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Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars (6-10)


Legionary standard (of XXX Ulpia Traiana reenactment group). Photo Jona Lendering.
Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) is the author of a Roman History and one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians. Although only his books on the Roman Civil Wars survive in their entirety, large parts of Appian's book on the Syrian War, or Syriaca, have also come down to us. It deals with the war that the Romans and the Seleucid king Antiochus III the Great fought in 192-188, but also discusses, as an appendix, the history of the Seleucid Empire. Therefore, the Syriaca is a valuable source for the history of the ancient Near East between the reign of Alexander the Great and the Roman conquest.

The translation was made by Horace White; notes and additions in green by Jona Lendering.


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[6] Then [king]Antiochus[III the Great] went down to the Hellespont and crossed over to Chersonesus and possessed himself of a large part of Thrace by conquest or surrender. He freed the Greeks who were under subjection to the Thracians, and conciliated the Byzantines in many ways, because their city was admirably situated at the outlet of the Euxine Sea. By gifts and by fear of his warlike preparations he brought the Galatians into his alliance, because he considered them formidable by reason of their bodily size. [194 BCE] Then he went back to Ephesus and sent as ambassadors to Rome Lysias, Hegesianax, and Menippus.

They were sent really to find out the intentions of the Senate, but for the sake of appearances Menippus said, "King Antiochus, while strongly desirous of the friendship of the Romans and willing to be their ally if they wish, is surprised that they urge him to give up the cities of Ionia and to remit tribute for certain states, and not to interfere with certain of the affairs of Asia and to leave Thrace alone, though it has always belonged to his ancestors. Yours are not the exhortations of friends, but resemble orders given by victors to the vanquished."

The Senate, perceiving that the embassy had come to make a test of their disposition, replied curtly, "If Antiochus will leave the Greeks in Asia free and independent, and keep away from Europe, he can be the friend of the Roman people if he desires." Such was the answer of the Romans, and they gave no reason for their rejoinder.




[7] As Antiochus intended to invade Greece first and thence begin his war against the Romans, he communicated his design to Hannibal. The latter said that as Greece had been wasted for a long time, the task would be easy; but that wars which were waged at home were the hard ones to bear, by reason of the scarcity which they caused, and that those which took place in foreign territory were much easier to endure. Antiochus could never vanquish the Romans in Greece, where they would have plenty of home-grown grain and all needed material. Hannibal urged him to occupy some part of Italy and make his base of operations there, so that the Romans might be weakened both at home and abroad. "I have had experience of Italy," he said, "and with 10,000 men I can occupy some convenient place and write to my friends in Carthage to stir up the people to revolt. As they are already discontented with their condition, and harbor ill-will toward the Romans, they will be filled with courage and hope if they hear that I am ravaging Italy again." Antiochus listened eagerly to this advice, and as he considered a Carthaginian accession a great advantage (as it would have been) for his war, directed him to write to his friends at once.

A beardless Hannibal on a coin by Hannibal.
A beardless Melqart on a coin
of Hannibal  (!!)

[8] Hannibal did not write the letters, since he did not consider it yet safe to do so, as the Romans were searching out everything and the war was not yet openly declared, and he had many opponents in Carthage, and the city had no fixed or sound policy - the very lack of which caused its destruction, not long afterward [1]. But he sent Aristo, a Tyrian merchant, to his friends, on the pretext of trading, to tell them that when he should invade Italy they should rouse Carthage to avenge her wrongs.

Aristo did this, but when Hannibal's enemies learned that he was in the city they raised a tumult as though a revolution was impending, and searched everywhere to find him. In order that Hannibal's friends might not be particularly accused, he posted letters in front of the Senate-chamber secretly by night, saying that Hannibal exhorted the whole Senate to rescue the country with the help of Antiochus. Having done this he sailed away.

In the morning the friends of Hannibal were relieved of their fears by this afterthought of Aristo, which implied that he had been sent to the whole senate. The city was filled with all kinds of tumult, the people feeling bitterly toward the Romans, but despairing of accomplishing anything indirectly. Such was the situation of affairs in Carthage.


Portrait bust of P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus. Musei Capitolini, Roma (Italy). Photo Marco Prins.
 P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus
(Musei Capitolini)

[9] In the meantime Roman ambassadors, and among them [Publius Cornelius] Scipio [Africanus], who had humbled the Carthaginian power [2], were sent, like those of Antiochus, to ascertain his designs and to form an estimate of his strength. Learning that the king had gone to Pisidia, they waited for him at Ephesus. There they entered into frequent conversations with Hannibal, Carthage being then at peace with them and war with Antiochus not yet declared. They reproached Hannibal for flying his country when the Romans had nothing to complain against him, or against the other Carthaginians, under the terms of the last treaty. They did this in order to cast suspicion on Hannibal in the mind of the king by the protracted conversations and intercourse. Hannibal, although a most profound military genius, did not perceive their design, but the king, when he learned what had been going on, did suspect him, and was more reluctant to give him his confidence thereafter. There was also some jealousy and envy added, lest Hannibal should carry off the glory of the exploits.



[10] It is said that at one of their meetings in the gymnasium Scipio and Hannibal had a conversation on the subject of generalship, in the presence of a number of bystanders, and that Scipio asked Hannibal whom he considered the greatest general, to which the latter replied, "Alexander of Macedonia."

To this Scipio assented since he also yielded the first place to Alexander. Then he asked Hannibal whom he placed next, and he replied, "Pyrrhus of Epirus," because he considered boldness the first qualification of a general; "for it would not be possible," he said, "to find two kings more enterprising than these."

Scipio was rather nettled by this, but nevertheless he asked Hannibal to whom he would give the third place, expecting that at least the third would be assigned to him; but Hannibal replied, "To myself; for when I was a young man I conquered Spain and crossed the Alps with an army, the first after Hercules. I invaded Italy and struck terror into all of you, laid waste 400 of your towns, and often put your city in extreme peril, all this time receiving neither money nor reinforcements from Carthage."

As Scipio saw that he was likely to prolong his self-laudation he said, laughing, "Where would you place yourself, Hannibal, if you had not been defeated by me?" Hannibal, now perceiving his jealousy, replied, "In that case I should have put myself before Alexander." Thus Hannibal continued his self-laudation, but flattered Scipio in a delicate manner by suggesting that he had conquered one who was the superior of Alexander.






Appian   :   Roman History   :   Syrian wars   :   part three





Note 1:
A reference to the Third Punic War.

Note 2:
He had defeated Hannibal and had put an end to the Second Punic War.





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