In my practice of Latin I have been reading a lot of unedited and generally unabridged (with the exception of the Perochia) Livy lately, which has both enriched my knowledge of history but has also given me what I feel is a unique insight into both the operations of the Roman state as well as the operations and propaganda of the United States. In fact, I have found this similarity so compelling that, at present, I find this to be their greatest similarity — the manner in which they publicize foreign wars.
I recently wrote an article about Hannibal Barca which is tangential to this, as he himself was involved in the Macedonian wars of which this article will be focused upon. However, his point of tangency with this topic is only in regards to his involvement in the Seleucid intervention in these Macedonian wars (which took place in between the Second Macedonian War and the Third Macedonian war, the two wars most pertinent to this article). So, as per usual, I will introduce some brief background before diving into these brutally crude similarities in propaganda propagated by both the Roman Republic and the State Department.
To begin with, the so-called “First Macedonian War” was primarily a conflict between Rome’s steadfast allies in Pergamon and, at the time, the Aetolian League who both fought against Philip V of Macedonia, allied with Carthage at the outbreak of the Second Punic War. The war was not fought on Roman soil, but was certainly in the interests of Rome. For the most part it was an indecisive war, but eventually culminated in the simple resolution that Macedonia would exit the Second Punic War, and end its alliance with Carthage (think Italy during WWII after the invasion of Sicily, just without tossing out Il’Duce or, in Latin, Ille Dux — Philip V in this case — not that he was known by this title, instead he was simply rex). This conflict took place from 214-205 BC (just to give everyone the temporal context).
However, it was the Second Macedonian war which was the “real deal”. It’s origins are very complicated, and again speaks to the “Tyranny of Petty” states, but effectively it began as a regional scrap resulting from Philip V and Antiochus III (same guy who was mentioned in my Hannibal post-war bio) carving up the “sick man of the Mediterranean” (as I would postulate) — Egypt, and in particular their holdings in Asia Minor. Pergamon and Rhodes had appealed a concern to the Romans, who were initially skeptical of entering such a conflict, especially one which had yet to break out into open war with these larger petty states (however they had reason to be concerned as there was clear encroachment happening with Philip and Antiochus carving up various nearby Ptolemaic city states).
However, this encroachment did eventually lead to great aggravation, and finally the king of Pergamon along with Rhodian ambassadors would appeal to both the Aetolian and Achaean leagues (who were still largely beneath the Macedonian yoke), and war was soon declared against Philip V and Macedonia by these small regional powers.
This would lead to Rome, fairly swiftly, entering the war as well. There had been some political changes that would allow for Rome to enter such a war — despite the extreme war weariness that had been incurred on the populace after the decades long Second Punic War.
There were a few big battles, and Rome swiftly won. I suspect Rome, having beaten Carthage to a mere city-state, smelled blood in the water with just about every Aegean power rebelling or declaring war against Macedonia. Macedonia was still a very large and illustrious polity, which had previously held great sway over all the cultural centers of Greece. These famous city-states were to be highly coveted by the Romans who held these places in very high regard indeed.
In any case, what I found most interesting about this Second Macedonian War is that not only did it force Macedonia to surrender all of it’s Achaean and Aetolian holdings, but also imposed very strict sanctions on Philip V, per Livy: “…ante Isthmiorum [an upcoming Greek festival] tempus … naves omnes tectas traderet praeter quinque; ne plus quinque milia armatorum haberet neve elephantum ullum …” and “mille talenta daret populo Romano”. I have translated this to: “Before the festival of Isthmiorum, all ships must be given except five; no more than five thousand armed men should [he, the king], have, nor any elephants…”, it continues: “one thousand talents (a lot of money) are to be given to the People of Rome (the republic represented the “senate and people of Rome” — Senatus Populusque Romanus — better known as SPQR in later times).
Livy continues to describe the aftermath of these events. During the actual festival of Isthmiorum, Livy tells us that not as many people attended as usual. This was a festival typically attended by Greeks, and the future of a Greece without Macedonian protection or hegemony was very uncertain. It seems that the Romans, trying to avoid an optics disaster in this lack of attendance, used the spectacle to announce to the Greeks of all the new freedoms that they had supposedly just incurred (insofar as being free from Macedon), and announced that these freed states would be under the law and protection of Rome from now on.
This is where things get kind of fishy. Livy makes the claim that this was announced to great joy by all, although admits that some were lead into a vacant state of mind akin to sleep at the mere sight of Rome putting Greece beneath its laws. Nonetheless, he claims, that at hearing their “freedom” being announced, a reddit-style “and everybody started clapping” situation arose — “Tum ab certo iam gaudio tantus cum clamore plausus est ortus totiesque repetitus” — “Then certainly was such the happiness, that with a great sound an applause was made which was repeated by all”. He further claims that “it was easy for all [Greeks] to see that there was no multitude of good things more graceful than liberty.”
If you are getting US State Department vibes yet, then you are getting the picture here.
The last piece of blatant propaganda that I will bring to your attention is that of the Third Macedonian War (171 BC to 168 BC), in which Macedonia was well and truly conquered. After Philip V’s death, it is easy to understand that his young successor and son, Perseus, would hold some anti-Roman sentiments. In classic Balkan style, its not really clear who shot the first shot here, but it was the Romans who declared war first. When they inevitably won, effectively all of the Hellenic states were brought under Roman hegemony, or in the case of Macedonia, direct rule. The following propaganda ensued:
The Roman consuls at the time, guided by the senate, were instructed to, as Livy quotes, “Omnium primum liberos esse placebat Macedonas atque Illyrios ‘ut omnibus gentibus appareret arma populi Romani non liberis servitutem, sed contra servientibus libertatem afferre'”. My rough translation is as follows: “Of all things, firstly, the free men of Macedon and Illyricum are to be pleased ‘such that to all races of the world it should appear that the military of the Roman People given free men servitude, but to have, instead, brought liberty to the serving [people].
Here, there isn’t really any mask when Livy is explaining to his reader how the Roman state effectively occupied a massive, quite rightfully honorable people, and lived to tell the tale. All people of Greece were shortly under full Roman law. And, although the Romans sweetened the deal by cutting their taxes in half, making many of them citizens, as well as having offerings of land and administrative positions in the new local Roman government, it seems odd that all would be content with this. Once-proud Macedonia was now a provincia, a province. One of those weird things they have in Canada, basically.
I will add one last humorous detail which I shared with my Dad. Many years ago I was planning to visit Greece with my mother, and one of the places in which I wished to visit, being the young, uneducated boy that I was, was Sparta. My father, having made the same mistake many years past simply said “You don’t want to go to Sparta. There is really nothing cool to see in Sparta”.
When Rome conquered Macedonia in full, the conquerors did something of a publicity tour through each of the Greek cities. They visited various oracles and temples, offering great gifts (somehow when I am describing this, Hillary Clinton’s face is flashing in my minds eye), and generally reporting back to Rome about the great virtues of Greece. Of Athens, the legates spoke of the magnificent acropolis, their beautiful fleet, and their statues of gods and men which were to be held below no other. Of Sparta, Livy reports that when the legate arrived, “it was of no magnificent works, but memorable and disciplined institutions.” In Latin: “Inde Lacedaemonem adit, non operum magnificentia, sed disciplina institutisque memorabilem”.
I laugh at this line every time I read it in Latin. It is so very diplomatic. Remember that by this time, Sparta was extremely weak and rural. Again, flashes of Hillary when I think about this.