The Fall of Macedon: The Eclipse of the Vergina Sun.
Macedon under the Reign of Phillip V had made the fatal mistake of allying itself with Hannibal of Carthage against Rome during the Second Punic War. Carthage was resoundly defeated by Rome, and although little conflict took place during the war between Roman and Macedonian forces, it had effectively attracted the attention of the Roman Imperial machine. The Roman Republic, once it had defeated Carthage set its sights on Greece, and in particular the Hegimon of the Aegean, Macedon. The Empire forged by Alexander the Great, was now seen by the Romans as their primary rival and threat. Rome initiated a long and bloody time of conflict between the two peninsulas and wars broke out from 200 to 148 B.C. By this time Alexander’s former empire had split into three distinct and rival kingdoms. Macedon controlling much of Greece, The Seleucid Empire governing most of Turkey and Asia, and the Ptolmeic Kingdom controlling Egypt. It was the Seleucids who wished to reunite Alexander’s former empire under its control, they first struck against Ptolmeic Egypt, and Macedon would ally with the Seleucids in this conquest. The Romans immediately intervened hoping to limit a Seleucid and Macedonian growth in power, claiming their interest was to free the Greeks from Macedonian control, which the Romans ultimately succeeded in doing. Phillip V was defeated and much of Greece and asia minor had been ‘freed’ from Macedonian control. This however only created a power vacuum in the Aegean, one that proved too tempting for the Seleucids to resist. They invaded Greece, but were thwarted by a Macedonian-Roman Alliance that was able to defeat the Seleucids, a victory so resounding that many historians point to it as being the beginning of the unravelling of the Seleucid Empire.
After the death of Phillip V, the Macedonian successor Perseus sought to reestablish Macedonian domination of the Greek world. His conquests of Greek city states proved successful enough in attracting the attention of Rome, and the Third Macedonian war began. Rome invaded Greece, and waged war on Macedon and its allies Thessaly and Thrace. Perseus proved successful at the beginning of the war defeating the Romans at the Battle of Callinicus. The Macedonian King attempted to negotiate peace with Rome after the Victory. But the Romans refused, stating that peace was only possible with the complete surrender of both Perseus, and Macedon.
The Romans, angered by the humiliating defeat to the Macedonians, lashed out at the Macedonian allies in Thessaly and Illyria. Perseus there fought tooth and nail with the Romans to defend his allies. Macedonian soldiers were just as well armed as their Roman counterparts. Their infantry consisted of the Macedonian version of the hoplite. The ‘hypastist’ which featured a smaller shield and long spear with a sword as their secondary weapon. They were armored with cuirasses and helmets made of bronze. Some of their helmets were plumed in traditional Greek style while others sported the Phyrigian helmets. The elite companion cavalry ‘hetairoi’ were the worlds first shock troops used heavily by Alexander the Great, and they would again provide the backbone of Perseus’ cavalry. The Macedonian strategy had long been to pin the enemy with their hoplites while their cavalry flanked and decimated the opposing forces. Although equally well equipped and with an excellent strategy, the tried and true formula that defined Ancient Greece had become antiquated. The Romans were well aware of the Macedonian tactics, and had evolved a superior method. The Roman legion’s maniple formation was more flexible while the phalanx only functioned correctly on level ground. The Romans having been perpetually at war for several hundred years were far more experienced in battle than the Macedonians and this would also give them an enormous advantage.
A Greek king had always been expected to partake in battle and after Alexander Macedonian Kings were expected to lead the charge at the front of their armies. This is how many ancient battles were fought, and just like with chess if the king was killed the war was won. The Romans didn’t partake, electing to let military tacticians rather than kings command their armies. The result was that the Greeks could lose a war in a single battle with the slaying of their king, whilst the Romans were effectively invincible. The slaying of their forces meant only that another legion would be sent from Italy to take their place and it is in this way that the Romans took Greece king by king all the while remaining invulnerable to such fate.
It was only a matter of time, despite Perseus’ cunning that would be proven. This would occur at The battle of Pydna.
The Battle of Pydna was a complete and utter disaster for Macedonia, a defeat so resounding it remains one of the worst military defeats in history. While the Roman and Macedonian armies were roughly equal in size the Roman commanders proved to be greatly superior tacticians. The Macedonian commanders made several fatal mistakes, leaving gaps within their phalanx formations that were easily exploited by the Romans. And the leader of the army King Perseus retreated at the beginning of the battle. Historian Poseidonius says that Perseus took an arrow to the chest at the beginning of the battle and retreated due to the injury another Greek historian Polybius stated that Perseus fled out of cowardice. Either way without their king many of the Macedonian forces attempted retreat, while others held their ground to be butchered to the last man. The Companion Cavalry retreated opting not to participate in the battle abandoning the infantry. Many Macedonia soldiers fled to the sea swimming out into the water begging Roman warships to save them from the legion. Others stayed on the shore to be trampled to death by the Roman war elephants. The Romans attempted to kill every fleeing Macedonian they could, and by in large they succeeded. 20,000 of the original army of 40,000 Macedonians would be slaughtered. While the Romans most shockingly only lost 100 of their own men. The enormous defeat left the Macedonians no means to further defend their territory and was forced to surrender unconditionally. The Romans divided the kingdom of Macedonia up into 4 puppet republics, finally ending the empire of Alexander.
Perseus fled Macedonia, taking refuge amongst the Greek islands, abandoned by most of his friends and supporters having been accused of cowardice for retreating from the battle of Pydna. He had become a pariah, who most thought should have committed suicide after the failure at Pydna. Eventually Perseus was forced to turn himself into the Romans, who paraded him through the streets of Rome and locked him in captivity. Blamed by his friends and countrymen for the fall of Macedon, it is not surprising that he did not have the will to survive long in captivity. He died at the age of 46, just 3 years into his lifelong prison sentence. With the passing of Perseus the last of Alexander the Great’s decendants was dead, and the once mighty kingdom forged by Phillip the Cyclops and his son Alexander had fallen. Macedon was divided into four provinces and incorporated into the Roman Empire. Its capitulation was a symbol that the glory days of the Greeks had ended, and that the Roman era of domination had begun.
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