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Eumenes II's Appeals to Rome: Not So Appealing After All

Gregory J. Callaghan

University of Pennsylvania

Soon after his kingdom's expansion by Roman fiat through the Peace of Apamea in 188, Eumenes II found himself at war with Prusias of Bithynia. Due to Pergamon’s dependence on Roman intervention for its expansion, scholars have mistakenly assumed that Pergamon sought and required Roman intervention against Bithynia (Hansen 1971; Hopp 1977; Gruen 1984; Habicht 1989). In truth, there is no evidence that Eumenes II ever requested intervention against Prusias. In the Pergamene delegations to Rome attested in this period, Prusias is mentioned only in the context of Philip V’s financial support for Bithynia—an additional transgression of Macedonia, not a plea for help against Bithynia (Plb. 21.1.4). And the only evidence of Roman diplomatic involvement in Bithynia is their demand that Hannibal, who served as an adviser to Prusias, be turned over to Rome—no mention is made of a forced peace (Nepos, Hann. 12; Plb. 23.5.1.; Liv. 39.51.1).

This paper demonstrates that not only were there no such appeals by Eumenes II for Roman intervention against Bithynia, but that to request or to receive such intervention would have undermined Eumenes’ geopolitical position after Apamea. Precisely because Pergamon’s expansion had been won by Roman rather than Pergamene spears, the Bithynian war—itself a result of Prusias’ refusal to accept the terms of Apamea—presented an opportunity for Eumenes to prove that he could at least defend his spear-won land by his own spear. Tellingly, his victory in the war was celebrated with great fanfare through the organization of a Nikephoria festival in 182 (Welles 49, 50; FDelphes III: 3, 261) and Eumenes’ victory against Prusias’ Gallic allies was likely the basis for his claim to the title “Soter” (Clara Rhodos 2.172, 3). Moreover, until such authority was proven in his own right, Eumenes’ authority in the region depended on his role as a deputy of Rome; however, a deputy is not valuable if the superior power needs to become involved with every incident. Thus, the war against Bithynia was an opportunity for Eumenes to assert himself among his neighbors and his subjects, and also to prove worthy of Rome’s trust. I conclude the paper with a comparison to Eumenes’ subsequent war against Pharnaces of Pontus, where Eumenes did, in fact, send several attested delegations to Rome—but where I will argue he likely did so with the hope that Rome would not actually intervene.

Direct Roman intervention in wars which he could win on his own would have undermined potential gains to status and authority for Eumenes II. This reexamination of Eumenes’ supposed appeals to Rome—both their factual absence and the proposed explanations for such an absence—pushes back against a dominant narrative that Greek states eagerly sought Roman intervention in every interstate event, and only settled matters among themselves when Roman disinterest became clear. This paper urges us to consider the many different factors that a state would have balanced when deciding whether and how to appeal to Rome—with the conclusion that such appeals were not always appealing.  

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Greek History

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