Battle of Megalopolis 331 BC
They expected that Darius would
help them and send them much money so that they could gather great armies of
mercenaries, while Alexander would not be able to divide his forces.
One of the worst
documented battles of Alexanders reign. Nothing is known about the battle formation, except
that the battle was fought in hilly terrain and that the plain where both armies
met was too small to contain all the troops involved. It is said Megalopolis was
a battle with continuous action and mobility, but also a battle in which many
units had to wait for their chance to advance to the front line due to the lack
Agis had moved his theatre of operations to the Peloponnese and took with him
the veteran troops from Crete intending them as the backbone of an army to put
in the field against Antipater. With Alexander far off in Mesopotamia and the
15, 000 recruits well on the road to join him he had timed this escalation of
the war to perfection.
With his eastern flank secure, Antipater was
able to mobilise all of the military resources available in the spring of 330.
The army that was force-marched from Thrace included the whole of the 12,000
infantry and 1,500 cavalry of the national levy that had been left to him by
Alexander. He could have travelled more quickly by sea but chose the overland
route to pick up reinforcements and supplies from the allied and dependent
peoples he passed on the way. Thessaly provided the cavalrymen it was famous for
while the states of the Corinthian league were a rich source of hoplites and
light infantry. By the time he approached the Peloponnese Antipater commanded an
army 40,000 strong; a force larger than the one Alexander had led against
Persia. Although many of the high quality Macedonian troops had gone with the
king, he had made some amends by sending back 3,000 talents of treasure to his
regent. Three times the annual income Philip derived from the Thracian gold and
silver mines; this fortune allowed Antipater to fund the military contribution
of his allies and thicken out his ranks with mercenaries.
We hear of no opposition during the long
march through northern Greece though even a decade before the presence of a
Macedonian army south of Thermopylae would have created uproar. Even if sullen
acceptance was more general than genuine co-operation it was enough to show that
the lesson of Chaeronea had not been forgotten. All this must have been a source
of some satisfaction for Antipater-he had seen at first hand the success of his
policies of control in north and central Greece-as he approached the Spartan
lines outside Megalopolis.
The Megalopolitans had already undergone a
winter of siege and Antipater was anxious to rescue his allies. Somewhere near
the city the two armies met in battle. The Spartans finding themselves greatly
outnumbered had moved back into the hills where space was restricted and this
disparity might be less significant. The core of Agis' battle line was the whole
of the citizen army. Badians interpretation says that Agis III may have had
over 30,000, which is over generous, more likely he had 22,000 of these 8,000 may have been mercenaries
including the survivors of Issus, the Laconian complement
of Spartiates, inferiors and Perioeci cannot have numbered more than 6,000
leaving 8,000 for his Peloponnesian allies from Arcadia (except Megalopolis),
Achaea (barring Pellene and Elis which included 2,000 cavalry. Mercenary commander Thymodes
had led the 30,000 Greek mercenaries at Issus in the service of King Darius.
Nothing is actually heard from Thymodes after Issus and the veteran
mercenaries were in fact shipped to Sparta by a certain Hippias.
His allies provided thousands more of these hoplites but few horsemen as
generally cavalry did not flourish in the mountainous and agriculturally poor
Peloponnese. The mercenaries were mainly peltasts.
The army Antipater deployed
were generally inferior to those of
Agis. The reason for this is that Macedonia was already beginning to feel the
strain of the war in Persia. Just before Megalopolis Antipater had sent 15,000
reinforcements to Alexander. Of these, 6,000 must have been Macedonians and 4,000
Greek allies. So Antipater was beginning to run out of recruits. Also the fact
that the Macedonian phalanx broke early in the battle indicates his troops were
not of the of the first rank. The League of Corinth on this occasion supplied 23,000
with 12,000 Macedonians and 5,000 Thracian and Illyrians.
The Macedonian phalangites were the key, of which there were 12,000 of them
trained and drilled in the fashion taught by Philip. They were armed with their
twelve foot pike and they were massed 16 deep with the first 5 ranks holding
their sarissas level.
The Spartan hoplites formed up 8 deep but
used a shorter 8 foot spear and carried a hoplon, but they were meeting the
Macedonian phalanx for the first time. But the Spartans meeting the long sarissa
of the Macedonians found themselves up against a threat they were unused to. The
sight of the line of pikes approaching them unnerved them. Agis, as
Spartan kings traditionally did, fought in the front rank and was wounded early
on. Antipater's men with their discipline, greater numbers and growing
confidence were soon driving the coalition army back while the stricken Agis was
carried off on his shield by his bodyguard.
When their forced retreat had taken them to
higher ground the Spartans rallied with the terrain now giving some advantage
against their attackers. According to the Curtius a titanic struggle ensued. The
Spartan army "closed ranks and withstood the assault of the enemy line. The
battle revolved around the constant changes of fortunes on that day. However the
narrow terrain to which the fighting had been confined would not permit a full
scale engagement of the two forces.
The Spartans, by luck or stratagem, had drawn
their enemy onto a battlefield where the numerical superiority of the
Macedonians was nullified and where the rough ground made it difficult for their
phalanx to keep its formation. Finally the weight of the Macedonian phalanx told
and the Spartans retreat became more pronounced, the Antipater started exerting
pressure on his disordered foe and started pursuit of Agis. "Agis seeing his
army melt away stood his ground fighting to the bitter end. He was eventually
brought down by a javelin thrown from distance, a fatal blow received in the
chest, his breastplate having been removed to allow the earlier wound to be
Even with Agis dead, Antipater had no
intention of allowing the vanquished to fight another day and a vigorous pursuit
was mounted. The Macedonian cavalry and light infantry chased down the fleeing
Peloponnesians well into the night. Over a quarter of Agis' army had perished
with him but Antipater also sustained heavy losses with many wounded.
It is written 5,300 died on the Spartan side and 3,500 on the Macedonian side.
But even for Antipater's side normal battle statistics would
indicate that up to 90 percent of the Macedonian army might have been wounded,
just as Curtius Rufus records.
This had been no easy victory with the regent drawing on all his experience and
tenacity as well as his tactical skills. An achievement that certainly did not
merit the reported remark of Alexander "It seems, my friends that while we have
been conquering Darius here, there has been a battle of mice in Arcadia. "