4 – Battle of Pydna (168 BC)
When some Greek-city states appealed for help after being attacked by Philip V of Macedon, Rome intervened and began a trio of Macedonian Wars. The First Macedonian War started in 214 BC when Rome was in the midst of the Second Punic War. Philip aligned himself with Hannibal, but the Romans were only interested in keeping Macedon at bay while it dealt with the Carthaginians. The first war ended with the Treaty of Phoenice in 205 BC. The Second Macedonian War began in 200 BC and ended in 196 BC after Philip suffered a heavy defeat at Cynoscephalae in 197 BC.
Rome began to wield some influence in the Adriatic during the Second Century BC, so when King Perseus of Macedon began making alliances with Germanic tribes and goaded the Romans into war, they obliged and thus began the Third Macedonian War in 171 BC. After inflicting several minor defeats on the Romans, Perseus inexplicably held back and adopted a more defensive strategy. This enabled Rome to regroup, and it appointed Scipio Africanus’ brother-in-law, Lucius Aemilius Paullus, as the new commander of the forces against the Macedonians.
Paullus landed in Greece in pursuit of Perseus and wisely gave his men time to recover before meeting the enemy at Pydna. The Romans were outnumbered; they had 25,000 soldiers against a 44,000 strong Macedonian force. Perseus made a cataclysmic blunder by not cutting off Roman supply lines when he had the chance; this would have forced the Romans to retreat or starve. Instead, the Romans were ready and confident of victory having seen a lunar eclipse on the eve of the battle. In contrast, the Macedonians saw it as a sign of evil and a sure sign of defeat.
Perseus attacked first and enjoyed initial success but soon, his army marched on broken ground and slowed down. Paullus had 34 elephants at his disposal and used them to attack the enemy left flank which collapsed. The Romans entered the gap and initiated hand-to-hand combat. Perseus fled the battlefield with his cavalry, and the rest of his army collapsed almost immediately. Over 20,000 Macedonians were killed or captured in a battle that lasted little over an hour.
The Romans pursued Perseus and caught him on the island of Samothrace. They plundered Pydna, Athens, and Corinth and brought the Third Macedonian War to an end. During previous wars, Rome made no territorial gains, but after Pydna, the Senate changed tactics and decided to occupy Macedon and Greece. Rome had a taste for conquest and the skill to achieve it.