THE BATTLE OF CYNOSCEPHALAE

 

Cynoscephalae

PHALANX vs LEGION

 

 

 

After the fall of mighty Carthage in the Second Punic War (202 BC) Rome began to prepare for the invasion of Greece. The titanic struggle between Rome and Carthage had prevented the Roman's from pursuing a policy of all out war against the Greeks. With Carthage no longer a threat, Rome could now concentrate their powerful war machine against Carthage's former allies.

Despite the war - weariness of the Roman populace, General Titus Quinctius Flamininus, managed to acquire  Senatorial authority to declare war on Greece. After some indecisive skirmishes with local Greek resistance, the main Greek army under King Phillip V of Macedon arrived to check the Roman's at Cynoscephalae. 

The two opposing armies would  be quite evenly matched, the Roman's fielded an army of (24,000 infantry and  3,000 cavalry) the Macedonian - Greek army countered with (26,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry).

The two armies would face one another on opposite sides of a series of rocky ridges and uneven depressions,  the uneven terrain would render cavalry on both sides practically useless. All along the staggered front, advance troops from both sides began to clash. In these early stages of the battle the Greek's would prevail, driving the Romans from the slopes. 

The Roman's continued to fall back until they reached more open ground, then holding their new positions they  awaited the main Roman army to arrive. Having pushed the Roman's off the high ground, the Greek's also halted and awaited reinforcement's.

Upon arriving at the battlefield, Philip was uneasy with the prospect of fighting with his Phalanxes on such difficult terrain, but the reports of Roman troops having been driven back with such ease, inspired him to remain and give battle.

Philip now ordered 9,000 men to take possession of the summit occupying his left flank. While this maneuver was in progress, the main Roman army was now arriving and taking up positions directly below the slopes from the Macedonians.

Although Philip's left flank was secure, his right wing had not yet arrived and still trailed behind his position. Realizing that his right flank was dangerously exposed Philip ordered his left wing Phalanx to lower their spears and attack, before the Roman's could take advantage of his weakness. 

 

MACEDONIAN PHALANX

 

ROMAN LEGION

 

 

 

 

The Greek assault easily drove the Roman right wing back in disarray. Flamininus was forced to send two  thousand troops from his center to stop the flank from totally collapsing. With the situation on his right flank momentarily stabilized, Flamininus ordered the Roman left wing forward to attack the disorganized Macedonian troops still marching up on Phillips exposed right.

At first the Roman Legions forced the Macedonian light infantry to fall back, but they were hard pressed to gain any ground on the heavy infantry Phalanx's bringing up the rear of the Greek formation. After a bitter struggle in which the Greeks got the better of the engagement, it was now the Roman's which found themselves pushed back. 

Phillip now began to notice the Roman right wing was beginning to waiver and ordered the last of his reserves from the Macedonian center to join the attack on the crumbling Roman flank.

With the addition of these fresh troops, the Roman right flank began to buckle and was close to collapse. With both Roman flanks falling back and the total defeat of his army hanging in the balance, Flamininus gambles all and orders his central Legions forward. Phillip, believing this to be an act of desperation orders his center formations to hold their ground and await the Roman attack. 

As the Roman center reaches the half point on the battlefield, Flamininus halts and orders one legion to divide and fan out towards both crumbling Roman flanks and attack the still advancing Macedonian's from their rear. 

To late, Phillip orders his center forward in support but the Roman's are already in position to block his  advance. Unopposed the Roman infantry cut deep into the ranks of both exposed Macedonian Phalanxes, killing hundreds at will.

The inability of the Phalanx to reverse direction during the Roman assault would prove disastrous as  Macedonian casualties now began to rise into the thousands. With his entire army totally committed and nothing left to throw in to stop its destruction, Phillip admits defeat and attempts to save what's left of his army by giving the order for his men to raise their pikes and surrender. 

Unfortunately for the helpless Macedonians, the Roman's do not understand this gesture and continue on with the slaughter. Phillip can only watch horrified as his troops are massacred to a man. With both his flanks now completely destroyed, Phillip orders what's left of his army to withdrawal and he escapes back to Macedonia.

At Cynoscephalae the Macedonian's and their Greek allies suffered 10,000 dead and 5,000 taken prisoner compared to 5,000 Roman casualties. Philip's influence within Greece was now forever broken and he was essentially confined thereafter within Macedonia itself.   

The battle of Cynoscephalae was a turning point in military history. For two hundred years the Macedonian  Phalanx had been invincible on the battlefield. By force of arms it would now give way to the highly trained and disciplined Roman Legion, which would now dominate the battlefields for the next five hundred years. 

 

  

 

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