CXII. DEATH OF AGIS.
When Agis heard of the changes which had been taking place in Sparta during his absence, he quickly went home. On arriving in the city, he found the party of the rich so powerful that he could not oppose them, and was even forced to seek refuge in a temple, as Leonidas and Cleombrotus had each done in turn.
His wife, A-gi-a´tis, forced by illness to stay at home, could not show her love by following him there; but a few faithful friends went with him, and kept guard over him. Their watchfulness was needed, because Agis slipped out of the temple every night to go to the bath and refresh himself.
It happened, however, that two of these friends were false. They basely took the bribes offered by the ephors for information about the king, and told them that he left the temple every night, and for what purpose.
Thus advised, the ephors surprised the little party the next night, and thrust Agis into prison. He was tried and condemned to death by order of Leonidas, and thus died when only twenty-two years of age, after having vainly tried for three years to bring the Spartans back to their former simplicity and virtue.
Leonidas, not content with killing Agis, gave the widow Agiatis in marriage to his son, Cle-om´e-nes, who was a mere boy, several years younger than she. Agiatis soon won great influence over the young prince, and told him so much about her dead husband, that he tried to follow the example of Agis in everything.
When Leonidas died, Cleomenes succeeded him, and, thanks to the teachings of his wife, was both great and virtuous. He drove away the ephors, who were rich and corrupt, and then distributed all the property equally among the people, as Agis had planned.
When Aratus heard of the reforms made by Cleomenes, he began to fear that Sparta would win back her former power, and again try to lord it over the rest of Greece. To prevent such a misfortune, he decided to attack the Spartan king while he was too young to excel in the art of war.
He therefore advanced with a good army; but, to his surprise and dismay, he was completely defeated by the young king. Several of the smaller towns now showed a desire to leave the Achæan League and join Sparta, so Aratus became more eager than ever to suppress her rising power.
In his eagerness he forgot all caution, and even asked help of Antigonus Do´son, King of Macedon, the successor of Antigonus Gonatas. This ruler owed his surname of Doson (“who will give”) to a bad habit of promising all kinds of gifts to his followers,—promises which were never kept.
Antigonus Doson was only too glad to send a Macedonian army into Greece, and not only garrisoned the fortress on the Isthmus of Corinth, but also sent troops on into the Peloponnesus.
CXIII. THE WAR OF THE TWO LEAGUES.
The Achæan and Macedonian armies now met the Spartans at Sel-la´sia, in Laconia, where the latter were badly defeated, and Sparta fell into the enemy’s hands. Antigonus was so proud of his victory that he burst a blood vessel upon hearing the news, and died shortly after.
Before he closed his eyes, however, he had the satisfaction of driving Cleomenes away from Greece into Egypt. There the young king fell upon his sword, after killing his children, rather than become a slave. Tyrants were now allowed again in many of the Greek cities, in spite of the remonstrances of Aratus, who learned only too late that the Macedonians had come into the Peloponnesus merely for the purpose of making themselves masters of the country.
Aratus’ eyes were opened. He saw that all his efforts were vain, and that, owing to his own imprudence, Greece would never again be free. In his grief, his presence of mind quite forsook him. He did not know what steps to take in order to undo all the harm he had done.
The Ætolians now became the champions of freedom, and marched against the Achæans, whom they defeated. In their distress, the Achæans once more begged the Macedonians to interfere, and send troops into Greece.
The contest which followed is known as the War of the Two Leagues, and lasted for some time. In the beginning, the Macedonian king allowed Aratus to take the lead, and followed all his directions; but, growing weary of this subordinate part, he finally poisoned the Achæan leader, and became head of the league himself.
When the Spartans and Ætolians, who had joined forces, found that the Achæans and Macedonians were likely to prove too strong for them, they also began to look around for allies. As the fame of the rising city of Rome had reached them, they finally sent thither for the help they needed.
The Romans were then rapidly extending their territory, and hoped soon to become masters of the world, so they were glad to help the Spartans against the Macedonians, who were already their enemies.
They therefore speedily came to the Spartans’ aid, set fire to the Achæan and Macedonian ships, and defeated their armies so sorely, that Philip was obliged to beg for peace and to give them his son as a hostage.
The Spartans, having thus freed themselves from the yoke of the Achæan League, now fell into far worse hands, for they were governed by a tyrant named Na´bis,—a cruel and miserly man, who, in order to increase his treasure, often had recourse to vile stratagems.
He had made a cunning instrument of torture, on purpose to obtain money from any one he wished. This was a statue, the exact image of his wife, clad in magnificent robes. Whenever he heard that any man was very rich, Nabis used to send for him. After treating him with exaggerated politeness, the tyrant would gently advise him to sacrifice his wealth for the good of the state.
If his guest refused to do so, Nabis would invite him to visit his wife, and lead the unsuspecting man close to the statue. This was made so as to move by a system of cunningly arranged springs, and as soon as the victim came within reach, the statue’s arms closed tightly around him.
The terrified guest, caught in an irresistible embrace, then found himself drawn closer and closer, and pressed against sharp points and knives hidden under the rich garments.
It was only, when the tortured man had solemnly promised to give up all he owned, that the tyrant Nabis would set him free; but if he resisted, he was killed by slow torture, and allowed to bleed to death in the statue’s embrace.
CXIV. THE LAST OF THE GREEKS.
When Aratus died, the principal man in the Achæan army was Phil-o-pœ´men, a brave and virtuous young man. He was patriotic in the extreme, and so plain and unassuming that no one would have suspected his rank.
On one occasion, when he had reached the dignity of general, he was invited to dine at a house where the hostess was a stranger to him. When he came to the door, she took him for a servant, on account of his plain clothes, and curtly bade him go and split wood.
Without saying a word, Philopœmen threw aside his cloak, seized an ax, and set to work. The host, on coming up a few minutes later, was horrified to see his honored guest cutting wood, and was profuse in his apologies for a mistake which only made Philopœmen laugh.
When Philopœmen heard how cruel Nabis was, he wanted to free Sparta from his tyranny. So he entered the town at the head of an armed force of men, confiscated the treasures for the benefit of the public, and drove Nabis away.
The Spartans were at first very grateful to the Achæans for freeing them, but they soon began to feel jealous of their power, and again rose up in revolt against them. This time Philopœmen treated the Spartans with the utmost severity, even razing the walls of the city, which were never rebuilt.
Philopœmen was farsighted enough to see from the beginning that the Roman alliance would prove bad for Greece. He soon discovered that the Romans intended to subdue the country, and in order to do so most easily were trying to make the people quarrel among themselves.
All his efforts were therefore directed toward keeping peace, and for a time he was quite successful. But the Romans, seeing no other way to bring about a quarrel, at last bribed the Messenians to revolt.
In the course of the war, Philopœmen was led into an artfully arranged ambuscade, and was taken in chains to Messenia, where, notwithstanding his gray hair, he was exposed to the jeers of the common people.
After thus humiliating him, they led him to the place of torture; but when he heard that his army had escaped from the ambush, he fervently cried, “I die happy, since the Achæans are safe.”
This only hastened the end of the brave patriot, who has been called the “Last of the Greeks,” because he was the last to try to maintain his country’s independence.
The Achæans soon after took the town of Messenia, stoned all Philopœmen’s murderers on his tomb, and carried his ashes to Meg-a-lop´o-lis, his native city, where they were buried with great pomp.
CXV. GREECE A ROMAN PROVINCE.
For centuries the Greeks had been in the habit of assembling at Corinth every three years for the celebration of the Isthmian games, in honor of Poseidon, god of the sea. Here, as at Olympia, there were races, wrestling and boxing matches, and contests in verse and song; and as usual the prizes were simple crowns of olive leaves, which were considered far more precious than silver or gold.
In 196 B.C. not only were the Greeks present at this celebration, but there were also many Romans who wished to witness the games. The Greeks were then particularly happy because the War of the Two Leagues seemed to be ended, and the country was at peace.
In the midst of the festival, Quin´tius Flam-i-ni´nus, the Roman consul, mounted the orator’s block, and proclaimed that the Roman army had just won a great victory over the revolted King of Macedon, and that the Greek states were now indeed free.
These tidings were received with such a tumult of joyful cries, it is said, that a flock of birds that were flying overhead fell to the earth, stunned by the shock of cheers which rent the air.
This joy, however, did not last very long, for the new-won freedom of Greece existed in name only. As soon as the Romans had completed the conquest of Macedon under its last ruler, Perseus, they prepared to annex Greece also.
Their first move was to accuse the Achæans of sending aid to Macedon. Under this pretext, one thousand leading citizens were seized, and sent to Rome to be tried.
Here they were kept in exile for many a year, longing to go home, and fuming against their detention. When they were finally allowed to return, they were so imbittered, that, as the Romans had foreseen, they soon stirred up a revolt among the Achæans.
Æ-mil´i-us Pau´lus, the conqueror of Macedon, then marched into Greece, and swept over the whole country. He took the city of Corinth, and burned it to the ground, after carrying off many of its most precious works of art to adorn his triumph.
Such was the ignorance of the Romans at that time, however, about all matters of art, that the sailors who were to carry these treasures to Rome were warned by the consul to be careful, as they would have to replace any article they had damaged or lost.
The Romans then placed garrisons in the principal Greek towns, and the country became a mere province of Rome, under the name of Achaia.
Thus ends the history of ancient Greece, which, though so small, was yet the most famous country the world has ever known,—the country from which later nations learned their best lessons in art, philosophy, and literature.