History: 331 BC: Battle of Megalopolis, Alexander Beats the Spartans

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A Brief History

At an unknown date in 331 BC, a Macedonian army of Alexander the Great, led by his regent, Antipater, defeated the forces of Sparta, led by King Agis III.  The Spartan King had conspired with the mortal enemy of the Greeks, the Persians, and had let on his plans to attack the Macedonian forces of Alexander.

Digging Deeper

Megalopolis, founded in 371 BC and located in the southern Greek region of Arcadia, was the first city of note in Arcadia, boasting a theater that could hold 20,000 people.  The city today has a population of less than 6000, but was believed in Ancient Greece to have been a site of the battles between the Titans and the Olympians (Greek Gods).

The Persians were unable to provide much support for King Agis and his Spartans, so Agis rounded up the mercenary survivors of the Battle of Issus, men who had fought for the Persians.  In the summer of 331 BC, Agis led his army against the Macedonian garrison of  the Peoloponnese and Corninth led by Corrhagus, defeating the Macedonians.  While Agis was battling Corrhagus, Antipater was busy in Thrace putting down a rebellion led by the Macedonian General Memnon.  When Antipater had solved that crisis, he led his army back south to find and defeat Agis and his Spartans.  Agis was occupied with the siege of Megalopolis, an anti-Spartan city and the capital of Arcadia when the Macedonians arrived.

The Macedonians were augmented with troops drawn from the barbarians of the north, and numbered around 40,000.  The Spartans had about half that number (22,000), and despite early success, the Spartans were crushed by the larger force.  Over 5300 of the Spartan soldiers died, at a cost of 3500 Macedonians.  When defeat became inevitable, the Spartan King, wounded and unable to stand, insisted on being left behind to help cover the retreat of the main force, and is said to have taken several Macedonian lives before being killed by a javelin.

Alexander the Great, only 24 or 25 years old at the time of Megalopolis, had already conquered much of the Persian Empire, but would die only 8 years later at the age of 32.  Antipater was not only a military leader and regent of Alexander, but was like Alexander educated by Aristotle and was named the executor of Aristotle’s will.  Antipater lived a long 78 year life and died of natural causes in 319 BC having looked after the Empire (with others) after Alexander’s death, again acting as regent for the son of Alexander.  Antipater also left a literary legacy of 2 books of letters and a work of history.

The Battle of Megalopolis was the decisive defeat of the Spartans and forced Sparta into the League of Corinth, a cornerstone of Alexander’s attempt to unify Greece.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.