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Hellenistic People III: Lydiades of Megalopolis

On this website you can find all sorts of articles about the Ancient Greek world. But the main goal of the Hellenistic History platform is to provide you with more insight into the different aspects of the Hellenistic world. Aside from this series, in which we have a look at some of the famous and especially not-so-famous figures, you can also check out the Hellenistic Women and Hellenistic Cities series. In today’s blog post I want to introduce you to Lydiades of Megalopolis. 

Why we do not know his exact date of birth, Lydiades of Megalopolis, who was part of the city’s elite, rose to prominence in late 250s BC . Both he and other members of his family are well attested in the epigraphical material of Megalopolis: Lydiades and his father Eudamos were the subject of a hero cult (SEG 52 447) and his son Aristopamon had an equestrian statue dedicated to him (SEG 48 524). Pausanias mentions him as one of the Megalopolitan leaders at the Battle of Mantinea in 249 BC. This seems to have increased his influence in the city and allowed him to establish himself as the sole ruler of the polis. Like other tyrants in the Peloponnese, Lydiades had most likely come to power with the support of the Macedonian kings who benefited from the installment of pro-Macedonian governments. 

After about ten years of sole-rule, in 235 BC, Lydiades gave up his power over Megalopolis and the city became part of the Achaean League. Lydiades himself became a successful Achaean statesman, becoming a formidable rival of Aratus of Sikyon in the process. He was chosen as the strategos or federation’s leader three times between 234 and 229 BC. Aratus, who up until that point had been the star of the Achaean Koinon, is said to have been less than thrilled with this sudden competition and their relationship soured in this period. When Lydiades tried to convince the Achaians of the necesity for an expedition against Sparta, he was opposed by Aratos (Plut. Ar. 30. 3). Yet, Megalopolis came under Spartan attack in 226 BC during the Achaian War with Kleomenes, Lydiades went on to defend it in the battle at Mount Lykaion, even when Aratos, who was acting as strategos, had not consented to a confrontation with the enemy (Plut. Kleo. 6). Lydiades, who had been chosen as the the League’s hipparch, led the cavalry against the Spartans, but his over-eagerness led him to make mistakes and fell on the battlefield. 

Now that you know a bit more about Lydiades and his life, on question remains. Why would a tyrant give up his power and choose for his city to become part of a federal state? According to Polybius, (Pol. 2. 44. 5): 

‘Λυδιάδας μὲν οὖν ὁ Μεγαλοπολίτης ἔτι ζῶντος Δημητρίου, κατὰ τὴν αὑτοῦ
προαίρεσιν, πάνυ πραγματικῶς καὶ φρονίμως προϊδόμενος τὸ μέλλον
ἀπετέθειτο τὴν τυραννίδα καὶ μετεσχήκει τῆς ἐθνικῆς συμπολιτείας’

‘while Demetrios was still alive, Lydiades of Megalopolis anticipated the future,
laid down his tyranny willingly with great pragmatism and good sense, and
adhered to the ethnic confederation’.

Both Plutarch and Pausanias continue this positive depiction of Lydiades. It is more than likely however that both Plutarch and Pausanias had based their accounts on that of Polybius, who – as a Megalopolitan himself – had every reason to paint an extremely favourable picture of the man that joined Megalopolis with the Achaian koinon. This makes it even more difficult to get an answer, but this does not leave us without options. However, it must have become apparent by 235 BC that Achaia under the leadership of Aratos, at least in the Peloponnese, was a force to be reckoned with. Both Lydiades and his predecessor Aristodamos were men who like other tyrants in the Peloponnese had come to power as tyrants in their city through the support of Macedon. Lydiades may therefore have realised that renouncing his claim on the city would be the best possible course of action. Additionally Plutarch also tells us that (Plut. Ar. 30. 1):

‘ὡς δ᾽ οὖν τὸν Ἀρίστιππον ἀνεῖλεν, εὐθὺς ἐπεβούλευσε Λυδιάδῃ τῷ
Μεγαλοπολίτῃ τυραννοῦντι τῆς ἑαυτοῦ πατρίδος’ 

(‘after he (Aratos) had defeated Aristippos (i.e. the tyrant of Argos), he started to
plot immediately against Lydiades, who was a tyrant in his hometown of
Megalopolis.).

This statement suggests that the idea of an Achaian attack on Megalopolis was a genuine possibility and will have played a significant role in the motivations of Lydiades as well as the polis to join the federation.228 As his actions in Sikyon in 251 BC (Plut. Ar. 4-9) and Argos in 229 BC illustrate (Plut. Ar. 4-9; 27-29), Aratos did not hesitate to abolish tyrannies in the Peloponnese that were established through Macedonian support. Nonetheless, the apparent selflessness of the ex-tyrant’s actions should be doubted. Judging from the rest of Plutarch’s account it appears Lydiades was also motivated by a sense of self preservation. After all, he did have a promising career within federal politics after Megalopolis became part of the Achaian koinon (Plut. Ar. 30-31). While the koinon was a democracy, former tyrants could easily pursue a political career for themselves, since Lydiades is not the only one to become an Achaian strategos. For example, a year after Argos joined the Achaian koinon, its former tyrant Aristomachos was chosen as strategos.

In conclusion, Lydiades was motivated by personal gain, as is illustrated by his subsequent federal career, but his motives behind the decision to give up his tyranny of Megalopolis were also connected to the well-being of the polis and its citizens who could have exercised pressure from below for a non-tyrannical, democratic government.

 

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