Battle of Pydna

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The Battle of Pydna in 168 BC between Rome and the Macedonian Antigonid dynasty saw the further ascendancy of Rome in the Hellenic/Hellenistic world and the end of the Antigonid line of kings, whose power traced back to Alexander the Great.

Paul K. Davis writes that "Pydna marked the final destruction of Alexander’s empire and introduced Roman authority over the Near East."[1]



The Third Macedonian War started in 171 BC, after a number of acts on the part of King Perseus of Macedon incited Rome to declare war. At first, the Romans won a number of small victories, largely due to Perseus' refusal to consolidate his armies. By the end of the year, the tide changed dramatically and Perseus had regained most of his losses, including the important religious city of Dion. Perseus then established himself in an unassailable position on the river Elpeus, in northeastern Greece.

The next year, command of the Roman expeditionary force passed to Lucius Aemilius Paullus, an experienced soldier who was one of the consuls for the year. To force Perseus from his position, Paullus sent a small force (8,200 foot and 120 horse) under the command of Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum to the coast, a feint to convince Perseus that he was attempting a riverborne flanking maneuver. Instead, that night Scipio took his force south and over the mountains to the west of the Roman and Macedonian armies. They moved as far as Pithium, then swung northeast to attack the Macedonians from the rear.

A Roman deserter, however, made his way to the Macedonian camp and Perseus sent Milo with a force of 12,000 to block the approach road. The encounter that followed sent Milo and his men back in disarray towards the main Macedonian army. After this, Perseus moved his army northwards and took up a position near Katerini, a village south of Pydna. It was a fairly level plain and was very well suited to the phalanx.

Paullus then had Scipio rejoin the main force, while Perseus deployed his forces for what appeared to be an attack from the south by Scipio. The Roman armies were actually to the west, and when they advanced, they found Perseus fully deployed. Instead of joining battle with troops tired from the march, they encamped to the west in the foothills of Mount Olocrus. At the night before the battle there was an eclipse of the moon, which was perceived by the Macedonians as an ill omen, bringing fear and terror into their hearts. According to Plutarch, they interpreted it as a sign of their king's demise.

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