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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > September 2018 > Rome vs Greece

Rome vs Greece

Macedon was the pre-eminent power in Ancient Greece, Rome an upstart republic on the ascendant. Ben Kane recalls the ultimate showdown between two of the earliest superpowers
Macedon had lost some of its lustre since the days of Alexander the Great, but it still wielded considerable power. Could it stand up to a flourishing Rome?
©BLACKSHEEP-UK.COM, GETTY X1

Pretty much everyone knows something about Ancient Rome, whether it’s Julius Caesar or gladiators, legions invading Britain or the majesty of the Colosseum. The same can be said of Ancient Greece, from the Olympic Games to the Battle of Thermopylae, and literary treasures such as the Iliad and the Odyssey. Given our relative familiarity with these two civilisations, it’s odd that the pivotal moment in their combined history – when the Roman Republic invaded Greece – is almost unknown today.

Before launching into the details of that three-year war, it’s useful to lay out the political landscape of the Mediterranean at that time. When the Second Punic War started in 218 BC, the Roman Republic was one of the smallest of five major powers around the Mediterranean. Half a century later, the situation had changed beyond recognition. Just two factions remained: weak and unstable Ptolemaic Egypt, and the ascendant Roman Republic.

Scipio’s victory at Zama ended the Second Punic War – and reduced Carthage to a client state of Rome

Remarkably, the three that had fallen away – Carthage, Macedon and the Seleucid Empire – had all been beaten by Rome in war. In a mere 50 years, the Republic had morphed from a regional power with few territories into one that utterly dominated the Mediterranean world. This seismic change set Rome on the road to becoming an empire, a self-fulfilling path from which there was no turning back.

COMMANDERS UP CLOSE PHILIP V AND FLAMININUS

PHILIP V

Philip V of Macedon reigned more than a century after Alexander the Great. His family were the Antigonids, who had risen to power some 80 years before. Mercurial by nature, capable of military brilliance as well as acts of colossal stupidity, Philip was a brave and charismatic general who spent his entire reign fighting enemies to the north, south, east and west. The war with Rome was to prove his nemesis.

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About History Revealed

At the dawn of the second century BC, two titans of the ancient world went to war: Macedon, the pre-eminent power of Ancient Greece, and Rome, then still an upstart republic. This is the complete story of a war that defined antiquity, where phalanx clashed with legion. Plus: Protest and turmoil ripples around the world in 1968; the split loyalties of Thomas More, the accident that made Frida Kahlo an artist, a glimpse inside the Titanic & more.