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Battle of Magnesia (190 BC)

By Chris Jones

Following their defeat by the Romans under Flaminius at Cynocephalae in 197 B.C., the Macedonians under Phillip had been forced to withdraw from Greece. This naturally left a power vacuum and brought Rome into greater involvement with the internal politics of Greece. Antiochus III of Syria, known as the Great and inheritor of the empire acquired by Seleucus (one of Alexander the Greatıs generals) on the death of Alexander, resented Roman interference in the destiny of Greece which he regarded as his trust. So he sent an army of 10,000 men into Greece. This was a futile and inherently pointless gesture in that it merely inflamed the Romans without having a chance of achieving anything substantial. 4000 troops from the Aetolian league joined him but the rest of Greece took no part. The Roman forces already in Greece took the initiative without even calling for reinforcements from Italy. The combined force was outflanked and defeated at the famous location of Thermopylae. This did not bode well for future clashes between the two powers.

The Romans under the leadership of Publius Cornelius Scipio followed the retreating Seleucids into Asia Minor (near Sipylus in Lydia) and demanded that Antiochus make a humiliating peace. Antiochus had raised a vast army from his Asian empire and was prepared to chance all on one battle. Pursued by the Romans up the river Phrygius, the Seleucids established a camp near Magnesia. After several days of refusing battle and suffering Roman taunting, the Seleucids marched forth and deployed for battle. Antiochus enjoyed a substantial numerical superiority (between 65-70,000 against 35,000 Romans). As the armies were arrayed for battle, it is said that he turned to Hannibal, the famous Carthaginian general who accompanied his entourage, to enquire whether these forces grandly arrayed in their gold, jewels and rich silks would be enough for the Romans. "Indeed they will be more than enough,² replied Hannibal, ³even though the Romans are the greediest nation on earth!²

The battle began with a charge by the powerful Seleucid right cavalry wing commanded by Antiochus himself. This drove their opponents from the field and drew the Seleucid horse off in pursuit. Eumenes, commanding the Roman right wing, then attacked and broke the Seleucid left wing. In the centre, the Seleucid pike phalanx was arrayed with elephants in the intervals. They put up a good fight against the Roman legionaries, until the elephants were driven off and the pikes were outflanked and destroyed. The Seleucid force was essentially annihilated before the cavalry under Antiochus could return to the field. Thus, just like in the previous battles of Raphia and Ipsus, the lack of control over the cavalry arm lost the battle.

Two years later Antiochus was forced to agree to a humiliating peace, which settled the fate of Greece and effectively ended Seleucid influence in the Mediterranean. The victory brought Asian Minor within the Roman sphere of influence exercised through their client Eumenes of Pergamum. Subsequently, Antiochus was forced to campaign within his own lands to stop his satraps from declaring themselves independent rulers. Indeed Armenia never did return to complete Seleucid control. Rome had one less competitor to stand in the way of its imperial destiny.

Simulating Magnesia in DBA

Order of Battle

Polybian Roman (#46b) -- 2xCv, 6xBd, 2xSp, 2xPs

Later Seleucid (#41b) -- 1x3Kn, 2x4Kn, 1xLh, 4xPk, 2xAux, 1xEl, 1xPs

Terrain

The river Phrygius should be placed along the board edge representing the Roman left flank. Otherwise use normal terrain placement rules.

Deployment

Normal DBA.

Special Rules

None.

Victory Conditions

Normal DBA.


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Last Update: Feb. 7, 2000

My thanks to Chris Jones for this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.