The Annalist: The Year 174 BCE

One of the most memorable events in Rome this year was the death of Titus Quinctius Flamininus, former consul and censor. After his victory against the Macedonians in the battle of Cynoscephalae in 197 BCE and his proclamation about freedom for the Greeks at the Isthmian Games the next year, Flamininus had quickly become one of the most important politicians both in Rome and in the Greek world. His diplomatic network was huge, his influence in Greece immense. Flamininus was probably only in his mid-fifties when he died. 74 gladiators fought during the funerary games. The great general was sorely missed by his people.


The new consuls were Spurius Postumius Albinus and Quintus Mucius Scaevola. They seem to have had an easy time, as both Liguria and Gallia Cisalpina were now at peace. Lucius Cornelius Scipio, a son of the great Scipio Africanus, was praetor this year. Another praetor, Marcus Atilius, was given Sardinia as his province, but he did not sail to the island. Instead, he was ordered to intervene on Corsica, where trouble had erupted.

It had also been five years since censors had last been chosen, so it was again time for elections. The comitia centuriata chose Quintus Fulvius Flaccus (the consul of 179 BCE) and Aulus Postumius Albinus (the consul of 180 BCE). The new censors had a reputation for strictness. They removed nine men from the Senate, one of whom was the aforementioned Lucio Scipio, who was serving as praetor peregrinus when he was struck from the roll. Unfortunately, no reason is given in the sources. Another victim was the censor Flaccus’ own brother.[1] Marcus Aemilius Lepidus was confirmed as princeps senatus, a position he had held since 179 BCE. Public morals were strictly enforced, and many equites were stripped of their public horses. The censors also made improvements to the Circus Maximus and let many contracts for the construction of roads and bridges.

Remains of the Circus Maximus.

Italy was struck by a plague again this year. It had started among the cattle, but later the disease spread to the people as well. Many men, women and children died, especially slaves. The plague also claimed the lives of many priests, among them the curio maximus (see 209 BCE).


The Senate House – Curia – on the Forum Romanum.

Hispania Citerior had been pacified after Tiberius Gracchus’ campaigns. Gracchus had combined military might and skilled diplomacy, and had forged many alliances. Although the Fasti Triumphales record a triumph held by his successor Marcus Titinius Curvus, Livius actually claims that the province was at peace during Curvus’ governorship. In any case, when Curvus had left and was replaced by the propraetor Appius Claudius Cento, the Celtiberians rebelled again and attacked the Roman camp. The attackers had been spotted well before they reached the ramparts, so Claudius had time to order his men to sally. The battle quickly developed into somewhat of a pushing match: the Romans tried to exit the camp through three of the gates, while the Celts were trying to stop them. Ultimately, the Romans managed to gain enough ground to deploy in battle formation. The battle was now over quickly. The Celtiberians were routed and their camp was taken. When Appius returned to Rome the next year, the grateful Senate decided to award him an ovatio.

The Greek world

A Roman delegation returned from Africa where it had met with King Masinissa of Numidia and the Carthaginians. The envoys claimed to have gathered evidence of secret contacts between Macedonian agents sent by King Perseus and the Carthaginians. King Masinissa reported that Carthaginian envoys had been sent to Macedonia as well. Once again, the Senate decided to send a fact-finding team to Macedonia to investigate. It was led by Gaius Laelius, Scipio Africanus’ old friend, who had somewhat faded into obscurity after his consulship in 190 BCE. Marcus Valerius Messalla and Sextus Digitius accompanied him.

Greek hoplites on a vase (Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden).

Whether or not the stories about contacts between Macedonia and Carthage were true or not, Perseus had certainly not sat still. He had quelled a rebellion of the Dolopians and had then proceeded to Delphi to consult the famous Oracle there. The king was eager to improve relations with the Achaean League. He tried to curry favour with the League by arresting large numbers of runaway slaves and offering to return them to their masters in Achaea. The current strategos was one Xenarchos, and he seemed to be interested in restoring relations. Xenarchos was, however, fervently opposed by Kallikrates, the strategos of 180179 BCE. Perseus later sent a delegation to a League meeting in Megalopolis, but pro-Roman Achaeans made sure that it was turned away. They were afraid that their allies the Romans would be offended. For the moment, the Achaean League was still loyal to the Roman cause.

In Aetolia, the situation was desperate. The economy was in tatters and the Aetolian League was torn by civil war. The region had never recovered from the defeat against the Romans in 189 BCE. Tired of the violence, the various factions decided to ask Rome to mediate. But before the Romans arbiters had arrived, tensions flared up again after 80 supporters of the pro-Roman leader Proxenos were murdered in Hypata. The Romans tried to settle the conflict and talks were held in Delphi, but then Proxenos himself was murdered by his wife and everything had been in vain. A Roman diplomatic intervention on Crete was equally unsuccessful. The island was still rent by anarchy, and a ceasefire brokered by the Romans lasted for just six months. At the same time, the Rhodians tried to regain control of Lycia, a region that had been denied to them by the Romans in 178177 BCE.


Primary sources


[1] His name was probably Gnaeus Fulvius, but Livius calls him Lucius (Livius 41.27).

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