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Battle of Aoi Stena gorge

(198 BCE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman-Macedonian clash
Roman-Macedonian clash | Photo: Vladimir Vaksheyev

Battle of Aoi Stena gorge (198 BCE) is another clash characteristic of the wars in the Hellenistic East. After defeating Carthage, the Romans immediately turned their eyes to the Hellenistic East. The immediate cause of the intervention was an appeal from Rhodes and Pergamon, fearing Macedonian influence. Roman troops pushed Macedonian troops out of the gorge and forced them to withdraw.

Background of events

After defeating Carthage, the Romans immediately turned their eyes to the Hellenistic East. The immediate cause of intervention on the Adriatic was an appeal to the Senate from Rhodes and Pergamon, who were afraid of the actions of Philip V of Macedonia.

The deputies of these polis came in autumn 201 BCE to Tiber, asking for help. Patres could not help allies that included both countries. So they sent a commission to Hellas, three men, who were to orientate themselves and win allies against Macedonia among the Greeks. The legates held talks with Ethol, Athaman, Achaean, and representatives of Epirus and Athens. In 200 BCE the new consul Sulpicius Galba proposed to declare war on Philip. In the first ballot he was strongly rejected because Roman society was tired of constant wars. In addition, some senators were reluctant to take Galba’s initiative.

However, the consul did not lay down his arms. There was pressure for re-voting, which was finally carried out. Before him, Galba argued that Macedonians want to cross Italy and pose a greater threat than Pyrrus. The ruler of Epirus attacked thriving Italy and approached Rome itself with much less force than Philip, who can now invade the devastated war with Hannibal the Roman land. Moreover, he drew attention to the need to help allies in Greece. The committees, convinced by these arguments, voted for the war this time.

Preparations for war

Philip V

Roman legates came to Athens when hostilities were under the city walls. Philip attacked Attica, which was joined by the combined Rhodium-Pergamon fleet. In April or May 200 BCE, the Athenians, at the prompting of the Romans, officially declared war on Macedonia. Seeing Macedonian warriors ravaging their land, the citizens of Athens sent a message to Rome for help. His arrival in Italy coincides temporarily with Rome’s enactment of the war with Philip. The Senate ordered the recruitment of two legions and units of the Italian allies – a total of about 20,000 people. An ultimatum was also sent to Philip: Antigone was to stop reaching out for Ptolemy’s land, to make amends to Pergamon and Rhodes, and to stop wars with the Greeks. For Philip, this was unacceptable, because it equaled Rome’s subordination to Macedonia’s policy.

Roman MPs thwarted the alliance of Rhodes with Philip and captured the Seleucids and Ptolemy. The Macedonian king could have opposed the Republic of 40-45 thousand soldiers. From this a strong contingent was to perform garrison service in the cities subordinate to the ruler. Many warriors were sent to secure the northern borders of Macedonia. In total, Philip’s field army could have a maximum of 20,000 – 25,000 people, which was the equivalent of the Roman consular army. Macedonian basileus adopted the tactic of avoiding general battles. His people were to cut the supply lines of the Romans, surprise small enemy troops by surprise, and block his marches using mountainous terrain.

Campaign in the Balkans

The first months of the war were marked by the victories of the Romans. Consul Galba with an army of 2 legions, ally troops and 50 ships landed in Apollonia. His legate Apustius set off towards the northwest of Macedonia, conquering several towns in Dassaretta and Antipatreja, Kodrion and Knidos. At Knidos, Macedonian chief Athenagoras attacked the stretched column of Roman prey, but after the arrival of the heavy-armed legionary infantry he had to retreat. The successes of Apustius made the Illyrians, Dardans and Athamans ready for military support of the Roman army. In the meantime, after unsuccessful fighting under the walls of Athens, Philip went to the Peloponnese to drag the Achai to his side. However, those engaged in the war with Nabis were not interested in the conflict with Rome. So the king returned to Athens, but after unsuccessful attempts to capture the city he returned to his homeland. The leaders of both armies began preparations for the 199 BCE campaign. Philip secured the passes from Pelagonia to Lynkestis in the north, manning them with considerable strength for fear of invading his deadly Dardan enemies. Galba planned to attack Macedonia from several sides. Alone with the legions, the Balkans were to push from the west, the Illyrians and the Dardans were to attack from the north-west and the north, from the Thessaly they would be attacked by the Ethols. The combined Roman-Rhodian-Pergame fleet was to devastate the coast of Macedonia. However, the Etols remained in alliance with Philip and did not trust the Romans, not quite believing in their victory. Therefore, in the spring of 199 BCE at the congress in Naupaktos they did not make the final decision to join the alliance with the Romans. The disappointed consul, however, did not give up his plans for the invasion. He had 20,000 legionary infantry, about 2,000 rides supported by the Illyrians and several / a dozen elephants. His opponent gathered 20,000 infantrymen, mostly phalanxes, as well as Illyrians and Cretans, and 2,000 cavalry. Galba went through Gramsh, Kodrion and Dassaretyda. He intended to cross the mountains to the plains of Lower Macedonia, where he wanted to connect with the Dardans and Illyrias. If this plan were to succeed, Philip’s kingdom would be doomed. Philip had to stop the Romans in the mountains, avoiding a battle.

The Roman army reached the land of the Great Lakes – Prespanskie and Lichnitis. Philip, having learned about the enemy’s moves, moved to meet him. Near Lake Lichnitis there was a clash of Roman and Macedonian cavalry, in which 35 Romans and 40 Macedonians fell. In line with his strategy, the King of Macedonia sent flying troops to hinder the supply of Galba’s people. The Roman commander moved the camp to Ottobolos, where the legionaries scattered around the area, collecting feed and food. Macedonians laid roads to the Roman camp, cutting them off from the rest of the army. Some Macedonians – cavalry and riders cut out scattered Romans, and the rest of Philip’s army took their way to the enemy camp, ready to repel the attack. When the people of Galba came to their aid, Philip created a real battle line. The invading Roman cavalry was decimated by Cretan shells and pushed away by Philip’s cavalry. It was only the arrival of the legionary infantry that changed the course of the battle in favor of Galba.

According to Livy, 200 Macedonian troopers were killed and 100 captured. The losses of the Romans had to be significant. Galba escorted the army through the land of the Great Lakes towards Pelagonia, where he improved his supply situation. Then he headed east, wanting to reach the valley of the Monastery through the passes. The Roman procession was delayed by the light-armed Philip, who attacked the extended Roman column from both sides. Antygonida took a position near the Erigon River, and then moved to the Lynkos Pass, which he ordered to strengthen with embankments, ditches and stone walls. To defend this passage, the king appointed Cretans. The legionaries marching along the narrow road between the mountain ranges were exposed, but large shields protected them. Under a hail of enemy missiles, they retreated, then formed a turtle (testudo). As this armored roller made its way through the pass, another legionary squad swept Macedonians out of the eastern hills. Galba’s troops, after rejecting Philip, freely crossed Lynkos and found themselves in the Ostrovo valley, only 3 days walking to the capital of the kingdom of Macedonia. Steep mountains separated the coveted Romans, and the only passage through them was bet by Philip. At this point, however, Galba decided to retreat. Perhaps this decision was dictated by the terrible supply of the Roman army and too late in the year, unsuitable for warfare. Legions ravaged Eordaja and Orestis, capturing Keletron. After reaching Dassaretta, the Romans stormed Pelion and returned to Apollonia.

The consequence of this campaign was the entry into the war of the Ethols, who, having heard of the defeats of the Macedonians and the invasion of the Illyrians and Dardans, did not hesitate any longer. Their troops entered Thessaly and robbed the land together with the Athamans. The Ethol invasion of Macedonia did not come to fruition only because of the King of Athamans, who persuaded his allies to march on Gomfoj. However, the combined Ethol-Athaman army was attacked by Philip’s volatile troops. Macedonian cavalry attacked the Etols and chased them to the camp. After the arrival of the Macedonian infantry, the Etols took refuge in the Athaman camp. Antygonida tried to get him, but it stopped him late. The Ethols and Athamans retreated through the Pindos massifs. In the north of the kingdom, the Macedonians also achieved success – Athenagoras sent to the north defeated the prey-laden Dardans.

Battle in the Aoi Stena gorge 198 BC

Galba’s retreat, of course, did not mean the withdrawal of the legions from the Balkans, because the Romans did not want to give up their involvement in these areas. They wanted to play the role of a hegemon in the Greek world of polis. That is why Philip spent the winter training his subordinates with a view to continuing military operations in the near future. He pulled the crew from Lizymachei and tried unsuccessfully to get Achaeas to war with Rome. Upon hearing the revolt in the Roman army, he took the initiative. He sent light-armed and mercenaries under Atenagoras through Pindos to Parauai in Epirus. This group of troops explored the area and manned the Antigonei Pass, blocking the road to Epirus via the Drina Valley. When the rest of Phillip’s army of phalanx arrived, the whole army took their position in the Aoi Stena Gorge, hollowed out by the Aoos River, flowing into Drina. It occupied the entire bottom of the gorge between the Meropos and Asnaos mountain ranges. Only in the nearby rocks a narrow path was hollowed out. Atenagoras took light duty with Asnaos, while the king cast Meropos. The pass planted with troops was unassailable. The king ordered to strengthen it with palisades, towers and ditches. On high cliffs, he placed many catapults and other ancient “howitzers” to fire at legionaries tearing down the narrow path below. He set up the Falangites at the end of the road through the pass, which the Roman column was to march. Sam took the most prominent position in front of the embankment. By seizing Aoi Stena on the route to Thessaly, Philip wanted to protect the land of Epirots, his nominal allies.

The new Roman commander, Publius Villius Tappulus wanted to repeat Galba’s feat and follow his trail to the plains of Lower Macedonia, choosing Pelion as a base. As in the case of Galba, his march was to be coordinated with the attack of the Illyrians and Dardans from the north, and Athamans and Etols from the south. This maneuver, however, exposed the Romans to danger because it would make it easier for Antigone to cut their supply lines by quickly capturing Antigonea. A Roman commander, notified of the whereabouts of Philip’s army, from Korkyra moved towards him across the mainland. At a distance of 8 kilometers from the position of Macedonians, he camped. He faced a difficult choice between the finishing legionaries’ march on the capital along the Galba Trail, and the difficult attack on Aoi Stena. However, he was no longer able to take action, because his consulate had just expired. Here in May 198 BCE Titus Quincius Flamininus, the future winner from Cynoscephalae took command of the legions. In the past he served as a propagator in the Greek Taranto, so he had a knowledge of Greek culture and language, he also understood the Hellenic mentality. So he was an excellent candidate to sort out Greece’s policies. Before arriving in the Balkans, he received permission to recruit 3,000 Roman walkers, 300 Roman rideers, 5,000 Latin walkers, and 500 Latin rideers. Most of Flamininus’s soldiers were veterans of the Spanish and African campaigns Scipio.

Titus Quincius Flaminius, commander of the Roman army. He became a consul at an extremely early age of 30. He gained his position and reputation by fighting Hannibal.
On Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

Like Villius, Quincius faced the dilemma of whether to wade through the mountains to Macedonia like Galba, or attack the pass. He abandoned this first option, deciding to storm Aoi Stena. For more than a month, both leaders stood with the army facing each other, hesitating before issuing a battle. Meanwhile, Epirot deputies, interested in peace on their own land, offered to mediate in the conclusion of peace by both parties. Philip met Flamininus in the narrowest place of Aoos on the opposite banks of this river. The king was ready to surrender the areas conquered during the war. In the case of damage caused to the Greek states, he relied on the judgment of an independent court. However, he refused to surrender the areas inherited from his ancestors. The Roman, however, was uncompromising and brutally accused Philip of starting a war. He demanded that the king give up Thessaly, although this land had been part of the Antigoneid kingdom for 150 years. So humiliating conditions for peace were therefore unacceptable to Philip. In an atmosphere of agitation and disagreement, the negotiations ended in failure. Flamininus began preparations for the assault on the pass, which took place the next day.

The consul initially sent legions to fight, which pushed Philip’s skirmishers out of the field before leaving for the pass. However, when the Roman column entered the narrow trail on the pass, it was exposed to shells of catapults and ballists set up on many rocks, as well as archers and slingers. When they reached the Macedonian positions positioned across the narrowest section of the pass, they came across Falangite spears. The night ended with a bloody struggle in the gorge, which cost the lives of many Roman walkers. Flamininus, however, obtained valuable support from Charops, a pro-Roman head of Epirus, who offered him his help in conquering the pass. Charops sent a guide who knew the mountain passages to the rear of Philip’s army. Circular roads in the mountains, the consul sent 4,000 select legionaries and 300 rides to circumvent Macedonian positions and attack from behind. A separate unit marched at night, resting during the day. At the same time, the consul sent his velites for battle for two days.

On the third day, he divided the army into three parts. Wing troops composed of lightly armed tried to conquer the tops of the hills, in the center a legionary infantry was breaking through the pass. Attacks on the hills failed, just as in the middle of formation, legionaries crammed in a narrow passage suffered heavy losses, decimated by enemy artillery located on both hills and the phalanx. More and more legionaries were dying. Suddenly the Romans fighting in the gorge saw the smoke rising above the enemy positions. It was a sign for them from the troop led by the shepherd that his soldiers were at the back of Philip’s army. The unit led by Charops descended to the Luftinje Valley, where he left driving, climbed Meropos and climbed a mountain ridge to the rear and above the right wing of the Macedonian army. Seeing this, the legionaries in the pass shouted back to their comrades and both groups struck Philip from two sides. Antygonida decided that he was not lucky that day, so he began to retreat through the Asnaos hills. The brave phalanxes shielded the rest of the army, so the Macedonian army suffered little damage. The Romans did not capture any Antigone soldier, only the service of Makedon camps, which were thoroughly plundered. The losses of the winners had to be severe due to fierce fighting in the gorge and shelling of Philip’s artillery.


Aoi Stena is another clash characteristic of the wars in the Hellenistic East. In the battle, Philip knew how to use the values ​​of various types of troops and used tactics of combined weapons (phalanx supported by artillery and archers). The confrontation confusingly resembles the battle of Antioch in the Thermopylae Gorge a few years later. Like his Syrian counterpart, Antygonida had similar army formations and used field facilities in a similar way. Both rulers were defeated by the Romans’ attack from behind, for they underestimated the threat from this side too much.

In a broader perspective, however, even the defeat of the Romans at Aoi Stena and later at Thermopylae could no longer reverse the course of history. The republic had enough human reserves to beat not only Macedonia and the Seleucid kingdom, but also seize the entire Mediterranean basin. Macedonia, like other Hellenistic monarchies, did not have much reserves that could replace the soldiers killed in subsequent battles.

Author: Marcin Bąk
  • K. Kęciek, Wojny macedońskie, Wyd. ATTYKA. Warszawa 2012
  • K. Kęciek, Termopile. Klęska Wielkiego Króla, Mówią Wieki, 5/2002

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