ACHAEAN LEAGUE, a confederation of the ancient towns of Achaea. Standing isolated on their narrow strips of plain, these towns were always exposed to the raids of pirates issuing from the recesses of the north coast of the Corinthian Gulf. It was no doubt as a protection against such dangers that the earliest league of twelve Achaean cities arose, though we are nowhere explicitly informed of its functions other than the common worship of Zeus Amarius at Aegium and an occasional arbitration between Greek belligerents. Its importance grew in the 4th century, when we find it fighting in the Theban wars (368–362 B.C.), against Philip (338) and Antipater (330). About 288 Antigonus Gonatas dissolved the league, which had furnished a useful base for pretenders against Cassander’s regency; but by 280 four towns combined again, and before long the ten surviving cities of Achaea had renewed their federation. Antigonus’ preoccupation during the Celtic invasions, Sparta’s prostration after the Chremonidean campaigns, the wealth amassed by Achaean adventurers abroad and the subsidies of Egypt, the standing foe of Macedonia, all enhanced the league’s importance. Most of all did it profit by the statesmanship of Aratus (q.v.), who initiated its expansive policy, until in 228 it comprised Arcadia, Argolis, Corinth and Aegina.
Aratus probably also organized the new federal constitution, the character of which, owing to the scanty and somewhat perplexing nature of our evidence, we can only approximately determine. The league embraced an indefinite number of city-states which maintained their internal independence practically undiminished, and through their several magistrates, assemblies and law-courts exercised all traditional powers of self-government. Only in matters of foreign politics and war was their competence restricted.
The central government, like that of the constituent cities, was of a democratic cast. The chief legislative powers resided in a popular assembly in which every member of the league over thirty years of age could speak and vote. This body met for three days in spring and autumn at Aegium to discuss the league’s policy and elect the federal magistrates. Whatever the number of its attendant burgesses, each city counted but one on a division. Extraordinary assemblies could be convoked at any time or place on special emergencies. A council of 120 unpaid delegates, selected from the local councils, served partly as a committee for preparing the assembly’s programme, partly as an administrative board which received embassies, arbitrated between contending cities and exercised penal jurisdiction over offenders against the constitution. But perhaps some of these duties concerned the dicastae and gerousia, whose functions are nowhere described. The chief magistracy was the strategia (tenable every second year), which combined with an unrestricted command in the field a large measure of civil authority. Besides being authorized to veto motions, the strategus (general) had practically the sole power of introducing measures before the assembly. The ten elective demiurgi, who presided over this body, formed a kind of cabinet, and perhaps acted as departmental chiefs. We also hear of an under-strategus, a secretary, a cavalry commander and an admiral. All these higher officers were unpaid. Philopoemen (q.v.) transferred the seat of assembly from town to town by rotation, and placed dependent communities on an equal footing with their former suzerains.
The league prescribed uniform laws, standards and coinage; it summoned contingents, imposed taxes and fined or coerced refractory members.
The first federal wars were directed against Macedonia; in 266–263 the league fought in the Chremonidean league, in 243–241 against Antigonus Gonatas and Aetolia, between 239 and 229 with Aetolia against Demetrius. A greater danger arose (227–223) from the attacks of Cleomenes III. (q.v.). Owing to Aratus’s irresolute generalship, the indolence of the rich burghers and the inadequate provision for levying troops and paying mercenaries, the league lost several battles and much of its territory; but rather than compromise with the Spartan Gracchus the assembly negotiated with Antigonus Doson, who recovered the lost districts but retained Corinth for himself (223–221). Similarly the Achaeans could not check the incursions of Aetolian adventurers in 220–218, and when Philip V. came to the rescue he made them tributary and annexed much of the Peloponnese. Under Philopoemen the league with a reorganized army routed the Aetolians (210) and Spartans (207, 201). After their benevolent neutrality during the Macedonian war the Roman general, T. Quinctius Flamininus, restored all their lost possessions and sanctioned the incorporation of Sparta and Messene (191), thus bringing the entire Peloponnese under Achaean control. The league even sent troops to Pergamum against Antiochus (190). The annexation of Aetolia and Zacynthus was forbidden by Rome. Moreover, Sparta and Messene always remained unwilling members. After Philopoemen’s death the aristocrats initiated a strongly philo-Roman policy, declared war against King Perseus and denounced all sympathizers with Macedonia. This agitation induced the Romans to deport 1000 prominent Achaeans, and, failing proof of treason against Rome, to detain them seventeen years. These hostages, when restored in 150, swelled the ranks of the proletariate opposition, whose leaders, to cover their maladministration at home, precipitated a war by attacking Sparta in defiance of Rome. The federal troops were routed in central Greece by Q. Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus, and again near Corinth by L. Mummius Achaicus (146). The Romans now dissolved the league (in effect, if not in name), and took measures to isolate the communities (see Polybius). Augustus instituted an Achaean synod comprising the dependent cities of Peloponnese and central Greece; this body sat at Argos and acted as guardian of Hellenic sentiment.
The chief defect of the league lay in its lack of proper provision for securing efficient armies and regular payment of imposts, and for dealing with disaffected members. Moreover, owing to difficulties of travel, the assembly and magistracies were practically monopolized by the rich, who shaped the federal policy in their own interest. But their rule was mostly judicious, and when at last they lost control the ensuing mob-rule soon ruined the country. On the other hand, it is the glory of the Achaean league to have combined city autonomy with an organized central administration, and in this way to have postponed the entire destruction of Greek liberty for over a century.
Chief Sources.—Polybius (esp. bks. ii., iv., v., xxiii., xxviii.), who is followed by Livy (bks. xxxii.-xxxv., xxxviii., &c.); Pausanias vii. 9-24; Strabo viii. 384; E. Freeman, Federal Government, i. (ed. 1893, London), chs. v.-ix.; M. Dubois, Les ligues Étolienne et Achéenne (Paris, 1885); A. Holm, Greek History, iv.; G. Hertzberg, Geschichte Griechenlands unter den Römern, i. (Leipzig, 1866); L. Warren, Greek Federal Coinage (London, 1863); E. Hicks, Greek Historical Inscriptions (Oxford, 1892), 169, 187, 198, 201; W. Dittenberger, Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum (Leipzig, 1898–1901), 236, 282, 316; H. Francotte in Musée Belge (1906), pp. 4-20. See also art. Rome, History, ii. “The Republic,” sect. B(b). (M. O. B. C.)