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Achaean League, Achaicum Foedus

ACHAICUM FOEDUS (τὸ Ἀχαϊκόν), the league or confederation of a number of towns on the north-west coast of Peloponnesus. In speaking of the Achaean league we must distinguish between two periods, an earlier and a later one. The former, though formed for mutual protection, was mainly of a religious character, whereas the latter was pre-eminently a political confederation to protect the towns against the domination of Macedonia.

1. The earlier League.--When the Herakleidae took possession of Peloponnesus, which until then had been inhabited chiefly by the Achaean race, a portion of the latter, under Tisamenos, turned northwards and took possession of the northern coast of the peninsula, which was called Αἰγιαλός: the Ionians, who had hitherto occupied that country, took refuge in Attica and on the west coast of Asia Minor. The country thus occupied by the Achaeans, from whom it derived its name of Achaia, contained twelve towns which had been leagued together even in the time of their Ionian inhabitants. They were governed by the descendants of Tisamenos, until, after the death of king Ogyges, they abolished the kingly rule and established democratic institutions. The time when this happened is not known. In the time of Herodotus (1.145; comp. Strab. viii. p.483 foll.) the twelve towns of which the league consisted were: Pellene, Aegeira, Aegae, Bura, Helike, Aegion, Rhypes, Patrae, Pharae, Olenos, Dyme, and Tritaea. After the time of Herodotus, Rhypes and Aegae disappear from the number of the confederate towns, as they had decayed and become deserted (Paus. 7.23, 25; Strab. viii. p.387), and Leontion and Keryneia stepped into their place (Plb. 2.41; comp. Paus. 7.6). Helike appears to have been their common place of meeting; but this town, together with Bura, was swallowed up by the sea during an earth-quake in B.C. 373, whereupon Aegion was chosen as the place of meeting for the confederates (Strab. viii. p.384; Diod. 15.48 ; Paus. 7.24). Of the constitution of this league very little is known; but it is clear that the bond which united the different towns was very loose, and less a political than a religious one, as is shown by the common sacrifice offered at Helike to Poseidon. When that town was destroyed and Aegion had become the central point of the league, the common sacrifice was offered up to the principal divinities of Aegion, i. e. to Zeus, surnamed Homagyrios, and to Demeter Panachaea (Paus. 7.24). The looseness of the connexion among the towns in a political point of view is evident from the fact that some of them acted occasionally quite independent of the rest (Thuc. 2.9). The confederation generally kept aloof from the troubles of other parts of Greece, on which accordingly it exercised no particular influence down to the time when the league was broken up by the Macedonians. But they were nevertheless highly respected by the other Greek states on account of their honesty, sincerity, and wise moderation. Hence after the battle of Leuktra they were chosen to arbitrate between the Thebans and Lakedaemonians (Plb. 2.39). Demetrios, Kassander, and Antigonos Gonatas placed garrisons in some of their towns, while in others they favoured the rising of tyrants. The towns were thus separated from one another, and the whole confederation was gradually destroyed.

2. The later League.--The ancient confederacy had thus ceased to exist for some time when events took place which in some towns roused the ancient spirit of independence. When in B.C. 281 Antigonos Gonatas attempted to drive Ptolemaeos Keraunos from the throne of Macedonia, the Achaeans availed themselves of the opportunity of shaking off the Macedonian yoke and renewing the ancient confederation. The grand object however now was no longer a common worship, but a real political union among the confederate towns. The places which first shook off the yoke of the oppressors were Dyme and Patrae, and the alliance concluded between them was speedily joined by the towns of Tritaea and Pharae (Plb. 2.41). One town after another now expelled the Macedonian garrisons and tyrants; and when in B.C. 275 Aegion, the head of the ancient league, followed the example of the other towns, the foundation of the new confederation was complete, and the main principles of its constitution were settled, though afterwards many changes and modifications were introduced. The fundamental laws were that henceforth the confederacy should form one inseparable state; that every town which should join it should have equal rights with the others; and that all members in regard to foreign countries should be regarded as dependent, and be bound in every respect to obey the federal government and those officers who were entrusted with the executive (Plb. 2.37 foll.). No town, therefore, was allowed to treat with any foreign power without the sanction of the others. Aegion, for religious reasons, was at first appointed the seat of the government, and retained this distinction until the time of Philopoemen, who proposed a measure according to which the national meetings should be held in rotation in any of the other towns (Liv. 38.30); but whether this plan was adopted is uncertain. At Aegion, therefore, the citizens of the various towns met at stated and regular times to deliberate upon the common affairs of the confederation, and if necessary upon those of any separate town or even individuals, and to elect the officers of the league. After having thus established a [p. 1.9]firm union among themselves, the Achaeans zealously exerted themselves in delivering other towns also from their tyrants and oppressors. The league however did not acquire any great strength until B.C. 251, when Aratos united Sikyon, his native place, with it, and some years later also gained Corinth for it. Megara, Troezen, and Epidauros soon followed their example. Afterwards Aratos prevailed upon all the more important towns of Peloponnesus to join the confederacy; and Megalopolis, Argos, Hermione, Phlius, and others were added to it. In a short time the league thus reached its highest power, for it embraced Athens, Aegina, Salamis, and the whole of Peloponnesus with the exception of Sparta, Tegea, Orchomenos, Mantineia, and Elis. Greece seemed to revive, and promised to become stronger and more united than ever, but it soon showed that its new power was employed only in self-destruction and its own ruin. We cannot here enter into the history of this new confederation, but must confine ourselves to giving an outline of its constitution, as it existed at the time of its full development.

Polybius (2.38) remarks that there was no other constitution in the world in which all the members of the community had such a perfect equality of rights and so much liberty, and, in short, which was so perfectly democratic and so free from all selfish and exclusive regulations, as the Achaean league; for all its members had equal rights, whether they had belonged to it from the beginning or had only recently joined it, and whether they were large or small towns. Their common affairs were regulated at general meetings by the citizens of all the towns, and were held regularly twice every year, in the spring and in the autumn. These meetings, which lasted three days, were held in a grove of Zeus Homagyrios, in the neighbourhood of Aegion, and near a sanctuary of Demeter Panachaea. (Plb. 2.54, 4.37, 5.1, 19.9; Liv. 32.22, 38.32; Strab. viii. p.385; Paus. 7.24.) In cases of urgent necessity, however, extraordinary meetings might be convened, either at Aegion or in any other of the confederate towns (Liv. 21.25; Plb. 25.1, 29.8; Plut. Arat. 41). Every citizen, both rich and poor, who had attained the age of thirty, might attend the assemblies, speak, and propose any measure, to which they were invited by a public herald (Plb. 29.9 ; Liv. 32.20). Under these circumstances the assemblies were sometimes of the most tumultuous kind, and a wise and experienced man might sometimes find it difficult to gain a hearing among the crowds of ignorant and foolish people (Plb. 28.4). It is, however, natural to suppose that the ordinary meetings, unless matters of great importance were to be discussed, were attended chiefly by the wealthier classes, who had the means of paying the expenses of their journey, for many lived at a considerable distance from the place of meeting.

The subjects to be brought before the assembly were prepared by a council (βουλή), which seems to have been permanent (Plb. 23.7, 28.3, 29.9; Plut. Arat. 53). The principal subjects on which the assembly had to decide were--peace and war (Plb. 4.15 foll.); the reception of new towns into the confederacy (Plb. 25.1); the election of the magistrates of the confederation (Plb. 4.37, 82; Plut. Arat. 41); the punishment of offences committed by the magistrates, though sometimes special judges were appointed for that purpose, as well as the honours and distinctions to be conferred upon them (Plb. 4.14, 8.14, 40.5, 8; Paus. 7.9). The ambassadors of foreign states had to deliver their messages to the assembly, where they were discussed by the assembled people (Plb. 4.7, 23.7 foll., 28.7; Liv. 32.9). The assembly further had the power to determine as to whether negotiations were to be carried on with any foreign power or not, and no single town was allowed to send an embassy to a foreign power on its own responsibility, even on matters of merely local importance, although otherwise every individual town managed its own internal affairs at its own discretion, so long as it did not interfere with the interests of the league. No town, moreover, was allowed to accept presents from a foreign power (Plb. 23.8; Paus. 7.9). The votes in the assembly were given according to towns; each town, whether large or small, having one vote (Liv. 38.22 foll.).

The principal officers of the Achaean league were:--

    1. At first two strategi (στρατηψοί), but after the year B.C. 255 there was only one (Strab. viii. p.385), who, in conjunction with the hipparchus (ἵππαρχος) or commander of the cavalry (Plb. 5.95, 28.6) and an under-strategus (ὑποστρατηγός, Plb. 4.59), commanded the army furnished by the confederate towns, and was entrusted with the whole conduct of the war.
  • 2. A state-secretary (γραμματεύς).
  • 3. An apparently permanent council of ten men, called the δημιονργοί (Strab. viii. p.385; Liv. 32.22, 38.30; Plb. 5.1, 23.10, where they are called archontes). These demiurgi, whom Polybius in another passage (38.5) calls γερονσία, appear to have presided at the great assemblies, which either they or the strategus might convene, though it seems that the latter could do so only when the people were convened in arms or for military purposes (Plb. 4.7; Liv. 25.25).

All the officers of the league were elected in the assembly held in the spring, at the rising of the Pleiades (Plb. 2.43; 4.6, 37; 5.1), and legally they were invested with their several offices only for one year; but it often happened that men of great merit, like Aratos and Philopoemen, were re-elected for several successive years (Plut. Arat. 24, 30; Cleom. 15). If an officer died during the period of his office, his place was filled by his predecessor, until the time for the new elections arrived (Plb. 40.2). The close union subsisting among the confederates was, according to Polybius (2.37), strengthened by their adopting common weights, measures, and coins. Many Achaean coins are preserved in various collections.

The Achaean league might at one time have become a great power, and might have united at least the whole of Peloponnesus into one state; but the original objects of the league were in the course of time so far forgotten that it sought the protection of those against whom it had been formed; and the perpetual discord among its members, the hostility of Sparta, the intrigues of the Romans, and the folly and rashness of the [p. 1.10]last strategi brought about not only the dissolution and destruction of the confederacy, but the political annihilation of the whole of Greece in the year B.C. 146. After a time the Romans again allowed certain national confederations to be renewed (Paus. 7.16), but they had no political influence, and were entirely dependent upon the Roman governor of Macedonia, until in the reign of Augustus all Greece was constituted as a Roman province under the name of Achaia. (Comp. Schorn, Gesch. Griechenlands von der Entstehung des Aetol. u. Achaeischen Bundes, p. 49 foll. and p. 60 foll.; Drumann, Ideen zur Gesch. des Verfalls der Griech. Staaten; K. F. Hermann, Griech. Staatsalterthümer, § 185 foll.; Thirlwall, Hist. of Greece, vol. viii. p. 86 foll. ; Hertzberg, Gesch. Griechenlands unter den Römern, vol. i.; Schömann, Griech. Alterthümer, vol. ii. p. 106 foil.)


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