Polybios, in the course of a long fragment on the knowledge necessary for a general, preserved in the Codex Urbinas (IX, 17), has an account of an ineffectual attack on the town of Cynaetha in North Arcadia by Aratos during one of his early generalships. Aratos, he tells us, had made full arrangements for a simultaneous attack on the town from traitors within and Achaean troops without, and as a signal to the latter a man was to go and stand on a certain hillock dressed in a cloak. Unfortunately a sheep-owner, while looking for his shepherd, went and unwittingly stood on this very hill, whereupon the Achaeans attacked too soon and were disastrously repulsed. What was the cause of the failure asks Polybios, and answers ‘῾τὸ ποιήσαοθαι τὸν στρατηγὸν ἁπλοῦν τὸ σύνθημα, νέον ἀκμἡν ὄντα καὶ τῆς τῶν διπλῶν συνθημάτων καὶ παρασυνθημάτων ἀκριβείας ἄπειρον,᾿’ because the general was still young and ignorant of the principle of signals and counter-signals.
The incident has been inexplicably neglected: Beloch, Tarn and Ferrabino omit it entirely; Niese omits it from his article on Aratos in Pauly-Wissowa, and in his large work writes simply ‘Aratos unternahm einmal einen Versuch, sie (sc. Cynaetha) zu überrumpeln,’ vaguely indicating a date in the neighbourhood of 245–40; Pieske writing on ‘Kynaitha’ in Pauly-Wissowa, has a bare reference, and Freeman, mentioning it in a note, declares that the attack was one of the first of a series of events leading up to Cynaetha's joining the Achaean League. The words νέον ἀκμὴν ὄντα can, he adds, refer only to one of the earliest of Aratos' generalships, or possibly to some subordinate command held before he was general. In short, the incident has been almost completely ignored, and no attempt has been made to set it in its historical context. The purpose of this paper is to shew that it offers important evidence both for the date of Aratos' birth, and also for Achaean and Aetolian policy during the years 245–35.