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The siege of Abydos of 200 B.C. was one of the final of a series of conquests made by Philip V of Macedonia around the Aegean that helped trigger the Second Macedonian War (against Rome). Since 202 B.C. Philip had attacked a series of independent cities around the shores of the Aegean, taking advantage of the completion of a new Macedonian fleet and the absence of the Seleucid emperor Antiochus, who was involved in a war against Egypt. Philip’s actions worried the trading state of Rhodes and Rome’s ally Attalus of Pergamum. In 201 B.C. they took up arms against him, while at the same time sending envoys to Rome to ask for help.
The Romans responded by sending three legati to the area. They had two missions – first to inform Philip that if he wanted peace with Rome then he would have to give up all of his conquests in Greece, and second to visit Antiochus and Ptolemy of Egypt to inform them of the defeat of Carthage (Second Punic War).
While the three Romans were slowly travelling around Greece and the Aegean, Philip decided to take control of the Hellespont. Key to this was the city of Abydos, on the Asian side of the Hellespont, at one of its narrowest points. The inhabitants of Abydos were unwilling to even meet with Philip’s envoys, and so a siege began.
According to Livy neither Attalus nor Rhodes made any serious effort to help Abydos. Attalus sent 300 men to assist in the defence, while Rhodes sent a single quadrireme, while towards the end of the siege Attalus sailed close to Abydos, but without offering any aid.
Livy also gives an account of the siege. At first the Abydenes held off Philip, placing siege engines on the city walls to prevent him from approaching safely. Eventually Philip’s own siege engines created a breach in the city walls. The Abydenes then sent an embassy to Philip, offering him surrender terms. The city would be his if the inhabitants were allowed to leave safely, but with only the clothes on their backs, but Philip demanded an unconditional surrender.
The Abydenes reaction was dramatic to say the least. The men of fighting age took an oath to fight to death or victory. Once the last defenders were defeated, the freeborn women and children were to be killed to prevent them falling into Philip’s hands, and the treasure of the city cast into the sea. The resulting fighting was so fierce that Philip pulled his men out of the city, but the defenders were now in such a hopeless position that the leading citizens of the city decided to surrender. Before the surrender could take place, the survivors of the battle, believing their oath had been betrays, turned back into the city and killed the women and children. Philip called off his last assault, and gave the Abydenes three days to die.
In the last days of the siege one of the Roman envoys finally reached Philip. This was M. Aemilius Lepidus, the youngest of the three. The meeting broke down into an argument about who had started the war, before Philip announced that he was quite ready to fight Rome.
Abydos only remained in Macedonian hands for a short period. Like all other Greek cities captured by Philip it regained its freedom after the great Roman victory at Cynoscephalae, which ended the war.
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