Battle of Cynoscephalae

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For the earlier battle fought here, see Battle of Cynoscephalae (364 BC).
Battle of Cynoscephalae
Part of the Second Macedonian War
Macedonia and the Aegean World c.200.png
A map showing the location of Cynoscephalae.
Date 197 BC
Location Thessaly
Result Decisive Roman victory
Belligerents
Roman Republic
Aetolian League allies
Macedon
Commanders and leaders
T. Quinctius Flamininus Philip V of Macedon
Strength
about 33,400 men or about the same number as the Macedonians according to Plutarch and 20 elephants[1] 25,500 men according to Plutarch[2]
Casualties and losses
about 2,000 killed or wounded 8,000 killed, 5,000 captured

The Battle of Cynoscephalae (Greek: Μάχη τῶν Κυνὸς Κεφαλῶν) was an encounter battle fought in Thessaly in 197 BC between the Roman army, led by Titus Quinctius Flamininus, and the Antigonid dynasty of Macedon, led by Philip V.

Prelude[edit]

T. Quinctius Flamininus, with his allies from the Aetolian League, were stationed at Thebes, and marched out towards Pherae in search of Philip, who was at Larissa. When Flamininus began his march to Larisa he had under his command about 32,500 to 33,400 soldiers. Besides the usual Roman troops and auxiliary units that would appear in any Roman army Flamininus's forces also included soldiers from the allied Aetolian League, light infantry from Athamania, mercenary archers from Crete, and elephants and Numidian cavalry from King Masinissa of Numidia. Philip had about 16,000 heavy infantry in phalanx formation, 2,000 peltasts, 5,500 light infantry from Illyria, Thrace, and Crete, and 2,000 cavalry for 25,500 troops overall. The two armies met near Pherae, and Philip's troops were defeated in a cavalry skirmish on the hills outside the city. Both sides then marched toward Scotusa in search of food, but out of sight of each other because of the hills.

Battle[edit]

A tactical map of the battle showing the various phases.

During the march there was a heavy rainstorm, and the morning after there was a fog over the hills and fields separating both camps. Despite this, Philip resumed his march, and his troops became confused and disoriented due to heavy fog. Philip then sent a small force to take the Cynoscephalae hills (coordinates: 39º25'N, 22º34'E). Flamininus, still unaware of Philip's location, sent out some cavalry and light infantry to reconnoiter, which engaged Philip's troops on the hills. The battle on the hills grew fierce and Flamininus sent 500 cavalry and 2,000 infantry as reinforcements, mostly Aetolians, forcing Philip's men to withdraw further up the hill. Philip now sent more men into the melee, his Macedonian and Thessalian horse, who drove the Romans down the hill, until the Aetolian cavalry stabilized the situation. Philip, though reluctant to send his phalanx into the broken, hilly terrain eventually ordered an assault with 8,000 men when he heard of the Roman retreat. Flamininus positioned his troops on the field as well. He left his right wing in reserve, with his elephants in front, and personally led the left wing against Philip. Meanwhile Philip's phalanx had reached the summit, and after joining with their light troops and cavalry which he placed on his right wing, Philip had his phalanx charge down the hill into the oncoming legionaries. As the Roman left was slowly being driven back, Flamininus took command of his right and ordered an assault there.

Philip's right wing was now on higher ground than the Roman left, and was at first successful against them. However his left wing and center- made up of another 8,000 phalangites- were still disorganized and in marching formation. They hadn't even formed the phalanx when Flamininus sent his elephants charging into them, and they routed. After breaking through, one of the Roman tribunes took twenty maniples (a smaller division of the legion) and attacked the Macedonian right wing from behind. The Macedonians were unable to reposition themselves as quickly as the Roman maniples. The Macedonians raised their pikes as a symbol of surrender. Either the Romans didn't understand this signal, or they just ignored it. There was complete panic in the Macedonian ranks. Now surrounded by both wings of the Roman legion, they suffered heavy casualties and fled.

Aftermath[edit]

After a brief pursuit, Flamininus allowed Philip to escape. According to Polybius and Livy, 8,000 Macedonians had been killed. Livy mentions that other sources claim 32,000 Macedonians were killed and even one writer who due to "boundless exaggeration" claims 40,000 but concludes that Polybius is the trustworthy source on this matter.[3] Flamininus also took 5,000 prisoners. The Romans lost about 2,000 men and many more wounded.

It is generally perceived that with the later Battle of Pydna, this defeat demonstrated the superiority of the Roman legion over the Macedonian phalanx. The phalanx, though very powerful head on, was not as flexible as the Roman manipular formation. The result of the battle of Cynoscephalae was a fatal blow to the political aspirations of the Macedonian kingdom; Macedonia would never again be in a position to challenge Rome's geopolitical expansion. Although the peace that followed allowed Philip to keep his kingdom intact, Flamininus proclaimed that other Greek states previously under Macedonian domination were now free. Philip also had to pay 1,000 talents of silver to Rome, disband his navy, most of his army, and send his son to Rome as a hostage.

Thematic summary[edit]

1. There was a chance encounter between the advance groups of both armies at the summit near the pass. They approached from opposite sides.

2. The right half of the Macedonian phalanx was formed in double depth and they charged downhill against the Roman's left wing. This relentless advance ensured their doom.

3. Flaminius saw his only hope was in creating a diversion. He had the elephants followed by his right wing go uphill against the enemy's left wing.

4. The Macedonian left wing had arrived on the summit. They were still in column formation and thrown into disorder. They were easily routed and pursued. If matters had concluded right there, the result would have been indecisive with the loss of a wing on each side.

5. The Roman victory was achieved through the initiative of a tribune, whose name is unknown. He abandoned his part and attacked the rear of the Macedonian right wing, taking twenty cohorts.

6. This was the first time Roman legions were victorious over a Macedonian phalanx and established the superiority of the more flexible legion. The second and last time would be at the battle of Pydna in 168 BC.[4]

Literature[edit]

  • N.G.L. Hammond, "The Campaign and Battle of Cynoscephalae in 197 BC" in Journal of Hellenic Studies 108 (1988)
  • Polybius, Histories, Bk XVIII.19–27.

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Plutarch
  2. ^ Plutarch
  3. ^ Livy 33.10
  4. ^ Montagu, John Drogo (2006). Greek and Roman Warfare: Battles, Tactics, and Trickery. London: Greenhill Books. p. 211-212. 

Coordinates: 39°25′N 22°34′E / 39.417°N 22.567°E / 39.417; 22.567