Chapter XXVII - The Greek War (113 - 112 BC)
A. Greece and Asia Minor 191 - 114 BC
When the remnants of the Tylic realm were destroyed in 191 BC, most parts of the Hellenic world were still in turmoil. The Seleucid Empire recovered rather slowly from decades of war, civil war and secessionist movements. The Kingdom of Macedonia experienced a major societal shift and was transformed into a Republic with political institutions similar to Rome in the early 180s BC.
The winner of this situation was the Ptolemaic Egypt, the most stable of the successor states. So, when the Seleucid Empire regained strength in the 170s and managed to subdue Galatia and parts of Osroene, Egypt had expanded its influence along the today Turkish coast from Xanthos(124) to Antioch(125).
In mainland Greece, the uproar in Macedonia lead to the secession of the Aetolian cities, who tried to establish an Independant League, but were soon seized by the Achaean League to the south.
Fig. 32: Greece and Asia Minor in 114 BC
In the 160s and 150s BC, the remaining independent countries in the eastern Mediterranean formed several Alliances. When Egypt and Seleucia settled a stable peace and finally signed a Treaty, the smaller powers desperately searched Allies in order to not become the victim of a stronger coalition. In the 40 years prior to the Greek War, no major conflict in the area is known(126).
B. Cause of the conflict
In 116 BC, Marcus Cornelius Rufinus, one of the greatest politicians in roman history, died. His rival Aulus Postumius Albinus immediately took advantage on this political vacuum and gathered more support for his expansionist plans, that focused toward Greece in general and the Achaean League in particular.
The following events are an example of how roman politics worked. In 114 BC, he presented the so-called "Agrigentum Letter"(127) to the Senate and constructed a Cretan menace, calling their attempt to gain a foothold on Sicily in 167 BC to mind.
The result was, that the Senate approved a military expedition to "punish" Crete. But the real intention was to provoke the Achaean League, that was the only Ally of Crete at that time. Since Rome had rather friendly relations toward the League and thus could not declare war on them without losing its face, Aulus Postumius pursued an indirect approach to drag the League into a war by attacking its Ally.
The Cretan campaign was significantly short. The XIII. Legion disembarked on the island, destroyed the small Cretan force and after a siege of five months, Gortyn, the Crete capital, surrendered in summer 113 BC.
Since the official reason of the war was to defeat Crete, the war was over. But during these months, the Achaean League had, as planned, declared war on Rome, so the peace negotiations on Crete were deliberately stalled to gain advantage of the situation on the mainland.
D. Lafissiai and Perachorae
For reasons still unknown, the campaign in Greece started not before Crete was seized. Probably in August 113 BC, Rome send two Legions (VI. and XV.) under the command of Tiberius Julius Libo, what rendered to be a poor decision.
Tiberius decided to split his force, although he knew about the strength and capability of the Greek force. In a first encounter, the XV. Legion had to leave the battlefield at considerably high cost. Tiberius, who commanded the other Legion, marched north into Aetolia to unite his troops. This happened in early autumn near the village of Lafissiai. A few days later, the pursuing Greek Army appeared and on the next day the two forces engaged.
When the day was over, Rome had suffered one of the major defeats in its history. The two roman Legions, already not at full strength, suffered probably losses of about 50%(128). Tiberius` sole achievement was to retreat in order to the east.
Since it was already late in the year, the Greek commander Agathocles did not pursue the remaining force and set up winter camps. In the next months, Rome deployed the most massive troop concentration in the history of the Republic. The two defeated Legions retreated into the Argolis, while the VII., X. and XIII. Legions were directed to Thessaly(129).
During spring 112 BC, Tiberius Julius, who remained in command, marched with the whole force to Aetolia. Agathocles, being outnumbered, retreated south into Achaea, while Aetolia was quickly seized. Tiberius marched south. Agathocles, realizing that he had to defend the homeland, chose to engage Tiberius at the eastern end of the Gulf of Corinth near Perachorae.
The battle of Perachorae is one of the largest battles in the ancient world(130) and one of the most uninspiring. The size of the Armies was, according to several descriptions, only outmatched by the lack of originality of their commanders. Both of them chose to simply attack with all available forces, so the battle quickly degenerated into a simple butchery. That Rome finally won the Battle was to a lesser extent result of Tiberius` superior skills than of the simple fact, that he had more men he could sacrifice. At the end of the day, probably up to 30.000 soldiers were dead(131) and Agathocles forced to retreat.
Fig. 33: The Achaean League during the Greek War
Tiberius advanced to Patras, the League`s capital, and took it by storm without showing mercy toward the civil population. Outnumbered, defeated and faced with roman brutality, the League surrendered to Rome and was conquered, just like Crete before.
The Greek War is source for a multitude of unanswered questions, such as the incomprehensible inactivity in the Hellenic world. The inability of the Hellenic states to counter this obvious roman advance into their cultural homeland as well as Macedonia`s support to this cause will remain a mystery and are considered to be the writing on the wall by many historians.
Fact is, that Rome gained a strong position in mainland Greece and the eastern Mediterranean as base for further operations in the future.
(124) The city was abandoned in the 7th Century AD, but an impressive ruined city, that is a World Heritage Site since 1988, still remains
(125) Today Antakya.
(126) In his famous and still readable book "Political Stalemates in ancient Greece" published in 1952, Hopkins established the Theory, that this was rather a period of paranoid fear than harmonic coexistence. The urge to form tight political networks lead to a system of Alliances, where one major conflict between two even small countries had probably lead to an "Hellenic World War" in the whole region.
(127) A rather harmless message from a leading person at Crete`s court to the Greeks on Sicily, where he advises them to maintain Greek culture instead of completely assimilate themselves.
(128) Probably up to 20.000 soldiers.
(129) This implicates an agreement between Rome and Macedonia concerning free passage and residence. According to roman sources, the Legions were even supplied by Macedonia. A lot of historians have debated about why Macedonia supported Rome in this case and allowed it to gain a strong position in Greece, but there is no evidence for a precise answer.
(130) Rome fielded between 80.000 to 90.000 soldiers, while Agathocles is considered to have between 40.000 to 50.000 under his command.
(131) Although there are no exact numbers, Rome`s casualties were probably higher than those of the League.