The Roman Naval War with Antiochos Part III

Actuarius of about 200 BC, Second Punic War, from a bas-relief of the Vatican (late empire). Note the decorative spur.

The Battle of Side [Battle of the Eurymedon]

(L.37.23.6) ‘At first light on the following day each fleet moved out of harbour ready to fight that day; and after the Rhodians had passed the promontory which stretches out to sea from Side they were immediately visible to the enemy and the enemy was visible to them. On the king’s side the left wing which blocked the way on the side of the open sea was commanded by Hannibal, on the right wing Apollonios, one of the wearers of purple, was in command; they had already (when sighted) formed their ships in line of battle (i.e. abreast). The Rhodians were approaching in a long column. The leading ship was Eudamos’s flagship. Charikleitos was rearguard and Pamphilidas commanded the centre. When Eudamos saw the enemy’s line drawn up and ready for engagement, he also (as well as Hannibal) moved out to sea and ordered those that were following him one after another preserving their station to move into line abreast’.

(L.37.23.10) ‘That movement at first caused confusion, for Eudamos had not yet moved out to sea far enough [each ship following him in making a 90° turn in succession] for it to be possible for all the ships [making a 90° left turn together] to effect a line [abreast stretching] towards the shore2. Moving too fast himself, he found himself meeting Hannibal with only five ships; the rest, having been ordered to form line abreast, were not following him. At the end of the column there were no slots left [for the rearguard ships] adjoining the shore and while the ships there were sorting themselves out in a panic (trepidantibus) the battle had already started on the right wing’.

Livy’s statement (at L.37.23.5) that the Rhodian fleet at the mouth of the Eurymedon R. consisted of 32 fours and four threes can be reconciled with his earlier account (37.22.2) of the movement of ships from Rhodes, if four of the six aphracts there mentioned were threes and if the other two, smaller than threes, are not mentioned being, in the later context, of insignificant rating; and if further the four guardships from Karia were fours and in the later account the two fives are mistakenly given as fours. With those provisos the total in both cases was 38.3 It is an interesting indication of Rhodian naval policy that her ships were all fours, in the first case 30 and in the second, with the mistaken addition of the two allied fives, 32. A squadron of fours appears to consist of 12 ships with the commander’s flagship in addition. The Carian guard-ships were a detachment of four ships on special duty.

The manoeuvre described is the normal way of forming line abreast from column with the ships in column taking up stations in line abreast by first turning successively by 90° to the right (or left) and then turning together 90° to the left (or right) to form a line of ships abreast facing the enemy. But the column in this case had not sufficient sea room, since it had been moving too close to the shore. To rectify this Eudamos moved rather too quickly seaward. The fact that he now became separated with four other ships indicates that the column was (as often cf. Thuk.2.90.1) of four files and the leading ships of each file stayed close to him leaving a gap between them and the next four who were acting as ordered. The effect of his action had not yet filtered through to the shoreward end of the line-in-making where there were not enough slots for the rearguard. The clarity and precision of this description is remarkable.

(L.37.24.1) ‘However, in a short space of time the good performance of their ships and their naval experience took away the Rhodians’ nervousness. The ships moving out to sea quickly each gave a place on the left (landward) side to the ship coming after her (in the files of the column); and if a ship had engaged an enemy with the ram either she damaged the prow or she carried away the oars or by a free (i.e. unchallenged) movement along between the files (libero inter ordines discursu praetervecta) she made an attack on the stern’.

The description is again precise. If ‘each ship gave a place on the landward side to the ship coming after her’ in the column and there were four files in the column the line abreast formation must be four longitudinal files deep, a much stronger formation than a single line abreast.

The next description, after that of the successful establishment of the battle line, is of what happened when the two lines met. This is not a particular account but a generalised statement of the various possibilities.

‘When one ship engaged another she could either smash the prow or carry away the oars or passing right through between the files would attack a ship’s stern’. The ‘files’ (ordines) here are not the longitudinal files but the short files composed of individual members of the longitudinal files ranged one behind the other (four deep) and between which ships making a  would have to pass once a gap had been made.

(L.37.24.3) ‘The greatest consternation was caused when a royal seven was swamped by a single blow of a much smaller Rhodian ship, so that now the enemy right wing in no uncertain manner turned to flight. Out at sea Eudamos was hard pressed by the number of Hannibal’s ships although he was superior in other respects. Hannibal would have surrounded him had not a signal by which a fleet is usually concentrated been displayed from the flagship; and if all the ships which had been winning on the (royal) right flank had not hurried to assist their own men. Then Hannibal and the ships with him started to withdraw, but the Rhodians could not pursue them since their oarsmen were sick (p. 102) and for that reason rather quickly tired. In the open sea where they had come to a stop they refreshed themselves with food’.

The details given in this and the following passage confirm the impression that Livy has been deriving his account from a Rhodian source; and this would also explain why the account of the royal fleet and its moves is abbreviated to the point of obscurity. Although the names of the commanders of the right and left wings of the royal fleet are given (Apollonios (R) and Hannibal (L)) there is no mention of a commander for the centre as in the case of the Rhodian fleet. Nor is it formally stated that Hannibal was the overall commander and that his ship was the flagship, although it is difficult to believe otherwise. Then, Livy says, Hannibal was on the point of surrounding Eudamos and raised a signal which meant that the fleet should come together at one spot (presumably to the flagship so that he could capture Eudamos and the Rhodian flagship). The effect of this signal was to undermine the winning posture of his left wing by withdrawing the victorious ships from there; (and thus produce a deterioration of the whole position of the royal fleet including the left wing) so that Hannibal himself began to withdraw.

The outcome of the battle for the Rhodians was the capture of the one damaged royal seven which they towed to Phaselis. (L.37.24.6) ‘Eudamos’ while his crews were recovering ‘watched the enemy towing away with their aphracts their lame and damaged ships and scarcely more than 20 (of the 37 ships of larger size and ten threes of smaller size) moving off undamaged’. Since the aphracts of the Rhodians were not mentioned in the fleet inventories, it is reasonable not to identify the aphracts mentioned here with the threes in the royal inventory but to suppose that they were not mentioned there either.

From Phaselis they returned to Rhodes ‘not so much pleased at their victory as accusing each other of missing the chance of swamping or capturing the whole enemy fleet’. The effect of their victory on Hannibal was important. Although he wanted to join Polyxenidas at Ephesos as soon as possible, ‘he did not then dare to pass Lykia’; and to prevent the possibility the Rhodians sent Charikleitos with 20 ships with rams to Patara and the harbour of Megiste, while Eudamos was sent with the seven largest ships of the fleet he had commanded (at Side) to join the Romans at Samos with instructions to use his powers of persuasion to the utmost to make the Romans attempt the capture of Patara. The seven largest ships would have been the Coan and Cnidian fives, the four threes and his own flagship, the last either a specially powerful four or a five. If the two fives were wrongly classified as fours in the inventory of the Rhodian fleet before the battle, it is possible that the two flagships of Eudamos’s and Pamphilidas’s squadrons of 12 fours were also wrongly so classified.

Antiochos’s Final Effort at Sea: The Battle of Myonnesos 190 BC (Map J (iv) and Note)

The move of Antiochos to Sardis made it impossible for the Romans to move from Samos to Patara as the Rhodians wished, (L.37.25.2–3) and ‘give up protecting Ionia and Aiolis’; but the Rhodians found it possible to send four cataphract ships to join the fleet there. The diplomacy of the consul Scipio prevented Antiochos bringing Prusias over to his side to help him keep the Romans out of Asia. Antiochos accordingly (L.37.26.1) went to Ephesos from Sardis to review the fleet which for some months had been assembled and prepared ‘more because he realised that with his land forces the Roman army and the two Scipios could not be resisted than because naval action had ever been attempted by him with much success or that he had any great or certain confidence in it’.

Antiochos thought however that with a large part of the Rhodian fleet at Patara and Eumenes having taken all his ships to the Hellespont to meet the consul there was a hopeful opportunity for him. He was encouraged also by the Rhodian disaster at Samos (Panormos). His plan was to attack Notion, a coastal town in Colophonian territory, which was uncomfortably close to Ephesos, in the hope that the Roman fleet would come to support an ally and an engagement might ensue.

The last thing Aemilius at Samos expected was that Polyxenidas, after twice refusing to fight, would now come out. He wanted to move to the Hellespont but was detained by Eudamos and all his other advisers, who urged him either to stand by his allies or, if Polyxenidas offered battle, to defeat him again and win command of the sea. This was better than abandoning the allies, surrendering Asia to Antiochos by land and sea and making a quite unnecessary voyage to the Hellespont when his role in the war was to be at Samos.

(L.37.27.1) When victuals ran out there, Aemilius set out for Chios where the Romans stored their supplies, Chios being the destination of the supply ships from Italy. The fleet first moved round to the other (i.e. south) side of the island, the (north) side towards Chios and Erythrai being open to the north wind. Samos city is on the south side; the fleet must have been beached on the north side from which Ephesos and Notion could be observed. From the south side they could first tack north east. As they were preparing to cross, Aemilius learned that a large consignment of grain had arrived at Chios from Italy but that the ships carrying wine had been storm-bound. At the same time he was told that the Teians had generously supplied the king’s fleet with victuals and promised 5000 casks of wine.

When half way to Chios (on a NW tack) Aemilius suddenly changed course (NE) for Teos, ‘intending, if the Teians were willing, himself to use the stores prepared for the enemy, or, if they were not, to treat the Teians as enemies’. However, they were diverted by the sight near Myonnesos of about fifteen ships, which they first took to be part of the royal fleet but which turned out to be pirates with booty from Chios. They pursued them fruitlessly to Myonnesos and on the next day continued their voyage to Teos; and mooring the ships in the harbour called Geraistikos behind the town, presumably on the other side of the peninsula (Strabo 14.1.30) on which the town was built, began to ravage the countryside around it.

(L.37.28.4) By chance on that day Polyxenidas with the royal fleet left the siege of Kolophon (Notion) ‘and, learning where the Roman fleet was, dropped anchor off Myonnesos at a hidden harbour in an island which sailors call Makris’. From there, reconnoitring (explorans) the enemy’s movements from close at hand (the distance from Makris to Teos being 9.72 sm), ‘he was at the outset in high hopes of destroying the Roman fleet in the same way as he had destroyed the Rhodian fleet at Samos (Panormos), by stationing his ships round the harbour passage at the point of exit. The nature of the place (Geraistikos) was not unlike, the promontories on either side of the harbour mouth coming together so closely that two ships could scarcely go out at the same time. He had devised the plan of seizing the exit by night, and of attacking, as at Panormos, from land and sea at the same time. Ten ships standing at each exit would attack the ships in the beam as they came out and armed men would be landed from the rest of the fleet’.

(L.37.28.9) ‘The plan would not have failed him if the Romans, when the Teians agreed to do as they had been told, had not moved their fleet round to the other harbour in front of the city to take the supplies on board. There was also the fact that Eudamos had pointed out a fault in the other harbour when two ships broke their oars, getting them tangled together in the narrow entrance; and among other things the fact that there was danger from the land side gave Aemilius a motive for moving the fleet over, Antiochos’s camp being not far away’.

(L.37.29.1) The fleet had moved round to the city without anyone’s knowledge and the soldiers were on shore engaged in sharing the victuals and in particular the wine among the ships, when at about midday a man from the country was brought to the praetor with the news that already for two days a fleet was moored at the island of Makris and shortly before some ships had been observed moving as if to set out. Alarmed by the sudden development the praetor ordered the trumpets to sound, giving notice to return if any men had wandered off into the country, and he sent the tribunes into the city to collect the soldiers and crewmen for embarkation.

There was the usual confusion and the conflicting orders of a hurried embarkation but (L.37.29.5) ‘in the end they were assembled at the ships. In the tumult it was difficult for a man to recognise his own ship or go on board it, and there would have been a dangerous confusion (on the ships) at sea and on the land if a division of duties had not been made (among the commanders): if Aemilius in the flagship had not first moved out of the harbour into open water taking out those that followed him and had drawn them up (in column) each in his own file (there were then several files), and if Eudamos and the Rhodian fleet had not remained in position towards the shore’.