Callicrates, a politician of the Achaean League, postulated faithful cooperation with the Romans after the defeat of Carthage in the Second Punic War. He is described by historians with unrefined epithets: “collaborator” or “ancient Quisling”, and sources say that the Achaeans avoided him and did not even want to bathe with him.
After defeating Carthage in the Second Punic War, the Romans paid more attention to the eastern Mediterranean. They started wars with the countries that emerged after the death of Alexander the Great – Antigonid Macedonia and the Seleucid Empire. It was connected with more frequent contacts with the lands of Greece, divided into various federations, tribes and city-states. One such entity functioning in the Peloponnese was the Achaean League.
As in many other parts of Greece, the conflict of powers led to political polarization within the Union’s cities. Two political groups were established here – one of them postulated maintaining good relations and alliance with the Romans, but its representatives did not want to listen to the Romans in everything. The second faction gathered supporters of absolute obedience to the Republic.
The representative of the latter party was Callicrates of Leontium. He started his political career in 180 BCE. He headed the Achaean legation to Rome, where he delivered his famous speech to the senate. In it, he emphasized that the Greeks did not want to obey the Romans’ orders due to the fault of the latter and that there were two parties in every democracy. While one of them postulates recognition of the superiority of Rome’s will over local treaties and laws, the other considers these laws and agreements to be more important and its representatives warn the crowds against breaking them. The common people support the latter option. Hence, those who advocate the first position are ostracized by the general public. Callicrates postulated that the Romans should put pressure on too rebellious Greeks.
The attitude of Callicrates was delighted with patres, who praised him in their writings to the peoples of Hellas. However, it is assessed negatively in historiography. Polybius condemns him, and modern historians describe him with unrefined epithets such as “collaborator”, “pest”, “ancient Quisling”, “vile informer” or “morally finished scoundrel.” Soon after his trip to Rome, Callicrates became strategist of the Achaean League. In this role, he thwarted the plans of Perseus, who in 174 BCE he sought to restore good relations with the Achaeans. Since Philip’s war against Rome, no Macedonian had the right to enter the lands of the Achaean League. Understandably, the Achaeans themselves did not dare to appear on the Antigonid lands. The whole situation was exploited by slaves who fled from Achaean koinon to Macedonia. Perseus proposed to the Achaeans to hand over these fugitives. During the meeting of the Union, most of the people gathered were ready to support this proposal. However, Callicrates was against it, accusing Perseus of preparing for a war with Rome and of wanting to make an alliance with the Achaeans. Archon argued with him, who pointed to Perseus’s agreements with Greek cities and the purposefulness of a similar agreement with the Union, which would serve peace. Should war break out, the Achaeans will keep their alliance with the Republic anyway. Most supported Archon, and the Macedonian king was summoned to send messages about the treaty. However, when Calicrates and his party regained influence among the Achaeans, the king’s envoys were not even admitted to Megalopolis for the assembly of koinon.
Callicrates also played a major role in the pacification of the Achaean League by the Romans after the Third Macedonian War. At the request of the Romans, he prepared lists of Achaean citizens accused of hostility to Rome. The concept of “hostility” was very broad, even support for a moderate party, less submissive to the Republic, could be considered hostility towards Rome. Consequently, in 167 BCE 1,000 people were deported from the lands of the Union to Italy as hostages to Rome. Among them was the historian Polybius, his father, and Stratios and Xenon of Patraj. They were all interned in various Italian cities; only after 150 BCE that some of the hostages returned to Greece.
Callicrates was not liked by his compatriots. Sources say the Achaeans avoided him and refused to even bathe in the pool with him. He was hooted at solemn meetings, and he was even called a “traitor” in the street. After the death of Callicrates, a political change took place, as a result of which the authorities of the Achaean League declared war on Rome.