Nabis (Νάβις).was a Tyrant of Sparta. He ruled from 207 BC to 192 BC. Spartan power in the Peloponnese had been in decline since the defeat of King Cleomenes III at the battle of Sellasia, which had destroyed most of the Spartan army. Nabis managed to create a new citizen army by freeing a large number of the formerly enslaved helots and redistributing land and wealth in the manner of previous Kings of Archaic and Classical Sparta. This allowed him to put around 10,000 troops into the field, a force which he supplemented by hiring a large number of mercenaries. Between 207 BC and 200 BC he greatly expanded Spartan power reconquering much of Laconia and Messene and establishing control of the Laconian coastline. In a break with previous Spartan rulers, who considered it an article of pride to rely solely on their soldiers as a defence, Nabis fortified the city of Sparta.
Although he styled himself "King" and claimed descent from the sixth century King Demaratus, he executed the last descendants of the two Spartan royal dynasties and was commonly regarded as an illegitimate tyrant by his contemporaries. The ancient sources, particularly Polybius and Livy, depict him as a bloodthirsty ruler who held power through armed force and committed acts of shocking brutality. Polybius (13.6-7) claims that he would frequently exile the leading citizens of conquered communities and marry their wives to the brigands and ex-slaves under his command. Wealthy landowners were often summoned into his presence and forced to pay him large sums of money. Those who refused were tortured, supposedly through use of a machine that resembled the medieval Iron Maiden.
Nabis' territorial ambitions brought him into conflict with the Achaean League, which controlled the northern half of the Peloponnese. Although repeatedly defeated by the gifted Achaean strategos Philopoemen, he nevertheless remained a serious threat to the Achaeans, who considerably less successful against him when led by less competent generals. In 200 BC, alarmed at the ease with which he was ravaging their territory, the Achaeans asked the Macedonian King Philip V for help, which he did not provide. In the following years, Nabis was able to skillfully exploit the conflict between Philip and the Romans, gaining control of the important city of Argos as the price of his alliance with the Macedonians, and then defecting to the soon to be victorious Romans so that he might hold on to his conquest. In 195 BC, however, the Roman Proconsul Titus Quinctius Flamininus was persuaded by the Achaeans that the power of Nabis in the Peloponnese needed to be checked. Flamininus ordered Nabis to give Argos back to the Achaeans, or face war with Rome. When Nabis refused, citing the Roman acceptance of his friendship at a time when he had already been in possession of the city as justification, Flamininus invaded Laconia. After an inconclusive campaign the Spartans were defeated, and Nabis was forced to surrender both Argos and the port of Gytheum, which gave him access to the sea.
Though the territory under his control now consisted only of the city of Sparta and its immediate environs, Nabis still hoped to regain his former power. In 192 BC, seeing that the Romans and their Achaean allies were distracted by the imminent war with King Antiochus of Syria and the Aetolian League, Nabis attempted to recapture Gytheum and the Laconian coastline. Initially, he was successful, capturing the port and defeating the Achaean League in a minor naval battle. Soon after, however, his army was routed by Philopoemen and shut up within the walls of Sparta. After ravaging the surrounding countryside, Philopoemen returned home. Within a few months, Nabis appealed to the Aetolian League to send troops so that he might protect his territory against the Romans and the Achaean League. The Aetolians responded by sending an army of 1,000 infantry and 300 cavalry to Sparta. Once there, however, the Aetolians betrayed the Tyrant, assassinating him while he was drilling his army outside the city. The Aetolians then attempted to take control of the city, but were prevented from doing so by an uprising of the citizens. The Achaeans, seeking to take advantage of the ensuing chaos, despatched Philopoemen to Sparta with a large army. Once there, he compelled the Spartans to join the Achaean League. Nabis had thus been the last leader of an independent Sparta, and the last ruler under whom the Spartans had been a major power in Greece.
The Nabis were also a 20th century artistic movement.
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