Nabis (Sparta, 230 BC – ibid., 192 BC). Military and political leader, who became king of Sparta, between 207 BC and 192 BC, thus becoming the last independent king of this nation.
Nabis is one of the last great characters of the ancient Hellenic world, with the end of his reign also ending with the opportunity for Sparta to regain the time of glory he experienced when he dominated the Hélade, through his military might, before falling into the decad that prompted Nabis to seize power and try to rebuild his nation.
Assumption to power
Nabis was born in 230 BC in Sparta. His father was Demarato, and he is believed to have been a member of the royal family, the Euripontides. However, when Philopemen defeated Mechanids, in 207 BC, Nabis – who did not have the support of the nobles – was not appointed king, but was appointed as the guardian of the young King Pélope.
According to tradition, seeing the social, political and economic crisis shake Sparta, that same year Nabis killed the new monarch, proclaiming himself King. From the outset his authority was called into question, as his appointment did not correspond to traditional hierarchical procedures.
Several sectors of Spartan life labeled him a tyrant, while he tried to claim his mandate, gaining the support of the people, as opposed to the great power of the nobles. In this sense, his government distinguished itself by being a regime with high presence and military support, as well as by the profound social reforms, which can be regarded as a true social and economic revolution.
According to historians, his opinions were a continuation of the reforms initiated by Agis IV and Cleomenes III, however, Nabis radicalized them. First, he exprophesed many of the lands, spreading them among the people, which he also called to the Assembly, even though he had them guarded by officials of his army.
Likewise, he abolished debts, freed slaves and incorporated them into the national census. With these measures, Nabis gained immense popular support, which legitimized him politically in power.
On the other hand, he was in charge of securing an unstoppable flow of money, which would allow him to cope with the immense expenses in which the maintenance of a mercenary army, such as the one formed during his tenure, as well as for the Castrense Guard and the administrative and cult expenses.
In light of some accounts of ancient historians, Nabis’s methods were quite strict and even radical, and could lead to torture. However, other historians believe that these versions should be taken with care, and keep in mind that perhaps this Spartan King was not the monstrous tyrant who sometimes draws in these historical accounts.
Once his popularity and military and political control were consolidated, Nabis decided to move on to rebuilding ancient Spartan glory. His first step in this tune was the creation of a navy, as well as the beginning of the construction of the first walls of this nation.
Likewise, one of his first actions was to take a considerable part of Laconia. In 205, Macedonia was declared an enemy and an ally of Rome, through the Treaty of Feni, gaining from that moment the hatred of all Greek cities, related to Macedonian might.
The following year he settled a conflict with the Aquea League, due to a dispute with Megalopolis. In 202 BC the enmity with this League grew, when Nabis invaded Messenia, although the Spartans had to retreat to the onslaught of the army ruled by Filopemen. Eventually, the Spartan army was defeated in Tegea by The troops of Philopemen.
In 197 BC, Nabis decided to support Philip V of Macedonia, when the alliance between the Romans and the Aquea League was established. In the long run, this conflict between Macedonians and Romans benefited Nabis, who gained control of Argos, where he also implemented the social reforms he had instituted in Sparta.
In a new movement for his convenience, he allied himself again with Rome, seeing that King Philip V was losing. In return Rome recognized his reign. However, when Greek freedom was declared, the Acaios pressured the Romans to declare war on Nabis, in the face of this Spartan king’s refusal to return the territory of Argos to the Aquea League.
War against Nabis
A conflagration was then established against Nabis between the Ahereists, the King of Pergamon, the Etolios and the Athenians, who marched against Nabis.
In the first instance they marched against Argos, where he managed to get the raid under control. Then, Flaminio decided to head towards Sparta, where they were repelled by a fire arson caused by Pythagoras, who decided to burn the houses to the Spartan walls. Finally, in 195 BC, Nabis decided to surrender to the Roman Empire, reluctantly accepting the peace imposed by Flaminius.
He lost Argos, a part of the periecos and the Spartan fleet. He was forced to remain in Sparta.
However, once the Roma were withdrawn, Nabis again initiated actions aimed at the recovery of territories, including southern Laconia and Gition. However, in 192 BC he was defeated by Philopemen, who chased him to the Spartan walls, saving him only Roman intervention.
Despite this, that same year, he turned against Rome and the Aqueos, feeding with Antiochus III and Luga Etolia.
Eventually, he was killed by Al-exams, an Etolio soldier who betrayed him, trying to subdue Sparta, under the Etolio power, an attempt that was repelled by a popular uprising. Upon his death, the Aquea League forced Sparta to join it, ending the monarchy and Spartan autonomy.
Image source: enfatic.net
Phoneia.com (August 6, 2019). Nabis biography. Recovered from https://phoneia.com/en/education/nabis-biography/