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Aratus of Sicyon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Aratus of Sicyon

Strategos of the Achaean League, Founder and Saviour of Sicyon
Aratus of Sicyon.png
Aratus of Sicyon, as depicted in the Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum (1533)
Native name
Ἄρατος
Born273 BC
Sicyon
Died213 BC
Aegium
Buried
AllegianceAchaean League
RankStrategos
Service number245-213 BC (with intervals)
Battles/warsCleomenean War: Battle of Sellasia,...
Social War
RelationsFriend of Antigonus Doson
Other workAdvisor of Philip V of Macedon

Aratus of Sicyon (Ancient Greek: Ἄρατος του Σικυοντος; 271 - 213 BC) was a politician and military commander in Hellenistic Greece. He was elected strategos of the Achaean League seventeen times.

Having been raised in Argos, Aratus, as commander of the other exiles, freed his birth city Sicyon from tyranny. Sicyon joined the Achaean League, in which Aratus would become elected strategos. His first big exploit was the taking of the apparently impregnable Acrocorinth, the citadel (acropolis) of Corinth. At that time Macedon was in control of Corinth’s acropolis. After Corinth, Aratus tried to expand the League. When the new king of Sparta, Cleomenes III, came to power, he started a war against the Achaean League. When Cleomenes was getting the upper hand, Aratus succeeded in persuading Macedon, his old opponent, to join him. Cleomenes was defeated in the Battle of Sellasia by the joint forces of the Achaean League and Antigonus III Doson, the regent of Macedon. During and after the Social War against the Aetolian League, Aratus was one of the prime advisors of the new king of Macedon, Philip V. He died in 213 BC. According to Plutarch, he was poisoned by Philip.

Youth

Location of Sicyon
Location of Sicyon
Sicyon's theatre. It was built by Aratus' father.
Sicyon's theatre. It was built by Aratus' father.

Aratus was born in 271 BC in Sicyon. He was the son of Cleinias of Sicyon, who had become head magistrate of the city after the murder of the last tyrant. He shared this function with Timocleides.[1] The government had only just somewhat settled when Timocleides died. A coup by Abantidas followed in 264 BC. Having murdered Cleinias, he proclaimed himself tyrant. He was planning to do the same to the then seven years old Aratus, but he, however, proceeded to escape. He was able to use the confusion around the house of Cleinias to go to his aunt.[note 1] She hid Aratus till nightfall and smuggled him out of Sicyon to Argos, where he would be raised by friends of his fathers. He would keep living there until 251 BC.[2][3]

In Argos, Aratus became known as a good orator and athlete. He even won the pentathlon at the Olympic Games. However, he was consumed by a burning desire to win back freedom for his home city and to liberate it from tyranny. Despite his youth, his resolute character seems to have been early on accepted as the leader of the exiles' party.[2]

In Sicyon itself, faction strife dominated during the years of Aratus' youth, with Abantidas cut down by rivals. He was replaced by his father, but the latter was also killed and replaced by Nicocles. This caused the weakening of the city-state and made it more vulnerable for aggressive neighbours. Because of this, the citizens wanted the exiles to return, who would, according to them, bring safety and stability. Even though this was only a local matter, Aratus was already seen as a major player; he had already made contacts with the kings of Macedon and Egypt. Plutarch even reports that the main reason for Nicocles being worried about Aratus was his elevated connections.[4]

Liberating Sicyon

In 251 BC, Aratus decided to take and hold a fortified post near Sicyon from where he could raid his enemies' property and where sympathizers could join him. But before he put this plan into action a man arrived who opened up completely new possibilities. A political prisoner who had recently broken out of the tyrant's prison in Sicyon arrived at Argos saying that his escape route out of Sicyon could be easily retraced by men with scaling ladders who could then easily climb over the defensive walls.[5]

Aratus liked this idea. He armed his men and prepared ladders, but all of this had to be done in secret, as there were some spies of Nicocles at Argos. To mislead him even further, Aratus pretended that he was going to hold a feast in the city on the day of his planned coup. This plan succeeded, en when Aratus knew that the spies had left, he went to his men, who were already outside of the city. He led them as fast as possible to Sicyon, hoping to reach the city walls when there was still not too much light. They reached the walls and managed to climb them with the ladders. They were almost given away by the watchdogs in the city, but the guards did not see Aratus and his men. At the crack of dawn, the intruders hurried to Nicocles' house and the barracks. There they took all of the guards prisoner. Nicocles, however, managed to escape through an underground tunnel. Rumours about what was happening spread fast across the city and some of the citizens lit the tyrant's house. Aratus did not intervene to stop the looting, letting the citizens assuage their fury after thirteen years of tyranny.[6]

Consolidating Sicyon

Aratus' first act was to call back the exiles to Sicyon. He called 80 back who had been banished by Nicocles, but, according to Plutarch, also another 500.[7] They wanted to claim their property back, and the prospect of a civil war began to rear its head. Antigonus Gonatas, the king of Macedon, observing the coup in Sicyon with some alarm, offered Aratus 25 talents as a personal gift and goodwill gesture.[note 2] Aratus gave the money away to his fellow citizens and took the decision to attach Sicyon to the Achaean League, probably also in 251 BC. It was the first time the League had admitted a no Achaean polis (Sicyon was Doric).

Afterwards, Aratus went to Egypt to ask Ptolemy II Philadelphus to help him. Sicyon was economically unstable and needed help. Now that Aratus couldn't rely on an alliance with Antigonus anymore (the Achaean League was a rival of Macedon in Greece), he did not have much choice. Plutarch mentions a lot of troubles during his journey to Egypt, but ultimately, Aratus reached the land and he returned with 40 talents and the promise of another 110. Back in Sicyon, Aratus did not want to distribute the money on his own, but he composed a committee including himself and fifteen other members to do this. With the Ptolemaic money, Aratus was able to solve the problems of Sicyon more or less, and the grateful citizens established a bronze statue to honour him.[8] The rest of the period between 251 and 245 BC is obscure, though Aratus served for four or five years as a cavalryman in the Achaean militia.

Strategos of the Achaean League

Taking of the Acrocorinth

In 245 BC, Aratus was elected strategos of the Achaean League. He would hold this position every two years until his death, with only a few exceptions.[note 3] Aratus' career would be marked by the expansion of the league. Aratus' first known act as strategos was the pillaging of the countryside of Locris and Calydon. He also lead a 10,000-strong army[9] to help the Boeotians against the Aetolian League. But it was closer to home that his heart's desire lay, at the beetling fortress of Acrocorinth, the acropolis of Corinth. The city of Corinth was at the door of the Peloponnese and was an important trading place.

The hill on which the Acrocorinth was located
The hill on which the Acrocorinth was located

The Acrocorinth, however, was an almost impregnable fortress: it was built on a high hill nearly 2,000 feet (600 m) high. It had a freshwater source, cliffs all around, and was topped off with a massive walled citadel. Antigonus Gonatas had got this place firmly back into his hands and now held it firm with a strong garrison under Persaeus. In 243 BC, however, some sellswords gave away to Aratus that there was a less steep part on the hill, and that the wall was also at its lowest point there. In midsummer, Aratus was ready to take the Acrocorinth.

Aratus had assembled a large force in the Achaean cities, but it is not known how many soldiers it counted exactly. However, the major part certainly stayed on the road between Sicyon and the Acrocorinth while Aratus himself with a picked force of 400 men[10] went to the city. It was full moon and clouds were absent, but, very conveniently, clouds appeared and darkened the sky. Eight men were sent forward to put aside some guards. Afterwards, a hundred men scaled the walls with ladders. They did not wear any shoes to make as few noise as possible. Having arrived at the gate, they attacked a group of guards, 4 men strong. Three of them were killed, but one succeeded to escape and sounded the alarm. In the meantime, the 300 other soldiers had also scaled the walls and they were looking for Aratus, but they couldn't find him. While this was happening, Aratus and his soldiers had reached the citadel, but they got in trouble; while they were scaling the walls, the defenders had rained down projectiles on them, and now they were stuck between the walls of the citadel and a group of Macedonian soldiers looking for them. The strategos, however, was Lucky: this Macedonians passed by Aratus' 300 lost soldiers without seeing them. The Achaeans attacked the Macedonians from behind and put them to flight. At that moment, a messager of Aratus found the dangling soldiers and reported that their strategos was at the citadel. If Aratus was to win the battle, he needed help quickly. Again, the weather conditions proved favourable for Aratus:

(…) the light of the full moon also made their arms appear more numerous to the enemy than they really were, owing to the length of their line of march, and the echoes of the night gave the impression that the shouts proceeded from many times the number there really were.

— Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Life of Aratus, 22, 5

The Macedonians were scared, and Aratus' entire group of soldiers scaled the walls of the citadel and pushed back the garrison. However, the Macedonians succeeded to hold back the Achaeans till dawn. At that moment, the rest of the Achaean army reached the city and the citadel was conquered. The coup in Sicyon had already been a huge accomplishment, but now, Aratus had accomplished something that was only matched by few, such as Demetrius I 'the Besieger': the taking of the almost impregnable Acrocorinth with a storm attack.[11] This victory was partly due to good luck, but also thanks to good planning and nerves of steel during the operation itself. Aratus, however, did not rest on his laurels. He also conquered Lechaeum, the harbour of Corinth, and the 25 Macedonian warships docked there. Aratus put a garrison in the Acrocorinth, counting 400 Achaeans and 50 watchdogs.

Alliance with Sparta

Aratus in combat. Late 17th century print
Aratus in combat. Late 17th century print

After the liberation of Corinth from the Macedonian rule, the city joined the Achaean League. Shortly after, Megara, Troezen and Epidaurus followed. The Achaean League gained even more renown when Ptolemy III Euergetes, the new king of Egypt, was elected hegemon (this, however, was only a symbolic function). Now, both the League and Macedon were looking for new allies. Antigonus chose the Aetolian League, that was planning to defeat the Achaean League together with the Macedonians and distribute their territory amongst themselves. The Achaean League allied with Sparta, one of the mightiest poleis of Greece.

In Aratus' third term as strategos in 241 BC, the Aetolians decided to invade the Peloponnese. Aratus and the Spartans agreed to defend together the Isthmus of Corinth. However, troubles erupted about the strategy that was to be used between Aratus and Agis IV, the Spartan king. The latter wanted to defeat the Aetolians there and now in a pitched battle, while Aratus wanted to avoid battle, as the Aetolians could not cause a lot of damage to the land, for the harvest had already been stored. However, it is not clear whether Aratus really thought this, or because he regretted his alliance with the Spartans. It is also possible that this was one of the episodes of Aratus' life in which he lost his nerve.[12]

Whatsoever, the Spartan army marched back home. The alliance had come to an end. The impact was immediately felt as the front line could not be held any longer. As a result, the Aetolians could easily invade the Peloponnese. During their invasion, they took Pellene, that had been one of the first members of the Achaean League. Now, however, Aratus showed an entirely other face: without delay, he marched to these enemies with only the soldiers he had with him at that moment. He found the Aetolians in complete disarray and routed them easily.

By 240 BC, it became clear for Antigonus that the Aetolians may not be the best of allies, and he sued for peace with the Achaeans. This peace, however, was not destined to last; the eighty-year-old king died the year after. He was succeeded by his son Demetrius II.

Expanding the League

Setbacks at Argos

After the death of Antigonus, the Achaean and the Aetolian League allied with each other. The reasons why aren't entirely clear, and the alliance itself would only last for ten years. Aratus, in the meantime, kept focussing on expanding the league by "liberating even more cities in Greece from tyranny", like Argos, Athens and Megalopolis. In Argos, plans had already been made by the citizens of this city to rise in rebellion against the tyrant, but they did not have enough weapons. This is why Aratus tried to smuggle them into the city. This, however, was detected and the coup failed. Aratus led an attack close to the city afterwards, but the citizens did not want to join him.

Still, Aratus was determined to liberate his neighbouring city. In 235 BC, he tried to take the city again. Thanks to a night attack, he succeeded in getting into the city, but again, the Argives weren't too enthusiastic to be 'liberated'. The Achaeans were to fight on their own. Aratus led his soldiers well, but was hit by a spear in the thigh.[13] Hij ordered to retreat and led his soldiers out of the city. This, however, was unfortunate timing, as the tyrant, Aristippus, was going to flee the city. By the retreat of the Achaeans, Aristippus regained his courage and made ready for battle.

A traditional Greek phalanx
A traditional Greek phalanx

The Battle of the river Xerias was a classical battle between two phalanxes. The battle was decided on the wings, a not uncommon phenomenon in Greek warfare. The Achaean wing succeeded in routing the enemy flank. Aratus, however, who was leading the other wing, was hurt again and pulled back. The Achaeans on the victorious wing were outraged, because Aristippus was able to claim victory. The next day, Aratus aligned his army up again for battle. When he saw, however, that the enemy had been reinforced and was now numerically superior to his army, he decided to retreat.

Aratus proposed a truce to Aristippus, who agreed with it. Aratus, however, went to the city of Cleonae, that was under the control of Aristippus, and was able to take it. He celebrated the Nemean Games there and sold every Argive he found there as slaves. Aristippus was determined to get Cleonae back. When Aratus heard this, he was near Corinth, but his response came immediately. He mobilised a new army, probably by levying volunteers. Now, the Argives did not dare to attack Cleonae, as they feared an Achaean intervention. Aratus, however, did not want to wait any longer: he decided to make a ploy. Thanks to this manoeuvre, he could lure the Argives into attacking Cleonae. Aratus returned and entered the city before the Argives had reached it. In the morning, the Achaeans sallied out on the surprised Argives, who were routed. Aristippus was slain, like 1,500 other soldiers. Besides, it is told that the Achaeans lost no soldiers at all. Yet, the victory did not give Aratus the desired result: Aristippus' brother Aristomachus returned to Argos and appointed himself as the new tyrant.[14]

Annexation of Megalopolis

The city of Megalopolis had been founded in 371 BC by the Theban general Epaminondas as a stronghold against Sparta. At that moment, it was reigned by the tyrant Lydiades, who until that point had tried to maintain good relationships with Macedon. However, now that the was aware of this new situation, with Aratus who was making the Peloponnese into an anti-Macedonian league, Aristippus' death and the events in Sparta, he decided to lay down his power and to join the league in 235 BC. This seemingly unselfish deed had important consequences: Orchomenus and Mantinea soon followed.[14] A reward for Lydiades' decision was soon to follow, because the year after the incorporation of Megalopolis, he was elected strategos.[note 4] This was the first of three strategoi he was to hold. It marked also the beginning of a tradition of Megapolitan strategoi in the League, most notably Philopoemen.

The Achaean League was now a serious force to be reckoned with. It has to be agreed that Aratus had been the driving force. The entire north of the Peloponnese was now controlled by a mighty confederation with organized armed forces and the tax funds to sustain them.[14]

War against Demetrius

Having realized that the Achaean League had become a major player in Greece due to the annexation of Megalopolis, Demetrius II, the new king of Macedon, decided to take action. In 233 BC, he sent an army under his general Bithys to the Peloponnese, where he defeated the Achaeans near Phylacia, probably near Tegea. Details about this battle are again absent. Aratus apparently succeeded to escape and reach Corinth, but reports began to spread that he had either died in battle or taken prisoner. According to Plutarch, when this news reached Athens, it was received with a lot of enthusiasm. Even though Plutarch liked to exaggerate, it seems true that the Athenians did not really like Aratus.[note 5]

A letter was sent to Corinth saying that the Achaean troops had to leave the city. Aratus himself received the letter, but sent the couriers on their way. Plutarch reports also, somewhat confusingly, that Aratus was imprisoned on a Macedonian boat who was taking him to Corinth.[15] This can impossibly both be correct,[16] but the result was all the same: Aratus organised a punitive expedition in Attica, but he turned before he reached the walls of Athens. The reasons are not clear; it is possible that his army had been defeated, or that he returned to the Peloponnese because he knew that Bithys' army was approaching from the south to return to Macedon. Later, king Demetrius was killed in battle against invading Celtic tribes.

The Athenians, having received the reports of the death of the king, decided they were now in a good position to expel the weakened Macedon garrison. Even though Aratus was sick at that moment and he was not the strategos of the Achaean League, he hurried to help the city. He could persuade Diogenes, the commander of the Macedonian garrison, to surrender Piraeus, Munychia, Salamis and Sunium to the Athenians in exchange for 150 talents, twenty of which Aratus payed himself.[17] Diogenes left the city with his troops and Athens was for the first time since 294 BC a free city again. However, they refused the offer to join the Achaean League.

The only remaining ally of Macedon on the Peloponnese, Aristomachus of Argos, bowed to force majeure and finally joined his city to the Achaean League. In the following year, 288 BC, he was elected strategos. Finally, the alliance between the Achaeans and the Aetolians was broken, the only surprise being it had lasted for ten years. After Demetrius' death, Antigonus III Doson became regent for the child-king Philip V. He secured the northern frontier of his kingdom and then contrived a treaty with the Aetolians in about 228 BC.

Cleomenean War

Map with the most important cities and locations during the Cleomenean War. The Achaean League is indicated in red.
Map with the most important cities and locations during the Cleomenean War. The Achaean League is indicated in red.

Cleomenes gets the upper hand

In 229 BC, Cleomenes III of Sparta had taken three Arcadian cities (Tegea, Orchomenus and Mantinea) from the Aetolian League. The reasons for this are unclear.[note 6] The Achaean League did not like this, because these cities had a very strategic location. Furthermore, the ephors urged Cleomenes to take the Athenaeum, a fortress along the road from Sparta to Arcadia. This fortress belonged to Megalopolis, and also to the Achaean League. The taking of the Athenaeum by the Spartans was seen by the League as a declaration of war, and it was ready to respond. Aratus, being strategos again, tried to organize nightly attacks to regain control over Tegea and Orchomenus. However, he was betrayed by his partisans in both cities, who told Cleomenes what Aratus was up to.

Cleomenes was called back by the ephors to Sparta, probably because they still wanted to avoid an all-out war.[18] But it was too late, and in his absence, Aratus took Caphyae. Cleomenes was despatched once more and took a small Arcadian settlement. In 227 BC, the Achaeans decided to take decisive action; They marched out with an army of 20,000 infantry and 1,000 infantry under Aristomachus to defeat Cleomenes in an open battle. The Spartans only had 5,000 men, but their reputation was still feared by the other Greeks. Aratus persuaded Aristomachus not to attack, which did not please the former tyrant of Megalopolis, Lydiades. This episode indicates the tensions within the expanded Achaean League.

In the following year (226 BC), Aratus' army was defeated near Mount Lycaeum, in Arcadia. It is not clear in which circumstances this battle was fought, but the Achaean losses were heavy. However, Aratus succeeded in taking advantage out of this battle, for he could secretly march to Mantinea and take the city, thus importantly opening up the route from Argos to Megalopolis. From Mantinea, he marched to siege Orchomenus. Cleomenes, however, marched for Megalopolis, capturing Leuctra, a fortress 10 km from the city. Aratus responded by coming to the aid of the Megalopolitans, and he succeeded in driving the Spartans back. However, he failed to exploit his victory, for the Spartans were able to retreat to a strong position. Lydiades was furious, and attacked the newly organised Spartans with his cavalry. Aratus did not follow him, and the Megapolitan was defeated and slain. Because of this, the Spartans regained their courage, attacked the entire Achaean army and routed it.

This defeat brought scorn on the head of Aratus. An Achaean assembly even voted not to give him any more money. Aratus resolved to resign the office of general, but upon reflection, he held on for the present,[19] once more showing his remarkable resilience.[20] He marched with an Achaean army to Orchomenus, where he defeated a Spartan army commanded by Cleomenes' father-in-law. He was captured but quickly ransomed afterwards.

The Spartans soldiers were armed in the 'Macedonian way' after Cleomenes' reforms.
The Spartans soldiers were armed in the 'Macedonian way' after Cleomenes' reforms.

Still in 226 BC, Cleomenes conquered Mantinea, Tegea and Pharae. He was determined to lure the Achaeans in an open battle. He succeeded and the battle was fought in fall 226 BC, but again, details are almost absent. The reformed Spartan army, now armed in the 'Macedonian way', won a decisive victory. The Achaeans proposed peace conditions, but these were rejected. However, what Aratus had missed as a military commander, he now made up with political skill. He succeeded in seducing the Macedonians into an alliance with the Achaean League. Macedon, however, did want the return of the Acrocorinth as 'payment' for their war effort, and the Achaeans weren't ready yet to pay this price. This had as a result that Macedon was not going to help yet.

In 225 BC, Cleomenes attacked again Achaean territory. He wanted to take Aratus' home city: Sicyon. He thought that if he would take the city, the entire League would fall apart, as, at that moment, tensions were already running high; many were unhappy with Aratus' Macedonian strategy. Cleomenes ultimately did not take Sicyon, but he did conquer Pellene, Pheneus and Penteleum. Later, Cleomenes was even able to take Agros. The Argives, never the most enthusiastic members of the Achaean League, decided to ally with Sparta. Many authors see the hand of Aristomachus in this, the former tyrant of the city.[21] To combat the crisis, Aratus was given plenipotentiary powers. He marched to Corinth, where the news that he was going to surrender the city and the citadel to Antigonus was already well known. The population did not want this, and Aratus was only just able to escape the angry mob in the city. They even proposed to Cleomenes to surrender the city to him, but the citadel of the Acrocorinth still had an Achaean garrison. Cleomenes marched to the city, taking many other cities in Argolis. After this, he started sieging the Acrocorinth. Cleomenes proposed Aratus peace, but the latter refused. After this, the Spartan king marched on Sicyon and sieged it, pillaging the countryside in the meantime.

Macedonian intervention

The Isthmus of Corinth
The Isthmus of Corinth

Shortly before the start of the siege, the Achaean council members had finally decided to give in to the Macedonian war conditions. Aratus himself sent his son as a hostage to Macedon. Antigonus was ready and waiting. He had already prepared an army of 20,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry. When Cleomenes heard the news of the Macedonian intervention, he stopped the siege of Sicyon as fast as possible and hurried to the Isthmus of Corinth, where he was in a better position to cope with the northern threat. In the meantime, Aratus went to meet the Macedonian king near Pagae:

He had no very great confidence in Antigonus, and put no trust in the Macedonians. For he knew that his own rise to power had been a consequence of the harm he had done to them, and that he had found the first and the chief basis for his conduct of affairs in his hatred towards the former Antigonus [Gonatas]. But seeing how inexorable was the necessity laid upon him in the demands of the hour, to which those we call rulers are slaves, he went on towards the dread ordeal.

— Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Life of Aratus, 43, 1-2

However, Aratus and Antigonus got along well. They were both hard-headed realists, and such was the intimacy and understanding they achieved that at one point, at a banquet where it was cold, they even shared the same blanket to keep warm.[22]

Cleomenes' defensive line near the Isthmus of Corinth proved to be very effective. It took a long time before Antigonus could overcome it and he lost some men while trying to break through near Lechaeum. Later, a delegation of Argos came to Aratus, asking to liberate the city from the Spartans. The citizens were not happy, because Cleomenes had done promises he had not delivered on. Aratus sailed with 1,500 troops to Epidaurus to attack Argos. The city, however, had already fallen due to an uprising in the city itself. They were helped by Timoxenos, the current strategos of the Achaean League. With Sparta almost undefended, Cleomenes was forced to leave his defences near the Isthmus to return to Sparta. Because of this, Antigonus could enter the Peloponnese. He occupied the Acrocorinth and put a garrison in the city.[23]

Battle of Sellasia

The opposing armies in the Battle of Sellasia
The opposing armies in the Battle of Sellasia

While Antigonus was liberating the occupied cities in the Peloponnese, Cleomenes reinforced his army (224 BC). In the winter of 223 BC, he pretended to march to Tegea, but turned and went to Megalopolis. He succeeded in taking the surprised city, but some thousand citizens could escape and found shelter in Messene. Megalopolis itself was pillaged. It is told that Aratus would have wept while telling this news to the Achaean council. In the meantime, Antigonus recalled his troops from winter quarters, but soon realized there wasn't enough time. With new courage, Cleomenes marched on Argos. He pillaged the countryside to make the inhabitants furious with Antigonus because of his lack of action. In reality, all Cleomenes had achieved was to antagonize the inhabitants of the Peloponnese.

Finally, Antigonus was able to rally his army, which numbered now around 27,600 infantry and 1,200 cavalry. Cleomenes decided to occupy the pass near Sellasia before Sparta to stop the Macedonian king. However, he was defeated in the Battle of Sellasia (July 222 BC) and fled to Egypt. Antigonus conquered Sparta, but treated the city leniently. Some days later, he left again.[24]

Social War

In 221 BC, the Aetolians started pillaging the territory of Messenia. The city of Messene asked the Achaean League for help, and in 220 BC, there was a council meeting in Aegium. Most of the council members did not want to attack the Aetolians, but Aratus was able to persuade them to do so. He started levying an army near Megalopolis. The Achaeans wanted to trap the Aetolians while they were going to their ships to return to their homeland, but the Aetolian commander was able to evade them. This dancing round each other seemed to be leading nowhere until incompetence by one of the parties engineered a way out of the deadlock:[25]

The Achaean commanders, when they became aware of the approach of the Aetolians, mismanaged matters to such an extent that it was impossible for anyone to have acted more stupidly.

— Polybius, Histories, 4, 11, 1

Aratus made a mistake by sending a unit of cavalry to the Aetolians to attack them. The cavalry had to do this on rough terrain, where the Aetolians were greatly superior. Furthermore, Aratus gave up his favourable position and hurried to help his cavalry when they were in trouble. Seeing this, the rest of the Aetolians charged from the advantage of an elevated position, routing the Achaeans. The victors went on pillaging, also raiding Sicyon. They went back to Aetolia via the Isthmus of Corinth, absolutely rubbing the noses of everybody in how powerless the Achaeans were to protect their own.[26]

After this, both sides were trying to find new allies. The Achaean League turned once again to Macedon, but the new king, Philip V, was not too eager for a war against the Aetolians. Ultimately, the Achaeans were able to convince Philip, and also Boeotia, Acarnania and Epirus joined the alliance. The Aetolians had allied with Sparta and Elis. In 219 BC, the Aetolians and their allies invaded the territory of the Achaean League once again, but their army was defeated near Aegeira. This was, however, not a decisive defeat. In the meantime, Philip was preparing his army in Macedon. In 218 BC, he achieved some victories, but his army mutinied and he returned to Macedon for the winter.

Philip was assisted by Aratus, but also by several other advisors, with Apelles being the most important one. Nevertheless, Aratus had become very influential and he can be seen as a true friend of the king. Apelles, however, was a true Macedonian; he still wanted to incorporate Achaea into Macedon. This is why he started to oppose the Achaeans in the allied army by, for example, degrading several Achaean officers. After this, he started opposing Aratus by supporting his opponent (Eperatus) in the election of a new strategos. Furthermore, he tried to impeach Aratus using a ruse, which, however, failed. It seems that the relation of the Macedonian king with the officer worsened because of this. Thus, Aratus became the most important advisor of the king. He received quickly the reputation of being a skilled advisor. For this reason, however, the other officers were all the more envious of him. They started insulting him openly during their banquets, and they even threw stones at him. The king was furious, and he ordered them to be put to death.[27]

After the Macedonian intervention in the war, the Aetolians were having more problems on all fronts. They still pillaged territory, but they were frequently ambushed and therefore they sued for peace. The peace was concluded in 217 BC.[28]

Death

Map with the most important events in Aratus' life.Green star: victoryRed star: defeatBlack star: retreat
Map with the most important events in Aratus' life.
Green star: victory
Red star: defeat
Black star: retreat

After the Social War, Philip caused a civil war to break out in Messene. It is possible that he did not let in Aratus in this matter on purpose, and the latter did not like this. He hurried to the king and commanded him to suppress the unrest that had grown out of his act. The king did not like the sharpness of the Achaean, but decided to toe the line.

In the meantime, the First Macedonian War between Macedon and Rome had erupted. In 214 BC, Philip was defeated by the Romans near the town of Oricum in Illyria. In the same year, Philip returned to Messene. It is not clear why he did it, but he attacked the city. Aratus had already expressed his thoughts on Philip's deeds near Messene, and he did it again.[note 7] Furthermore, Aratus refused to support Philip's campaigns in Illyria.

In the meantime, Aratus began to sicken at an alarming rate. He died in the year 213 BC. As the tensions had been running high between the king and the strategos, rumours of foul play were inevitably spread. According to Plutarch, Philip had Aratus poisoned.[29] He even reports that Aratus knew what was happening, but only would have said to his manservant:

Such, my dear Cephalo," said Aratus, "are the wages of royal friendship.

— Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Life of Aratus, 52, 3

A dramatic ending, fitting the topos of the ungrateful prince, but not likely; Philip had no interest in an unstable Achaea. Even if he had asked some difficult questions of Philip in the recent past, Aratus remained useful, and it is difficult to imagine that Philip would have wanted him eliminated. Besides, if there had been anything in it, the whole world surely would have talked about the murder of this great man by the king of Macedon.[30]

By special permission of the Oracle of Delphi, Aratus was the first person to be buried within the city walls of Sicyon as 'founder and saviour of the city'.

Personality and reception

Aratus had been elected strategos of the Achaean League seventeen times. Thanks to him, the Achaean League had become a major player in Greece. This was mainly thanks to Aratus' military victories, even though Aratus was not a very great tactician. It seems his nerves would get the better of him on critical moments during battles. Plutarch reports that he was a great politician, but that his capacities did not extend to the field of battle: "the general of the Achaeans always had cramps in the bowels when a battle was imminent."[31] It seems, however, that he was a master of the surprise attack, even though al these battles are very obscure.[12]

What Aratus lacked as tactician, he made up greatly as a politician. He was very good at compromising, like when he surrendered the hard-earned Acrocorinth to Macedon when he needed it against Sparta. Furthermore, he could also dispose of a large dose of patience. For example: Aratus knew that, when he joined the Achaean League with Sicyon, he was too young to be elected strategos, but this did not stop him to do so.[32]

Even though Aratus had been the most important person within the Achaean League till his death, it had become much more difficult for Aratus to get his way when mighty city-states joined the League.[18] Furthermore, the Aratus' demise was certainly linked with the final brake coming off in Philip's metamorphosis from beloved young prince to, according to Plutarch, an impious despot richly deserving of downfall, even though it is not likely that Aratus was poisoned.[30]

Aratus wrote his memoirs, which are now, unfortunately, lost. Plutarch and Polybius both admit that they have used it a lot. Polybius states that he will deal with Aratus' career 'quite summarily, as he published a truthful and clearly written memoir of his career.' Still, the information about Aratus may be looked at more critically, as Aratus could have wanted to attenuate his own mistakes by blaming someone else.[33]

Notes

  1. ^ His aunt's name was Soso. She was married to Prophantus, Cleinias' brother. Coincidentally, she was also the sister of Abantidas.
  2. ^ He hoped no doubt that Aratus would prove a useful Macedonian puppet in the Peloponnese. Plutarch reports that Aratus also received money from the king of Egypt, but that is unlikely: M. Roberts and B. Bennett, Twilight of the Hellenistic World, p. 5
  3. ^ Nobody was to be elected strategos in two consecutive years.
  4. ^ Probably, this was part of the agreement when Megalopolis joined the League. M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. p. 12.
  5. ^ An inscription exists on which Bithys had been made honorary citizen of Athens. This certainly suggests that the Macedonian victory over Aratus was received joyfully. M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. p. 168.
  6. ^ Polybius reports in his Histories (2, 42, 2) that they allowed the Spartans to take these cities because of their bad relationship with the Achaean League.
  7. ^ It was not favourable for the Achaean League, which wanted to remain independent, that Macedon would gain territory in the Peloponnese. It is also possible that the relationship between Aratus and Philip worsened due to personal reasons, as the king was reported to have seduced Aratus' son's wife.

References

  1. ^ Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Life of Aratus, 2, 1
  2. ^ a b M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. p. 3.
  3. ^ Wallbank, F. W. (1933). Aratos of Sicyon. Cambridge University Press. p. 175.
  4. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 4, 2
  5. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 5, 3
  6. ^ M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. p. 5.
  7. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 9, 3
  8. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, Central Greece, II, 42
  9. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 16, 1
  10. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 21, 1
  11. ^ M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. p. 8.
  12. ^ a b M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. p. 9.
  13. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 27, 2
  14. ^ a b c M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. p. 11.
  15. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 34, 2
  16. ^ M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. p. 12.
  17. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 34, 4
  18. ^ a b M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. p. 18.
  19. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 38, 1
  20. ^ M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. p. 20.
  21. ^ Wallbank, F. W. (1933). Aratos of Sicyon. Cambridge University Press. pp. 96–7.
  22. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 43, 5
  23. ^ M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. pp. 22–7.
  24. ^ M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. pp. 27–38.
  25. ^ M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. p. 42.
  26. ^ M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. p. 43.
  27. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 48; Polybius, V, 15
  28. ^ M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. pp. 41–64.
  29. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 52
  30. ^ a b M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. p. 121.
  31. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 29, 5
  32. ^ M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. p. 5.
  33. ^ M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. p. 3.

Sources

Ancient Sources

Literature

  • M. Roberts & B. Bennett (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military.
  • Wallbank, F. W. (1933). Aratos of Sicyon. Cambridge University Press.
Preceded by
Margos
Strategos of the Achaean League
245/44 BC
Succeeded by
Dioedas?
Preceded by
Dioedas?
Strategos of the Achaean League
243/242 BC
Succeeded by
Aegialeas
Preceded by
Aegialeas
Strategos of the Achaean League
241/40 BC
Succeeded by
?
Preceded by
?
Strategos of the Achaean League
239/38 BC
Succeeded by
?
Preceded by
?
Strategos of the Achaean League
237/36 BC
Succeeded by
Dioedas?
Preceded by
Dioedas?
Strategos of the Achaean League
235/34 BC
Succeeded by
Lydiades of Megalopolis
Preceded by
Lydiades of Megalopolis
Strategos of the Achaean League
233/32 BC
Succeeded by
Lydiades of Megalopolis
Preceded by
Lydiades of Megalopolis
Strategos of the Achaean League
231/30 BC
Succeeded by
Lydiades of Megalopolis
Preceded by
Lydiades of Megalopolis
Strategos of the Achaean League
229/28 BC
Succeeded by
Aristomachus of Argos
Preceded by
Aristomachus of Argos
Strategos of the Achaean League
227/26 BC
Succeeded by
Hyperuatas
Vacant
ad hoc position
Strategos autokrator of the Achaean League
225 – 222 BC
Vacant
ad hoc position
Preceded by
Timoxenos
Strategos of the Achaean League
224/23 BC
Succeeded by
Timoxenos?
Preceded by
Timoxenos?
Strategos of the Achaean League
222/21 BC
Succeeded by
Timoxenos
Preceded by
Timoxenos
Strategos of the Achaean League
220/19 BC
Succeeded by
Aratus the Younger
Preceded by
Epiratos
Strategos of the Achaean League
217/16 BC
Succeeded by
Timoxenos
Preceded by
Timoxenos
Strategos of the Achaean League
215/14 BC
Succeeded by
?
Preceded by
?
Strategos of the Achaean League
213 BC
Succeeded by
Cycliadas?
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