Episode 27 (Polybius, Part II)

POLYBIUS (III and II c. BC)

  • PART TWO –

In his XVIII book, Polybius gives a detailed report of the negotiations between Philip V of Macedon and the Roman general Flamininus during the war between Macedonia and Rome. First, their meeting is described and then the conversation and retorts they had. After they distrustfully came close (also described in great detail), the negotiations started. Polybius writes:

“He demanded that Philip should withdraw from the whole of Greece after giving up to each power the prisoners and deserters in his hands.” (SOURCE: Polybius, “Histories”, XVIII, I, 1).

After these accusations, Philip V personally addressed all who were present there. To the demand for the Macedonians to leave “Greece”, he responded:

“And what is that Greece from which you order me to withdraw, and how do you define Greece?  For most of the Aetolians themselves are not Greeks. No! the countries of the Agrae, the Apodotae, and the Amphilochians are not Greece. Do you give me permission to remain in those countries?” (SOURCE: Polybius, “Histories”, XVIII, I, 4).

This is certainly one of the most interesting statements that should be deeply analyzed. Not only are these words valuable because they represent an authentic statement made by one of the last ancient Macedonian kings, but with these words he clearly made a small analysis of the ethnic composition of the Greek territories at that time.

First he says that the majority of Aetolians werenot Greek, which of course is apparent according to their non-Greek self-declaration. The Aetolians lived north of Peloponnesus which brings up the question if that part was Greek at all (in ancient times). There are other authentic testimonies related to the Aetolians not being Greek.

In relation to this, the famous Greek historian Thucydides in his work “History of the Peloponnesian War” writes that the biggest tribe in Aetolia were the Euritanians, who spoke in a language hard to understand. (SOURCE: Thucydides, “Peloponnesian War”, 3, 94).

The non-Greek ethnical origin (to at least a part of the Aetolians) is pointed out in the big “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography”, where the author, relying on the writings of Strabo, says that the original inhabitants of Aetolia were the Curets who, according to Strabo (10, 465), came from Euboea. Here we read about the Lelegs and Hiyants which, according to Strabo (10, 466) were banished from Boeotia. Further on we read that these three nations probably belonged to the great nation Pelasgi and were not Hellenic.(SOURCE: “Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geogra­phy“, William Smith, LLD. London. Walton and Maberly, Upper Gower Street and Ivy Lane, Paternoster Row; John Murray, Albe­marle Street, 1854).

Further on we read about the accusations against Philip V in front of the Roman senate, made by Greek mercenaries. Polybusdescribes these in great detail:

“Their accusations were in general similar to those they had brought against the king in person, but the point which they all took pains to impress upon the senate was that as long as Chalcis, Corinth, and Demetrias remained in Macedonian hands it was impossible for the Gre­eks to have any thought of liberty.”(SOURCE: Polybius, “Histories”, XVIII, I, 11).

So, the Greeks were under Macedonian reign and their emissaries in Rome tried to convince the Romans to war against Macedonia and to bring freedom to the Greeks. They also said that as long as Philip owns all of their territories, the Greeks would not gain their freedom.

Then we read a description of the battle at Cynoscephalae in which the Macedonians suffered a great defeat by the Romans. Polybius writes that many Greeks could not even believe that Macedonia was defeated:

       “…Мany Greeks on the actual occasions when the Macedonians suffered defeat considered the event as almost incredible, and many will still continue to wonder why and how the phalanx comes to be conquered by troops armed in the Roman fashion.”(SOURCE: Polybius, “Histories”, XVIII, I, 32).

In the following negotiations after Macedonia’s defeat, we see the statement made by the Roman general Flamininus, who told the representative of the Aetolians:

       “…It is in the interest of the Greeks that the Macedonian dominion should be humbled for long, but by no means that it should be destroyed.” (Polybius, “Histories”, XVIII, I, 37).

It was pointed out to Flamininus by a certain Phaeneas, that Philip could renew his power, to which Flamininus replied:

        “Stop talking nonsense, Phaeneas; for I will so manage the peace that Philip will not, even if he wishes it, be able to wrong the Greeks.” (Polybius, “Histories”, XVIII, I, 37).

After this, Philip V signed many inconvenient peace treaties. Among many other things, Philip was also ordered to:

          “All the rest of the Greeks in Asia and Europe were to be free and subject to their own laws; Philip was to surrender to the Romans before the Isthmian games those Greeks subject to his rule and the cities in which he had garrisons…” (Polybius, “Histories”, XVIII, IV, 44).

From all this evidence, it is quite clear that Polybius’s work represents another strong argument against the present-day Greek propaganda.