Episode 36 (Plutarch, Part II)



Plutarch gives proof of the individuality of the Macedonians in his Biography of Aemilius Paulus, which he wrote in the year 75.

Aemilius Paulus was a Roman general who made the final blow to the Macedonians, after which Ancient Macedonia was occupied by the Romans and stopped existing as a state. Before we move on to extracts from Plutarch’s work, let’s explain the events that happened in and around Macedonia at that time.

After the death of Alexander the Great of Macedon the great Macedonian empire fell apart to a few administrative-political organized territories, which were still ruled by Macedonians. There were always clashes among the Macedonian heirs of Alexander for conquering as much as possible from the former Macedonian empire.

Macedonia itself stood as an independent state and was conquered by the Roman Empire, after three great Macedonian-Roman wars.

The First Macedonian-Roman war went on from 215 till 205 BC, the Second from 200 – 197 BC, andthe Third and final war from 171 – 168 BC, after which Macedonia seized to exist as a state. We will not go intodetails to describe these wars, but we will make a short review of a part from the Third Macedonian-Roman war. This war ended with the final battle between the Macedonians and the Romans which took place in Pydna on June 22 168 BC. The main Roman general was Aemilius Paulus and the battle began in the early morning. At first, the Macedonians had success, but because of the uneven terrain the Macedonian Phalanx divided its lines, after which the Romans started to penetrate the “hollows” and with their swords, made terrible losses to the Macedonians. After this defeat, the rest of Maccedonia was taken over in just two days, and the last Macedonian king Perseus was enslaved and taken to Rome, where he died.

Now, let’s go back to Plutarch’s biography on Aemilius Paulus. In this extensive work, Plutarch describes the life and military career of this Roman general, and he dedicated some pages to the events that happened in Macedonia during the last period of its existence as an independent country. Plutarch writes:

          “This was the time, in public matters, when the Romans were engaged in war with Perseus, king of the Macedonians, and great complaints were made of their commanders, who, either through their want of skill or courage, were conducting matters so shamefully, that they did less hurt to the enemy than they received from him. They that not long before had forced Antiochus the Great to quit the rest of Asia, to retire beyond Mount Taurus, and confine himself to Syria, glad to buy his peace with fifteen thousand talents; they that not long since had vanquished king Philip in Thessaly, and freed the Greeks from the Macedonian yoke; nay, had overcome Hannibal himself, who far surpassed all kings in daring and power —thought it scorn that Perseus should think himself an enemy fit to match the Romans, and to be able to wage war with them so long on equal terms, with the remainder only of his father’s routed forces; not being aware that Philip after his defeat had greatly improved both the strength and discipline of the Macedonian army.“ (SOURCE: “Aemilius Paulus“ by Plutarch, translated by John Drden).

Before we continue with the presentation of the rest of his work, let us give a full explanation of this extract. In here Plutarch describes the period of the Third Roman-Macedonian war. It is known that Aemilius Paulus was made general in the Roman army after his predecessors didnot succeed against the Macedonian army. Plutarch reminds us of the previous successes of the Roman army, especially their victory over the king Antiochus III the Great, who belonged to the Macedonian dynasty Seleucides (which at the time ruled parts of Asia). He also reminds us of the victory over the Macedonian king Philip V during the previous Macedonian-Roman clashes. But, it was a different case with the Roman generals who warred against Perseus and that is why general Aemilius Paulus was put in charge.

An interesting and significant moment can be seen in this extract. It is the sentence that, according to which, the Romans “…freed the Greeks from the Macedonian yoke“.It would be inte­rest­ing to know how today’s Greek propaganda reacts to this significant proof about the differences between the Macedonians and the Greeks made by this famous ancient historian, as well as for the fact that the Greeks for centuries were under Macedonian slavery.

After this, Plutarch makes an analysis of the war between the Romans, led by the general Aemilus Paulus, and the Macedonians. Plutarch writes that Aemilius Paulus won the war thanks to a chain of circumstances. About the later activities of Aemilius Paulus, Plutarch writes:

          “Having thus settled everything well, taking his leave of the Greeks, and exhorting the Macedonians, that, mindful of the liberty they had received from the Romans, they should endeavour to maintain it by their obedience to the laws, and concord amongst themselves, he departed for Epirus…”

I do not think further comments are needed for this extract by the famous Greek historian Plutarch. Here too, the Macedonians and the Greeks are clearly separated.