This year was once again dominated by the affairs in Greece. Delegations from all over the Greek world travelled to Rome to address the Senate and to plead for their own interests. In the Peloponnesos, troops from the Achaean League fought against the rebellious Messenians, who had seceded from the league one or two years previously. The Achaeans – still formally Rome’s allies in the region, but certainly not her friends – achieved military successes, but lost their strategos, the famous Philopoimen, who was murdered in captivity. For the Romans themselves, there was success on the battlefield in Liguria and Spain. And for the first time since 193 BCE, Rome was called upon to mediate in a dispute between Carthage and King Masinissa of Numidia, their most important African ally.
After Gnaeus Baebius Tamphilus and Lucius Aemilius Paullus (the future conqueror of Macedonia) had been elected as the new consuls and given Liguria as their province, seven diplomatic delegations from all corners of the Greek world were introduced in the Senate. Envoys from King Eumenes were welcomed, but also from King Pharnakes of Pontos and King Philippos of Macedonia. Envoys from the Achaean League were there too, and so were envoys representing two different Spartan factions. Envoys from Rhodos came to complain about the aggressive campaigns of the King of Pontos and about the conquest of Sinope the previous year. The Senate was quickly becoming a full-time diplomatic body which guided Rome’s foreign policy. Once again, the senators decided to send a fact-finding mission to the region, in this case to Sinope to check out what had happened there and to investigate the dispute between Eumenes and Pharnakes. Eumenes had by this time joined forces with his father-in-law, King Ariarathes IV of Cappadocia, to stop Pharnakes’ expansion. And there Cappadocia enters the annals of Roman history.
Quintus Marcius Philippus had just returned from Macedonia and the Peloponnesos, and the senators used him as their eyes and ears. Even though they politely listened to what the Macedonian and Greek delegations had to say, they based their judgment exclusively on Marcius Philippus’ report. The Senate was content that the Macedonian king had done what he had been ordered to do, i.e. evacuate several cities in Thrace. For the moment, the senators saw no reason to intervene on behalf of their Achaean allies. The Achaean request for help against Messene was simply ignored, a good example of the Roman divide et impera policy. The Senate even stated that it would be indifferent to an eventual secession of Sparta from the League, or even to secessions of much more important cities such as Corinth or Argos. Many in the Greek world saw that as an encouragement: Rome was apparently unwilling to come to the aid of her Achaean allies.
Now that the Romans refused to send help, the Achaeans had to fend for themselves. But even without Roman support, their League army was much stronger than that of the Messenians. But then disaster struck. In May or June of this year, while hurrying towards Korone in the far south of the peninsula, the Achaean strategos Philopoimen and his cavalry escort were ambushed. Most of the horsemen, including the hipparchon Lykortas, managed to get away in time, but the 70-year-old Achaean general was captured and taken to Messene. There he was condemned to death and forced to drink poison. This temporary Messenian success did little to delay their inevitable defeat. Lykortas continued the military campaigns against their city and left a trail of destruction in their territories. Shortly before the autumn meeting of the Achaean League, Messene was forced to ask for peace.
In return for an unconditional surrender and an Achaean garrison on their citadel, the Messenians were welcomed back into the League that they had only joined in 191 BCE. Deinokrates, one of the driving forces behind the secession, took his own life, while the men who had been responsible for Philopoimen’s involuntary suicide were extradited and executed. The great general’s body was turned over to the Achaeans, who gave him a worthy funeral. According to Plutarch, it was the future historian Polybius, Lykortas’ son, who personally brought the turn containing his bones and ashes back to Megalopolis. Later that year, Sparta – governed by a pro-Achaean faction – was also readmitted as a League member.
Meanwhile, in Macedonia, tensions were growing between King Philippos’ two sons, the half-brothers Perseus (now about 30 years old) and Demetrios (about five years his junior). The Macedonian army had just performed its rather curious purification ritual: the body of a dog – a bitch, actually – was cut in half and the two parts were placed on either side of the road. The troops then marched between the two parts of the cadaver. The ritual was followed by a mock fight between troops led by Perseus and units commanded by Demetrios. Perseus was worsted and none too pleased about his defeat. He would later accuse his half-brother of an attempt to murder him. The accusation was definitely false, and King Philippos did not believe it. But the king was now in his mid-fifties and one day he had to decide who would succeed him. He was suspicious of Demetrios’ warm relationship with the Romans and decided to keep a close eye on him. Perseus meanwhile began making plans to get rid of his troublesome rival.
Military actions and mediation
Gnaeus Baebius Tamphilus and Lucius Aemilius Paullus fought a few actions against the Ligurians and were quite successful, although our main source Livius does not give any specific details. Publius Manlius, who according to Livius had been elected praetor for a second time, was sent out to govern Further Spain. The province had been without a governor for quite a while since the death of Manlius’ predecessor Publius Sempronius after a long illness. The praetor who had governed Nearer Spain, Aulus Terentius Varro, was allowed to return home to celebrate an ovatio. His successor was Quintus Fulvius Flaccus, who took command of Varro’s army and used it to besiege a fortified town called Urbica (the location is unknown, but note that there is a small village called Urbicáin east of modern Pamplona in Navarre). While directing the siege, the praetor was attacked by a Celtiberian army. Many Romans were either killed or wounded, but Flaccus managed to repel the Celtiberians and continue the siege. After a few more days, Urbica was captured and pillaged.
Also this year, the Romans were called upon to settle a dispute between Carthage and King Masinissa of Numidia over a piece of land. The situation was fairly complicated. Masinissa’s father, King Gala, had captured the territory from the Carthaginians, but had subsequently been expelled by his enemy, King Syphax. Syphax had donated the territory to the Carthaginians again, to please his father-in-law Hasdrubal, the father of his wife Sophonisba (see 204 BCE). And to complicate things even further, the territory had then been conquered by Masinissa, who now claimed it for himself. The Roman arbiters could not reach a decision and referred the case to the Senate.
- Livius, Ab urbe condita, Book 39.49-39.50; Book 39.56 and Book 40.1-40.17;
- Plutarch, The Life of Philopoemen;
- Polybius, The Histories, Book 23.9; 23.12-23.18 and Book 24.1;