previous next



1. Son of Craugis, of Megalopolis in Arcadia, was one of the few great men that Greece produced in the decline of her political independence. His contemporaries looked up to him as the greatest man of their day, and succeeding ages cherished his memory with deep veneration and love. Thus we find Pausanias saying (8.52.1), that Miltiades was the first, and Philopoemen the last benefactor to the whole of Greece, and an admiring Roman exclaiming, "that he was the last of the Greeks" (Plut. Phil. 1). The great object of Philopoemen's life was to infuse among the Achaeans a military spirit, and thereby to establish their independence on a firm and lasting basis. To this object he devoted all the energies of his mind; and he pursued it throughout his life with an enthusiasm and perseverance, which were crowned with far greater success than could have been anticipated, considering the times in which he lived. His predecessor Aratus, who was the founder of the Achaean league, was a man of little military ability, and had chiefly relied on negotiation and intrigue for the accomplishment of his objects and the extension of the power of the league. He had accordingly not cared to train a nation of soldiers, and had in consequence been more or less dependent upon Macedonian troops in his wars with Sparta and other enemies, thereby making himself and his nation to a great extent the subjects of a foreign power. Philopoemen, on the contrary, was both a brave soldier and a good general; and the possession of these qualities enabled him to make the Achaean league a really independent power in Greece.

Philopoemen was born about B. C. 252, since he was in his seventieth year at the time of his death in B. C. 183 (Plut. Phil. 18). His family was one of the noblest in all Arcadia, but he lost his father, who was one of the most distinguished men at Megalopolis, at an early age, and was brought up by Cleander, an illustrious citizen of Mantineia, who had been obliged to leave his native city, and had taken refuge at Megalopolis, where he contracted an intimate friendship with Craugis. As Philopoemlen grew up, he received instruction from Ecdemus and Demophanes (called Eclemus and Megalophanes in Pausanias, 8.49.2), both of whom had studied the Academic philosophy under Arcesilaus, and had taken an active part in expelling the tyrants from Megalopolis and Sicyon, as well as in other political events of their time. Under their teaching and guidance Philopoemen became a brave, virtuous, and energetic youth. He early proposed to himself Epaminondas as his model; but though he succeeded in imitating the activity and contempt of riches of his great model, his vehemence of temper prevented him from ob-taking the amiable manners and winning temper which characterised the Theban. From his earliest years Philopoemen showed a great fondness for the use of arms, and took great pleasure in all warlike exercises. As soon as he had reached the age of military service, he eagerly engaged in the incursions into Laconia, which were then frequently made, and in these he greatly distinguished him-self, being the first to march out and the last to return. When he was not employed in war, he divided his time between the chase, the transaction of public business, the cultivation of his estate, and the study of philosophy and literature. After spending part of the day in the city, he usually walked to an estate which he had about two or three miles from Megalopolis, where he slept, and rose early to work at the farm, after which he returned again to the city. His studies were chiefly directed to the art of war, and his favourite books were the Tactics of Evangelus, and the History of Alexander's campaigns.

The name of Philopoemen first occurs in history in B. C. 222, when he was thirty years of age. In that year Cleomenes, king of Sparta, the great enemy of the Achaean league, seized Megalopolis, and laid it in ruins. The Spartans surprised Me-galopolis in the night, and took possession of the market-place before the alarm had become general among the inhabitants. As soon as it became known that the Spartans were in the city, most of the citizens fled towards Messene; but Philopoemen and a few kindred spirits offered a gallant resistance to the enemy, and their determined and desperate valour gave such employment to the Spartans, as to enable the citizens to escape in safety. Early in the following spring, B. C. 221, Antigonus, the Macedonian king, came down into the Peloponnesus to the assistance of the Achaeans. Eager to revenge his country, Philopoemen joined him with a thousand foot and a body of horse, which Megalopolis placed under his command, and at the head of which he fought in the celebrated battle of Sellasia, in which Cleomenes was utterly defeated, and by which peace was for a time restored to Greece. The successful issue of this battle was mainly owing to the courage and abilities of Philopoemen, who had charged at the head of the Megalopolitan cavalry without orders, and had thus saved one wing of the army from defeat. The horse of Philopoemen was killed under him, but he continued to fight on foot, and did not leave the field even when both his sides had been struck through with a javelin. His conduct in this battle at once conferred upon Philopoemen the greatest reputation. Antigonus was anxious to take him into his service, and offered him a considerable command; but this he declined, as he still hoped to secure the independence of his country, and was unwilling to become the servant of a foreign power. But as there was no longer any war in Greece, and he was desirous of acquiring additional military experience, he set sail for Crete, where war was then waging between the cities of Cnossus and Lyttus. Cnossus was supported by the Aetolians, and Philopoemen accordigly espoused the side of Lyttus, and succeeded in securing the supremacy for the latter city. Of the history of his exploits in Crete, we are not informed; but we know that he added to his military reputation by his foreign campaigns, and accordingly on his return to his native country, in B. C. 210, he was at once appointed commander of the Achaean cavalry. He immediately introduced great reforms into this branch of the service, which, as well as the rest of the Achaean army, was in a miserable condition. Instead of allowing the wealthy citizens to send ineffective substitutes, he induced the young men of the higher class to serve in person, and by his personal influence and his judicious training soon formed them into an effective and well-disciplined body. At the head of his cavalry, Philopoemen accompanied Philip in B. C. 209, in his expedition against Elis, and, as usual, distinguished himself by his bravery. In an engagement near the borders of Elis and Achaia, he slew the Elean commander Demophantus with his own hand.

In B. C. 208, Philopoemen was elected strategus, or general of the Achaean league. The reforms which he had introduced with so much success in the cavalry, encouraged him to make still greater changes in the main body of the Achaean army. lle discontinued the use of the light arms which the Achaean soldiers had hitherto used, and substituted in their place heavy armour, long spears, and large shields; at the same time he trained them in the Macedonian tactics, and accustomed them to the close array of the phalanx. The in>flaence which he had acquired over his countrymen was now so great that he infused into them all a martial spirit, and led them to display in their arms and military equipments that love of pomp and splendour, which had been formerly exhibited in their furniture and private dwellings. There never was seen a more striking instance of the power of a master mind; in the course of a few months he transformed a luxurious people into a nation of soldiers, confident in their general, and eager to meet the foe. The Achaeans were at that time at war with Machanidas, tyrant of Lacedaemon ; and after eight months' careful training Philopoemen advanced against the enemy. Machanidas entered Arcadia, expecting to ravage it, as usual, without opposition; but upon reaching Tegea he was equally pleased and surprised to hear that the Achaean army was drawn up at Mantineia. He accordingly hastened forward, in full expectation of a complete victory. The battle was fought in the neighbourhood of Mantineia ; the Spartans were utterly defeated, and Machanidas fell by the hand of Philopoemen himself. [MACHANIDAS.] This last victory raised the fame of Philopoemen to its highest point; and in the Nemean festival, which next followed, being a second time general of the league, he was hailed by the assembled Greeks as the liberator of their country. He had now to a great extent rendered the Achaeans independent of Macedonia, and had therefore incurred the hatred of Philip, who attempted to remove him by assassination, as he had Aratus; but his treachery was discovered in time, and brought down upon him the hatred and contempt of the Greeks.

The battle of Mantineia secured peace to the Peloponnesus for a few years, and accordingly Philopoemen disappears from history for a short time. Meantime Nabis, who succeeded Machanidas in the tyranny of Sparta, had by the most infamous means acquired a dangerous and formidable power. Encouraged by the impunity with which he had been allowed to perpetrate his abominable crimes, he at last ventured upon greater undertakings. Accordingly, in B. C. 202 he surprised Messene, and took possession of the town, though he was at the time in alliance with the Messenians. Philopoemen, who at that time held no office, endeavoured to persuade Lysippus, who was then general of the league, to march to the assistance of Messene; but as he could not prevail upon Lysippus to make any movement, he gathered together some troops by his private influence, and led them against Nabis, who evacuated the town at his approach, and hastily retired into Laconia. This daring attempt of the robber chief of Sparta roused the Achaeans to the necessity of prompt measures for the purpose of repressing his incursions, and they accordingly elected Philopoemen general of the league in B. C. 201. The military skill of Philopoemen soon gave Nabis a severe chastisement. He drew the mercenaries of the tyrant into an ambush on the borders of Laconia, at a place called Scotitas, and defeated them with great slaughter. Philopoemen was succeeded in his office by Cycliades, who was regarded as a partizan of Philip; and it was probably this reason, as Thirlwali has suggested, which induced Philopoemen to take another voyage to Crete, and assume the command of the forces of Gortyna, which had been offered him by the inhabitants of that town. His absence encouraged Nabis to renew his attacks upon Megalopolis, and he reduced the citizens to such distress, that they were compelled to sow corn in the open spaces within the city to avoid starvation. Philopoemen did not return to the Peloponnesus till B. C. 194. The Megalopolitans were so incensed against him on account of his leaving them at a time when his services were so much needed, that they nearly passed a decree depriving him of the citizenship, and were only prevented from doing so by the interposition of Aristaenus, the general of the league. But the great mass of the Achaeans gladly welcomed him back again, and made him general of the league in B. C. 192. During his absence in Crete, the Romans had conquered both Philip and Nabis, and had proclaimed the independence of Greece. But as soon as Flamininus had left Greece, the Aetolians invited Nabis to commence hostilities again. The tyrant, nothing loth, forthwith proceeded to attack Gythium and the other maritime towns of Laconia, and made incursions into the territories of the Achaeans. At first the Achaeans would not take up arms, and sent an embassy to Rome to learn the senate's pleasure; but the danger of Gythimn at length became so pressing, that they commanded Philopoemen to relieve the town at once. His attempt to effect this by sea failed, in consequence of the inefficiency of his fleet, and the town was taken by assault on the very day that Philopoemen began to march against Sparta in order to create a diversion by land. Nabis having information of the movements of Philopoemen, took possession of a pass, through which the latter had to march; but although Philopoemen was thus taken by surprise, he extricated himself from his dangerous position by a skilful manoeuvre, and defeated the forces of the tyrant with such slaughter, that scarcely a fourth part was believed to have reached home. After ravaging Laconia unmolested for thirty days, Philopoemen returned home covered with glory, and was received by his countrymen with so much applause and distinction as to give umbrage to Flamininus, who did not feel flattered by the parallels that were drawn between him and Philopoemen. Shortly after these events Nabis was slain by the Aetolians. Philopoemen thereupon hastened to Sparta, which he found in a state of great confusion, and partly by force, partly by persuasion, made the city join the Achaean league.

The state of Greece did not afford Philopoemen much further opportunity for the display of his military abilities. He had been obliged to relinquish his fond dream of making the Achaeans a really independent power; for the Romans were now in fact the masters of Greece, and Philopoemen clearly saw that it would be an act of madness to offer open resistance to their authority. At the same time he perceived that there was a mean between servile submission and actual war; and as the Romans still recognised in words the independence of the league, Philopoemen offered a resolute resistance to all their encroachments upon the liberties of his country, whenever he could do so without affording the Romans any pretext for war. The remainder of Philopoemen's life was chiefly spent in endeavours of this kind, and he accordingly became an object of suspicion to the Roman senate. It was in pursuance of this policy that we find Philopoemen advising the Achaeans to remain quiet during the war between Antiochus and the Romans in Greece; and when Diophanes, who was general of the league in B. C. 191, eagerly availed himself of some disturbances in Sparta to make war upon the city, and was encouraged in his purpose by Flamininus, Philopoemen, after he had in vain endeavoured to persuade him to continue quiet, hastened to Sparta, and by his private influence healed the divisions that had broken out there; so that when the Achaean army arrived before the gates, Diophanes found no pretext for interfering. The Spartans were so grateful for the services which he had rendered them on this occasion, that they offered him a present of a hundred and twenty talents, which he at once declined, bidding them keep it for the purpose of gaining over bad men to their side, and not attempt to corrupt with money good men who were already their friends.

In B. C. 189 Philopoemen was again elected general of the league. He introduced in this year a change of some importance in the constitution of the league, by transferring the place of assembly from Aegium, which had hitherto possessed this privilege exclusively, to the other cities of the league in rotation. This innovation was intended to deprive the old Achaean towns of their exclusive privileges, and to diffuse the power more equally among the other cities of the league. Meantime, fresh disturbances had broken out at Sparta. The party there which had shown itself so grateful to Philopoenen was probably the one which he had placed at the head of affairs when he annexed Sparta to the league; but the great body of the inhabitants, who had been established in the place by Nabis and the other tyrants, were opposed to Philopoemen and the league. They especially dreaded lest by Philopoemen's influence the exiles should be restored, who had been expelled by the tyrants, and whose property they held at present. This party now obtained the upper hand, put to death thirty of Philopoemen's friends, and renounced their connection with the league. As soon as the Achaeans heard of these proceedings, they declared war against Sparta; and both Achaeans and Spartans laid their case before the Roman consul Fulvius Nobilior, who was then at Elis. Fulvius commanded them to send an embassy to Rome, and to abstain from war till they should learn the pleasure of the senate. The senate gave them an evasive answer, which the Achaans interpreted as a permission to prosecute the war. They accordingly re-elected Philopoemen general in B. C. 188. He forthwith marched against Sparta, which was unable to resist his forces, and was compelled to submit at discretion. The way in which he treated the unhappy city is a blot upon the memory of Philopoemen, and was a violation of those prudent principles which he had hitherto recommended, and had always acted upon himself; since his conduct gave the Romans a further pretext for interfering in the affairs of Greece. But his passions were roused by the recent execution of his friends, and he could not resist the opportunity of exacting from Sparta ample vengeance for all the wrongs she had formerly inflicted upon Megalopolis. He put to death eighty of the leading men in Sparta, commanded all the inhabitants who had received the franchise from the tyrants to leave the country by a certain day, razed the walls and fortifications of the city, abolished the institutions of Lycurgus, and compelled the citizens to adopt the Achaean laws in their stead. The exiles were likewise restored ; and three thousand citizens, who had not left the city by the day specified, were apprehended and sold as slaves, and the money arising from their sale was employed in building a colonnade at Megalopolis, which had been in ruins since the destruction of the city by Cleomenes. Philopoemen despatched Nicodemus to Rome to justify his conduct, but the senate expressed their disapprobation of his measures; and Q. Caecilius Metellus, who was sent on a mission into Greece in B. C. 185, censured still more strongly the treatment which Sparta had experienced.

In B. C. 183 Philopoemen was elected general of the league for the eighth time; it is probable that he held the office for the seventh time in B. C. 187, though it is not expressly mentioned Compp. Clinton, F.H ad ann. 187). Philopoemen was now seventy years of age, and was lying sick of a fever at Argos, when he heard that Deinocrates, who was a personal enemy of his, and who was secretly supported by Flamininus, had induced Messene to dissolve its connection with the league. Notwithstanding his illness, he immediately hastened to Megalopolis, hastily collected a body of cavalry, and pressed forward to Messene. He fell in with Deinocrates, whom he attacked and put to flight; but a fresh body of Messenian troops having come up, he was obliged to retire, and while he was keeping in the rear in order to protect the retreat of his troops, he was stunned by a fall from his horse, and fell into the hands of the Messenians. Deinocrates had him dragged into Messeinc with his hands tied behind his back, and afterwards exposed hint to the public gaze in the theatre; but perceiving that the people began to feel sympathy at his misfortunes, he hurried him into a narrow dungeon, and on the second night after his capture, sent an executioner to him with at cup of poison, which Philopoemen drank off calmly, after inquiring whether Lycortas and the cavalry had reached Megalopolis in safety.

Such was the unworthy end of this great man, who died in the same year as his great contemporaries Hannibal and Scipio. Thie news of his death filled the whole of Peloponnesus with grief and rage. An assembly was immediately held at Megalopolis; Lycortas was chosen general, and invaded Messenia in the following year with the flower of the Achaean troops burning for revenge. Messenia was laid waste far and wide, and Deinocrates and the chiefs of his party were obliged to put an end to their lives. The body of Philopoemen was burnt with great pomp, and his remains were conveyed to Megalopolis in solemn procession. The urn which contained the ashes was carried by the historian Polybius, and was received by his grateful fellow-citizens with the bitterest sorrow. His remains were then interred at Megalopolis with heroic honours; and soon afterwards statues of him were erected in most of the towns belonging to the Achaean league. (Plutarch, Life of Philopoemen ; Plb. 2.40, 10.24, 25, 11.8-10, 16.36, 22.23, 23.1, 2, 9, 10, 24.5, 9, 12 ; Liv. 35.25-29, 36, 38.31-34, 39.49, 50; Paus. 8.49-52, these four chapters are the most important; see also 4.29, 7.9, 8.27.15; Thirlwall, History of Greece, vol. viii. pp. 191, &c., 263, &c.)

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
183 BC (2)
252 BC (1)
222 BC (1)
221 BC (1)
210 BC (1)
209 BC (1)
208 BC (1)
202 BC (1)
201 BC (1)
194 BC (1)
192 BC (1)
191 BC (1)
189 BC (1)
188 BC (1)
187 BC (1)
185 BC (1)
hide References (25 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (25):
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.49
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.52
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.49.2
    • Polybius, Histories, 10.25
    • Polybius, Histories, 11.10
    • Polybius, Histories, 2.40
    • Polybius, Histories, 10.24
    • Polybius, Histories, 11.8
    • Polybius, Histories, 16.36
    • Polybius, Histories, 23.1
    • Polybius, Histories, 23.10
    • Polybius, Histories, 23.2
    • Polybius, Histories, 23.9
    • Polybius, Histories, 24.12
    • Polybius, Histories, 24.5
    • Polybius, Histories, 24.9
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 35, 25
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 38, 31
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 39, 49
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 35, 36
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 38, 34
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 35, 29
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 39, 50
    • Plutarch, Philopoemen, 1
    • Plutarch, Philopoemen, 18
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: