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Battle of Antioch (218)

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Battle of Antioch
Detailed Map of Roman Syria.jpg
A 20th century map of Roman Syria with the ancient sites of Antioch, Emesa, and Zeugma shown, among others
Date 8 June 218
Location near Antioch, Syria (now Turkey)
Result Elagabalus victory
Macrinus Elagabalus
Commanders and leaders
Macrinus Gannys
Elements of the
Praetorian Guard
Legio III Gallica
Legio II Parthica
Other rebels

The Battle of Antioch (8 June 218) was fought between the Roman armies of the Emperor Macrinus and his rival Elagabalus, whose troops were commanded by General Gannys, a short distance from Antioch. Gannys' victory over Macrinus led to the downfall of the emperor and his replacement by Elagabalus.

Macrinus' predecessor, Caracalla, was murdered by a disaffected soldier during a campaign against Parthia on 8 April 217. Macrinus himself may have had a hand in the murder of Caracalla. Within days of Caracalla's death, Macrinus was proclaimed emperor with the support of the army. At the time of his accession he inherited all of the problems that Caracalla had left for Rome; namely the war against Parthia and threats from Armenia and Dacia and also extensive fiscal expenditures. Macrinus successfully concluded a peace with Parthia, but, it came at further great cost to Rome. Further, his policies to reduce monetary expenditure only served to discontent the soldiers.

Elagabalus' grandmother, Julia Maesa, took advantage of her wealth and the discontent of the soldiers to champion the idea that Elagabalus was the rightful heir to the empire. Elagabalus, chief priest of the god Elagabal, was proclaimed emperor by the soldiers of Legio III Gallica (Gallic Third Legion) at their camp in Raphanea on 16 May 218. In response to this rebellion, Macrinus sent one of his generals, Ulpinus Julianus, alongside a small cavalry force to quell the rebellious soldiers. They defected, with Ulpinus Julianus being killed, and his head was sent back to Macrinus in Antioch. The battle took place less than a month later.

While Gannys had the numerical advantage, in the opening stages of the battle Macrinus' Praetorian Guards broke through Gannys' lines causing his troops to begin to flee. In response, Elagabalus' mother and grandmother joined the battle to rally the troops while Gannys led his own charge against Macrinus' troops. Having succeeded in halting the retreat, Gannys' troops renewed the assault causing Macrinus to flee the battle in fear of the impending defeat. Having lost the battle, Macrinus returned to Antioch once again. He sent his son and co-emperor, Diadumenianus, to Parthia and tried to get to Rome himself. Both he and his son were caught en-route and both were executed. Elagabalus himself entered Antioch as the new emperor of Rome, and with Macrinus dead, the Senate had no choice but to acknowledge the new emperor. By March 222 A.D., Elagabalus was himself killed by the disgruntled Praetorian Guard and was himself declared an enemy of Rome and subject to a damnatio memoriae.


Death of Caracalla and rise of Macrinus[edit]

Roman denarius depicting Macrinus and his son, Diadumenianus

Macrinus' predecessor Caracalla was murdered while traveling to visit a temple by Justin Martialus, a soldier who was incensed at being declined the rank of centurion, during a period of war with the Parthians.[1] Macrinus, a Praetorian prefect at the time, was involved in the assassination.[2][3] Macrinus may have plotted against Caracalla because of fear for his own life,[4] based on a story mentioned by Roman writer Herodian and supported by the 18th century historian, Edward Gibbon: Macrinus often read dispatches sent to Caracalla, and one such dispatch from Materianus, a friend of Caracalla, detailed a prophecy, perhaps fabricated, from the oracle at Delphi, suggesting that Macrinus was plotting against Caracalla and that Macrinus was destined to become the next emperor.[1]

In the immediate aftermath of Caracalla's death, Adventus was selected to serve as emperor, but he declined the position due to his old age. The army then chose Macrinus; they had no feelings of 'love or esteem' towards him, but there was no one else competing for the position.[5] The army proclaimed Macrinus as emperor three days after the death of Caracalla, and named him Augustus.[6]

The results were applauded by the Senate at first, who were glad to be rid of the former emperor. But tradition held that the emperor could only be selected from among the Senate, causing some concern. Macrinus was a member of the equestrian class, the lower of the two aristocratic classes, which led to further concern. This led the Senate to severely scrutinize his every action.[7] The Senate, however, was powerless to do anything about it, the military was at the time so concentrated at Edessa that there was no force anywhere else in the Empire that could contest the action.[4]

As the new emperor, Macrinus had to deal with the major threat of the Parthians, with whom Rome were currently at war. An indecisive battle at Nisibis is cited as a reason for the opening of peace negotiations.[8] Negotiations may have been favourable for both sides; Rome was being threatened by Armenia and Dacia, and the Parthians were far from home and low on supplies.[9] The settlement, however, was viewed by many people as being unfavourable to Rome; the Roman historian Cassius Dio wrote that a payout of 200 million Sesterces was paid to the Parthians in exchange for peace.[10] The sum is questioned by historian Andrew Scott on the ground that it is too high to be credible and because Dio is known for being unreliable on finances.[11] Regardless, the general opinion on the negotiations was one of contempt, with Macrinus being accused of being cowardly and weak.[12]

With the peace treaty concluded, Macrinus took measures to control the expenditures of Rome, by reversing Caracalla's changes and thus effectively reinstating the fiscal policies of Septimius Severus. This included a reduction in pay and benefits for Legionnaires, which was not popular with the Army who had placed him in command. These policies applied only to new recruits, but the enlisted soldiers saw this as setting precedent for further changes to the fiscal policies brought in by Caracalla. The sullen behaviour of new recruits, who entered service committing to greater labour for less payment, only furthered discontent among the soldiers. Gibbon suggests that from here only a small spark was required to ignite a rebellion.[13]

Rise of Elagabalus[edit]

Following the death of Caracalla, Macrinus allowed Caracalla's mother, Julia Domna, and his aunt Julia Maesa, to settle in their home town of Emesa. Julia Domna, who was at Antioch at the time of Caracalla's death, attempted suicide and eventually succeeded by starving herself.[14] Julia Maesa, however, returned to Emesa with her finances intact.[15]

Julia's suspicions regarding Macrinus' involvement in the death of Caracalla led to her championing the case of her grandson, Elagabalus, as the rightful emperor.[16] At the time Elagabalus was the chief priest of the Phoenician god Elagabal in Emesa. The soldiers stationed there frequently visited the temple where Elagabalus was chief priest, and enjoyed watching him perform rituals and ceremonies there. On one such occasion, Julia Maesa took the opportunity to inform the soldiers, it is not known whether truthfully, that Elagabalus was Caracalla's son. Simultaneously, she may have seen the opportunity to use her family's wealth and prestige to set in motion her plot.[15]

On the night of 15 May 218, Elagabalus was taken, by either Julia Maesa or Gannys, to the camp of the Legio III Gallica at Raphanea and presented to the soldiers stationed there.[17] Some accounts claim that upon being presented to them, Elagabalus was immediately hailed Antoninus in the vein of his father Caracalla whose official name was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.[18] Enhanced by Julia's monetary contributions, the legion proclaimed Elagabalus emperor on 16 May 218.[15][19]

In Gibbon's opinion, Macrinus might have been able to stop the rebellion in this early stage, but could not decide on a course of action and remained at Antioch.[20]


Now that Elagabalus had the support of an entire legion, other legionnaires, prompted by discontent over pay, moved to join Elagabalus' ranks as well. In response, Macrinus sent a cavalry force led under the command of Ulpinus Julianus to regain control of the rebels. Instead, the cavalry killed Ulpinus and joined Elagabalus.[20][21]

Following these events, Macrinus traveled to Apamea to ensure the loyalty of Legio II Parthica before setting off to march against Emesa.[19] According to Dio, Macrinus appointed his son Diadumenian the position of Imperator, and promised the soldiers 20,000 Sesterces each, with 4,000 of these to be paid on the spot. Further Dio comments that Macrinus also hosted a dinner for the residents of Apamea in honour of Diadumenian.[22] Dio states that at the dinner, Macrinus was presented with the head of Ulpinus Julianus who had been killed by his defecting soldiers.[23] This forced Macrinus to leave, according to Dio in retreat, while the archaeologist Glanville Downey asserts that Macrinus left in order to launch an attack.[19]

Macrinus' and Elagabalus' troops met somewhere near the border of Syria Coele and Syria Phoenice, Macrinus' efforts here, however, were in vain and the whole legion defected to the challenger, forcing him to retire to Antioch. This allowed Elagabus to take the offensive and march on Antioch.[19]

Senatorial response[edit]

By the early third century, the position of the Senate had been considerably weakened. The balance of power had been transferred from the Senate to the army. The emperor of Rome was decided by the soldier, while the Senate existed solely to officiate state affairs without any real authority.[24] Thus, both Macrinus and later Elagabalus attempted to secure the favour of the military while generally disregarding the opinion of the Senate. Macrinus, now in dire circumstances, had no choice but to turn to the Senate. Thus, while at Antioch, Macrinus made one more attempt at securing support, this time from Rome. However, a combination of distrust from the Senate, the impending approach of Elagabalus' legions and insufficient funds meant that Macrinus had to face the approaching Elagabalus with only his Praetorian Guard. Had time been available, Marius Maximus, prefect of Rome, might have been able to muster troops and send reinforcements to Macrinus.[25] Despite all of this, the Senate still declared war against the usurper and his family, regardless of their relative powerlessness.[26]


The battle took place on 8 June 218 at a defile outside of a village, believed to be Immae, approximately twenty-four miles or so by road between Antioch and Beroea.[19] Herodian challenges this assertion, suggesting that the battle took place closer to the border at Syria Coele and Syria Phoenice, possibly near Emesa. Other historians either agree with Dio that the battle took place near Antioch or make no claim as to where the battle occurred.[19][27] Downey suggests that both the battle as described by Dio and the battle as described by Herodian took place, thus accounting for two different battles. Downey's account still makes the battle fought near Antioch as the decisive one.[28]

The armies of Elagabalus, led by Gannys, a novice but determined commander, met with the Praetorian Guard of Macrinus in a narrowly fought pitched battle.[26] According to Dio, prior to the battle Macrinus had the Praetorian Guard set aside their scaled armour breastplates and grooved shields in favour of lighter oval shields, thus making them lighter and more manoeuvrable and also negating the advantage of light Parthian lancers (lanciarii).[29] Gannys' army, comprising at least two full legions, had a numerical superiority over whatever levies Macrinus had been able to raise. Nonetheless, the engagement began in Macrinus' favour with the soldiers led by Gannys turning to flee after the Praetorian Guards had managed to break through the enemy line. At some point during the retreat, Julia Maesa and Soaemias Bassiana (Elagabalus' mother) joined the fray, rallying the forces while Gannys, who was on horseback, charged headlong at the enemy thus ending the retreat and renewing the assault.[26][30] At this point Macrinus, fearing defeat, fled back to the city of Antioch.[19] Downey and Gibbon conclude that had Macrinus remained in battle it is plausible that he might have won the battle and thus secured his position as emperor.[19][26]


Having been defeated in battle, Macrinus sent his son along with attendants to Artabanus V of Parthia, while he himself returned to Antioch, proclaiming victory over Elagabalus in battle.[31] News of Macrinus' defeat broke out and many civilians in the city and on the roads were slain because they had favoured Macrinus. Macrinus shaved off his beard and hair to disguise himself as a member of the military police and fled the city at night on horseback. He reached Cilicia along with a few companions; while masquerading as a military courier he successfully secured a carriage, which he subsequently drove to Eribolon, near Nicomedia, before setting sail for Chalcedon.[19]

Macrinus travelled through Cappadocia, Galatia and Bithynia before arriving in Chalcedon. Here his guise was revealed and he was arrested after he sent requests for money.[32] Elagabalus had dispatched men to apprehend Macrinus, who transported him to Cappadocia.[32][33] His son Diadumenian was apprehended elsewhere while travelling to the care of Artabanus V of Parthia.[33][34] Dio names the centurion Cladius Pollio as responsible for the death of Diadumenian in Zeugma.[35] Macrinus was executed in Archemais in Cappadocia after attempting to escape from his captors, Dio mentions that the centurion Marcianus Taurus was responsible for his execution.[32][33][36] French author Jean-Baptiste Crevier further comments that Macrinus found out about his son's death at Cappadocia and had thrown himself out of the carriage upon the news being delivered to him, stating that he broke his shoulder doing so.[32] Thus, Macrinus' reign as emperor ended after nearly fourteen months.[32][33]

Elagabalus entered Antioch as the new ruler of Rome, he sent a message to the Roman Senate and people declaring himself the ruler. Once again as with Macrinus, the Senate had no choice but to recognize Elagabalus as emperor.[37] Elagabalus' claim was not without contention, however, as several pretenders made their own bids for "the purple" including Verus the commander of Legio III Gallica and Gellius Maximus the commander of Legio IV Scythica. History professor and author Martijn Icks notes the irony in Verus' claim as his legion had been the first to proclaim Elagabalus as the rightful emperor of Rome. These rebellions were quashed and the instigators executed.[37] By March 222 A.D., Elagabalus was himself murdered the Praetorian Guard, his body dumped in the river Tiber and be victim of a damnatio memoriae on the orders of the senate.[38]


  1. ^ a b Gibbon 1776, pp. 176–177.
  2. ^ Mennen 2011, p. 162.
  3. ^ Goldsworthy 2009, p. 74.
  4. ^ a b Goldsworthy 2009, p. 75.
  5. ^ Gibbon 1776, p. 178.
  6. ^ Dunstan 2010, p. 213.
  7. ^ Gibbon 1776, pp. 179–180.
  8. ^ Scott 2008, p. 76.
  9. ^ Scott 2008, p. 108.
  10. ^ Scott 2008, p. 109.
  11. ^ Scott 2008, p. 110.
  12. ^ Scott 2008, p. 104.
  13. ^ Gibbon 1776, p. 181.
  14. ^ Goldsworthy 2009, p. 76.
  15. ^ a b c Gibbon 1776, p. 182.
  16. ^ Goldsworthy 2009, pp. 76–77.
  17. ^ Scott 2008, p. 151.
  18. ^ Scott 2008, pp. 144–146,151.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i Downey 1961, pp. 249–250.
  20. ^ a b Gibbon 1776, p. 183.
  21. ^ Mennen 2011, p. 165.
  22. ^ Dio n.d., p. 417, 79.34.3.
  23. ^ Dio n.d., p. 417, 79.34.4.
  24. ^ Scott 2008, p. 45.
  25. ^ Scott 2008, pp. 154–155.
  26. ^ a b c d Gibbon 1776, p. 184.
  27. ^ Scott 2008, p. 68.
  28. ^ Downey 1961, pp. 249-250.
  29. ^ Dio n.d., p. 425, 79.37.4.
  30. ^ Goldsworthy 2009, pp. 78–79.
  31. ^ Scott 2008, pp. 155–156.
  32. ^ a b c d e Crevier 1814, p. 237.
  33. ^ a b c d Bell 1834, p. 229.
  34. ^ Crevier 1814, pp. 236–237.
  35. ^ Dio n.d., p. 431, 79.40.5.
  36. ^ Dio n.d., p. 431, 79.39.6, 79.40.1 and 79.40.2.
  37. ^ a b Icks 2011, p. 14.
  38. ^ Icks 2011, pp. 1–2.


  • Bell, Robert (1834). Volume 2 of A History of Rome. Cabinet Cyclopaedia. Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green & Longman. OCLC 499310353. 
  • Crevier, Jean Baptiste Louis (1814). The History of the Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine, Volume 8. F. C. & J. Rivington. OCLC 2942662. 
  • Dio, Cassius (n.d.). Roman History. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-99196-6. 
  • Downey, Glanville (1961). History of Antioch in Syria: From Seleucus to the Arab Conquest. Literary Licensing LLC. ISBN 1-258-48665-2. 
  • Dunstan, William (2010). Ancient Rome. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 0-7425-6834-2. 
  • Gibbon, Edward (1776). The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1. W. Strahan and T Cadell. OCLC 187300332. 
  • Goldsworthy, Adrian (2009). How Rome Fell. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-15560-3. 
  • Icks, Martijn (2011). The Crimes of Elagabalus: The Life and Legacy of Rome's Decadent Boy Emperor. I. B. Tauris. ISBN 0-85773-026-6. 
  • Mennen, Inge (2011). Impact of Empire, Volume 12: Power and Status in the Roman Empire, AD 193–284. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 90-04-20359-1. 
  • Scott, Andrew (2008). Change and Discontinuity Within the Severan Dynasty: The Case of Macrinus. Rutgers. ISBN 0-549-89041-6. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 36°12′00″N 36°09′00″E / 36.2000°N 36.1500°E / 36.2000; 36.1500