The Roman Naval War with Antiochos Part II

Trihemiolia c. 300 BC

The Campaign of 190 BC (Maps J (iii), J (iv) and Note)

(L.37.1.10) In the winter of 191–190 both sides prepared for a further campaign on land and sea. Lucius Scipio received Greece as his consular province with his famous brother Publius Scipio Africanus as his legate. They were to lead a large army into Asia. (L.37.2.10) The maritime province was allotted to Lucius Aemilius. He was to take over from the previous praetor 20 naves longae and himself enrol 1000 socii navales and 2000 infantry ‘to serve on board the ships’ (@ 100). They would have been light warships,  with rams, i.e. liburnians, or possibly  With these he was to proceed to Asia and take over the fleet there from C. Livius. (L.37.4.5) On rumours that Antiochos after the naval battle was building a larger fleet, 30 fives and 20 threes were to be built at Rome.

(L.37.8.1) Antiochos ‘kept the whole winter free for preparations, chiefly concentrating on refitting his fleet so that he should not be driven wholly from command of the sea’. He reflected also that he had been defeated at sea in the absence of the Rhodian fleet and that the Rhodians would not let this happen again. ‘He would need then a great number of ships to equal the enemy fleet in power and size (viribus et magnitudine)’. (Polyxenidas’s fleet at Korykos had all been minoris formae) Hannibal was therefore dispatched to (Koilé) Syria (Appian Syr.22 ad fin.), Phoenicia and Kilikia to recruit Phoenician ships; and Polyxenidas, who had not been particularly successful, was ordered to take all the more pains to refit those he had, and to acquire others.

Antiochos himself wintered in Phrygia recruiting allies from all quarters. ‘He had left his son Seleukos with an army in Aeolis to prevent the defection of cities in that area which were being canvassed on the one side by Eumenes at Pergamon and on the other by the Romans from Phokaia and Erythrai’. The Roman fleet (of 30 ships) was at Kanai (Map I), from where in the middle of winter they made a successful foray after booty with Eumenes’ infanry and cavalry.

(L.37.9.5) In the early spring the Rhodians sent out a fleet of 36 ships under Pausistratos, and Livius took 30 of his ships from Kanai and moved with seven fours of Eumenes to the Hellespont to make preparations for the prospective crossing by the Roman army which was coming by land. Livius was met at Ilion by envoys from the local cities of Elaia, Dardanos and Rhoiteion offering assistance. He left 10 ships off Abydos, crossed to Sestos, which surrendered, and then returned to Abydos. Appian (Syr.23–24) says that Pausistratos, (whom he calls Pausimachos), left behind at Kanai in command of some Roman ships in addition to his own, organised various trials and exercises and devised fire-buckets. ‘He attached to long poles iron buckets containing fire, to hang the fire over the sea in such a way that it was clear of his own ships but would fall on to enemy ships as they approached’. A description of the device  employed by Pausistratos is given in a fragment of Polybios (21.7) preserved in [Suidas]. There is also a sketch of such a device in an Alexandrian tomb graffito (28).

The Panormos engagement (Note on Map J (iii))

(L.37.10.10) Polyxenidas (who was a renegade Rhodian and had a score to settle with Pausistratos) prepared a trap for him. He sent him a man, whom Pausistratos knew, with an offer to betray the king’s fleet to him if he Polyxenidas could be restored to Rhodes. Pausistratos moved to Panormos in Samian  or mainland territory and waited there to investigate the matter, carelessly splitting his fleet up, with some ships sent to get supplies at Halikarnassos and others to the city of Samos. A soldier of Antiochos’s army visiting Samos was arrested by the Rhodians as a spy and betrayed the plot, but the information was not believed.

At Ephesos Polyxenidas hauled up some ships close to the water and made preparations as if he was going to haul up others for repair. He summoned oarsmen from winter quarters not to Ephesos but secretly to Magnesia. Then quickly launching from the beach (deductis) the ships which had been hauled up (subductae) and summoning the oarsmen from Magnesia, he set out after sunset with seventy cataphract ships and in spite of a head wind arrived at the harbour of Pygela before daylight. There he rested (for the day) and crossed to the nearest part of the Samian mainland territory by night.

Meanwhile the pirate captain Nikandros had been given orders to take five cataphract ships to Palinuros and then conduct the armed men to Panormos to take the enemy in the rear, while he himself in the meantime with his fleet in two squadrons, so that he could hold the entrance to the port on both sides, made for Panormos. Pausistratos taken by surprise (and thinking that the enemy ships would try to enter the harbour) manned with his troops the horn-like promontories on each side of the entrance ‘preparing to drive off the enemy easily with missiles from both sides. But then when Nikandros’s troops appeared he ordered his men aboard the ships and tried to break out, his flagship leading the column. Polyxenidas surrounded his ship with three fives as she emerged and she was rammed and swamped. The deck-soldiers were overwhelmed with missiles and Pausistratos was killed. Some of the other ships were captured outside the harbour and some within it, others were taken by Nikandros as they were being manhandled off the beach. Only five Rhodian ships and two Coans escaped, terror produced by the flashing fire making a path for them through the press of ships. Each ship with poles projecting from her prow carried before her in iron buckets a quantity of ignited fuel’. Appian (Syr.21) says that seven ships escaped and that Polyxenidas towed 20 back to Ephesos (the number of Rhodian ships he gives is 27).

(L.37.11.14) Erythraean threes met the escaping Rhodian (and Coan) ships, which they were on their way to assist, not far from Samos and turned back to the Romans at the Hellespont. It will appear that the escaping Rhodian ships did not go north with them, but stayed on Samos, it must be assumed, with the ships which Pausistratos had sent to Halikarnassos and Samos city and which therefore had escaped the disaster. Polyxenidas, it appears, had returned to Ephesos.

Phokaia which had for some time been finding Roman occupation burdensome (P.21.6), was betrayed to Seleukos IV at this time, and other Aeolian cities, including Kyme, followed. Abydos was discussing terms of surrender with Livius when the disaster to the Rhodian fleet caused him to raise the siege and move south to protect the rest of his fleet at Kanai, which he then launched. Eumenes at the same time came down to his fleet at Elaia. (L.37.12.5) Then the whole (Roman) fleet with the addition of two threes from Mitylene moved to Phokaia. When he heard that this city was occupied by a strong royal garrison and that Seleukos’s camp was not far away, he plundered the coastal area; and quickly embarking the booty, particularly the men, he waited only until Eumenes with his fleet caught up, and then set out for Samos’.

(L.37.12.7) Rhodian grief at their disaster turned to anger when they realised that the Rhodian Polyxenidas was responsible for it. They dispatched ten ships, and shortly after ten more, under a new and more cautious commander Eudamos, presumably to join the other Rhodian (and Coan) ships probably at Samos city.

(L.37.12.10) (Map J3 and Note): ‘The Romans and Eumenes moved first to a mooring in Erythraean territory. They stayed there one night and on the following day reached (a mooring for the night at) the Korykos promontory. Since they wanted to cross from there to the nearest part of the Samian coast without waiting for sunrise when the helmsmen could take account of the condition of the sky, they put out into uncertain weather. In mid voyage the north-east wind (aquilo) veered north and the ships began to be tossed about as the sea became rough’.

(L.37.13.1) ‘Polyxenidas, thinking that the enemy would make for Samos to join the Rhodian ships, set out from Ephesos and first moored (for the night) at Myonnesos. From there (the next day) he went over to the island called Makris so that as the (allied) fleet passed by he could attack any ships that strayed from the column, or take an opportunity of attacking the rearguard. When he saw the fleet scattered by the gale (see above), he first thought that that was a good moment to attack (since they would not be in defensive formation); but a little later when the wind increased and was now raising bigger waves, since he saw that he could not reach them, he went across to the island of Aithalia, so that on the following day he could attack the ships making for Samos from the open sea’.

A small number of the Romans reached a deserted harbour on Samos at the beginning of dusk, while the rest of the fleet spent the whole night tossing on the open sea and ran into the same harbour (probably mod. Karlovassi). There they learnt from local people that the enemy’s ships were moored on Aithalia and discussed whether to engage the enemy at once or wait for the Rhodian fleet. Postponing action they went across to Korykos from where they had set out. Polyxenidas also, after waiting fruitlessly, returned to Ephesos, whereupon the Roman fleet crossed to Samos city, since the sea was clear of the enemy. The [new] Rhodian fleet also arrived there a few days later’.

(L.37.13.7) To show that they had been waiting for the Rhodians’ arrival, the allied fleet set off at once from Samos city for Ephesos either to decide the issue in a naval battle or, if the enemy refused to fight, a thing which would have most effect on opinion in the cities, to extract from him an admission of cowardice. They stood drawn up in battle order of line abreast in front of the entrance to the harbour (of Ephesos at the mouth of the river Kaystros). When no one came out to meet them, the fleet split up. Part rode at anchor in the open sea at the entrance to the harbour and part landed the decksoldiers on the coast. Since they were already collecting a vast amount of booty from the widely looted countryside, Andronikos of Macedon, one of the garrison, made a sally against them when they approached the walls and taking a large part of the booty drove them to the sea and their ships.

On the next day the Romans set an ambush at about the halfway point and marched in column up to the city’. Naturally enough there was no reaction. The men returned to their ships, and the ships to Samos, the Romans having made the point that the enemy avoided fighting by land as well as by sea.

(L.37.13.11) At this point Livius sent four threes, two from the Italian allies and two from Rhodes, with a Rhodian, Epikrates, in command, to deal with piracy in the strait of Kephallenia. Young Kephallenians led by a Spartan with the appropriate name of Hubristas (Lawless) had already succeeded in closing the supply route from Italy. The incident is interesting in showing the extent and serious effect of piracy and also indicating the wide responsibility of the praetor who held the provincia maritima.

(L.37.14.1) Epikrates did not accomplish his mission because at Peiraieus on the way he met the holder of the naval command (imperium) for 190 BC Lucius Aemilius. When Aemilius heard of the defeat of the Rhodians, anxious for his own safety since he had only two fives, he took Epikrates and his four ships back to Asia with him accompanied also by some Athenian aphracts. They crossed to Chios, where the Rhodian Timasikrates arrived on a stormy night with two fours from Samos. Brought to Aemilius he said he had been sent as escort because Antiochos’s ships in frequent raids from the Hellespont and Abydos made that stretch of the sea dangerous for supply ships. On the crossing from Chios to Samos Aemilius fell in with two Rhodian fours sent by Livius and king Eumenes with two fives.

(L.37.14.4: 191–90 BC) When Aemilius reached Samos and the fleet was formally handed over, there was a council of war. The new Roman commander, Eudamos of Rhodes and Eumenes of Pergamon had to deal with a number of demands on their limited naval resources. The Hellespont crossing had to be secured for the approaching Roman army under the Scipios, an attack on Pergamon by Seleukos had to be met; and, most important of all, the fleet of Hannibal, newly built in Phoenicia and now approaching along the coast of Asia Minor must be prevented from joining Polyxenidas’s fleet at Ephesos.

(L.37.22.2: August 190) ‘Against the fleet which was rumoured to be coming from Syria the Rhodians with 13 ships of their own, a five from Kos and another from Knidos set out (under Eudamos from Samos) to Rhodes to be on guard there’. Two days before they arrived 13 ships from Rhodes under the commander Pamphilidas, with the addition of four ships which had been on guard in Karia, had been sent against that same Syrian fleet. By attacking the Syrian forces they had relieved from siege Daidala and a number of other fortresses in the Peraia. Eudamos agreed to move on at once. Six aphract ships were assigned to him in addition to the fleet which he had. On departure (from Rhodes) he had hurried as fast as he could, and caught up with the advance ships at the harbour called Megiste. When they had reached Phaselis in one column, the best plan seemed to be to await the enemy there.

Phaselis was excellently situated for sighting the enemy from some way off, but they had not realised that it was unhealthy in midsummer. So they moved on to the mouth of the Eurymedon river. There they were told by the people of Aspendos that the enemy was at Side.

(L.37.23.4) ‘The king’s men had moved rather slowly because the season of the etesians is unfavourable, being given to north-westers (favoniis). The Rhodians had 32 fours and four threes; the royal fleet was of 37 ships of larger size including three sevens and four sixes. Besides these there were ten threes. The Rhodians saw from a watch-tower that the enemy was close’.