Soon, however, Antigonus the king marched with the Achaeans to give aid against Cleomenes, and finding that his enemy was occupying the heights and passes about Sellasia, he drew up his forces near by with the purpose of attacking him and forcing a passage.1
Philopoemen was stationed among the Macedonian cavalry with his own fellow-citizens,2
and had as a support the Illyrians, a large body of good fighters, who closed up the line of battle.
They had been ordered to lie quietly in reserve until, from the other wing, a signal should be made by the king with a scarlet coat stretched upon a spear. But the Illyrians, at the command of their officers, tried to force back the Lacedaemonians, while the Achaeans, as they had been ordered to do, kept quietly waiting at their post. Therefore Eucleidas, the brother of Cleomenes, who noticed the gap thus made in the enemies' line, quickly sent round the most agile of his light-armed troops, with orders to attack the Illyrians in the rear and rout them, now that they had lost touch with the cavalry.
These orders were carried out, and the light-armed troops were driving the Illyrians before them in confusion, when Philopoemen perceived that it would be no great task to attack the light-armed troops, and that the occasion prompted this step. At first he pointed this out to the king's officers. Then, when they were not to be persuaded by him, but looked down upon him as a madman (since his reputation was not yet great enough to justify his being entrusted with so important a manoeuvre), he took matters into his own hands, formed his fellow-citizens into a wedge, and charged upon the enemy.
At first the light-armed troops were thrown into confusion, then put to rout with great slaughter. And now Philopoemen, wishing to encourage still further the king's troops and bring them swiftly upon the enemy thus thrown into disorder, quitted his horse, and with grievous difficulty forced his way along on foot, in his horseman's breastplate and heavy equipment, towards ground that was irregular and full of water-courses and ravines. Here he had both his thighs pierced through by a thonged javelin. The wound was not fatal, though severe, and the head of the weapon came out on the other side.
At first, then, he was held fast as by a fetter, and was altogether helpless; for the fastening of the thong made it difficult to draw the weapon back through the wound. But since those about him hesitated to attempt this, and since, now that the battle was at its hottest, the ardour of his ambition made him impatient to join in the struggle, by moving his legs backward and forward he broke the shaft of the weapon in two in the middle, and then ordered each fragment to be drawn out separately.
Thus set free, he drew his sword and made his way through the front ranks against the enemy, thereby greatly animating the combatants and inspiring them with a desire to emulate his valour. After his victory, therefore, Antigonus put his Macedonians to the question, and asked them why, without his orders, they had brought the cavalry into action.
They defended themselves by saying that they had been forced against their will to attack the enemy, because a young man of Megalopolis had first led a charge against them. At this, Antigonus gave a laugh and said:
‘Well, then, that young man behaved like a great commander.’