Having thus won admiration, and having come back to Peloponnesus with a brilliant reputation from his exploits in Crete, he found that Philip had been defeated and subdued by Titus Flamininus,1
and that the Achaeans and the Romans were waging war upon Nabis. He was at once chosen general against Nabis, and by hazarding the issue on a naval battle would seem to have fared as Epaminondas once did, since he fought on the sea in a manner which fell far short of his great reputation.
Epaminondas, however, as some say, was reluctant to give his fellow-citizens a taste of the advantages accruing from naval superiority, in order that they might not surprise him by becoming, instead of
‘steadfast hoplites,’ to use Plato's words,2
degenerate mariners; and therefore he purposely came back from Asia and the islands without achieving anything3
Philopoemen, on the other hand, was persuaded that his skill in handling land forces would suffice to give him success in fighting also on the sea, and therefore learned to his cost how large a part of superior excellence consists in practice, and how much additional power it gives to men who have accustomed themselves to all methods of fighting. For not only was he worsted in the sea-fight, owing to his lack of experience, but he actually launched an old but famous ship after forty years of disuse, and manned her, the result being that her seams took in water and her crew came into peril of their lives.
Understanding that in consequence of this disaster his enemies despised him, thinking that he had altogether given up activity on the sea, and that they were insolently besieging Gythium, he promptly sailed against them when they did not expect it and were careless because of their victory. He landed his soldiers by night and led them to the attack, set fire to the enemy's tents, burned down his camp, and slew many of his men.
A few days afterward, as he was marching through a rough country, Nabis came suddenly upon him and threw the Achaeans into a fright; they despaired of saving themselves from a position which was difficult and already commanded by the enemy. But Philopoemen waited a little while, surveyed the nature of the ground, and then demonstrated that skill in drawing up an army is the crowning feature in the art of war. For by changing his order of battle a little and adapting it to the present exigency, with no confusion and no trouble he evaded the difficulty, and charging upon the enemy put them to utter rout.
Then, observing that they were not fleeing towards the city, but scattering themselves hither and thither through the region (which was woody, entirely surrounded by hills, and impracticable for cavalry owing to water-courses and ravines), he checked his pursuit and encamped while it was still light. But judging that the enemy after their flight would steal back to the city by ones and twos under cover of the night, he placed large numbers of his Achaeans armed with swords in ambush among the water-courses and hills about the city.
Here very many of the followers of Nabis met their death; for since they did not make their return in a body, but as the chances of flight disposed them severally, they fell into the hands of their enemies and were caught like birds about the city.