Relative Peace: The Year 185 BCE


  • Lucius Manlius Acidinus celebrates an ovatio for his victories in Nearer Spain;
  • The consuls Appius Claudius Pulcher and Marcus Sempronius Tuditanus campaign against the Ligurian tribes;
  • The praetor Lucius Postumius puts down a slave rebellion in Apulia;
  • After first suffering a reverse, the praetors Gaius Calpurnius Piso and Lucius Quinctius defeat the Celtiberian Carpetani;
  • Roman envoys order King Philippos of Macedonia to withdraw his garrisons from cities in Greece and Thrace, which leads to tensions between Rome and Macedonia;
  • Quintus Caecilius Metellus’ request for a plenary meeting of the Achaean League is turned down, which triggers a diplomatic incident between Rome and the League.

185 BCE may have been the year of the trial against Scipio Africanus for misappropriation of state funds. However, I find it more likely that the trial took place in 184 BCE and will discuss it for the next year. This was a fairly quiet year for the Romans at home. The propraetor of Hispania Citerior, Lucius Manlius Acidinus, returned to Rome and met with the senators at the Temple of Bellona. His request for a triumph was denied, but he was granted the lesser honour of an ovatio. Both consuls, Appius Claudius Pulcher and Marcus Sempronius Tuditanus, were given Liguria as their province, and the former successfully campaigned against the tribe of the Ingauni, while the latter defeated the Apuani. The praetor Lucius Postumius was called upon to put down a slave rebellion (motus servilis) in Apulia, but the only serious war of this year took place in Spain. Apart from the by now traditional war of words with regard to the situation in Greece that is.


Livius gives us a fairly detailed account of the war in Spain this year. Not all the details may be correct, but the base narrative probably is. In spring, the praetors Gaius Calpurnius Piso and Lucius Quinctius led their forces out of their winter quarters and combined them for an offensive against the Carpetani, a Celtiberian tribe. A first confrontation with the enemy took place in the vicinity of Dipo (the location is unknown) and Toletum, which is modern Toledo. A Roman foraging party clashed with its Carpetanian counterpart, and soon both parties were feeding in more troops. The Romans were beaten and driven back to their camp, which they subsequently left in the middle of the night. When the Carpetani attacked the camp the next day, they found it empty.

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

The Romans had suffered a reverse and had lost dozens of men, but the two commanders refused to give up. Instead, they sent orders to the allied Spanish communities to provide them with auxiliary forces. A new confrontation then took place near the river Tagus. Calpurnius and Quinctius had their men cross the river at two places to attack the enemy, who were on the other side. The Carpetani immediately surged forward to attack the Roman columns before they could be united again. Livius claims that their army comprised 35.000 men, but the real number was probably slightly lower. The size of the Roman force is not given, but the two praetorian armies may have together numbered some 20.000 men. Fighting in the centre was especially fierce. When the Carpetani could not break through there, they formed up in wedge formation (cuneus) and tried again. The praetors responded by leading the Roman and allied cavalry on a flanking manoeuvre and attacked the Carpetani wedge from two sides.

Calpurnius and Quinctius led the charge sword in hand, with the former personally killing an enemy and fighting in the front ranks. The infantry now advanced and the Carpetani fled to their camp with the Roman and allied horsemen hot on their heels. The cavalry stormed through the gates of the camp and dismounted to fight the Spanish troops that had been left behind. There was more heavy fighting, but soon the legionaries appeared and joined the fray. The Carpetani were cut to pieces, while Roman casualties were comparatively light.


Drachme of King Philippos V (source: Classical Numismatic Group Inc.)

In 187 BCE, the Romans had sent a delegation led by Quintus Caecilius Metellus to Greece to investigate the actions of King Philippos of Macedonia. Seeking to enlarge his kingdom, the king had annexed cities in Thrace and Thessaly during the war against Antiochos the Great. This had led to tensions with his neighbours, who had implored the Romans to intervene. Metellus and his colleagues now had to decide on the status of cities such as Gonnokondylon (renamed Olympias by the king, after Alexander the Great’s mother), cities they had probably never even heard of before. Even though Philippos argued his case furiously, the envoys decided that the king should withdraw his garrisons. The king, of course, saw this as an insult. And there was more to come, as the Roman delegation had only given a judgment with regard to cities in regions such as Thessaly. They still had to judge the situation in Thrace, with important cities like Ainos and Maroneia. Impressed by the king’s renewed attempt to defend his actions and interests, Metellus and his colleagues basically referred the case to the Senate. They did ask Philippos to remove his garrisons, and this did little to soothe the tensions between Rome and Macedonia.

And there were more tensions to come. Metellus now travelled to Nemea in the Peloponnesos and arrived there in July, just as the Nemean Games were being held. The Roman envoys met with representatives from the Achaean League, and criticised them for the way they had treated the Spartans. Some Achaeans agreed with Metellus, others felt that the League actions were entirely justified. When Metellus asked for a plenary meeting of the League to be called, his request was denied. The envoy could not produce any orders from the Senate regarding which points were to be discussed, and the Achaeans claimed that League regulations prohibited convening a League meeting without such orders. Metellus was not amused and left Nemea in anger. This diplomatic incident would have serious consequences.


Primary sources



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