Ancient History & Civilisation



ROME, faced with a great emergency—second only to that of the Hannibalic War,—looked for its new saviour in its old. If the danger was less, and less close, the risk at least must have seemed greater, for her armies were venturing into the unknown. The first great trial of strength between Rome and Asiatic civilisation was about to be staged, and the theatre of war was alarmingly distant, connected with the homeland by long and insecure lines of communication. The spur of emergency quickens the memory, and Rome in her fresh hour of trial remembered the man who had saved her in the last, and who had been standing by for several years ready for the occasion which he had prophesied to deaf ears. Yet Scipio Africanus did not himself stand for the consulship—why it is difficult to guess. It may have been that he deemed the forces of jealousy too strong, and wanted to take no risks, or that affection and sympathy for his brother Lucius, a defeated candidate the year before, inspired Africanus to give the latter his chance. Africanus had glory enough, and all through his career he had been ready to share his glory with his assistants. He left envy of others’ fame to lesser men. His aim was service, and in any case he knew that if Lucius was consul, he himself would exercise the real power—Lucius was welcome to the nominal triumph.

His brother’s election was secured, and with him, as plebeian consul, was elected Gaius Lælius, the old assistant of Africanus. It may be that Scipio worked for this, in order to ensure that to whichever Greece fell as a province he would be able to exercise an influence on the operations. As it happened, however, the double election put him in the unpleasant position of having to support his brother against his friend. For both consuls naturally desired Greece, which meant the command against Antiochus. Lælius, who had a powerful interest with the Senate, asked the Senate to decide—drawing lots was too uncertain for his taste. Lucius Scipio thereupon asked time to seek advice, and consulted Africanus, “ who desired him to leave it unhesitatingly to the Senate.” Then, when a prolonged debate was anticipated, Africanus arose in the Senate and said that “ if they decreed that province to his brother, Lucius Scipio, he would go along with him as his lieutenant.” This proposal “ being received with almost universal approbation,” settled the dispute and was carried by an almost unanimous vote.

Though it is clear that Africanus planned this result, the fact does not lessen our appreciation of the nobility of a man who, after being the most illustrious commander in Rome’s history, would stoop to take a subordinate position. If the means was diplomatic, the motive was of the purest—to save his country, leaving to another the reward. Apart from blood ties, he doubtless felt more sure of real control through his brother than through Lselius—though Lucius’s obstinacy with the Ætolians refutes Mommsen’s verdict that he was “ a man of straw.” Two good leaders in the same command are not a good combination. It says much for both Scipio Africanus and Lælius that this act did not break down their friendship, and it is a proof of the latter’s generous nature, if also of the former’s transcendent qualities, that in later years Lælius gave Polybius such testimony of Scipio’s greatness.

In addition to the two legions which he was to take over in Greece from Acilius, the consul was given three thousand Roman foot and one hundred horse, and another five thousand foot and two hundred horse from the Latin confederates. Further, directly it was known that Africanus was going, four thousand veterans of the Hannibalic War volunteered in order to serve again “ under their beloved leader.”

The expedition set forth in March (the Roman July), 190 B.C., but the advance into Asia was to be delayed because of the Senate’s obstinacy in refusing to grant reasonable peace terms to the Ætolians, so driving them to take up arms anew and maintain a stubborn warfare in their mountain strongholds. It is curious that Scipio, who had always contributed to his military object by the moderation of his political demands, should now be blocked by others’ immoderation.

When the Scipios landed in Epirus they found their destined army thoroughly embroiled by Acilius in this guerilla warfare. Africanus went ahead while his brother followed with his main body. On arrival at Amphissa, Athenian envoys met them, who, addressing first Africanus and afterwards the consul, pleaded for leniency to the Ætolians. “ They received a milder answer from Africanus, who, wishing for an honourable pretext for finishing the Ætolian war, was directing his view towards Asia and King Antiochus.” Apparently Africanus, with his habitual foresight, had actually inspired this mission of the Athenians, and another to the Ætolians. Scipio could have given points even to Colonel House as an ambassador of peace as a means to victory. As a result of Athenian persuasion, the Ætolians sent a large embassy to the Roman camp, and from Africanus received a most encouraging reply. But when the decision was referred to the consul, as was necessary, his reply was uncompromising—he put his fist through the web his brother had so delicately woven. A second embassy met with the same obstinate refusal. Then the principal Athenian envoy advised the Ætolians to ask simply for a six months’ armistice in order that they might send an embassy to Rome. The real source of this advice is too obvious to require any guess. Accordingly the Ætolian envoys came back, and “ making their first application to Publius Scipio, obtained, through him, from the consul a suspension of arms for the time they desired.”

Thus by diplomacy Africanus secured his lines of communication and released his army; the determination with which he sought a peaceful solution, and avoided being embroiled in a side-show, is an object-lesson in economy of force and the maintenance of the true objective.

The consul, having taken over the army from Acilius, decided to lead his troops into Africa through Macedonia and Thrace—taking the long land instead of the short sea route, because Antiochus had one fleet at Ephesus and another being raised by Hannibal in Phœnicia specially to prevent their crossing by sea. Africanus, while approving of this route, told his brother that everything depended on the attitude of Philip of Macedon ; “ for if he be faithful to our Government he will afford us a passage, and all provisions and material necessary for an army on a long march. But if he should fail you in this, you will find no safety in any part of Thrace. In my opinion, therefore, the King’s dispositions ought to be ascertained first of all. He will best be tested if whoever is sent comes suddenly upon him, instead of by pre-arrangement.”

Acting on this advice, as instinct with security as with psychology, Tiberius Gracchus, a specially active young man, was sent, riding by relays of horses, and so fast that he travelled from Amphissa to Pella—from the Gulf of Corinth almost to Salonika—in under three days, and caught Philip in the middle of a banquet—“ far gone in his cups.” This helped to remove suspicion that he was planning any countermove, and next day Gracchus saw provision dumps prepared, bridges made over rivers, and hill roads buttressed—ready for the coming of the Roman army.

He then rode back to meet the army, which was thus able to move through Macedonia with confidence. On their passage through his domains Philip met and accompanied them, and Livy relates that “ much geniality and good humour appeared in him, which recommended him much to Africanus, a man who, as he was unparalleled in other respects, was not averse to courteousness unaccompanied by luxury.” The army then pushed on through Thrace to the Hellespont—the Dardanelles,—taking the same route apparently as Xerxes, in an opposite direction.

Their crossing of the Dardanelles had been smoothed for them as much by the mistakes of Antiochus as by the action of their own fleet. Livius, the Roman naval commander, had sailed for the Dardanelles, in accordance with instructions, in order to seize the fortress which guarded the passage of the Narrows. Sestos—modern Maidos—was already occupied, and Abydos—now Chanak—parleying for surrender, when news reached Livius of the surprise and defeat of the allied Rhodian fleet at Samos. He abandoned his primary object—an action which might have upset Scipio’s plans—and sailed south to restore the naval situation in the Ægean. However, after some rather aimless operations, the arrival of Hannibal’s fleet and its defeat—in his first and last sea battle—cleared the situation in the Mediterranean. A second victory in August, this time over Antiochus’s Ægean fleet, ensured for the Romans command of the sea.

With Antiochus, the loss of it led him into a move, intended for safety, that was actually the reverse. Despairing of being able to defend his possessions across the Dardanelles, he ordered the garrison to retire from Lysimachia, “ lest it should there be cut off by the Romans.” Now Lysimachia stood close to where Bulair stands to-day, and there is no need to emphasise how difficult it would have been to force those ancient Bulair Lines, commanding the isthmus of the Gallipoli peninsula. The garrison might well have held out till winter. Perhaps another factor, apart from the naval defeat, was his failure to gain the alliance of Prusias, King of Bithynia—a country whose sea coast lay partly on the Black Sea and partly on the Sea of Marmora. Antiochus sent to play on his fears of being swallowed by Rome, but once again Scipio’s grand strategical vision had led him to foresee this move and take steps to checkmate it. Months before he reached Gallipoli, Scipio had written a letter to Prusias to dispel any such fears. “ The petty chieftains in Spain,” he wrote, “ who had become allies, he had left kings. Masinissa he had not only re-established in his father’s kingdom, but had put him in possession of that of Syphax ”—a clever hint!

The double news of the naval victory and the evacuation of Lysimachia reached the Scipios on arrival at Ænos (Enos), and, considerably relieved, they pressed forward and occupied the city. After a few days’ halt, to allow the baggage and sick to overtake them, they marched down the Chersonese—the Gallipoli peninsula,—arrived at the Narrows, and made an unopposed crossing. They crossed, however, without Africanus, who was detained behind by his religious duties as one of the Salian priests. The rules of his order compelled him during this festival of the Sacred Shields to remain wherever he was until the month was out—and without Africanus the army had lost its dynamo, so that “ he himself was a source of delay, until he overtook the rest of the army.” Unnecessary delay was far from one of his military characteristics, so that the incident serves to suggest that his piety was genuine and not merely a psychological tool to inspire his troops. While the army was waiting for him, an envoy came to the camp from Antiochus, and as he had been ordered by the king to address Africanus first, he also waited for him before discussing his mission!

“ In him he had the greatest hope, besides that his greatness of soul, and the fulness of his glory, tended very much to make him inclined to peace, and it was known to all nations what sort of a conqueror he had been, both in Spain and afterwards in Africa; and also because his son was then a prisoner with Antiochus ” (Livy). How the son was captured is uncertain, whether in a distant cavalry reconnaissance, or earlier at sea, as Appian suggests.

At a full council the Syrian envoy put forward a basis for peace—that Antiochus would give up the Greek cities in Asia Minor allied to Rome, as he had already evacuated Europe, and would pay the Romans half the expenses of the war. The council regarded these concessions as inadequate, contending that Antiochus should give up all the Greek seaboard on the Ægean, and, in order to establish a wide and secure neutral zone, relinquish possession of all Asia Minor west of the Taurus mountains. Further, he ought to pay all the expense of the war, as he had caused and initiated it.

Thus rebuffed, the envoy sought a private interview with Africanus, according to his orders. “First of all he told him that the King would restore his son without a ransom; and then, as ignorant of the disposition of Scipio as he was of Roman manners, he promised an immense weight of gold, and, save for the title of king, an absolute partnership in the sovereignty—if through his means Antiochus should obtain peace.” To these advances Scipio replied, “ I am the less surprised that you are ignorant of the Romans in general, and of me, to whom you have been sent, when I see that you do not realise the military situation of the person from whom you come. You ought to have kept Lysimachia to prevent our entering the Chersonese (Gallipoli), or to have opposed us at the Hellespont to hinder our passing into Asia, if you meant to ask peace as from people anxious as to the issue of the war. But after leaving the passage into Asia open, and receiving not only a bridle but a yoke,9 what negotiation on equal terms is left to you, when you must submit to orders ? I shall consider my son as a very great gift from the generosity of the King. I pray to the gods that my circumstances may never require others ; my mind certainly never will require any. For such an act of generosity to me he shall find me grateful, if for a personal favour he will accept a personal return of gratitude. In my public capacity, I will neither accept from him nor give anything. All that I can give at present is sincere advice. Go, then, and desire him in my name to cease hostilities, and to refuse no terms of peace” (Livy). Polybius’s version of the last sentence is a shade different: “ In return for his promise in regard to my son, I will give him a hint which is well worth the favour he offers me—make any concession, do anything, rather than fight with the Romans.”

This advice had no effect on Antiochus, and he decided to push on his military preparations, which were already well in hand. The consular army then advanced south-east, by way of Troy, towards Lydia. “ They encamped near the source of the Caicus river, preparing provisions for a rapid march against Antiochus, in order to crush him before winter should prevent operations.” Antiochus faced them at Thyatira —modern Akhissar. At this moment, just as the curtain was about to rise on the final act, and Scipio reap the reward of his strategy, fate stepped in. He was laid low by sickness, and had to be conveyed to Elæa on the coast. Hearing of this, Antiochus sent an escort to take back his son to him. This unexpected return of his son was so great a relief to Scipio’s mind as to hasten his recovery from the illness. To the escort he said, “ Tell the King that I return him thanks, that at present I can make him no other return but my advice; which is, not to come to an engagement until he hears that I have rejoined the army ”—by this Scipio evidently meant that if he was in charge Antiochus’s life at least was safe.

Although the king had a vast army of sixtytwo thousand foot and more than twelve thousand horse, he deemed this advice sufficiently sound to fall back behind the Hermus river, and there at Magnesia—modern Minissa—fortify a strong camp. The consul, however, followed him, and seeing that he refused battle called a council of war. Though the Romans only counted two legions, the equivalent of two allied legions, and some local detachments—about thirty thousand all told,—their verdict was unanimous. “ The Romans never despised any enemy so much.” However, they did not have to storm his camp, for on the third day, fearing the effect of inaction on the moral of his troops, Antiochus came out to offer battle.

Though the Roman victory was ultimately decisive, they clearly missed the tactical mastery of Africanus, and were even in trouble, if not in jeopardy, for a time. For while the Romans were driving in the enemy’s centre, and the mass of their cavalry were attacking the enemy’s left flank, Antiochus himself with his right wing cavalry crossed the river—left almost unguarded —and fell on the consul’s left flank. The troops there were routed and fled to the camp, and only the resolution of the tribune left in charge rallied them and staved off the danger until reinforcements came. Foiled here and seeing a heavy concentration developing against him, Antiochus fled to Sardis, and the survivors of his broken army followed. Further resistance was hopeless, his western dominions crumbling all around him, and the subject States making their peace with Rome. He therefore retired to Apamea, and from there sent a peace mission to the Consul at Sardis, whither Africanus came from Elæa as soon as he was fit to travel.

Before the mission arrived the terms had been decided on, and it was agreed that Africanus should deliver them. “ Scipio began by saying that victory never made the Romans more severe than before.” The conditions were the same as had been offered before Magnesia, when the issue was still open ; not a whit augmented because of Antiochus’s present helplessness. Antiochus was to retire to the other side of the Taurus range ; to pay fifteen thousand Euboic talents towards the expenses of the war, part at once and the rest in twelve annual instalments, and to hand over twenty selected hostages as pledge of his good faith. In addition Antiochus was to give up Hannibal, as it was “ clear that the Romans could never hope to enjoy peace wherever he was,” and certain other notorious instigators of the war. Hannibal, however, getting news of this clause, took refuge in Crete.

The notable feature of these terms, as of those in Africa and Greece, was that the Romans sought security and prosperity merely. So long as Scipio guided Rome’s policy, annexation, with all its dangers and troubles, is eschewed. His object is simply to ensure the peaceful predominance of Roman interests and influence, and to secure them against external dangers. It was true grand strategy which, instead of attempting any annexation of Antiochus’s normal domains, simply compelled him to retire behind an ideal strategic boundary—the Taurus mountains, and built up a series of sovereign buffer States as a second line of defence between the Taurus range and the Ægean Sea. These were definitely the allies of Rome and not her subjects, and Asia Minor was organised for security by strengthening and rewarding the allies who had been faithful throughout the war. How might the course of history have been changed had not Scipio’s successors reversed his policy and entered upon the fateful path of annexation ? When the barbarian invasions came they found the Mediterranean world composed of States so thoroughly Romanised that they had long since forgotten the feel of their fetters, yet from this one fact so atrophied as to be a drain and a weakness to Rome. Instead of the ring of virile outposts planned by Scipio, a ring of political eunuchs.

It is an amusing last comment on the settlement with Antiochus, and the removal of the last danger to Rome in the Mediterranean, that on Lucius Scipio’s return to Rome “ he chose to be called Asiaticus, that he might not be inferior to his brother in point of a surname.” He also took steps to ensure that his “ triumph ” was more splendid in display than that of Africanus over Carthage. The only reward of Africanus was that for a third time he was nominated Prince of the Senate.

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