How Rome Became the Sole Superpower in the Mediterranean | History Hit

How Rome Became the Sole Superpower in the Mediterranean

16th century engraving depicting a naval battle, from the series Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae.
Image Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Public Domain

In 190 BC, a Roman army led by Lucius Scipio defeated a massive force led by the Seleucid king Antiochus III at the Battle of Magnesia. The battle in western Anatolia proved to be one of Rome’s most important clashes during its rise to dominance in the eastern Mediterranean. Before Magnesia, there had been two great superpowers in the Mediterranean. Now there was only one.

The aftermath of Magnesia

The Scipios determined to impose harsh terms on their defeated enemy. They forced Antiochus to give up almost all his holdings in Anatolia. Having witnessed first-hand the extent of Antiochus’ manpower at Magnesia, Rome desired to reduce his military strength even further. Not only did they strip Antiochus almost completely of his navy, but they also forced him to disband every contingent of his Indian war elephants. One of the most iconic units of the Seleucid stables was no more.

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Mare Nostrum

Having implemented these terms on the defeated Antiochus, Roman confidence went through the roof. They emerged victorious over a general who had styled his previous conquests on those of the famed Alexander. Who could now challenge Roman dominance in the Mediterranean? Rome now had every right to call that sea Mare Nostrum (‘Our Sea’).

Yet Rome was not the only power to benefit from victory at Magnesia. Throughout the campaign their Greek allies had proved invaluable. Their aid would not be forgotten.

Trade card depicting a ‘Roman Man of War, 200 BC’ issued in 1888 by Kinney Tobacco Company.

Image Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Public Domain


Philip V of Macedon, the Rhodians and the Greek Cities in Asia Minor had all sided with Rome at Magnesia. All were rewarded for their loyalty and assistance against Antiochus. One man and his dynasty however, benefited more than any other from this Roman generosity.

That was Eumenes, arguably the hero of MagnesiaReluctant to control these far-flung lands themselves, Rome awarded Eumenes all of Antiochus’ former territories in Asia Minor north of the River Maeander.

Map of part of Asia Minor

Image Credit: Wellcome Collection / Public Domain

In one battle, a small Hellenistic power in Western Asia Minor had been transformed into the most powerful force in the region. The Golden Age of Attalid rule had begun.

The fate of the Seleucids

As for Antiochus, his fate would be less fortunate. Desperate for more money to fund a new campaign, the Seleucid king was killed in Susa, the old Persian capital, while raiding a temple. This was a somewhat anticlimactic end to the story of this great king. In his lifetime, Antiochus had restored the Seleucid Kingdom into the most powerful nation in Asia. Sadly, however, his war with Rome had proven one step too far.

Digitised image from The Student’s Rome (London: John Murray, 1882)

Image Credit: British Library / Public Domain

One other king would temporarily succeed in reversing its demise, but within 23 years of Antiochus’ passing his kingdom had descended into turmoil from which it would never completely emerge.

Eventually, and perhaps fittingly, it would be Rome that put the final nail in the Seleucid coffin. They annexed their few remaining lands in ancient Syria into their empire in 63 BC. One of Alexander’s greatest legacies had finally come to an end. The Roman victory at Magnesia had a profound legacy. Dominance of the Mediterranean was no longer in the gift of the Hellenistic kingdoms, but of Rome.

Tristan Hughes