The End of Macedonia: The Year 167 BCE

(PHGCOM/British Museum)


  • Decemviri are appointed to assist Lucius Aemilius Paullus in settling affairs in Macedonia; a committee of five men is set up to assist Lucius Anicius Gallus in Illyria;
  • The Romans are unhappy about the efforts of their allies during the Third Macedonian War;
  • Attalos of Pergamum is given a grand welcome by the Senate; his brother King Eumenes is told to leave Italy based on a hastily adopted decree that no king is allowed to visit the Senate;
  • The praetor Manius Juventius Thalna tables a proposal in the popular assembly to declare war on Rhodos, but is dragged from the Rostra by a people’s tribune;
  • The Senate refuses to make an alliance with the Rhodians and tells them to evacuate Lycia and Caria;
  • The cities of the Achaean League are punished; 1.000 Achaeans are deported to Italy; the historian Polybius is among them;
  • Gallus subjugates Epirus and the rebellious Molossians;
  • Gallus declares the Illyrians to be free; Illyria is, however, split into three separate parts over which the Romans continue to exert their influence;
  • Paullus embarks on a Grand Tour of Greece;
  • Paullus declares the Macedonians to be free; their kingdom is dissolved and replaced with four client states with a republican form of government;
  • Paullus organises victory games and a banquet in Amphipolis;
  • Scipio Nasica and Paullus’ son Fabius devastate the territories of the Illyrians that had supported King Perseus;
  • Paullus himself devastates the territories of the rebellious Epirotes and thousands of them are sold as slaves;
  • King Perseus, King Genthios and many other high-ranking prisoners are sent to Rome;
  • Paullus, Gallus and Gnaeus Octavius are awarded triumphs by the Senate; through the efforts of the military tribune Servius Sulpicius Galba, Paullus is almost denied a triumph by the popular assembly;
  • Paullus’ young sons die aged 12 and 14.

Early in the year, likely in January, the Senate decided that the new consuls, Quintus Aelius Paetus and Marcus Junius Pennus, were to stay in Rome upon entering their offices. Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Lucius Anicius Gallus, who had defeated King Perseus and King Genthios the previous year, were ordered to settle things in Macedonia and Illyria respectively. The Senate decreed that both the Macedonians and the Illyrians were to be free. They would not be incorporated into a formal Roman province, but it was clear that Roman influence in the two regions would remain considerable. The Macedonian monarchy was to be abolished, making Perseus the last Macedonian king. The kingdom would be split into four separate districts with a republican form of government, all of them effectively Roman client states. A committee of ten men (decemviri), comprising several former censors and former consuls, was set up to assist Paullus in settling affairs in Macedonia. A similar committee of five men was set up to assist Gallus.

Punishing the allies

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

The Romans were not happy with the way many of their allies had behaved during the Third Macedonian War. In the Roman view, some had shown dubious loyalty and an ambiguous position vis-à-vis the Macedonian king Perseus during the conflict. The allies were now to be put back in line.

No individual was going to feel this more than King Eumenes of Pergamum, who was now basically suspected of having acted as a double agent. Eumenes, it was thought, had deliberately done little to help the Romans, hoping that a Roman defeat against the Macedonians would stem Roman expansion in the region. Eumenes’ brother Attalos visited Rome in the spring of this year to congratulate the Romans on their victory in the Third Macedonian War, but also to ask for help against the Galatians of Asia Minor, who had inflicted a serious defeat upon the army of Pergamum. Attalos was given a grand welcome, and the Romans treated him like a friend and ally. He was clearly their favourite now. But when Eumenes himself wanted to visit Rome in late autumn of this year, the Senate quickly passed a decree that stipulated that – Rome being a proud republic – no king was allowed to visit the Senate. A quaestor was sent to Brundisium, where Eumenes had already landed, and the king was told to leave Italy as quickly as possible. The love between Rome and Eumenes was over. The Senate did send a diplomatic mission led by the consul of 171 BCE, Publius Licinius Crassus, to Galatia, but it failed to achieve anything. The Greek historian Polybius makes it clear that this failure was intentional.

Remains of the Imperial Rostra. The Republican Rostra is no longer extant.

The Romans were also very unhappy about the efforts of their allies the Rhodians. Early in the conflict, the Rhodians, who commanded a huge fleet of warships, had for various reasons contributed just six quadriremes to the war effort. These had almost immediately been sent back by the Roman admiral operating in the region (see 171 BCE). Relations between Rome and Rhodos were now genuinely icy. A Rhodian delegation visiting Rome was harangued by one of the consuls, and a hot-headed praetor named Manius Juventius Thalna had even ascended the Rostra in the comitium and had asked the people to declare war on the Rhodians. The firebrand praetor was removed from the Rostra by a people’s tribune, and this Marcus Antonius led the Rhodian delegation into the Senate, where the envoys were allowed to speak and defend their actions (or rather: their inactivity). Although especially the famous Marcus Porcius Cato somewhat sympathised with their situation, the envoys ended up empty-handed.

Rome and Rhodos had been allies since the Second Macedonian War, but apparently no treaty formalising the alliance had ever been signed. The Rhodian envoys desperately tried to make a formal alliance, but the senators made it clear that the Rhodians were considered neither enemies, nor allies. The Rhodians were told to evacuate Lycia and Caria, two regions previously awarded to Rhodos after the war against King Antiochos III. This was a serious blow to Rhodian prestige, but the most serious blow was yet to come. An Athenian delegation also visited the Senate this year. The Athenians had been staunchly pro-Roman for over three decades and now asked the Romans for the islands of Delos and Lemnos and for the territories of the city of Haliartos, which had been sacked by a Roman army in 171 BCE. The Senate granted this request. With Roman support, Delos would be turned into a free trade zone and a formidable rival in the Aegean Sea for the port of Rhodos. The Rhodian economy, highly dependent on harbour taxes, was now effectively crippled.

The Senate House – Curia – on the Forum Romanum.

The Achaean League had only sent troops to the Romans after they had already broken into Macedonia in 169 BCE. Accusing their Achaean allies of disloyalty and anti-Roman sympathies, the Romans had 1.000 Achaeans deported to Italy, where most of them were detained under dismal circumstances in Etrurian cities. Many of the deportees had been reported to the Romans by their political opponents, who saw this as an excellent opportunity to get rid of them. The Romans originally intended to put the Achaeans on trial, but no formal charges were ever pressed. Instead, the 1.000 Achaeans languished in Etruria and effectively served as hostages to ensure the loyalty of the Achaean League and its members. One of the hostages was the former hipparchon of the League, a man named Polybius. He was lucky: instead of being detained in Etruria, he was sent to Rome, where he became acquainted with the patrician gens Cornelia and eventually ended up as a close friend and tutor of Scipio Aemilianus, the future conqueror of Carthage. In Rome, Polybius wrote his monumental Histories, in which he wanted to explain the remarkable rise of Rome to a mostly Greek audience.

Punishing the enemies

The propraetor Lucius Anicius Gallus had in the meantime continued his military campaigns. After leaving Roman garrisons in strategically important cities such as Skodra and Rhizon, he had swung south and had subjugated Epirus. The Molossians had defected to King Perseus in 170 BCE and they were now brought back under Roman dominion. Dozens of cities were recaptured, including the former Molossian and Epirote capital of Passaron. Gallus then hurried back to Skodra, where the committee of five sent to assist him had just arrived. In Skodra, the propraetor declared that the Illyrians were to be free. The Roman garrisons would be withdrawn, and tribes that had proven their loyalty were exempted from taxation. Other tribes were taxed half of what they had paid King Genthios. Even though no formal Roman province was created, Illyria was split into three separate parts over which the Romans continued to exert their influence. Gallus then made his winter quarters at Passaron.

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

The proconsul Lucius Aemilius Paullus had meanwhile taken a break. He had embarked on a Grand Tour of Greece, taking his son Scipio Aemilianus and King Eumenes’ brother Athenaios with him. Paullus visited important religious sites such as the Oracle at Delphi, and travelled to famous cities such as Athens, Corinth, Argos, Sparta and Olympia. The proconsul then returned to Amphipolis in Thrace, where the decemviri sent to assist him arrived a little later. In a meeting with the Macedonian communities, Paullus declared that the Macedonians were free to live under their own laws and elect their own magistrates. They too were to pay to the Romans half of what they had previously paid to their kings. The Macedonian monarchy was, however, abolished for good, and four client states centred on Amphipolis, Thessalonike, Pella and Pelagonia were established. Two of the decemviri were then sent to Achaea to demand the extradition of citizens suspected of harbouring anti-Roman sympathies (see above). When everything had been put in order, Paullus organised extravagant victory games at Amphipolis. Plays were staged and poetry was recited, athletes competed again each other and spectacular horse races were held. The games were followed by a lavish banquet.

But there was still some work to be done. The propraetor Gallus had set things in order in Illyria and Epirus, but had not yet pillaged the region to punish the defectors. Paullus now divided up his army and sent Scipio Nasica and his son Fabius with part of the troops to devastate the territories of the Illyrians that had supported King Perseus. He himself marched to Passaron in Epirus and presented Gallus with a letter from the Senate granting the privilege of pillaging the region to the soldiers that had defeated the Macedonians. Rather ironically, the Epirotes were then first declared free, but subsequently systematically stripped of their gold and silver if they turned out to have supported King Perseus. According to both Livius and Plutarchus, 150.000 Epirotes were sold as slaves, a figure that is probably much too high, although there is no reason to doubt that the Roman response was harsh. Some 70 cities and towns were sacked. The Roman message was clear: if you side against us, you will be severely punished.

A triple triumph

Roman ship on a tomb from Classe, near Ravenna (Archaeological Museum of Ravenna).

It was now time to return home. The Roman army left Greece and crossed the Adriatic Sea back to Italy. The Roman fleet, still commanded by Gnaeus Octavius, also left the region and sailed back home. King Perseus, King Genthios and the members of their families that had also been captured were sent to Rome, and so were dozens of Macedonian prisoners and political leaders of the various Greek communities. Livius claims that the victorious Aemilius Paullus sailed up the Tiber using the former Macedonian flagship, a huge ‘sixteen’. The grateful Senate awarded all three commanders – Paullus, Gallus and Octavius – the right to celebrate a triumph. Even though a decision by the Senate was normally sufficient, one of the praetors was ordered to ask the people’s tribunes to bring the matter of the triumphs before the popular assembly. And there things went horribly wrong for Paullus.

It should be noted that, in spite of his obvious talent as a general, Lucius Aemilius Paullus had never been a popular commander. Many of the soldiers now began to complain about the harsh discipline imposed on them and even argued that they had not received sufficient reward for the campaign. These complaints were a bit silly. Paullus had not been overly harsh as a commander and had allowed the men to pillage the cities of Epirus, which had resulted in every soldier getting 200 denarii and every horseman double that sum. The dissatisfied soldiers were led by a military tribune named Servius Sulpicius Galba, who was a personal enemy of the proconsul. Galba would gain notoriety for atrocities committed in Spain in 150 BCE and he would go on to win the consulship in 144 BCE, but at this point in time he was still a young man known for his skills at oratory. He had won the affection of many of the soldiers, who accompanied him to the Capitoline in droves. Because of the presence of so many enemies of Paullus in the assembly, it was not unlikely that the assembly would deny him his triumph.

The Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill (Capitoline Museums, Rome).

But then Marcus Servilius Geminus, the consul of 202 BCE, stepped in. Geminus must have been well into his seventies at the time, which made him a genuine dinosaur by Roman standards. And yet the old man was vigorous as ever and zealously defended Aemilius Paullus’ right to a triumph. During his long life, Geminus had challenged and defeated 23 enemy warriors in single combat. He now even took off his clothes to show his scars to the crowd, accidentally baring his swollen testicles in the process. The former consul’s intervention proved to be decisive. Many of the soldiers changed their minds and the assembly ultimately voted in favour of granting a triumph to Paullus.

The conqueror of Macedonia would celebrate his splendid three-day triumph in September. According to Plutarchus, Perseus had begged the proconsul not to be paraded in the procession with his children. Paullus had then suggested to his opponent that the latter could always take his own life if he wanted to avoid this humiliation. But as it turned out, Perseus did not have the heart to commit suicide. The former king, his sons Philippos and Alexander and his daughter were subsequently required to walk ahead of the proconsul’s chariot during the triumph. Paullus was henceforth known as ‘Macedonicus’. He was now at the height of his power and fame, but before and after the triumph he was hit by personal tragedies. Just a few days before the celebration, his youngest son, just 12 years old, suddenly died. A few days after the triumph, his eldest son, aged 14, also passed away.[1] Since Paullus had given up his two sons from a previous marriage for adoption, he now found himself without an heir.

Gnaeus Octavius held his triumphus navalis also in September, while Lucius Anicius Gallus held his triumph in December. Gallus’ triumph cannot have been as spectacular as the one celebrated by Paullus, but Livius claims that it was pretty impressive nonetheless. The propraetor’s chariot was preceded by King Genthios, his wife and children, his brother and many Illyrian nobles. His mother, also captured by the Romans (see 168 BCE), was apparently spared this humiliation, or perhaps she had already died. The king was subsequently detained in Spoletium in Umbria (modern Spoleto) and later transferred to Iguvium (modern Gubbio). There he died at an unknown date.


Primary sources

Secondary sources

  • Adrian Goldsworthy, In the Name of Rome, p. 105-106.


[1] According to Livius 45.40; in Plutarchus’ version of events the eldest of the two dies first.


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