Awareness of ancient bewilderment can lead to improved modern understanding of Rome's actions in Asia Minor after the defeat of Antiochus III. A coalition of Rome, the King of Pergamon, and the Rhodian democracy had ended irretrievably Seleucid control over most of the Asian sub-continent. Flushed with spoils and their success at Magnesia, the Romans were in a generous mood toward their allies of the late war, and in negotiations preserved in Livy and Polybius's accounts both the Eumenes II and the Rhodians sought to arrange a settlement to their advantage (Plb. 21.23.5-7; Liv. 37.52.10-54.1) Eumenes desired hegemony over the Hellespontine regions and the north of Asia Minor, and from his ambitions would come a string of events leading to the Third Macedonian War and the final collapse of the balance of power in the Hellenistic World. The Rhodians themselves desired free trade with freed cities. Even at the time, however, it was difficult to understand the apparent contradiction of that stated goal with the Rhodians' request for control of the neighboring mainland regions of Lycia and Caria (Plb. 21.45.8; Liv. 37.55.6). Good feeling and partial understanding prevailed, but before a decade had passed Rome's relations with the Rhodians would be at a crisis level as a result of that transfer of territory. It is clear, now, that it was neither a pursuit of revenues nor imperial grandeur that drove the Rhodians to seek and assert control over Lycia and Caria. Modern scholars have overlooked ancient attestations that both regions were notorious as sources of pirates, against whom the Rhodians had for centuries been fighting their longest and most celebrated war (Hom. Il. 5.628-62; Schol. to Hom. Il. 639; Timach. 23, FGrh 521 F2 (Polyzalos)/522 (Timakritus); E.M. 430, 38). With Seleucid landward control of both regions forever banished, the Rhodians correctly anticipated that lawlessness in both regions would be more rife than ever. As the Romans withdrew back into Europe, they prepared to assume a role that no land empire saw fit to undertake and to chain the larcenous mainlanders to their own shores. Lack of understanding of this undertaking began with the Lycians themselves, who confidently approached the Rhodians soon after the settlement and asked for an alliance. A stinging rebuke from the Rhodians led to revolts in both Caria and Lycia, and a series of embassies to Rome, complaining in tragic language of the Rhodians' cruelty (Liv. 41.6.9-12). Certainly the Romans had difficulty in understanding why the prosperous islanders of Rhodes so grimly made large tax exactions from their new territories, or treated the region with such harshness. The complaints of the mainlanders joined to Eumenes' own machinations at Rome finally produced the title's warning to the Rhodians: the Lycian were not given to the Rhodians as slaves, but as friends and allies (Plb. 25.4.5; Liv. 41.6.8-12; App. Mac. 11.2, Mit. 62). At that pronouncement, the Lycians again exploded into revolt, while the amazed Rhodians sent embassy after embassy to Rome attempting in vain to clarify a situation that has since then remained obscure. There is no need to suppose, as have some modern scholars, that the Romans gave the territories to the Rhodians as part of a sinister scheme to bleed Rhodes' revenue and military resources (e.g., Hatto H. Schmitt, Rom und Rodos, pp. 93-128). Rather, the Romans had expected the Rhodians to control the piratical mainlanders in a means impossible for the island republic (Liv. 41.6.12, as noted by Walbank, Commentary 3.280). Rome's own "friends and allies" were kept controlled and docile by a system of semi- citizenship and the absorbtion of their volatile youth into Rome's army and military aggrandizement. The surplus population of a beaten enemy could still fight, and die, but not in combat against Rome. Rhodes, however, was a classic, functioning full democracy, with citizenship a carefully-guarded privilege of those born on the island or in its oldest federated possessions. Moreover, the superlative Rhodian navy had acquired and preserved its fine military edge by its reliance upon its own citizen sailors. Putting pirates onto the oar benches of the ships sent out to destroy such men would have been the height of folly. What were needed in Caria and Lycia were outposts and mercenaries to man them--hence the taxes and exactions. The Romans, with Eumenes' help, soon found the Rhodians' actions suspicious (Plb. 25.5.3-5, App. Mac. 11.3), while the Rhodians remained as baffled as scholars since over the apparent shift in Rome's previous good will.
Text of the 1994 APA Abstract
Rob S. Rice