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Aristomenes was a mythical king of Messenia, celebrated for his struggle with the Spartans, and his resistance to them on Mount Ira for 11 years. At length the mountain fell to the enemy, while he escaped and was snatched up by the gods; he died at Rhodes.


The Messenian, Aristomenes, on whose account I have made my whole mention of Rhianus and Myron, was the man who first and foremost raised the name of Messene to renown. He was introduced by Myron into his history, while to Rhianus in his epic Aristomenes is as great a man as is the Achilles of the Iliad to Homer. As their statements differ so widely, it remained for me to adopt one or other of the accounts, but not both together, and Rhianus appeared to me to have given the more probable account as to the age of Aristomenes.

One may realize in others of his works that Myron gives no heed to the question of his statements seeming to lack truth and credibility, and particularly in this Messenian history. For he has made Aristomenes kill Theopompus, the king of the Lacedaemonians, shortly before the death of Aristodemus but we know that Theopompus was not killed either in battle or in any other way before the war was concluded.

It was this Theopompus who put an end to the war, and my evidence is the lines of Tyrtaeus, which say: -- To our king beloved of the gods, Theopompus, through whom we took Messene with wide dancing-grounds. Aristomenes then in my view belongs to the time of the second war, and I will relate his history when I come to this.

The Messenians, when they heard of the events at Ampheia from the actual survivors from the captured town, mustered in Stenyclerus from their cities. When the people had gathered in the assembly, first the leading men and finally the king exhorted them not to be panicstricken at the sack of Ampheia, or to suppose that the issue of the whole war had already been decided thereby, or to be afraid of the power of the Lacedaemonians as superior to their own. For the Lacedaemonians had longer practice in warfare, but they themselves had a stronger necessity to show themselves brave men, and greater goodwill would be shown by the gods to men defending their country, who were not the authors of injustice.


Of the young men who had grown up in Messenia the best and most numerous were round Andania, and among them was Aristomenes, who to this day is worshipped as a hero among the Messenians. They think that even the circumstances of his birth were notable, for they assert that a spirit or a god united with his mother, Nicoteleia, in the form of a serpent. I know that the Macedonians tell a similar story about Olympias, and the Sicyonians about Aristodama, but there is this difference:

The Messenians do not make Aristomenes the son of Heracles or of Zeus, as the Macedonians do with Alexander and Ammon, and the Sicyonians with Aratus and Asclepius. Most of the Greeks say that Pyrrhus was the father of Aristomenes, but I myself know that in their libations the Messenians call him Aristomenes son of Nicomedes. He then, being in the full vigor of youth and courage, with others of the nobles incited them to revolt. This was not done openly at first, but they sent secretly to Argos and to the Arcadians, to ask if they were ready to help unhesitatingly and no less energetically than in the former war.

When all their preparations were made for the war, the readiness of their allies exceeding expectation (for now the hatred which the Argives and Arcadians felt for the Lacedaemonians had blazed up openly), they revolted in the thirty-ninth year after the capture of Ithome, and in the fourth year of the twenty-third Olympiad, when Icarus of Hyreresia won the short footrace. At Athens the archonship was now of annual tenure, and Tlesias held office.

Tyrtaeus has not recorded the names of the kings then reigning in Lacedaemon, but Rhianos stated in his epic that Leotychides was king at the time of this war. I cannot agree with him at all on this point. Though Tyrtaeus makes no statement, he may be regarded as having done so by the following; there are lines of his which refer to the first war: Around it they fought unceasingly for nineteen years, ever maintaining a stout heart, the warrior fathers of our fathers.

It is obvious then that the Messenians went to war now in the second generation after the first war, and the sequence of time shows that the kings of Sparta at that time were Anaxander the son of Eurycrates, son of Polydorus, and of the other house Anaxidamus the son of Zeuxidamus, son of Archidamus, son of Theopompus. I go as far as the third in descent from Theopompus, because Archidamus the son of Theopompus died before his father, and the kingdom of Theopompus passed to his grandson, Zeuxidamus. But Leotychides clearly succeeded Demaratus the son of Ariston, Ariston being sixth in descent from Theopompus.

In the first year after the revolt the Messenians engaged the Lacedaemonians at a place called Derae in Messenia, both sides being without their allies. Neither side won a clear victory, but Aristomenes is said to have achieved more than it seemed that one man could, so that, as he was of the race of the Aepytidae, they were for making him king after the battle. As he declined, they appointed him general with absolute power.

It was the view of Aristomenes that any man would be ready to die in battle if he had first done deeds worthy of record, but that it was his own especial task at the very beginning of the war to prove that he had struck terror into the Lacedaemonians and that he would be more terrible to them for the future. With this purpose he came by night to Lacedaemon and fixed on the temple of Athena of the Brazen House a shield inscribed "The Gift of Aristomenes to the Goddess, taken from Spartans.

As to Aristomenes himself he had with him eighty picked men of the Messenians of the same age as himself, each one of them thinking it the highest honor that he had been thought worthy of a place in the troop with Aristomenes. They were quick to understand each other's movements, especially those of their leader, when he began or contemplated any manoeuvre. They themselves with Aristomenes were at first hard pressed in face of Anaxander and the Lacedaemonian champions, but receiving wounds unflinchingly and slowing every form of desperate courage they repulsed Anaxander and his men by their long endurance and valor.

As they fled, Aristomenes ordered another Messenian troop to undertake the pursuit. He himself attacked the enemies' line where it was firmest, and after breaking it at this point sought a new point of assault. Soon successful here, he was the more ready to assail those who stood their ground, until he threw into confusion the whole line of the Lacedaemonians themselves and of their allies. They were now running without shame and without waiting for one another, while he assailed them with a terror that seemed more than one man's fury could inspire.

There was a wild pear-tree growing in the plain, beyond which Theoclus the seer forbade him to pass, for he said that the Dioscuri were seated on the tree. Aristomenes, in the heat of passion, did not hear all that the seer said, and when he reached the tree, lost his shield, and his disobedience gave to the Lacedaemonians an opportunity for some to escape from the rout. For he lost time trying to recover his shield.

The Lacedaemonians were thrown into despair after this blow and purposed to put an end to the war. But Tyrtaeus by reciting his poems contrived to dissuade them, and filled their ranks from the Helots to replace the slain. When Aristomenes returned to Andania, the women threw ribbons and flower blossoms over him, singing also a song which is sung to this day:

To the middle of Stenyclerus' plain and to the hilltop Aristomenes followed after the Lacedaemonians.

He recovered his shield also, going to Delphi and descending into the holy shrine of Trophonius at Lebadeia, as the Pythia bade. Afterwards he took the shield to Lebadeia and dedicated it, and I myself have seen it there among the offerings. The device on it is an eagle with both wings outspread to the rim. Now on his return from Boeotia having learnt of the shield at the shrine of Trophonius and recovered it, he at once engaged in greater deeds.

Collecting a force of Messenians, together with his own picked troop, he waited for night and went to a city of Laconia whose ancient name in Homer's Catalogue is Pharis, but is called Pharae by the Spartans and neighboring people. Arriving here he killed those who offered resistance and surrounding the cattle started to drive them off to Messene. On the way he was attacked by Lacedaemonian troops under king Anaxander, but put them to flight and began to pursue Anaxander; but he stopped the pursuit when wounded in the buttocks with a javelin; he did not, however, lose the booty which he was driving away.

After waiting only for the wound to heal, he was making an attack by night on Sparta itself, but was deterred by the appearance of Helen and of the Dioscuri. But he lay in wait by day for the maidens who were performing the dances in honor of Artemis at Caryae, and capturing those who were wealthiest and of noblest birth, carried them off to a village in Messenia, entrusting them to men of his troop to guard, while he rested for the night.

There the young men, intoxicated, I suppose, and without any self-control, attempted to violate the girls. When Aristomenes attempted to deter them from an action contrary to Greek usage, they paid no attention, so that he was compelled to kill the most disorderly. He released the captives for a large ransom, maidens, as when he captured them.


Daniel Ogden, Aristomenes of Messene: Legends of Sparta's Nemesis-. Swansea: The Classical Press of Wales, 2004. Pp. xxiv, 244. ISBN 0-9543845-4-7 (Review)

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