Second Macedonian War, 200-196 BC

Roman Intervention
The War
Peace Terms


The Second Macedonian War, 200-196 B.C., was the first war in which the Roman Republic made a major military effort in Greece, and it marked an end to the power of Macedonia. Rome and Macedonia had fought before, in 215-205 B.C. (First Macedonian War), but to the Romans this had been a sideshow when compared to the threat posed by Hannibal (Second Punic War). Some troops and a fleet had been sent east, but the Roman effort was limited, and the war was ended in 205 by the Peace of Phoenice.

This treaty had concentrated on the fate of Rome’s allies in Illyria, and had been somewhat favourable to Philip, who was allowed to keep some of his conquests in the area. As a result Philip appears to have underestimated the level of Roman interest in Greece and the Aegean. At this date the Romans didn’t want to expand into the area themselves, but they also didn’t want any other major power to emerge. In contrast Philip V wanted to expand Macedonia power around the Aegean and in Asia Minor.

The five years between the two Macedonian Wars were by no means peaceful. In 205 B.C. the only significant naval power in the Aegean was Rhodes, and she was greatly concerned by a rise in the amount of piracy in the area. A war (the Cretan War) soon broke out between Rhodes and a group of Cretan cities led by Hierapytna. Philip sent 20 ships under the Aetolian admiral Dicaearchus to aid the Cretans, while in 204 or 203 one of his close associates burnt some of the Rhodian dockyards.

A third major power was active around the Aegean in 204-203 B.C. This was Antiochus III, the Seleucid emperor, who after a long campaign in the eastern part of his empire (his “Anabasis” of 215-205), returned to the west to recover his family’s possessions in western Asia Minor. During this period he captured Amyzon, previously help by Egypt, Alabanda and Teos. This campaign was ended in 203 by a sudden crisis in Egypt. Ptolemy Philopator died at some point in 204 to 203, but his death was kept secret until November 203. He was succeeded by his infant son, and power fell into the hands of a series of inept ministers. This was too good a chance for Antiochus to ignore. Over the next few years he was able to reconquer Coele Syria, Phoenicia and Palestine, and he would not return to Asia Minor until 197.

The absence of Antiochus left a power vacuum in Asia Minor, while Philip was all too ready to attempt to fill. He was also encouraged by the completion a new Macedonian fleet. Work on this had begun during the First Macedonian War, but had been suspended because of a shortage of money. Now the fleet was finally ready, and with it Philip began a campaign of conquest around the Aegean and Asia Minor, concentrating especially on the Hellespont.

Philip was careful not to attack towns under the control of the major powers, but he was perfectly willing to attack allies of the Aetolian League. He captured Chalcedon on the Bosporus for himself and Cius on the Propontis for Prusias of Bithynia. Before handing the town over the Prusias, Philip sold the population into slavery. He did the same with the people of Thasos, off the coast of Thrace. In the same period Philip also took Samos, a key Ptolemaic base in the Aegean, Lysimacheia and the islands of Andros, Paros and Cythnos.

These actions angered the Greek world. The fate of Cius and Thasos, both important trading centres and peaceful free cities was of particular concern, especially to Rhodes, a key naval and trading power. From 202 they saw themselves as being at war with Philip, but they took no military action until 201 B.C, by which time they had managed to convince Attalus of Pergamum to join them.

201 B.C. saw two naval battles, at Chios and Lade, and a short siege of Pergamum. The battle of Chios probably came first. In this battle Philip faced both the fleets of Rhodes and Pergamum. In what were almost two separate battles Philip suffered heavy losses against the fleet from Rhodes, but defeated Attalus, who then returned to Pergamum to defend his kingdom. The second naval battle was between Philip and Rhodes, and was a minor victory for Philip. It is unclear where the attack of Pergamum fits into this, but it may have come between the two naval battles.

After the naval battles Philip moved south, to Caria, the part of Asia Minor north of Rhodes, where he captured a series of towns, including Iasus and Bargylia, in the gulf of Bargylia. This move almost led to disaster, for the combined fleets of Rhodes and Pergamum now blockaded Philip in the gulf, and he spent a difficult winter trapped on the coast of Asia Minor, always short of food, before finally breaking out early in 200.

While Philip was at Bargylia Athens was drawn into the war against him. In late September 201, during the Eleusinian Mysteries at the temple of Demeter, two uninitiated Acarnanians followed the crowd of initiates into the temple. When they were discovered they were executed for the sacrilege. The Acarnanians appealed to their ally Philip, who authorised a raid into Attica. The Athenians responded by abolishing the tribes of Antigonis and Demetrias, which had been created to honour two of Philip’s ancestors, then arranged alliances with Attalus, Rhodes, the Aetolian League, Egypt and Crete. They also sent envoys to Rome, although exactly when they reached the city is unclear.

More important were the envoys sent by Rhodes and Attalus. Attalus was a friend of Rome, and their call for help had a good chance of being answered.

Roman Intervention

The envoys from Rhodes and Pergamum reached Rome late in 201, just before the consular elections for 200. The Romans had three main motives for getting involved in the east. First, Philip V had never been forgiven for declaring war on them in 215 B.C., when the Republic was still reeling from the defeat at Cannae. Second, the Romans didn’t want a strong power to emerge to their east just after they had dealt with Cartage, removing the strong power to their south and west. Thirdly, there existed a group of “eastern experts”, who had fought in Greece during the First Macedonian War without winning glory. One of the accepted routes to political power and glory in Republic Rome was through military success, and these men wanted their chance to win triumphs. A possible fourth motive was a fear of Antiochus, who had successfully convinced the world that his expedition to the east had been far more successful that it really was.

The elections for 200 were won by P. Sulpicius Galba, the Roman commander in Greece for much of the first war, and C. Aurelius, a relative of M. Aurelius, the commander of a small Roman army then present in Illyria. Even before the election the senate had taken a step towards war. Three legati were about to be sent east, to Egypt, to announce the defeat of Carthage. They were now given an addition task. Philip was to be told that if he wanted to live in peace with Rome then he had to agree not to wage war against any Greek state, and to pay compensation to Attalus.

By the time the legati finally reached Philip extra terms had been added to this, but in any case it can never have been seen as a serious attempt to make peace, for after his election Galba was given Macedonia as his province, or area of military authority.

The next step was to present the declaration of war to the comitia centuriata (the assemblies in which the Roman people could vote on these major issues). At first the war-weary people, led by the tribune Q. Baebius, voted against the war,but after Galba agreed not to include any veterans from the African war in his army, in July 200 the measure was passed.

Only now did the legati finally reach Greece, visiting Epirus, Athamania, Aetolia and Achaea, before arriving at Athens in the company of Attalus of Pergamum. While they were at Athens a second Macedonia army, led by the Macedonian general Nicanor, reached the walls of the city. The Romans met with Nicanor, who returned to Philip with their terms.

Philip reacted to the Roman threat by sending a third raid into Attica, while he led a campaign into Thrace, with the intention of securing control of the Hellespont. The youngest of the legati, M. Aemilus Lepidus, finally caught up with Philip during the siege of Abydos, on the Asian short of the Hellespont. The meeting soon degenerated into an argument about who had started the war, with both sides having some truth on their side. Philip then declared that he was not afraid of the Romans, and the meeting ended.

Philip’s attitude towards the Romans has been the subject of a great deal of debate. He had seen very little during the First Macedonian War to worry him, and perhaps had not realised how much more of an effort Rome would be able to make now the war with Carthage was over. It is also possible that he was well aware that the Romans had no interest in peace at this stage, and was simply making every effort to secure his position before they arrived.

The War

The Romans entered the war with two main aims. Their most important aim was to inflict a military defeat on Philip that would end his ambitions of conquest, and force him to obey Roman instructions. Their second aim was to convince the Greeks that they came as the defenders of Greek liberty, for at this stage the Romans had no interest in making conquests east of the Adriatic.

The first Roman army, two legions under the command of Galba, reached Apollonia late in the summer of 200. Galba then entered winter quarters, but at the same time he sent twenty triremes under the command his legate C. Claudius Centho around the coast to Athens, where they attacked Philip’s major fortress at Chalcis, before helping to lift a virtual siege of Athens.


At this point the Athenians were Rome’s only Greek allies, although they did have the support of Amynander, king of Athamania, and of the Dardanians. Galba planed a combined offensive for 199, which would see Macedonia invaded from the north and south by the Dardanians and Amynander, from the west by Galba and from the east by the combined fleets of Rome, Pergamum and Rhodes. The fleets did have some success during the year, capturing Andros, Oreus, Larisa Cremaste and Pteleum.

Galba’s part of the plan was carried out, but without much success. After wining a minor victory at Ottolobus, the Romans were denied the chance for a second battle. Toward the end of the campaign Galba came close to entering lower Macedonia, but too late in the year, and he was forced to retire back to the coast. There he was replaced by his successor, P. Villius Tappulus, who also arrived too late to do anything but go into winter quarters.

Even these minor Roman successes were enough to convince the Aetolian League to renew their alliance with Rome. They had been allies during the First Macedonian War, and under the terms of that alliance the Aetolian League was to gain any cities conquered in Greece. However the League had then broken the terms of their treaty with Rome by making a separate peace with Philip. The Romans remembered this, and were careful never to renew the agreement in writing. At the end of the war the Aetolians were to be disappointed in their claims for territory.


At the start of 198 Philip was aware that he could not afford to let the Romans invade Macedonia for a second time without offering more serious resistance. Accordingly he took up a strong defensive position in a gorge on the Aous River, blocking the best invasion route into Macedonia from the west. Learning of this P. Villius Tappulus decided to attack, but when he was only five miles from Philip’s position his replacement, the new consul T. Quinctius Flamininus, caught up with the army and took command.

Flamininus was a good choice of leader for the war in Greece. He was fluent in Greek, greatly admired Greek culture, and was unusually tactful for a Roman consul. He would have been very happy to have been lauded as the liberator of Greece, as long as the liberated Greeks were willing to become a Roman protectorate.

Philip and Flamininus met on the banks of the Aous River. Now far more aware of Roman power Philip offered to accept the terms offered at Abydos, but there were no longer acceptable to the Romans, who now demanded that Philip give up all of his Hellenic lands, including Thessaly, which had been under Macedonian rule for a century and a half, and whose inhabitants would soon be actively resisting the Romans. Philip rejected these terms, and returned to his army.

The Romans now won their first major military victory of the war. With the help of a local guide they were able to turn Philip out of his apparently impregnable position in the Aous gorge. Philip lost 2,000 men and all of his baggage, and was forced to retreat into Thessaly. Once there he garrisoned the major towns, destroyed the crops, and then took up a position at Tempe.

Flamininus soon followed, invading northern Thessaly. At the same time the Aetolians attacked from the south and Amynander attacked from the west. The Thessalians showed little desire to be “liberated”. Phaloria fell after a long siege, but Atrax held out for so long that Flamininus was forced to abandon the siege. He then moved south, to take up winter quarters on the Gulf of Corinth. There he captured Elateia after another siege. Normally the inhabitants of a captured town were likely to be sold into slavery, but the Romans claimed to come as liberators, and so the people of Elateia remained free.

The Roman successes of 198 encouraged the Achaean League to abandon their long alliance with Philip, and join with the Romans. This diplomatic coup had limited military results. Philip’s garrison in Acrocorinth held out against a Roman attack, while Argos left the Achaean League, and let in Philip’s troops.

Despite this success Philip’s position was now desperate, and in November a peace conference was held at his request. The conference, at Nicaea, came quite close to success. Flamininus was coming to the end of his period as consul. It was possible that he would be allowed to remain in Greece, but if he was to be replaced then it was in his interests to arrange a good peace while he would still get the glory.

The Romans demanded that Philip hand over all of his Illyrian lands to Rome, evacuate Greece, and restore any towns taken of Ptolemy. Attalus wanted paying, Rhodes wanted Philip to abandon all of his conquests in Asia and on the Hellespont, the Achaeans wanted Corinth and Argos, the Aetolians wanted all the cities captured from them by Philip. Philip was ready to meet many of these demands, but not to abandon his three main Greek fortresses at Demetrias, Chalcis and Acrocorinth (known as the “fetters of Greece”).

Philip then suggested that the remaining areas of disagreement should be decided by the Roman senate. If Flamininus had not been made proconsul, then it seems likely that these negotiations would have ended in success, but the senate decided to keep the consuls for 197 in Italy, leaving Flamininus in command in Greece. At this point Philip’s envoys were asked if he would give up the fetters, and they were unable to answer. The negotiations failed, and the war continued into 197.


The decisive battle of the war came in Thessaly. Despite the disasters he had suffered in 198, Philip still had his army intact. By the early summer of 197 he had 23,500 infantry (18,000 from Macedonia) and 2,000 cavalry. The Macedonian phalanx was not as dominant a weapon as it had been under Alexander, but it was still greatly feared. Flaminius had around 26,000 men – two legions and 8,400 allies, with 2,400 cavalry.

The two armies first made contact at Pherae, before turning west to find a better battlefield. The big weakness of the phalanx was that it needed level clear ground to be effective. If it was disrupted in any way then the phalanx could be very vulnerable. This was exactly what happened during the battle of Cynoscephalae. The battle was fought on unsuitable rough ground, and before part of Philip’s army was position. The legions broke into the phalanx, and a massacre followed. Philip may have lost as many as 13,000 men.

Peace Terms

In the aftermath of Cynoscephalae Philip sued for peace, and accepted the terms offered at Nicaea. He abandoned all of his territories in Greece, including the “fetters”. His son Demetrius was taken as one of the hostages for the peace. The newly freed Greek cities were to live under their own laws, with their security guaranteed by Rome. Flamininus hoped to create a stable happy Greece that would act as a barrier against Antiochus.

Not everyone was happy with the peace. The Aetolians were unpleasantly surprised to discover that they would not receive their lost towns, as the Romans did not consider the treaty of 212 to still be in force. Only Phthiotic Thebes was given back to the league. The newly elected consul M. Claudius Marcellus was also unhappy with the peace, in his case because he had wanted the command for 196, but despite this the Senate approved the peace treaty.

The peace would be short lived. Just as the Romans had feared at the start of the First Macedonian War, each involvement in Greek affairs tended to lead into the next. Although Philip was no longer a threat, Antiochus still was, and his activities in Asia Minor worried the Senate. Within a few years Rome and Antiochus would be at war.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (6 November 2008), Second Macedonian War, 200-196 BC ,

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