Aratus (271 BC - 213 BC) was a statesman of the ancient Greek city-state of Sicyon in the 3rd century BC. He deposed the Sicyon tyrant Nicocles in 251 BC. Aratus was an advocate of Greek unity and brought Sicyon into the Achaean League, which he led to its maximum extent. He was elected strategos numerous times and led the Achaeans against Macedonia, the Aetolians and the Spartans. After the Spartans defeated and nearly destroyed the cities of the Achaean League, he requested Antigonus Doson of Macedonia to help fight against the Aetolians and Spartans. After Antigonus died in 222 BC, Aratus did not get along with Philip V of Macedon, who wanted to make the Achæan League subject to Macedonia. Polybius and Plutarch record that Philip had Aratus poisoned. (Polybius 8.14; Plutarch Aratus 52)
In 264 BC, Abantidas led a new revolt. Clinias was slain. Abantidas sought to kill the 7 years old Aratus. Aratus escaped after wandering into the home of Soso, Abantidas' sister, who had also been married to Prophantus (Clinias' brother). She was so emotionally moved by the child's circumstance that she hid him until nightfall, and then sent him off to Argos.
In Argos, Aratus was educated with liberal notions by other exiles, many of whom had been friends of his family. Aratus grew to hate tyranny. Aratus also attended the Argos' palaestra regularly, developing an athletic body, noted in statues. He even won the pentathlon once.
Soon, Aratus became a political leader in exile. He was admired because of both his aristocratic birth and his enthusiasm.
At this time, Nicocles was the latest tyrant of Sicyon. His reign had begun four months previously, and was marked by the brutal suppression of all opposition. He feared Aratus so he commissioned spies to follow him in Argos.
Aratus considered his future, and nothing in Macedonia, with King Antigonus II, nor in Egypt, with King Ptolemy II, looked promising. Consequently, Aratus decided to liberate Sicyon with the help of the other exiles. The revolt had to be swift, avoiding any protracted conflict, which they could not afford.
In 251 BC, Aratus and his men slipped into Sicyon quietly at night, climbing the steep wall on the rocky side with ladders. Right before the dawn, Aratus captured the guards, and he sent orders to spread the news of the revolt to the local people so they might join. At dawn, all Sicyon surrounded the palace and, after a herald harangued them, the people thronged into the palace which was set afire. The flames could be seen from Corinth, 12 km away. Nicocles escaped through an underground passageway. Aratus divided the spoils from the palace between his soldiers and the people. Only one citizen was killed in his revolt.
Aratus resorted to Ptolemy, King of Egypt, to help Sicyon. Ptolemy was a personal friend because Aratus often sent him Greek paintings, made by famous artists from Sicyon, which was an important center of art. Ptolemy had already sent 25 talents, but this wasn't enough. Aratus decided to visit him personally. After a hazardous trip, during which he was almost captured by the Macedonians, Aratus arrived in Egypt. Ptolemy presented Sicyon with 150 talents. This calmed Sicyon definitively and the exiles erected a brass statue on Aratus' behalf.
The Macedonian King Antigonus began a calumny campaign against Aratus, to destroy the friendship between Ptolemy and Aratus. Ptolemy sent diplomats to Sicyon to clear the issue.
Soon, it was clear that Aratus lived only for Sicyon's prosperity, which was what determined who could be considered one of his friends.
Again as Strategos in 243 BC, Aratus led 400 men to Corinth, leading the finest 100 men personally right into the garrison, through the secret passage. The Macedonians were overwhelmed by the assaulters. The next morning, Corinth's garrison surrendered and the entire Achaean army arrived.
Aratus gathered all the Corinthians at the theater. Aratus was wearing his armour and leaned on his spear, which he held in his right hand. Without his uttering a word, the multitude acclaimed him. Aratus spoke on behalf of the Achaean League, asking the Corinthians to join them. Then he returned the city's keys, which had been taken by the Macedonians. The Achaeans garrisoned Corinth with 400 men.
Aratus attempted to liberate Athens. In the Thriasian Plain, his leg was severely broken, but he stayed on using a litter. Eventually, he captured Athens' Academy and pardoned the local people. Later, Aratus convinced Diogenes, the local Macedonian commander, to sell Piraeus, Munychia, Salamis, and Sunium, which he had until then held for Macedonia, to the Athenians, for 150 talents (20 of which were paid by Aratus).
On hearing news of this, Aegina, Hermione, and most Arcadian cities joined the Achaean League. Also, by Aratus' insistence, Aristomachos brought Argos into the league and he was appointed Strategos. Phliasia also joined at this time.
Furthermore, Cleomenes overthrew all Spartan political institutions so that he could raid with fewer restrictions. Consequently, Aratus began corresponding secretly with Antigonus. Soon the Macedonians were called \"Confederate\", garrisoning some Peloponnesian cities again and aiding other cities with troops. For instance, Corinth was reinforced by Macedonian troops although its garrison was still Achaean.
Mantineia fell and, then, Cleomenes demanded being appointed Strategos. The Achaean council invited him to Argos for talks but Cleomenes brought his entire army to Lerna, which was a distance of 4 km from Argos. This alarmed Aratus and he suggested to Cleomenes that, as \"good friends\", just 300 Spartans may enter Argos. Cleomenes felt offended by the offer and, in the Achaean Council, both argued so bitterly that Cleomenes formally declared war on the league.
Sparta captured most Achaean cities and Aratus witnessed his league crumble. Aratus was commanded to police the league. Thus, he executed people, both in Sicyon and in Corinth. The Corinthians attempted to abduct Aratus but they failed. Subsequently, Corinth surrendered voluntarily to Sparta. The city was garrisoned and further fortified.
Both Aetolia and Athens denied further assistance to the League. Aratus, who was still being appointed Strategos yearly, became a weak Greek political figure, with neither power nor hope.
Nonetheless, Cleomenes showed many courtesies towards Aratus, desiring to ingratiate himself with the league. Aratus' Corinthian estate wasn't touched, while Cleomenes offered him a 12 talent pension. Aratus declined to accept these gifts, excusing himself:
Aratus met Antigonus III at Pegae. The Macedonian King had brought 20,000 soldiers plus 1,300 cavalrymen. They swore reciprocal fidelity, although Aratus, understandably, was scared, after years of war, and especially since his own career had begun hating the previous Macedonian Kings. However, soon he discovered that Antigonus admired him.
Immediately, the renewed Achaean League smashed the Spartan threat. Argos, Corinth, Mantineia, and all other cities were retaken. Cleomenes was defeated decisively at Sellasia, in 222 BC, after which he fled to Egypt.
Some time before the alliance, Aratus had done a sacrifice where two conjoined gallbladders were found. The interpretation was that "two bitter enemies would join amicably." This was remembered when, watching an entertainment at Corinth, both Aratus and Antigonus ended protected from a very cold weather, under the same cloak.
However, the Peloponnesians criticized Aratus harshly, for he allowed the Macedonians to torture, execute, pillage, and so forth indiscriminately. For instance, Aratus witnessed many statues erected which represented the former tyrants, while those which represented the leaders who had liberated Corinth were torn down. Among these, only Aratus' statue was left.
In 218 BC, Phillip's royal advisors tricked him into supporting Epiratos, who was Aratus' rival. Epiratos was elected Strategos. However, the Macedonian King discovered the calumnious maneuver and punished the deceitful advisors. The King returned his support to Aratus, so Aratus was Strategos again, in 217 BC.
No longer under the threat of Macedonian invasion, the Achaean League dissipated. Aetolia took advantage of this situation to pillage the Peloponnesus again, this time with some Spartan assistance. Aratus convinced Philip personally to harass Aetolia with his army by surprise, in 217 BC. Aetolia was forced to sign a peace.
With his experience, Aratus was the person who taught the young King the most about both royal policies and behavior. For this reason, Aratus was so hated by the other advisors that they insulted Aratus bitterly on any occasion. Their leaders were Apelles and Leontius. Eventually, they were executed by the King.
Accordingly, by secret meetings, Philip V provoked a civil war capriciously in Messene, pitting magistrates against demagogues. Aratus could do nothing to reconcile the parties, and 200 magistrates were slain. Aratus reproached the King quite bitterly over this event. To settle things down, the King invited Aratus, to a religious sacrifice at Mt. Ithome. There, Aratus said:
After being defeated by the Romans, Philip V returned to the Peloponnesus. The King complicated the Messene's politics again and then the ravaged their country, without a reason. Once more, Aratus reacted openly against him. Furthermore, he was then informed about his daughter-in-law's affair, although Aratus didn't tell anything to his son.
Philip V had become completely tyrannical, and he decided to end this bitter confrontation by killing Aratus. The King planned to do this discretely, during his absence. So the Macedonian general Taurion was assigned to this task After getting acquainted with him, Taurion administered a slow effect poison to Aratus. Aratus began suffering progressive heats and coughs while his body decayed slowly but steadily.
Aratus understood the situation but he knew that nothing could be done politically. Thus, he kept silence. Only once, he commented to a friend:
Although the local people were ready to bury him with great pomp, Sicyon claimed the corpse. Since it was prohibited to bury him inside the city, the citizens consulted Delphi's oracle. They were so happy by the response that the burial became a festival. Aratus' corpse was buried at the most conspicuous spot, which was then named Arateium.