The First Macadonian War was an integral part of the Second Punic War. It engaged Rome at a time when she seemed to be at the end of her resources. The war was instigated by Philip V, king of Macedon, and as the new king was a boy of 16, his advisors.
In Rome’s attempt to rid The Adriatic Sea of the plague of pirates which were strangling the commerce of her eastern ports, she had sent troops into Illyria on the northwestern borders of Macedon. Here she was easily successful in subduing the uncivilized Celt Illyrians and freeing the trade routes from their depredations. By declaring Illyria a Roman protectorate, Rome formally declared her permanent presence on the borders of Macedon. This engenderd the great concern of Philip V.
When the news of the Roman disaster at Lake Tresimene reached Philip, in June of 217, he was in Argos attending The Nemean Games with his friend, Demetrios Of Pharos, who had recently been ejected from Illyria by the Romans. Demetrios urged an attack on the Romans in Illyria while they were in a weakened condition. It seemed not an unreasonable strategy at the moment.
Few would have believed in 217 that Rome would win the war with Carthage, let alone be able to engage Macedon at the same time. The world did not yet know Rome.
Philip was an attractive and charismatic young man. A dashing and courageous warrior, he was inevitably compared to Alexander The Great and was nicknamed, “The Darling Of Hellas”. When he and his advisors, Demetrios Of Pharos and Aratus Of Sicyon, decided to attack Roman Illyrium, he was, at the same time engaged in a war with The Aetolians on the central western coast of Greece. He brought that war to a speedy conclusion through a treaty and turned his attention to Illyrium.
Even after Tresimene, Rome stood in a position of great strength at sea. All the ports of Italy had stayed firmly within the Roman alliance and Carthage was unable to send re inforcements to Hannibal. Philip could have no hope of crossing The Adriatic, and even if he did, he had little chance of a forced landing on the coast of Italy. Without doubt, at the urging of Demetrios, he marched north to Illyrium.
Philip had no imperialist expansionist dreams about Rome and, just at that time, Rome had no desire to rule in Greece. With the exception of the ill fated venture of Pyrrus, Greece and Rome had largely ignored each other throughout their histories. The idea of a port in The Adriatic was, for some reason, an attractive one to Philip. On the advice of Demetrios, Philip attacked the rival of Demetrios, Scerdilaidas, ousted him, and placed Demetrios back in power as his client ruler in Illyria.
Scerdilaidas, a client of Rome, appealed for help and Rome, in the midst of her war with Carthage, sent 10 quinqueremes to investigate the situation. Upon sighting the quinqueremes, Philip immediately fled Illyria. It is clear from his actions that he had anticipated no retaliation from Rome. He. like most, had underestimated Rome.
In 215, Philip signed a rather vague treaty with Carthage. It nowhere stated that Philip would invade Italy, But it would begin the inevitable destuction of Macedon as a nation. In return for unspecified aid, Carthage agreed that upon winning its war with Rome, it would give Illyria to Macedon. As there was no possibility of Philips joining with Carthage in a further invasion of Italy, the treaty was meaningless; it served only as propaganda.If the Carthaginians hoped that the greek cities in Southern Italy might side with them against the Romans as Peter Green posits in, “Alexander To Actium”. Green overestimates the Greek’s fondness for Macedon. The Greek cities in Italy remained loyal to Rome.
The result of this treaty was The First Macedonian War. It is uncertain that Rome ever officially declared war on Macedon in 215. It is more likely that, as allies of The Carthaginians, The Macedones de facto became a part of The Second Punic war already in progress.
By 214, Phiip was once again in Illyria where he succeeded in gaining contol of some coastal areas. When The Roman Navy appeared to investigate, Philip burned his entire fleet of 120 ships, evacuated his conquests, and fled. It is quite clear that he had no wish to fight The Romans. This time, The Romans stationed a squadron in Illyria under the command of Marcus Valerius Lævinus to prevent further trouble with Philip.
In the following year, Lævinus established a Roman base of operations on Corfu and maintained bases in Apollonia, and Dyrrachium. Though Philip continued his raids on the Illyrian interior, he did not approach the coast and Lævinus did not move inland. Rome had no interest in Illyrium whatsoever, her only interest in the area was control of The Adriatic Sea. As Philip’s objective from the begining had been a seaport on The Adriatic, conflict was inevitable. When, in 213, Philip seized the seaport of Lissos, Rome sprung into action.
Why Philip was so intent upon an Adriatic seaport is not known. He had major ports on The Agean for trade with what was then considered the entire oikomenos. In the begining of his incursions into Illyria, his friend and advisor, Demetrios Of Pharos, must have urged Philip’s aid in reclaiming his lands there, but Demetrios had died in an attack on Ithome in 215 and Philip went, at once, back to Illyria to continue his quest for a seaport. The Romans must have feared that such a port would give Philip a base from which to invade Italy. With Rome under attack from Cartahge in the south and the west, a new threat popping up in the north east was a bete noir to be nipped in the bud.
Rome at once reacted by seeking allies in Greece for military operations against Macedon. The first, and obvious choice, was Philip’s old enemy, The Ætolian League.
The Ætolians on the central west coast of Greece were a thinly civilized, warlike Greek people who had only recently been at war with Macedon. They welcomed the treaty with Rome which promised that all conquered territory would go to them, The Romans explicitly state in this extant treaty that they will claim only moveable property for their part of the bargin. Philip countered by Allying himself with The Achæn League centered just south of Ætolia.
The ensuing war in the years between 211 and 208 was more of a series of raids and skirmishes than a confrontation between massed armies of soverign states. Attalus, king of Pergamon in Asia Minor, always eager to please Rome, arrived in Greece with an army of his own only to bolt for home when his own country was invaded by barbaric Gauls. Macedon, as well, was invaded by barbarians and Philip hurried home to protect his kingdom.
The Achæn League engaged The Spartans at Mantinea in 207 and sent them packing to sit out the rest of the war without further involvement.
In Corfu, Lævinus was replaced by Galba who left the warring parties to their own devices indicating Rome’s lack of interest in the whole affair.
With the war at a standstill. The Ætolians, feeling deserted by Rome, broke their Roman treaty and negotiated a generous peace with Macedon which returned to Philip everything which he had lost in the war. The Romans, preceiving that Philip was once again free to operate against their interests in Illyria, suddenly took a renewed interest in their Greek war.