Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 62, 63 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here
Memnon Leads Thracian Uprising
King Agis Leads Greek Rebellion
Antipater Settles With Memnon
Battle of Megalopolis: Macedonians Victorious
Agis Dies Heroically
With hindsight, we can call the Battle of Gaugamela the decisive encounter between Alexander and Darius. Even though Darius escaped, his defeat brought about the death of the Archaemenid Empire and birth of its Argead successor.
At the time, however, Gaugemala was not seen in such terms. At least, not by the Greeks. Diodorus states that when the Greek cities heard about Alexander’s victory at Gaugamela they ‘became alarmed at the growth of Macedonian power and decided that they should strike for their freedom while the Persian cause was still alive’. For them, Darius was down but not out. Indeed, the Greeks had an expectation that he would send money ‘so that [the Greeks] could gather great armies of mercenaries.’
The first Greek rebellion came from Memnon, governor-general of Thrace. Memnon was ‘a man of spirit’. He ‘stirred up the tribesmen’ of Thrace so well that Antipater was obliged to send the entire Macedonian army north to quell the insurrection.
At some point during the Thracian campaign, Sparta issued a call to arms in defence of Greek freedom. Athens, which ‘had been favoured beyond all the other Greeks by Alexander’ remained still. ‘Most of the Peloponnesians, however, and some of the northern Greeks’ came over to Sparta’s side.
The allied Geek army numbered ‘not less than’ 20,000 infantry and around 2,000 cavalry. It was led by Sparta with King Agis at the head.
Upon hearing about Sparta’s revolt, Antipater hurriedly came to terms with Memnon and headed south. Along the way he added men to the Macedonian army’s numbers from those cities that ‘were still loyal’. By this means, he brought the army’s strength to ‘not less than’ 40,000.
The two armies met ‘near Megalopolis’, according to the Footnotes. During the battle, King Agis was killed. In contrast to the Persians at Gaugamela, the Spartans kept fighting. The battle only ended when Sparta’s allies fell out of position. At that point (to avoid a rout?), the Spartan army retreated and returned home.
Casualty figures according to Diodorus
- Spartans + allies ‘more than’ 5,300
- Macedonians + allies 3,500
The figures above are for deaths only – Diodorus doesn’t give any figures for the numbers of wounded on either side.
Diodorus ends the chapter with an account of Agis’ death. After fighting ‘gloriously’ and receiving ‘many frontal wounds’ the king was escorted away from the battlefield, only to be surrounded by Macedonians. Concerned that his men should live to fight another day, Agis sent them away. As for himself, he gripped his sword, lifted himself up, and began fighting once more.
Upon hearing of the battle, Alexander was less than complimentary to both Antipater and Agis, calling the war a battle of mice, but he must surely have appreciated the nobility of the Spartan king’s demise.
Chapter 62 begins a new year in Diodorus’ chronology (July 330 – June 329 B.C.). The Battle of Gaugamela, however, took place at the start of October in 331 B.C. Further to this, the Footnotes state that the Battle of Megalopolis ‘probably’ took place before that of Gaugamela rather than afterwards as Diodorus suggests.
Memnon, the governor-general of Thrace is obviously not the same Memnon who fought Alexander at the Granicus River. That Memnon died not long afterwards (see Chapter 29).
Antipater is mentioned in Chapter 62 for the first time since Alexander left Macedon. Alexander left him there to govern the country, and in the king’s absence, to keep an eye on Greece.
If King Agis’ name seems familiar, that is because we saw him in Chapter 48 when he campaigned in Crete. It will be noted that whereas in Ch. 48 Diodorus described Agis as wanting ‘to change the political situation in Greece in favour of Dareius’, his objective was now simply to win freedom from Macedonian rule. Persia’s hoped-for role, it seems, was simply to provide the money for the mercenaries.
Further to the above, the Footnotes also state that no other source mentions Memnon’s revolt. Not only that but Memnon later brought reinforcements to the king ‘and took part in his later operations in the East’.
Spartan Q & A
Why did Sparta lose the Battle of Megalopolis?
It didn’t lose, it defied victory.
Do you wish you could have fought without the help of allies?
Sparta had no allies at Megalopolis, only subordinates.
How great a blow was Agis’ death?
It was a deadly one – for him.
Did it hurt having to seek Persian help?
We never sought, only found.
There is nothing like Spartan pride.
And never will be.