Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.07.40

Rene Pfeilschifter, Titus Quinctius Flamininus. Untersuchungen zur römischen Griechenlandpolitik. Hypomnemata, 162.   Göttingen:  Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005.  Pp. 442.  ISBN 3-525-25261-7.  €79.90.  

Reviewed by Dylan Bloy, Gettysburg College (
Word count: 1894 words

The title of Pfeilschifter's (P. hereafter) book, his first monograph, is somewhat misleading, for although Flamininus is in many ways the protagonist (but not hero) of the book, he is far from its main focus. It is in fact an admirably wide-ranging and meticulously detailed consideration of Roman political interaction with the mainland Greek world, primarily in the decade of the 190s BC. Flamininus' uniquely active career in Greece forms the structural framework for this study, and for its central question of whether Roman strategy in the Greek world was characterized by long-term comprehensive policy goals led by a cadre of "Eastern experts," with Flamininus the preeminent member. His answer to this question is a definitive no, and his painstakingly built and convincing argument that Rome made decisions in the East ad hoc is a valuable contribution to the subject of Roman foreign policy that goes well beyond the old debate on "imperialism." On the other hand, his view of Flamininus as an irascible, vainglorious, and spiteful political mediocrity may overstate the evidence.

P. articulates an ambitious new perspective on the material, an attribute this volume shares with the works P. identifies as his intellectual forbears, those of Badian, Gruen, and Ferrary.1 Unlike these authors, however, P. primarily limits himself to a very restricted time and space, and rather than employing a systematic approach that relates much diverse material to a single "great" theory, tends to consider every incident on a case-by-case basis and in exacting detail.

Like most histories, the book is divided into three parts, an early (up to 199 BC), middle (198-190 BC) and late (after 190 BC) period. An odd duality is exposed in the early and late sections of the book, for both include biographical chapters on Flamininus (his early career and "retirement," respectively) and chapters discussing events in Greece during the time period. In other words, P. gives the background information for both a biographical study (which he states in the introduction that this is not) and a thematic study of Rome's involvement in Greece in the 190s. Although P. deals judiciously with such issues as Flamininus' alleged membership in various political circles in Rome, many of the issues he takes up in these chapters are not relevant to his overall argument. P.'s scholarly tenor and the limited temporal scope of the study make it somewhat unlikely that it will attract many readers who do not already know well the circumstances under which Rome first became embroiled in conflict with eastern Mediterranean powers; it thus seems otiose to rehearse those particulars that have no direct relevance to his thesis.

The heart of the book is the middle section corresponding to Flamininus' Greek floruit. Rather than a chronological structure, P. breaks this section down into chapters about Flamininus' interactions with the most important powers of the Greek world: Philip V, the Aitolians, the Achaians, and Antiochos III. These chapters again reveal a dual purpose, examining both the nature of Roman policy and the character and temperament of Flamininus. Moreover, this structure means that the same main incidents of the era are reviewed four separate times, a choice that demands much from the reader in what is already a long and difficult study. One reason for this choice is no doubt P.'s wish to highlight the differences in Flamininus' relationships with each power in the service of reconstructing his character. This attempt seems to me fraught with methodological problems, and ultimately serves to distract from what is otherwise a sober and persuasive argument.

Even the best-known Roman contemporary of Flamininus, Marcus Porcius Cato, makes a dubious case for a biographical sketch despite significant fragments of his literary output; Flamininus, although certainly well known by the standards of the second century, is a significantly more obscure character. All we really know of his life are the political and military highlights and a handful of anecdotes drawn from sources at an unknown remove from the events they discuss, in nothing like the quantity or quality that are extant for first century Romans. Though P. does a good job pointing out the limitations of his sources in his introduction, he in no way restrains himself from parlaying them into a full-blooded portrait of the man. He follows in the footsteps of Holleaux and Badian in arguing that Flamininus was guided primarily by personal ambition (and hence was a typical example of the second-century Roman magistrate).2 This at least has the textual support of his cynical manipulation of the peace conference with Philip in Lokris and similar abandonment of the war against Nabis. But P. extends the argument with the claim that Flamininus won support in Greece more by power politics than by personal charm or by loyalty to his allies. His Flamininus is a poor diplomat, quick to take offense, slow to forget imagined slights, and envious of the successes of his Greek allies.

This reading of Flamininus' nature often relies on evidence that is ambiguous. For instance, it seems to draw support from an anecdote mentioned by Plutarch in which Flamininus was allegedly irritated by an epigram by Alkaios because it gave pride of place to his Aitolian allies in its mention of Kynoskephalai.3 Certainly Flamininus did take a personal interest in the poem, for an edited version that removed the reference to the Aitolians is also preserved, and another line from the offending poem is also incorporated in a separate epigram Alkaios wrote to honor Flamininus. However, this episode permits other interpretations than that Flamininus was a prickly fellow. Flamininus' interest may show not just a concern for Roman or personal glory, but a recognition of the potency of the poem's propaganda value. Plutarch's own account mentions the great popularity of the epigram; Flamininus may have seized on it as a culturally appropriate way to broadcast Roman deeds. Indeed the poem honoring him contrasts Titus who invaded Greece to free it with Xerxes who invaded Greece to enslave it, a clear echo of the freedom propaganda issued in his Isthmian proclamation in 196. Perhaps this controversy is best seen in the context of the propaganda battle begun after the post-war settlement when the Aitolians, disappointed not to receive the Thessalian cities they expected, accused Rome of replacing Philip as the masters of Greece. Thus Flamininus' irritation changes to a strategic concern not to surrender the high ground in the battle for the hearts and minds of the Greek world.

Similar examples of cultural diplomacy are in fact not uncommon in Flamininus' Greek career.4 Of course his Isthmian proclamation is the best-documented example, but he was also responsible for offerings at Delos and Delphi, the latter inscribed with Greek epigrams again emphasizing freedom for the Greeks. He minted gold coins in a Greek style and weight standard, but depicting himself in the place of a Hellenistic monarch. These examples may have been shamelessly self-promoting, but they also followed paradigms well established in the Hellenistic world and seem designed, like Alkaios' second poem, to palliate the charge that Romans were barbarians out to conquer Greece.

Another illustration of P.'s use of ambiguous historical evidence to support his view of Flamininus is the case of Elateia, the Phokian city that became the base of operations for the Roman army in the winter of 198/7 BC. Wishing to illustrate Flamininus' insensitivity to Greek opinion, P. argues that he was responsible for the forced expulsion of its Greek population after the capture of the city from a Macedonian garrison.5 The evidence for this is an inscription honoring the city of Stymphalos for hosting the exiled Elateians. However, this inscription does not preserve the circumstances of their eviction. A more likely scenario is that the Aitolians, who received Phokis as the prize for their aid to Rome in the war, seized the Elateian's property, as they were known from a series of contemporary inscriptions to have done at Delphi. Both the Stymphalian and Delphian inscriptions prominently mention Manius Acilius Glabrio's role in the restoration of property in the respective communities, and these benefactions most likely shared the same motive of stripping the Aitolian League (by then an enemy) of its ill-gotten gains.

P. takes for granted the inevitability of Roman victory in the Second Macedonian War, arguing that even if Philip had won the initial battle, Rome would have sent a second and then a third army until victory was achieved. I think this view is more a product of hindsight than a considered view of the historical context. This war was unpopular with the Roman plebs before it began; one or more defeats as disastrous as Cannae or Trasimene in a war on foreign soil may well have brought the senate to rethink its further commitment to an overseas quagmire, especially one without a clearly articulated objective after the defeat of Carthage. Indeed, the superiority of the Roman legions is an article of faith throughout the work. This would not in itself be a problem, if not for the fact that P. imputes the same belief to the Greek allies and enemies of Rome. By his formula, every time a Greek power defied Rome it was a failure of Roman diplomacy, but every ally won had made the pragmatic calculation that Rome had military superiority. This circular reasoning makes it impossible for him to give credit even for a diplomatic coup as unexpected as the alliance secured with the Achaian League, traditional Macedonian allies, before the battle of Kynoskephalai.

P. is at pains to show that Flamininus had a consistently negative attitude towards the Aitolian League from virtually the moment he arrived on Greek soil, adducing as evidence for this a handful of reported conversations involving the allies before the decisive battle at Kynoskephalai in 197. It seems to me that two tendencies would explain this perceived attitude as well as P.'s apparent assumption that Flamininus simply disliked the Aitolians: the (ancient and modern) historians' tendency to retroject the enmities that built up after the battle and finally led to war in 192 to the period of the active alliance between the powers, and the Achaian Polybios' well-documented tendency to depict the Aitolians as barbarous cut-throats.

Similar special pleading occurs in P.'s discussion of the Achaian League, in which he argues that Flamininus had no direct role in wooing the League into an alliance with Rome because his brother Lucius handled the negotiations and Titus never sent a legate from his own camp. To suggest, however, that Lucius did not directly represent his brother's position seems farfetched; indeed it was the close coordination expected between the brothers that led the senate to assign Lucius the naval command in the first place.

Ultimately, despite the excellence of P.'s core argument on the nature of Roman policy, I suspect that this book will not achieve the same influence as those of Badian and Gruen. His inadvisable concentration on Flamininus' personality and the complicated structure dictated by it will likely prove daunting to non-specialist graduate students and professionals for whom the mechanism of Roman interaction with the Greek world might otherwise be of interest; his deliberate style of argumentation may also be an obstacle to those less proficient in German. It will, of course, be required reading for those who specialize in the interaction of the Roman and Hellenistic worlds and those interested in the processes of Roman expansion.


1.   Ernst Badian, Foreign Clientelae (264-70 BC), Oxford 1958; Erich Gruen, The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome, Berkeley 1984; Jean-Louis Ferrary, Philhellénisme et impérialisme, Rome 1988.
2.   Maurice Holleaux, "Les conférences de Lokride et la politique de T. Quinctius Flamininus (198 av. J.-C.)" Revue des études grecques 36 (1923) 115-171; Ernst Badian, Titus Quinctius Flamininus: Philhellenism and Realpolitik, Cincinnati 1970.
3.   P. 153f. with note 58. The passage is Plutarch, Flam. 9.1-5.
4.   These are articulated in a chapter of this reviewer's doctoral dissertation, Roman Cultural Diplomacy at Panhellenic Sanctuaries during the Conquest of Greece, UMI 2000 (not cited by P.).
5.   P. 98f. with note 17.

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