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The battle of Corycus of 191 B.C. was the first naval battle of the war between Rome and Antiochus III, and saw the Romans and their allies begin to win control of the Aegean Sea.
The war had begun with Antiochus in Greece, but he had very quickly been defeated there (battle of Thermopylae) and returned to Asia Minor. He still had command of the seas, but the Romans decided to dispatch a large fleet to the Aegean, to operate with their allies. These combined fleets could well be too powerful for the Seleucid fleet to defeat.
The Roman fleet contained 50 Roman, 6 Punic and 25 light warships from Ostia under the command of the praetor C. Livius Salinator, along with 25 quinqueremes that were already in Greece helping the Achaean League against Sparta. This gave them 81 major warships.
Antiochus’ fleet contained 70 decked warships and 100 light warships, under the command of Polyxenidas. This fleet might well have been large and experienced enough to defeat the Roman fleet along, and Polyxenidas made an unsuccessful attempt intercept them before they could reach Asia Minor.
Once they reached the Ionian coast the Romans were joined by Eumenes of Pergamum, with 24 decked warships and 30 light craft. This gave the allies 105 major warships, an advantage of 35 over Polyxenidas, but despite this he still decided to attack the combined fleet.
The battle took place off Cape Corycus. As happened a number of times during the Punic Wars, the Romans were able to board their opponent’s ships, capturing thirteen of them. Meanwhile, the allies’ advantage in numbers meant that they could outflank Polyxenidas’s left wing, which was soon overpowered. Polyxenidas was forced to order a retreat, and taking advantage of the greater speed of his ships was able to reach safety in Ephesus. In total he lost 23 ships – 10 sunk as well as the 13 captured, while the allies only lost one ship. Polyxenidas acknowledged his defeat by refusing to accept an offer of battle on the day after the battle.
Although Antiochus was able to rebuild Polyxenidas’s fleet, and build a second fleet in Phoenicia, the Romans were now firmly established on the coast of Asia Minor. In the following year the fleet from Phoenicia was defeated at the battle of Eurymedon, while the main fleet was destroyed at Myonnesus, leaving Asia Minor vulnerable to a Roman invasion.
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