Third Macedonian War: Battle of Pydna

Surrender of Perseus
Perseus surrenders to Paullus. Public Domain

Battle of Pydna - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Pydna is believed to have been fought on June 22, 168 BC and was part of the Third Macedonian War.

Armies & Commanders:

Romans

  • Lucius Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus
  • 38,000 men

Macedonians

  • Perseus of Macedon
  • 44,000 men

Battle of Pydna - Background:

In 171 BC, after several inflammatory acts on the part of King Perseus of Macedon, the Roman Republic declared war.

During the conflict's opening days, Rome won a series of minor victories as Perseus refused to commit the bulk of his forces in battle. Later that year, he reversed this trend and defeated the Romans at the Battle of Callicinus. After the Romans refused a peace initiative from Perseus, the war settled into a stalemate as they were unable to find an effective way to invade Macedon. Establishing himself in a strong position near the River Elpeus, Perseus awaited the Romans' next move.

Battle of Pydna - The Romans Move:

In 168 BC, Lucius Aemilius Paullus began moving against Perseus. Recognizing the strength of the Macedonian position, he dispatched 8,350 men under Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica with orders to march towards the coast. A feint intended to mislead Perseus, Scipio's men turned south and crossed the mountains in an effort to attack the Macedonian rear. Alerted to this by a Roman deserter, Perseus sent a 12,000-man blocking force under Milo to oppose Scipio.

In the battle that followed, Milo was defeated and Perseus was forced to move his army north to the village of Katerini, just south of Pydna.

Battle of Pydna - The Armies Form:

Reuniting, the Romans pursued the enemy and found them on June 21 formed for battle on a plain near the village. With his men tired from the march, Paullus declined to give battle and made camp in the nearby foothills of Mount Olocrus.

The next morning Paullus deployed his men with his two legions in the center and other allied infantry on the flanks. His cavalry was posted on the wings at each end of the line. Perseus formed his men in a similar fashion with his phalanx in the center, light infantry on the flanks, and cavalry on the wings. Perseus personally commanded the cavalry on the right.

Battle of Pydna - Perseus Beaten:

Around 3:00 PM, the Macedonians advanced. The Romans, unable to cut through the long spears and tight formation of the phalanx, were pushed back. As the battle moved into the uneven terrain of the foothills, the Macedonian formation began to break down allowing the Roman legionaries to exploit the gaps. Surging into the Macedonian lines and fighting at close quarters, the Romans' swords proved devastating against the lightly armed phalangites. As the Macedonian formation began to collapse, the Romans pressed their advantage.

Paullus' center was soon reinforced by troops from the Roman right which had successfully driven off the Macedonian left. Striking hard, the Romans soon put Perseus' center to rout. With his men breaking, Perseus elected to flee the field having not committed the bulk of his cavalry.

He was later accused of cowardice by those Macedonians who survived the battle. On the field, his elite 3,000-strong Guard fought to the death. All told, the battle lasted less than an hour. Having achieved victory, Roman forces pursued the retreating enemy until nightfall.

Battle of Pydna - Aftermath:

Like many battles from this period, exact casualties for the Battle of Pydna are not known. Sources indicate that the Macedonians lost around 25,000, while Roman casualties were over 1,000. The battle is also seen as a triumph of the legion's tactical flexibility over the more rigid phalanx. While the Battle of Pydna did not end the Third Macedonian War, it effectively broke the back of Macedonian power. Shortly after the battle, Perseus surrendered to Paulus and was taken to Rome where he was paraded during a triumph before being imprisoned.

Following the war, Macedon effectively ceased to exist as an independent nation and the kingdom was dissolved.  It was replaced by four republics which were effectively client states of Rome.  Less than twenty years later, the region would formally become a province of Rome following the Fourth Macedonian War.

Selected Sources