At the Isthmian Games in 196 B.C., the Roman proconsul Titus Quinctius Flamininus proclaimed the ‘Freedom of the Greeks’ as the outcome of the second Macedonian war.
And the herald, coming forward into the midst of the spectators, made proclamation that the Roman senate and Titus Quintius Flamininus proconsular general, having conquered King Philip and the Macedonians, restored to freedom, without garrisons and without imposts, and to the enjoyment of their ancient laws, the Corinthians, the Locrians, the Phocians, the Euboeans, the Achaeans of Phthiotis, the Magnesians, the Thessalians, and the Perrhaebians. (Plutarch, Life of Flamininus 10.4)
The declaration formally liberated the city-states of European Greece from Macedonian hegemony, declaring the Greeks free from taxes, free from garrisons, and free to live under their own ancestral laws.
This article will attempt to interpret the intentions of the declaration, the implementation of a policy that aligned the interests of the Roman state, her commanders and the Greeks that were brought under protection.
The Politics of Intervention
In 201 B.C., Rome issued an ultimatum to Philip V of Macedon to refrain from warring against any Greek state.
Thereupon the Romans sent a herald to him, and bade him announce to his master Philip that “The Romans admonished him to make no war upon any Greek State, and to submit to an arbitration before a fair tribunal as to the injuries he had inflicted upon Attalus: that, if he did this, he might have peace with Rome, but, if he refused to obey, the opposite would immediately follow.” (Polybius, Histories 16.27.2-3)
This demand was issued at the behest of the Rhodians and Attalus of Pergamon who pleaded their case against Macedonian aggression.
Just about the same time envoys arrived from King Attalus and also from Rhodes with the information that Philip was trying to gain the States of Asia Minor. The reply made to both deputations was that the situation in Asia was engaging the attention of the senate. The question of war with Macedonia was referred to the consuls, who were at the time in their respective provinces. (Livy, The History of Rome 31.2)
The ultimatum is not direct evidence of an advocacy for Greek freedom, but a willingness to intervene in the affairs of others to protect the interests of Rome. After all, Philip had sided with the Carthaginian Hannibal, his atrocities were well known and Macedonia did loom as a potential menace in the east.
There were further reasons for concern, a potential alliance between Macedonia and the Seleucids was a point highlighted by those who sought help.
In 200 B.C., just two years after the battle of Zama, Philip stood firm against the arbitrator’s wishes and Rome, armed with a casus belli declared war on Philip, a war to break Macedonian power.
Adopting Freedom of the Greeks as Policy
When Rome entered the east for the second Macedonian war, the policy of ‘Freedom of the Greeks’ had not been explicitly formulated but evolved over time.
In the spring of 199 B.C., the Aetolians met with both Macedonian and Roman ambassadors to discuss the conflict. The Macedonians spoke in terms of freedom that left the Romans defending themselves against charges of enslavement.
In the first Punic war they went to Sicily, ostensibly to help Messana; in the second, to deliver Syracuse from Carthaginian tyranny and restore her freedom. Now Messana and Syracuse and in fact the whole of Sicily are tributary to them: they have reduced the island to a province in which they exercise absolute power of life and death. (Livy, The History of Rome 31.29)
It is the arrival of Flamininus in 198 B.C. that demonstrates a shift in Roman diplomacy in the Greek world and an assimilation of their enemy’s rhetoric. At the conference of Aous gorge, Flamininus demanded the removal of Macedonian garrisons from all Greek states including the Macedonian aligned Thessaly.
The discussion then turned upon the question, which communities were to be liberated. The consul mentioned the Thessalians to begin with. Philip was so furious at this suggestion that he exclaimed, “What heavier condition, T. Quinctius, could you impose upon a defeated foe?” and with these words hastily left the conference. (Livy, The History of Rome, 32.10)
This request may not have contained the eleutheria rhetoric of the Isthmian declaration, but does reveal the intent of Flamininus and the Romans, that is, they weren’t interesting in negotiating with Philip and would use Greek liberation as a pretext for their involvement in the region.
Macedonian Defeat, Practical Administration and a Buffer Policy
Macedonian power was broken in 197 B.C. when the Romans and their Greek allies summarily defeated Philip and his Macedonian phalanx at Cynoscephalae.
In the following year, Rome sent ten commissioners to aid Flamininus in his settlement of Greece and their deliberations resulted in the Isthmiam proclamation.
At this time the ten commissioners who were to control the affairs of Greece arrived from Rome bringing the senatus-consultum about the peace with Philip. Its principal contents were as follows: All the rest of the Greeks in Asia and Europe were to be free and subject to their own laws; (Polybius, Histories 18.44)
In these deliberations, Flamininus claimed that the only way to win sincere Greek goodwill was for the Romans to withdraw from all former Macedonian dependences.
… pointing out to them that if they wished to gain universal renown in Greece and in general convince all that the Romans had originally crossed the sea not in their own interest but in that of the liberty of Greece, they must withdraw from every place and set free all the cities now garrisoned by Philip. (Polybius, Histories 18.45)
To the Greeks, it made the concept of Roman control psychologically acceptable and furthermore, required none of the arduous administration nor a military presence by the Romans.The only practical wrangling issue was the ‘fetters of Greece’, useful garrison points for any future invasions by Antiochus III. A compromise was reached of a temporary garrison, Flamininus believing that the goodwill of the Greeks would be the best defence against foreign intervention.
It is for these reasons, that the intent of the ‘Freedom of the Greeks’ was a practical administrative policy and the development of an effective buffer between Rome and her enemies.
Propaganda, Propaganda, Propaganda
Apart from being an effective strategic policy, the slogan of Greek freedom made wonderful propaganda and redefined the Romans through Greek eyes.
Before the intervention, the Greeks may have considered the Romans as mere barbarians, or as Peter Green eloquently states, ‘hand in glove with Aetolian freebooters’.
If their intervention policy had been based on military strength alone, it is unlikely to have yielded allies like the Achaeans and the Aetolians. The Romans themselves were on foreign soil and the Greeks were unlikely to simply swap one tyrant for another.
Just as Alexander had marched through Asia Minor under the pretence of liberation, the Romans marched into European Greece under a similar guise and offered terms that appealed to the Greeks.
The terms of liberation were likely influenced by Philip’s own policies or at the suggestion of their Aetolian allies. In Delphi, a dedication recognises Flamininus as a ‘descendant of Aeneas’, a reference to the view of the Romans as more than just barbarians but liberators from an ancient ancestry.
At this time, the interests of Rome and those of the allied Greeks were aligned, opportunity and propaganda redefining their relationship.
The Roman Aristocratic Ethos
We must now examine the intentions of the individual, that is, what made Flamininus a strong proponent for the ‘Freedom of the Greeks’?
We may falsely jump to an early conclusion and pronounce Flamininus genuinely sympathetic to the plight of the Greeks. It is true at the conference at Aous gorge that the demand was for an evacuation of European Greece, but these demands aligned with the interests of an ambitious Roman aristocrat to wage war in the pursuit of gloria.
Further suspicion is levelled at Flamininus by Plutarch, whom suggests the continuation of the war in the negotiations of 198 B.C. depended entirely on who was allowed to continue it.
Philip now sent an embassy to Rome, and Titus therefore dispatched thither his own representatives, who were to induce the senate to vote him an extension of command in case the war continued, or, if it did not, the power to make peace. For he was covetous of honour, and was greatly afraid that he would be robbed of his glory if another general were sent to carry on the war. (Plutarch, Life of Flamininus 7)
However, the role of benefactor served Flamininus well, he was hailed and worshipped as a liberator in Greece, enjoyed a spectacular triumph in Rome and wielded power in Greece unparalleled since Alexander the Great.
In the arena of public opinion, the policy was a resounding success. We may never know the true intentions of Flamininus, but the evidence suggests that his ambition outweighed his altruism and fortunately for the Greeks, that ambition was best served by an advocacy of ‘Freedom of the Greeks’.
At the conclusion of the Isthmian proclamation, Plutarch writes of the jubilation and disbelief of the Greek people upon hearing the outcome of the war.
The whole audience rose to their feet, and no heed was paid to the contending athletes, but all were eager to spring forward and greet and hail the saviour and champion of Greece. (Plutarch, Life of Flamininus 10.5)
For the Greeks, it had made Roman control psychologically acceptable and more importantly, preferable to other major powers.
For the Romans, it served as an ideological pretext to gain influence in the region and destabilise the power of rivals.
For Flamininus, it served his ambition as Rome’s avenger, conqueror of Macedonia and liberator of Greece.
They may not have received equal weighting by Flamininus, but these were his intentions in declaring the ‘Freedom of the Greeks’.