How Did the Romans Overtake the Greeks

A good book to read on this subject is Taken at the Flood by Robin Waterfield.

At the end of the third century B.C. most of the Greek cities were under the rule of two successor kingdoms to Alexander the Great; the Macedonian Empire, and the Seleucid Empire. Macedonia, under king Philip V, had sided with Hannibal in the Second Punic war, and this led to two wars between Rome and Macedonia, both of which Rome won.

After the Roman victory at Cynocephalae, the Roman Consul Titus Quinctius Flamininus declared “Freedom for the Greeks” and the Romans actually withdrew from Greece.

It didn’t last. The Romans found themselves in conflict with Antiochus III of the Seleucid Empire who had invaded Greece in an effort to expand his empire. The Romans defeated his army at Thermopylae and, a year or two later, defeated him again at the Battle of Magnesia. Antiochus was obliged to submit to Roman terms and withdraw beyond the Atlas Mountains.

Some thirty years later, King Perseus of Macedonia, the son of Philip V, attempted to expand his kingdom, and the Romans sent their Consul Lucius Aemilius Paullus to prevent him. Paullus defeated Perseus at the battle of Pydna, and captured the King and his family a few weeks later. They were displayed in chains in Paullus’ triumph. Macedonia was divided into four districts and became a province of Rome. Rome also tightened its grip upon Greece, demanding hostages from the various polities.

One of these hostages was the historian Polybius. Polybius made the best of his situation, becoming tutor to the sons of Lucius Aemilius Paullus and writing a history of Rome. In an intriguing paragraph he wrote:

The ruin of Carthage is indeed considered to have been the greatest of calamities, but when we come to think of it the fate of Greece was no less terrible and in some ways even more so. For the Carthaginians at least left to posterity some ground, however slight, for defending their cause, but the Greeks gave no plausible pretext to anyone who wished to support them and acquit them of error. And again the Carthaginians, having been utterly exterminated by the calamity which overtook them, were for the future insensible of their sufferings, but the Greeks, continuing to witness their calamities, handed on from father to son the memory of their misfortune. So that inasmuch as we consider that those who remain alive and suffer punishment are more to be pitied than those who perished in the actual struggle, we should consider the calamities that then befell Greece more worthy of pity than the fate of Carthage, unless in pronouncing on the matter we discard all notion of what is decorous and noble, and keep our eyes only on material advantage. Everyone will acknowledge the truth of what I say if he recalls what are thought to have been the greatest misfortunes that had befallen Greece and compares them with my present narrative.

Unfortunately, so much of Polybius’ writings have been lost that I am unable to expound upon these calamities that overtook the Greeks at the hands of the Romans. Polybius, in his later years, tried to ameliorate the Roman rule of Greece through his influence with highly placed Romans.

 

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