Battle of Pydna

Battle of Pydna

The Battle of Pydna, which took place in Greece during the Third Macedonian War (171–167 BCE), ended the Macedonian threat to Greece and solidified Roman control over the Near East. Rome first intervened in Greece in 215 during the Second Punic War. The great Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca, hoping to siphon off some Roman forces, concluded an alliance with King Philip V of Macedon, ushering in the First Macedonian War (215–205 BCE). Rome dispatched troops to Greece and, operating in conjunction with forces from the various Greek citystates, over the next decade helped prevent the Macedonians from again conquering the peninsula.

Despite their failure in this decade-long war, the Macedonian kings were determined to reestablish Macedonian control over Greece. In 200 Philip concluded an alliance with King Antiochus III of the Seleucid Empire (present-day Syria), one of the successor kingdoms formed from Alexander the Great’s empire, whereupon Rome declared war. The Second Macedonian War (200–196 BCE) ended with Philip V’s defeat by Rome in the Battle of Cynoscephalae in 197. Philip V died in 179; his son Perseus succeeded him and renewed the effort to conquer Greece. Rome therefore allied with Pergamum against Perseus in the Third Macedonian War (171–167 BCE).

Initially the Romans did poorly. The troops they sent to Greece landed on the east coast of Illyria and marched to Macedon, only to be defeated in three separate campaigns during 171–170. Finally, in 168, Rome sent out a capable commander in Lucius Aemilius Paullus along with reinforcements. After taking command, Paullus retrained his forces and then set out in June 168. Paullus planned a hammer-and-anvil battle. He would hold Perseus in camp with part of his force while sending most of his troops around in a flanking attack from the northwest against the Macedonian rear. Perseus learned of the flanking movement, however; he extricated his army in time and then moved north. Paullus quickly reunited his forces at Dium and set out in pursuit. The Romans caught up with the Macedonians at the Leucus River, south of the city of Pydna. Paullus established his camp to the west of the Macedonians, in the foothills of Mount Olocrus.

On the night of June 21–22, 168, a lunar eclipse occurred. A Roman officer had predicted the event, so the Romans were forewarned and chose to regard it as a good omen. The Macedonians were surprised and troubled by the eclipse, believing it to be a bad omen. The exact effect of this on the resulting battle is unclear, however.

On the afternoon of June 22, 168, both sides were observing a truce to allow them to draw water from the Leucus when a misunderstanding led to a rush for weapons. Perseus organized his forces first and crossed the Leucus probably with two phalanxes in the center, mercenaries on his left flank and cavalry on his right. Reportedly he had at his disposal some 4,000 cavalry and 40,000 infantry. Paullus probably had two legions in the center, with cavalry on his left flank facing that of the Macedonians and some Italian allied light infantry, along with a few war elephants, on his right.

At first Perseus enjoyed success as his phalanxes crashed into the forming Roman legions. The mercenaries on his left also beat back a Roman counterattack by Paullus’s allied infantry. The phalanx could only operate effectively on flat ground, however, and as they advanced the Macedonian formations broke up in the foothills of the Roman camp. Paullus seized the opportunity of openings in the Macedonian line to insert his troops and war elephants.

The Romans exacted a terrible price, reportedly killing up to 20,000 men and taking another 11,000 prisoner. The victors reported their losses at 100 killed and 400 wounded. Perseus fled the field with his cavalry.

The Battle of Pydna ended the Third Macedonian War. It also extinguished Macedonia as a threat to its neighbors. Rome disarmed the Macedonians and sought out and killed or sent to Italy all those who had aided Perseus. Rome also divided Macedonia into four unrelated republics that were forced to pay a moderate tribute. Perseus died in captivity in Italy. Rome now took control of Illyria and stripped Rhodes of its fleet.

References Adcock, Frank Ezra. The Roman Art of War under the Republic. 1940; reprint, New York: Barnes and Noble, 1960.

Gabba, Emilio. Republican Rome, the Army, and the Allies. Translated by P. J. Cuff. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1976.

Keppie, L. J. F. The Making of the Roman Army. London: Batsford, 1984.