In 227 BCE, King Antigonus III ascended to the throne of Macedonia. He spent the first years of his reign mainly defending his borders, but King Antigonus soon obtained an incredible offer from the Peloponnesus. Around 225-224 BCE, he received and accepted a request from Aratus of Sicyon, calling for Macedonian troops to move into Achaean League territory in order to defend against an expansionist Sparta, ruled by a competent Spartan king named Cleomenes III (r. 225-222 BCE).
After accepting Aratus’ request, King Antigonus III and his army entered the Peloponnesus around 224 BCE and virtually turned the Achaean League into a protectorate. With the arrival of the Macedonians, King Cleomenes III set up a strong defense on the Oneian hills, but he was forced to retreat after the citizens of Spartan-occupied Argos rebelled. Following Cleomenes’ retreat, Antigonus moved in and pushed the Spartans back into Laconia and, from then on, Cleomenes could do little more than raid and pillage settlements. Nevertheless, the Spartans still had a powerful army, but money was running short and Macedonia had the advantage if a war of attrition developed. Therefore, King Cleomenes III was eager for a decisive victory to keep his soldiers’ morale high and to entice foreign lenders to invest money in his military campaign. This eagerness and desperation, however, resulted in the disastrous battle of Sellasia in 222 BCE, where much of the Spartan army was encircled and killed by Macedonian forces. After the battle, Cleomenes fled across the Mediterranean and Antigonus III occupied Sparta.
Unfortunately, a few days after occupying Sparta, Antigonus III had to rush his forces back to Macedonia to confront an Illyrian army that had invaded the Macedonian homeland during his absence. Either during his crushing of this Illyrian army, or possibly during the earlier battles against the Spartans, King Antigonus III supposedly shouted out such an enthusiastic and powerful battle cry that he ruptured a blood vessel, leading to a massive internal hemorrhage. Antigonus’ army defeated the Illyrians in 222 BCE, but he quickly fell ill from his peculiar wound and died in 221 BCE.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Sculpture from the MET museum (photographed by Shayna Michaels), in front of a painting of Alexander the Great by Pietro da Cortona (1596–1669), both [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- On Sparta (Life of Cleomenes), by Plutarch excerpted from his Parallel Lives, translated by Richard J. A. Talbert. New York: Penguin Classics, 2005.