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Battle of Pydna

(22 June 168 BCE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Location of the battle of Pydna

Perseus was macedonian king, ruling in years 179-168 BCE, and son of Filip V from the Antygonid dynasty. He took care of good relationships with Greece, strengthened position of Macedon and tried to acquire allies, this alarmed Rome, which declared war with him. Additionally situation was worsened by accusations, which presented, in Rome the Eumenes (king of Pergamon). Multiple deputations of Perseus didn’t bring peaceful result. Decision about war with Macedon was taken long ago and kept in secret by the Senat. Romans commanded envoys to leave Rome the same day, and all Macedonians to leave Italy in 30 days.

Third macedonian war started in 171 BCE when Macedonian king Perseus beat army of Rome under command of Publius Licinius Crassus in the battle of Callicinus. After two years of inconclusive engagements the Senat appointed Paulus to end the war, who was chosen consul with Gaius Licinius Crassus. When the consul appeared in Greece, he quickly started preparations for the offensive. Roman army set up camp over Elpeus river, which seperated areas of influence of both countries. Romans tried few times to seize the fortifications beyond the river but failed. Paulus made opponent leave comfort positions using squad of Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corcolum which managed to get to the rear of Perseus’s positions. The King’s army wasn’t endangered directly but he was worried that Romans will seize important city of Pydna and cut off his supply lines, so he ordered reatred to the north. Romans followed the king making him fight major battle, which took place near Pydna in 22 June 168 BCE.


Basic formation of macedonian soldiers was the phalanx, made by armed in 7 metres pikes, swords and small shields, fighting in consistent, close arrays. Frontal attack of phalanx troops was wreacking havoc in all hellenic world.

Greek phalanx
Na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa - Na tych samych warunkach 3.0.

Romans bet on perfectly organised, made of numerous, well cooperating units (centuries, maniples) legions. In the opposite of Macedonians majority of legionaries (principes and hastati) were heavy armed in javelins (pilum) for throwing and short swords. Romans carried oval shields larger than Macedonians’s. Poor, light armed soldiers (velites) were assistance of basic legionaries lines, they provoked enemy to fight (generally by firing distant weapons – slingshot). Oldest soldiers (triarii) wasn’t armed in javelins, but they had long spears and fought similar to greek phalanx. Romans commanders counted on maneuveralibity and dyscipline of their subordinates.

Paulus’s army was about 38 000 soldiers, including 3340 infantry, 4200 calvary and 22 elefants. Macedonian king’s army was roughly 44 000 soldiers, mostly infantrymen with long pikes in phalanx formation. Additionaly Perseus had 4000 calvarymen.


In the night before battle there was lunar eclipse1. Romans, informed earlier about it by astronomer, military tribun Gaius Sulpitius Gallus. Macedonians recognised eclipse as ominous. Earlier their morale were worsened by news about defeat of ally – Gentius. The consul made offering to Heracles, traditional patron of macedonian kings to raise his soldiers morale.

Lucius Eamilius Paullus forced Macedonians to fight in difficult terrain. In the beginning macedonian phalanx stroke frontally the legions, long pikes of phalanxmen sticked into roman shields and both armies connected became for some time unable to manouver. However terrain unevenness and roman fire made holes in the macedonian lines. Roman units went into them, widening them and shortening them. In that way the phalanx – unable to attack with long pikes – became defenseless against Romans. The slaughter began.


King Perseus Antygonid before Lucius Eamilius Paullus, Pierre Peyron

Romans killed 20 000 Macedonians in hour with relatively samall losses (about 1000 legionaries). Roman military won the battle, as well as the third war.

Perseus escaped battlefield with 1000 men. Lasting roughly an hour battle of Pydna ended with almost full destruction of macedonian army and ended macedonian war. The victory was result of flexibility of roman tactical system. The senat decided that Macedon will fall. It’s lands were split in 4 parts, then incorporated into Republic. Many macedonian aristocrats were taken into captivity. This were the end of Kingdom of Macedon.

Battle of Pydna brought next changes in balance of power – fall and destruction of once great Macedon and following rise of might of Rome. Domination in Greece, achieved after victory of Cynoscephalae were strengthened. Theoretically independent states of Greece couldn’t do anything without knowledge and consent of Romans. In year 167 BCE Paulus as proconsul brought roman order to Macedon and Greece and looted Epirus, ally of Perseus. Paulus returned to Rome in glory. Thanks to enormous loot from Macedon and Epirus he celebrated in november 167 BCE magnificent triumph, in which king Perseus took part as prisoner.

  1. According to Wikipedia, the lunar eclipse was in January that year and on July 2nd. Ancient authors probably confused XXII Iunius with II Iulius.

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