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A Charlatan King? – Andriscus, Rome, and the Fourth Macedonian War (149/8 BCE)

Phillip Hoehre | Philipps-University Marburg


The last heir of the kingdom, raised in obscurity far away from home, discovers their true identity and sets out to reclaim their rightful throne. They rally their band of scrappy loyalists to the cause and fight a war against the unjust usurpers. 


This story might sound familiar. Not only has its structure been featured in epics such as Game of Thrones, but there have also been rulers in history who, either through their own propaganda or later writers, had this origin story told about them. The earliest extant version stems from Sargon of Akkad in the 2300s BCE, who claimed to be the secret child of a priestess set afloat on a river, only to later return to lead Akkad to prominence. While for such monarchs the veracity of their claim to an underdog past is highly doubtful, it has a proven track record of legitimizing those in power, so much so that even today entrepreneurs will claim that they ‘started from nothing’. The motivating power such a tale might carry in the right environment is demonstrated by the story of Andriscus, or Philipp VI, of Macedon (d. ca. 146 BCE). 


Having defeated Carthage in the Second Punic War in 201, the Roman Republic found itself at odds with the Hellenistic kingdom of Macedon to the north of Greece. The Senate eventually mobilized, first defeating King Philipp V of the Antigonid dynasty in the Second Macedonian War (200-197 BCE), and then, after Antigonid Macedon still proved to be a threat 26 years later, his successor Perseus in the Third Macedonian War (171-168 BCE). While the Senate could not expend the resources to permanently occupy Macedon, they also had no interest in fighting a Fourth Macedonian War. Instead, they set about fully dismantling the kingdom. Macedon was plundered and split into four republics forcibly isolated from one another. Most members of the Antigonid administration were deported to Italy along with their male children. King Perseus himself was paraded through Rome as part of a triumph, and soon after died of either suicide or sleep deprivation. The kingdom of Macedon, made influential by Philipp II and Alexander the Great, and transformed by the Antigonid dynasty, had been irreversibly destroyed… 


Man standing before a kneeling group.
Jean-François Pierre Peyron, King Perseus before Aemilius Paullus (1802, colour on walnut), Public Domain.

…or so it seemed. In the late 150s BCE, reports of a returned son of the late Perseus reached Rome. A man claiming to be Philipp VI and possessing features strongly resembling those of the last Antigonid kings had allegedly tried to rally others to his cause. The Greek Polybius, at that time residing in Rome, describes the general bafflement at the series of events that transpired: ‘Here is a Philip fallen from the skies who appears in Macedonia, making light not only of the Macedonians but of the Romans too, with no plausible reason to show for his enterprise [...]’ (Pol. 36.10, trans. Olson). 


The ‘pseudo-Philipp’ rises to prominence

 

Researchers still debate on whether Philipp VI, commonly known by his birth name Andriscus, was a charlatan or a genuine Antigonid royal, although the majority tends towards the former. The ancient writers, usually coming from a pro-Roman perspective, naturally were uncharitable to his claims. According to Diodorus and Livy, Andriscus interspersed a tale of royal legitimacy with his actual biography. He claimed to have been spirited away as a young child to Asia Minor on orders of his father, King Perseus, as a precaution before the latter’s war with Rome. There, he had been raised incognito by a fuller’s family, unknowing of his royal blood until his foster mother told him the whole story when he reached maturity, including a sealed letter from his alleged father.


According to Diodorus, the true impetus for Andriscus’ rebellion lay in sheer opportunism: The young man had worked as a mercenary under the Seleucid King Demetrius I, where the designation as ‘son of Perseus’ had started as a nickname due to his strong – and according to the historiographer purely incidental – resemblance to the Antigonids. As former Macedonian military personnel often found their way into Seleucid services, means of comparison between Andriscus and the last kings of Macedon were readily available. Around 150, Andriscus tried to profit from this resemblance by rousing a group of supporters. Rather than a diadem, however, his troubles got him a prison sentence in Italy on orders of the Senate. 


Upon escaping his arrest, Andriscus fled to Asia Minor. Here, he managed to find a strong supporter in Kallippa, sister-in-law to the king of Pergamum. Kallippa herself likely stemmed from Beroia, a major city of the Macedonian heartland, making her one of the most influential Macedonian-born royal women remaining in the Mediterranean and a welcoming addressee for Andriscus’ plans. As her pro-Roman in-laws could not be involved, her resources were limited, but she could provide Andriscus with coverage of his travel expenses, a royal costume, and the social capital he needed to strengthen his claims. 


She advised Andriscus to go to Thrace to the northeast of Greece and state his claim to the local leaders there. Forty years earlier, Philipp V had strengthened ties with Thracian communities after his loss against Rome. This expansion had been sealed via marriage between Antigonids, including the future king Perseus himself, and nobles of various Thracian groups. If a claim of Antigonid kinship was still to hold sway anywhere in the Mediterranean, Thrace, so far relatively unbothered by Rome, was a prime candidate. 


Kallippa’s calculations paid off: Andriscus managed to gain the support of leading Thracians sympathetic to the Antigonids. Officially crowned with a diadem as King Philipp VI of Macedon, Andriscus could now mobilize westward. His invasion of Macedon itself went well, although the sources are unclear regarding details. Andriscus managed to defeat two Macedonian armies, and by 149 BCE had brought a majority of the former kingdom under his control. 


Recipe for rebellion 


What circumstances allowed for such a swift takeover? Andriscus’ claim to Antigonid kinship certainly held some validity in the public eye, especially given the still-circulating portraiture of Philipp V and Perseus. The pervasiveness of royal imagery in the Hellenistic kingdoms worked in his favour. Andriscus’ coinage thus also accentuated his likeness to established Antigonid features. The royal costume he had received from Kallippa, paired with his physique and skills as a former soldier, likely further emphasized his appearance as a returned Macedonian ‘warrior king.’  


A coin: on the face is a man with a beard and curly hair. On the reverse is a club and a circle of leaves, and some writing.
Didrachm of Philipp V., c. 188-177 BCE, image by cbg.v, CCBY-SA 3.0.

A coin: on the face is a man with a beard and curly hair. On the tail is a humanoid figure, and some writing.
Drachm of Philipp VI Andriscus, ca. 149-148 BCE, image by Classical Numismatics Group, CCBY-SA 2.5.

Those more familiar with the former royal family might have dismissed Andriscus’ claim based on his alleged ‘true’ name, Philipp. After all, as Polybius is sure to point out, King Perseus had once had a son named Philipp, but that one had died in captivity back in the 160s. However, Andriscus’ choice of name might have been more of a programmatic statement, meant to evoke nostalgia and fervour in a Macedonian audience; Philipp II had made Macedon powerful, and Philipp V had dedicated his career to fighting against Rome. If Andriscus, regardless of the validity of his claim, wanted to find support among Macedonian loyalists, Philipp was a good name to adopt. It promised a return to greatness and a decidedly anti-Roman slant. 


Andriscus’ tale of a forlorn royal also tied him back to earlier foundation myths of the Macedonian monarchy. The pre-Hellenistic ruling dynasty of the Argeads had claimed to be descended from nobles exiled from Argos on the Peloponnese who had had to work their way up to the position of Macedonian kings. These tales will have had a certain presence in Macedon, as under Argead patronage, they had been made into a trilogy of stage plays by the famous Athenian dramaturge Euripides. Andriscus’ origin story thus hit familiar nerves. Since tales of ‘underdog kings’ were also tales of inferior forces triumphing over superior enemies, Andriscus’ invoking of this familiar narrative will also have signified his intentions regarding the inevitable conflict with Rome. 


But even for many who still did not care about or believe in Andriscus' legitimacy, there were materialistic reasons to rebel against Rome’s imposed order. While the ancient writers sympathetic to Rome, such as Polybius and Livy, claim that the Romans had ‘removed the yoke of kingship’ from the Macedonians’ necks, they had also plundered and quartered the old kingdom and put-up restrictions to stunt its economy and military. The kings had served as guarantors of wealth and security, two things the new republics could not equally provide. 


Not all of Andriscus’ new subjects seem to have relished the return of the kingship. Cassius Dio, albeit writing almost 400 years after the fact, tells of the king’s purges against dissidents. As shown, Andriscus banked on anti-Roman sentiment to win popular support; sanctioned violence against pro-Romans could be one symptom of such a policy. Leaving opposing factions intact also held the danger of stasis, a state of civil war, the last thing Andriscus could use while consolidating power. 


Andriscus’ next military target further tied him to the earlier monarchies: He marched into Thessaly, a region that had long been under Macedonian control but had had its independence guaranteed by Rome. Reattaching Thessaly to Macedon would strengthen Andriscus’ claim to the old throne and give the kingdom new access to central and southern Greece. To add to his glory, when the Romans sent a legion to intervene with his progress, Andriscus put them to flight and killed the commander. It seemed that after two generations of continuous defeat, Macedon had finally averted a Roman invasion… 


A short-lived kingdom 


…except it didn’t last. Rome, hard-pressed by the concurrent Third Punic War, had not put sufficient resources into the first punitive expedition. Now that Andriscus had proved himself to be a threat and might ally with the Carthaginians as his ‘grandfather’ Philipp V had done, the Senate mobilized a larger army under the praetor Quintus Caecilius Metellus, who would earn the title Macedonicus for this endeavour. 


Metellus pushed inland until in 148 BCE he confronted Andriscus near Pydna, the same city in whose vicinity the king’s alleged father Perseus had been defeated. The Macedonian phalanx proved just as unable to handle Rome’s more flexible maniple formation as it had been in 197 or 168; Andriscus was beaten and forced to retreat to Thrace. There, he tried to regroup, but some of his Thracian allies, faced with the possibility of a Roman invasion of their territories, decided to hand him over to Metellus. 


Andriscus spent two years in captivity, a time during which the Romans reinforced their previous dismantling of Macedon directly through Roman magistrates and occupation, leading many scholars to count 148/7 as the first year of the Roman province of Macedonia. In 146 BCE, his captor Metellus received a triumph for his victory, a sign of the threat Andriscus had posed at the height of his rebellion. Like his ‘father’ Perseus twenty years before, the king was led through Rome’s streets as a trophy of the legions. How Andriscus’ life ended thereafter is not known, but most defeated foes did not live past their triumph. 


Andriscus had used the remaining network of Antigonid sympathizers (Kallippa of Beroia, the Thracian nobility) to endow himself with the dignity of a king and had presented a tale of royal ascension widely familiar to his Macedonian audience – an audience which, due to the economic and military dismantling of their kingdom, was very receptive to the idea of a returned king. That Andriscus had struck a nerve among disgruntled Macedonians is reflected in his ‘copycats’: Cassius Dio mentions that immediately after Andriscus’ defeat, another pretender, claiming to be Perseus’ younger son, Alexander, led an uprising in western Macedon, and in 142/1 another ‘pseudo-Perseus’ required military intervention. These uprisings are emblematic of the greater paradigm shift brought about by Rome’s intrusion into the Eastern Mediterranean; the system that had persisted since the death of Alexander the Great, a network of warring kingdoms, had been permanently disturbed. Those disenfranchised by this turnabout were forced to either submit or – like Andriscus’ followers – cling to stories from the past. 


 

Further Reading:


  • Arthur M. Eckstein, ‘Macedonia and Rome, 221–146 BC’, in Joseph Roisman, Ian Worthington (eds.) A Companion to Ancient Macedonia (Malden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), pp. 225-250.

  • Jean M. Helliesen, ‘Andriscus and the Revolt of the Macedonians. 149-148 B.C.’, Iulia Bokotopulu et al. (eds.) Archaia Makedonia Vol. 4 (Etaireia Makedonikōn Spudōn Thessalonike, 1986) pp. 307-314. 

  • Robert Morstein Kallet-Marx, Hegemony to empire. The development of the Roman Imperium in the East from 148 to 62 B.C. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995). 

  • M. Gwyn Morgan, ‘Metellus Macedonicus and the Province Macedonia’, Historia, Vol. 18(4) (1969), pp. 422-446. 

  • Sabine Müller, ‘Prätendenten unter falscher Identität: Eine besondere Form der Stellvertretung’, Sebastian Kühn, Malte-C. Gruber (eds.) Dreiecksverhältnisse. Aushandlungen von Stellvertretung (Berliner Wissenschaftsverlag, 2016), pp. 93-108. 

  • Ian Worthington, The Last Kings of Macedonia and the Triumph of Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023). 


Phillip Hoehre is a PhD student and research assistant in the Seminary for Ancient History at Philipps-University Marburg, Germany. His research focuses on the Hellenistic age and Macedonian history, in particular the Antigonid dynasty. He has a particular interest in royal legitimacy, imagery, and propaganda, topics which naturally fit Andriscus, the ‘pseudo-Philipp.’ 

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