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Nabis

*Na/bis, (succeeded in making himself tyrant of Lacedaemon on the death of Machanidas, B. C. 207. To obviate the inconvenience of having a rival at any future time, he had Pelops, son of the king Lycurgus, who was still quite young, assassinated. To secure himself still further, he carried the licence of tyranny to the furthest possible extent; put to death or banished all the wealthiest and most eminent citizens, and even pursued them in exile, sometimes causing them to be murdered on their road; at other times, when they had reached some friendly city, getting persons not likely to be suspected to hire houses next to those in which the exiles had taken up their abode, and then sending his emissaries to break through the party-walls, and assassinate them in their own houses. All persons possessed of property who remained at Sparta were subjected to incessant exactions, and the most cruel tortures if they did not succeed in satisfying his rapacity. One of his engines of torture resembled the maiden of more recent times: it was a figure resembling his wife Apega, so constructed as to clasp the victim and pierce him to death with the nails with which the arms and bosom of the figure were studded. (Plb. 13.7.) The money which he got by these means and by the plunder of the temples enabled him to raise a large body of mercenaries, whom he selected from among the most abandoned and reckless villains: murderers, burglars, thieves, and reprobates of every kind found an asylum in Sparta and a patron in Nabis. He likewise manumitted a great number of helots and slaves, and apportioned them lands. He extended his protection over the pirates of Crete, whom he sheltered and assisted, receiving a share of their booty. Nor did he content himself with making Sparta a den of robbers, emissaries of the same sort were scattered over all parts of Peloponnesus, the proceeds of whose plunder he shared, while he afforded them a refuge whenever danger threatened. When he first opened negotiations with the Romans we are not informed, but we find him included as one of the allies of the Romans in the treaty made between them and Philip in the year B. C. 204. (Liv. 29.12.) The impunity with which Nabis pursued the course which has been described for two or three years encouraged him to form greater projects. An opportunity soon presented itself. Some Boeotians induced one of the grooms of Nabis to abscond with them, carrying off the most valuable of his horses. The fugitives were pursued, and overtaken at Megalopolis. The pursuers were allowed to carry off the horses and groom; but when they attempted to lay hands on the Boeotians also, they were hindered by the people and magistrates of the town, and compelled to quit it. Nabis seized upon this as a pretext for making inroads into the territory of Megalopolis. These he followed up by seizing the city of Messene, though he was at the time in alliance with the Messenians. (Plb. 16.13.) Philopoemen, by his private influence, collected the forces of Megalopolis, and marched to Messene, upon which Nabis evacuated the town, and hastily returned into Laconia (in the latter part of B. C. 202, or the beginning of B. C. 201). In B. C. 201 Philopoemen became Achaean praetor, and in the third year of his office he collected the forces of the Achaean league with the greatest possible secresy at Tegea, drew the mercenaries of Nabis into an ambush on the borders of Laconia, at a place called Scotitas, and defeated them with great slaughter. For the rest of the year Nabis was compelled to keep within his own borders. (Polyb. xiii 8, 16.36, 37; Paus. 4.29.10, 8.50.5.) As soon as Philopoemen was replaced by other and inferior leaders, Nabis renewed his attacks upon Megalopolis, and, according to Plutarcl (Philop. p. 363), reduced them to such distress, that they were compelled to sow corn in the streets of their city, to avoid starvation. It was at this juncture, when the Achaean army had been disbanded, and the contingents had not been fixed for the different states, that Philip undertook to repel Nabis, on condition that the Achaeans would help him to defend Corinth and some other places. As his object was evidently to involve the Achaeans in his contest with the Romans, his offer was prudently declined, and the assembly at which it was made was dismissed, after a decree had been passed for levying troops against Nabis. (Liv. 31.25.) Philip now (B. C. 198), finding it inconvenient to defend Argos himself, instructed Philocles to give up the custody of the city to Nabis, who, after having betrayed the people into an open expression of the hatred they felt towards him, was admitted by night into the city. He forthwith proceeded to extort the money of the citizens by means similar to those which he had found so successful at Sparta; and then, to secure the support of at least one portion of the community, he proposed a decree for the cancelling of debts, and for a fresh partition of the lands. (Liv. 32.38, &c.) Having procured an interview with Flamininus and Attalus, he agreed to grant a truce for four months to the Achaeans, and placed a body of his Cretans at the disposal of Flamininus. He then returned to Sparta, leaving a garrison in Argos, and sent his wife Apega in his place. She seems to have been a fit helpmate for her husband, whom she even outdid at Argos, robbing and spoiling the women of the city in much the same fashion as her husband had robbed the men. (Plb. 17.17; Liv. 32.40.)

Upon the representations of the commissioners employed in settling the affairs of Greece after the conclusion of the war with Philip, the Roman senate took into consideration the question of peace or war with Nabis, and finally referred the matter to Flamininus. He laid it before a congress of the allies at Corinth when war was unanimously decreed. Pythagoras, who was at once brother-in-law and son-in-law of Nabis, and was in command at Argos, prevented the Romans from getting the city into their possession without a siege; and Flamininus, by the advice of Aristaenus, chose rather to carry the war into Laconia. With a powerful force he descended to the banks of the Eurotas. Nabis strengthened the defences of Sparta, and struck terror into his subjects by the sanguinary execution of eighty suspected citizens. His troops sustained some losses in engagements with the enemy, and Gythium, the arsenal of Sparta, was taken. Nabis, though reinforced by Pythagoras, was fain to solicit an interview with Flamininus. A conference ensued which lasted two days, a long account of which is given by Livy (34.30-33). A truce was granted, that Nabis might consult his friends, and Flamininus his allies. The latter could only be induced to consent to peace at all by the representations which Flamininus made to them of the magnitude of the contributions which he should be obliged to lay upon them for the expenses of the war. The terms offered were such as Nabis refused to accept, and the negotiations were broken off. But being more closely pressed by the besieging army, and the city having been nearly carried by assault, Nabis was compelled to implore peace, which was granted on the former conditions, according to which he was to evacuate all the places he held beyond Laconia, to give up to the Romans the ports of Laconia, and the whole of his navy, to confine himself to Laconia, to give up to the exiles their wives and children, and pay 500 talents. This treaty was ratified by the Roman senate; and amongst other hostages, Armenas, the son of Nabis, was sent to Rome, where he died some time after. The Argives, meantime, had expelled the garrison of Nabis from their city, B. C. 195. (Liv. 34.33-43; Plb. 20.13.)

When the Aetolians, after the departure of Flamininus from Greece, were endeavouring to rekindle the flames of war, they incited Nabis to commence hostilities. He immediately began to make attempts upon the maritime towns of Laconia. The Achaeans, who had been constituted the protectors of them, sent to Rome. Directions were given by the senate to the praetor, Atilius, to repel the aggressions of Nabis; but before his arrival it was deemed necessary by the Achaeans, who were again headed by Philopoemen, at once to relieve Gythium. The attempts of Philopoemen to effect this by sea failed, to some extent, from his having placed his admiral, Tiso, on board a large ship which was utterly unseaworthy, and went to pieces at the first shock; and notwithstanding a favourable diversion by land, Gythium was taken by Nabis, and Philopoemen retired to Tegea. On re-entering Laconia, he was surprised by Nabis; but through his skilful conduct, the forces of the tyrant were defeated with great slaughter, and Philopoemen ravaged Laconia unmolested for thirty days. The war was now intermitted for a time, probably through the weakness of Nabis (Thirlvall, Hist. of Greece, vol. viii. p. 335), who appealed for help to the Aetolians. A small force was sent by them under Alexamenus, by whom Nabis was soon after assassinated, B. C. 192 (Liv. 35.12, 13, 22, 25-35; Paus. 8.50.7, 10; Plut. Philop. p. 364.)

[C.P.M]

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hide References (18 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (18):
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.29.10
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.50.10
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.50.5
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.50.7
    • Polybius, Histories, 13.7
    • Polybius, Histories, 16.13
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 31, 25
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 35, 22
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 29, 12
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 34, 33
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 35, 35
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 32, 38
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 32, 40
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 34, 30
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 34, 43
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 35, 13
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 35, 25
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 35, 12
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