1902 Encyclopedia > Philopoemen

Greek general and statesman
(253-183 BC)

PHILOPOEMEN, "the last of the Greeks" as be was called by an admiring Roman, was a lea-cling champion of the Achean League, which preserved in Peloponnesus a last shred of Greek freedom. Sprung from an illustrious Arcadian family, he was born at Megalopolis in Arcadia in 252 B.C. His father Craugis dying in his infancy, Philo-ptemen wa.s brought up by his father's friend Cleander, an exile from Mantinea.. In his youth he associated with Ecdemus and Megalophanes, who had studied the Academic philosophy under Areesilaus, and had proved themselves friends of freedom by helping t.o rid Megalopolis and Sicyon of tyrants. Philopcemen soon distinguished him-self in war and the chase. Hard-featured but of an iron frame, simple and hardy in his way of life, blunt and straightforward in speech and manner,2 lie was a born soldier, delighting in war and careless of whatever did not bear on it. Thus he would not practise wrestling because the athlete's finely-strung habit of body is ill-fitted to bear the strain of a soldier's life. He read books of a martial and stirring tone, like the poems of Homer, together with works on military history- and tactics. Epaminondas was his pattern, but he could not school his hot temper into the unruffled patience of the Theban. Indeed we miss in this rugged soldier that union of refinement at home with daring in the field which had stamped the soldier-citizens of the best age of Greece. His leisure was devoted to the chase or to the cultivation of his farm, where he worked like CNIC of his hinds. In 222, when Cleomenes king of Sparta. made hiinself master of Megalopolis by a night attack, Philopcemen secured by his valour the retreat of the main body of the citizens to Messene, and encouraged them to refuse the insidious invitation of Cleomenes to return to their homes on condition of renouncing their connexion with the Achtean League. Thus baffled, Cleo-menes laid the city in ruins and retired. At the battle of Sellasia (early summer 221), where Cleomenes was defeated by the combined Achvean and Macedonian forces under Antigonus, king of Macedonia, Philopcemen greatly distinguished himself by charging, without orders, at the head of the Megalopolitan cavalry and thus saving from defeat the vving on which he fought. His conduct won the admiration of Antigonus, who offered him a command in the Macedonian army, but he declined it and went to the wars in Crete. Returning after some time with fresh laurels, he was at once chosen to command the Achwan cavalry, which, from an ill-Inounted, raw, and cowardly body he soon turned into a highly-trained and thoroughly efficient force ; at the head of it lie overthrew the iEtolian and Elean horse, and slew their commander with his OIVII hand (209). He was elected general of the Aelnean League for the first time in 208. In this, the highest dignity of the confederacy, lie infused greater vigour and independence into the councils of the League than hall been shown by Aratus, who had leaned on Macedonia and trusted to diplomacy- rather than the sword. Philopannen entirely changed the equipment and tactics of the troops of the League, substituting complete armour, long lances and large shields for the lighter arms hitherto in use, and adopting the Macedonian phalanx as the fighting order. But lie did more : by example and precept he turned a nation of dandies into a nation of soldiers, who now spent on arms and accoutrements the wealth they had before lavished on dinners and dress. With the army thus trans-formed he defeated Machanidas, tyrant of Sparta, at the battle of Mantinea. The tyra.nt fell by Philopcemen's hand, Tegea was taken, and Laconia ravaged. A bronze statue representing Philopcemen slaying Machanidas was set up at Delphi by the AcImans. At the Nemean festival which followed the battle Philopcemen, then general for the second time, was hailed by the people as the liberator of Greece. Jealous of the degree of independence to Aid:: Philopcemen had raised the League, Philip king of Mace-donia sent emissaries to murder him, but they were foiled. So grcat was the terror of his name that at the bare report that he was coming the Bceotians raised the siege of Megara and fled. When Nabis, successor of Machanidas in the tyranny of Sparta, seized Messene, Philopcemen, though he held no office at the time and the general of the League refused to stir, collected his fellow-townsmen and drove out the tyrant. In his third generalship (201-200) he mustered the Achan forces with great secrecy at Tegea and, invading Laconia, defeated the troops of Nabis. The Romans were now about to cross the sea for the war with Philip of Macedonia, and Philopcernen was the means of preventing the AchaAns from concluding an alliance with Philip against Rome. At the expiry of his year of office Ile sailed once more to Crete, where he successfully lett the troops of the Oortynians, beating the Cretans with their own weapons of craft and surprise. Philopcemen did not return to Peloponnesus till after the Romans under Flamininus had conquered Philip. He found the Romans and Aclueans making war on Nabis and was again eleetcd to the generalship (192). Nabis was besieging Cythium, which with the other towns on the Laconian coast had been wrested from him by the Roinans, handed over by them to the Spartan exiles, and attached to the Adman League. Being defeated in an attempt to relieve Gythium by sea., Philopcemen landed and surprised a part of the tyrant's forces not far from that town, burned their camp, and slew many. After ravaging Laconia he marched on Sparta in the hope of compelling Nabis to raise the siege. But Nabis took Gythium and awaited the A.chreans in a pass. Philopcemen WaS surprised, but by skilful general-ship he not only extricated himself but routed the Spartans and cut off most of the fugitives. When Nabis was assassinated Philopoemen hastened to Sparta and induced it to join the AchaNui League. In the same year (192) Antiochus, king of A.sia, crossed into Greece to fight the Romans. By the advice, or at least with the concurrence, of Philopcemen the Aellleans rejected the king's proposal that they should remain neutral, and declared war against him and his allies the rEtolians. In the following year Diophanes, general of the League, hearing that Sparta showed signs of revolt, marched against it accompanied by Flamininus. Philopcemen had remonstrated in vain against this step, and lie now boldly threw himself into Sparta., composed the disturbances, and closed the gates against Diophanes and Flamininus. The grateful Spartans offered Philopoemen a splendid present, but he bade them keep such bribes for their enemies. In 189 Philopcemen, again general, proposed and carried in an assembly, which he summoned at Argos, a decree that the general assembly of the League should meet in all the cities of the League in rotation, instead of, as hitherto, at yEgeurn only. This measure was obviously meant to deprive Achrea of its position as head of the League, and to make the allied cities more equal. In the same year the Spartans made an unsuccessful a-ttack on one of the maritime towns occu-pied by the exiles. A.s these towns were under Achi-ean protection the League required Sparta to surrender the authors of the attack. Far from complying, the Spartans put to death thirty partisans of Philopoemen and re-nounced their connexion with the League. The Achwans declared war, and in the following spring (188) Philo-pwinen, having been re-elected general, marched against Sparta, which was forced to pull down its walls, to expel the foreign mercenaries and the slaves whom the tyrants had freed, to exchange the laws and institutions of Lycurgus for those of the AcInuans, and, lastly, to receive back the exiles. It would seem that on this occasion Philopcemen allowed his hatred of the old enemy of Megalopolis to overpower his judgment ; his conduct was as unwise as it. was cruel, for it afforded the Romans - what Philopcemen had hitherto been careful not to furnish them with - a pretext for meddling in the affairs of Greece. His treat-ment of Sparta was censured by the se-nate, and Roman officers in Greece remonstrated with the League 01/ the subject. In. 183, the last year of his life, Philopcemen was general for the eighth time (his seventh generalship perhaps fell in 187, but this is uncertain). He lay sick of a fever at Argos when word came that Aiessene, under Dinocrates, had revolted from the Lea.gue. At first he despatched his friend and partisan Lycortas to put down the revolt, then growing impatient, in spite of the fever and his seventy years, lie hurried in a single day to Megalopolis, and, taking with him the cavalry of his native town, entered Messenia and routed Dinocrates. But, the enemy being reinforced, he was compelled to fall back over broken ground. In his anxiety to cover the retreat of his troopers he was left alone, and, his horse stumbling., he was thrown to the ground and taken prisoner. Ile was conducted with his arms pinioned through the streets of Messene and cast into a dungeon. At nightfall on the second day an executioner was sent to him with a cup of poison. Seeing the light and the executioner standing by, Philopoemen sat up with difficulty, for he was weak, and, taking the cup in his hand, he asked the man, What tidings of the cavalry Being told that they had mostly escaped, he bowed his head and said that it was well. Then he drained the cup and lay- down to die. Swift vengeance overtook his murderers. The indignant Achaans, under Lycortas, ravaged Messenia, and when the capital surrendered all who had had part in the murder of Philopcemen were obliged to kill themselves. Dinocrates had already com-mitted suicide. The body of Philopoemen was burned, and his bones conveyed to Megalopolis with every mark of respect and sorrow, the urn, almost hidden in garlands, being borne by his fellow-townsman, the historian Polybius. _Numerous statues were set up and honours decreed to him in the cities of the League. After the destruction of Corinth by Mummius some one proposed to destroy the statues of a man who had been no friend of the Romans ; but the Roman general rejected the base proposal.

Philopoemen's lot was cast in evil days. Hardly were the Achteans freed by him from Macedonia when they had to submit to Rome. His policy towards the Romans was marked by ft prudence and moderation hardly to be expected from one of his passionate nature. He saw that the final subjugation of Greece was inevitable, but he did his best to delay it, not by a war which would only have precipi-tated the catastrophe, but by giving the Romans no ground for interference, and by- resisting their encroachments, so far as this could be done, by- an appeal to reason and justice.

Our authorities for the life of Philopiernen are Polybius, Livy, Plutarch, a-2.1 Pausanias. Polybius's work on Philopoemen \vas in three book , but it is lost. Plutarch's biography, like the account Pausanias (viii. 49-51), is based on Polybius. (J. G. FR.)

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