The Roman Naval War with Antiochos Part I

The Campaign of 191 BC (Map J (i))

Livy (34.1.1) represents Antiochos, back in Ephesos, as ‘unconcerned about the Roman war’, in the belief that the Romans would not cross to Asia, but advised by Hannibal to expect them. ‘The fact was that the Romans were not less powerful at sea than on land’. He had heard that their fleet was ‘around Malea’ and that a new fleet under a new commander was on its way from Italy. Taking his advice, Antiochos sent the ships that were ready in commission to the Thracian Chersonese to prevent a crossing there, ordering Polyxenidas to fit out and launch the rest of the ships. Scout ships were also sent around the islands to investigate all enemy movements.

(L.36.42:191 BC) The new fleet commander, Gaius Livius, set out from Rome with 50 cataphracts for Naples where he had ordered the allies of that coast to assemble the aphracts due under treaty. From there he moved to Sicily and passing through the strait of Messana he added six Carthaginian ships and exacted the ships owed by the people of Rhegion and Lokroi and suchlike allies. The Carthaginian ships may have been cataphracts, but not the others. Arriving at Kerkyra he heard that the old fleet was in Peiraieus. He first plundered Zakynthos and Same (Kephallenia) which had sided with Aitolia, and then moved round the Peloponnese ‘in a voyage of a few days under favourable conditions’ and reached Peiraieus. ‘At Skyllaion he met Attalos’s son and successor Eumenes with three ships. He had been at Aigina in doubt whether to return to defend Pergamon, since he had heard that Antiochos at Ephesos was preparing sea and land forces, or stay on with the Romans on whose fortunes his own depended’.

Atilius handed over 25 cataphracts to Livius and returned to Rome. ‘Livius with 81 cataphract ships (constratis) and many lesser ships (minoribus), either aphract ships with rams or scout ships without rams, crossed the sea to Delos’. The total of cataphracts was made up of 50 new arrivals and 25 already in Greece. The further six are some of the nine ships of which the rating is not given, six Carthaginian and three with Eumenes. Since Eumenes’ main fleet was in Asia (see below), it seems likely that his ships were aphract and that all the Carthaginian ships were cataphract. By this time Antiochos had withdrawn and the consul Acilius was besieging Naupaktos, but the ships were needed more urgently in Asia than there.

(L.36.43.1) At Delos adverse winds delayed Livius for some days; ‘that area round the Kyklades is very windy indeed’. Polyxenidas’s scout ships told him that Livius was delayed at Delos and he informed Antiochos at the Hellespont. The king returned as speedily as he could to Ephesos with his ships equipped with rams (i.e. cataphracts and ram-equipped aphracts); and held a council to decide whether to fight a pitched battle or not. Polyxenidas advised him to fight before Eumenes’s fleet and the Rhodian ships joined the Romans, ‘when they would be about the same in number (as the Syrians) but superior in everything else both speed of ships and the varied potential of their support vessels (varietate auxiliorum). The Roman ships were inexpertly built, thus clumsy (immobiles) and came as well laden with supplies as ships are coming to an enemy country. The Syrian ships on the other hand were putting out from an entirely peaceful country and would have on board nothing but soldiers and arms. Their own knowledge of the (local) sea and land conditions, as well as of the winds, would also be a great advantage. The enemy was ignorant of all these and would be confused. The proposer of the plan convinced them all, particularly as he was also the man who was going to carry it out’.

Two days were spent in preparation; and on the third they moved from Ephesos to Phokaia with 100 ships, all of smaller size (minoris formae), of which 70 were cataphract and the rest aphract. Appian (Syr.,22) gives 200 ships, ‘very much lighter than the enemy’s, which was a great advantage to Antiochos since the Romans were still inexperienced at sea’. On news of the approach of the Roman fleet, Antiochos was not minded to be present at the battle, but went inland to Magnesia (ad Sipylum) to muster his land forces, ‘while the fleet moved quickly to Kissus, the port of the Erythraeans, supposing it to be a more convenient place in which to wait for the enemy’.

(L.36.43.11) ‘As soon as the north winds dropped – they had been blowing for several days – the Romans put out from Delos towards Phanai which was a Chian port facing the Aegean (west). From there they took their ships round to the city (of Chios) and taking on victuals crossed to Phokaia, which Appian says received them through fear. Eumenes had gone to Elaia and returned a few days later with 24 cataphracts and a slightly larger number of aphracts. Appian says that he had fifty ships of which half were cataphract. He joined the Romans at Phokaia, who were preparing themselves and making ready for a naval battle’.

(L.36.43.13) ‘From Phokaia the Romans put out with 105 cataphracts and about 50 aphracts. When at first they were driven towards the shore by north winds on the beam the ships were forced to move in a thin column with ships almost in single file. When the wind abated a little they tried to cross to the harbour of Korykos which lies north of Kissus (super Cissuntem est), the harbour of the Erythraeans’ and otherwise known as Erythras.

(L.36.44.1) ‘When Polyxenidas learnt that the enemy was approaching he was delighted at the prospect of fighting. He himself extended the left wing towards the open sea and ordered the trierarchs to open out (explicare) the right wing towards the land and thus advanced to engage in an even line’.

‘When the Roman commander (of the column under sail) saw what was happening, (leaving his foresail up) he furled his mainsail and lowered his mast, and stowing away the tackle awaited the ships that were following’. (He had to stop to allow the ships in the column behind him to catch up if he was to form line a breast).’ By this time about 30 ships (of the Roman, leading, right, wing) were in line (abreast) (in fronte); and to bring the left wing (i.e. the following ships of the column) level with them (in the line) he raised (i.e. gave orders to the ships of the right wing to raise) foresails1 and stood out to sea (to cover the enemy’s left wing under Polyxenidas) while ordering the ships (of his left wing) behind him to point their prows towards the shore (and move) against the enemy’s right’.

The foregoing passage is a most accurate and detailed account of the manoeuvre by which a fleet moving under sail in column  is transformed into a line-abreast formation (frons, ). With plenty of sea room the column could all take up stations on the left of the flagship, normally at the head of the right wing, without her having to alter course; but where, as here, sea room is tight, the right wing had to move some distance to the right out to sea so that the left wing had room to fan out as it moved towards the shore. It is interesting to note that in this description of a manoeuvre, as in the description of the battle of Chios, there is no mention of a centre, only of the two wings.

(L.36.44.4) ‘Eumenes was the rearguard; but, since the process of lowering sail initially caused some confusion, he also’ (like his commander Livius) ‘urged his ships forward with the greatest possible speed’ to get them into their place at the far end of the line . The reason why Livius used his foresails is indicated. He had to move quickly; and in suitable wind conditions the foresail would add to the speed achieved by the oarsmen. Here its use also indicates that since the north wind favoured Livius’s move away from the land to his right the lines of battle must have run roughly north east and south west with the northern ends close to the shore (which here ran roughly north west and south east) and the south western ends towards the open sea. The course being set by the Roman column was then from north west to south east and Polyxenidas’s ships were drawn up in a line of battle with the right wing near the shore. Behind them and to the east was the west-facing Erythraean port of Kissus from which they had put out. Identification of the ‘harbour of Korykos’ in which the battle took place must satisfy these conditions (see note on Maps J1 and J2).

The Battle of Korykos

As the two lines faced each other, ‘now (the combatants) were visible to all’. (This last remark suggests that until the lines were formed, one or other of the fleets was, at any rate partially, hidden from the other).

There were two of the Carthaginian ships, probably fives, out ahead of the rest of the allied fleet as the line formed up. Three of Antiochos’s ships came to meet them, and as was natural with the unequal numbers, two of Antiochos’s ships (probably threes) attacked a single Carthaginian ship first, brushing off the oars on each side. Then the decksoldiers boarded and seized the ship throwing overboard or killing the defenders. The one that fought on equal terms saw that the other ship was captured and withdrew back to the fleet before it could be surrounded by 3 ships.

(L.36.44.8) ‘Livius angrily moved against the enemy with his flagship. When the two ships that had surrounded the single Carthaginian ship began to attack him in the hope of giving him the same treatment, he ordered his oarsmen to let their oars down into the water to stabilise the ship, and grappling-irons to be thrown on to the approaching enemy ships. Then when the fighting had been reduced to the level of a land battle, he told them to remember their Roman courage and refuse to treat the king’s slaves as men. The two ships were then captured by the one as easily as the one had been captured by the two’. There was then a general melee.

Eumenes, who was the last to come up, after the battle had been joined, saw that the enemy’s left wing was being thrown into confusion by Livius, and proceeded against the (enemy’s) right wing, where the battle was more evenly balanced. And it was not long before flight of enemy ships began from the left wing. In fact, the moment Polyxenidas recognised that he was undoubtedly inferior in the courage of his decksoldiers, he raised his foresails and began a precipitate flight; and soon even those who had engaged Eumenes near the shore did the same.

Note to map J (ii): Livy gives an account of the fleet movements leading up to the battle, after Antiochos had approved the decision to seek naval confrontation with the Roman and Pergamene fleets.

Polyxenidas took the Syrian fleet out of the base at Ephesos north to Phokaia. There he appears to have had intelligence that the Roman fleet at Delos was waiting for favourable weather to move on Ephesos. He chose Kissus as the best harbour in which to wait and from which to intercept the enemy. The location of Kissus has to be inferred from what follows.

The Romans, when the weather became favourable, moved first to Phanai on the south-west coast of Chios (which Strabo 14.1.35 calls a ‘deep harbour’ confirmed by Admiralty Chart 2836 B) and from there went to meet King Eumenes of Pergamon and his fleet at Phokaia. For the allied fleet to move on Ephesos it was first necessary to move due west (with a strong beam wind) before turning south through the Chios strait. The north wind slackened (and probably their scouts told them of the Syrian fleet’s ambush); and they were attempting to turn east to find shelter in the harbour of Korykos, when Polyxenidas brought his fleet out and formed line abreast with his right wing towards the land and the left extended ‘into the open sea’. The reaction of the allied fleet was to down sail and form line abreast with the right wing extended ‘to the open sea’. The references to the wings and to the open sea indicate that both Kissus and Korykos were harbours in a west-facing coastline south of the Poseideion/Argennon strait.

Strabo’s account of the relevant area (14.1.31) begins with mention of the ‘isthmus of the Chersonese (i.e. peninsula) of the Teians and Clazomenians’. The journey (from south to north) across the isthmus is, he says, 50 stades (in fact 10 km) but the passage round is more than 1000. At about the middle of this circuit lies Erythrai, an Ionian city with a harbour and four adjacent islands. (32) On the way [from the south coast of the isthmus] to Erythrai there is first Erai, then Korykos, a high mountain [2328 ft], and a harbour below it called Kasystes, and then [after rounding the Korykeian promontory] another harbour called Erythras [= Kissus: mod. Kavaki Bay] and several others in order [mod. P. Sikia, P. Mersin, P. Egrilar as marked on the Admiralty chart]. The modern P. Sikia, which is nearest to Mt Korykos on the west side, is then to be identified with Livy’s Korykos harbour, lying a little more than 4 sm north west of Kissus. (Strabo continues:33) [Northwestwards] after M. Korykos there is a small island, Halonnesos [mod. Tavales], and then the Erythraean Argennon promontory [mod. Cape Bianco], which is very close to the Chian Poseideion (promontory) making a strait about 60 stadia (10.6 km) wide (in fact 6.5 km).

The conclusion to be drawn from Livy’s and Strabo’s text and corroborated from the Admiralty chart is that the battle of Korykos took place off the west coast (running NW and SE) of the Erythraian peninsula between Korykos harbour (mod. P. Sikia) and Kissus/Erythrias (mod. Kavaki) bay, but nearer to Korykos, which accordingly gave the battle its name.

It may be noted here that, when the Roman fleet retired northwards to Kanai (Strabo 13.1.6: the promontory on the south side of the gulf of Adramyttium) after a successful demonstration off Ephesos, (Livy 36.45.4 p. 150) they ‘set course for Chios sailing past the west-facing Erythraian port of Phoinikos’. Since Kissus is the Phoenician name (Erythras being the Greek name) for the harbour, this may be the port Livy means.

The Romans and Eumenes pursued doggedly enough as long as the oarsmen held out and there was some prospect of harassing the men of the (fleeing) column. But they saw that the speed of the enemy ships, being light, enabled them to elude the allies’ own vainly struggling ships which were laden with supplies. Appian speaks of the heaviness of the ships which prevented them catching an enemy escaping in light vessels. ‘At last they gave up the pursuit, after capturing 13 enemy ships, oarsmen decksoldiers and all, and ten swamped’. Of the Roman fleet only the one Carthaginian ship was lost.

(L.36.45.4) Polyxenidas went straight back to Ephesos. The Roman fleet remained on the day of the battle at the place from which Antiochos’s fleet put out, the Erythraean port of Kissus. On the following day it followed the enemy to Ephesos, meeting on the way 24 Rhodian cataphracts (Appian Syn.22 says 27) under the  Pausistratos. Together they drew up a line of battle off the harbour of Ephesos. After the exercise had sufficiently demonstrated that the enemy fleet admitted inferiority, the Rhodians and Eumenes were sent home. The Roman fleet then, setting a course for Chios, sailed past the west-facing Erythraean port of Phoinikos (see note to Map J (ii) and anchored for the night (offshore) and on the following day crossed to the island and the city (of Chios) itself. When they had stayed there for a few days to give the oarsmen as much rest as possible they crossed to Phokaia. With four fives left there as a garrison for the city the fleet moved to Kanai, and since winter was approaching the ships were hauled up and surrounded by a ditch and a rampart.