CHAPTER XVII. THE SYRIAN WAR.
Antiochus III. of Syria, who had proposed to share Egypt with Philip, had been engaged for some time in a campaign in the East, and did not hear of his ally's danger until too late to aid him. However, he claimed for himself portions of Asia Minor and Thrace, which Philip had previously held, and which Rome now declared free and independent. He crossed the Hellespont into Thrace in 196, but did not dare to enter Greece, although earnestly urged to do so by the Aetolians, until after Flamininus had withdrawn all his troops (192).
Antiochus was no general. Himself irresolute and fond of pleasure, the power behind his throne was HANNIBAL. This great soldier, after his defeat at Zama, did not relinquish the aim of his life. He became the chief magistrate of his native city, and in a short time cleared the moral atmosphere, which was charged with corruption and depravity. Under him Carthage might have risen again. But his intrigues with Antiochus, with whom he wished to make an alliance, gave Rome an opportunity to interfere. His surrender was demanded. He fled, and, after wandering from coast to coast, became the trusted adviser of the Syrian king.
Had Antiochus been energetic after his arrival in Greece, he could have accomplished something before the Roman troops came. But he disregarded the warnings of Hannibal, and spent valuable time in minor matters. The Romans arrived in 191, and under Glabrio at Thermopylae drove back the intruder, who hastily retired to Asia Minor. The Aetolians were punished for their infidelity.
In 190, LUCIUS CORNELIUS SCIPIO was elected Consul, and put in command of the army in the East, with the understanding that he should be accompanied by his brother Africanus, and have the benefit of his military skill and experience. Under his command, the Romans crossed the Hellespont and sought Antiochus in his own kingdom.
Hannibal could do nothing with the poorly disciplined troops of the king. They were met by the invading forces at MAGNESIA, in Lydia, in 190, and 80,000 Asiatics were put to rout by 30,000 Romans, 50,000 being slain. The loss of the victors was slight.
On that day the fate of Asia was sealed. Antiochus relinquished all pretensions to any territory west of the river Halys and the Taurus mountains. His chariots, elephants, fleet, and treasures were all surrendered.
Scipio returned home to enjoy a triumph, and added ASIATICUS to his name, as his brother had taken that of Africanus in commemoration of his victory.
Gneius Manlius Vulso succeeded Scipio in the East. He made a campaign against the Gauls, who had settled in Galatia about a century before, and had become wealthy by means of constant plunderings. The excuse for the campaign was, that they had served in the Syrian army; the reason was, their wealth, and the ambition of the Consul for glory.
The Galatians were easily overcome, their wealth seized, and they themselves became assimilated to their neighbors. This war is noticeable chiefly for the reason that Manlius undertook it without the authority of the Senate, the first instance of its kind, and a precedent which was too frequently followed in later times. On his return to Rome he was allowed a triumph, which stamped his act as legal.
These wars in the East brought to Rome immense riches, which laid the foundation of its Oriental extravagance and luxury, and finally undermined the strength of the state. From Greece were introduced learning and refinement, from Asia immorality and effeminacy. The vigor and tone of Roman society are nowhere more forcibly shown than in the length of time it took for its subjugation by these ruinous exotics.
Meanwhile, at Rome the political enemies of the Scipios were in the ascendency. Asiaticus was accused of misappropriating funds obtained during his campaign in the East. As he was about to produce his account-books before the Senate, his brother, Africanus, seized them, tore them to pieces, and threw the remnants on the floor. Asiaticus, however, was sentenced to pay a fine. When it was afterwards intimated that his brother too was implicated, he proudly reminded his enemies that their insinuations were ill-timed, for it was the anniversary of Zama. This remark changed the tide of feeling, and no more charges were made.
Two years later (183), Africanus died in voluntary exile at Liternum, on the coast of Campania. He had lived little more than fifty years. His wife, Aemilia, was the daughter of Paullus, who fell at Cannae, and the sister of him who afterwards conquered Perseus of Macedonia. His daughter, CORNELIA, afterwards became the mother of the famous GRACCHI.
Next to Caesar, Scipio was Rome's greatest general. During the campaign in the East, he met Hannibal at the court of Antiochus. In the conversation Hannibal is reported to have said that he considered Alexander the greatest general, Pyrrhus next, and, had he himself conquered Scipio, he would have placed himself before either.
Scipio lived to see Rome grow from an Italian power to be practically the mistress of the world. He was of marked intellectual culture, and as conversant with Greek as with his mother tongue. He possessed a charm which made him popular at a time when the culture and arts of Greece were not so courted at Rome as in later days.
Hannibal, after the defeat of Antiochus, was demanded by the Romans, but, escaping, took refuge in Crete, and subsequently with Prusias, King of Bithynia. His surrender was demanded, and troops were sent to arrest him. Seeing no way of escape, he opened the bead on his ring and swallowed the poison which it contained (183).