again, Rome easily triumphed over the Macedonian army. The war included no battles of military significance; the Macedonians were simply de- moralized by the Roman Legions and melted away before them. Having tried and failed to render Macedon docile by dividing it into four republics, Rome now annexed the country to itself. This was the first major step in the long expansion of the Roman Empire.

Further reading: M. Cary, A History of the Greek World from 323 to 146 B. C. (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1963); N. G. L. Hammond, The Macedonian State (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); Victor Davis Hanson, The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (New York: Sterling, 2002); J. F. Lazenby, Hannibal’s War: A Military History of the Second Punic War (Warminster, England: Aris and Phillips, 1978); Colin Wells, The Roman Empire, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995).

Philip V

In 219 BC Philip V had been king of Macedon for a matter of months, but he would have known from the outset that, even without the Romans complicating his life, that his was no easy job. Though ranked as one of the great Hellenistic powers, for more than a century Macedon had been ‘punching above its weight’ as modern military parlance puts it. A relatively small and partly mountainous country, with limited resources of manpower, Macedon had an abundance of barbarian enemies to occupy its armies; as if holding down the fractious statelets of the Greek peninsula was not effort enough. As pointed out earlier, Macedon compensated for its weakness in manpower and military overstretch by having both a superbly organized army and an efficient administration.

Since the king of Macedon was the linchpin of that administration, it was natural that Macedon’s enemies would test the mettle of that linchpin, who was, after all, a 17-year-old boy. As Polybius remarks:

The Aetolians had for long been dissatisfied with peace and with a way of life limited to their own resources, as they had been accustomed to live on the wealth of their neighbours … Nevertheless whilst Antigonus was alive, they kept their peace through fear of Macedonia, but when the king died leaving as his successor Philip, who was almost a child, they thought this new king could be safely ignored.

More or less the same thought had occurred to the Dardanians, the warlike people to the north of Illyria against whom Antigonus Doson had probably been campaigning at the time of his death. Assuming a state of confusion whilst Philip picked up the reins of power, the Dardanians lost no time in launching a quick raid on Macedonia. Philip had been expecting this and had prepared his response with the speed and flair that was to become his trademark.

The Dardanians were driven back in confusion to their mountains, but before Philip could follow up this early success word reached him of trouble to the south. The Aetolians had started a war with the small city-state of Messenia. Since the Hellenic League created by Antigonus Doson to deal with Cleomenes of Sparta had never been dissolved, the Messanians called for aid from their former allies, above all the Achaeans and Macedon.

Aratus, leader of the Achaeans at this time, responded promptly to the Messanian plea without waiting for Philip, whom he knew to be busy with the Dardanians. However, the Achaeans were out-manouvered and soundly beaten by the Aetolians, which is why it became essential for Philip to hurry to Corinth to take matters in hand. The contingencies of the international situation meant that rather than seeking an immediate military solution, the king was initially inclined towards negotiations.

Trouble was brewing to the east where a war had broken out between Rhodes and Byzantium, enthusiastically encouraged by the Ptolemaic Egyptians. Also with Egyptian encouragement, Athens had revolted from Macedon, and Sparta was becoming restless once more. The outlook to the west was ominous. Relations between Rome and Carthage were deteriorating rapidly as a result of Hannibal’s unchecked expansion in Spain, and the two Illyrian leaders, Demetrius and Sacerdilaidas were becoming increasingly assertive. Sacerdilaidas had vigorously joined in the Aetolian aggression, and not to be outdone, Demetrius had embarked on the expansionist policy on the borders of the Roman protectorate which was to bring the legions down on his head. In short, Philip was emphatically not looking for trouble if he could talk his way out of it instead.

Leaving Demetrius to be dealt with by the Romans, Philip bribed Sacerdilaidas to his side and thus secured his western frontier. However, the Aetolians had already shown how little they feared Macedon’s intervention. Aetolia’s privateers had captured a ship of the Macedonian royal navy, and taking it to Aetolia, sold the ship and enslaved its captain and crew. Now convinced that Philip had come south to fight, the Aetolians pre-empted negotiations by resuming hostilities. The war which followed is known as the Social War, since it involved the allies of Macedon. It was basically another spat between the Greek confederations. However this spat was more important than most because it established the military and political situation which prevailed at the time of the coming of Rome.

In response to Aetolian attacks Philip arrived in Epirus via Thessaly. He ignored an Aetolian attempt to distract him by a very substantial raid into Macedonia and took the city of Ambracus. Then, with a combined army of Macedonians, Epirots and Achaeans he pushed deep into the Aetolian heartland. However, his hopes of finishing the war that year were dashed by news that the Dardanians were preparing a larger and more organized assault on his kingdom. Philip was desperately needed in the north once more. It was while en route to deal with the latest crisis that Philip added to his entourage, Demetrius of Pharos fresh from his drubbing by the Romans. It was unlikely that Philip would look kindly on Roman intervention in Illyria, which he perceived as part of his bailiwick, and his kindly reception of Demetrius was probably a reflection of his pique.

Hearing of Philip’s immanent return, the Dardanians abandoned their plans for invasion. It was now late in the campaigning season, and everyone assumed that hostilities were now concluded for the year. Consequently it came as a shock to the Aetolians and their allies when Philip suddenly reappeared in Corinth with a picked force of some 6,000 men and advanced through the winter snows into Arcadia in the eastern Peloponnese.

A highly profitable and successful campaign followed in which Philip’s conduct and generalship aroused near-universal admiration in Greece. The end of the year 219 BC saw Philip back at the city of Argos with the Aetolians packed out of the Peloponnese and the peninsula largely subdued apart from Sparta, soon to be under the rule of King Nabis, a ruler in the tradition of the late Cleomenes. At about this time, word reached Philip that Rome was on the brink of war with Carthage, as Hannibal had attacked Rome’s ally in Spain (the city of Saguntum) and Carthage had failed to respond appropriately to this outrage by one of its generals. This news, with its momentous implications for the future of Greece and Macedon, was considered of little note at the time.

Summer 218 BC saw Hannibal and his elephants set out for the Alps, and a Roman army head off in the opposite direction to Spain. In the east, the Hellenistic kingdoms of the Ptolemies and the Seleucids began a serious war over possession of an area called Coele-Syria. Between the two, the states of Greece resumed where they had left off the previous winter. Philip had obtained supplies of corn from the Achaeans to compensate for the effects of the Aetolian raid on Macedonia the previous year. Perhaps feeling the Aetolians owed him yet more corn, he suddenly switched his attack from land to sea and, with ships partly supplied by Sacerdilaidas, pillaged the island of Cephallenia, a valuable ally which supplied Aetolia with both corn and ships.

On hearing that the Aetolians had attacked Thessaly, Philip made another lightning change of direction. Taking advantage of the absence of Aetilia’s army he attacked the country once more with a force which included Macedonian regulars, Illyrian tribesmen, Thracian irregulars and Cretan bowmen. These made their way through the narrow mountain passes before the remaining Aetolians had time to mount an effective defence, and took and sacked Thermus, the principal city of the Aetolian confederacy.

The Macedonian army then razed much of the town, in contravention of the laws of war as the Greeks perceived them, and so earned Philip the undying enmity of the Aetolians. On hearing of the attack on Aetolia, the Spartans declared against Macedon, and were stunned to find that within days the Macedonian king had departed Aetolia and was plundering their lands.

Philip might have done more, but his commanders were suffering from divided loyalties. There were those who endorsed the operations in Greece, and those who were aware that Thessaly and Macedonia were lightly defended in consequence. Chief among those with the latter view was Philip’s counsellor, Apelles. Polybius (who, as an Achaean, was all in favour of Philip beating up the Aetolians) claims that Apelles had expected his seniority to impress the young king to the point where Apelles might have been the de facto ruler of Macedon. When Philip showed himself both highly competent and very much his own man, Apelles became bitter and treacherous. The Macedonian kings traditionally allowed their followers considerable freedom of speech and action, but when they overstepped the mark (as Apelles proceeded to do by interfering with the efficiency of the army) these same kings could also be remarkably abrupt. Apelles and the generals who supported him were promptly executed and their followers purged from the royal court.

By way of appeasing the remainder of Apelles’ faction in the army, Philip switched operations the following year to Boeotia, intending to secure this area and so prevent Aetolian raids on Macedon and Thessaly. It was after another substantial victory in this new theatre of operations that news reached Philip that Hannibal had thrashed the Romans at the Battle of Lake Trasimene in Italy.

This was of particular interest to Philip as Sacerdilaidas now felt that his efforts for the Macedonian cause had been insufficiently rewarded and he had turned openly hostile. With Hannibal keeping the Romans out of the game, the Illyrians had returned whole-heartedly to state-sponsored piracy and regional trade was suffering. Urged on by Demetrius of Pharos, Philip began to contemplate patching up a peace with the Aetolians, and subduing the Illyrians once and for all. Then using Illyria as a springboard, Philip might establish a Macedonian presence in war-weakened Italy. Perhaps after all, the master plan of Pyrrhus could be realized.

This was, as Polybius remarks, the moment when the separate threads of Greek and Roman history became intertwined, and events in the west directly affected Greece. It was a moment not only of great opportunity, but of great danger. In the peace conference with the Aetolians which was part one of Philip’s ambitious new plan, Polybius has one speaker remark:

Whether the Carthaginians beat the Romans or the Romans beat the Carthaginians, it is highly unlikely that the winners will be content to rule Italy and Sicily. They are sure to come here. …if you wait for these clouds gathering in the west to cover Greece, I very much fear these truces and wars and games at which we now play are going to be rudely interrupted.

After their mauling at Macedonian hands over the previous few years the Aetolians were keen to retire and lick their wounds under the mantle of Greek unity. This left Philip free to move his plan to part two and attack Illyria, where he made considerable progress before the winter closed in.

During the winter was all sides in the converging regional conflict mustered their forces for a hectic campaigning season to come. The Romans had elected as consul Aemilius Paulus, the conqueror of Illyria in 219 BC, and were gathering the largest army they had ever put into the field in an effort to push Hannibal from Italy. Philip was busily building a fleet (mostly fast light ships of the Illyrian type) for operations in the Adriatic, and the Achaeans and Aetolians were quietly preparing for another bout of mutual hostilities. Sacerdilaidas was industriously building ships to counter Philip’s fleet, and had sent to the Romans for aid. The Romans had problems of their own at this point, but dispatched a small fleet of some dozen ships from Lilybaeum in Sicily with instructions to familiarize themselves with the situation in the Balkans and Adriatic coast.

Philip’s fleet, pushing northward, encountered these ships, the first military encounter between Macedonians and Romans. The Macedonians did not engage the newcomers, for Philip had not yet decided on war with Rome. Philip thought he had encountered the full Roman fleet, and was uncertain whether this presaged another major Roman incursion into the region. So perturbed was he by this extension of Roman power that he pulled back his forces which had reached as far as Apollonia and awaited developments.

Though he had not lost any men, this retreat was a blow to Philip’s prestige. The setback soured the young king who had heretofore enjoyed little but outright success. He would have further cursed when he realized that he had retreated from Illyria, not before the full Roman fleet, but merely a strong reconnaissance force. None of this would have disposed him favourably to Rome. Later in the year, news reached Macedonia that even as Philip was pulling back from Illyria, in expectation of the arrival of a Roman army, Hannibal was busily wiping out that same army at Cannae, killing, among tens of thousand of others, the consul Aemilius Paulus.

This development appears to have tipped the balance. However, Philip did not immediately declare war on Rome. It is possible that Philip may even have considered that he had left it too late to do so, and that Rome must now surely sue for peace. However, as 215 BC began, and the Romans fought grimly on, Philip could offer assistance to Carthage without appearing simply to climb on to the bandwagon of Hannibal’s success. Led by an Athenian, Xenophanes, ambassadors were sent to make an agreement for an offensive alliance against the Romans.

Chios 201 BC: A Coalition Command

Phalanx vs Legion: Battle of Cynoscephalae

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