214 BC2016-11-01T10:47:24+00:00

Roman Involvement in Greek Affairs

Rome was already involved in the Balkan Peninsula as the result of having to protect Roman shipping in the Adriatic and Ionian Seas from Illyrian predation. As a consequence, the Republic came into contact with the Hellenistic Kingdoms of Macedonia, Egypt, Epirus, Pergamum and Seleucids along with the Aeolian and Achaean Leagues, and the Independent Greek cities: Athens, Sparta, Rhodes, Cnidus, Chios, Mytilene, etc. The presentation of this cursory list is enough to reveal the complexity of the politics involved. These states were involved in a constant state of conflict with each other in ever changing alliances and political configurations. The major players, the successor states to Alexander the Great’s empire, the Kingdoms of Macedonia, Egypt and the Seleucids, would become embroiled in a conflict with Rome. The Kingdom of Macedonia was the first to be involved.

[Visual: Hellenistic Kingdoms]

The First Macedonian War
The war lasted from 214 BC to 205 BC. It involved Rome in alliance with the Aetolian League and the Attalids of Pergamum against Macedonia. Most of the fighting took place in Illyria, on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea.

[Visual: Rome, Aetolians, Attalids, Macedonia]

Belligerents in the first Macedonian War: Rome, Illyria, Macedonia, Pergamum, the Aetolian League, Achaean League, Elis, Messenia, Sparta. Rome was allied with the Aetolian League and Pergamum against Macedonia.

The Macedonian War began with an opportunistic move by Phillip V of Macedonia that took advantage of the Roman preoccupation with Carthage in order to extend his sphere of influence to the Illyrian coast. At the time, Phillip was counselled by Demetrius of Pharos, a former ally of Rome, who had been defeated by the Romans after he had broken the provisions of a treaty that forbade Illyrian pirate activity south of Lissus (A city on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea. See map: Illyrian coast and the Lissus line). Demetrius hoped to recapture his lost kingdom after Phillip eliminated the Roman presence from the east coast of the Adriatic Sea.

The basis for the Macedonian war was a treaty between Carthage and Macedonia, which contained the following provisions:
Mutual support and defense
Be the enemy of your ally’s enemy
Macedonian support for Carthage against Rome in exchange for control of Corcyra, Apollonia, Epidamnus, Dimale, Parthini and Atintania; also Demetrius of Pharos would have his lands restored to him.

However, the Republic was able to take Syracuse, which had gone over to Carthage after the death of its tyrant Hiero, after a difficult and lengthy siege. They were also able to bring Capua back into the fold after that city had allied itself with Hannibal. There were also some Roman successes in the field against the Carthaginians. Furthermore, Rome was able to muster a legion for operations in Illyria and Greece, and deploy a fleet for operations in the Adriatic under the command of Marcus Valerius Laevinus.

Hannibal’s strategic goal, the weakening of Rome, was never achieved because Phillip V of Macedonia had limited resources (he had no experienced fleet to fight along the Illyrian coast and thus lacked the confidence to fight aggressively.) and because of Roman diplomacy (an alliance with the Aetolians and the Attalids of Pergamum) which succeeded in tying Phillip down on the Greek mainland.

Consequently, there were no major battles fought in this war and the Romans were able to achieve their objective; the neutralization of Macedonia, leaving them free to concentrate on Carthage.

Livius, T. The History of Rome, Books 9-to-26. Trans. D. Spillman. London. Henry G. Bohn, York Street, Covent Garden. 1853. John Childs and Son, Bungay. Project Gutenberg. Produced by Ted Garvin, Taavi Kalju and the Online Distributed Proofreading team at http://www.pgdp,net. November 6, 2006. EBook #19725. Page 295.

Mommsen, T. The History of Rome (Volumes 1-5). Translated by William Purdie Dickson. E-text prepared by David Ceponis. Project Gutenberg. Available at www.gutenberg.net. Accessed December 29, 2012. PDF Page 173.

Polybius. The Rise of the Roman Empire. Translated by Ian Scott Kilvert. Published by Penguin Putnam. New York, New York. 1979.


First Macedonian War

More description of the first Macedonian War
Participating states
Speeches by participants

Polybius, in his Rise of the Roman Empire, uses a device introduced more than 200 years before by Thucydides in his Peloponnesian War; the laying out of a strategic or political position for a particular historical figure (e.g., Pericles describes Athenian reasoning and strategy for war with Sparta) in the form of a speech. In the two examples below,

Speech by Demetrius of Pharos to Phillip V of Macedonia (In Polybius)

The whole of Greece is ready to do your bidding even now and it will remain obedient to you in future. The Achaeans are inclined to support Macedonia in any case and the Aetolians have lost heart because of the reverses they have suffered in the recent war. But to go beyond Greece and invade Italy is the first step toward the conquest of the world, and there is no man who has a better claim to undertake it than yourself. This is the moment to strike a blow, when the Romans have suffered a disastrous defeat.

Demetrius of Pharos

Polybius. The Rise of the Roman Empire. Translated by Ian Scott Kilvert. Published by Penguin Putnam. New York, New York. 1979. Pages 297-298.

Speech by Agelaus of Naupactus (Aetolian League) primarily to Phillip V of Macedonia (In Polybius)

It would be best if the Greeks never went to war with one another other, if they could regard it as the greatest gift of the gods for them all to speak with one voice, and could joint hands like men who are crossing a river; in this way they could unite to repulse the incursions of the barbarians and to preserve themselves and their cities. But if we have no hope of achieving such a degree of unity, for the whole country, let me impress upon you how important it is at least for the present that we should consult one another and remain on our guard, in view of the huge armies which have been mobilized in the west. For it must already be obvious to all those who pay even the slightest attention to affairs of state that whether the Carthaginians defeat the Romans or the Romans the Carthaginians, the victors will by no means be satisfied with the sovereignty of Italy and Sicily, but will come here, and will advance both their forces and their ambitions beyond the bounds of justice. I therefore beg you all to be on your guard against this danger, and I appeal especially to King Phillip. For you the safest policy, instead of wearing down the Greeks and making them an easy prey for the invader, is to take care of them as you would your own body, and to protect every province of Greece as you would if it were a part of your own dominions. If you follow this policy, the Greeks will be your faithful friends and allies in case of attack, and foreigner will be less inclined to plot against your throne, because they will be discouraged by the loyalty of the Greeks toward you. But it you yearn for a field of action, then turn your attention to the west, keep it fixed on the wars in Italy, and bide your time, so that when the moment comes, you may enter the contest for the sovereignty of the whole world. Now the present moment is by no means unfavorable to such hopes. But you must, I entreat you, put aside your differences with the Greeks and your campaigns against them until time have become more settled, and concern yourself first and foremost with the aspect of the situation which I have just mentioned, so that you retain the power to make peace or war with them as you think best. For if you wait until the cloud that are now gathering in the west settle upon Greece, I very much fear that these truces and wars and games at which we now play may have been knocked out of our hands so completely that we shall be praying to the gods to grant us still this power of fighting or making peace with one another as we choose, in other words of being left the capacity to settle our own disputes.

Agelaus of Naupactus

Polybius. The Rise of the Roman Empire. Translated by Ian Scott Kilvert. Published by Penguin Putnam. New York, New York. 1979. Pages 299-300.

Key Players
Attalus I of Pergamum (Pergamon in Greek)
Hannibal Barca
Phillip V of Macedonia
Demetrius of Pharos
Marcus Valerius Laevinus
Agelaus of Naupactus (Aetolian League)

Themes/background essays
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