- Nov 2011
- Ohio, USA
Reading about this battle, it seems that Eumenes probably delivered the first major shattering blows but that the Romans were never in any danger of losing it and that the Seleucid attack on the left was only a temporary scare. Here, the Seleucid success was likely gained at the expense of light troops or cavalry but certainly not any legionary infantry (whether allied or Roman). The position Scipio had found was simply too good for them to lose. The Romans also managed to essentially drive the Seleucid elephants back onto their own center and, following up with infantry exploitation, that essentially ended the battle, which happened shortly after Eumenes smashed the Seleucid left.I think Lucius' reputation suffered from the controversial post-battle investigations. The sources tend to shift credit to RW commander Eumenes or in Appian's case LW commander Ahenobarbus. Eumenes did begin the battle brilliantly by attacking the Seleucid left when it was out of formation and at the battle's end dispatched cavalry to shore up the Roman left.
Noting Eumenes, Ahenobarbus, Lepidus' contribution I give Lucius the most credit for the victory. Lucius demonstrated great generalship in the pre battle maneuvers moving his camp three times, each closer to the Seleucid lines, and offering battle. This gave the Romans the initiative and intimidated the Seleucid army. Lucius chose his ground well and forced the larger Seleucid army into a narrow position. He had units in place that blocked Antiochus flank attack on the Roman left. He understood that Antiochus had superior missile units and ordered his legionaries to quickly lock with the enemy. He personally oversaw the annihilation of the Seleucid center.
Some authors present the battle as a very close run affair where Antiochus shattered the Roman left routing entire legions and nearly turned the flank. Other's view it as a limited success on the Roman extreme left and not a serious danger to the army. I lean towards the latter and think Antiochus' success has been exaggerated. I can't imagine him shattering any legions and regardless he had been effectively stopped by Lepidus at the Roman camp prior to Eumenes cavalry support. In my assessment Lucius always had complete control of the battle and was not in danger of being defeated at any time.
If you're looking for a good source on the subject I recommend, Kenneth W. Harl's article Legion over Phalanx: The Battle of Magnesia in the book Macedonian Legacies.
The only problematic issue of the battle are the traditionally reported numbers and casualties for each side. Traditionally, this as listed as about 30-40,000 for the Romans and Pergamenes and 70,000 for the Seleucids. The casualties are also only listed as about 400 or so for the former and a whopping 50,000 or so for the latter. Clearly, this is ludicrous. The more accurate numbers, according to Grainger, are probably closer to 50,000 in the Roman-Pergamene force and the same or slightly higher (certainly no more than 60,000) for the Seleucids. In addition, it's unlikely that the Roman side losses were any less than 4,000 or that the Seleucids suffered any more than 15,000 casualties, at most. However, this doesn't change the decisive outcome of the battle in pushing the Selecids out of Asia Minor over the course of the following months.