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Apollonios

Born: 490BC

Died: 413BC

City/ region: Taras, Megale Hellas

Affiliation: Greek

Occupation: Leistes

Apollonios son of Deinomenes of Tarantos and Kallidora of Sparta.

Apollonios father Deinomenes was as well-known for his seamanship & unusually well-crewed bireme as he was for his ability to turn a high profit from the goods he left port with. Trading between the ports of Megale Hellas and mainland Greece he was not indisposed to acquiring additional goods from merchant ships he encountered on his travels. During one of his frequent stays in his family’s ancestral home in the Peloponnese perioikoi port and town of Gytheio, he met Kallidora, eldest daughter of Amompharetus of Sparta. Kallidora became pregnant by him outside of marriage angering her father who declared of the unborn child “If the child be a son let him be declared Partheniae and join those of his kind in his father’s polis. If a daughter, then away to Tarantos for daughters and nieces I have enough”

Born on his father’s bireme on the voyage back to Taras, Apollonios was always happier at sea than on land. From an early age Apollonios was schooled in the art of seamanship and the various skills required for opportunistic profiteering. Sharing his father’s sense of adventure, martial prowess and irascible disposition he was never far from trouble as either a boy or man and was reputed to be first to board “pirate” ships his father’s bireme encountered.

At the age of 19 he had his first taste of battle when the joint armies of Taras and their Reggian allies were defeated near Kailia by the combine armies of Messapii, Peuceti and Lucania. Herodotus later claimed it to be the greatest slaughter of Greeks in his knowledge, with 3,000 Reggians and uncountable Tarentines killed. Amongst the Tarentine dead was Apollonios father.

It was during this battle that Apollonios killed a Lucanian warband leader, taking from him a rhomphaia for which he was later to become infamously associated, although in later years Apollonios was to claim that it was Taras himself who gave him the sword.

Following his fathers’ death Apollonios returned to Sparta with his mother who made peace with her father and settled back within the family fold. Now formally accepted as Partheniae by Amompharetus, Apollonios was offered the elevated status of Mothax. Apollonios respectfully declined Amompharetus’s offer, seeing more opportunity in continuing his “trading” ventures and exploring the opportunities that his martial skills allowed among the fractious city states.

Much of his life then became a mixture of rumour, speculation and myth with him seemingly being in several places or adventures at any one time. However, it is known that he maintained close links with his mother’s family in Sparta as well as his home in Taras. Combining his seagoing trade and acquisitions with his secondary trade, hiring the services of himself and his crew as mercenaries, he became a very wealthy man and invested some of his wealth in a new black-sailed trireme, better to ply his seagoing trade with, but now no longer able to cloak it as trading.

Always looking to give his seagoing trade a edge, in later life he become aware of Zopyrus of Taras, the Pythagorean mathematikoi, and his experiments with extending the range and power of bows. Generously supporting Zopyrus’s work, it is believed that Apollonios was the first person to benefit from Zopyrus’s gastraphetes. Allegedly having some these weapons, that had a far greater range and power than any Greek or barbarian bow, amongst the crew on his trireme, he gainfully employed them to encourage merchant ships to “heave to”, or to cover his coastal raids.

Regarded as being tough but fair, Apollonios killed only those who resisted or needed to be made an example of. Taking only cargo, stores or valuables he would not generally fire the town, ravage the women, enslave peoples or crew, or seize the ships, nor permit his crew to do so.

However, this was not the case for Phoenicians, who he blamed for controlling, and not sharing, the lucrative sea route to Kassiterides, and Tyrrhenians, who he blamed for being a race of peirates. Their towns he sacked & fired, their ships he attacked, seizing ship & cargo and killing or enslaving the peoples and crews, all without mercy. Such actions he claimed, made the seas better suited for trade, which of course better suited his business.

Reputed to have fought in many battles on both land and sea it is at least known that he was part of the Tarantine army defeated by the Lapyges in 466bc. He was also known to have fought in the Tarantine victory over the Lapyges in 460bc during which, it is rumoured, he killed Opis, the Lapygian King of Messapia who was “struck down with a great sword”

He also served on the Peloponnese side, on both land and sea, in the wars with Athens.

Using his wealth & influence he helped pursued the city of Taras to refuse anchorage and water to the Athenians in 415bc. Two years later he was equally persuasive in influencing Taras to send ships to help the Peloponnesians after the Athenian disaster in Sicily, his own trireme amongst them.

It was on this voyage that he died, peacefully in his sleep, aged 77, a fitting end to a man born at sea.

Glossary:

Taras, Megale Hellas – Taranto, Italy
Leistes – armed plunderer (pirate, coastal raider)
Partheniae – son of unmarried Spartan girl.
Perioikoi – “dwellers about”. Free but non-citizen inhabitants of Sparta
Rhomphaia – long (curved) sword; “piercing grief”
Mothax – son of mixed parentage or impoverished Spartan, sponsored as Perioikoi class by wealthy sponsor.
Pythagorean – followers of the beliefs and teachings of Pythagoras
mathematikoi
– “learners”; were supposed to have extended and developed the more mathematical and scientific work begun by Pythagoras
gastraphetes – “belly-releaser”; The weapon was powered by a composite bow. It was cocked by resting the stomach in a concavity at the rear of the stock and pressing down with all strength. In this way considerably more energy could be summoned than by using only one arm of the archer as in the hand-bow. It is believed Zopyrus developed his gastraphetes some time before 421 by improving an earlier weapon.

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