The Seleucid War: The Year 192 BCE

(photo: Uploadalt/British Museum).


  • The Romans declare King Antiochos III of the Seleucid Empire an enemy of the State;
  • More Roman successes in the Spanish provinces;
  • The proconsul Quintus Minucius Thermus defeats the Ligurians in a battle near Pisa;
  • The consuls Lucius Quinctius and Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus devastate the territories of the Boii, many of whom defect to the Romans;
  • The praetor Aulus Atilius Serranus is given command of the fleet and ordered to sail to Gytheion, the port of Sparta;
  • Roman envoys, including Titus Quinctius Flamininus, tour Greece to make sure that no one defects to King Antiochos;
  • The Aetolian League decides to invite the Seleucid king to ‘liberate Greece’;
  • King Antiochos lands in Thessaly with a small army; the king has much difficulty convincing the Greeks to join his anti-Roman coalition;
  • The praetor Marcus Baebius Tamphilus crosses the Adriatic Sea with his army and lands at Apollonia;
  • 500 Roman soldiers on their way to Chalkis on Euboea are killed or captured at Delion;
  • Antiochos captures Chalkis.

Livius claims that the Romans declared the Seleucid king an enemy of the State or hostis this year. For the moment, however, their preparations for war were merely mental: they would wait for their envoys to return from their mission in Seleucid territory and for the king to strike first, but made sure they were fully prepared to parry his blow.

The consular elections for this year had ended in an ignominious defeat for Scipio Africanus. Scipio had not been a candidate himself – he had been consul just two years ago – but he supported his cousin as a candidate for the patricians and his best friend as a candidate for the plebeians. But neither Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica nor Gaius Laelius was elected. Nasica was defeated by Lucius Quinctius, the great Titus Flamininus’ brother, while Laelius lost to Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, a former praetor and a bit of an outsider. Scipio was still the princeps senatus, but he was not able to exercise decisive influence on the outcome of the elections.

The new law on usury – the Lex Sempronia of the previous year – was strictly enforced this year. The curule aediles fined many offenders and the money was used to place a golden quadriga – a four-horse chariot – on the Capitol and to decorate the temple of Jupiter there with twelve golden shields. Unfortunately there was also a great fire at the Forum Boarium, Rome’s cattle market near the Tiber. Many shops went up in flames.


Both consuls were given Italy as their province, but one of them was ordered by the Senate to be prepared to lead his troops abroad if the need arose. This job fell to Ahenobarbus. The imperium of the praetors Gaius Flaminius and Marcus Fulvius Nobilior in Spain was prorogued and both men continued to campaign successfully against the various tribes of the peninsula. The consul Quintus Minucius Thermus’ command was also prolonged so that he could continue his campaign against the Ligurians.

Farmland in Tuscany.

The military operations in Italy of this year can be summarised quite briefly. The proconsul Minucius finally managed to get the Ligurians to fight a pitched battle in the vicinity of Pisa. Minucius routed their army, killed 9.000 men and took their camp. He then invaded Liguria and thoroughly pillaged the land, recapturing much of the loot from Etruria that had been taken by the tribes. Both consuls campaigned against the Boii, causing widespread destruction. Livius claims that many Boii nobles and members of what he calls their “Senate” defected to the Romans, following the example of some Celtic horsemen and their commanders.

The newly elected praetor Aulus Atilius Serranus was given command of a fleet and told to sail to Greece to confront the Spartan tyrant Nabis, who was giving Rome’s Achaean allies trouble. Another praetor, Marcus Baebius Tamphilus, was sent to Bruttium, possibly to oversee and guard the founding of the colony of Vibo Valentia. He was later sent to Tarentum and Brundisium and ordered to cross the Adriatic with his army if necessary. Baebius sailed to Apollonia late in the year, possibly in November. Influential Romans with sound knowledge of Greece and local connections were sent to the region to make sure that none of Rome’s Greek allies defected to Antiochos. Among them were Publius Villius Tappulus, the consul of 199 BCE who had briefly been in command during the Second Macedonian War and who had for years been active as a diplomat, and – more importantly – Titus Quinctius Flamininus, the victor of Cynoscephalae and a national hero in many parts of Greece. Rome was on standby for a confrontation with the Seleucids, but not fully in war mode yet.


Coin of Titus Quinctius Flamininus (photo: PHGCOM/British Museum).

In Greece, the armed forces of the Achaean League, led by Philopoimen, fought those of the Spartan tyrant Nabis, who had been stirred up by the Aetolians the previous year. Nabis managed to defeat an Achaean fleet and recaptured the city of Gytheion (the ancient port of Sparta), but Philopoimen inflicted defeats on him on land, driving the tyrant back to Sparta and locking him up in his own city. The Achaean strategos then thoroughly devastated the Spartan territories in Lakonia.

In the meantime, the Roman envoys visited various cities and peoples. They travelled to Athens, to Chalkis on Euboea, to Thessaly and to Demetrias in Magnesia. The Magnesians were divided, with some still loyal to Rome and others ready to welcome Antiochos and the Aetolians. This greatly angered Flamininus, the man who had given the Magnesians their freedom and had made sure that no garrison had been stationed in Demetrias. He furiously lashed out at the ungrateful Magnesians, and in the end, one of their foremost anti-Roman politicians left the meeting and fled to the Aetolians.

At about the same time, the Aetolians celebrated the Panaitolike, a religious festival held in spring. They also held their bi-annual League meeting and the mood was very much in favour of asking Antiochos to come to Greece. Flamininus rushed to the meeting to issue a stern warning that war would have serious consequences for the Aetolians. But the Aetolians refused to listen. While the Romans were still present, they took the decision to invite Antiochos to liberate Greece. This was a massive blow to the face of the Romans; after all, they claimed to be the liberators of Greece themselves.

Map of Greece (source: Ancient World Mapping Center. “À-la-carte”; CC BY 4.0).

While a dejected Flamininus returned to Corinth, the Aetolians decided not to lose any time. They thought it best to take action immediately and not to wait for King Antiochos to arrive with his army. Their plan was bold, as they intended to occupy Demetrias, Chalkis and Sparta. Demetrias was quickly taken. The anti-Roman magnetarchon that had fled to Aetolia was reinstated and many pro-Roman politicians were killed. But things went a little differently in Sparta. Nabis had for a long time implored the Aetolians to send him reinforcements. The Aetolians now pretended to comply and ordered one Alexamenos to march to Sparta with a small force. Alexamenos won the tyrant’s friendship, and then murdered him during a military exercise outside the city. Nabis was hardly loved by the Spartans, and they would probably have accepted Aetolian dominance, had not Alexamenos’ men shown some particularly abject behaviour: the ‘liberators’ of Sparta now began pillaging the ‘liberated’ city. The Spartans quickly united and turned on the Aetolians, killing most of them.

Corinthian Greek helmet (Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam).

Philopoimen then swiftly exploited the situation and forced a now virtually defenceless Sparta to join the Achaean League. The Achaeans had wanted to get rid of their old enemy Nabis for years, and now their rivals the Aetolians had done it for them. At about the same time, the praetor Atilius reached Gytheion with his fleet. The Romans were not happy that Sparta had joined the Achaean League. It did not fit their divide et impera policy, but not wanting to risk a confrontation with their strongest and most important Greek allies, they let the Achaeans have the most famous city of the entire Peloponnesos.

The Aetolians also tried to take Chalkis. This was an important city – one of the “fetters of Greece” – because it controlled the Euripos, the narrow strait between Boeotia and Euboea. A pro-Roman faction was in control of Chalkis at the time, and when it heard of the Aetolian offensive, it quickly called in reinforcements from other cities on Euboea. The Chalkidians then crossed the bridge across the Euripos with their own troops and made their camp at Salganeus, a city in Boeotia on the other side of the strait. Thoas, the Aetolian commander, tried to convince them that the Aetolians had come to liberate the inhabitants of Chalkis, but these were not impressed and told him to make himself scarce. Not wanting to risk a confrontation with a well-prepared enemy, Thoas decided to retreat. His action had drawn both Flamininus and King Eumenes of Pergamum to Euboea. Eumenes decided to station some 500 soldiers in or near Chalkis as reinforcements.

Antiochos invades

Antiochos had still not managed to reduce Smyrna and Lampsakos, cities in Asia Minor that kept resisting him. But when it was reported to him that Demetrias had fallen to the Aetolians, the king was elated and decided to accept the offer to bring freedom to the Greeks. The king embarked his troops, sailed to Greece and landed at Pteleon in Thessaly[1] in October of this year. The Aetolians were ecstatic and immediately invited Antiochos to join them at their League’s autumn meeting, which was held in Lamia in nearby Malis this year. They must have been very disappointed when they saw the size of the king’s army. Thoas (see above) had been bragging that Antiochos commanded immense numbers of infantry and cavalry and would bring hordes of Indian war elephants with him as well. In reality, the king had crossed the Aegean with just 10.000 foot soldiers, 500 horsemen and a mere 6 elephants. Even the army of the Aetolian League was bigger. If he wanted to liberate Greece with this puny force, the king needed allies, many of them, and fast.

King Eumenes II of Pergamum (photo: Sailko; CC BY 3.0 license).

Antiochos promised the Aetolians that he would bring up more troops soon. Some Aetolians argued that the king should mediate in the conflict with Rome, so that perhaps war could still be avoided. But the majority wanted the king to go on the offensive as quickly as possible. The League then decided to name Antiochos its supreme commander. In this new capacity, the king chose to march on Chalkis first. His mission failed just as miserably as that of Thoas earlier this year, as the inhabitants of Chalkis refused to buy his story about freedom for Greece. Antiochos then tried to win over the Achaean League, the Boeotians and King Amynandros of the Athamanes for his cause. The king knew that the Achaeans would not join him, but perhaps they could be persuaded to stay neutral during the conflict. However, the Achaeans turned out to be unwavering in their loyalty to the Romans. Flamininus was also present at the League meeting in Aigion and mocked the size of the king’s army. In the end, the Achaeans declared that Rome’s friends and enemies were their friends and enemies as well. King Antiochos could go to hell.

Even though there were fierce anti-Roman sentiments in Boeotia, the Boeotians still had second thoughts about joining the alliance of King Antiochos and the Aetolians. Boeotia had seen a socioeconomic recession for decades and a new war in this once prosperous region was most unwelcome. King Amynandros of the Athamanes had supported the Romans during the Second Macedonian War, but he now joined Antiochos’ anti-Roman coalition. It should, however, be noted that the king was a bit of a non-entity. His army was puny, and his wife Apame was the daughter of a lunatic who believed he was a descendant of Alexander the Great. Apame’s brother Philippos claimed to be the rightful heir to the throne of Macedonia. It was a claim no one took seriously, but Antiochos and the Aetolians decided to use this Philippos to bring Amynandros over to their side. In this they succeeded, but the Athamanes were not the important allies that Antiochos and his Aetolian friends needed.

Perhaps a military victory for the king would change the mood in Greece. In November or December, Antiochos once again decided to march on Chalkis in a second attempt to capture it. He sent ahead his general Menippos with a small force and his admiral Polyxenidas (a Rhodian exile) with the fleet. The king himself followed close behind with the rest of the army and some Aetolians. 500 Roman soldiers were also on their way to Chalkis. They had been sent by Flamininus and may have been peeled off from either Baebius’ army or Atilius’ fleet (see above). The Romans did not reach the city on time. Menippos had already made his camp at Salganeus, effectively blocking the bridge across the Euripos. The Roman column then marched to Delion, from where they wanted to sail to Euboea. Delion was famous for its sanctuary of Apollo, and the Romans felt safe in this sacred area. But Menippos decided to jump on the opportunity of winning an easy victory. He suddenly attacked the scattered soldiers, killing many of them and capturing about 50 men.

The Seleucids had drawn first blood. They now quickly captured Chalkis, which opened its gates for the king. The troops sent by King Eumenes of Pergamum and the Achaean League quickly surrendered. Antiochos had good reason to be cheerful. The most important city on Euboea was now his.


Primary sources


[1] Achaea Phthiotis to be exact.


  1. Pingback:The Annalist: The Year 191 BCE – – Corvinus –

  2. Pingback:The Annalist: The Year 190 BCE – – Corvinus –

  3. Pingback:The Annalist: The Year 188 BCE – – Corvinus –

  4. Pingback:The Annalist: The Year 184 BCE – – Corvinus –

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.