He was originally, perhaps, the leader of a band of Tarentine mercenaries in the pay of the Spartan government. The history of Lacedaemon at this period is so obscure that the means by which Machanidas obtained the tyranny are unknown. He was probably at first associated with Pelops, son and successor of Lycurgus on the double throne of Sparta; but he eclipsed or expelled his colleague, and for his crimes and the terror he inspired he is termed emphatically "the tyrant." (tyrannus Lacedaemoniorum, Livy 27.29.9 ) Like his predecessor Lycurgus, Machanidas had no hereditary or plausible title to the crown, but, unlike him, he respected neither the ephors nor the laws, and ruled by the swords of his mercenaries alone. Argos and the Achaean League found him a restless and relentless neighbour, whom they could not resist without the aid of Macedon. Rome at that crisis, the 11th year of the Second Punic War, was anxious to detain Philip V; as usual, unscrupulous in the choice of its instruments employed him as an active and able ally.
Machanidas revered the religious views of Greece as little as the political rights of his own subjects. Towards the close of the Aetolian War, in 207 BC, while the Greek states were negotiating the terms of peace, and the Eleans were making preparations for the next Olympic festival, Machanidas projected an inroad into the sacred territory of Elis. The design was frustrated by the timely arrival of the king of Macedon in the Peloponnesus, and Machanidas withdrew precipitately to Sparta. But the project marks both the man and the era—an era equally void of personal, national, and ancestral faith. At length, in 207 BC, after eight months' careful preparation, Philopoemen, captain-general of the cavalry of the Achaean league, delivered Greece from Machanidas. The Achaean and Lacedaemonian armies met between Mantineia and Tegea. In the Battle of Mantinea the Tarentine mercenaries of Machanidas routed and chased from the field the Tarentine mercenaries of Philopoemen. They pursued, however, too eagerly; and when Machanidas led them back, the Lacedaemonian infantry had been broken, and the Achaeans were strongly intrenched behind a deep foss. In the act of leaping his horse over the foss Machanidas fell by the hand of Philopoemen. To commemorate their leader's valour, the Achaeans set up a statue of brass at Delphi, representing Philopoemen giving the death-wound to Machanidas.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Smith, William, ed. (1870). "article name needed". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.