As noted above, it is a great shame that Poybios has not survived in this regard. Antiochos was clearly no incontinent coward as presented here. Polybios clearly dealt with him in some detail for, as he notes early in his work, the Seleukid king was one of the major stars (Philip V, Ptolemy Philopater and Rome being the others) of the new world order that would frame Polybios' narrative. The great clash of the Greek eastern monarchies and Rome would explain how the world of Polybios latter days came about. Thus we miss Antiochos' great anabasis and a proper picture of the Seleukid monarch.
I would certainly agree with this! Polybius is certainly one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of our ancient sources, regardless of era. Unfortunately, as Paralus says( and like many of our sources) we have very little of his work intact. In fact, only the first five (incomplete) out of 40 volumes, plus isolated fragments from the rest survive!!
Polybius' Histories begin in the year 264 BC and end in 146 BC (Polybius was born around 200 and died around 117 BC). He was mainly concerned with the 50 odd years in which Rome became the dominant Mediterranean power, and how this happened, explained for the benefit of his fellow Greeks.
I can't help the feeling that Antiochos did not want war with Rome (nor did the senate with him though particular Romans saw advantage - Flamininus). He'd no interest in the west despite Hannibal's urgings. A 'war' of words and political/diplomatic to and fro unfortunately, for him, went too far. What comes out of the sources is a king who wished to cool things off and settle matters without going down to a climactic clash; a diplomatic settlement brokered with the Scipios. Like Philip before him, Antiochos did not really understand the Roman animal.
If Antiochus’ had no ambitions in the West, he was quite prepared to indulge in brinkmanship to get his way in Greece, threatening the Romans that he ‘would take up arms’ to defend Aetolia – hardly the actions of a ‘Great King’ looking to ‘cool things off’. Being the biggest bully with the largest stick, he probably did expect to get his way without a major war against the western Barbarians, and he was certainly playing on Roman fears to the full. He erred in thinking that they would yield to this fear – in fact the Roman way of dealing with threats and fear, real or perceived, was to destroy the source, which as Paralus remarked, he evidently did not understand.
As to Roman fears, they were genuine enough. They had watched Antiochus encroach steadily westward for years, until he stood just a short 220km or so sea journey from the boot of Italy. They went to a lot of trouble to raise armies and fleets to defend southern Italy, with the rumours of invasion being encouraged by Pergamum. With Hannibal’s invasion and terrible long war fresh in recent memory, and Hannibal himself with Antiochus, it was easy to believe Antiochus would unleash the power of the East on Italy.
It is impossible to explain the rather labyrinthine politics of the Eastern Mediterranean, and how Rome came to be drawn into them in a few lines in a forum post – one would need a book, but I feel Paralus’ few lines should be elaborated on to give a better view. In addition to the ‘stars’ of Polybius’ narrative referred to above by Paralus, there were many minor players as well, all striving for their own advantage in a bewildering Byzantine world of shifting alliances and diplomatic ‘warfare’ – Aetolia, Achaea, Pergamum Rhodes - these and others would all play a part that led to the clash at Magnesia and the demise of Antiochus.
Let us begin by going back to the Punic War. After the debacle of Cannae in 216 BC, with Rome at its lowest ebb, Philip V sought to take advantage by allying himself with Carthage and Hannibal, with the intention of seizing Rome’s Balkan territories. In some desperation Rome allied itself with Aetolia, now a rival to Macedon, and Pergamum. The war dragged on in desultory fashion until it petered out with the ‘Peace of Phoinike’ in 205 BC, with neither side having gained much.
Around this time, the infant Ptolemy V Epiphanes succeeded to the throne of Egypt, and Antiochus ‘Basileus Megas’/The Great King – he had adopted the Persian title - is said ( by Polybios) to have concluded a secret alliance with Philip V of Macedon for the partition of the Ptolemaic possessions. Under the terms of this pact, Macedon was to receive the Ptolemaic possessions around the Aegean Sea and Cyrene, while Antiochus would annex Cyprus and Egypt.
Antiochus then moved to Asia Minor, by land and by sea, to secure the coast towns which belonged to the remnants of Ptolemaic overseas dominions and also took the opportunity to seize the independent Greek cities.
Meanwhile, Rome defeated Carthage at Zama, ending the second Punic War. She had not forgotten Philip’s treacherous ‘stab in the back’ ( in Roman eyes), and egged on By Pergamum and Rhodes fought the second Macedonian war which ended with Flamininus’ victory at Kynoskephalae. Rome had sent an embassy to Philip’s ‘ally’ Antiochus to determine his atitude, but the wily King kept the Romans guessing as to whether he would come to Philip’s aid or not, but in fact he could not help but take advantage of Philip’s downfall and seized Macedonian territories in Asia minor and Thrace. Needless to say this earned him the enmity of a furious Philip ( who had done the same thing to Rome, so there was poetic justice). The tension grew after Antiochus had in 196 BC established a footing in Thrace proper - to reclaim his ‘hereditary’ lands ( by virtue of his ancestor Seleucus having defeated and killed Lysimachus).
Flamininus had declared the ‘freedom of the Greeks’ ( from Macedon), foregoing all future tribute and taxation, and departed. However Greek ‘freedom’ was granted at a high price – Flamininus’ ships returned home stuffed to the gills with the treasures and art of Greece. The cynical Greeks were amazed that the Romans had left, but in truth this was partly because they weren’t really interested in Greece and partly because Flamininus wanted to mark his place in History as ‘the Liberator’ of the Greeks. The evacuation of Greece by the Romans gave Antiochus his opportunity. Naturally Flamininus did not want to see his place in history as 'Liberator of the Greeks' undone by Antiochus hence his stance on confronting him when the Senate as a whole was lukewarm on the idea.
The Aetolians had annoyed Flamininus by keeping the loot from Philip’s camp at Kynoskephalae, and claiming the credit for the victory to bolster their prestige and influence in Greece. He retaliated by not awarding them the Macedonian territories they had expected in return for their alliance. The Aetolians now urged Antiochus to fill the ‘vacuum’left by Rome
In 192 BC Antiochus invaded Greece with a 10,000 man army, and was elected the commander in chief of the Aetolian League. This army had been earmarked as an expeditionary force for the exiled Hannibal, supposedly to invade Italy, but that rumour was most likely a ‘smokescreen’ – such a force could not possibly have succeeded against Rome, as Hannibal of all people knew only too well. The real objective of the proposed expedition was more likely the restoration of Hannibal in Carthage.
Antiochus diverted it instead to Greece as an ‘advance force’, but caught off-guard by the pace of events, Antiochus’ main force back in Asia was too slow to mobilise. In 191 BC, the Romans under Manius Acilius Glabrio routed his ‘Advance force’ at Thermopylae, forcing him to withdraw to Asia Minor. The Romans then followed up their success by invading Asia minor, which invasion was greatly facilitated by Philip as a Roman ally, who thus took his revenge against Antiochus. Subsequently, the decisive victory of the Scipio brothers at Magnesia (190 BC), delivered Asia Minor into their hands.
Phew! This is but an epitome of the much more complicated tale, and much has been compressed or left out – rather as in some of our sources!
They would not allow him to wait for the army that was coming from upper Asia, but by exaggerating the strength of the Ætolians and promising the alliance of the Lacedæmonians and of Philip of Macedon in addition, who was angry with the Romans, they urged his crossing. He assembled his forces very hastily, nor did even the news of his son's death in Syria delay him at all. He sailed to Eubœa with 10,000 men, who were all that he had in hand at the time.
Antiochos can have been under no illusions of what he could expect from Philip (little to nothing). He is also depicted as being an incredible dupe willing to accept whatever Thaos (the Aetolian envoy) tells him. Unsaid here is that this is one of two such embassies from Aetolia and Antiochos was certainly informing himself of what might be available to him in Greece. It is difficult to see how Antiochos could take the Aetolians at their word concerning Philip since they'd made such a song and dance about their defeat of him and subsequent calls for his death or removal by the Romans a few years earlier. Had Antiochos really been invading Greece with the intention of defeating the Romans in Greece as well, he most certainly will not have flown off on a whim with only those few troops he presently had to hand.
It would be lovely to have Polybios' original work here outside its paraphrasing in Livy and scraps of Diodorus.
Regular Readers of this forum will be aware of the military importance of having an advance force laying the groundwork for an expedition, or as the dictum has it “gettin’ thar fastest with the mostest.” The Aetolians too will have been nervous about the prospects of facing Rome alone before Antiochus was committed, and Antiochus himself would have been concerned that the ‘vacuum’ might be filled by a Roman expeditionary force, and the opportunity lost, if he did not act quickly, with speed obviously in everyone’s interest. Nevertheless he was careful to sound out what his reception by the Greeks was likely to be before acceding to frantic Aetolian demands for help. Moreover, Hannibal’s expeditionary force had already been prepared and was available. How Hannibal felt about having his expedition, small as it was, being diverted to Greece from its (probable) original objective of restoring Hannibal in Carthage is, alas, not recorded in our extant sources........