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Aemilius Paullus – Taking Down the Macedonians

Greek Parallel – Timoleon

Important People

Perseus – A tyrannical Macedonian leader who acts as a foil to Aemilius’s virtues. They are like parallel lines running in opposite directions, even down to their family lives.

Tubero – An obscure character worth keeping an eye on. Raised in a frugal, Roman home supporting Roman virtue, he rises to a trusted position in Aemilius’s army and continues to be dependable and virtuous. A stark contrast to the many lackeys who attend Perseus before his end.

Important Places

Oreus (9) –

Elimiae (9) –

Pydna (15-23) –

Key Virtues and Vices

boldness of speech – (παρρησία) (cf. 23) – It can get you killed if you’re an honest advisor, but it’s always a virtue Plutarch promotes.

Cowardice – Perseus is the textbook example of both these two vices. This one causes his downfall, while the other exacerbates it and sets him up for failure by ensuring he has no real friends when the money runs out.

Miserliness – Perseus’s other main failing; it catches up with him when he can’t even keep his mercenaries loyal.

Humility (ταπείνος) (cf. 27) – Not a common word in Plutarch; Ancient Greek doesn’t have a distinction between humility and humiliation, so pay close attention to how this is used, since its the word the Christians will use to describe humility in the New Testament.

Humanity (φιλάνθρωπος) (cf. 28) –

Freedom of spirit (τὴν ἐλευθεριότητα (28)-

Generosity of Soul (Magnanimity, when translated into Latin) (28) –

C. 1 – Shared with Timoleon – Luck or Skill?

C. 2 – Origins and Rise to Fame

Aemilius probably has Greek origins in Pythagoras and ties to Numa. Closely connected to the Greek word αἱμύλιος (winning, friendly), his ancestors all rose through their virtues. His father, however, met his death at Cannae standing his ground on an order he disagreed with. This man’s daughter married Scipio Africanus and his son is the subject of this life, who rose not in usual way, through law-courts and fostering popularity with the regular people.

C. 3 – Punctilious in Matters Religious and Military

In 192 BC, he was elected aedile against 12 other competitors, all of whom would later go on to serve as consul. Being appointed an augur, he studied the science of bird-flight rather than just treating it as an honor. He took seriously even small deviations from Roman ritual, because no lawlessness starts in great matters, but in the small ones that break down the limits on the big ones. He upheld the old military traditions and did not encourage personality worship among his men to ensure he was placed in power the following year, training his fellow citizens as much as he taught the peoples he conquered.

C. 4 – Spain and Money

The following year, as praetor, he went out to put down an uprising in Spain. After re-subjugating an entire province to peace, including 250 cities, he selected the terrain for battle and won handily. He returned without having enriched himself. His whole life he cared little for making money and spent liberally, so that when he died his estate barely had enough to cover his wife’s dowry.

C. 5 – Marriage, Divorce, and Progeny

Married to Papiria who bore him Scipio Aemilianus and Fabius Maximus (a different one because of chronology… what’s so special about this one?). Shoe anecdote, “None of you know where it pinches” but the slight and frequent frictions arising from some unpleasantness or incongruity of characters, unnoticed as they may be by everybody else, also produce incurable alienations in those whose lives are linked together. He remarried and raised those two sons in his home. His two other sons, though, were ultimately adopted into the Fabius and Scipio families (weird?). His daughters married poor, but virtuous men, who raised families of 16+ on modest farms.

C. 6 – The Ligurians and Domestic Training

About a decade later in 182 BC, Aemilius becomes consul. In attacking the Ligurians, he bested them but treated them humanely in defeat, returning all their cities and taking only their navy, which they had begun to use for piratical disruption of the Western Mediterranean. When he did not win a second consulship, he focused on his priesthood (augury), and trained his sons well in things Latin AND GREEK (with greater ardor). He personally oversaw their education from Greek grammarians, philosophers, painters, horse- and dog-trainers, etc…

C. 7 – The Perseus Problem

The Romans, who had just defeated Hannibal, Antiochus, and Philip were now struggling to make progress against Perseus, the son and successor of Philip in Macedon.

C. 8 – The Macedonian Background

Perseus had falsely accused his older brother, Demetrius, of a crime that Philip of Macedon had Demetrius put to death for. Philip had been beaten by Titus Flamininus in 197 BC at Cynoscephalae (Scotussa), but still wanted revenge against the Romans and began to prepare in secret. As his preparations came close to being ready, he discovered that he had put his better son to death on false charges, and the shock and sadness of it killed him. Then Perseus inherited everything, including an even stronger hatred of Rome.

C. 9 – Perseus’s Successes

Perseus, though ignoble and malicious, nonetheless repulses many Roman legions sent to conquer him. Plutarch gives examples and ends with the rumor that even the Gauls may be allied to him, encouraged by him to invade Italy (again!).

C. 10 – Consular Elections and From the Mouths of Babes

No longer trusting any general who volunteered for glory, the Senate knows they must entrust this war to Paulus Aemilius, even though he is already 60 years old. In 168, he is elected consul. Having been chosen to wage war on Perseus, he returns home to find his young daughter in tears. After picking her up, she informs him that their dog, Perseus, is dead. Aemilius accepts the omen, which Cicero originally reported (Plutarch gives Cic the credit here). (cf. Cic De Div. 1.103)

C. 11 – Examplary Roman Virtue

Normally, a consul would give a speech of gratitude to those who had just elected him. Aemilius, instead, reminds him that he ran for consul the first time bcs. he wanted office, but this time they wanted a general, and so now that they had given him the command, they must obey the commander, and not command the commander. Otherwise the war would fall apart. This unexpected speech nonetheless inspires the citizens to work hard in the prosecution of this war and they admire their consul’s “resolution and boldness of speech” (παρρησίαν ἔχοντα καὶ φρόνημα). Plutarch concludes: “Thus was the Roman people, to the end that it might prevail and be greatest in the world, a servant of virtue and honour. (ἀρετῆς καὶ τοῦ καλοῦ δοῦλος)”

C. 12 – Perseus the Parsimonious

Easy voyage across the sea (contrast with Pyrrhus), but his success on the other side must be attributed to sharp boldness, excellent planning, dependable friends, and resolute decision-making. NOT good fortune (see parallel and Timoleon). Perseus’s VICES were good fortune for Aemilius, particularly greed. He cheaps out on paying his experienced barbarian mercenary captains. This—a relative of Alexander and Philip!—not a lover of luxury from Western Anatolia (a Lydian or Phoenician). Those two believed money was to be used for acquiring empire, not the reverse.

C. 13 – Fortified at the Foot of Mt. Olympus

Perseus pays another barbarian captain (Illyrian, Genthius), but then discovers that he had offended the Romans and takes back the three talents of payment and allows his ally to be captured with his familly by the Romans. As Aemilius approaches, Perseus sets himself up in a fortified position at the foot of Mount Olympus and is going to try Fabian tactics of letting Aemilius run himself out. Aemilius increases the discipline among his men so that it doesn’t falter with the waiting: night-watchmen must guard without spears, in order to stay more alert. Every man must keep his gear sharp and ready.

C. 14 – Where does Water Come From?

Aemilius is running low on water, but notices that Mt. Olympus is heavily forested. Knowing this means there are water sources underground, he digs wells and finds enough water for his men. Plutarch goes on a long excursus explaining two different opinions about springs: either the water is made right there by the liquefaction of matter (like a woman’s breast producing milk), or it pre-exists there. Plutarch seems to side more with the pre-existing water and cites mines and underground rivers as proof.

C. 15 – Finding an Open Way and Measuring Olympus

Scipio and Fabius Maximus (second generation) both volunteer when Aemilius lays open that the only way open to them for attack is through the mountainous terrain that had been left unguarded. Olympus is 9570 ft (2917 m.) tall, and Plutarch records a Greek Xenagoras as measuring it at over 10 stadia (~2316 ft.) which is far short of its actual height, but Plutarch reminds us that the geometricians set a limit to the depths of the seas and the height of mountains at 10 furlongs, and Plutarch says that Xenagroras used intruments and careful measurement.

C. 16 – Battle Prudently Avoided and Eclipse!

Aemilius meets back up with Nasica who made it through the narrow mountain passes undetected. They are about to fall on Perseus’s men when Aemilius holds back and instead forms a battle-line as a screen so that the rest of the army can pitch a fortified camp. Nasica – young and ready to risk it. Aemilius – old, cautious, and experienced in what defeat would do for htem. That night, the moon is eclipsed and the Romans try to call the liglht back by banging on pots and pans. Macedonians also grow afraid, believing a king will be eclipsed. Plutarch explains very accurately how eclipses work and credits Aemilius with knowing some of this. Nonetheless, out of devotion, he also sacrifices 11 heifers to the moon. The next day, he sacrifices 20 oxen to Hercules looking for, but not receiving, favorable omens. The 21st ox indicates victory, but only for the defensive. He vows a hecatomb and games to Hercules if they are victorious. He waits for the afternoon when the sun won’t be in his men’s faces.

C. 17 – Almost Battle and Actual Eclipse

Aemilius joins with Nasica but refuses to fight (in spite of all the young guns wanting to) against an enemy who is prepared and in formation after his own troops have just marched over rough terrain. So, he sets up a battle line as a screen and instead pitches camp. That night there’s an eclipse and the Romans bang pots and pans together and the Macedonians fear the eclipse of a king. Thought Plutarch explains that Aemilius understands how eclipses work, he nonetheless sacrifices 11 heifers to the moon that night. The next day, he begins seeking good omens for battle by sacrificing 22 oxen to Hercules. On the 23rd oxen, he “reads” in the entrails that victory is assured for the defensive, so he allows the day to wear into afternoon so the sun won’t be in his men’s eyes.

C. 18 – Battle Commences

The battle commences (two different stories provided) and the Macedonian mercenaries are described first, and then the main force of the phalanx and the Bronze-Shields. Plutarch seems to be relying on Nasica’s letter as a first-hand source here, which is cool.

C. 19 – The Nature of Things – Coward v. Consul

The phalanx prevents the Romans from coming to close contact and using their swords. Aemilius, terrified within, shows a brave face to his men and rides around without breastplate or helmet to increase his men’s confidence. Plutarch believes that Aemilius acted rightly, leading in person and praying to have god as his ally (σύμμαχον τόν θεόν).

For natural law tells us (θεμιτόν) that one misses all the shots he never takes (Wayne Gretsky agrees with natural law) and that he who doesn’t hold his ground cannot win the day. He who does nothing can never see success and the wicked never prosper.

θεμιτὸν γὰρ οὐκ ἔστιν οὔτε τόν μὴβάλλοντα κατευστοχεῖν οὔτε τόν μὴμένοντα κρατεῖν οὔθʼ ὅλως τόνἄπρακτον εὐπραγεῖν οὔτε τόν κακὸνεὐδαιμονεῖν.

Polybius reports that Perseus ran away like a coward to sacrifice to Heracles, a god who ignores cowardly requests. Poseidonius, though, who claims to have been there that the king had been kicked by a horse but in spite of the pain mounted a pack horse and, riding in without a breasplate, was scraped by an iron javlin that left a bad bruise for weeks afterwards. Let’s discuss sources, which Plutarch lets us weight ourselves.

Polybius had been a Greek, captured by the Romans, and raised ultimately to see that their success relied on their military discipline and their political structure. What remains of his histories obviously skews toward the Roman perspective. He was a friend of the OG Scipio Africanus. Poseidonius (do we know much more about him than what Plutarch provides?) – his work does not survive, even in fragments, and we’re left with taking Plutarch’s word. (check Handbook for Plutarch – search Poseidonius).

C. 20 – The Phalanx vs. the Roman Cohorts

It seems the phalanx continues as a porcupine-tank to mow down the Italian infantry before them. The rough terrain, however, opens up spaces as the phalanx struggles to keep shields interlocked and spears in a dense mass. So, Aemilius regroups the legions into their cohort units and attacks the openings, thus breaking up the phalanx and ultimately routing the enemy after what initially seemed like it would be a defeat.

C. 21 – Marcus’s Sword

Cato (son of Cato the Elder), loses his sword in battle. Rather than give up and fall back, he assembles some of his bravest friends to help him push the enemy off the place where he lost his sword. When they recover the ground, they search for the sword and rejoice greatly on finding it under many dead bodies. This newfound joy they channel into continuing to drive back the Macedonians, and the elite phalanx is cut down to a man, while the other units break and run on the rout. Macedonians lost 25K. Romans, between 80 and 100. What a lopsided victory. The river Leukos (which means white, and is still used in the scientific name of white-blood cells, leucocytes), flowed red with blood the next day when the Romans crossed it.

C. 22 – Cleanup from the Battle of Pydna

The whole battle took place in about an hour, from 3-4 in the afternoon (9th to 10th hour), though the rest of the day was spent in pursuit. Scipio Aemilianus, who would later destroy both Carthage and Numantia, this day was almost thought to be lost, but returned late having continued pursuit longer than almost everyone else. (Livy 44.36-41).

C. 23 – Perseus – Cruel and Cheap

Perseus in flight with his cavalry from Pydna to Pella (capital of Macedonia). Many of his friends fall away, in fear of his cruelty, and he kills with his own hands two of his treasurers who speak the truth to him, boldly. Then, even his soldiers desert him, and he starts handing out treasures to keep the most mercenary of his soldiers, the Cretans, who love gold like bees love their honeycombs (ὥσπερ κηρίοις μέλιτται,προσλιπαροῦντες.). He even cheats them after accidentally giving them some of Alexander the Great’s original dinner-ware, and then buying it back for less than it was worth and running off to Samothrace as a suppliant of the Dioscouroi (again, two men who won’t listen to cowards, though Plutarch doesn’t belabor this point, I thought I’d point out how similar these two brothers are to Heracles).

C. 24 – Lies, Truth, and Divine Approval

Macedonia comes over to Aemilius in a matter of days. In Amphipolis, a thunderbold strikes the altar and consumes the victim Aemilius is offering to the gods. Romans hear a rumor only four days after the battle that Aemilius was victorious, but no one can trace the rumor and it falls away. A few days later it is corroborated and the lie was made true by the verified message!

C. 25 – Other “True Rumors”

Other “true” rumors that flew faster than the truth (Mycale and some obscure southern Italy battle). cf. Cor 3.4 (Ahenobarbus story? Dioscuroi?). Even in Plutarch’s own day the rumors had been true: when Domitian sets out to defeat Antonius on the German border, it turns out he is defeated before Domitian even needs to set out. The rumor came faster and was true before the messengers brougth it over a great distance.

C. 26 – Perseus the Unpitiable

Aemilius’s admiral, Gnaeus Octavius, attempts to keep Perseus blockaded on Samothrace. Perseus pays a Cretan to smuggle him (and his treasures?) off the island in a small skiff. The Cretan loads the treasure, makes plans to pick Perseus up the following night, and then sails away with Perseus’s stuff. First his children and then Perseus gives himself into the Romans’ hands, yet he reaches such a low point that he lost even the pity that Fortune usually preserves for the defeated: pity or mercy (ἔλεον).

When Perseus shows up before Aemilius, Aemilius wants to greet him as a noble man who has fallen on hard times. Perseus’s wallowing and self-pitying behavior quickly change Aemilius’s opinion and he gives a speech: Your actions show that you are more worthy of your present predicament than your former prosperity. “Excellence in the unlucky still engenders great respect, even among enemies; but cowardice in the lucky is entirely dishonorable for the Romans.” ἀρετή τοι δυστυχοῦσι μεγάλην ἔχειμοῖραν αἰδοῦς καὶ παρὰ πολεμίοις,δειλία δὲ Ῥωμαίοις, κἂν εὐποτμῇ,πάντη ἀτιμότατον.

C. 27 – Aemilius’s Reflections on Fortune

Aemilius retires to his tent with his closest friends and discourses that Fortune can take a king from 10’s of thousands of men under his command to relying on his captor for the food and drink of the day. This can happen to a man in such a short time. Aemilius concludes:

  • “Abandon the empty, spirited arrogance of victory” (Greek: τὸ κενὸν φρύαγμα τοῦτο καὶ γαυρίαματῆς νίκης – fruagma compares the men to snorting, spirited horses. gauriama to bragging).
  • “Be humble when looking to the future” (ταπεινοὶ καταπτήξετε πρὸς τὸμέλλον – The same word for humility that has been coming up in the Roman Lives).

The young men leave with their boasting and insolence (καύχημα καὶ τὴν ὕβριν) chastened as by a bridle (horse metaphor complete).

C. 28 – Spoils and Celebrations

Resting his army, Aemilius travels through Greece generously distributed all the Perseus had hoarded, ordering a statue of himself to be placed on a pedestal that had been prepared for Perseus’s statue in Delphi, agreeing with common opinion that Phidias had sculpted Homer’s Zeus in Olympia, and handing all the money over to the 10 quaestors Rome sent to handle the vast influx to the treasury. He did allow his sons to take first pick of Perseus’s library, and rewarded Tubero with a silver bowl weighing five pounds, the first silver to enter this frugal family’s (see C.5) home ever.

C. 29 – Epirus Pillaged

His soldiers given permission by the Senate to pillage Epirus, and he does so by commissioning groups of soldiers (cohort-system again?) to go to seventy different cities to demand and verify the payments from temples and stores. As planned, though, these cohorts just sacked the cities they were sent to: 70 sacked in a single day and 150,000 enslaved. Yet, all this destruction rendered 11 drachmas for each soldier…

C. 30 – Disgruntled Soldiers Stimey Triumph

Aemilius, obedient to the command so contrary to his nature (mild and generous – ἐπιεικῆ καὶ χρηστὴν), then sails in a royal galley up the Tiber River. Much of Rome pours out to see the display, but the soldiers grumble that they didn’t get what they deserved and do not rally around his request for a triumph. A certain Servius Galba demands that the trial be heard and uses the rest of the afternoon in a speech belittling Aemilius. The disgruntled soldiers now flock behind Galba as their leader and besiege the Capitol before the next day’s assembly can be called there.

C. 31 – The Defense Speech

Voting starts, but the Senate soon calls a halt and asks for the right to make their defense speech. A veteran with many scars stands up and shames all the soldiers for taking Servius Galba as their leader, someone with no military skill or experience, and points out that they offend not just Aemilius but the gods themselves for refusing to thank them for the man who brought down the successor of Philip and Alexander. He then shows his wounds (even the ones that shouldn’t have been shown in public), and asks for voting to recommence so he can watch the thankless and evil ones who would rather be flattered than commanded in war.

C. 32 – The First Two Days of Triumph

Aemilius gets his triumph in 167 BC. Temporary scaffolding erected for the people to watch horse-races, and seating set up to watch the procession. Every temple filled with garlands and incense. For three days, the triumph continues. The first day: all the captured statues, paintings, etc fill 250 chariots. Second day: Finest Macedonian arms displayed, artfully arranged to look heaped up in a pile, causing a terrible din as they crashed together.

C. 33 – The Third and Final Day of Triumph

The third day: trumpeters lead the way, 120 oxen with gilded horns, coined gold and silver, amounting to three talents in 77 vessels (231 talents!) followed by a 10-talent gold bowl and all of Perseus’s golden tableware. Then Perseus’s children led up as slaves (2 young boys and a girl), with all their attendants also begging as slaves. The children inspire so much pity in view of their impending death, that few Romans seem to notice Perseus, bringing up the rear. Pleasure mixed with pain for all who saw the children, though.

C. 34 – Perseus

Perseus looks dumbfounded, but his attendants seem to bemoan his fate for him. He had asked to be excused from the triumph, but Aemilius had implied that he should have to kill himself to be excused. 400 wreaths of gold from the cities Aemilius had conquered. Some chariot drivers joke and sing, others praise Aemilius and sing victory odes. But it was not all gladness…

C. 35 – The Sorrow Amid the Triumph

Five days before Aemilius had returned home, one of his younger sons died (14 years old). And three days after the triumph, his younger son died (12 years old). Everyone grieved with him at this combination of joy and sorrow.

C. 36 – Speech on Fortune

Aemilius called the people into assembly after the death of his second son, and gave them a speech about Fortune. He suspected this divine power because in less than a month he had prosecuted the entire war against Macedon, without bad weather, without the common hurdles, hindrances, impediments or difficulties. He knew Fortune would eventually swing against him after such a smooth ride. But, now I have buried two sons and my only heirs. Fortune will continue to favor our city because she has avenged herself on me personally. The hero of the triumph has become the paradigm also of human weakness. Perseus, conquered, has his children. Aemilius, conqueror, does not.

C. 37 – The End of Perseus

Perseus imprisoned (not killed?) in better situation because of Aemilius’s intervention and he either starved himself to death OR the soldiers grew annoyed with him for something and prevented him from falling asleep. They eventually wore him out and he died of exhaustion. Two of the three children died but Alexander, studied metalwork and became quite good at it, learning Latin along the way and acting as secretary to some Roman magistrates. (cf. Polybius).

C. 38 – Politics and the Office of Censor

Aemilius added so much money to the treasury that the Romans were freed from taxes until 43 BC, guaranteeing his popularity in future generations. Aemilius remained an optimate (aristocrat) his whole life without alienating the regular people. Scipio took a completely opposite tack from his biological father and a certain Appius considered it to the detriment of Rome. When Aemilius was censor (164 BC), he was temperate in expelling only 3 Senators and chose Marcus Aemilius Lepidus as first senator and president of the Senate (so selected for the fourth time in his life).

C. 39 – Religious Rites and Peaceful Death

On a doctor’s advice, he left Rome after his censorship to live in Velia and rest and recuperate from a weakening disease. He returned to Rome for a religious celebration that required his presence. After completing the religious rites, he personally thanked the gods in his own offering and then lay down to rest. He fell into a delirium and died three days later in 160 BC. His funeral was simple and attended by Romans and foreigners who respected him. His estate wasn’t much, but Scipio let the other brother have it all, since the Africanus family had more money than it needed.

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