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The First And Second Macedonian Wars Notes

Classics Notes > Roman History 241 BC to 146 BC Notes

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Why did Rome fight the first two wars against Macedon in such a short period of time?
Rome went to war with Macedon twice in quick succession, in 214 and then in 200; two conflicts which Polybius regarded as only one war (3.3.2) stretching from Philip's treaty with Hannibal in 215, the year after Cannae, until the battle of Kynoskephalai. A combination of the fact that the first conflict was not firmly resolved by the peace of Phoinike in 205 and the ever difficult problem of Rome's motives for intervention is probably to blame for this discrepancy of opinion. Polybius certainly felt that Roman imperialism and desire for global empire dominated their decision to fight Philip thus making both the conflicts simply two episodes in the same war, however if containment of foreign threats is seen as the real motivation then they can justifiably be seen as two discrete attempts at this. The history of Roman activity in the East, the provocative actions of Philip and what the Romans did immediately following the second war can be seen as justifications of this motive; there is probably no strong reason to suspect, as Polybius did 1, that Rome had any overpowering desire to establish permanent empire in Greece at this moment in time. The precedent for Roman involvement in the East was set during the two Illyrian wars of 229 and 219 BC where it can certainly be said that their main aim was containment of a perceived threat rather than establishing a foothold for the creation of an empire. Under Agron and Teuta the Illyrian state had grown into a significant military threat to the peoples of Greece, which culminated in the defeat of a combined force of the Achaean and Aetolian Leagues, two of the most significant political organisations of the mainland. Rome acted against this potential threat to their border just as they had done in the first Punic war and the settlement which they imposed on Illyria, which involved no significant territorial gains, was merely to ensure their power was neutralised and the threat contained. They were forced to take military actions once again when the activities of Demetrius of Pharos became troublesome, but they preferred to simply restore the status quo ante bellum once he had been defeated and again took absolutely no steps to enhance their own hegemony or territorial interests in Greece. It is perfectly reasonable to propose that at this time, before the second Punic War with Hannibal was a certainty, that if they had nurtured desires for domination in this region they would have at least taken some more active steps towards furthering this aim. Such was their obvious military superiority over the forces of Greek, particularly on the West coast, that such a move would not have been overly troublesome, but importantly they do nothing; the most striking thing about Rome interest in Greece at this moment is how small it actually is. The policy of containment followed by immediate disengagement is the one which the Romans adopt before the first Macedonian war and it seems likely that they were following this precedent during this conflict as well. 1

Walbank argues that Polybius shows that Roman imperial ambition was initially conceived during the first Punic War, meaning that every conflict after this was part of a grander plan of world domination. Polybius also frequently assumes these motives in other sovereign powers such as Philip and Antiochus, where they seem less true than with early Roman involvement in the East.

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