Aratus of Sicyon

Jump to navigation Jump to search
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
Born273 BC
Died213 BC
AllegianceAchaean League
Service number245-213 BC (with intervals)
Battles/warsCleomenean War
Battle of Sellasia
Social War
Other workAdvisor of Philip V of Macedon

Aratus of Sicyon (Ancient Greek: Ἄρατος ὁ Σικυώνιος; 271213 BC) was a politician and military commander of Hellenistic Greece. He was elected strategos of the Achaean League 17 times, leading the League through numerous military campaigns including the Cleomenean War and the Social War.

Aratus was exiled to Argos at the age of seven, after his father, the magistrate of Sicyon, was killed in a coup. In 251 BC, he led an expedition composed of other exiles which freed Sicyon from tyranny, and assumed power in the city. Sicyon joined the Achaean League, in which Aratus would later be elected strategos. In his first major campaign as strategos, he seized the Macedonian-held citadel of Acrocorinth, previously believed impregnable.

Upon conquering Acrocorinth, Aratus pursued expansion of the League. When the Spartan king Cleomenes III conquered the Achaean cities of Argos and Corinth, Aratus succeeded in securing an alliance with his erstwhile enemy, Macedon. Cleomenes III was defeated at the Battle of Sellasia by the joint forces of the Achaean League and Antigonus III Doson, the regent of Macedon. During the Social War against the Aetolian League, Aratus became one of the prime advisors of the new king of Macedon, Philip V. Aratus died in 213 BC, allegedly poisoned by Philip.


Location of Sicyon
Sicyon's theatre, built by Aratus' father

Aratus was born in 271 BC in the northern Peloponnese city-state of Sicyon. His father was Cleinias of Sicyon, who had become head magistrate of the city after the murder of the last tyrant, sharing this function with Timocleidas.[1] The government had only just stabilised when Timocleidas died. In 264 BC, Abantidas murdered Cleinias, and proclaimed himself tyrant in the coup. The seven-year-old Aratus escaped with the help of his aunt[N 1] who, in the confusion of the coup, was able to hide the boy until nightfall and then smuggle him out of Sicyon to Argos. He was raised in Argos by friends of his father, living there until 251 BC.[3][4]

Aratus initially became known as a good athlete in Argos, where he won a prize in the pentathlon. But he remained focused on the idea of winning back his home city's freedom by liberating it from tyranny. Despite his youth, he was able to gain widespread support among fellow exiles, becoming the leader of the exiles' party.[2]

In Sicyon, Abantidas was killed by two philosophers. Abantidas was replaced by his own father, who was subsequently killed and replaced by Nicocles. Aratus began to seek support from the kings of Macedon and Egypt. Plutarch reports that Nicocles' main cause of concern about Aratus was the youth's elevated connections.[5]

Liberating Sicyon[edit]

In 251 BC, Aratus had originally intended to take and hold a fortified post near Sicyon from which he could raid his enemies' property, and where sympathisers could join him. But a political prisoner recently escaped from the tyrant's prison in Sicyon suggested a better plan, saying that the escape route he had taken out of Sicyon could easily be used by men with ladders to get back into the city by scaling its defensive walls.[6]

Aratus armed his men in secret. To mislead the tyrant's spies at Argos, he pretended to feast on the day of his planned coup. Once the spies had gone, Aratus joined his men waiting outside the city and led them to Sicyon, aiming to reach and scale the city walls while the light was still low. They were almost given away by the watchdogs in the city, but the guards failed to recognise the danger. As dawn broke, the intruders took the barracks guards prisoner. The tyrant, Nicocles, managed to escape through an underground tunnel. Rumours of the attack spread fast across the city, and some of the citizens set the tyrant's house on fire. Aratus did not intervene to stop the looting, allowing citizens free rein after thirteen years of tyranny.[7]

Consolidating Sicyon[edit]

Aratus' first act after taking Sicyon was to call back its exiles. According to Plutarch, he recalled 80 who had been banished by Nicocles, and a further 500 besides them.[8] The returning exiles sought to reclaim their confiscated property, and civil war threatened. Plutarch reports that one of the two kings Aratus had earlier petitioned for support gave him 25 talents of silver as a personal gift and goodwill gesture. It is not clear whether this was Antigonus Gonatas, king of Macedon, or Ptolemy II Philadelphos, pharaoh of Egypt. Antigonus probably hoped that Aratus would prove a useful Macedonian puppet in the Peloponnese. Ptolemy had just won Corinth from the Macedonian empire, and would have liked to increase his success.[7] Aratus gave the money away to his fellow citizens and, probably also in 251 BC, decided to attach Sicyon to the Achaean League. It was the first time the League had admitted a non-Achaean polis (Sicyon was Dorian).[9]

But Sicyon had become economically unstable. Aratus could now no longer rely for help on an alliance with Macedon's Antigonus, as the Achaean League was a rival of Macedon in Greece. He was left little choice but to turn to Ptolemy II Philadelphus in Egypt. Plutarch recounts the events of his journey to the court at Alexandria, from which he returned with 40 talents and the promise of another 110. Back in Sicyon, Aratus did not want sole responsibility for distributing the money, and established a committee which included himself and fifteen other members for the task. The funds received from Ptolemy II enabled Aratus to resolve the political problems in Sicyon. Grateful citizens erected a bronze statue to honour him.[10] Events during the rest of the period between 251 and 245 BC remain obscure, although it is known that Aratus served for four or five years as a cavalryman in the Achaean militia.[11]

Strategos of the Achaean League[edit]

Taking the Acrocorinth[edit]

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 interruptions.[N 2] Aratus' career was marked by the expansion of the league. His first known act as strategos was to pillage the countryside of Locris and Calydon. He also led a 10,000-strong army[12] to help the Boeotians against the Aetolian League.

The hill on which the Acrocorinth was located

In his second term, Aratus focused on capturing the Acrocorinth, the acropolis of Corinth. The city of Corinth controlled entry to the Peloponnese, and was an important trading post. The Acrocorinth was a formidable fortress, built on a hill nearly 2,000 feet (610 m) high. It had a freshwater source, was surrounded by cliffs, and was capped by a massive walled citadel. Antigonus Gonatas controlled the Acrocorinth with a strong garrison under his commander Persaeus. In 243 BC, Aratus learned from Syrian mercenaries that there was a less steep access to the hill, and that the wall was at its lowest point there. By midsummer that year, Aratus was ready to take the Acrocorinth.[13]

Aratus assembled his army in Sicyon. The majority waited on the road between Sicyon and the Acrocorinth, while Aratus himself went to the city with a picked force of 400 men.[14] Eight men were sent forward to overwhelm the guards, before 100 men scaled the walls with ladders. Each was barefoot to minimize noise. On entering the city, they encountered a group of four guards. Three were killed, but one escaped and sounded the alarm. Aratus and his soldiers reached the citadel itself, attempting to scale its walls as defenders threw large numbers of projectiles down at them. In the meantime, 300 more soldiers had scaled the outer walls, but struggled to find Aratus within the city. The waiting Achaean army below was at risk of being trapped between the citadel's defenders and a group of Macedonian soldiers arriving from the city, but were saved by the 300 soldiers, who attacked and routed the Macedonians from behind. The 300 men then returned up the hill to support their commander at the citadel. The weather conditions proved favourable for Aratus:[15]

(…) 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

Aratus' soldiers scaled the walls of the citadel and the garrison surrendered. By dawn, the Achaeans held the citadel and the city, in a victory owing partly to luck, but also to good planning and nerve. The storming of the near-impregnable Acrocorinth was another major feat for Aratus, following his taking of Sicyon. It was an accomplishment matched by very few, among them Demetrius I, "the Besieger".[16] Aratus went on to capture Lechaeum, the harbour of Corinth, and secure the 25 Macedonian warships docked there. He garrisoned the captured citadel with 400 Achaeans and 50 watchdogs.[16]

Alliance with Sparta[edit]

Aratus in combat. Late 17th-century print

After its capture by Aratus, Corinth joined the Achaean League. It was followed shortly afterwards by Megara, Troezen, and Epidaurus. The Achaean League gained more renown when Ptolemy III Euergetes, the new king of Egypt, was elected hegemon. Both the League and Macedon then sought new allies. Antigonus chose the Aetolian League, which had ambitions of working with the Macedonians to defeat the Achaean League and then distribute the conquered territory amongst themselves. The Achaean League allied with Sparta, one of the most powerful poleis of Greece.[17]

In 241 BC, during Aratus' third term as strategos, the Aetolians invaded the Peloponnese. Aratus and the Spartan king, Agis IV, agreed to defend the Isthmus of Corinth together, but disagreed on strategy. Agis IV wanted to defeat the Aetolians in a pitched battle. But Aratus wanted to avoid immediate fighting, on the grounds that the Aetolians could only cause limited damage at that time as crops had already been harvested and stored. It is unclear whether this reasoning truly reflected Aratus' thinking, or whether he regretted his alliance with Sparta. It has also been suggested that this was one of the episodes of Aratus' life in which he lost his nerve in military matters.[17]

The Spartan army returned home, ending the alliance. The impact was immediately felt, as the front line could no longer be held, allowing the Aetolians to invade the Peloponnese. During their invasion they captured Pellene, one of the first members of the Achaean League. In response, Aratus marched on the Aetolians with the soldiers he had available, finding them in disarray and routing them easily.[17]

By 240 BC it had become clear to Antigonus that the Aetolians might not be ideal allies, and he sued for peace with the Achaeans. This peace did not last. The 80-year-old king died the following year, and was succeeded by his son Demetrius II.[17]

Expanding the League[edit]

Setbacks at Argos[edit]

After the death of Antigonus, the Achaean and Aetolian Leagues allied with each other. The reason behind this alliance remains obscure, and the alliance itself only lasted ten years. Aratus maintained his focus on expanding the Achaean League, by "liberating even more cities in Greece from tyranny". Those cities Included Argos, Athens, and Megalopolis. In Argos, the citizens had had already had plans to rise against the tyrant, but had lacked sufficient weaponry. Aratus assisted them, smuggling a shipment of weapons into the city. The shipment was intercepted and the coup failed. Aratus led an attack close to the city afterwards, but the citizens were reluctant to join him.[18]

Aratus remained determined to liberate Argos, and in 235 BC attempted again to take it. With the help of a night attack he succeeded to get into the city, but again, the Argives were reluctant to support him. leaving the Achaeans to fight on their own. Aratus was hit by a spear in the thigh.[19] He ordered a retreat and led his soldiers out of the city. The timing of the retreat was unfortunate, as the tyrant, Aristippus, was preparing to flee the city. The retreat of the Achaeans granted Aristippus the courage to hold his ground and prepare for battle.[20]

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.[20]

Aratus proposed a truce to Aristippus, who agreed with it. Nevertheless, Aratus 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 tempt the Argives to attack Cleonae. Aratus returned and entered the city before the Argives had reached it. In the morning, the Achaeans sallied out and the surprised Argives were routed. Aristippus was slain, together with 1,500 other soldiers. Besides, it is reported 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.[21]

Annexation of Megalopolis[edit]

The city of Megalopolis was founded in 371 BC by the Theban general Epaminondas as a stronghold against Sparta. In 235 BC it was ruled by the tyrant Lydiades, who until that point, had tried to maintain good relationships with Macedon. Upon becoming aware of Aratus' expansionist plans in the Peloponnese, Aristippus' death and the events going on in Sparta, he decided to lay down his power and to join the league in the same year. This seemingly unselfish deed had important consequences, as Orchomenus and Mantinea soon followed suit.[21] In 236 BC, Lydiades was elected strategos, this was the first of his three terms in this position.[N 3] It marked also the beginning of a tradition of Megapolitan strategoi in the League, most notably Philopoemen.[22]

Aratus' efforts made the Achaean League a force to be reckoned with. The entire north of the Peloponnese was now controlled by a mighty confederation with organised armed forces and the tax funds to sustain them.[21]

War against Demetrius[edit]

Having realised that the Achaean League had become a major player in Greece due to its incorporation of Megalopolis, Demetrius II, the new king of Macedon, decided to take action. In 233 BC, he sent an army under a general called Bithys to the Peloponnese, where the Achaeans were defeated near Phylacia, probably close to Tegea. Details about this battle are absent. Aratus apparently managed to escape the battlefield and reach Corinth, but reports began to spread that he had either been slain in battle or taken prisoner. According to Plutarch, this news was received with a lot of enthusiasm in Athens. Even though Plutarch liked to exaggerate, it seems true that the Athenians did not really like Aratus, even though he wanted to liberate this city from Macedonian rule.[22][N 4]

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 also reports, somewhat confusingly, that Aratus was a prisoner on a Macedonian boat who was taking him back to Corinth.[24] This can impossibly both be correct,[22] but the result was all the same: Aratus organised a punitive expedition into Attica, but he turned before he reached the walls of Athens. The reasons are unclear; 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.[25]

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 paid himself.[26] Diogenes left the city with his troops and Athens was for the first time since 294 BC a self-governing city again. Nevertheless, they refused the offer to join the Achaean League.[25]

The only remaining ally of Macedon on the Peloponnese, Aristomachus of Argos, bowed to force majeure and finally joined the Achaean League. In the following year (288 BC), he was elected strategos. In the same year, 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 concluded a treaty with the Aetolians in about 228 BC.[25]

Cleomenean War[edit]

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

Cleomenes gains the upper hand[edit]

In 229 BC, Cleomenes III of Sparta had taken three Arcadian cities (Tegea, Orchomenus and Mantinea) from the Aetolian League. The reasons why the League admitted this are unclear.[N 5] 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 organise 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.[28]

Cleomenes was called back by the ephors to Sparta, probably because they still wanted to avoid an all-out war.[28] But it was too late, and in his absence, Aratus took Caphyae. Cleomenes was dispatched 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 pitched battle. The Spartans only had 5,000 men, but their reputation was still feared by the other Greeks. Aratus persuaded Aristomachus to pull back, which did not please the former tyrant of Megalopolis, Lydiades. This episode indicates the tensions within the expanded Achaean League.[28]

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 was still able to take 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 was able to drive 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 he 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.[29]

This defeat brought scorn on the head of Aratus. An Achaean assembly even voted to stop giving him any more money. Aratus resolved to resign the office of general, but upon reflection, he held on for the present,[30] once more showing his remarkable resilience. He marched with an Achaean army to Orchomenus, where he defeated a Spartan army commanded by Cleomenes' father-in-law. The latter was captured but quickly ransomed afterwards.[31]

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

Cleomenes conquered Mantinea, Tegea and Pharae in 226 BC. He was determined to tempt the Achaeans to an open battle. He succeeded and the battle was fought in the fall of 226 BC, once again, the details of engagement remain unknown. The reformed Spartan army, now armed in the 'Macedonian way', won a decisive victory. The Achaeans sued for peace, but their proposal was rejected. However, what Aratus had missed as a military commander, he now made up with political skill. He was able to tempt the Macedonians to an alliance with the Achaean League. Macedon demanded the return of the Acrocorinth as 'payment' for their intervention, and the Achaeans weren't yet ready to give the citadel up, breaking down the negotiations.[32]

In 225 BC, Cleomenes attacked Achaean territory again. He wanted to take Aratus' home city: Sicyon, thinking that the entire League would fall apart because of that, since tensions had already been running high; many were unhappy with Aratus' Macedonian strategy. With the fall of Sicyon, Aratus would no longer be part of the Achaean League. Cleomenes was not able to 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.[33] 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. The Corinthians went as far as offering to surrender the city to Cleomenes, yet the citadel of the Acrocorinth was still held by an Achaean garrison. Cleomenes marched towards Corinth, taking many other cities in Argolis along the way. After laying siege to the Acrocorinth, Cleomenes proposed a peace treaty to Aratus, but the latter refused. The Spartan king then marched on Sicyon and besieged it, pillaging the surrounding countryside.[34]

Macedonian intervention[edit]

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 even 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:[35]

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

Nevertheless, 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.[36]

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 given promises he had failed to deliver. Aratus sailed with 1,500 troops to Epidaurus to attack Argos. The city, however, had already fallen due to an internal uprising. 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.[37]

Battle of Sellasia[edit]

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 feinted a march to Tegea, but turned around to Megalopolis. He was able to take the city by surprise, but around a thousand citizens managed to escape and found shelter in Messene, Megalopolis itself was pillaged. It is reported that Aratus 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 to do so. With new courage, Cleomenes marched on Argos. He pillaged the countryside to make the inhabitants furious with Antigonus' lack of action. In reality, all Cleomenes had achieved was to antagonize the inhabitants of the Peloponnese.[38]

Finally, Antigonus was able to rally his army, which now numbered 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.[39]

Social War[edit]

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. It seemed that a decisive confrontation would not come, until the Achaean commanders made a crucial mistake:[40]

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. After the battle, the Aetolians went on pillaging, raiding Sicyon in the process. 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.[41]

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.[42]

Philip was assisted by Aratus, but also by several other advisors, 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, on the other hand, was a true Macedonian; he still wanted to incorporate Achaea into the Kingdom of Macedon. This is why he started to oppose the Achaeans in the allied army by e.g. 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, but this 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 quickly received the reputation of 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.[43][44]

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.[45]


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 arisen due to this act. The king, angry but taken aback by the vehemence of the Achaean, accepted the rebuke.[46]

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.[N 6] Furthermore, Aratus refused to support Philip's campaigns in Illyria.[47]

Meanwhile, Aratus was becoming sicker 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 had Aratus poisoned.[48] He even reports that Aratus knew what was happening, but could only confide this information to his manservant:[47]

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.[49]

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'.[49]

Personality and reception[edit]

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 he 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."[50] It seems, however, that he was a master of the surprise attack, even though al these battles are very obscure.[17]

What Aratus lacked as tactician, he made up greatly as a politician. He was very good at compromising, e.g. 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: 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.[7]

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.[28] Furthermore, 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.[49]

Aratus wrote his memoirs, which are now, unfortunately, lost. Plutarch and Polybius both admit that they 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, or by glorifying his own victories.[2]


  1. ^ His aunt, Soso, was married to Cleinias' brother, Prophantus, and was also the sister of Abantidas.[2]
  2. ^ Nobody could be elected strategos in two consecutive years.[11]
  3. ^ This may have been part of the agreement when Megalopolis joined the League.[22]
  4. ^ An inscription exists which indicates that Bithys had been made an honourary citizen of Athens. This certainly suggests that the Macedonian victory over Aratus was received joyfully.[23]
  5. ^ Polybius reports that they allowed the Spartans to take these cities because of their bad relationship with the Achaean League.[27]
  6. ^ 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.[47]


  1. ^ Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Life of Aratus, 2, 1
  2. ^ a b c Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 3
  3. ^ F.W. Walbank, 1933, p. 3
  4. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 175
  5. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 4, 2
  6. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 5, 3
  7. ^ a b c Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 5
  8. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 9, 3
  9. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, pp. 5–6
  10. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, Central Greece, II, 42
  11. ^ a b Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 6
  12. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 16, 1
  13. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 7
  14. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 21, 1
  15. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, pp. 7–8
  16. ^ a b Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 8
  17. ^ a b c d e Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 9
  18. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, pp. 9–10
  19. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 27, 2
  20. ^ a b Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 10
  21. ^ a b c Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 11
  22. ^ a b c d Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 12
  23. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 168
  24. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 34, 2
  25. ^ a b c Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 13
  26. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 34, 4
  27. ^ Polybius, Histories, 2, 42, 2
  28. ^ a b c d Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 18
  29. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 19
  30. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 38, 1
  31. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 21
  32. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, pp. 20–21
  33. ^ F.W. Wallbank, 1933, pp. 96–97
  34. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, pp. 22–23
  35. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 24
  36. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 43, 5
  37. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, pp. 26–27
  38. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 28
  39. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, pp. 28–38
  40. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 42
  41. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 43
  42. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, pp. 44–54
  43. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 48; Polybius, V, 15
  44. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, pp. 56–57
  45. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 64
  46. ^ Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 118
  47. ^ a b c Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 120
  48. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 52
  49. ^ a b c Roberts & Bennett, 2012, p. 121
  50. ^ Plutarch, Aratus, 29, 5


Ancient sources[edit]


  • Roberts, Mike; Bennett, Bob (2012). Twilight of the Hellenistic World. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. ISBN 9781848841369.
  • Walbank, Frank William (1933). Aratos of Sicyon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780598834324.
Preceded by
Strategos of the Achaean League
245–244 BC
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Strategos of the Achaean League
243–242 BC
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Strategos of the Achaean League
241–240 BC
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Strategos of the Achaean League
239–238 BC
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Strategos of the Achaean League
237–236 BC
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Strategos of the Achaean League
235–234 BC
Succeeded by
Lydiades of Megalopolis
Preceded by
Lydiades of Megalopolis
Strategos of the Achaean League
233–232 BC
Succeeded by
Lydiades of Megalopolis
Preceded by
Lydiades of Megalopolis
Strategos of the Achaean League
231–230 BC
Succeeded by
Lydiades of Megalopolis
Preceded by
Lydiades of Megalopolis
Strategos of the Achaean League
229–228 BC
Succeeded by
Aristomachus of Argos
Preceded by
Aristomachus of Argos
Strategos of the Achaean League
227–226 BC
Succeeded by
ad hoc position
Strategos autokrator of the Achaean League
225–222 BC
ad hoc position
Preceded by
Strategos of the Achaean League
224–223 BC
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Strategos of the Achaean League
222–221 BC
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Strategos of the Achaean League
220–219 BC
Succeeded by
Aratus the Younger
Preceded by
Strategos of the Achaean League
217–216 BC
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Strategos of the Achaean League
215–214 BC
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Strategos of the Achaean League
213 BC
Succeeded by