Freedom for the Greeks: The Year 196 BCE

(photo: PHGCOM/British Museum).


  • The popular assembly votes in favour of peace with Macedonia; decemviri are sent to Greece;
  • The situation in Spain is grave after a heavy Roman defeat;
  • The college of the tresviri epulones is set up in Rome;
  • The praetor Manius Acilius Glabrio suppresses a slave revolt in Etruria;
  • After first suffering a reverse, the consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus inflicts a heavy defeat on the Insubres and Comenses;
  • Marcellus and the other consul, Lucius Furius Purpureo, force the Boii to submit to Rome;
  • The proconsul Titus Quinctius Flamininus launches a punitive expedition into Boeotia after Roman soldiers are murdered while travelling through this region;
  • The decemviri dictate harsh peace terms to King Philippos of Macedonia; end of the Second Macedonian War;
  • During the Isthmian Games at Corinth, Flamininus declares the Greeks to be free;
  • The Romans are alarmed by King Antiochos III’s campaigns in Asia Minor and Thrace.

The new consuls for this year were Lucius Furius Purpureo and Marcus Claudius Marcellus. The former had won fame by inflicting a severe defeat on the Celts at Cremona in 200 BCE, the latter was the son of the famous Roman general of the same name, the “sword of Rome”, who had been killed at the height of the Second Punic War. Both men were eager to get Macedonia as their province, which would probably have led to a renewal of hostilities. Two people’s tribunes decided to intervene. The Senate had already met with envoys of King Philippos of Macedonia and had decided to set up a committee of ten men (the decemviri) to travel to Greece to dictate more specific peace terms. If new consuls, eager for glory and ready to snatch it away from under their predecessor Flamininus’ nose, would travel east, then all of this good diplomatic work would be in danger. The Roman people were ready for peace, and the tribunes made sure that the popular assembly voted on this first before lots were drawn for the provinces. The motion to make peace with the Macedonia was carried unanimously.

Italy and Spain

The joy over the victory at Cynoscephelae and the peace with the Macedonians was somewhat overshadowed by the news of a terrible defeat in Spain. The propraetor Gaius Sempronius Tuditanus, governor of Hispania Citerior, and his army had been routed by the Spanish tribes. Casualties had been high, and the propraetor himself had been mortally wounded. Fortunately for the Romans, Tuditanus’ predecessor Gnaeus Cornelius Blasio had won important victories during his governorship and he was granted an ovatio this year. Not all was lost in Spain, but reinforcements were desperately needed. The new praetors were each given a newly raised legion and a few thousand Latins and Italian allies.

A new priestly college was set up this year, the tresviri epulones. These three men were charged with organising religious banquets, the most important of which was a banquet for Jupiter during the Roman Games. The epulones were important priests, and they were allowed to wear the toga praetexta. Also worthy of note is the fact that the State paid back the last part of the loans from the Second Punic War.

Slaves on a second century CE Roman mosaic (photo: Pascal Radigue; CC BY 3.0 license).

Two years after the previous slave revolt, there was another one, this time in Etruria. The praetor Manius Acilius Glabrio took one of the two legions stationed near Rome and quickly suppressed the rebellion. Many slaves were captured or killed. The ringleaders were scourged and crucified.

The consuls had both been given Italy as their province and there were military campaigns against the Celts of Cisalpine Gaul and the Ligurians. The consul Marcellus first suffered a reverse when his army was suddenly attacked while making camp on a hill. A prince of the Boii named Corolamus managed to kill some 3.000 men, including two prefects of the allies and two tribunes. The Romans managed to cling on to their camp though, and several weeks later, the consul would have his revenge. After taking care of the wounded for several days, Marcellus crossed the Padus river (now the Po) and marched as far north as Comum (present-day Como). Here he was confronted by an army of Insubres and Comenses. After some fierce fighting, the Celts were completely routed. Their camp was taken, and several days later, the city of Comum was also captured.

Marcellus subsequently joined forces with his colleague Purpureo and forced the Boii to submit as well. An important prize was the city that Livius calls Felsina, but was known as Bona in those days. The city had originally been Etruscan – hence the name Felsina or Velzna – but had later been captured by the Boii, who renamed it Bona and made it their capital. All but some of the younger tribesmen now surrendered to the Romans. These men hid in the woods while the Romans campaigned against the Ligurians further to the west. The tribesmen tried to ambush the Roman column when it returned to Celtic territory, but the ambush was a complete failure. The young Boii were annihilated. For his achievements, the consul Marcellus was granted a triumph later this year. A few years later, in 189 BCE to be precise, the Romans would found a colony at Bona and call it Bononia. The city is known as Bologna nowadays.


After his victory at Cynoscephalae, Titus Quinctius Flamininus had returned to Elateia in Phokis to make his winter camp. There was soon trouble in Boeotia, which proved to be an unreliable ally. A strong pro-Macedonian faction was active in this region. It was still openly loyal to King Philippos, causing the pro-Roman faction to forge a conspiracy to assassinate an important anti-Roman politician named Brachylles. The conspirators wanted to involve Flamininus, and although he refused to participate, he also told them he would not oppose the assassination. The conspirators were sent to the strategos of the Aetolians, and Brachylles was ultimately killed by three Italians and three Aetolians as he left a banquet.

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

This murder proved to be the proverbial spark in the powder keg. Roman soldiers travelling in small groups along the roads of Boeotia were ambushed, robbed and killed. Some 500 Romans were murdered in this way, prompting Flamininus to retaliate by launching a punitive expedition into Boeotia with his whole army. The proconsul initially imposed a fine of 500 talents on the Boeotians, a talent for every Roman soldier killed. However, thanks to an intervention by the Achaeans, the sum was reduced to 30 talents. Those guilty of murder were extradited to the Romans.

The Second Macedonian War – Peace and freedom

By this time the decemviri had arrived in Greece to dictate peace terms to the Macedonian king. Peace was made under several conditions, the most important of which were:

  • All Greek cities in Europe and Asia Minor were to be free. They would be allowed to live under their own laws and allowed to manage their own taxes;
  • The king was to withdraw his garrisons from Greek cities that were still held by the Macedonians and transfer them to the Romans before the Isthmian Games of this year;
  • The king had to return all prisoners of war and defectors to the Romans;
  • The king had to surrender his entire fleet, except for five smaller vessels and a huge royal ship known as a ‘sixteen’;
  • The king had to pay an indemnity of 1.000 talents. 500 talents had to be paid immediately and the rest in ten annual instalments.

To make sure that the king adhered to the peace treaty, Philippos had to provide the Romans with hostages. One of them was his son Demetrios, who had already been sent to Italy. Livius claims that the king was also forced to reduce his army in size and was no longer allowed to wage foreign wars without the consent of the Roman Senate, but these terms are not at all mentioned by Polybius and are rather dubious.

View of the Corinthian acropolis, the Acrocorinth (photo: Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, CC BY 2.0 license).

Most of the Greek cities and peoples were happy with these terms, which put an end to Macedonian hegemony in Greece. But the Aetolians protested. They had hoped for more territorial gains for their League and wanted to see Philippos deposed or executed. The Aetolians argued that only the Greek cities in Asia Minor would truly be set free, and that the Romans would leave garrisons in the Greek cities in Europe, especially in Demetrias, Chalkis and Corinth, the “fetters of Greece”. The Romans were simply taking over from the Macedonians. These complaints were not entirely unjustified. The decemviri had indeed wanted to leave garrisons in the aforementioned three cities, but Flamininus had intervened and argued against it. The Romans had come to Greece to liberate the Greeks from Macedonian oppression, he said, not to become the new oppressors themselves. Flamininus was a remarkable man. Although we know that Greece would become a Roman province 50 years later, his intention of granting freedom to the Greeks seems to have been sincere. He was rightly lauded for this by later writers, especially his biographer Plutarchus (a Greek!).

For the moment, garrisons were kept in Chalkis and Demetrias. Although Corinth was returned to the Achaeans, the Romans did leave a garrison on the citadel, the Acrocorinth, thus still effectively controlling the city. It seemed that the Aetolians were right: many Greeks were convinced that the Romans were here to stay. It was against this background of uncertainty and mistrust that Flamininus arrived in Corinth for the Isthmian Games in honour of Poseidon, which were held in June or July. There he ordered a trumpeter to call for silence. A herald then read out a proclamation. In Polybius’ version it read:

“The Senate and Titus Quinctius the proconsul, having overcome King Philippos and the Macedonians, grant the following peoples their freedom, to live without garrisons and subject to no tribute and governed by their own laws: the Corinthians, Phocians, Locrians, Euboeans, Phthiotic Achaeans, Magnesians, Thessalians, and Perrhaebians.”

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

The herald had mentioned all the peoples that had been living under Macedonian rule. That rule had now been ended and it was not to be replaced by Roman rule. The Greeks were free again. The herald was recalled to read out the proclamation again, as many people could not believe what they had heard. Everyone was overjoyed, people were cheering and applauding and nobody was interested in the games anymore. When the games had been held, everyone wanted to see the Roman commander and grab his hand. Some people even addressed him as Soter (“saviour”), a title which up until then had been reserved for Hellenistic kings.[1] Coins were struck bearing his image and cults were set up for the young saviour of Greece, who was barely 33 years old.

The Seleucid Empire

The decemviri now met with various delegations sent by kings, peoples and cities. They warned envoys of King Antiochos III of the Seleucid Empire that the king should keep his hands off the Greek cities in Asia Minor. Most of all, he should not cross the Hellespont into Europe. The decemviri then split up. One of them attended the autumn meeting of the Aetolian League in Thermon to try and keep the Aetolians in the pro-Roman alliance. Others travelled to Macedonia and Thrace.

King Antiochos was not impressed by the Roman warnings. He believed the Greek cities in Asia Minor were his by right, as they had fallen to his ancestor Seleukos I after the defeat of the diadochos Lysimachos in 281 BCE. The king went on the attack and most cities were an easy prey for his army, but Smyrna and Lampsakos resisted and would appeal to Rome for help. Antiochos then went even further. He crossed the Hellespont, marched across the Thracian Chersonese (now the Gallipoli peninsula) and occupied Lysimacheia. The city was deserted when he entered it. It had been abandoned by King Philippos during the Second Macedonian War and had subsequently been pillaged by the Thracians. Antiochos decreed that the city was to be rebuilt and repopulated, and started recruiting settlers.

King Antiochos III the Great (photo: Uploadalt/British Museum).

All of this greatly alarmed the Romans. Four of the ten decemviri travelled to the king in Thrace and arrived there around October. They told the king that his actions did not please the Senate at all and that his coming to Europe was seen as a provocation. The king replied that Asia Minor was none of the Romans’ business, just like he did not interfere with affairs in Italy. Thrace was his, as it had rightfully been occupied by his great-great-grandfather Seleukos in 281 BCE. And so was Lysimacheia, which had been founded by the man whom this Seleukos had defeated. The fact that first the Ptolemies (in 241 BCE, after the Third Syrian War) and then Philippos had taken parts of Thrace from the Seleucids did not bother him. The king furthermore argued that he needed Lysimacheia as a residence for his son and that he had made peace with King Ptolemaios V – now about fourteen years old – and had offered him his daughter Cleopatra in marriage.

The meeting ended when envoys from Smyrna and Lampsakos spoke too and greatly angered the king. Antiochos then received a rumour that young Ptolemaios had died and set out for Egypt to occupy it. But the rumour proved to be false and Antiochos now diverted his attention to Cyprus, also part of the Ptolemaic Empire. His fleet sailed to the island, but was caught in a violent storm that damaged most of his ships. The king had no option but to return to Seleukeia in Syria[2] for repairs.

Antiochos the Great

Greco-Baktrian coin featuring King Demetrios I (ca. 200-185 BCE; source: Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden).

Antiochos III the Great of the Seleucid Empire was an even more formidable opponent that Philippos V of Macedonia had ever been. The king, born ca. 241 BCE, had been on the throne since 223 BCE, when his older brother Seleukos III Keraunos was assassinated while campaigning against King Attalos of Pergamum. Antiochos had spent most of his reign campaigning, marching thousands of kilometres with his army and fighting dozens of battles and sieges. The Seleucid Empire was huge, but anything but stable. The king had to fight rebellious satraps in Media and Persia and deal with a relative in Sardis in Lydia who had proclaimed himself king. Antiochos’ greatest achievement was perhaps his anabasis to recover the eastern parts of his empire (212-209 BCE). These had seceded and had become the Parthian Empire and the Greco-Baktrian kingdom. Although few details of the king’s campaign have survived, it was generally a success, even though the king lost his horse and several teeth in a confrontation with Baktrian cavalry.

Antiochos fought two wars over Koile Syria against the Ptolemaic Empire. The so-called Fourth Syrian War (220-217 BCE) ended in disaster when the king suffered an ignominious defeat at Raphia against Ptolemaios IV Philopator. He had his revenge fifteen years later during the Fifth Syrian War (202-196 BCE). Taking advantage of the weakness of the boy-king Ptolemaios V, his forces won several victories and captured various cities. Antiochos won his most notable victory at the Battle of Panion in 200 BCE, in which the heavily armoured Seleucid cataphracts proved to be of great importance. During the conflict, the Romans had done their best to avert a Syrian invasion of Egypt, with which it had had friendly relations since 273 BCE. Now that the Fifth Syrian War had ended, Antiochos was looking for further expansion elsewhere. The king was full of confidence and not afraid of a confrontation with Rome. Little did he know that he would bite off more than he could chew.


Primary sources


[1] Ptolemaios I of Egypt had been given the title for raising the siege of Rhodos, Attalos I of Pergamum for defeating the Galatians. Antiochos I of the Seleucid Empire was awarded the title for a similar victory.

[2] The port of Antiocheia, not to be confused with Seleukeia on the Tigris.


  1. Pingback:The Annalist: The Year 195 BCE – – Corvinus –

  2. Pingback:The Annalist: The Year 174 BCE – – Corvinus –

  3. Pingback:The Annalist: The Year 177 BCE – – Corvinus –

  4. Pingback:The Annalist: The Years 166-160 BCE – – Corvinus –

  5. Pingback:The Annalist: The Year 200 BCE – – Corvinus –

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

  7. Pingback:The Annalist: The Year 187 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.