A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

(Κριτόλαος), an Achaean, who succeeded Diaeus, in B. C. 147, as strategus of the Achaeans, and was as bitter an enemy of the Romans as his predecessor. As soon as he entered upon his office, he began insulting the Roman ambassadors and breaking off all negotiations with them. After their departure for Italy, he had recourse to all the demagogic artifices that he could devise, in order to render the rupture between the Romans and Achaeans irremediable. During the ensuing winter he travelled from one town to another, inflaming the people by his furious speeches against the Romans. He tried especially to work upon the populace in the towns of Greece, and resorted to the most iniquitous means to obtain their favour. Thus he extorted a promise from the magistrates of several towns to take care that no debtor should be compelled to pay his debts before the war with Rome should be brought to a close. By these and similar means he won the enthusiastic admiration of the multitude, and when this was accomplished, he summoned an assembly of the Achaeans to meet at Corinth, which was attended by the dregs of the nation, and which conducted its proceedings in the most riotous and tumultuous manner. Four noble Romans, who attended the meeting and tried to speak, were driven from the place of assembly and treated with the grossest insults. It was in vain that the moderate men among the Achaeans endeavoured to bring Critolaus and his partizans to their senses. Critolaüs surrounded himself with a body-guard, and threatened to use force against those who opposed his plans, and further depicted them to the multitude as traitors of their country. The moderate and well-meaning persons were thus intimidated, and withdrew. War was thereupon declared against Lacedaemon, which was under the especial protection of Rome. In order to get rid of all restraints, he carried a second decree, which conferred dictatorial power upon the strategi. The Romans, or rather Q. Caecilius Metellus, the praetor of Macedonia, had shewn all possible forbearance towards the Achaeans, and a willingness to come to a peaceable understanding with them. This conduct was explained by Critolaus as a consequence of weakness on the part of the Romans, who, he said, did not dare to venture upon a war with the Achaeans. In addition to this, he contrived to inspire the Achaeans with the prospect of forming alliances with powerful princes and states. But this hope was almost completely disappointed, and the Achaeans rushed into a war with the gigantic powers of Rome, in which every sensible person must have seen that destruction awaited them. In the spring of B. C. 146, Critolaüs marched with a considerable army of Achaeans towards Thermopylae, partly to rouse all Greece to a general insurrection against Rome, and partly to chastise Heracleia, near mount Oeta, which had abandoned the cause of the Achaeans. Metellus even now offered his hand for reconciliation; but when his proposals were rejected, and he himself suddenly appeared in the neighbourhood of Heracleia, Critolaüs at once raised the siege of the town, quitted his position, and fled southward. Metellus followed and overtook him near the town of Scarphea in Locris, where he gained an easy but brilliant victory over the Achaeans. A great number of the latter fell, and 1000 of them were made prisoners by the Romans. Critolaüs himself was never heard of after this battle. Livy (Liv. Epit. 52) states, that he poisoned himself, but it seems more probable that he perished in the sea or the marshes on the coast. Critolaüs was the immediate cause of the war which terminated in the destruction of Corinth and put an end to the political existence of Greece. His plan of opposing Rome at that time by force of arms was the offspring of a mad brain, and the way in which he proceeded in carrying it into effect shewed what a contemptible and cowardly demagogue he was. (Plb. 38.2, &c., 40.1, &c.; Paus. vii. cc. 14 and 15; Florus, 2.16; Cic. de Nat. Deor. 3.38; Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, vol. iv. p. 304, &c.)