The Roman Naval War with Antiochos Part IV

MAP J (iv). The Teos and Myonnesos Promontories. After Admiralty chart 3346

Note on Map J (iv): Teos and Myonnesos play a part in the events leading up to the battle named after the latter. Myonnesos had earlier (191 BC) featured in Polyxenidas’s plan for a surprise attack on the Roman fleet on its passage from the Korykos promontory to Samos. Livy (37.13.1) says that Polyxenidas then moored first at Myonnesos and then went over to the island called Makris with the intention of making a surprise attack (ut adoriretur) on any ships of the fleet that strayed from the column as it passed by or if opportunity offered on its rear. The island then, it appears, gave the cover for such a surprise attack which Myonnesos did not and was closer to the route which Polyxenidas appears to have expected the Roman fleet to take to Samos city.

Livy next mentions Myonnesos in the following year when a Roman fleet under Aemilius, on passage from Samos to Chios for supplies (and taking the easterly route), suddenly changed course for Teos and was diverted by the sight of about fifteen ships in the neigbourhood of Myonnesos which turned out to be fast and light pirate ships returning from a raid on Chios. They fled to Myonnesos on Aemilius’s attempt to capture them, giving Livy an opportunity to describe their refuge (37.27.6).

‘Myonnesos is a promunturium between Teos and Samos. The promunturium itself is a hill shaped like a cone and culminating in a sharp point from quite a broad base. It is approached from the mainland by a narrow path (arta semita), while its boundary seawards is formed by cliffs eroded by the waves. Livy’s description shows that what he describes is not a promontory but a peninsula to which the present island on the west side of the promontory answers. The result is that in some places the overhanging rocks reach higher than ships at their moorings. The Roman ships wasted a day, not daring to get close in case they were damaged by the pirates manning the top of the cliffs, and when night fell they gave up’. It appears then that the anchorage or mooring facility at Myonnesos was on the seaward side at any rate for the larger ships and was not therefore concealed. Strabo’s brief description (14.1.29) ‘an inhabited height forming a peninsula’ confirms Livy’s. The name Myonnesos suggests that it was once an island. These clues have enabled the makers of the Admiralty Chart 3446 to suggest that what appears now be a small island very close to the western side of the main promontory, 2 km from its end, was the ancient Myonnesos, and there seems to be no alternative. They propose also as Makris an island 500 metres SW of the end of the promontory. About 1250 m SE of Makris is another similar small island which may be the one called Aspis or Arkonnesos which Strabo (14.1.29) mentions as lying ‘between Teos and Lebedos’.

When a few days later Polyxenidas arrived in the area with the royal fleet he anchored again at Makris. On this occasion Livy describes the anchorage as hidden. He was able to reconnoitre the Roman fleet’s position without revealing his fleet’s presence.

Aemilius when his pursuit of the pirates proved fruitless had next day continued his intrrupted voyage to Teos and moored his ships ‘in the harbour at the back (a tergo) of the city and called by the inhabitants Geraistikos. He sent his troops to loot the cultivated land round Teos. The Admiralty chart shows that between the ancient city and the sea to the west there was a strip of high ground so that the cultivated area must have been to the east and north and that the bay north of the city making with the ancient harbour of Teos a peninsula must have been Geraistikos. Strabo says (14.1.30) that Teos was also (i.e. in the context like Myonnesos) settled on a peninsula and possessed of a harbour.

The harbour which appears to be Geraistikos has now an entrance about 750 metres wide. The horns which Livy says would scarcely allow two warships to enter side by side must have been artificially extended.

The Battle of Myonnesos: September 190 BC (Map J (iv))

‘The result was that the embarkation took place without undue hurry and that each ship moved out as it was ready. Thus the first ships (to emerge) extended their file under the eye of the praetor and the Rhodians brought up the rear of the column, and the battle order, drawn up as if the royal opponents were in sight, moved out to sea’. The final sentence, with a brevity which suggests an effortless and orderly manoeuvre unlike that attributed to the allied fleet at the battle of Korykos, describes the move from column (agmen) to the battle order (as if the enemy was in sight) of line abreast (acies) in the same number of files as in column.

(L.37.29.7) When the allied fleet of 80 ships (83 including 23 from Rhodes: Appian: Syr.27) was between Myonnesos and the Korykos promontory they sighted the enemy (they had moved due south about 7½ sm towards Myonnesos). ‘The royal fleet’ (L.89 ships: A.90 cataphracts) ‘came on in a long column of two files, and it likewise deployed a line to face the enemy with its left wing extending so far that it was able to embrace and go round the Roman right wing’. The fact that the royal fleet approached in ‘a long column’ of two files resulted in the line of battle being long, and two deep. It was also considerably longer than the allied line, for which the reason was partly that the royal fleet was more numerous by nine (or ten) ships, partly (and perhaps mainly) that the allied line was in more than two files, possibly four.

(L.37.29.9) ‘When Eudamos (Eudoros: Appian), who was bringing up the rear of the column, saw this, viz. that the Romans (led by Aemilius on the right wing) was unable to make the line equal (to the enemy’s) and thus not be turned on the right wing, he speeded up his (22 or 23) ships – and the Rhodian ships were far the fastest in the whole fleet – and bringing the wings equal put his own ship in the path of the flagship with Polyxenidas aboard’. Appian says that the Rhodian commander ‘on the left wing saw Polyxenidas outflanking the Roman line and quickly sailing round’ (behind the allied line) ‘since his ships were light and his oarsmen had sea-experience, sent his fire-ships against Polyxenidas, with flames blazing all round’.

The impression given in Livy’s account has been that the allied fleet completed the manoeuvre from column to line abreast before the enemy was sighted. But this impression is inconsistent with Eudamos’s manoeuvre just described. The place of his ships as the rearguard of a column deploying into line abreast to the left of the flagship was at the end of the line on the far left. But in the last paragraph Livy says that he was bringing up the rear when he saw the disparity of the battle lines and took the instant decision to move quickly to a place on the right of the right wing which would thus be extended sufficiently to bring the two lines to equality. In Appian’s description there is no such inconsistency.

(L.37.30.1) ‘Now in all the fleets at once the battle began. On the Roman side 80 ships were engaged of which 22 were Rhodian, while the enemy fleet was of 89 ships. They had, of ships of the largest size (maximae formae), three sixes and two sevens. The Romans were far superior in the sturdiness of their ships and the courage of their decksoldiers, and the Rhodian ships in agility and in the skill of their helmsmen and expertise (scientia) of their oarsmen. Yet those ships scared the enemy most which carried fire before them (27); and that which alone saved the ships surrounded at Panormos on this occasion made the greatest contribution to victory. For when the royal ships nervous at the threat of fire turned aside from an encounter prow to prow, they were unable themselves to strike the enemy with their rams and offered themselves sideways to (such) blows. They were more afraid of the fire than of the fighting. Yet, as usual, it was the courage of the decksoldiers which carried most weight in the battle’.

‘The fact was that when the Romans had broken through the middle of the enemy’s battle line, they swung round and threw themselves from behind on the royal ships which were fighting the Rhodians; and in a short space of time Antiochos’s centre and the ships on the left wing were surrounded and swamped. The undamaged part of the fleet on the right was terrified more by the destruction of their comrades than by their own peril; but after they saw others surrounded and Polyxenidas’s flagship raising sail and deserting her comrades, they quickly raised their foresails – there was a wind favourable for those bound for Ephesos – and fled’.

Appian, after describing the fireship attack on Polyxenidas, continues: ‘Polyxenidas’s ships had not the courage to attack the fireships because of the fire, but circling round them heeled over and were filled with water. They were hit on the  constantly. At last a Rhodian ship rammed a Sidonian and the blow was a strong one, so that the anchor of the Sidonian ship fell off and stuck into another ship, bonding the two together. The ships being impossible to separate the battle became like a land fight. Many ships rallying to each of the two ships there was a notable contest and as a result the Roman ships rowed through the centre of Antiochos’s line, that area being thinned out because of this incident; and they encircled the enemy before they realised what was happening. When they did there was flight and pursuit’.

It is interesting that both sources attribute the defeat to a classical ‘breakthrough’ () at the centre of the enemy’s line. Whether the weakness there was the result of the incident described by Appian or not, the abnormally long column, becoming an abnormally thin battle line in order to achieve an outflanking movement (the classical ), certainly risked offering the enemy the chance of a massive breakthrough, which was decisive. The moral which the reader is meant, by the Rhodian source, to draw is that Rhodian quick thinking and Rhodian quick rowing in light warships thwarted the  and led to the effective  of the heavier Roman vessels.

(L.37.30.7) ‘Antiochos lost 42 ships (Appian: Syr,.29), ten of which fell into possession of the enemy, the rest were burnt or swamped (demersae). Two Roman ships were smashed (fractae), a number received damage (polneratae). One Rhodian ship was captured in a remarkable manner’. Then Livy tells the story of the Sidonian ship which Appian also uses, concluding: ‘the anchor cable, (ancoróle), being pulled out and becoming entangled with the oars, carried away one side of them. The crippled ship was then captured by the very ship which had been struck by her and become attached. These were the tactics employed in the naval battle off Myonnesos’.

(L.37.31.1) The effect on Antiochos of the defeat was traumatic. ‘He doubted whether he could protect his distant fortresses and ordered his garrison to be withdrawn from Lysimacheia’. He also withdrew from the siege of Kolophon (Notion) (p. 105 and 104 above) and from Sardis, concentrating his efforts on preparation for the land battle with the Scipios which could not now be long delayed, since there was now nothing to prevent the Romans crossing the Hellespont into Asia. By the end of the year he had been heavily defeated in a great battle near Thyateira which put an end to his ambitions in the Mediterranean.

The peace treaty which followed (188 BC) the defeat contained a naval clause which is given by Polybios (21.42.13) and by Livy (38.38.8) but in both cases the text is imperfect. Walbank’s (McDonald and Walbank: 1969, Walbank: 1979 III p. 159) amended versions give the following sense: (Antiochos) must surrender both his long ships and the gear and rigging ( armamento) belonging to them, and he must keep no more than 10 aphracts (Livy: naves actuarias) and none of them rowed by more than thirty oars; and he may not keep those for the purpose of a war started by himself.