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Cretan War

A map of the Aegean at the end of the war .
Date: 205 BC- 200 BC
Location: Crete and Rhodes, Greece
Result: Rhodian victory
Casus belli: Macedonian expansion
Territory changes: Rhodes taking over eastern Crete
Spartan and Aetolian pirates
Philip V,
Attalus I,

The Cretan War was fought between the Macedonians under Philip V, the Spartans under Nabis, the Aetolians under Dikaiarchos, and some Cretan cities (of which Olous and Hierapytna were the foremost) against the forces of Rhodes and later on Pergamum, Byzantium, Knossos and Cyzicus. The war started in the 205 BC and it concluded in 200 BC.

The war was fought primarily in naval encounters around the coast of Asia Minor, in the Aegean islands and in Crete. They were a few battled on land in Asia Minor and Crete. The war started with Philip of Macedon having Spartan and Aetolian pirates raid Rhodian ships and he also made a treaty with some Cretan cities. The Rhodians then declared war on Macedon and Crete. The war was going in Philip's favour until Rhodes' allies Cyzicus, Byzantium and Pergamum declared war on Philip. Rome then declared war on Philip so Philip abandoned his Rhodian campaign which left Rhodes with their new Cretan ally Knossos to defeat their main Cretan enemies, Olous and Hierapytna.


The First Macedonian War had just ended with the Treaty of Phoenice and the Romans were busy with Carthage and Hannibal is when Philip saw his chance to take control of the Greek world, which was his greatest ambition and he knew that his ambitions would be aided by an alliance with Crete. He had just crushed Pergamum, the Greek power of Asia Minor, and he had also made the Aetolians his allies. Now he was opposed only by the Greek island-state of Rhodes, which had one of the most powerful fleets in the Mediterranean and was supposed to be his ally, but they were also allies of the Romans who were Phillip's mortal enemies. Rhodes was also important because it was the dominant naval and economic power in the eastern side of the Mediterranean and the southern side of the Aegean.

Piracy and war

Phillip saw two ways of shaking off the Rhodian hold of the sea: piracy and war. He decided to use both methods and encouraged his allies to begin pirate attacks against Rhodian ships. Phillip convinced the Cretans (who had been involved in piracy for a long time), the Aetolians and King Nabis of the Spartans to take part in the piracy. The lure for these nations was the promise of vast loot from captured Rhodian vessels.

By the end of 205 BC, the Rhodians had suffered from the piracy and Philip saw his chance to strike with the second part of his plan, military action. Philip convinced the cities of Hierapytna and Olous to declare war against Rhodes.

Rhodes' initial response to the declaration of war was diplomatic; they asked Rome for help against Philip. The Romans were weary of another war (the Second Punic War had just ended) and they were refused. But after the Rhodians suffered a demoralising naval defeat in the Battle of Lade (202 BC) and Pergamum, Cyzicus and Byzantium joined the war on the Rhodians side, the Romans Senate tried to convince the people to join the war against Macedon. Their attempt to persuade the battle weary people failed.

The Macedonian navy after their victory at Lade captured the island of Samos which belonged to Ptolemy V and captured the Egyptian fleet stationed there. The fleet then turned north and laid siege to the island of Chios. The combined navies of Pergamum, Rhodes, Cyzicus and Byzantium under the command of Attalus and Theophiliscus of Rhodes attack the Macedonian fleet under the commmand of Philip between Chios and the mainland Asia Minor. Attalus was seperated from the rest of the fleet and was chased by Philip but when he made to the mainland he left all the treasury on his treasury ship so the Macedonians would chase after him but instead stop to gather the loot and Philip towed off the Attulas' ship thinking that Attalus was dead but in the meanwhile Attalus escaped to Erythrae. The battle then turned to the allies favour and the Macedonian fleet was routed. The Rhodians and their allies then returned to their base in Chios.

Philip saw his chance to captured Pergamum since it was undermanned because most of the Pergamese army was out campaigning, went with his army and laid siege to Pergamum. But Pergamum's king, Attalus I had strengthed the wall before he set off on the campaign against Macedon and the walls proved to strong for the Macedonian army. Philip retreated after destroying a few temple amongst them the temple of Aphrodite and the sanctuary of Athena Nicephorus. Philip then went south and plundered the towns and cities of Caria. Philip reached the city of Prinassus. At first the city and it's citizen held out bravely. But when Philip set up his artilery, he sent an envoy into the city offering to let them leave the city unharmed or they would all be killed. The citizens decided to abandon the city. At this stage in the campaign, Philip's army was running out of food so he seized the city of Myus and gave it to the Magnesians in return for giving enogh figs to feed his army.

During Philip's campaigns in Asia Minor, Attalus went to Athens and convinced the Athenian citizens to vote declare war against Philip. Attalus' efforts paid off and the Athens joined the his side. When Philip found out he sent some troops stationed in Macedon to raid Attica under the command of Nicanor. When the Romans heard that Philip attacked a greek state warned him to retreat.

Philip then headed north again and started besieging the city of Abydos on the Hellespont because it had a Rhodian and Pergamese garrison. Even though Philip had blockaded the city by land and sea the citizens held firm and even destroyed a few siege engines. Despite their efforts their outer wall was undermanned and it collasped. The miner then were approaching the inner wall when the Abysians sent a embassy to Philip. They asked Philip that if they surrended the city to Philip he would let the garrison leave unharmed. Philip told them to surrender at discretion or fight like men. Upon hearing this message the citizen decided that if they saw the enemy within the inner wall they would kill all the women and children, throw all the gold and silver into the sea and burn all their ships. The inner wall soon fell and upon seeing it fall the Macedonian charged into the city. The people of Abydos fought bravely and heroicly until nightfall and forced the Macedonians to retreat. That night they sent their two most prominent citizens to Philip offering to surrender him the city. All the Abydosians after they surrendered the city felt ashamed that they had betrayed their fallen comrades so that night they all commited suicide.

Meanwhile Rhodian and Pergamese embassies travelled to Rome to convince the senate to declare war on Macedon. They brought forward evidence that Philip was conspiring with the king of the Seleucid Empire, Antiochus III the Great. This news was enough to spur the Romans into action. The Romans started attacking Macedonian outpost and territories in Illyria. This caused the Macedonians to abandon their campaign against Rhodes and to pay more attention to Rome which started the Second Macedonian War.

After Philip's withdrawal from his campaign against Rhodes, due to his concentration of troops against Rome and Pergamum, the Rhodians were free to attack Olous and Hierapytna and their other Cretan allies. Rhodes' search for allies in Crete ended when the Cretan city of Knossos, whose government saw the war was going in Rhodes' favour they joined Rhodes in an attempt to gain supremacy over the island. Many other cities in central Crete subsequently joined Rhodes and Knossos against Hierapytna and Olous. Now besieged on two fronts, Hierapytna surrendered.


Under the treaty signed at war's end, Hierapytna agreed to break off all relations and alliances with foreign powers and to place all its harbours and bases into Rhodes' use. Olous had to accept Rhodian power over the city. The terms of the treaty were found amongst the ruins of Olous. As a result, Rhodes was left with control of a significant part of eastern Crete after the war. With this extra territory the Rhodians built new bases to stamp out piracy in the region. The this war concluded, it left Rhodians free to help their allies in the Second Macedonian War.

The pirate raids still continued from Sparta, Aetolia and western Crete, which led to the Second Cretan War. This war led to Rhodes further establishing its control over the Aegean and the Eastern Meditereanan, Knossos strengthening its hegemony over most of Crete, and making Rome more involved in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, which led in turn to the eventual Roman conquest of Rhodes, Crete and the Aegean. This Macedonian defeat lead to an Aetolia uprising which was easily defeated by Philip and Macedon's Greek allies the Achean League deflecting to Rome.



  • Philip Matyszak.The Enemies of Rome:From Hannibal to Attila. ISBN 0-500-25124-X
  • Theocharis Detorakis. A History of Crete. ISBN 9602207124
  • Polybius. The Rise of the Roman Empire. ISBN 0-14-044362-2

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