WHILE the generals and successors of Alexander were busy trying to crush one another, most of the Greek towns, left to their own devices, had become small republics. But instead of forming a union, they became so jealous, that they began to quarrel and even to fight among themselves.
As the quarrels became more bitter, two parties or leagues were formed, which, from the two most important provinces at that time, received the names of Achæan and Ætolian.
The Achæan League was made up of twelve small towns in the Peloponnesus, and was under the leadership of Aratus, a native of Sicyon. When a child, Aratus had seen his native city in the hands of a tyrant. His father, who was a patriot, had made a bold attempt to free the city, but had failed, and lost his life. Aratus, who was but seven years of age, heard that his father and all his family had been slain, and knew that the tyrant would try to kill him too. As he was too weak to defend himself, he sought refuge in the house of the tyrant's sister, where no one would be likely to seek for him.
This woman, touched by the child's trust, hid him cleverly, and, when all danger was over, sent him to some friends, where she paid for his board, and had him carefully brought up.
As Aratus was patriotic, he was anxious to finish the work which his father had begun. At the age of twenty, therefore, he assembled a few comrades, entered Sicyon, called all the lovers of liberty to his aid, and drove away the tyrant without shedding any blood.
The town, thus freed, joined the Achæan League, of which Aratus soon became the leader. This office was elective, and no one was expected to fill it for more than a year; but Aratus was so much loved that he was chosen leader thirty-five years in succession.
At this time, Greece and Macedon were under the rule of Antigonus Gonatas, son of Demetrius; for this man had conquered for himself the second kingdom which his father had lost. But now Aratus and the Achæan League refused to obey him, so he marched down from Macedon to restore order.
To prevent his advance, and to hinder his getting even as much as a foothold in the peninsula, Aratus wanted to capture the fortress of Acrocorinthus, which barred the Isthmus of Corinth.
This undertaking was very difficult, because the fortress was perched upon a rock so high and steep that it was almost impossible to climb it.
A traitor, Diocles, however, offered to show Aratus a way to climb this rock, provided that he should receive a certain reward. Although general of the Achæan League, and one of the greatest men of his day, Aratus was far from being rich; and, in order to obtain the required sum, he had to sell all he had, and even pawn his wife's few jewels.
Then, in the midst of the darkness, one rainy night, Diocles led the Achæan soldiers along a steep path, which they had to climb in Indian file.
He brought them safely and unseen into the fortress, where they killed most of the Macedonian sentinels, and put the guards to flight. As soon as the key of the Peloponnesus had been thus daringly won, most of the other towns in the peninsula joined the league, and the Achæans gained such victories, that Antigonus Gonatas fell ill, and died of grief.
The Achæan League became stronger and stronger; and, although Sparta and a few other cities remained neutral, most of the small towns were freed from their tyrants. Such was the importance of the league, that the Roman ambassadors once came to ask for its aid to suppress the pirates who infested the neighboring seas.
This help was cheerfully given, and the Achæans entered into a treaty with the Romans. They little suspected, however, that the city whose name was then almost unknown would in less than a hundred years become strong enough to subdue them, and be mistress over all Greece.