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Agesilaus – The Last Great Spartan King

If I have done any noble action, that is a sufficient memorial; if I have done nothing noble, all the statues in the world will not preserve my memory.

—Agesilaus, quoted in Plutarch’s Spartan Sayings Agesilaus 79

Important People

Agis II – The Spartan king and older brother of Agesilaus who led Sparta during most of the latter half of the Peloponnesian War. After his death around 398 BC, the Spartans must decide whether his son, whose father could be Alcibiades, has a legitimate claim to the throne or whether they should grant the kingship to Agesilaus.

Lysander – Spartan naval commander who conquered Athens and annexed the old Athenian Empire, enriching his friends along the way. His influence in Sparta is powerful enough to reinterpret an oracle and convince the Spartan people to accept Agesilaus as their king.

Xenophon – Personal friend of Agesilaus and Socrates, Xenophon made Agesilaus the protagonist of his Hellenika and then went so far as to write another encomiastic biography of Agesilaus. Plutarch writes this life and the Life of Pelopidas with these works of Xenophon in mind and attempts in part to provide for us a perspective that balances out the pro-Spartan biases of Xenophon with Plutarch’s pro-Boeotian leanings.

Pharnabazus – Are you a good satrap, or a bad satrap? Pharnabazus is the satrap Agesilaus would love to have as a friend, but will also respect as an enemy; he’s a man of his word who honors his commitments and deals fairly with both enemy and friend.

Tissaphernes – A perfidious satrap mistrusted by every Greek who interacts with him, particularly Alcibiades. When he meets his end (as detailed in this life), Plutarch can’t find a reason to be sad.

Antalcidas – The ephor (re-elected many times?) who negotiates in Persia for the King’s Peace (387 BC sometimes also called the Peace of Antalcidas)

Sphodrias – The Spartan opportunist who attempts to take the Athenian port at the Peiraeus by surprise at night. He fails and is recalled to Sparta for trial, in which he is acquitted because of the influence of his friends and Agesilaus’s son.

Cleonymus – Sphodrias’s son

Epaminondas – The Theban general who invades Laconia twice, victorious in the battles of Leuctra (371 BC) and Mantineia (362 BC), his wounds at the latter lead to his early death and the unraveling of Theban hegemony in the Peloponnese.

Archidamus III – Agesilaus’s son

Chabrias – The Athenian naval mercenary who serves first under Tachys and then under Nectabanis in Egypt.

Nectabanis or Nectanebo II – The Egyptian leader who revolts from Tachys and convinces Agesilaus to switch sides and join him. Agesilaus’s tactical perspective allows Nectabanis to secure his claim to the throne. Nectabanis sends Agesilaus back to Sparta with 230 silver talents.

Agamemnon and Menelaus – The two brothers who led the Bronze Age attack against Troy now immortalized in Homer’s Iliad and the homeward journeys of which are recounted in Homer’s Odyssey. Because Agesilaus begins his reign by attacking Persia, Plutarch draws many comparisons with Agamemnon in this life (5.4; 6.4.; 6.5; 9.4). Since Agesilaus dies near where Menelaus was shipwrecked on his way home (cf. Odyssey Book 4), Agesilaus can be compared with both leaders of this legendary expedition.

Important Places

  • Boeotia – A geographic area north of Attica in which the largest polis, Thebes, usually held sway. Sparta fights Thebes in defense of the smaller poleis having greater autonomy from Thebes. Thebes, in the person of Epaminondas, is quick to point out that Sparta does not grant the same freedoms to the poleis in the Peloponnesus. In the regions of Laconia and Messenia, which the Spartans conquered 600 years early, the Spartans have held most of the population as slaves called Helots (see Life of Lycurgus).
  • Caria, Phrygia, Lydia, Pahplagonia – Coastal regions of Asia Minor (Anatolia for the Greeks) that contained a large population of Greek-speaking poleis. Since before the Persian Wars, the Athenians and the Spartans have been protecting and freeing these cities from Persian interference and conquest. Just after the Peloponnesian War ended, Cyrus the Younger had gathered Greek mercenaries (including Xenophon!) in this area to fight his older brother, Artaxerxes, for the throne. 10,000 Greek mercenaries join Cyrus’s campaign, but Cyrus is killed in battle at Cunaxa, deep in the heart of the Persian Empire. Many of the 10,000 make it out alive, but the Persians punish the western satrapies of Asia Minor, precipitating Agesilaus’s involvement there by about 396 BC.
  • Sardis – The capital of the satrapy Cardia, sited at the strategically important the end of the Royal Road which connects the heart of the Persian Empire to its furthest Western boundary.
  • Corinth – A powerful polis always living either in the Athenian or the Spartan shadow.
  • Thebes (Cadmeia) – An ally of Sparta for much of the Peloponnesian War and the Corinthian War afterwards, Thebes later pulls away from Spartan leadership. Under the leadership of Pelopidas and Epaminondas, Thebes manages briefly to eclipse Spartan power but, after the death of these two generals, Thebes once again fades under the shadow of Macedon threatening from the North. Thebes and Athens are famously allied in their last stand against Philip of Macedon and a young Alexander the Great in the battle of Chaeronea.
  • Egypt – Once a mighty Bronze Age power, by the fourth century BC, Egypt is a satrap of the extensive Persian Empire. While many generals try to set themselves up as independent powers, Agesilaus is called in first to work for Nectanebo I but then transfers his loyalty to Nectanebo II. This provides Agesilaus an indirect way of fighting Persian power again at the end of his life, as he had in the earliest part of his military career.
  • The River Eurotas – The largest river in Laconia forms a natural boundary of the eastern side of the polis of Sparta.

Important Battles

Coronea – 394 BC – Agesilaus’s most important land battle of the Corinthian War. The allies gather all their forces to prevent Agesilaus from returning to the Peloponnesus. Agesilaus wins but is wounded and fights the rest of the war in and around Corinth and the Peloponnesus. The other poleis during this war have access to Persian money, but the Spartans are increasingly isolated as they try to win back control of the Greek world.

Leuctra – 371 BC – The first pitched battle in which the Spartans are roundly and obviously defeated. Both Epaminondas and Pelopidas are responsible for this stunning Theban victory. Agesilaus and the Spartans in many ways never fully recover.

Mantineia – 362 BC – The battle in which Epaminondas and his most likely successors die. While it is an advantage for Agesilaus, he has left most of the power in his son’s hands and hires himself out as a mercenary general to an Egyptian revolting from the Persian Empire.

The Siege of Memphis – 361 BC – A battle of rival pharaohs, Agesilaus acts as a mercenary strategist and helps his employer win with a brilliant tactical move.

C. 1 – Family, Training, and Nature

  1. Agesilaus the second son of a famous family, noble father and mother, so Agesilaus never thought he would be king, so he is trained in the Agoge as a private citizen “educating him for obedience”
  2. Simonides the poet calls the Agoge “mortal mastering” since it teaches all Spartans to obey and be managed, like horses tamed for riding. Normally, heirs are exempted.
  3. Because he learned to be ruled before he ruled, he ruled that much better over his subjects, having a greater harmony with the regular citizens. He also had the natural habits of popularity (demoticon) and kindness (philanthropon)

C. 2 – Happy with His Lot

  1. Lysander took particular care over Agesilaus’s youth and training, attracted to his native decorum. Agesilaus thrived in competition and loved coming first, but he was so gentle and obedient to his betters that he was “more distressed by correction than oppressed by difficulties”.
  2. He bore his deformity lightly (introduced early (what was it? Minor enough that he wasn’t killed – refer to Lycurgus episode here)) and he was quick to acknowledge it and joke about it, putting others at ease. His ambition not slackened, but perhaps sharpened, by his lameness since he would forego no challenge. We have no statue of him because he would not allow it, but it is said he was a short man.
  3. His jovial nature made him well liked all the way into old age. His father had apparently been fined for marrying a small woman who would produce “kinglets” instead of “kings”

C. 3 – Succession Struggles

  1. While his brother Agis rules, Alcibiades (see last life) comes from Sicily as an exile and soon seduces Agis’s wife, Timaea who never denies Leotychides’s fatherhood.
  2. Alcibiades claimed he wanted to have sons who ruled over Sparta, but this boldness meant Alcibiades soon had to leave Sparta too. While denying that Leotychides was his son for his whole life, on his deathbed (c. 401 BC), Agis relents and acknowledges Leo as his son in the presence of witnesses.
  3. Nonetheless, Lysander (at the height of his personal influence after defeating Athens and returning with all the spoils) convinces the Spartans to choose Agesilaus instead. A prophet is consulted:
  4. Prophecies say that a lame king will drag Sparta into disruptive and destructive wars.
  5. Lysander’s response: Not referring to a physical limp, but a genealogical one! All kings must descend from Heracles (refer to last life wherein Lysander tried to expand the pool of potential Spartan kings to “all who claimed descent from Heracles”)

C. 4 – Agesilaus Solidifies His Power

  1. Agesilaus appointed and he exiles Leotychides. Plutarch introduces Xenophon as claiming Ages’ full obedience to the state gave him full freedom to act as he pleased.
  2. Ephors and Gerontes had the most power, but ephors only serve for a year while Gerontes (Senators) serve for life. (cf. Lys 5.6, and 7.1), and so the Ephors were often seen as the constitutional enemy of the kings to balance their power.
  3. Agesilaus works hard to earn their support and trust, always rising when the entered the room, hurrying to meet them when summoned, and, if one were elected to the Gerousia, he would send him an honorarium of a cloak and an ox.
  4. Thought it looked like he increased their power, it was really his own authority that grew.

C. 5 – Helpful to Friends and Enemies

  1. More fair to his enemies than they often deserved. He was too affable to correct his friends when they erred, and sometimes even took pride in sharing in their misdeeds. No help disgraceful if given to a friend.
  2. Even if an enemy stumbled, Agesilaus was the first to help him up. The Ephors fine him for his increasing influence, thinking he is making the citizens loyal to him personally and not to the polis of Sparta.
  3. Strife and Discord at the roots of all movement and change in the universe, so the Spartan law-givers place it in their polis, helping the citizens improve through competition debate without effort or struggle is wrongly called peace.
  4. Homer may agree since he shows Agamemnon pleased when Odysseus and Achilles argue, thinking it will make the Greek army better. Plutarch can’t accept this without some restrictions as strife can also destroy a polis.

C. 6 – Agesilaus Goes to Persia

  1. Persia now prepares to drive the Spartans from the sea, the Spartans they had just helped to put in power there. Lysander eager to return to Asia Minor/Anatolia and help the Greeks there who had been allied with him a few years before.
  2. Lysander convinces his friends in Asia to demand Agesilaus as their leader. Agesilaus asks the people for an army 30 advisors (Spartan captains), 2000 freed Helots, and 6000 allies.
  3. It is granted. Lysander the most important of the 30 advisors because of his experience and reputation among the Greeks in Asia.
  4. 396 BC – They gather at Geraestus, but Agesliaus has a dream on Aulis comparing him to Agamemnon and demanding the same sacrifice as Agamemnon (his daughter, Iphigenia!) (cf. Euripides Iph.Aul. 1540ff.)
  5. Agesilaus decides to sacrifice a deer and to use his own soothsayers to do so, contrary to the local law of the Boeotians.
  6. The Boeotians send representatives to express their disapproval and even disrupt the sacrifice by removing it from the altar. Agesilaus leaves rather angry, convinced that this poor omen will mean he won’t accomplish all he is setting out to do.

C. 7 – Lysander Eclipses Agesilaus

  1. So many flock to Lysander, whom they already know, that Agesilaus is leader in name only.
  2. They even preferred Lysander’s harsh and laconic style to Agesilaus’s affability!
  3. The 30 advisors annoyed to be advising Lysander and Agesilaus began to fear that all successes he achieved would be attributed to Lysander.
  4. And so, he did the opposite of what Lysander wanted. All friends of Lysander received nothing from Agesilaus, and enemies of Lysander were rewarded.
  5. Lysander figures it out and sends his friends away, telling them to seek the king directly and not through him.

C. 8 – Lysander Sent Away

  1. Agesilaus insults Lysander further by appointing him to a position of table-servant (carving the meat).
  2. Lysander, duly humbled, asks to be given a task that will help Sparta AND not bother Agesilaus.
  3. Lysander goes and arranges an important alliance with a Persian, Spithridates, who adds to Agesilaus’s cavalry and supplies. Lysander never fully forgives, though, and hatches a plan to make all Spartans eligible for the kingship. His death prevents his plan from coming to fruition.
  4. So, Plutarch has proven his point against those who say strife and discord are always good for the growth of the polis. Agesilaus should have chosen a better way to correct an ambitious and proud man like Lysander.

C. 9 – Profiting from Persian Perfidy

  1. Tissaphernes makes an initial treaty out of fear, but soon breaks it and goes into open war against Agesilaus, which A gladly accepts.
  2. Particularly in light of Xenophon’s recent expedition, Agesilaus thought that a Spartan army in control of land and sea should perform even better than a Persian host with Greek mercenaries. Plutarch calls his next move a “just trick” as Agesilaus makes it seem like he is marching against Caria, but instead marches to Phrygia.
  3. And so because of the element of surprise, he takes many cities in Phrygia and proves that violating a treaty is contempt of the gods. Plutarch further adds that justice and glory are mixed in outwitting an enemy as well as pleasure and profit. But he is low on cavalry.
  4. So he commands his local allies to either fight themselves or supply mounted troops. Another Agesilaus/Agamemnon comparison from Iliad Book XXIII, 296ff.
  5. When Agesilaus sold prisoners and goods separately, everyone quickly bought the goods and made fun of the weak, white, pampered bodies as worthless. Agesilaus points out that they fight against the one and for the other.

C. 10 – Tissaphernes Falls

  1. The next year, when Agesilaus makes clear he is attacking Lydia, Tissaphernes thinks it’s a trap again and defends Caria.
  2. As Tis hurries from Caria to Sardis, his infantry lags behind his cavalry which Agesliaus sees as a perfect opportunity to give battle.
  3. He orders the cavalry to charge and leads the infantry charge personally.
  4. Persian King’s reaction to this battle it to send out a replacement for Tissaphernes, behead Tissaphernes, and offer Agesilaus money and a treaty to sail home. Agesilaus responds that he prefers spoils, not gifts, from the enemy and that the King would have to ask Sparta, not just himself.
  5. He does retreat from Sardis back into Phrygia, taking 30 talents with him. The Spartans give him control of the navy now too, an honor no king had before been granted (Xen. Hell. 3,4,27). Thus he was the most important man at the time.
  6. AND YET, he gives the admiralty not to the most competent Spartan, but to his wife’s brother, to gratify his wife.

C. 11 – An Ally Lost

(See Xenophon Book IV)

  1. Setting his headquarters in the satrapy of Pharnabazus (which is Phrygia?), he accumulates money and allies, notably Cotys (Otys in Xenophon) the Paphlagonian king.
  2. Agesilaus persuades one ally, Spithridates, to agree to give his son in marriage to the daughter of Otys, king of the Paphs.
  3. Otys provides 1000 cavalry and 2000 peltasts with which Agesilaus continues to harass Pharnabazus in Phrygia, who has no capital and keeps his camp always on the run. Spithridates and another Spartan capture one of Pharn’s traveling camps.
  4. On their return from this raid the Spartan leader Herippidas tries to take back the spoils from Spithridates and account for all of it before it is redistributed. This annoys Spith who leaves, taking his troops with him and much to the vexation of Agesilaus, particularly because of how petty and small-minded it made Agesilaus and Sparta look.
  5. 5-7 Agesilaus also misses Megabates, Spithridates’s son, with whom he had fallen in love. Because of his love for this boy, he did not allow the boy to kiss him (normal greeting for people close to the king?) because he wasn’t sure he could master himself around the boy.

C. 12 – Conference with Pharnabazus

  1. Agesilaus and Pharnabazus agree to meet.
  2. Pharnabazus comes with cushions and rugs to sit on, seeing Agesilaus sitting in the shade on the grass, he joins him there. Pharnabazus complains that he has been a good ally against the Athenians and this is how he is repaid.
  3. Agesilaus explains first that the Spartans are enemies with the King of Persia, which makes them enemies of Pharn.
  4. BUT, if Pharn wants to continue to be an ally of the Greeks he must refuse to be a slave of the King and his allies (the Spartans) will fight boldly in defense of his freedom.
  5. Pharn responds that if the king replaces him, he’ll ally with the Spartans. If not, he’ll continue to fight against them. Agesilaus sees this as honorable and would rather have such an honorable man as a friend than an enemy.

C. 13 – Agesilaus as Friend

  1. Pharnabazus’s son becomes Agesilaus’s guest-friend with an offer of a spear.
  2. Agesilaus looks around for a worthy reciprocal gift and offers the decorative headgear of his secretary’s horse. When this boy is later driven into exile by his younger brother, Agesilaus remembers their friendship and helps him out.
  3. He even ensures that a dear Athenian friend of the boy can still enter the Olympics in spite of being ruled out for his size or age. So Agesilaus will bend the lay for friendship.
  4. Plutarch still has a letter in which Agesilaus argues for his friend Nicias first for his innocence, second for his friendship with the judge, and third, just because. He does also leave behind a good friend when quickly decamping and tells that friend as he cries out that it is hard to be compassionate and prudent at the same time.

C. 14 – Simplicity of Life

  1. Agesilaus’s reputation spreads for his discretion (σωφροσύνη), simplicity of life (εὐτέλεια), and his moderation (μετριότης), evidenced first by setting his headquarters in the sacred precincts of an area, calling the gods to witness his leadership decisions.
  2. His cot was also as common as his regular soldiers and he acted indifferent to heat and cold. In sum, he contrasted sharply with the wealthy and luxurious Persian overlords who now feared this man in his simplicity of life and speech.

C. 15 – Sudden Recall

  1. Agesilaus restores power to the Asian poleis that he has freed from Persian rule, and does so without killing or banishing anyone. Now he wants to take the fight away from the coast and threaten the Persian emperor himself, stopping him from acting as judge and umpire in Greek squabbles.
  2. Just at this moment, Sparta recalled him to fight a large war with the Greeks themselves. Plutarch laments the internecine conflict.
  3. Recalling Demaratus the Corinthian’s quip that any Greek who did not see Alexander on the throne missed a great pleasure, Plutarch clarifies that the Greeks were so late to the game that a Macedonian had to conquer Persia while Greeks squandered their lives in battles like Leuctra (), Coroneia, Corinth, and Arcadia().
  4. Plutarch thinks Agesilaus’s most noble deed was retuning home to Sparta promptly, showing us the right way to obey authority (πειθαρχία). Hannibal struggled to return home when summoned, and Alexander refused to turn around when he heard about the Spartan revolt (calling it a “battle of mice”).
  5. Agesilaus sails off with his task unfulfilled, but in his actions he proves wrong the saying the the Spartans are better men in public life, and the Athenians in private.
  6. Agesilaus showed what it meant to be an excellent king and general, but also an excellent friend. He knew that the Persians had funded the Athenian and Theban attacks on Sparta, so he joked that the Persians were chasing the Spartans out with 10,000 archers (the Persian coins were stamped with images of archers). (Note to self: the Athenians refuse the gold but are eager for war, showing the power of making enemies by not negotiating the peace very well, i.e. Lysander’s mistake).

C. 16 – The Return Journey Skirmishes

  1. While marching back to Sparta, most people allow him to pass as a friend. One group (Trallians?) demand 100 talents and 100 women.
  2. He told them to come and get them, and then defeated them in battle. The Macedonians responded that they needed time to deliberate, to which Agesilaus said “we will march while he deliberates,” so the Macedonian king allowed him to pass as a friend.
  3. When marching through Thessaly, he ravaged the country since they had allied themselves with Thebes and Athens. Two envoys captured in Larissa when he tries to make peace with that city, but he successfully negotiates for their return.
  4. Agesilaius response to the Battle of Corinth (near Corinth? cf. Xen. IV. 2, 18—3,1) was deep grief at so many great Greek men being killed by other great Greek men, since if they’d lived they could’ve helped conquer the barbarians.
  5. Near Pharsalus he manages to defeat the renowned Thessalian cavalry with the cavalry force he had raised and trained himself in Asia. (Trophy at foot of Mt. Narthacium)

C. 17 – Agesilaus in Boeotia

  1. One of the ephors meets him in Thessaly (near Pharsalus? Mt. Narthacium?) ordering him to invade Boeotia immediately which he obeys in spite of having a smaller number of troops than he would like.
  2. The Spartans allow him to swell his ranks by asking the young citizens for volunteers to serve with Agesilaus. When everyone volunteers, 50 of the best are sent to Agesilaus. Agesilaus arrives in Boeotia after passing through Thermpoylae and Phocis (allies of the Spartans). Right after a partial eclipse, he hears of the death of Peisander (his bro-in-law whom he had put in charge of the naval contingent).
  3. Agesilaus suppresses the bad news and then pretends to celebrate and sacrifice as if the Spartans had been victorious. This is all to prevent his own troops from joining battle dejected.

C. 18 – Coroneia – A Battle Like No Other

  1. Coming up to Coroneia, Agesilaus leads the right and puts the Orchomenians on the left. Xenophon quoted as an eye-witness to this unprecedented battle.
  2. After each side has one wing win and the other pushed back, Agesilaus begins to fall back but changes his mind and charges straight at the Thebans who remain, who resist vigorously.
  3. The fighting is thickest around Agesilaus and his fifty volunteers, many of whom protect him valiantly (and whom Xenophon does not mention).
  4. The Spartans can’t break the Theban retreat, so they let them go and then try to pursue them from behind, only to have the Thebans continue to resist and retreat onto Mt. Helicon, thinking themselves not beaten.

C. 19 – Agesilaus’s Consistent Character

  1. Ages, badly wounded, oversees the collection of the dead before returning to his tent. He also spares all those who sought sanctuary in the temples.
  2. Declares himself victor by claiming the field the next morning, setting up a trophy, wreathing the heads of his soldiers, and playing victory tunes.
  3. The Thebans concede the field and ask permission to take up their dead. Agesilaus heads to Delphi to celebrate the Pythian games and offer 10% of the spoils of Asia to Apollo.
  4. He is welcomed home, primarily because he returns the same man who left, unaffected by foreign customs.
  5. Two examples of him remaining the same: he keeps his old doors on his house in spite of their age and his daughter’s chariot was as simpler as every other girl’s.
  6. Plutarch prides himself that Xenophon doesn’t record the name of Agesilaus’s daughter but Plutarch was able to find it in his researches: daughters Eupolia and Proaugu and his wife was Cleora. One can also see his spear, still preserved at Sparta all the way to Plutarch’s day.

C. 20 – Xenophon the Friend; Lysander the Enemy

  1. Once Xenophon does get involved in the horse racing, only to prove that the wealthy win and not the skilled.
  2. Agesilaus convinces Xenophon to raise his sons in Sparta to teach them the greatest lessons: to rule and be ruled. Agesilaus then wanted to set the record straight about Lysander.
  3. He uncovered a speech which Lysander had had another man prepare for him detailing how the Spartans would reform their government away from the two hereditary monarchs. He is advised by a member of the Gerousia to bury the speech with Lysander, which eh does.
  4. How he won friends even of enemies. He’d send enemies off on military excursions giving them the ability to prove themselves. If they were corrupt on campaign, he still came to their aid later in the trial by commuting their sentences.
  5. What about the other king? Agesipolis was young, the son of the exiled Pausanias (who had died in exile), and so came under Agesilaus’s influence.
  6. Both men enjoyed “love affairs,” so Agesilaus would make this a topic of conversation, draw his attention to a boy he favored, and then they would both woo the boy to excellence. Plutarch reiterates that there was nothing shameful (αἰσχρόν) in these relationships and refers to Lyc. 17.1 and 18.4 for other proofs).

C. 21 – The Isthmian Games

  1. After he appoints his half-brother as admiral, he leads an army to Corinth by land and the two capture Corinth’s port and walls. Then he forces the Argives to flee just after sacrificing to the gods for the Isthmian games.
  2. The Corinthians allies in his army ask him to hold the Isthmian games, but he refuses, giving them permission to do so and providing protection against interference. When Agesilaus leaves the area, the Argives hold the Isthmian games again and some competitors who won the first time are listed as losers the second time.
  3. Agesilaus calls the Argives spineless since they loved the games enough to set up and perform them again without wanting to fight for them. Agesilaus follows the will of the gods and his own will “Those things, for which he saw the rest of the world filled with admiration, he appeared not even to recognize.”
  4. Examples: He calls an actor who courts his favor a “buffoon” (δικηλίκτης) and refuses to hear a man who is compared to a nightingale claiming he’s heard the bird herself.
  5. Final example: A physician so talented he’d earned the nickname Zeus used the title in a letter addressed to Ages. Agesilaus responded by dropping the title and wishing him health and sanity first and foremost.

C. 22 – The Last Battles

  1. When near Corinth, those who sought refuge in a temple to Hera give themselves and their spoils up to him. The Thebans send envoys to sue for peace, but he ignores them on purpose to insult Thebes.
  2. The envoys hadn’t even left when he gets news of the Spartans almost completely conquered at the port of Corinth, overpowered by mercenaries and light-armed troops.
  3. When he realized he was too late to help those troops, he grants an audience to the Thebans who now have nothing to say about peace and ask only for safe conduct through Corinth. He says they can leave tomorrow.
  4. The whole next day he ravages the countryside around Corinth all the way up to the gates and then, when the envoys have seen that the Corinthians don’t resist him, he send them back to Thebes. Then he collects the survivors of the division that had been overpowered and marches back to Sparta avoiding any interaction with the poleis along the way.
  5. Agesilaus helps the Achaeans fight the Acarnanians and even strategizes better so that the Acarnanians sue for peace.

C. 23 – The Peace of Antalcidas

  1. The tide has turned quickly: the Athenians rule the sea again and they have rebuilt their walls (all with Persian money), the Spartans make peace with the King of Persia, abandoning all the Greeks Agesilaus had fought for.
  2. The ambassador sent by the Lacedaemonians, Antalcidas, was an enemy of Agesilaus who saw that war increased his reputation and influence.
  3. Nonetheless, Agesilaus enforces the peace with all the Greek cities (except Thebes, which he’d rather see isolated from all allies.
  4. When a certain Phoebidas seized the Cadmeia (Theban citadel) in time of peace, Agesilaus’s enemies tried to make it look like Agesilaus put him up to it. Agesilaus denied it but pointed out that it was good for the Spartans whether it was ordered or carried out independently.
  5. YET, Agesilaus often asserted that justice was the greatest of the virtues, greater than valor (ανδρεία). He would balk when the Persian King was called the “Great King” and ask if he were more just than Agesilaus.
  6. When the Great King offered guest-friendship after the peace, Agesilaus refused saying public friendship was enough.
  7. He becomes obsessed with putting Thebes in her place, defending Phoebidas, handing the citadel over to Spartan occupiers, and giving control of the government to allies of Phoebidas.

Plutarch comments more on this in his Sayings of the Spartans:

When Conon and Pharnabazus with the Great King’s fleet were masters of the sea and blockaded the Spartans’ coast, and the walls of Athens had been rebuilt​ with the money provided by Pharnabazus, the Spartans made peace with the king.​ They sent one of their citizens, Antalcidas, to Tiribazus, and surrendered into the king’s power those Greeks in Asia Minor for whose freedom Agesilaus had fought. It follows, therefore, that Agesilaus could not have had the slightest thing to do with this disreputable business; for Antalcidas was at enmity with him, and employed every resource in working for the peace, because he felt that the war made Agesilaus great and enhanced his repute and importance.

It’s called the Peace of Antalcidas (and not Agesilaus) for a reason…

C. 24 – The Cadmeia and the Peiraeus

  1. All this action against Thebes raised the suspicion that Ageislaus had been the advisor to the deed. When the Thebans retake their city, Agesilaus calls the overthrow of the tyrants “murder” and declares war on Thebes (379 BC).
  2. Agesilaus sends the younger king to Thebes, because of shame (so says Plutarch and check out Xenophon 5.3.13-25 and 5.4.13)
  3. A scheming Spartan seeing Thebes as a parallel, decides he can take the Piraeus (the Athenian port) and control Athenian access to the sea.
  4. Pelopidas may have been goading this Spartan on since it would put Athens and Sparta at odds, to Theban advantage. Though flattered into the attempt, Sphodrias (opportunistic Spartan) fails much worse than Pheobidas had in his seizure of the Cadmeia.
  5. Sunrise came earlier than expected and they had planned to take the Peireius under cover of night, and then Eleusis (source of the mysteries of Demeter and the afterlife) gives forth a strange light (even though it’s opposite to the direction the sun would be coming from). Sphodrias ravages some land and then retires to Thespiae, failing utterly in his mission.
  6. When Athens arrives to complain of Sphodrias’s illegal action, they find the Spartans had already called him up for trial on a capital crime.

C. 25 – Sphodrias on Trial

  1. Sphodrias’s son, Cleonymus, still a young man and beloved by Archidamus. Archi can’t aid Cleo because he’s torn between the one he loves and his father.
  2. Cleo comes to Archi asking him to soften Agesilaus, and after four agonizing days, Archi tells Agesilaus.
  3. Agesilaus had known about the love between the two boys, but had not interfered since he though Cleo promised to be a good man. Agesilaus can’t answer his son’s request but promises to consider what was honorable and fitting.
  4. Archi feels like he burned through a lot of cache with his father and ceased to visit Cleo. Another friend of Agesilaus intercedes for Sphodrias disagreeing with what he did, but saying that Sparta needed brave soldiers like him.
  5. Agesilaus seems to have wanted Sphodrias acquitted for his son’s sake, since Agesilaus was fond of his children, even being caught playing horsey with them, though he told the person who caught him not to tell anyone until he himself was a father.
Noël Halle 1711-1781. Agésilas jouant avec ses enfants. Agesilaus playing with his children. 1779. Montpellier Musée Fabre. Image from Flickr

C. 26 – Agesilaus Leads the Allies against Thebes

  1. Agesilaus harshly criticized for acquitting Sphodrias, making Sparta an accomplice in a crime against Greece.
  2. Plutarch gives a different reason than Xenophon for Agesilaus taking over the war against Thebes, which he does in 378 BC. When wounded in one of the battles against the Thebans a friend remarks to him that he must be learning a lot as he teaches the Thebans to fight, even though they initially didn’t want to.
  3. Thebans more warlike at this time than ever before, because they were fighting so consistently with the Spartans “by which they were virtually schooled in arms,” and Plutarch reminds us of one of the rhetras of Lycurgus that forbade the Spartans from making war consistently on the same enemy (Lyc. 13.6)
  4. Allies don’t support Agesilaus as they had in the past because his anger towards Thebes seems personal, not political or moral.
  5. Allies feel they also make up the bulk of the army and thus bear the bulk of the casualties. To counter this argument, Agesilaus makes the allies sit separately from the Spartans.
  6. Then, his herald asks all the potters, smiths, carpenters, etc. to stand up, one at a time, until almost all the allies were standing. Not a single Spartan stood up… because they were all professional soldiers. Thus Agesilaus claims that the Spartans send out more soldiers than all the allies combined.

C. 27 – Thebes Rising

  1. Because of pain and inflammation in his leg, he stops in Megara to be bled by a Syracuse physician. After much loss of blood, he begins to recover.
  2. He has to be carried back to Sparta and is weak for a long time.
  3. The weakness of Agesilaus coincides with the losses of Sparta in war: the greatest of which is Tegyra, Thebans win for the first time in pitched battle (375 BC, not mentioned by Xenophon, cf. also Pelopidas 16, 17). Ambassadors begin to gather to discuss peace.
  4. Enter Epaminondas – well known for his culture and philosophy (παιδεία and φιλοσόφια) though no one yet knew how good a general he would be. He alone of the ambassadors had the boldness of speech to speak not just for Thebes, but for all of Greece. He pointed out that Sparta had strengthened itself at the cost of all other poleis struggling and that peace could only endure when made on equal claims of justice.

C. 28 – A Failed Peace –> Leuctra

  1. Agesilaus sees that Epaminondas has the attention of the Greeks, and asks whether he would allow the Boeotians to be free of Theban control. Epaminondas asks when the poleis of Laconia will be free of Spartan control.
  2. This angers Agesilaus who asks the question more directly and receives the same query in response. He then erases the Thebans name from the treaty, declaring war again on Thebes. Many of the allies, though, were not out of the war as this seemed to be the main bone of contention now between Sparta and Thebes.
  3. Since Cleombrotus (2nd Spartan King) had an army in Phocis, the ephors told him to attack Thebes with it. They gather the allies for a meeting. The allies don’t want the war and don’t yet have the strength to stand up to Sparta.
  4. Agesilaus prosecutes the war, in the face of bad omens and Spartan resistance, with the rest of Greece out of the way, he felt he had singled out Thebes for vengeance.
  5. Just 20 days after the failed peace treaty, t he battle of Leuctra takes place, in which Cleombrotus dies with many of the strongest Spartans around him,
  6. Including Cleonymus, struck three times while defending Cleombrotus (his king) and then finally giving up the ghost.

C. 29 – The Spartan Reaction to Leuctra

  1. The conduct of both the winner and the loser gained respect of the other Greeks.
  2. Quoting Xenophon who says men reveal their characters just as much in wine or sport, Plutarch doubles down and says more so do men show their true natures in adversity. Sparta was celebrating a festival when news of Leuctra reached them.
  3. The ephors continued the festival as intended, only informing the families of those who had lost a loved one.
  4. The next day, those who had lost sons or brothers went to the agora and greeted one another full of “pride and joy” (μεστοὶ φρονήματος καὶ γήθους) at the men who had given their best for Sparta. Those whose family members had survived stayed at home and acted as if in mourning.
  5. The mothers, too, acted similarly—dejected if their surviving son was coming home, and happily visiting the temples and one another with an attitude of φιλοτιμία and ἱλάρια (pride and joy).

C. 30 – The Cowards

  1. Many Spartans now regretting the choice of the “lame king” because of the oracles, and were expecting Epaminondas to march on Laconia now.
  2. Though they continued to trust in Agesilaus not only as king and general, but even still as judge in local disputes. Most citizens saw that the number of “tresantes” or run-aways (those who had acted cowardly in battle) was larger and more powerful than in past battles, and so struggled to enforce the usual punishment.
  3. Such men are prevented from holding any office, marriage to them is seen as a disgrace, and any other Spartan may strike the man if he pleases (with impunity, I’m guessing). They must also go about in rags with half their beard shaven and have growing out.
  4. With Sparta having such a soldier shortage, this matter was more serious than before. Agesilaus says only that the “laws must be allowed to sleep for one day” but that these survivors of Leuctra will be the only exception—ever.
  5. Then, with that group of soldiers, he ventures into Arcadia and plunders a number of small towns and territories near Mantinea, without ever engaging in a pitched battle. Thus, he lifts the spirits of the men and the city to face the rest of the campaign against Thebes.

C. 31 – Epaminondas, Unprecedented Enemy

  1. Epaminondas enters Laconia with 40,000 troops (370 BC), counting the skirmishers, hangers-on, and opportunists the number swells to 70,000.
  2. For 600 years, no enemy had stepped foot inside the land of the Dorians (Laconia), but now they burned and pillaged all the way up to the River Eurotas and the City itself, but no one came out of the city to challenge them.
  3. Agesilaus posts guards at the strategic points of the city, but ignores the boasts and taunts of the Thebans telling him to come out and finish the war he started.
  4. The old men run around the city harassing the young men who let this happen. The women, who’ve never seen an enemy of Sparta even much less their campfires and shouting, lost all control and wailed publicly.
  5. His own reputation even bothers him. He had taken command of a city at the height of her power, and now saw her reach her lowest point, giving lie to the claim that no Spartan woman had ever seen an enemy campfire. Antalcidas points out to an Athenian that while they had many times beaten the Spartans out of Athenian territory, they had never even given the Spartans the opportunity to beat the Athenians out of Spartan territory.
  6. Argos made a similar claim that many Spartans were buried in Argos but the reply was that no Argives were buried in Laconia (and thus had never been there).

C. 32 – Spartan Insubordination

  1. Antalcidas, one of the ephors, sent his children away to Cythera (WHERE?). As the enemy crosses the river, Agesilaus concentrates his force around the central high-ground of Sparta.
  2. Thankfully, the Eurotas was flowing fully because of snow in the mountains, and its coldness and strength hindered the Thebans. Epaminondas fords the river and someone points out Agesilaus. Epaminondas stares at him for a long time and then finally addresses him succinctly as “O man of great deeds!” (Ὤ τοῦ μεγαλοπράγμονος ἀνθρώπου)
  3. Epaminondas wanted to fight in the city so that he could place his trophy there, but he couldn’t make Agesilaus abandon his position, so he withdrew and plundered the countryside again. Meanwhile 200 Spartans seize a section of the city that is easy to defend and has a temple of Artemis (Issorium). Some Spartans want to attack the defectors at once, but Agesilaus convinces them to let him try by himself (accompanied by one servant). He pretends that they just misunderstood his orders and clarifies where he had ordered the Spartans to go.
  4. This gives the rebels the opportunity to un-defect peacefully and they re-enter the ranks.
  5. After taking control of the Issorium, he arrest 15 of the conspirators and puts them to death at night.
  6. He hears of another revolution and, because of the confused times, he puts them to death without a trial but consulted with the Ephors first. No Spartan had ever been killed before in this way (without a trial).
  7. Many perioikoi and helots defect to the Theban side. Agesilaus has the arms of the deserters removed from the barracks so that the remaining Spartan soldiers don’t notice how many are defecting each night.
  8. The Thebans withdraw for winter, because they ran out of easy lands to pillage, their allies had already started to disband, and because Agesilaus pays them ten talents to do so (though only one source reports this payment…)

C. 33 – In Defense of Sparta

  1. Agesilaus saved Sparta by playing it defensive and safe.
  2. Though Agesilaus could defend he could not save or ressurect Sparta for the single error of running an empire had undone her completely. Lycurgus had never wanted Sparta to rule an empire.
  3. (368 BC) Agesilaus no longer leads on the field, but his son, Archidamus, now leads with reinforcements arriving from Syracuse conquering the Arcadians in the “tearless” battle in which not one Spartan is lost.
  4. While the Spartans up to this point had piously praised the gods for all their due, they never exulted over military victories. Rather, they treated them as something normal and natural, sacrificing just one rooster to the gods in thanksgiving for a victory and rewarding the messenger of victory with a few choice bits of meat.
  5. But, at the news of the Arcadian victory, Agesilaus runs out weeping to greet Archidamus, the ephors, old men and women come out to accompany the army back into Sparta praising the gods all the while. Before this, men could hardly look their wives in the face and this seemed to give them new hope.

C. 34 – Another Heroic Defense of Sparta

  1. Just one year previous, Epaminondas had rebuilt Messene and invited all its former citizens back. They flocked into the city and the Spartans could do nothing to stop them.
  2. Because of the insult of losing Messene, which the Spartans had dominated for hundreds fo years, Agesilaus refuses peace terms with the Thebans AGAIN. Plutarch disapproves, claiming that he now not only lost Messene, but almost lost Sparta besides after being outgeneralled (καταστρατηγηθείς).
  3. (362 BC) Mantinea revolts and asks Sparta for aid against the Thebans. Agesilaus marches out from Sparta to their aid. Epaminondas attacks Sparta itself and almost comes down on it totally undefended (Xen. 7.5, 10)
  4. Someone informs Agesilaus who send a swift horseman to warn the Spartans of Epaminondas’s approach. Agesilaus arrive back in time to defend the city manfully, in spite of his age.
  5. This time he was not safe and defensive but bold and even desperate in his risk to save Sparta. For a second time, Thebes withdraws from Sparta.
  6. Archidamus fought boldly too. Isidas, though, must have stood out the most (in Plutarch’s opinion).
  7. Not only was he beautiful and right on the transition from boy to man, he leapt from his house stark naked armed only with a spear and a sword smiting all who came in his way. (A fitting image for Sparta… no defense all offense, naked rage).
  8. He received not one wound. The ephors crowned him with a garland of victory and then fined him for fighting without armor.

C. 35 – Epaminondas Dies at Mantinea; The Peace Begins

  1. A few days later, in a battle near Mantinea Epaminondas is wounded (by a spear or sword is uncertain).
  2. Anticrates, the the slayer of Epaminondas, gains gifts and honors in his own lifetime but also exemption from taxes for himself and his descendants—an exemption still enjoyed down to Plutarch’s own day. After the Greeks conclude the peace in the wake of Epaminondas’ death, Agesilaus wants to exclude the Messenians from the treaty on the grounds that they have no city.
  3. The other Greeks all accept the oaths of the Messenians and Agesilaus looks stubborn war-hungry since he had already
  4. Lost Sparta’s empire and now insisted on this petty struggle for ctonrol of the goods and revenue of Messene.

C. 36 – Agesilaus to Egypt

  1. He loses even more respect when he hires himself out to Tachos the Egyptian, since it didn’t seem worthy of a Greek general to help a rebel against Persia and fight in barbarian wars.
  2. He’s past 80 and has many scars, but he should’ve been motivated by the freedom fo the Greeks, though even then Plutarch thinks he should just recognize that he’s past his prime for such adventures.
  3. He thought it more unworthy to live idly, waiting for death, so he collected mercenaries and left for Egypt with a group of 30 Spartan advisors.
  4. (361 BC) – Many come to honor him when he arrives in Egypt.
  5. They come upon a small man, clothed in coarse cloth, lying on a simple mat they make fun of him as having the reputation of a mountain but turning out to be mouse.
  6. He accepted some gifts and rejected others, baffling his hosts. When they insisted he accept even the sumptuous gifts, he gave them to his Helots (i.e. the gifts were not fitting for free men). Pleased with the papyrus used in chaplets? (Not sure what this means, but he takes some with him when he leaves Egypt).

C. 37 – Egyptian Defections

  1. Agesilaus annoyed to find that he commands only the mercenaries and is not in control fo the whole army, which Tachos leads (an Athenian leads the Navy).
  2. Though annoyed, Agesilaus bore it well and even fought against the Phoenicians in this subservient role.
  3. The cousin of Tachos, Nactabanis, breaks off an revolts against Tachos asking Chabrias, the Athenian, and Agesilaus to join him.
  4. Tachos tries to keep Agesilaus and Chabrias loyal to himself. Chabrias tries to encourage Agesilaus to remain loyal to Tachos but, because the Egyptians have accepted Nectabanis as king, Agesilaus switches to his side reasoning that Sparta lent him to the Egyptians, not to one particular warlord or another.
  5. Both generals send messengers to Sparta, but the Ephors defer to Agesilaus’s opinion on the ground, reminding him in private messages to choose whatever is best for Sparta.
  6. Without this pretext of loyalty to Sparta, such an action would just be called treachery.

C. 38 – More Egyptian Instability

  1. Tachos flees when deserted, but another rebel rises against Nectabanis and approaches with 100,000 troops, which Nectabanis dismisses before Agesilaus as rabble.
  2. Agesilaus says he fears not their numbers but their inexperience, because it makes them harder to outgeneral, outmaneuver, or outplay.
  3. Nectabanis won’t follow Agesilaus’s advice to fight it out quickly with an inexperienced, but large, enemy and Necatbanis retires to a fortified place.
  4. Because he was ashamed to change sides again and didn’t want to go home having accomplished nothing, he stayed with Nectabanis.

C. 39 – Spartan Tactics in Egyptian Battles

  1. As the enemy army begins to dig a trench around the city and prepare for a siege, Nectabanis decides to give battle. Agesilaus here resists and is vilified by the other Egyptians. He wants to bide his time for the right opportunity.
  2. When the trench was almost complete, then Agesilaus says it’s time.
  3. The trench will prevent them from attacking us in huge numbers, giving us room to fight them on fair terms.
  4. Nectabanis admired his speech and his plan and fought with the Greeks in the center, pushing back the enemy. Agesilaus was even able to use the same trick again later.
  5. He drove the enemy onto a piece of land with a deep canal of water on either side. Thus, he defeated and routed a much larger enemy.

C. 40 – Homeward Bound

  1. Thus Nectabanis (Egyptian name: Nectanebo II, the last native ruler of Egypt before the Persians, then Greeks, then Romans, then Arabs rule it for the next two millenia.) was firmly seated in power and invited Agesilaus to stay with him over the winter. Agesilaus wanted to go home and bring the money Sparta needed to hire mercenaries. He brought 230 talents of silver back to Sparta.
  2. On his way back, he died in a harbor in Libya named after Menelaus (84 years old). King of Sparta – 41 years, thirty of which Sparta had been the most powerful polis in Greece, down to the battle of Leuctra.
  3. Spartan custom would bury soldiers in foreign lands, but demanded the kings be brought home. So, Agesilaus’s body was encased in wax (they didn’t have enough honey) and brought back to Lacedaemon. Archidamus became king and five generations l later Agis (another Plutarch life) would be killed for trying to restore the Spartan constitution to its Lycurgan glory.

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