Of the early history of Sparta we rely on very few
legends. It is said to have been founded by Lacedaemon, the
son of Zeus and Taygete, who married Sparta, the
daughter of Eurotas.Tradition has it,
that the Heraclidae brothers, descendants of the hero Hercules,
Kresphontes, Temenos and Aristodemos tried to conquer
Peloponnese. Aristodemos was hit by lighting and died at Naupactos,
leaving behind his twin sons Eyresthenes and Prokles. His brothers crossed
the gulf and landed at Achaia. There was a battle with the forces of the
monarch of Peloponnese, Tisamenes, and they were victorious. When the
Dorian phalanx came in the territory of Lakonia and Messene, it was guided
by Kresphontes, who inhabited the rich plain of Pamesos.
There was a constant quarrel between the Dorian chiefs, Kresphontes and
Theras, to share the territory.
From Homer we also know that the "koili Lacedaemon" (hollow
Lacedaemon), the territory between the mount Taygetos and Parnon, had as
king Menelaos, the younger brother of Agamemnon and
husband of Helen, which was abducted by Paris to Troy
and thus starting the long and painful famous war.
Around 1200 BC, by the marriage of the daughter of Menelaos Ermione
with the son of Agamemnon Orestes, the kingdoms of Argos and Sparta
were united. The findings from excavations testify that at this time,
unlike the later Sparta, a rich culture had developed here.
Around 1100 BC, the Dorians came and conquered the territory (Archaeology
favors a date for Dorian settling around 950 BC).
Theras, the brother of Aristodemos wife, who was guardian to
her twin children after the death of her husband, wanted to take the rich
Messene, but Kresphontes and his brother Temenos, who was ruling
Argos, played a trick on him. They arranged to throw in the water two
small tiles, with the names of Kresphontes and Theras written on them and
the one which would surface in the water, would win Messene, the other the
less rich Laconia.
Kresphontes tile was baked in the fire, while Theras was left in the sun
and when both were thrown into the water, Theras tile went to the bottom
and Kresphontes tile floated and thus he took Messene.
During Sparta's history, the habitation center in the Eurotas valley had
changed many times, but the Dorian city which was comprised from five
villages, occupied the territory of today's city of Sparta. We know only
the names of the four, Pitane, Limnai, Mesoa,
Kinosoura. The fifth was probably the conglomeration of the villages,
which Spartans conquered later, Pilane, Selacia, Aigitida,
Sparta in the 8th and 7th century BC was open to foreigners. She had good
relations with Samos, which helped her in the war with Messenia, and also
with Cyprus, Rhodes, Cyrene, etc. She was a highly cultured city,
with her own architects, who build the famous temple, the brazen house of
Athena. The arts were highly developed with celebrated sculptors in
wood, potters, metal workers, weavers, leather workers, many of them
foreigners. Spartan musicians, dancers and singers were renowned. Sparta
was also famous for the purple dyed clothes. From 720 BC to 576 BC, she
had 46 Olympic winners out of 81 total victors. But during the 6th century
the arts progressively started to decline. Lykurgos laws eventually
was the son of the king Eumenos. After the death of his father, his
older brother Polydektes took the throne. Not much later, he also
died and Lykurgos became king. The widow of his brother, an ambitious and
unhesitating woman, offered him to marry her and kill her unborn child.
Lykurgos, knowing her character and being afraid for the life of the
child, pretended to accept her offer. He said to her to bear the child and
he would disappear it, as soon as the child was born. But when the time
came, he took the infant boy at the Agora, proclaimed him king of
the Spartans and gave him the name Charilaos (Joy of the people).
When the widow learned what happened, she started plotting against
Lykurgos, who left Sparta in order to avoid bloodshed.
He first went to Crete and then to Asia and Egypt and later to Libya,
Spain and India. In every country that he visited, he studied their
civilization, history and constitutions.
After many years Lykurgos returned to Greece and visited Delphi to
question the oracle, if the constitution he had prepared to apply in
Sparta was good and received approval with the answer that "he was more
God than man". He then returned home and found his nephew
Charilaos, a grown man and king of Sparta.
In order to persuade the Spartans to accept his laws, which demanded a lot
of sacrifices, he bred two small puppies, the one indoors with a variety
of foods and the other he trained it for hunting. He then gathered the
people and showed them that the untrained dog was completely useless.
But if Lykurgos succeeded to persuade the poor people, he did little for
the rich, who tried everything to oppose him. One of them, a youth
named Alkander, in the Agora tried to hit him with his stuff and
when Lykurgos turned his head, he was hit in the eye and lost it. Lykurgos
did not prosecute him, but took him as his servant, giving him the
opportunity to discover his character. Indeed Alkander became later a
When his laws were accepted, he made Spartans swear that they would not be
changed until he returns and left again.
He never came back, making sure that his laws would not change. He died at
Delphi and according to some in Crete and it is said that before his
death, he asked his body to be burned and the remains to be scattered in
the wind. Lykurgos thus did not permit even his dead body to return.
The hard fought Messenian wars would not have been won,
without the legislation of Lykurgos, which most of all targeted the
discipline and inuring to hardships of the citizens.
According to the rettra or combact, which Lykurgos brought
from Delphi, the Spartan Senate (Gerousia) was consisted from
twenty eight men, at least 60 years old, elected for life and the two
kings. A hundred years later, when the Gerousia became tyrannical, was
dismantled and they were replaced by five Ephors (overseers).
He also arranged for periodical assemblies of the Spartan people (Apella),
for people over 30 years old, in the area between the river Knakion and
the bridge Babyka, though they did not vote, nor were permitted to discuss
the issues, but only accept or reject them loudly.
Lykurgos, in order to avoid strife in the city, he managed to persuade the
people to give their land property and then he divided it in equal shares.
He also assigned equal lots of land to the Perioikoi.
In other laws, he forbade the use of money in gold and silver and in their
place issued iron money, too heavy and of very little value. Also Spartans
were not permitted to build their houses with other tools, except the axe
and the saw.
The unwritten laws of Lykurgos most of all targeted eunomia (good
application of the laws), but at the same time they had the seeds of
aggressiveness. In a period of few years after they came in use, Sparta
conquered almost all of Laconia. The important city of Amyklai,
after a long desperate siege was captured around 750 BC, but its people
were treated well.
743 - 724 BC
The causes of the Messenian wars were two incidents, as
Pausanias tells us, although there is no doubt that the real reason
was the rich and fertile plains of Messenia, that Spartans wanted to
The first incident occurred in the borders of Laconia and Messene, where
there was a temple of Artemis Limnatis, in which both Spartans and
Messenians were celebrating. In the midst of the dance of Spartan virgins,
Messenians rushed and took the women. King Teleklos of Sparta, who
tried to hinder them, was killed. It was said later that all the Spartan
women committed suicide.
But according to the Messenian version, king Teleklos had dressed up young
men as virgins, with concealed daggers. When their plot was discovered,
Messenians after a fight killed Teleklos. Anyway the war did not start
immediately after this event.
The second incident happened with the Spartan Euphaenos and the
Messenian Polychares, a distinguished citizen and an Olympic victor
in Stadium, 764 BC. Euphaenos, who had been trusted with the care of
Polychares cows, sold them and later killed his son who came to inquire.
Polychares, who was unable to find justice in Sparta, started to kill
every Lacedaemonian who passed the borders.
After these incidents, Spartans demanded from Messenians to deliver
Polychares, but in vain and so the war started.
Alkamenes, the son of the king Teleklos of Sparta, in a dark night
surprised the Messenians and entered the city of Ampheia, killing
everybody. From Ampheia, the Spartans were making constants raids, but
they did not succeed to conquer any other cities.
The king of Messenia, Euphaes, fought them with vigor, but for four
years no progress had been made, by either side. During the fifth year, a
big battle took place, which ended indecisive, but after this the
Messenians retired to the fortified mountain of Ithome. In the
meantime an epidemic fell in Messene, killing many people and Messenians
in their distress sent a citizen named Tese at Delphi, to ask about
the outcome of the war. The oracle told them to sacrifice a maiden chosen
by lot, from the house of Apetidae. The lot fell to the daughter of
Lyciskos, who refused to obey and went to Sparta. A leading citizen then
named Aristodemos, offered his own daughter, but the youth who was
in love with her, declared that she was carrying his child. Aristodemos
killed his daughter, opened her body and showed to everyone that this was
a lie. After the sacrifice Messenians took courage and attacked the
disheartened by the event Spartans, who for six years postponed any
During the thirteen year of the war, the Spartan king Theopompos
marched against Ithome and another battle took place, but again without a
victor. When king Euphaes was killed in action, Aristodemos took his
Five years later another battle took place, in which Corinth took the side
of Spartans and Arcadians and Sikyonians the side of Messenians. King
Aristodemos won a decisive victory over the Lacedaemonians, who were
driven back in their territories. Later things turned against Messenians.
Aristodemos after a dream, in which his daughter appeared showing to him
her wounds, slew himself at her tomb. Shortly afterwards and during the
twentieth year of the war, Messenians abandoned Ithome, which was raised
to the ground by the Spartans. The defeated Messenians were punished
severely and took an oath, that they would never revolt and they would
deliver to Sparta every year half of their agricultural products. Many
families fled to Arcadia and the priestly to Eleusis. Those who stayed in
the country became helots. This was the end of the first Messenian war.
Not long after the annexation of Messenia (708 BC), Sparta founded a
colony at Tarentum in South Italy and it seems that the motive was
political. A group called themselves Partheniai (children of
unmarried mothers), who were not recognized as citizens, attempted
revolution and Sparta deemed necessary that the best solution was to send
685 - 668 BC
Some years later Messenians revolted and their leader
Aristomenes in a daring move entered Sparta at night and
offered a shield in the temple of Athena. Spartans after this event went
to the oracle of Delphi, which gave them the answer "to take an
Spartans asked from the Athenians a general and they sent them
Tyrtaeos, who was poet and lame from the one leg. Tyrtaeos with
his poems encouraged Spartans and helped them to win the war.
During the war the leader of Messenians, Aristomenes, was made a
great hero and many stories talk about him.
According to the legend three times Aristomenes sacrificed to Zeus
Ithomatis, the so-called Hecatophonia, reserved only to the
warrior who had killed with his own hands one hundred enemies. Three times
he was captured by the Spartans but he managed to escape. His last capture
occurred in a battle between him and many Spartans, in which he was
wounded all over his body, but he was still fighting, until a stone found
him on the head and fell. He was captured along with fifty others and for
punishment were thrown into the deep pit Kaeadas, of the mount
Taygetos. All the others were killed, but Aristomenes fell upon the
wings of an eagle and survived. When he realized, that there was no way to
get out from this abyss, he laid down and covered himself with his cloak,
waiting to die. Three days later, during the night he heard a soft sound
and in the darkness show a fox eating the corpses. He managed to catch the
fox from the tail and he was guided by her to a small hole, which he
opened further and passed through.
Immediately he went to the city of Eira, which was besieged by
Spartans. Passing from their camp, he killed many of them in their sleep
and plundered the tents of the generals.
Some time later, in a stormy night and with the help of an informer, the
Spartans entered Eira. There was a hard battle, Messenians fought
desperately, the women too, throwing tiles to Spartan soldiers, but at the
end they were defeated.
Aristomenes with many others managed to brake the Spartan lines and
took the women and children in Arcadia. Immediately he chose five hundred
men from Messenian volunteers and with the help of three hundred Arcadians
decided to take Sparta by surprise, now that most of its army was away.
They were ready to move, when they discovered that the king of Arcadia,
Aristocrates, had sent a messenger to the Ephors, informing them about
their plan. The treacherous king was killed in the square of the city by
the Arcadian people with stones and his corpse was thrown out of Arcadia.
The Messenians moved then to Kyllene and from there to lower Italy, where
they founded the new city of Messene. Aristomenes did not follow them and
went to his brother in Rhodes, where he died from bitterness. The
Messenians who did not leave, became Helots and thus ended the
second Messenian war.
The war of six hundred
Around 720 BC the Spartan army under the king
Nikadros with the help of township Asine, ravaged Argolis.
Argives did not forget this and not much later took revenge destroying
In their turn the Spartans annexed Kynouria, which formed part of the
dominion of Argos.
In 547 BC, the Argives attempted to recover the territory, but instead of
a full combat they agreed with the Lacedaemonians, to decide the outcome
of the war and the annexation of Kynouria, with three hundred men each.
The conflict of the six hundred chosen soldiers was so fierce, that only
two Argives survived and one wounded Spartan. The two Argive
hoplites, Alcenor and Chromios, left to give the news of
their victory, but the Spartan Othryades managed to spoil the dead
bodies of the enemy and then killed himself, being ashamed to return to
Sparta. Both sides claimed the victory and a full battle took place not
much later, in which the Argives were defeated.
Wars with Tegea
Spartans attempted various expeditions against Arcadia
and after a long struggle managed to occupy the southern part of her. But
they were totally unsuccessful in the wars, with the city of Tegea. They
were losing battle after battle and in the reign of the Spartan kings
Leon and Agesikles (580 BC), they carried pompously chains in
order to enslave the Tegeans. They met though with disaster, losing
totally the battle and their soldiers were putted in the very chains, they
Spartans in their distress asked the help of the Delphi oracle, which
advised them to obtain the bones of Orestes (son of Agamemnon). The
oracle even directed them to find the remains of the hero at Tegea and
Spartans with a skillful stratagem succeeded to carry the holy remains
home. When that happened the tide of the war turned. The proud Tegeans
lost every battle and finally acknowledged the supremacy of Sparta, but
they were never reduced to subjection and continued to be masters of their
city, becoming only dependant allies.
Kleomenes came to the throne of Sparta around 520 BC.
In a rivalry between Kleisthenes of Athens and Isagoras,
he was called by Isagoras to help. Indeed Kleomenes forced
Kleisthenes and his family to leave the country, but when he expelled five
hundred more families and tried to revive the constitution, the Athenians
revolted and besieged Kleomenes in the Acropolis, who immediately
surrendered and left from Attica. He then assembled an army from Sparta
and with allies marched toward Athens, without telling them that he
wanted to install Isagoras as tyrant in Athens. But when the army came to
Attica, the Corinthians learned the purpose of the expedition and
abandoned the enterprise. The second king of Sparta, king Demaratos,
who had joined the expedition refused also to go further and returned home
and thus the expedition collapsed.
This gave the opportunity to Athens to attack the Thebans and Chalkidaeans,
who were ravaging Attica and defeated them both.
In Sparta, after the kings quarrel, a new law was passed that in the
future only one king would command an expedition. They also summoned the
League and proposed to restore Hippias in Athens, who had been a
friend of Sparta and had come from Asia for the meeting. Again Corinthians
and other allies rejected the plan.
Around 505 BC, a war between Sparta and Argos took place, but the reasons
In 499 BC, the Ionian leader Aristagoras came to Sparta to ask help
in their revolt against Persia. Kleomenes refused and ordered him out of
Kleomenes advanced into Argolis, but he failed to take Argos. He then
asked ships from Sikyon and Aigina which unwillingly gave them and landed
near Tyrinth. There he found, at a place called Sepea, which was
between Argos and the sea, the Argive army. By gross carelessness of the
Argives, he surprised them and defeated them. The Argives then tried to
find refuge in the sacred grove of the Hero Argos. Kleomenes
surrounded them and in a unthinkable for the Greek customs action, he set
fire to the grove. Six thousand Argives lost their lives at that day,
almost two thirds of the whole army (494 BC).
Kleomenes instigated Leotychides, the next heir in the Prokleid line of
kings, to question the legitimacy of king Demaratos. To resolve the
problem the Spartans went to the Delphi oracle, which declared Demaratos
as an illegitimate king.
When later was known, that Kleomenes had bribed the oracle, they ordered
him home, but he fled first to Thessaly and later to Arcadia, where he
worked for a Pan-Arcadian alliance.
The Spartans called him again with promises, but when he arrived, he was
attacked by the people, who following their old habit, they were hitting
him in his head. The Ephors pronounced him insane. He committed suicide,
having mutilated himself with a knife (488 BC).
The Persian Wars
After the suppression of the Ionic revolt, king Darius
started preparing an army to attack Greece.
The Persian expedition that followed under Mardonios ended in
disaster, losing his fleet in a terrible storm in the promontory of mount
Athos. Darius was not disheartened and having in his court the tyrant
Hippias, keeping alive his resentment against Athens, he started preparing
a second expedition and on a larger scale. He first sent heralds to ask
earth and water from the various Greek cities. The Athenians threw them in
the barathron pit and the Spartans in a well, to find there their "earth
For the first time the Greek cities, in the face of the imminent danger
were all united, recognizing Sparta as the leader of Greece. Sparta
refused to send an army to help Athens in Marathon and only arrived after
the battle to find in their amazement that the Athenians had won a
complete victory (490 BC). Greece was fortunate that the next invasion was
led by the son of Darius, Xerxes, a much inferior man than his
Battle of Thermopylae
arrival of Xerxes at Thermopylae, he found that the place
was defended by a body of three hundred Spartans and about seven thousand
hoplites from other states, commanded by the Spartan king Leonidas.
Xerxes learning about the small number of Greek forces and that several
Spartans outside the walls were exercising and combing their hairs, in his
perplexity, immediately called Demaratos to explain him the meaning of all
these. Demaratos told him that the Spartans will defend the place to the
death and it was custom to wash and dress their hairs with special care
when they intended to put their lives in great danger. Xerxes who did not
believe Demaratos, delayed his attack for four days, thinking that the
Greeks as soon as they would realize his great forces will disperse.
He sent also heralds asking to deliver up their arms. The answer from
Leonidas was "come and take them" (Μολών λαβέ).
A Spartan, who was told about the great number of Persian soldiers, who
with their arrows will conceal the sun, he answered: "so much the
better, we will fight in the shade".
At the fifth day Xerxes attacked but without any results and with heavy
losses, though the Medes fought bravely. He then ordered his personal
guard the "Immortals" under Hyrdanes, a body of ten thousand
consisting from the best Persian soldiers, to advance. They also failed
and Xerxes was observed to jump from his throne three times in anger and
agony. The following day they attacked, but again made no progress. Xerxes
was desperate but his luck changed when a Malian named Ephialtes
told him about a secret path across the mountain. Immediately a strong
Persian force was sent with Hyrdanes, guided by the traitor. At day's
break they reached the summit, where the Phokian army was stationed and
who upon seeing the Persians fled.
When Leonidas learned all these incidents, he ordered the council of war
to be summoned. Many were of the opinion that they should retire and find
a better defendable place, but Leonidas, who was bound by the laws of
Sparta and from an oracle, which had declared that either Sparta or a
Spartan king must perish, refused. Three hundred Spartans and seven
hundred Thespians took the decision to stay and fight. The rest were
permitted to leave, with the exception of four hundred Boeotians, which
were retained as hostages.
Leonidas did not wait the Persian attack, which had
being delayed by Xerxes and advanced in the path, he fell upon the
Persians. Thousands of them were slain, the rest were driven near the sea,
but when the Spartan spears broke, they started having losses and one of
the first that fell was king Leonidas. Around his body one of the fiercest
battles took place. Four times the Persians attacked to obtain it and four
times they were repulsed. At the end, the Spartans exhausted and wounded,
carrying the body of Leonidas, retired behind the wall, but they were
surrounded by the enemy, who killed them with arrows.
On the spot, a marble lion was set by the Greeks in honor of Leonidas and
his men, together with two other monuments near by. On one of them, the
memorable words were written:
αγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις, ότι τήδε κείμεθα,
τοις κείνων ρήμασι
tell the Lacedaemonians, that we lie here,
Battle of Plataea
The reluctance, which Sparta showed after the battle of
Thermopylae until a little before the battle of Plataea, did not help the
Greek cause. But when finally she took the decision to engage seriously
herself in the war, it did it in a great manner.
Five thousand citizens, each one attended by seven Helots, together with
five thousand Lacedaemonian Perioikoi (each one attended by one light
armed Helot) marched toward the Isthmos. This was a very large army and
never in the past Sparta had sent such a big force in the field. At
Isthmos, she was joined with the Peloponnesian allies and marched towards
Megara. The army was joined there by three thousand Megarians and finally
at Plataea with eight thousand Athenian hoplites. The city of Plataea also
contributed six hundred hoplites, who came from Salamis, under the command
of Aristeides. The number of Greek army were now thirty eight thousand
hoplites, who with light armed troops and the Helots reached one hundred
and ten thousand men. This number includes the eighteen hundred badly
armed Thespians. There was no cavalry and the bow men were very few.
When Mardonios learned the approach of Lacedaemonians, he left
Attica and by way of Dekeleia crossed the mount Parnes and entered Boeotia.
Marching two days along the Asopos river, he encamped near the town of
The Greeks after consulting the Gods with sacrifices
at Eleusis marched over the ridge of Kithairon mountain and descending
from the northern side they saw the encamped Persian army in the valley of
Asopos. King Pausanias who was waiting good omens from sacrifices
held his troops from the attacks of the Persian cavalry, near Erythrae,
where the ground is ragged and uneven, but even this did not prevent the
commander Masistios to attack the Greeks. When the Megarians were in great
danger suffering many losses, three hundred Athenian hoplites succeeded in
repulsing the Persians, killing the tall and brave Masistios. His body was
paraded in triumph, in a cart. This event encouraged Pausanias, who
positioned the army on the plain, in a line at the right bank of Asopos.
When Mardonios learned the change in the position of the Greeks he ordered
his army to be placed opposite to them on the other side of Asopos.
Himself took the post in the left wing, facing the Lacedaemonians. The
rest of his army consisting from Medized Greeks, fifty thousand strong,
were opposite to Athenians. The center of Mardonios composed from
Bactrians Sacae and Indians. The whole army was numbering three hundred
For eight days the attack was delayed from both sides by unfavorable
sacrifices. On the eight day Mardonios by the advice of the Theban leader
Timagenidas cut off the supplies of the Greeks and captured a big supply
in one of the passes of Kithaeron. Artabazos too, advised him to continue
this line of harassing and wearing but Mardonios was impatient and ordered
his cavalry to attack, which obtained possession of the fountain of
Pausanias summoned the council of war and took the decision to retreat, to
a place called the Island, which was two kilometers further and halfway
between it and the town of Plataea. When Pausanias at night gave the
order of retreat, some Spartans refused to move. Threats did nothing to
persuade the Spartan captain Amomferatus, who took a huge rock and threw
it at the feet of Pausanias, with the words: "with this pebble I give
my vote not to fly".
Pausanias who had no time to lose since daybreak was near, he left Amompheratus and his lochos behind and hurried to the island. Mardonios
ordered attack when he learned that the Greeks had retreated. His army
passing the waters of Asopos started to throw arrows to the Greeks, who
did not engage, even in this moment, in battle until they received a good
omen from the sacrifices. Mardonios at the head of his one thousand
bodyguards was in the front line fighting bravely, until he was struck
down by the Spartan Aimnestos. When Mardonios fell the Persian army fled
to their fortified camp. But this did not save them, the Greeks managed to
enter and a great massacre took place. Only three thousand Persians who
escaped, from the three hundred thousand, survived. The Greeks lost only
one thousand and three hundred men.
In 464 BC, during the night, a powerful earthquake shook Sparta and the
rest of Lacedaemon. The earth opened and the summits of mount Taygetos
were torn. All the houses of Sparta fell down except five. This
catastrophe continued for five days. At least twenty thousand
Lacedaemonians lost their lives.
The Peloponnesian war
431 - 421 BC
The unavoidable clash between Sparta and Athens came
with an incident at the friendly to Athens city of Plataea. Archidamos
invaded Attica in the spring of 431 BC without opposition, since Athens
had taken the decision not to engage to a land battle with Sparta and thus
started the Peloponnesian war, that lasted for 28 years. The first ten
years of the war (431 - 421 BC) were named "Archidamios war" from
the name of the able king of Sparta Archidamos.
On the side of Lacedaemonians were all the Peloponnesian states with the
exception of Argos and Achaea which entered the war joining Sparta later.
They were also the Boeotians, Megarians, Lokrians, Phokaeans, Leukadians,
Ambrakiotes and Anaktorians. The coast states supplied ships, the
Boeotians, Locrians and Phokians with cavarly.
On the side of Athens were the Plataeans, Chians, Lesbians, Messenians,
Corkyraeans, Zakynthians, Akarnanians as well as the towns of the coast of
Asia and Thrace and all the isles of Aegean, except Melos and Thera. The
Athenian troops were 29,000 hoplites, 1200 horsemen and 1600 archers and
her navy was 300 triremes without counting those of her allies. The Chians,
Corkyraeans and Lesbians supplied shipping.
Archidamos forces which entered Attica consisted from about 60,000 to
100,000 men and at the beginning he tried unsuccessful attacks upon the
fortress of Oenoe, on mount Kithairon, failing to take it. He then marched
towards Eleusis, where he arrived at the middle of June 431 BC.
After ravaging the Thracian plain he encamped at Acharnae, seven miles
from Athens. In the meantime the Athenians had collected the population
within the walls and had sent all the animals to Euboea. Archidamos
evacuated Attica at the end of July and his army was dismantled
immediately. Upon his departure the Athenians at the end of September,
attacked Megara which they ravaged totally.
At the spring of 430 BC, Archidamos again invaded Attica, but in the
meantime the plague had broken out in Athens. The Lacedaemonians
with greater force ravaged all the neighborhood of Athens marching
as far as the mines of Laurium. In their turn Athenians, with 100 triremes
under the command of Knemos devastated the island of Zakynthos.
At the third year of the war (429 BC) Archidamos marched towards the city
of Plataea and demanded to hand him over the city and their land
properties, promising that after the war everything would be restored to
them. The majority of Plataeans were in favor of the proposal, but
Athenians exhorted them to hold out promising them assistance. After their
refusal, Archidamos surrounded the small city of Plataea and the famous
siege started. For three months Spartans tried everything to conquer the
city but without success. They then decided to blockade and starve the
population. For this they
surrounded Plataea with a double wall, but even this measure had no
success. After two years, when the provisions of Plataea started to
run short, 212 men escaped in a stormy December night. The rest of the
population surrendered in 427 BC. They were put in trial before five
Spartan judges and executed. The town of Plataea was transferred to
Thebes, who after a few months destroyed all the private houses to the
In the fourth and fifth year of the war Spartans again invaded
Attica. In the sixth year of the war (426 BC) the Spartans did not invade
Attica. A series of severe earthquakes and floods occurred in various
parts of Greece. At Athens the plaque reappeared.
During the seventh year of the war the Lacedaemonian army under the
command of Agis invaded Attica, but only for the sort time of fifteen
days. Agis was recalled and marched towards Pylos, because the Athenians
had established a military post at Pylos in Messenia. The
Peloponnesian fleet that was in Corkyra under the command of
Thrasymelidas, was also ordered to sail to Pylos. Thrasymelidas on
arriving at Pylos with his fleet, he occupied the small but densely wooded
island of Sfacteria with four hundred and twenty hoplites and their
helots. Part of these men, two hundred and ninety-two, among them many
belonging to chief families, were later captured by the Athenian Kleon and
brought to Athens in chains, the rest had been killed after a severe
conflict on the islet. The event surprised the Hellenic world who knew
that Spartans never surrendered. Sparta was now in a bad position. The
Messenians from Pylos together with the runaway helots were able to
plunder the country, also Sparta could not invade Attica, knowing that the
captured men would put immediately to death.
The eighth year of the war (424 BC) was disastrous for Athens. They
defeated at the battle of Delium, by the Thebans. They also lost Thrace.
After all these Athenians seriously considered the proposals for peace by
At the same year one of the biggest crimes, committed in ancient Greece,
occurred. Sparta pretending to give liberty to the most worthy Helots, who
had fought bravely, selected two thousand of the best men and after
honoring them and crowning them with garlands at a ceremony, slain them by
secret orders from the Ephors. The reason being, that Sparta felt
threatened from their increased power.
In the ninth year of the war (423 BC) a truce was signed for a year, on
which a permanent peace would be prepared. But the negotiations were
interrupted two days after the signing of the truce, when Athenians
learned that Scione had revolted and was under the command of Brasidas. In
August, an Athenian force by the command of Kleon was sent to Scione. At
the battle that followed, both Kleon and Brasidas were killed and thus the
obstacles for permanent peace seized to exist.
The Spartan king Pleistoanax and general Nikias of Athens, in the spring
of 421 BC, signed a peace treaty for fifty years, the so-called peace
of Nikias. The Spartan prisoners were returned and Athens was allowed
to keep the cities of Anactorium, Sollium and Nisae. Not everybody was
satisfied by the peace and the allies of Sparta, Corinth, Thebes, Megara
and Eleans refused to ratify it.
During the peace between Sparta and Athens matters were far from being
satisfactory. Her allies, Boeotians and Corinthians never accepted the
peace and Athens refused to evacuate Pylos. Alkibiades of Athens persuaded
both Achaea and Patrae to ally with Athens and helped Argos in the attack
upon Epidauros, which they ravaged. Spartans could not accept all these
and assembling a large army in which her allies were participating,
invaded Argos and surrounded the Argive army. A battle was ready to start
when two Argive oligarch leaders came to king Agis of Sparta and persuaded
him to sign a truce for four months. A little later Alkibiades leading a
force of one thousand hoplites and four hundred cavalry came to assist
Argives and persuaded them to attack the city of Orchomenos in Arcadia.
After they conquered Orchomenos they marched against Tegea. In the
meantime king Agis, who had being blamed for the truce with the Argives,
marched with a large force in the territory of Mantinea and positioned
himself near the temple of Hercules. The Argives and their allies left the
city of Mantinea and in a well chosen ground offered battle. King
Agis was ready to attack them at this advantageous for the Argives ground,
but when the Spartans came close, an old Spartan warrior told him, that
with his act was trying "to heal one mischief by another". These
words made him to withdraw his men. After this, the Argives took
position in the plain and tried to attack them by surprise. The right
section of the Argive army, which was consisted from the flower of
aristocracy, a permanent body of one thousand chosen soldiers drilled and
maintained by the city of Argos, were successful to route the
Lacedaemonians, but Agis with the rest of his army which was more
successful, he managed to win the battle (June 418 BC). Athenians lost two
hundred hoplites included the generals Laches and Nikostratos, the Argives
and their allies lost another nine hundred men. From the Lacedaemonian
army only three hundred men lost. Even after all these, the peace of
Nikias typically was still in existence.
The Peloponnesian war
415 - 404 BC
In 415 BC, in the expedition of Athenians in Syracuse,
the Spartan general Gylippos with four ships came to the assistance of
Syracuse. Though his force was small, he helped greatly Syracuse to win
the war. He firstly captured the Athenian fort at Labdalum, that made him
master of Epipolae and build fortifications. He then constructed a counter
wall to intersect the Athenian lines at the north side. A little later he
was reinforced by the arrival of thirty triremes. This small participation
of Sparta in the war was of the outmost importance.
After the Athenian disaster in Syracuse, the war between Athens and
Sparta became maritime. Lacedaemonians gave a better attention
on their naval power. A new office, that of Navarchia, was risen.
The Navarchos (Admiral) was even superior to the Ephors. In the
beginning though Sparta had not much success.
In August of 411 BC, the Peloponnesian fleet commanded by Mindaros lost
the naval battle at Kynossema. The Athenian fleet though smaller in force,
in the straits of Sestos and Abydos, gained a complete victory.
In 410 BC, Alkibiades managed to capture the whole Peloponnesian fleet at
Kyzicos. Mindaros was killed and the second in command Spartan sent a
letter to the Ephors in Laconic form: "Ships gone; Mindaros dead;
men starving; no idea what to do."
Spartans were so discouraged, that they sent the Ephor Endius to
Athens for a peace agreement but the Athenians, who were influenced by the
demagogue Kleophon, rejected the offer.
Spartans now appointed a new navarchos, the able man Lysander. When his
turn of command expired, he was succeeded by Kallicratidas, who increased
the number of ships of the Spartan fleet. There was a naval battle at the
harbor of Mytelene with the Athenian fleet under Konon. The Athenians, who
were outnumbered, lost the battle and thirty ships. Another forty ships
were saved by bringing them ashore, near the walls of the town.
Kallicratidas then blockade the island. When the news arrived at Athens
they sent a fleet of one hundred and ten triremes and they were reinforced
with another forty later. The number of ships of Kallicratidas were one
hundred and twenty. At the small island of Arginusae, the Athenian
fleet met the Spartan and after a hard struggle defeated them (406 BC).
The Lacedaemonians lost seventy seven ships and the rest were retreated at
Chios and Phocaea. Kallicratidas was thrown overboard, when his ship was
hit by another and perished. The Athenians lost only twenty five ships.
Though it was illegal for an admiral to have a second term, Lysander, with
the title of Epistoleus (bearer of letters), took the command of
the Spartan fleet. He immediately obtained large sums of money from Kyros,
king of Persia, to rebuild the fleet and made siege on Lampsacus.
The Athenians, who came to help, arrived too late to save the city and
took post at Aegospotamoi (Goat's river) close to the city of Lampsacus.
Lysander who systematically avoided a naval battle, since his ships were
outnumbered, he managed to capture the enemy fleet after treachery or
negligence of the Athenians. All 4000 Athenian prisoners were put to
death. This event substantially marked the end of Athens.
After the fall of Athens, Sparta became the undisputed
leader of Greece for 34 years. Her first move was to punish the
Eleans, who along with Argos and Mantinea had taken the arms against them,
during the war with Athens and also for the insults they had received when
they excluded them from the games of Olympia. They demanded from Eleans to
pay for the expenses of the war and resign their authority over the
dependent townships in Trifylia. Eleans of course did not accept these
demands and in 402 BC king Agis entered in their territory but unfavorable
omens and an earthquake forced the Spartans to return home.
In the following year they invaded Elean again. After ravaging and
plundering the territory, they forced them to a humiliating peace.
At 400 BC, king Agis died and he was succeeded by Agesilaos, who
led an army into Asia.
It was the first time, that a Greek army had entered Asia, from the times
In 396 BC, he arrived and took command of the city of Ephesos. When
the satrap Tissaphernes ordered him to quit Asia, Agesilaos fooled
him and instead of attacking Caria, as was expected, he moved towards
Phrygia, the satrapy of Arnavazos and reached Daskylium,
where he was repulsed by the Persian cavalry. He then returned to Ephesos,
where he prepared a cavalry.
Shortly later he again fooled Tissaphernes, making known that he would
march toward Sardis. Tissaphernes who thought that this was
another trick, dispersed his cavalry elsewhere and Agesilaos unopposed, he
arrived at the river Pactolos, where a battle took place and the
Persians were defeated.
In the meantime, Tissaphernes was assassinated and Tithrastes took his
place, who persuaded Agesilaos to quit his satrapy for the sum of thirty
talents. Agesilaos then moved to the satrapy of Artavazos now, whose
magnanimity he appreciated and left his territory also and entered the
plains of Thebes, close to the gulf of Eleus.
In 394 BC, during his preparations for a big expedition in the interior of
Asia Minor, he was recalled home, because Sparta felt threatened.
Agesilaos during his expedition in Asia had been appointed Navarchos
(admiral). He was the first man in Sparta to acquire so much power. He
immediately started to prepare a new fleet of 120 triremes and put to the
command his brother in law Pisander. In the beginning of August of the
same year, half of Sparta's fleet was captured or destroyed by the
Athenian fleet under Konon, in the peninsula of Knidos in Caria. Pisander
who fought gallantry perished in the battle.
About the same time with the naval battle at Knidos there was another
battle of Sparta against the joining forces of Thebes, Athens, Corinth and
Argos fought in the territory of Corinth which Sparta won (battle of
Corinth 394 BC).
In August of 394 BC, king Agesilaos returned from the
expedition in Asia and brought his army in the valley Koronea of
Boeotia. From the other side Thebans, Athenians and their allies were
ready for battle.
The two armies came silently close to each other. When they reached a
distance of two hundred meters, the Thebans raised their usual paeans and
started to run towards the Spartan army, who moved only when the Thebans
came about one hundred meters close. Thebans quickly overpowered the
opposite of them soldiers of Orchomenos, in the left wing, but Agesilaos,
who had also success on the other side cut the Thebans from the rest of
the army. Now Thebans were forced to attack the Spartans, in order to join
with their allies. It was such the force of the impact of the two armies,
that the spears broke. Pushing with shields each other, they only could
use their daggers. Both armies fought desperately but Thebans made their
way through braking the Spartan lines. King Agesilaos, though many times
wounded was at the front ranks and fought with valor. The outcome of the
battle though indecisive ended with victory of Sparta.
A few years later, the disgraceful peace of Antalkidas (387 BC)
took place, in which Sparta was permitting the Persians to interfere in
the affairs of Hellas. In the remark of someone, who said that Spartans
were Medizing, Agesilaos replied "say rather that the Medes are
The city of Thebes, which had not taken any serious
part in the Peloponnesian war, was prospering but as was usual with all
the Greek cities, was torn inside from the fights of oligarchs and
That was the case, when Leontiades a prominent oligarch, asked for
help from the near Thebes encamped Spartan army, under general
Phoebidas (382 BC). Leontiades, in order to expel the democrats from
Thebes, proposed to the general to take over Kadmeia, something which was
All these were happening during the celebration of Thesmophoria,
when women alone were performing ceremonies to honor the founder of the
city, Kadmos, and they were no males on the citadel. Phoebidas and
his army entered Kadmeia, without any difficulties.
Ismenias, the leader of the democratic party was tried and
executed. The oligarchs, with the help of the Spartan garrison, started
confiscating and executing the democrats. Many of them found refuge at
Athens. From there they started thinking how to free their city.
At first, they tried to get help especially from Athens, but soon
they despaired and started designing various plots to liberate Thebes by
themselves. Among the exiles they were many belonging to wealthy and noble
families, such as Pelopidas, Damokleidas, Melon and
others. They were in constant communication with other members which were
still in Thebes, the most prominent of them being Phyllidas the
secretary of the polemarch Archias and Charon.
Upon arrival of Phyllidas in Athens for official
business it was arranged to provide the opportunity for the exiles to
struck. Charon would provide shelter in his home. Phyllidas arranged a
banquet for Archias and Philippus and promised them beautiful women for
In December of 379 BC, Pelopidas, Melon and five companions left Athens
and disguised as rustics and hunters, entered the city of Thebes at night
fall and hid in Charon's house. Together with other conspirators from
Thebes, they totaled 48 persons. A spy of Archias, reported to him that
they were rumors that some of the exiles were in town. Archias called
Charon to give some answers. Charon though worried, went quickly to him
and from his questions understood that he had no facts but only
suspicions. He promised to look upon the matter and left.
Soon after a messenger from Athens came with a letter in which the full
conspiracy was revealed. Archias, who by now was drunk, threw it
aside, saying the famous words "Urgent business for tomorrow".
Immediately after, the conspirators disguised as women entered the room
and killed Archias and Philippus and everyone else who was there.
Phyllidas then sent Pelopidas, Kephisodorus and Damokleidas to Leontiades
house. There was a hard fight in which Leontiades, a strong man, mortally
wounded in the throat Kephisodorus. Pelopidas, after a long struggle in
the narrow hall of his house, killed Leontiades. With the death of the two
tyrants, the exiles from Athens returned.
Epameinondas with some of the young men broke open the armorer's
shops and called the citizens to fight for their freedom. After all these,
the Spartan garrison of 1500 men, left Thebes for Sparta (378 BC).
In 375 BC, near Tegyra, Pelopidas with the Theban Sacred
Band defeated the Spartan army, though his troops were half in number.
Being informed that the Spartan garrison in Orchomenos were visiting
Lokris, he marched with the Sacred Band in order to give battle. He
met them at Tegyra and thanks to his encouragement in a narrow pass he
defeated them, killing both of the Lacedaemonian commanders. The rest of
the Spartan army dispersed and fled. This was a heroic achievement by
Pelopidas, taking in consideration the smaller number of his troops and
the Spartan valor. It was this battle that gave confidence to Thebans to
meet Spartans four years later in Leuctra.
In 372 BC, Antalkidas dispatched again in Persia asking them to intervene,
when Thebes violated the peace by re-establishing the Boeotian
confederation. Athens too was dissatisfied with Thebes, who recently had
destroyed the city of Plataea. Negotiations for peace between Athens and
Sparta started and in the congress which took place in 371 BC, in the city
of Sparta, Thebes was invited too.
The Thebans, who wanted to take the oath for the treaty as head of the
confederacy, refused to take it for their city alone and only the threat
of war persuade them to consent. After that incident Sparta's first
priority was to weaken Thebes, by breaking the Theban confederacy.
In the dissatisfied from the confederacy cities of Orchomenos and Thespiae,
they installed a garrison.
To the city of Mantinea, who had helped Argos in the war with Sparta, they
sent a messenger demanding to raze their walls. In their hesitation,
Agesipolis did not wait and bringing an army he took Mantinea. Spartans
demolished their fortification and reduced the city in the five villages,
as it was in the past.
The battle of
In 371 BC, on the plain of Leuctra, Spartans
were defeated again from the Theban Sacred Band, this
time under the leadership of General Epameinondas, though the
Theban forces were outnumbered by the Lacedaemonians, Epameinondas with a
series of ingenious tactics and with the help of his supreme trained men
of the Sacred Band defeated the invincible Spartan army. He arrayed the
best men of his troops, fifty shields deep, opposite to the opponent right
wing occupied by the Spartans, which were twelve shields deep, leaving his
center and left wing weak and ordering them to stay momentarily out of
action. The battle started with the engagement of Spartan and Theban
cavalries, which ended quickly with the defeat of Spartans. Pelopidas
leading the Sacred Band fell upon the Spartans with irresistible force but
the Spartans fought bravely and at first were victorious. It was only when
leading Spartans fell that the Spartan lines pushed and broke carrying
away the rest of the army and driving them to the camp. King
Kleombrotos of Sparta and many of his officers were killed. The rest
of the army hardly had any serious fighting. From the 700 Spartans who
took part in the battle, only 300 survived. The whole Hellas was in sock
from the event, understanding that a new power had risen. At Argos, there
was a revolution and the people put to death many of the upper class pro-spartan.
After the battle they sent heralds to Athens proclaiming their victory
over the Spartans, but Athenians were not satisfied with the turn of
events. Now they had a new superpower a few miles from Athens. They also
sent a herald to Jason of Pherae in Thessaly. Jason upon hearing the news
said he would come quickly in Thebes with triremes, but instead with great
speed and passing through enemy territory he arrived in Boeotia. There the
Theban leaders proposed him to attack the encamped Spartans and her
allies. Jason and Epameinondas refused and managed to persuade them to let
them go and thus saving Spartans from a bigger catastrophe. Spartans
indeed soon left and at Aigosthena they met with Archidamos who was
marching to help them. From there they returned home.
With the battle of Leuctra, the Hegemony of Greece passed from Sparta to
Thebes, but for the short time of ten years. It did no good and as that of
Sparta it hurt Greece greatly. Thebes had no experienced and knowledgeable
men, nor her economy could withstand this. It failed as Sparta did, to
unite the Greek cities and stop the blood bath of Greece. There was
turmoil all over Peloponnese. The inhabitants of Mantinea in Arcadia,
which had been broken in several villages, took back their capital and
build new walls. In Tegea of Arcadia, the people formed an Arcadian
federation. In two years time a powerful confederation was born that was
including except the old alliances, Phokis, Locris, Aitolia and Euboea.
After the battle of Leuctra, Thebes made again peace with Athens and
wanted to destroy Orchomenos for being in alliance with the Spartans. The
city was saved thanks to the great efforts of Epameinondas, but not for
long. A few years later when Epameinondas was at an expedition in
Byzantium, the city was razed, its male citizens were killed and the rest
were sold in slavery. That, it was another big blunder by the Thebans.
In Arcadia, an ally of Thebes, king Agesilaos of Sparta
was ravaging its territories. In reply to this, Thebes sent an army under
Epameinondas. When Agesilaos heard the news, he evacuated Arcadia and
returned to Sparta, to protect her.
Upon Epameinondas arrival in Arcadia, he joined forces with members of the
confederation from Arcadia, Argos and Elis. The total number of the army
force was amounted to about fifty thousand men. The confederation pressed
strongly Epameinondas, to invade Laconia, explaining to him that there was
a general discontent and by this time many Perioikoi had revolted.
He was finally persuaded and in the autumn of 370 BC, invaded Laconia from
four different routes, marching towards Sparta.
Only the Arcadians encountered serious resistance, by the Spartan
Ischolaos at Ium, in the district Skiritis. Ischolaos and his
divisions fell to the last man.
Finally, they all met at Sellasia, which they destroyed and burned
and from there, they marched towards Sparta, which was saved from king
Agesilaos, who had taken a series of defenses to protect the unwalled
Epameinondas who understood the danger of an attack towards the city in
human loss, abandoned any further attempts to conquer the city. From
there, burning and plundering villages, he marched towards the port and
arsenal of Sparta, Gythium, which he attempted to conquer for three
days, without success.
Epameinondas then returned to Arcadia and under his supervision a new city
was built at the banks of the river Helisson, as the capital of the
Arcadian confederation and it was named Megalopolis (the big city).
In Megalopolis, a synod of deputies from all the towns of the
confederation, was to meet periodically, to manage their affairs.
After this Epameinondas entered Messenia, in order to liberate her from
the Spartans. In the mean time defection among the Perioikoi and
Helots had already started. Epameinondas re founded Messene and in the
hills of mount Ithome built excellent fortifications stretched for
four miles, which are still preserved today. All of these had a
devastating effect in the economy of Sparta, which lost half of its
territory for ever and had no more the people to provide for its military.
In the meantime, Sparta had asked help from Athens. Iphicrates with an
Athenian army of twenty thousand men, marched to Arcadia. Epameinondas
hearing the news evacuated Laconia quickly and headed to Arcadia. The two
armies, though close, did not engage in full battle. Iphicrates, who
decided that his mission had been accomplished, returned to Athens.
Epameinondas too, returned to Thebes and he was put to a trial, because he
extended the time of his expedition and also for being pacific and
inactive. He defended himself successfully, increasing even more his
The accomplishments of his expedition were great. He weakened and
humiliated Sparta and at the same time he increased the reputation of his
Because it was essential to communicate with her allies, in the spring of
369 BC, Epameinondas again tried to invade Peloponnese, but this time
Athenians, Spartans and their allies were occupying the line of mount
Onean and Kenchreae, in order to prevent him to enter Peloponnese.
Epameinondas arrived and tried without success to make them fight in
battle, even though his army was smaller. He encamped and a few hours
before day break surprised them, by attacking and defeating the Spartan
and Pellenian line. He was thus enabled to enter Peloponnese and join with
his allies Arcadians, Elians and Argians. Sikyon deserted Sparta, after a
vote taken by its people and admitted an harmost and a Theban garrison
into its Acropolis. The same did Pellene. After the army ravaged the
territories of Epidauros and Phleious, he tried by surprise to take the
town of Corinth, but they defeated by the Athenian general Gavrias, who
resisted with great skill. After this unsuccessful attempt, the Theban
army returned home.
During the year of 368 BC, Epameinondas did not undertake any expedition
into Peloponnese, instead Pelopidas with an army Theban force entered
Thessaly, to protect Larissa from king Alexander of Macedonia.
Pelopidas forced him to solicit peace, taking among the fifty hostages the
future king of Macedonia, the son of Amyntas, Philip, who stayed for some
years at the city of Thebes.
In 366 BC, Thebes enlarged the confederation by including cities of the
Corinthian gulf and Achaia, but lost them again, when demanded that their
oligarchic government ought to be deposed. That was a great mistake,
showing the luck of experienced men.
In 364 BC, after insistence of Epameinondas, a large number of war ships
were constructed and sailing them towards Hellispond. Epameinondas
succeeded to win over Byzantium. Financial difficulties as well as luck of
experience in maritime, put an end in the ambitions of Thebes.
The battle of
In 363 BC, in a surprising move Arcadians seized
Olympia and stole their treasury. War broke with Elis but with the
intervention of Thebes, Olympia was returned and peace followed. During
the negotiations the Theban representative tried to arrest certain
anti-Thebans. That had as result Mantinea and the rest of northern
Arcadians, except Tegea, to turn over to Sparta. Athens which was
monitoring the situation joined together with Elis. Thebes had no option
but to send quickly Epameinondas with a big army against Mantinea. At
Tegea about ten miles distance from Mantinea, he joined army with them but
in unexpected move instead of Mantinea he marched towards Sparta. Unlike
the first time this move would have taken by surprise Agesilaos who by
this time was marching in a circular root to support Mantinea. But a
Kretan spy in the Theban camp, trained in long distance running, informed
Agesilaos who turned back. When Epameinondas reached Sparta and found out
what had happened he moved quickly towards Mantinea before her allies
arrival. It was probably really this his object and not of course to
attack Sparta ,but not everything went according to his plan. By this time
the Athenian army had just arrived. Now Epameinondas had no option but to
engage himself in a pitched battle.
The two armies met before Mantinea in 362 BC. The Theban army, comprising
from Thebans and Boeotians moved forward. The rest of the army was left
behind in echelon formation with the exception of troops that kept a high
ground in order to prevent out flagging from the right. As the army moved,
Epameinondas turned quickly leftwards and near the slopes of the mountain
and then he gave order to the soldiers to leave the arms down and rest.
The Spartans and Mantineans thinking that Epameinondas had no intention to
fight a battle, they broke lines.
Epameinondas, who was awaiting for this, ordered a quick attack. The
massive Theban body fell upon Spartans and Mantineans with irresistible
force breaking their lines and bringing confusion and chaos to the rest of
The battle had been almost won when Epameinondas fell pierced by a spear
in the breast. They lied him on a hill, waiting for the final outcome of
the battle. Though the battle was won by Thebans, on Epameinondas order
they made peace, when he learned that all his favorite generals had been
perished in the battle.
The end of
After the battle of
Chaeronea (338 BC) Phillip of Macedon marched through the Peloponnese,
welcomed by all the cities but when he reached Sparta they refused him to
enter. Phillip did not try to take by force the city and left.
Sparta was the only Greek city that did not take part in the League of
Corinth, which was formed in 337 BC, under Macedonian control.
In 331 BC, king Agis, the grandson of Agesilaos, raised a revolt
against Macedonia, but he was defeated and killed.
In the end of the 4th century BC, Sparta build a wall for the first time
in her history, which was enclosing its four central villages and
When in 280 BC, the Celts invaded from the north overrunning Macedon, king
Areus of Sparta, who had tried to unite the cities of Peloponnese,
led an army into central Greece. During his reign the first coins of
Sparta was issued, three hundred years later from the rest of Greece.
In 272 BC, king Pyrros of Epeiros could easily have taken the city after
defeating the Spartans. Sparta became a dependency of Macedon, regained
independence under the tyrants Machanidas (207 BC) and Nabis (195 - 192
In 265 BC again, having formed an alliance with Athens, Achaea and Elis
and some Arcadian cities, gave battle against Macedon but lost it and in
his retreat was killed (Chremonidean war).
The son of Areus, Akrotatos, in 260 BC leading the Spartan army
against Megalopolitans, he was defeated and himself killed.
In 244 BC, Agis IV came to the throne and starting a series of
changes. He proposed all debts to be cancelled, and to redistribute all
land, in parts of 4500 citizens and 15000 Perioikoi. He also insisted on
strict Lykurgian training in the citizens for the remained 700 equals
(omioi) and 2000 hypomeiones and selected perioikoi. He found in
his proposals strong resistance and Agis was put in trial and executed in
The next king of Sparta Kleomenes III, began to reign in 236 BC. He
married the widow of king Agis and also tried to impose his ideas. In 227
BC, in a revolt he killed four ephors and exiled eighty of his opponents.
That it was the first time the ephorate was abolished in Sparta. He then
redistributed the land into 4000 lots and perioikoi as well as hypomeiones
occupied them. He also started to enforce the Lykurgos training and
habits, under the guidance of his friend philosopher Sphairos. All these
changes brought results and Kleomenes had many military successes. Argos
and most of Argolid and eastern Arcadia was conquered.
The Achaean league under Aratos of Sikyon, with the promise of giving him
back Corinth, allied with king Antigonos of Macedon and recovered Argos
and several Arcadian cities. In his turn Kleomenes captured and destroyed
Megalopolis (223 BC).
In 222 BC, at Sellacia, between Sparta and Tegea, a battle took
place. The Spartan army was numbering 10,000 and that of Antigonos and his
allies 30,000. At this long and horrid battle, Spartans fought bravely.
The whole Spartan army fell, except 200 men. King Kleomenes fled to Egypt.
The following years, a series of revolts started at Sparta, king's ephors
were killed or exiled.
In 206 BC, the tyrant Nabis, a descendant of Demaratos, who
had fled in Persia in 490 BC, took the throne. An able but ruthless man,
he confiscated the properties of the wealthy and gave them to the poor. By
setting free slaves, he managed to acquire an army of 10,000 men and he
also extended his social reforms to Argos. It was Nabis who
foreseeing the incoming dangers fortified Sparta for the first time
in her history.
When the Roman commander Flamininus invaded Laconia and laid siege to
Sparta, after a few days of fighting a non honorable truce was accepted by
Sparta, in which was losing all the Perioikic cities on the coasts and
Later with the pretence of helping Sparta, the Aitolians sent a thousand
soldiers to kill Nabis and secure Sparta. They managed to kill
him but they all were massacred from the Spartans. After Nabis
assassination, Sparta was forced by Philopoemen to become a member of the
Achaean league. Her walls were razed and the laws of Lykurgos repealed.
Under the Romans in the 2nd century AD, Laconia as a province of Achaea
was allowed to revert to a Lykurgian regime.
In 396 AD, the city was destroyed by Alaric.
In the 9th century AD, the Slavs invaded and the population was forced to
migrate to Mani.
The Byzantines refound a town and named her Lacedaemonia but her
importance had been lost by 1248 AD and disappeared from history totally,
by 1834 AD.
Today the city of modern Sparta occupies the very same territory of the