Aratus (271-213 B.C.) was a Greek statesman and general of distinction whose main goal in life was the destruction of tyrants in the Peloponnesus.
Orphaned at the age of 7 when his family was massacred by a dictator, Aratus alone escaped to Argos. In 251 B.C., as leader of an exile assault force, he scaled the walls of Sicyon unobserved one night, captured the guardroom, and at dawn harangued the Sicyonians into overthrowing their dictator. At the age of 20 he became the idol of the Sicyonian democrats.
Aratus was a shrewd diplomat. He recalled all Sicyonian exiles but averted civil war within Sicyon. He brought Sicyon into the Achaean League, one of the two Greek federations of city-states of the time. From 245 on, the Achaean League elected him general every alternate year. The general, not allowed to succeed himself, implemented federal policy and executed the league's strategy. Aratus now operated in a wider field. In 243 he made a brilliant night attack on Corinth, freeing its fortress, Acrocorinth, from the Macedonian garrison and making Corinth a member of the Achaean League.
Threatened now by the hostility of Aetolia, the other federation, and of Macedon, Aratus found an ally in Agis IV of Sparta, attacked Athens and Argos which were proMacedonian, and by a sudden strike defeated the Aetolians when they invaded Achaea. On the death of Antigonus of Macedon in 240, Achaea and Aetolia formed a coalition against his successor, Demetrius. Their armies attacked Macedon's allies in 237 and 235, Aratus being general in each of these years. Argos survived numerous attacks, but Megalopolis joined the Achaean League, and Achaea and Aetolia divided the other Arcadian cities between them. The alliance broke down in 229, when Aetolia made a separate pact with Antigonus Doson, the successor of Demetrius. However, Aratus won over Argos, bringing the Achaean League to its zenith in the Peloponnesus.
Between 227 and 224 the Spartan king Cleomenes III shattered the Achaean League. Aratus, holding out in Sicyon, called upon Macedon for help and became Antigonus Doson's adjutant in his conquest of the Peloponnesus. Achaea and its army helped Antigonus defeat Sparta at Sellasia in 222. The elimination of Sparta left Achaea and Aetolia again as rivals in the Peloponnesus, and fighting broke out in 220. Aratus mishandled the campaign and persuaded Philip V of Macedon and the Hellenic League to declare war on Aetolia. In 219 an alliance of Aetolia, Elis, and Sparta pounded Achaea until Philip came south and relieved Achaea. As adjutant to Philip, Aratus fostered Achaean interests, but the Achaean army declined and the league was on the verge of collapse when Aratus, again general, reorganized it in 217. Aratus died in 213 as general, being accorded heroic honors at Sicyon.
Further Reading on Aratus
Ancient sources on Aratus include Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans and Polybius's Histories. A good modern account is F.W. Walbank, Aratos of Sicyon (1933).
Additional Biography Sources
Plutarch., Plutarch's Life of Aratus, New York: Arno Press, 1979.