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Philopoemen Seizes an Opportunity

The opportunity for attack which Philopoemen had long foreseen had now arrived. He at once ordered the phalanx to bring their sarissae to the charge and advance. The men obeyed with enthusiasm, and accompanied their charge with a ringing cheer. The ranks of the Lacedaemonians had been disorganised by the passage of the dyke, and as they ascended the opposite bank they found the enemy above them They lost courage and tried to fly; but the greater number of them were killed in the ditch itself, partly by the Achaeans, and partly by trampling on each other. Now this result was not unpremeditated or accidental, but strictly owing to the acuteness of the general. For Philopoemen originally took ground behind the dyke, not to avoid fighting, as some supposed, but from a very accurate and scientific calculation of strategical advantages. He reckoned either that Machanidas when he arrived would advance without thinking of the dyke, and that then his phalanx would get entangled, just as I have described their actually doing; or that if he advanced with a full apprehension of the difficulty presented by the dyke, and then changing his mind and deciding to shrink from the attempt, were to retire in loose order and a long straggling column,1 the victory would be his, without a general engagement, and the defeat his adversary's. For this has happened to many commanders, who having drawn up their men for battle, and then concluded that they were not strong enough to meet their opponents, either from the nature of the ground, the disparity of their numbers, or for other reasons, have drawn off in too long a line of march, and hoped in the course of the retreat to win a victory, or at least get safe away from the enemy, by means of their rear guard alone.

1 The text is certainly corrupt here, and it is not clear what the general sense of the passage is beyond this,—that Philopoemen calculated on defeating the enemy, as he did, while struggling through the dyke: or on their exposing themselves to attack if they retreated from the dyke without crossing it.

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