The Histories (Paton translation)/Book IV

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In the preceding Book after pointing out the causes of the second war between Rome and Carthage, I described the invasion of Italy by Hannibal, and the engagements which took place between the belligerents up to the battle on the river Aufidus at the town of Cannae. I shall now give an account of the contemporary events in Greece from the 140th Olympiad onwards, after briefly recalling to the minds of my readers the sketch I gave in my second Book[1] of Greek affairs and especially of the growth of the Achaean League, the progress of that state having been surprisingly rapid in my own time and earlier. Beginning their history with Tisamenus, one of Orestes’ sons, I stated that they were ruled by kings of his house down to the reign of Ogygus, after which they adopted a most admirable democratical constitution, until for a time their League was dissolved into cities and villages by the kings of Macedon. Next I went on to tell how they subsequently began to reunite, and which were the first cities to league themselves, and following on this I pointed out in what manner and on what principle they tried to attract other cities and formed the design of uniting all the Peloponnesians in one polity and under one name. After a general survey of this design, I gave a brief but continuous sketch of events in detail up to the dethronement of Cleomenes, king of Sparta. Summarizing, next, the occurrences dealt with in my introductory sketch up to the deaths of Antigonus Doson, Seleucus Ceraunus, and Ptolemy Euergetes, which all took place about the same time, I announced that I would enter on my main history with the events immediately following the above period.


This I considered to be the best starting-point, because in the first place, Aratus’s book terminates just at this period and I had decided on taking up and carrying on the narrative of Greek affairs from the date at which he leaves off, and secondly because the period following on this date and included in my history coincides with my own and the preceding generation, so that I have been present at some of the events and have the testimony of eyewitnesses for others. It seemed to me indeed that if I comprised events of an earlier date, repeating mere hearsay evidence, I should be safe neither in my estimates nor in my assertions. But my chief reason for beginning at this date, was that Fortune had then so to speak rebuilt the world. For Philip, son of Demetrius, being still quite a boy, had inherited the throne of Macedonia, Achaeus, the ruler of all Asia on this side of the Taurus, had now not only the state, but the power of a king, Antiochus surnamed “The Great” who was still very young had but a short time previously, on the death of his brother Seleucus, succeeded him in Syria, Ariarathes at the same time had become king of Cappadocia, and Ptolemy Philopator king of Egypt, while not long afterwards began the reign of Lycurgus, king of Sparta. The Carthaginians also had but recently appointed Hannibal to be their general in the campaign I mentioned. Since therefore the personalities of the rulers were everywhere new, it was evident that a new series of events would begin, this being the natural and usual consequence. And such indeed was the case; for the Romans and the Carthaginians now entered on the war I mentioned, Antiochus and Ptolemy on that for Coele-Syria, and the Achaeans and Philip on that against the Aetolians and the Spartans.


The causes of the latter were as follows. The Aetolians had for long been dissatisfied with peace and with an outlay limited to their own resources, as they had been accustomed to live on their neighbours, and required abundance of funds, owing to that natural covetousness, enslaved by which they always lead a life of greed and aggression, like beasts of prey, with no ties of friendship but regarding everyone as an enemy. Nevertheless up to now, as long as Antigonus was alive, they kept quiet owing to their fear of Macedonia, but when that king died leaving Philip still a child to succeed him, they thought that they could ignore this king and began to look out for pretexts and other grounds for interfering in the affairs of the Peloponnese, giving way to their old habit of looking for pillage from that country and thinking they were a match for the Achaeans now the latter were isolated. Such being their bent and purpose, and chance favouring them in a certain measure, they found the following pretext for putting their design into execution.

Dorimachus of Trichonium was the son of that Nicostratus who broke the solemn truce at the Pamboeotian congress. He was a young man full of the violent and aggressive spirit of the Aetolians and was sent on a public mission to Phigalea, a city in the Peloponnese near the Messenian border and at that time in alliance with the Aetolian League; professedly to guard the city and its territory, but really to act as a spy on Peloponnesian affairs. When a recently formed band of brigands came to join him there, and he could not provide them with any legitimate pretext for plundering, as the general peace in Greece established by Antigonus still continued, he finally, finding himself at a loss, gave them leave to make forays on the cattle of the Messenians who were friends and allies of the Aetolians. At first, then, they only raided the flocks on the border, but later, growing ever more insolent, they took to breaking into the country houses, surprising the unsuspecting inmates by night. When the Messenians grew indignant at this and sent envoys to Dorimachus to complain, he at first paid no attention, as he wished not only to benefit the men under him but himself also by taking his share of their captures. But when such embassies began to arrive more frequently, owing to the continuance of the outrages, he announced that he would come himself to Messene to plead his cause against those who accused the Aetolians, and on appearing there when the victims approached him, he ridiculed and jeered at some of them, attacked some by recrimination and intimidated others by abusive language.


While he was still staying in Messene the banditti approached the city by night, and with the aid of scaling-ladders broke into the farm called Chyron’s, where after killing those who offered resistance they bound the rest of the slaves and carried them off together with the cattle. The Messenian Ephors, who had long been annoyed by all that took place and by Dorimachus’ stay in the town, thought this was adding insult to injury and summoned him before their college. On this occasion Scyron, then one of the ephors, and otherwise highly esteemed by the citizens, advised them not to let Dorimachus escape from the city, unless he made good all the losses of the Messenians and delivered up to justice those guilty of murder. When all signified their approval of what Scyron said, Dorimachus flew into a passion, and said they were utter simpletons if they thought it was Dorimachus they were now affronting and not the Aetolian League. He thought the whole affair altogether outrageous, and they would receive such public chastisement for it as would serve them right. There was at this time a certain lewd fellow at Messene, one of those who had in every way renounced his claim to be a man, called Babyrtas. If anyone had dressed this man up in Dorimachus’ sun-hat and chlamys it would have been impossible to distinguish the two, so exact was the resemblance both in voice and in person, and of this Dorimachus was perfectly aware. Upon his speaking now in this threatening and overbearing manner, Scyron grew very angry and said, “Do you think we care a fig for you or your threats, Babyrtas?” Upon his saying this Dorimachus, yielding for the member to circumstances, consented to give satisfaction for all damage inflicted on the Messenians, but on his return to Aetolia he continued to resent this taunt so bitterly, that without having any other plausible pretext he stirred up a war against Messene on account of this alone.


The Strategus of the Aetolians at this time was Ariston. Being himself incapacitated for service in the field by certain bodily infirmities and being related to Dorimachus and Scopas, he had more or less ceded his whole office to the latter. Dorimachus did not venture to exhort the Aetolians by public speeches to make war on Messene, since he really had no valid pretext, but, as every body knew, his animus was due to his own lawless violence and his resentment of a jibe. So he desisted from any such plan, and took to urging on Scopas in private to join him in his project against the Messenians, pointing out to him that they were safe as regards Macedonia owing to the youth of its ruler—Philip being now not more than seventeen—calling his attention to the hostility of the Lacedaemonians to the Messenians, and reminding him that Elis was the friend and ally of the Aetolians; from all which facts he deduced that they would be quite safe in invading Messenia. But next—this being the most convincing argument to an Aetolian—he pictured to him the great booty that they would get from Messenia, the country being without warning of invasion and being the only one in Greece that the Cleomenic war had spared. Finally he dwelt on the popularity they themselves would gain in Aetolia. The Achaeans, he said, if they opposed their passage, could not complain if the Aetolians met force by force, but if they kept quiet they would not stand in the way of the project. Against the Messenians they would have no difficulty in finding a grievance, for they had long been inflicting wrong on the Aetolians by promising to ally themselves with the Achaeans and Macedonians. By these arguments and others in the same sense, he made Scopas and his friends so eager for the enterprise that without waiting for the General Assembly of the Aetolians, without taking the Special Council into their confidence, without in fact taking any proper steps, but acting solely as their own passion and their private judgement dictated, they made war all at once on the Messenians, Epirots, Achaeans, Acarnanians, and Macedonians.


By sea they immediately sent out privateers, who falling in with a ship of the royal Macedonian navy near Cythera brought her to Aetolia with all her crew, and there sold the officers, the troops, and the ship herself. Afterwards they pillaged the coast of Epirus, being aided in these outrages by the Cephallenian fleet. They also made an attempt to seize Thyrium in Acarnania. At the same time, sending a small force secretly through the Peloponnese, they occupied the fort called Clarium in the middle of the territory of Megalopolis, and continued to use it as a base for forays and a market for the sale of booty. This place, however, was shortly afterwards besieged and captured in a few days by Timoxenus, the Achaean Strategus, with the aid of Taurion, the officer left by Antigonus in charge of Peloponnesian affairs. I should explain that Antigonus continued to hold Corinth, which the Achaeans had given up to him, to further his purposes in the Cleomenic war, but that after storming Orchomenus he did not restore it to the Achaeans, but annexed and occupied it, wishing, as I think, not only to be master of the entrance into the Peloponnese, but to safeguard his interests in the interior by means of his garrison and arsenal at Orchomenus. Dorimachus and Scopas waited for the time when Timoxenus’ year of office had nearly expired, and Aratus, who had been appointed Strategus for the ensuing year by the Achaeans, would not yet be in office, and then, collecting the whole of the Aetolian forces at Rhium and preparing ferry-boats as well as the Cephallenian ships, they conveyed their men over to the Peloponnese and began to advance towards Messenia. On their march through the territory of Patrae, Pharae, and Tritaea, they pretended indeed not to wish to inflict any hurt on the Achaeans, but as the men could not keep their hands off the country, owing to their passion for pillaging, they went through it, spoiling and damaging, until they reached Phigalea. Thence by a bold and sudden rush they invaded Messenia, utterly regardless both of their long-existing alliance and friendship with the Messenians and of the established law of nations. Subordinating everything to their own selfish greed, they pillaged the country unmolested, the Messenians not daring to come out at all to attack them.


This being the time fixed by law for the meeting of their Federal Assembly, the Achaean deputies gathered at Aegium; and when the assembly met, the members from Patrae and Pharae gave an account of the injuries done to their country during the passage of the Aetolians, while an embassy from Messene arrived begging for help, as they had been treacherously and unjustly attacked. The Achaeans listened to these statements, and as they shared the indignation of the people of Patrae and Pharae, and sympathized with the Messenians in their misfortune, but chiefly since they thought it outrageous that the Aetolians without getting leave of passage from anyone and without making the least attempt to justify the action, had ventured to enter Achaea in arms contrary to treaty, they were so exasperated by all these considerations that they voted that help should be given to the Messenians, that the Strategus should call a general levy of the Achaeans, and that this levy when it met should have full power to decide on what was to be done. Now Timoxenus, who was still Strategus, both because his term of office had very nearly expired, and because he had little confidence in the Achaean forces which had latterly much neglected their drilling, shrank from taking the field and even from levying the troops. For the fact is that ever since the fall of King Cleomenes of Sparta all the Peloponnesians, worn out as they were by the previous wars and trusting to the permanency of the present state of tranquillity, had paid no attention at all to preparations for war. But Aratus, incensed and exasperated by the audacity of the Aetolians, entered upon the business with much greater warmth, especially as he had a difference of long standing with that people. He therefore was in a hurry to call the levy of the Achaeans and to take the field against the Aetolians, and at length receiving the public seal from Timoxenus five days before the proper date of his entering office, wrote to the different cities with orders that all citizens of military age should present themselves in arms at Megalopolis.

Before proceeding I think I should say a few words about Aratus owing to the singularity of his character.


He had in general all the qualities that go to make a perfect man of affairs. He was a powerful speaker and a clear thinker and had the faculty of keeping his own counsel. In his power of dealing suavely with political opponents, of attaching friends to himself and forming fresh alliances he was second to none. He also had a marvellous gift for devising coups de main, stratagems, and ruses against the enemy, and for executing such with the utmost personal courage and endurance. Of this we have many clear proofs, but the most conspicuous instances are the detailed accounts we possess of his seizure of Sicyon and Mantinea, his expulsion of the Aetolians from Pellene, and first and foremost his surprise of the Acrocorinthus. But this very same man, when he undertook field operations, was slow in conception, timid in performance, and devoid of personal courage. The consequence was that he filled the Peloponnese with trophies commemorating his defeats, and in this respect the enemy could always get the better of him. So true it is that there is something multiform in the nature not only of men’s bodies, but of their minds, so that not merely in pursuits of a different class the same man has a talent for some and none for the others, but often in the case of such pursuits as are similar the same man may be most intelligent and most dull, or most audacious and most cowardly. Nor is this a paradox, but a fact familiar to careful observers. For instance some men are most bold in facing the charge of savage beasts in the chase but are poltroons when they meet an armed enemy, and again in war itself some are expert and efficient in a single combat, but inefficient when in a body and when standing in the ranks and sharing the risk with their comrades. For example the Thessalian cavalry are irresistible when in squadrons and brigades, but slow and awkward when dispersed and engaging the enemy single-handed as they chance to encounter them. The Aetolian horse are just the reverse. The Cretans both by land and sea are irresistible in ambuscades, forays, tricks played on the enemy, night attacks, and all petty operations which require fraud, but they are cowardly and down-hearted in the massed face-to-face charge of an open battle. It is just the reverse with the Achaeans and Macedonians. I say this in order that my readers may not refuse to trust my judgement, because in some casees I make contrary pronouncements regarding the conduct of the same men even when engaged in pursuits of a like nature.


When the men of military age had assembled in arms at Megalopolis in accordance with the decree of the Achaeans—it was at this point that I digressed from my narrative—and when the Messenians again presented themselves before the people, entreating them not to disregard the flagrant breach of treaty committing against them, and at the same time offering to join the general alliance and begging that they should at once be enrolled among the members, the Achaean magistrates refused the latter request on the ground that they were not empowered to receive additional members without consulting Philip and the rest of the allies. For the alliance was still in force which Antigonus had concluded during the Cleomenic war between the Achaeans, Epirots, Phocians, Macedonians, Boeotians, Acarnanians, and Thessalians. They, however, agreed to march out to their assistance on condition that the envoys deposited in Sparta their own sons as hostages, to ensure that the Messenians should not come to terms with the Aetolians without the consent of the Achaeans. I should mention that the Spartans, too, had marched out according to the terms of the alliance, and were encamped on the borders of the territory of Megalopolis, in the position rather of reserves and spectators than of allies. Aratus having thus carried out his intentions regarding the Messenians, sent a message to the Aetolians informing them of the resolutions, and demanding that they should evacuate Messenia and not set foot in Achaea, or he would treat trespassers as enemies. Scopas and Dorimachus, having listened to this message and knowing that the Achaean forces were assembled, thought it best for the time to cede to this demand. They therefore at once sent dispatches to Ariston, the Aetolian Strategus at Cyllene, begging him to send them the transports as soon as possible to the island called Pheias off the coast of Elis. After two days they themselves took their departure loaded with booty and advanced towards Elis; for the Aetolians have always courted the friendship of the Eleans, as through them they could get in touch with the rest of the Peloponnese for purposes of foraying and raiding.


Aratus waited two days: and thinking foolishly that the Aetolians would return by the way they had indicated, dismissed to their homes all the rest of the Achaeans and Lacedaemonians, and taking with him three thousand foot, three hundred horse, and Taurion’s troops, advanced in the direction of Patrae with the intention of keeping on the flank of the Aetolians. Dorimachus, on learning that Aratus was hanging on his flank and had not broken up all his force, fearful on the one hand lest he should attack them while occupied in embarking and eager also to stir up war, sent his booty off to the ships, under charge of a sufficient force of competent men to superintend the passage, ordering those in charge of the ships to meet him at Rhium where it was his intention to embark, while he himself at first accompanied the booty to protect it during its shipment and afterwards reversed the direction of his march and advanced towards Olympia. There he heard that Taurion with the forces I mentioned above was in the neighbourhood of Cleitor, and judging that, this being so, he would not be able to embark at Rhium in security and without an engagement, he thought it most in his interest to make all haste to encounter Aratus, whose army was still weak and who had no suspicion of his intention. He thought that if he defeated him, he could first ravage the country and then embark safely at Rhium, while Aratus was occupied in taking measures for again mustering the Achaeans, whereas, if Aratus were intimidated and refused a battle, he could safely withdraw whenever he thought fit. Acting therefore on these considerations he advanced and encamped near Methydrium in the territory of Megalopolis.


  1. Chapters 41-71. (Wikisource contributor note)