Wednesday, August 16, 2017


Michael Kleu, Die Seepolitik Philipps V. von Makedonien. Kleine Schriftenreihe zur Militär- und Marinegeschichte, Bd 24. Bochum: Verlag Dr Dieter Winkler, 2015. Pp. 254. ISBN 9783899112368. €44.45.

Reviewed by Emma Nicholson, University of Edinburgh (

Version at BMCR home site

The study of Philip V of Macedon has long needed fresh work and new perspectives, and Kleu's Die Seepolitik Philipps V. von Makedonien represents an impressive contribution to this understudied field. It offers the first comprehensive treatment of the king's sea policy, and explores in detail the development of his naval strategies and the size and composition of his fleet throughout the course of his reign.

As Kleu points out, while surveys of Antigonid sea-power and discussions of individual rulers' sea policies have been carried out, there remains a general lack of interest in Antigonid naval activity due to the patchy source material and the difficulty of establishing a firm chronology or the details of their fleets and movements. Yet Philip stands as a special case, since the literary evidence for his reign is relatively plentiful and supplemented in some areas by numismatic and epigraphic material. The main difficulty is that the highpoint of Philip's sea-policy — his Aegean campaign in 205-200 BC — is the most fragmentary part of his reign. Nonetheless, Kleu produces a work which largely fulfils its comprehensive brief and offers new insights into the king's reign.

The volume is divided into five chapters: 1. Introduction, 2. The territory of Philip V in 221 BC, 3. The sea policy of Philip V, 4. The financing of Philip's sea policy, and 5. Conclusion. It ends with a comprehensive bibliography, a list of figures, indices of sources, people, places and objects, and an appendix containing six coloured maps. It also contains comprehensive discussions and reasonably clear images of some of the coins found at Selci in 1880 (pp. 63-68), as well as the Bargylia inscription (pp. 100-3).

The Introduction outlines the state of research on Antigonid maritime policy, the chronological parameters of the study (Philip's succession in 221 BC to the loss of his fleet in 196 BC after Kynoskephalai), and ends with a brief discussion of the different types of ships used in this period (primarily decked quadriremes and quinqueremes, and undecked kataphraktoi, aphraktoi, lemboi and pristeis) and the inconsistency and vagueness of the sources in naming and describing them. Kleu rightly defines Seepolitik as including not only operations at sea, but also coasts, harbours, and relations with allied partners. Given this premise, it would also have been beneficial to include a brief survey of the current state of research on Hellenistic maritime and naval history to draw out the wider significance of this volume to the field.

A very short section on the territory of Philip at the beginning of his reign follows the introduction, before the volume turns in section 3 to its main subject, Philip's sea policy. The discussion progresses chronologically, starting with the king's first ventures into naval warfare during the Social War (220-217 BC) and finishing with the Second Macedonian War (200-196 BC), the aftermath of which resulted in the restriction of Macedonian territory and the disbandment of its fleet.

The Social War (3.1) saw the first of Philip's naval activities: the recruitment of the Illyrian chief Skerdilaidas and his fleet of 30 lemboi (light, swift and manoeuvrable Illyrian craft often used for transportation and raids) in 221/0 BC to attack the Aitolian coast. This offered Philip an immediate remedy for the inadequacy of his naval forces at the beginning of his reign and enabled him to contain the western foot of Aitolia and open connection routes along the coast to his allies, Epiros and Akarnania. Philip's introduction to the Illyrian-style lemboi at this stage is, as Kleu demonstrates, particularly important, as these vessels would feature heavily in his naval activities for the rest of his reign.

After the Social War, we find Philip in Illyria and the Adriatic (3.2). Here, Kleu takes the more traditional line of rejecting Polybios' claim that Philip's actions in this region were part of a wider anti-Roman policy and part of his preparations for an invasion of Italy.1 He sees Philip's intervention in Illyria rather as a bid to strengthen the Macedonian northwest border against Illyrian raids, secure harbours on the Adriatic coast, and expand northwards. Skerdilaidas had rebelled over pay in 217/6 BC and was raiding Macedonian and allied territory with Roman support (ten quinqueremes), and Philip's new fleet, which primarily consisted of 100 lemboi, remained inferior to this combined force. While Polybios also connects the aim to invade Italy with the arrival of another Illyrian, Demetrios of Pharos, at Philip's court after being ousted from his chiefdom by Rome in 219, Kleu still asserts that Italy was unlikely to have been the king's primary target. Demetrios was the most suitable adviser to consult for an attempt on Illyria, as well as for the construction of a new fleet of Illyrian-style lemboi.

Next, Kleu explores Philip's alliance with Hannibal in 215 BC and the course of the First Macedonian War (3.3) and again refutes the suggestion that he aimed to invade Italy with Carthaginian support. While the Macedonian king may have played with the idea, he was still more interested in subduing Illyria and securing a harbour on the Adriatic. Kleu argues that the king's sea forces at this stage were still inferior to Roman sea power, and would have been defeated were it not for the Second Punic War. Moreover, while Philip constructed 50-100 new ships at Cassandreia during this period, this fleet never confronted Rome and, therefore, Kleu suggests that these had always been intended to head a new venture in the Aegean.

Kleu's treatment of Philip's Aegean campaign (3.4) is the most exciting and innovative part of his discussion. This period represents the highpoint of Philip's maritime activity, but is frustratingly the part of his career which suffers most from the poor condition and anti-Macedonian bias of the sources. Despite these difficulties, Kleu demonstrates that it is possible to obtain some idea of Philip's sea policy and better understand the relative strengths of the fleets involved. He first revisits the controversial issue of whether Philip seized Ptolemaic ships and crews following his capture of Samos in 201 BC, concluding that the king must have done so, as there appears to have been a relatively large number of Egyptian troops in his fleet during the subsequent battle of Chios. He then focuses on Philip's operations in Asia Minor, taking a thematic approach and examining the geographical areas one by one: first the battles of Chios and Lade, then the Cyclades, Karia, Pergamon and finally the Thracian coast and Propontis. While this approach at times obscures the connection between the different geographical regions and Philip's actions, as well as making it impossible to ascertain with certainty the size and composition of the fleets at any given point, it does make the best of the state of the material given its highly fragmentary nature. In his discussion of the pivotal battle of Chios, Kleu emphasises how the use of lemboi in Philip's fleet was crucial in preventing a quick Rhodian victory because of their ability to move in-between the larger ships: while Polybios claims Philip's losses were vast, the king's dominance in the Aegean remained unbroken because of his reserves on Samos.

In the Second Macedonian War (3.5), Philip's fleet played only a marginal defensive role and this section is correspondingly rather short and descriptive. It seems the king was acutely conscious of Rome's greater naval strength and was perhaps still reeling from his losses at Chios. Following a steady weakening on land and at sea, Philip lost his Epirote and Achaian allies in 198, and suffered defeat at Kynoskephalai in 197 BC. The subsequent peace terms severely curtailed his sea forces: all except five decked ships were to be handed over to Rome, and he was permitted only his 16-banked flagship, a vessel so large that it had no military value, and his undecked craft. Despite its limited use in the war, the disbandment of the Antigonid fleet clearly signifies that the Romans had perceived it as a threat.

Section four comprises Kleu's discussion of the financing of Philip's sea policy, and addresses some of the common presumptions in scholarship, notably Walbank's and Errington's hypotheses that the Macedonian king had already been bankrupted by his naval activities in the Social War and that his Aegean campaign was only made affordable by piracy. 2 Kleu argues that this was not necessarily the case, as Philip started his venture in 218 by training his phalangites to row instead of hiring expensive ship crews. Moreover, at this point his fleet was primarily made up of lemboi, which were quick, cost-effective to build, and relatively cheap to maintain. In the Aegean, Philip also acquired Ptolemaic ships and crews from Samos, and revenue from his control of trade routes and the taxes imposed on conquered cities. Yet, he began to stretch himself too far. Relying on phalangite units to crew ships was no longer sufficient against the greater skill of opposing naval forces, and the newly acquired Ptolemaic ships required maintenance and pay for the men who crewed them. Kleu estimates that at the height of his strength Philip was providing for around 50,000 men. In the end, it was a matter of expanding too quickly and not having enough time to benefit from the increased income. Rome and her allies very quickly appeared on the scene, cut Philip off from his Aegean resources, and defeated him in the Second Macedonian War.

Kleu concludes that, while the Antigonids had only a limited association with the sea, Philip V was able to revive, if only briefly, the naval empire of Antigonos Monophthalmus and Demetrios Poliorketes. He was the first since Poliorketes to take a fleet into western waters, the first since Antigonos Gonatas to win back the Thracian coast, and, more strikingly, the first ever to use lemboi as a standard vessel in a fleet for both transport and war. This would later inspire the Romans and Antiochos III to do the same in their own fleets and would begin the gradual shift away from the use of larger warships.

While much of the narrative discussion is not new and the footnotes are rather ponderous, Kleu's Die Seepolitik Philipps V. von Makedonien is generally well executed and a valuable contribution to the study of Philip V. Despite its focus on this one Hellenistic king, it will also be of benefit to both scholars and students interested in the sea policies of the Antigonids, Romans, Pergamenes, and Rhodians, as well as in maritime history more generally.


1.   Cf. Gruen, E. S. (1984) The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome, Berkeley; Los Angeles; London, 374-75; Hammond, N. G. L. (1988) "The Reigns of Philip V and Perseus" in Hammond N. G. L. & F. W. Walbank (eds.) A History of Macedonia, 387-389; and Champion, C. B. (1997) "The Nature of Authoritative Evidence in Polybius and Agelaus' Speech at Naupactus" in TAPA 127, 118-21. Contra Rich, J. W. (1984) "Roman Aims in the First Macedonian War" in PCPS 210, 129-30, and Eckstein, A. (2008) Rome Enters the Greek East. From Anarchy to Hierarchy in the Hellenistic Mediterranean, 230-170 BC, Malden; Oxford; Carlton, 81.
2.   Walbank, F. (1982) "Sea-power and the Antigonids" in Adams, W. L. & E. N. Borza (eds.) Philip II, Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Heritage, Lanham; New York; London, 228-231; Errington, M. (1986) Geschichte Makedoniens. Von den Anfängen bis zum Untergang des Königreiches, Munich, 212-222.

No comments:

Post a Comment