Spartan army

The Spartan army stood at the center of the Spartan state, citizens trained in the disciplines and honor of a warrior society.[1] Subject to military drill from early manhood, the Spartans became one of the most feared military forces in the Greek world. At the height of Sparta's power – between the 6th and 4th centuries BC – it was commonly accepted by other Greeks that "one Spartan was worth several men of any other state".[1] According to Thucydides, the famous moment of Spartan surrender on the island of Sphacteria, off Pylos, in 425 BC, was highly unexpected. He wrote that "it was the common perception at the time that Spartans would never lay down their weapons for any reason, be it hunger, or danger."

Tradition states that the semi-mythical Spartan legislator Lycurgus first founded the iconic army.[2] Referring to Sparta as having a "wall of men, instead of bricks", he proposed to reform Spartan society to develop a military-focused lifestyle in accordance with "proper virtues" such as equality for the male citizens, austerity, strength, and fitness. A Spartan male's involvement with the army began in infancy when he was inspected by the Gerousia. Any baby judged weak or deformed was left at Mount Taygetus to die, since the world of the Spartans was no place for those who could not fend for themselves. (The practice of discarding children at birth took place in Athens as well.) Those deemed strong entered the agoge regime at the age of seven. Under the agoge the young boys or Spartiates underwent intense and rigorous military training.[3] Their education focused primarily on cunning, sports and war tactics, but also included poetry, music, academics, and sometimes politics. Those who passed the agoge by the age of 30 achieved full Spartan citizenship.

The term "spartan" became synonymous with fearlessness, harsh and cruel life, endurance or simplicity by design.[4]

Zeus Naucratis Painter Louvre E668

Zeus on his throne with his eagle

This article is part of the series:
Spartan Constitution

Great Rhetra
Laws of Lycurgus
List of Kings of Sparta

Spartan army •   Other Greek city-states •  Law Portal


Mycenaean age

The first reference to the Spartans at war is in the Iliad, in which they featured among the other Greek contingents. Like the rest of the Mycenaean-era armies, it was depicted as composed largely of infantry, equipped with short swords, spears, and Dipylon-type ("8"-shaped simple round bronze shields). This was the Golden Age of Warfare.

Each opposing army tried to fight through the other line on the right (strong or deep) side and then turn left; wherefore they would be able to attack the vulnerable flank. When this happened, it as a rule caused the army to be routed. The fleeing enemy were put to the sword only as far as the field of battle extended. The outcome of this one battle would determine the outcome of a particular issue. In the Golden Age of War defeated armies were not massacred; they fled back to their city and conceded superiority to the victors. It wasn't until after the Peloponnesus War that indiscriminate slaughter, enslavement and depredations were countenanced among the Greeks.

War chariots were used by the elite, but unlike their counterparts in the Middle East, they appear to have been used for transport, with the warrior dismounting to fight on foot and then remounting to withdraw from combat, although some accounts show warriors throwing their spear from the chariot before dismounting.[5]

Archaic Age and expansion

Helmed Hoplite Sparta
Marble statue of a helmed hoplite (5th century BC), possibly Leonidas (Archaeological Museum of Sparta, Greece)

Mycenaean Sparta, like much of Greece, was engulfed in the Dorian invasions, which ended the Mycenaean civilization and ushered in the so-called "Greek Dark Ages". During this time, Sparta (or Lacedaemon) was merely a Doric village on the banks of the river Eurotas in Laconia. However, in the early 8th century BC, Spartan society was transformed. The reforms, which were ascribed by later tradition to the possibly mythical figure of Lycurgus, created new institutions and established the military nature of the Spartan state.[6] This "constitution of Lycurgus" remained essentially unchanged for five centuries.[6] From ca. 750 BC, Sparta embarked on a steady expansion, first by subduing Amyclae and the other settlements of Laconia, and later, in the First Messenian War, conquering the fertile country of Messenia. By the beginning of the 7th century BC, Sparta was, along with Argos, the dominant power in the Peloponnese.

Establishment of Spartan hegemony over the Peloponnese

Inevitably, these two powers collided. Initial Argive successes, such as the victory at the Battle of Hysiae in 669 BC, led to an uprising of the Messenians, which tied down the Spartan army for almost 20 years.[7] Over the course of the 6th century, Sparta secured her control of the Peloponnese peninsula: Arcadia was forced to recognize Spartan overlordship; Argos lost Cynuria (the SE coast of the Peloponnese) in about 546 and suffered a further crippling blow from Cleomenes I at the Battle of Sepeia in 494, while repeated expeditions against tyrannical regimes throughout Greece greatly raised their prestige.[8] By the early 5th century, Sparta was the unchallenged master in southern Greece, as the leading power (hegemon) of the newly established Peloponnesian League (which was more characteristically known to its contemporaries as "the Lacedaemonians and their allies").[9]

Persian and Peloponnesian Wars

Greek-Persian duel
Greek hoplite besting a Persian, on the tondo of a kylix drinking cup from the 5th century BC (National Archaeological Museum of Athens)

By the late 6th century BC, Sparta was recognized as the preeminent Greek city-state. King Croesus of Lydia established an alliance with the Spartans,[10] and later, the Greek cities of Asia Minor appealed to them for help during the Ionian Revolt.[10] In the second Persian invasion of Greece, under Xerxes, Sparta was assigned the overall leadership of Greek forces on land and at sea. The Spartans played a crucial role in the repulsion of the invasion, notably at the battles of Thermopylae and Plataea. In the aftermath, however, due to the plottings of Pausanias with the Persians and their unwillingness to campaign too far from home, the Spartans withdrew into a relative isolation, leaving the rising power of Athens to lead the continued effort against the Persians. This isolationist tendency was further reinforced by the revolts of some of her allies and a great earthquake in 464, which was followed by a large scale revolt of the Messenian helots.[8]

The parallel rise of Athens as a major power in Greece led to friction with Sparta, and to two large-scale conflicts, (the First and Second Peloponnesian Wars), which devastated Greece. Sparta suffered several defeats during these wars, including, for the first time, the surrender of an entire Spartan unit at Sphacteria in 425 BC, but ultimately emerged victorious, primarily through the aid it received from the Persians. Under its admiral Lysander, the Persian-funded Peloponnesian fleet captured the cities of the Athenian alliance, and a decisive naval victory at Aegospotami forced Athens to capitulate.[8] The Athenian defeat left Sparta and its military forces in a dominant position in Greece.

End of Hegemony

Spartan ascendancy did not last long. By the end of the 5th century BC, Sparta had suffered serious casualties in the Peloponnesian Wars, and its conservative and narrow mentality alienated many of its former allies. At the same time, its military class - the Spartiate caste - was in decline for several reasons:

  • Population decline due to Sparta's frequent wars in the late 5th century. Since Spartiates were required to marry late, birth rates remained low, making it difficult to replace their losses.
  • One could be demoted from Spartiate status for a number of reasons such as cowardice in battle or the inability to pay for membership in the syssitia. Inability to pay became such an increasingly severe problem because commercial activity had started to develop in Sparta. Because of this, commerce had become uncontrollable, leading to the complete ban of commerce in Sparta. This led to lesser ways of earning income; consequently, some Spartiates had to sell the land from which they drew their income. As the constitution made no provisions for promotion to Spartiate caste, numbers gradually dwindled.

As Sparta's military power waned, Thebes repeatedly challenged its authority. The ensuing Corinthian War led to the humiliating Peace of Antalcidas that destroyed Sparta's reputation as the protector of the independence of Greek city-states. At the same time, Spartan military prestige suffered a severe blow when a mora of 600 men was decimated by peltasts (light troops) under the command of the Athenian general Iphicrates. Spartan authority finally collapsed after their disastrous defeat at the Battle of Leuctra by the Thebans commanded by Epaminondas in 371 BC. The battle, in which large numbers of Spartiates were killed, resulted in the loss of the fertile Messenia region.

Army organization

Social structure

"... the allies of the Lacedaemonians were offended at Agesilaus, because ... they themselves [provided] so many [soldiers], and the Lacedaemonians, whom they followed, so few. ... Agesilaus, wishing to refute their argument with numbers ... ordered all the allies to sit down by themselves promiscuously, the Lacedaemonians apart by themselves. Then his herald called upon the potters to stand up first, and after them the smiths, next, the carpenters in their turn, and the builders, and so on through all the handicrafts. In response, almost all the allies rose up, but not a man of the Lacedaemonians; for they were forbidden to learn or practice a manual art. Then Agesilaus said with a laugh: 'You see, O men, how many more soldiers than you we are sending out.'"
Plutarch, The Life of Agesilaus, 26

The Spartan people (the "Lacedaemonians") were divided into three classes:

  • Full citizens, known as the Spartiates proper, or Hómoioi ("equals" or peers), who received a grant of land (kláros or klēros, "lot") for their military service.
  • Perioeci (the "dwellers nearby"), free non-citizens, generally merchants, craftsmen and sailors, who were used as light infantry and on auxiliary roles on campaign.[9]
  • The third and most numerous class were the Helots, state-owned serfs used to farm the Spartiate klēros. By the 5th century BC, the helots, too, were used as light troops in skirmishes.[1]

The Spartiates were the core of the Spartan army: they participated in the Assembly (Apella) and provided the hoplites in the army. Indeed, they were supposed to be soldiers and nothing else, being forbidden to learn and exercise any other trade.[1] To a large degree, the constant war footing of Spartan society was needed to keep the vastly more numerous helots subdued.[11] One of the major problems of later Spartan society was the steady decline in fully enfranchised citizens, which also meant a decline in available military manpower: the number of Spartiates decreased from 6,000 in 640 BC to 1,000 in 330 BC.[12] The Spartans were therefore forced to use helot hoplites, and occasionally they freed some of the Laconian helots, the neodamōdeis (the "newly enfranchised"), and gave them land to settle in exchange for military service.[13]

The Spartiate population was subdivided into age groups. The youngest at 20 were counted as weaker due to lack of experience, and the oldest, up to 60 or in a crisis 65, were only called up in an emergency, to defend the baggage train.

Tactical structure

Spartan helmet 2 British Museum
Spartan helmet on display at the British Museum. The helmet has been damaged and the top has sustained a blow, presumably from a battle.

The principal source for the organization of the Spartan Army is Xenophon, who admired the Spartans and whose Constitution of Sparta offers a detailed overview of the Spartan state and society at the beginning of the 4th century BC. Other authors, notably Thucydides, also provide information, but it is not always as reliable as Xenophon's first-hand accounts.[14]

Little is known of the earlier organisation, and much is left open to speculation. The earliest form of social and military organization (during the 7th century BC) seems to have been the three tribes (phylai: the Pamphyloi, Hylleis and Dymanes), who appear in the Second Messenian War (685–668 BC). A further subdivision was the "fraternity" (phratra), of which 27, or nine per tribe, are recorded.[15] Eventually this system was replaced by five territorial divisions, the obai ("villages"), which supplied a lochos of ca. 1,000 men each.[16] This system was still used during the Persian Wars, as implied by references to the lochoi made by Herodotus in his history.[17]

The changes that occurred between the Persian and the Peloponnesian Wars are not documented, but according to Thucydides, at Mantinea in 418 BC there were 7 lochoi present, each subdivided into four pentekostyes of 128 men, which were further subdivided into four enōmotiai of 32 men, giving a total of 3,584 men for the main Spartan army.[18] By the end of the Peloponnesian War, the structure had evolved further, both to address the shortages in manpower and to create a more flexible system that allowed the Spartans to send smaller detachments on campaign or to garrisons outside their homeland.[19] According to Xenophon, the basic Spartan unit remained the enōmotia, with 36 men in three files of twelve under an enōmotarches.[20] Two enōmotiai formed a pentēkostys of 72 men under a pentēkontēr, and two pentēkostyai were grouped into a lochos of 144 men under a lochagos. Four lochoi formed a mora of 576 men under a polemarchos, the largest single tactical unit of the Spartan army.[21] Six morai composed the Spartan army on campaign, to which were added the Skiritai and the contingents of allied states.

The kings and the hippeis

Areus I King of Sparta
Areus I, a Spartan king during the Chremonidean War, on a coin (310–266 BC)

The full army was normally led in battle by the two kings; initially, both went on campaign, but after the 6th century BC only one, with the other remaining at home.[6] Unlike other states, their authority was severely circumscribed; actual power rested with the five elected ephoroi.[1] The kings were accompanied by a select group of 300 men as a royal guard, who were termed hippeis ("cavalrymen"). Despite their title, they were infantry hoplites like all Spartiatai. Indeed, the Spartans did not utilize a cavalry of their own until late into the Peloponnesian War, when small units of 60 cavalrymen were attached to each mora.[21] The hippeis belonged to the first mora and were the elite of the Spartan army, being deployed on the honorary right side of the battle line. They were selected every year by specially commissioned officials, the hippagretai, from among experienced men who had sons, so that their line would continue.[17]


"Ὦ ξεῖν’, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι
"Go tell the Spartans, thou that passest by, that here,
obedient to their laws, we lie."
Simonides of Ceos, Epitaph on the burial mound of the Spartans who fell at Thermopylae[22]

At first, in the archaic period of 700–600 BC, education for both sexes was, as in most Greek states, centred on the arts, with the male citizen population later receiving military education. However, from the 6th century onwards, the military character of the state became more pronounced, and education was totally subordinated to the needs of the military.[23]

Both boys and girls were brought up by the city women until the age of seven, when boys (paidia) were taken from their mothers and grouped together in "packs" (agelai) and were sent to what is almost equivalent to present-day military boot camp. This military camp was known as the Agoge. They became inured to hardship, being provided with scant food and clothing; this also encouraged them to steal, and if they were caught, they were punished – not for stealing, but for being caught.[11] There is a characteristic story, told by Plutarch: "The boys make such a serious matter of their stealing, that one of them, as the story goes, who was carrying concealed under his cloak a young fox which he had stolen, suffered the animal to tear out his bowels with its teeth and claws, and died rather than have his theft detected."[24] The boys were encouraged to compete against one another in games and mock fights and to foster an esprit de corps. In addition, they were taught to read and write and learned the songs of Tyrtaios, that celebrated Spartan exploits in the Second Messenian War. They learned to read and write not for cultural reasons, but so they could be able to read military maps.[25] At the age of twelve, a boy was classed as a "youth" (meirakion). His physical education was intensified, discipline became much harsher, and the boys were loaded with extra tasks. The youths had to go barefoot, and were dressed only in a tunic both in summer and in winter.[11]

Adulthood was reached at the age of 18, and the young adult (eiren) initially served as a trainer for the boys. At the same time, the most promising youths were included in the Krypteia. At 20, Spartans became eligible for military service and joined one of the messes (syssitia), which included 15 men of various ages.[26] Those who were rejected retained a lesser form of citizenship, as only the soldiers were ranked among the homoioi. However, even after that, and even during marriage and until about the age of 30, they would spend most of their day in the barracks with their unit. Military duty lasted until the 60th year, but there are recorded cases of older people participating in campaigns in times of crisis.[15]

Throughout their adult lives, the Spartiates continued to be subject to a training regime so strict that, as Plutarch says, "... they were the only men in the world with whom war brought a respite in the training for war."[27] Bravery was the ultimate virtue for the Spartans: Spartan mothers would give their sons the shield with the words "[Return] With it or [carried] on it!" (Ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς),[28] that is to say, either victorious or dead, since in battle, the heavy hoplite shield would be the first thing a fleeing soldier would be tempted to abandon –- rhipsaspia, "dropping the shield", was a synonym for desertion in the field.[29]

The army on campaign


Greek Phalanx
Modern reconstruction of a phalanx advancing in close ranks.

Like the armies of the other Greek states, the Spartan army was an infantry-based army that fought using the phalanx formation. The Spartans themselves did not introduce any significant changes or tactical innovations in hoplite warfare, but their constant drill and superb discipline made their phalanx much more cohesive and effective. The Spartans employed the phalanx in the classical style in a single line, uniformly deep in files of 8 to 12 men. When fighting alongside their allies, the Spartans would normally occupy the honorary right flank. If, as usually happened, the Spartans achieved victory on their side, they would then wheel left and roll up the enemy formation.[30]

During the Peloponnesian War, engagements became more fluid, light troops became increasingly used and tactics evolved to meet them, but in direct confrontations between two opposing phalanxes, stamina and "pushing ability" were what counted.[31] It was only when the Thebans, under Epaminondas increased the depth of a part of their formation at the Battle of Leuctra that the Spartan phalanx broke.

On the march

According to Xenophon, the army was mobilized by the ephors, and after a series of religious ceremonies and sacrifices, the army assembled and set out.[32] The army proceeded led by the king, with the skiritai and cavalry detachments acting as an advance guard and scouting parties.[33] The necessary provisions (barley, cheese, onions and salted meat) were carried along with the army, and each Spartan was accompanied by a helot manservant.[34] Each mora marched and camped separately, with its own baggage train.[35] Sacrifice was given every morning and before battle by the king and the officers; if the omens were not favourable, a pious leader might refuse to march or to engage the enemy.[36] The only people who could have a gravestone were women who died in child birth and warriors who died in battle; both were considered lives given for the state.

Clothing, arms, and armor

The Spartans used the same typical hoplite equipment as the other Greek neighbors; the only distinctive Spartan features were the crimson tunic (chitōn) and cloak (himation),[37] and long hair, which the Spartans retained to a far later date than most Greeks. To the Spartans, long hair retained its older Archaic meaning as the symbol of a free man; to the other Greeks, by the 5th century, its peculiar association with the Spartans had come to signify pro-Spartan sympathies.[38]

Classical period

The letter lambda (Λ), standing for Laconia or Lacedaemon, which was painted on the Spartans' shields, was first adopted in the 420s BC, and quickly became a widely known Spartan symbol.[39] Military families passed on their shields to each generation as family heirlooms. The technical evolution and design of Spartan shields evolved from bashing and shield wall tactics, and were of such great importance in the Spartan army that while losing a sword and a spear was an exception, to lose a shield was a sign of disgrace. Not only does it protect the user, but it also protects the whole phalanx formation. To come home without the shield was the mark of a deserter; rhipsaspia or "dropping the shield", was a synonym for desertion in the field. Mothers bidding farewell to their sons would encourage them to come back with their shields, often saying goodbyes like "Son, either with this or on this" (Ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς).[40][41]

Spartan hoplites were often depicted bearing a transverse horsehair crest on their helmet, which was possibly used to identify officers.[42] In the Archaic period, Spartans were armored with flanged bronze cuirasses, leg greaves, and a helmet, often of the Corinthian type. It is often disputed which torso armor the Spartans wore during the Persian Wars, though it seems likely they either continued to wear bronze cuirasses of a more sculptured type, or instead had adopted the linothōrax. During the later 5th century BC, when warfare had become more flexible and full-scale phalanx confrontations became rarer, the Greeks abandoned most forms of body armor. The Lacedaemonians also adopted a new tunic, the exōmis, which could be arranged so that it left the right arm and shoulder uncovered and free for action in combat.[43]

The Spartan's main weapon was the dory spear. For long range, they carried a javelin. The Spartiates were always armed with a xiphos as a secondary weapon. Among most Greek warriors, this weapon had an iron blade of about 60 centimeters; however, the Spartan version was typically only 30-45 centimetres. The Spartans' shorter weapon proved deadly in the crush caused by colliding phalanxes formations – it was capable of being thrust through gaps in the enemy's shield wall and armor, where there was no room for longer weapons. The groin and throat were among the favorite targets. In one account, an Athenian asked a Spartan why his sword was so short and after a short pause he replied, "It's long enough to reach your heart." In another, a Spartan complained to his mother that the sword was short, to which she simply told him to step closer to the enemy. As an alternative to the xiphos, some Spartans selected the kopis as their secondary weapon. Unlike the xiphos, which is a thrusting weapon, the kopis was a hacking weapon in the form of a thick, curved iron sword. In Athenian art, Spartan hoplites were often depicted using a kopis instead of the xiphos, as the kopis was seen as a quintessential "bad guys" weapon in Greek eyes.[44] The Spartans retained the traditional hoplite phalanx until the reforms of Cleomenes III, when they were re-equipped with the Macedonian sarissa and trained in the style of the phalanx.

Spartans trained in pankration, a famous martial art in Ancient Greece that consisted of boxing and grappling. Spartans were so adept in pankration that, when it was inducted in the Olympic Games, they were mostly forbidden to compete.

Hellenistic period

During the Hellenistic period Spartan equipment evolved drastically. Since the early 5th century BC the pilos helmet had become almost standard within the Spartan army, being in use by the Spartans until the end of the Classical era. Also after the "Iphicratean reforms" peltasts became a much more common sight on the Greek battlefield and themselves became more heavily armed. In response to Iphicrates' victory over Sparta in 392 BC, Spartan hoplites started abandoning body armour and eventually wore almost no armour apart from a shield, leg greaves, bracelets, helmet and a robe. In later periods Spartans did start to readopt armour, but on a much lesser scale than during the Archaic period. Finally during 227 BC, Cleomenes' reforms introduced updated equipment to Sparta, including the Macedonian sarissa (pike). However pike-men armed with the sarissa never outnumbered troops equipped in the hoplite style. It was also in that time Sparta adopted its own cavalry and archers.

Philosophy, education, and the Spartan code

Lycurgus bas-relief in the U.S. House of Representatives chamber
The Spartan philosopher Lycurgus, from a series of marble reliefs depicting the great lawgivers of history, at the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives

Spartan philosophy

Contrary to popular belief, Spartans valued knowledge and education more than the Athenians did.[45] Spartan philosophers include Lycurgus and Chilon of Sparta. Although Athens has been praised as the "inventor" of democracy and philosophy, Sparta often has been viewed in popular culture as a society characterized by brutal, mindless discipline and merciless emphasis on physical fitness. Sparta, however, had its own democratic government. In the Appella or Demos as early as 700 BC, Spartans elect leaders and voted by range voting and shouting. Every male age 30 and above could participate. Aristotle called the Spartan electoral process "childish" in contrast to the stone ballots cast by the Athenians. Sparta adopted its procedure for the sake of simplicity, and to prevent any bias voting, bribing, or cheating that was predominant in the early democratic elections.[46]

Spartan education

The Spartan public education system, the agoge, trained the mind as well as the body. Spartans were not only literate, but admired for their intellectual culture and poetry. Socrates said the "most ancient and fertile homes of philosophy among the Greeks are Crete and Sparta, where are found more sophists than anywhere on earth."[47] Public education was provided for girls as well as boys, and consequently literacy rate was higher in Sparta than in other Greek city-states.[48] In education, sports was given the most emphasis in teaching.[48]

Self-discipline, not kadavergehorsam (mindless obedience) was the goal of Spartan education. Sparta placed the values of liberty, equality, and fraternity at the center of their ethical system. These values applied to every full Spartan citizen, immigrant, merchant, and even to the helots, but not to the dishonored. Helots are unique in the history of slavery in that unlike traditional slaves, they were allowed to keep and gain wealth. They could keep half their agricultural produce and presumably sell it; thus accumulating wealth. There are known to have been some occasions that a helot with enough money was allowed to purchase their freedom from the state.[49]

Cup Rider Painter Louvre E669
Mythological scene inside a black-figure cup (550–540 BC) by the Spartan artist known as the Rider Painter

Spartan code of honor

The Spartan hoplite followed a strict laconic code of honor. No soldier was considered superior to another.[48] Suicidal recklesness, berserkery, and rage were prohibited in a Spartan army, as these behaviors endangered the phalanx. Recklessness could lead to dishonor, as in the case of Aristodemus.[50] Spartans regarded those who fight, while still wishing to live, as more valorous than those who don't care if they die.[50] They believed that a warrior must not fight with raging anger, but with calmed determination.[51] By the laconic way of life, Spartans must walk without any noise, and speak only with few words.[48] Other ways for Spartans to be dishonored were dropping the shield (rhipsaspia), failing to complete the training, and deserting in battle. Dishonored Spartans were labeled outcasts, and were forced to wear different clothing for public humiliation.[48] In battle, stories of valor were told to inspire troops and, before a major confrontation, they sang soft songs to calm the nerves.[52]

Spartan navy

Model of a greek trireme
Model of a Greek trireme from the Deutsches Museum, Munich

Throughout their history, the Spartans were a land based force par excellence. During the Persian Wars, they contributed a small navy of 20 triremes, and provided the overall fleet commander, but they largely relied on their allies, primarily the Corinthians, for naval power. This fact meant that, when the Peloponnesian War broke out, the Spartans were supreme on land, but the Athenians supreme at sea. The Spartans repeatedly ravaged Attica, but the Athenians kept being supplied by sea, and were able to stage raids of their own around the Peloponnese with their navy. Eventually, it was the creation of a navy that enabled Sparta to overcome Athens. With Persian gold, Lysander, appointed navarch in 407 BC, was able to master a strong navy, and successfully challenge and destroy Athenian predominance in the Aegean Sea.[8] The Spartan engagement with the sea would be short-lived, however, and did not survive the turmoils of the Corinthian War: in the Battle of Cnidus of 394 BC, the Spartan navy was decisively defeated by a joint Athenian-Persian fleet, marking the end of Sparta's brief naval supremacy. The final blow would be given 20 years later, at the Battle of Naxos in 376 BC. A small fleet was periodically maintained thereafter, but its effectiveness was limited; the last revival of Spartan naval power was under Nabis, who, with aid from his Cretan allies, created a fleet to control the Laconian coastline.

The fleet was commanded by navarchs, who were appointed for a strictly one-year term, and apparently could not be reappointed. The admirals were subordinated to the vice-admiral, called epistoleus. This position is seemingly independent of the one-year term clause, because it was used, in 405 B.C. to give Lysander command of the fleet after he was already an admiral for a year.

Wars and battles

Messenian Wars

Dates Battle Allies Opponents Outcome
743 BC – 724 BC First Messenian War Sparta Messenia Spartan Victory
685 BC – 668 BC Second Messenian War Sparta Messenia Spartan Victory

Wars with Argos

Dates Battle Allies Opponents Outcome
669 BC – 668 BC First Battle of Hysiae Sparta Argos Spartan Victory
494 BC Battle of Sepeia Sparta Argos Spartan Victory

Persian Wars

Peloponnesian War

The Corinthian War

Dates Battle Allies Opponents Outcome
395 BC Battle of Haliartus Sparta Thebes Spartan Defeat
394 BC Battle of Nemea Sparta Argos
Spartan Victory
394 BC Battle of Cnidus Sparta Athens
Achaemenid Empire
Spartan Defeat
394 BC Battle of Coronea Sparta
Spartan Victory
390 BC Battle of Lechaeum Sparta Athens Spartan Defeat

The Boeotian War

Dates Battle Allies Opponents Outcome
376 BC Battle of Naxos Sparta Athens Spartan Defeat
July 6, 371 BC Battle of Leuctra Sparta Boeotian League (Thebes) Spartan Defeat
July 4, 362 BC Second Battle of Mantinea Sparta
Mantineia League
Boeotian League
Spartan Defeat

The Cleomenean War

Dates Battle Allies Opponents Outcome
227 BC Battle of Mount Lycaeum Sparta Achaean League Spartan Victory
227 BC Battle of Ladoceia Sparta Achaean League Spartan Victory
226 BC Battle of Dyme Sparta Achaean League Spartan Victory
222 BC Battle of Sellasia Sparta Achaean League
Spartan Defeat

War against Nabis

Dates Battle Allies Opponents Outcome
195 BC Battle of Gythium Sparta Achaean League
Spartan Defeat

In popular culture

Spartans in Atlanta
A Spartan cosplay during the DragonCon Parade in Atlanta in 2007

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c d e Connolly (2006), p. 38
  2. ^ Plutarch, The Life of Lycurgus (written 75, trans. John Dryden 9999), The Internet Classics Archive
  3. ^ Hodkinson, Stephen (1996). "Agoge". In Hornblower, Simon (ed.). Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ Compare: Oxford Dictionary: "Showing or characterized by austerity or a lack of comfort or luxury".
  5. ^ Warry (2004), pp. 14–15.
  6. ^ a b c Sekunda (1998), p. 4.
  7. ^ Sekunda (1998), pp. 6–7
  8. ^ a b c d Sekunda (1998), p. 7.
  9. ^ a b Connolly (2006), p. 11.
  10. ^ a b Holland, Tom. Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West. Anchor. ISBN 0-307-27948-0.
  11. ^ a b c Connolly (2006), p. 39
  12. ^ Lane Fox, Robin. The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-02496-3.
  13. ^ Sekunda (1998), pp. 16–17
  14. ^ Connolly (2006), pp. 38–39
  15. ^ a b Sekunda (1998), p. 13.
  16. ^ Sekunda (1998), p. 14
  17. ^ a b Connolly (2006), p. 41.
  18. ^ Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 5.68.2
  19. ^ Sekunda (1998), p. 15.
  20. ^ Until the late 5th century, however, each file seems to have had a depth of only 8 men. Connolly (2006), p. 40
  21. ^ a b Connolly (2006), p. 40.
  22. ^ Herodotus, 7.228.1
  23. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica 15th Edition
  24. ^ Plutarch, The Life of Lycurgus, 18.1
  25. ^ Sekunda (1998), pp. 10–11
  26. ^ Sekunda (1998), p. 12
  27. ^ Plutarch, The Life of Lycurgus, 22.2
  28. ^ Plutarch, Moralia, Sayings of Spartan Women 241.F
  29. ^ Miller, William Ian (2002). The mystery of courage. Harvard University Press. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-674-00826-7.
  30. ^ Sekunda (1998), p. 19.
  31. ^ "Spartan armor". Marvel Comics. July 16, 2012. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  32. ^ Sekunda (1998), p. 17.
  33. ^ Sekunda (1998), p. 18
  34. ^ Connolly (2006), p. 44.
  35. ^ Connolly (2006), pp. 46–47.
  36. ^ Connolly (2006), p. 47.
  37. ^ Sekunda (1998), p. 20
  38. ^ Sekunda (1998), p. 24.
  39. ^ Sekunda (1998), p. 27; disputed by Campbell (2012)
  40. ^ Spartan Quotes
  41. ^ History of the Spartan Shield (ERRONEOUS LINK?)
  42. ^ Sekunda (1986), pp.3 & 6.
  43. ^ Sekunda (1998), p. 21.
  44. ^ Spartan Weaponry
  45. ^ Soriano (2005), pp. 84–85.
  46. ^ Full historical description of the Spartan government
  47. ^ Plato, Protagoras, 343b:366.
  48. ^ a b c d e Soriano (2005), p. 85.
  49. ^ Cleomenes III in 223/2 BC allowed Helots to become free by paying 500 drachmas; 6000 helots paid.
  50. ^ a b Schmitz vol 1. p304
  51. ^ Soriano (2005), pp. 87–89
  52. ^ Soriano (2005), pp. 90–91.


  • Campbell, Duncan B (2012). Spartan Warrior (Warrior Series #163). Osprey Publications. ISBN 978-1-84908-700-1.
  • Connolly, Peter (2006). Greece and Rome at War. Greenhill Books. ISBN 978-1-85367-303-0.
  • Lazenby, John (1985). The Spartan Army. Aris & Phillips Ltd. ISBN 0-86516-115-1.
  • Sekunda, Nicholas (1986). The Ancient Greeks: Armies of Classical Greece, 5th and 4th Centuries BC (Elite Series #7). Osprey Publications. ISBN 0-85045-686-X.
  • Sekunda, Nicholas (1998). The Spartan Army (Elite Series #60). Osprey Publications. ISBN 1-85532-659-0.
  • Soriano, Celia (2005). Kayamanan III: History of the World (2005 Ed). Rex Bookstore, Inc. ISBN 971-23-4042-2.
  • Warry, John (2004). Warfare in the Classical World. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-2794-5.
440s BC

This article concerns the period 449 BC – 440 BC.

446 BC

Year 446 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Barbatus and Fusus (or, less frequently, year 308 Ab urbe condita). The denomination 446 BC for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.


The agōgē (Greek: ἀγωγή in Attic Greek, or ἀγωγά, agōgá in Doric Greek) was the rigorous education and training program mandated for all male Spartan citizens, except for the firstborn son in the ruling houses, Eurypontid and Agiad. The training involved cultivating loyalty to the Spartan group, military training (e.g., pain tolerance), hunting, dancing, singing, and social (communicating) preparation. The word "agoge" meant rearing in ancient Greek, but in this context generally meant leading, guidance, or training.According to folklore, agoge was introduced by the semi-mythical Spartan law-giver Lycurgus but its origins are thought to be between the 7th and 6th centuries BC when the state trained male citizens from the ages of seven to twenty-one.The aim of the system was to produce strong and capable warriors to serve in the Spartan army. It encouraged conformity and the importance of the Spartan state over one's personal interest and generated the future elites of Sparta. The men would become the "walls of Sparta" because Sparta was the only Greek city with no defensive walls after they had been demolished at the order of Lycurgus. Discipline was strict and the males were encouraged to fight amongst themselves to determine the strongest member of the group.

The agoge was prestigious throughout the Greek world, and many aristocratic families from other cities vied to send their sons to Sparta to participate in the agoge for varying periods of time. The Spartans were very selective in which young men they would permit to enroll. Such honors were usually awarded to the próxenoi of Sparta in other cities and to a few other families of supreme ancestry and importance.


Amphidolis (Ancient Greek: Ἀμφιδολίς) or Amphidolia (Ἀμφιδολία) was a town of the Pisatis district in ancient Elis. Its territory was probably to the west of Acroreia, and included the town of Marganeae (or Margalae). Amphidolis is mentioned by Strabo as a market town situated on the mountain road that runs from Elis to Olympia, near Alesiaeum (formerly Aleisium). Xenophon writes that in the war against Elis by the Spartans under Agis II, about 400 BCE, the townsmen of Amphidolis, along with those of other towns, joined the army of Agis and after the treaty ending the hostilities, Elis lost those towns and they were granted their freedom. Later, its townsmen joined the Spartan army and took part in the Battle of Nemea (394 BCE).It site is not precisely located.

Archidamus III

Archidamus III (Ancient Greek: Ἀρχίδαμος Γ΄ Arkhídāmos), the son of Agesilaus II, was king of Sparta from 360 BC to 338 BC.

While still a prince, he was the eispnelas (εἰσπνήλας, inspirer, or pederastic lover) of Cleonymus, son of Sphodrias. He interceded with his own father to spare his aites' (ἀΐτας, lover) father's life in a legal matter, an action which further intensified friction between Athens and Sparta. He later led the Spartan forces both before and during his rule. Archidamus headed the force sent to aid the Spartan army after its defeat by the Thebans at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC and was commander later during the fighting in the Peloponnese. Four years later he captured Caryae, ravaged the territory of the Parrhasii and defeated the Arcadians, Argives and Messenians in the "tearless battle", so called because the victory did not cost the Spartans a single life. However, he was in turn defeated by the Arcadians in 364 BC at Cromnus.In 362, he showed great courage in the defense of Sparta against the Theban commander Epaminondas. As king, Archidamus supported the Phocians against Thebes in the Sacred War of 355–346. In 346 BC he went to Crete to help Lyttos in their struggle against Knossos in the Foreign War. In 343 BC, the Spartan colony Tarentum asked for Sparta's help in the war against the Italic populations, notably the Lucanians and the Messapians. In 342 BC Archidamus arrived in Italy with a fleet and a mercenary army and fought against the barbarians, but in 338 BC he was defeated and killed under the walls of Manduria. He was succeeded by his son Agis III, and was also the father of Eudamidas I and another son named Agesilaus.

Battle of Dyme

The Battle of Dyme or Dymae was a battle that was fought by the Achaean League under the command of their Strategos, Hyperbatas and a Spartan army under the command of King Cleomenes III and was part of the Cleomenean War. The battle took in place near Dyme in north-west Achaea and was fought in 226 BC.

Battle of Mantinea (418 BC)

The First Battle of Mantinea of 418 BC was a significant engagement in the Peloponnesian War. Sparta and its allies defeated an army led by Argos and Athens.

Battle of Nemea

The Battle of Nemea (394 BC), also known in ancient Athens as the Battle of Corinth, was a battle in the Corinthian War, between Sparta and the allied cities of Argos, Athens, Corinth, and Thebes. The battle was fought in Corinthian territory, at the dry bed of the Nemea River. The battle was a decisive Spartan victory, which, coupled with the Battle of Coronea later in the same year, gave Sparta the advantage in the early fighting on the Greek mainland.

Battle of Sepeia

At the Battle of Sepeia (Ancient Greek: Σήπεια) (c. 494 BC), the Spartan forces of Cleomenes I defeated the Argives, fully establishing Spartan dominance in the Peloponnese.The closest thing to a contemporaneous source for the description of the battle is, as for many events in this time period, the Histories of Herodotus (written approximately fifty years later, c. 440 BC). According to Herodotus, the Spartan army tricked the Argives into believing that the Spartans were getting breakfast, and when the Argives did the same, the Spartans picked up their weaponry and attacked them, gaining an overwhelming victory. The battle is a controversial one in terms of the Spartan legend for, according to Herodotus, Spartan king Cleomenes massacred the remaining Argives mostly by burning them alive. After the battle, many Argives fled for refuge in the sacred grove of Argos. Cleomenes ordered his herald to summon about 50 of the Argives who were in the sanctuary one by one, saying that the Spartans had received their ransom. He then proceeded to kill each one of the Argives who stepped out of the sanctuary. The Argives did not know this was happening until one of them climbed up a tree to see what was happening. Once the Argives knew about this, they started refusing to leave the sanctuary, so Cleomenes responded by setting the grove on fire, burning the Argives who were inside of it. The battle was so devastating for the Argives that they were unable to aid the Greek cause during the Persian Invasion of 480-479 BC, both out of spite for the Spartan leadership of the Hellenic alliance and because of a lack of fighting-age men. This battle shattered Argive strength and the Argives did not challenge Sparta again until the Peloponnesian War.

First Messenian War

The First Messenian War was a war between Messenia and Sparta. It began in 743 BC and ended in 724 BC, according to the dates given by Pausanias.

The war continued the rivalry between the Achaeans and the Dorians that had been initiated by the purported Return of the Heracleidae. Both sides utilized an explosive incident to settle the rivalry by full-scale war. The war was prolonged into 20 years. The result was a Spartan victory. Messenia was depopulated by emigration of the Achaeans to other states. Those who did not emigrate were reduced socially to helots, or serfs. Their descendants were held in hereditary subjection for centuries until the Spartan state finally needed them for defense.


The Gerousia (γερουσία) was the Spartan council of elders, which was made up of men over the age of sixty. It was created by the Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus in the seventh century BC, in his Great Rhetra ("Great Pronouncement"). According to Lycurgus' biographer Plutarch, the creation of the Gerousia was the first significant constitutional innovation instituted by Lycurgus.


Hybristica was a solemn feast among the Greeks of ancient Argos, with sacrifices and other ceremonies, at which either sex appeared in the dress of the other to do honor to Aphrodite in quality of a god, a goddess, or both. The Hybristica was celebrated at Argos, upon the new moon of the month called by the Argives Hermeas, wherein the women being dressed like men insulted their husbands and treated them with every mark of inferiority, in memory of the Argian defence of their country made by the females under the conduct of Telesilla, against Cleomenes I and Demaratus at the head of the Spartan army. Plutarch observes that the word Hybristica signifies infamy, and adds that it well became the occasion, the women strutting in cloaks, while the men dangled in petticoats.

Medeon (Acarnania)

Medeon (Ancient Greek: Μεδεών) or Medion (Μεδίων) was a town in the interior of ancient Acarnania, on the road from Stratus and Phytia (or Phoeteiae) to Limnaea on the Ambraciot Gulf. Thucydides mentions that it was crossed by the Spartan army during the Peloponnesian War as a place that crossed the Spartan army, under the command of Eurylochus, between Phytia and Limnaea, on its march to Battle of Olpae in 426 BCE. It was one of the few towns in the interior of the country which maintained its independence against the Aetolians after the death of Alexander the Great. At length, in 231 BCE, the Aetolians laid siege to Medeon with a large force, and had reduced it to great distress, when they were attacked by a body of Illyrian mercenaries, who had been sent by sea by Demetrius, king of Macedonia, in order to relieve the place. The Aetolians were defeated, and obliged to retreat with the loss of their camp, arms, and baggage. Medeon is again mentioned in 191 BCE, as one of the Acarnanian towns, of which Antiochus, king of Syria, obtained possession in that year.The site of Medeon is near the modern village of Katouna.

Mora (military unit)

A mora (Greek: μόρα) (plural Morae) was an ancient Spartan military unit of about a sixth of the Spartan army, at approx. 600 men by modern estimates, although Xenophon places it at 6,000. This can be reconciled by the nature of the Spartan army with an organisation based on year classes, with only the younger troops being mobilised for all but the gravest emergencies. Either way, it was the largest tactical unit in Sparta, if not all Greece, and was often the only force sent out on campaign.

A mora was composed typically of hoplites, men armed with spears, swords and the heavy aspis shield and armoured in a cuirass, greaves and a helmet. This equipment changed over time, with more or less armour being used over different eras. Around 227BC, Cleomenes III re-equipped some Morai with the Macedonian sarissa and trained them to fight in the Macedonian pike phalanx. The unit was led by a Polemarch, the third (or arguably second) highest rank in Spartan hierarchy after the kings. However, sometimes there was a higher rank, that of Strategos, most famously held by Lysander. During the time of pure phalanx combat in Greece, the mora was a very difficult obstacle for an opposing commander to negotiate. However, Iphicrates of Athens used a small, elite group of lightly armed peltasts to destroy one.


A polemarch (, from Ancient Greek: πολέμαρχος, polemarchos) was a senior military title in various ancient Greek city states (poleis). The title is derived from the words polemos (war) and archon (ruler, leader) and translates as "warleader" or "warlord". The name indicates that the polemarch's original function was to command the army; presumably the office was created to take over this function from the king. Eventually military command was transferred to the strategoi (στρατηγοί), but the date and stages of the transfer are not clear.

Siege of Sparta

The Siege of Sparta took place in 272 BC and was a battle fought between Epirus, led by King Pyrrhus, (r. 297–272 BC) and an alliance consisting of Sparta, under the command of King Areus I (r. 309–265 BC) and his heir Acrotatus, and Macedon. The battle was fought at Sparta and ended in a Spartan-Macedonian victory.

Following his defeat in Italy by the Roman Republic, Pyrrhus was forced to retreat back to Epirus. On his return to Epirus, he declared war against Antigonus Gonatas (r. 283–239 BC), managing to take control of Macedon. In 272 BC, he was approached by a Spartan prince, Cleonymus, a claimant to the Spartan throne who had been overlooked. Pyrrhus saw this invitation as an opportunity to extend his wars of conquest to the Peloponnese and invaded Sparta. Despite the majority of the Spartan army campaigning in Crete, the remaining Spartans were able to mount a defence led by the Spartan Crown Prince Acrotatus. The Spartans were able to withstand the Epiriote assaults until the arrival of the main Spartan army, led by King Areus I, and Macedonian reinforcements, prompting Pyrrhus to abandon the siege.

After this failure, Pyrrhus ravaged the Spartan hinterland whilst fending off counter-attacks by the victorious Spartans. On the invitation of an Argive ally, Pyrrhus attempted to seize Argos. The assault culminated in a fiasco with Pyrrhus being attacked by his Argive opponents, the pursuing Spartan army of Areus and a Macedonian army commanded by Antigonus Gonatas. Pyrrhus was killed in the ensuing battle in the streets of Argos, ending Epiriote hopes of establishing a hegemony in Greece.


Struthas was a Persian satrap for a brief period during the Corinthian War. In 392 BC, he was dispatched by Artaxerxes II to take command of the satrapy of Sardis, replacing Tiribazus, and to pursue an anti-Spartan policy. Accordingly, Struthas raided territory held by the Spartans and their allies, prompting the Spartans to order their commander in the region, Thibron, to begin aggressive activity against Struthas. Thibron raided successfully for a time, but Struthas eventually succeeded in ambushing one of his raiding expeditions. Struthas slew Thibron in personal combat before his cavalry routed and destroyed the rest of the Spartan army save for a few survivors that escaped to nearby cities and more that were left back at the camp due to not receiving the order in time.

Thibron was then replaced by Diphridas, who rebuilt his army from the remnants of Thibron's and raided Struthas's territory successfully, even capturing his son-in-law, but achieved little remarkable success. Although the specific events of Struthas's removal from office are not known, by the early 380s BC he had been replaced by Tiribazus, and makes no further appearances in the historical record.

Theban hegemony

The Theban hegemony lasted from the Theban victory over the Spartans at Leuctra in 371 BC to their defeat of a coalition of Peloponnesian armies at Mantinea in 362 BC, though Thebes sought to maintain its position until finally eclipsed by the rising power of Macedon in 346 BC.

Externally, the way was paved for Theban ascendancy by the collapse of Athenian power in the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC), through the weakening of the Spartans by their oliganthropia (demographic decline) and by the inconclusive Corinthian War (395–386 BC). Internally, the Thebans enjoyed two temporary military advantages:

The leaders of the Theban oligarchy at the time, Epaminondas and Pelopidas, were fully committed to an aggressive foreign policy and could be relied on to win any battle and

The same leaders had instituted tactical improvements in the Theban heavy infantry (e.g. longer spears, the use of a wedge-shaped formation of spearmen), which had yet to catch on among their rivals.

The Thebans had traditionally enjoyed the hegemony of the Boeotian League, the oligarchical federation of Aeolic-speaking Greeks to the immediate north-west of Athenian-dominated Attica. Their brief rise to power outside the Boeotian Plain began in 373 when the Boeotians defeated and destroyed the town of Plataea, strategically important as the only Athenian ally in Boeotia. This was taken as a direct challenge by the previous hegemonic power, the Spartans, who gambled on restoring their waning ascendancy by a decisive defeat of the Thebans. At Leuctra, in Boeotia, the Thebans comprehensively defeated an invading Spartan army. Out of 700 Spartan citizen-soldiers present, 400 died at Leuctra. After this, the Thebans systematically dominated Greece. In the south, they invaded the Peloponnese to liberate the Messenians and Arcadians from Spartan overlordship and set up a pro-Theban Arcadian League to oversee Peloponnesian affairs. In the north, they invaded Thessaly, to crush the growing local power of Pherae and took the future Philip II of Macedon hostage, bringing him to Thebes. Pelopidas, however was killed at Cynoscephalae, in battle against troops from Pherae (though the battle was actually won by the Thebans).

The Thebans overstretched themselves strategically and, in their efforts to maintain control of the north, their power in the south disintegrated. The Spartan king, Agesilaus II, scraped together an army from various Peloponnesian towns dissatisfied with Theban rule and managed to kill but not defeat Epaminondas in the Battle of Mantinea, but not to re-establish any real Spartan ascendancy. This was if anything a Pyrrhic victory for both states. Sparta lacked the manpower and resources to make any real attempt at regaining her empire and Thebes had now lost both of the innovative leaders who had allowed her rise to dominance and was similarly reduced in resources to the point where that dominance could not be guaranteed. The Thebans sought to maintain their position through diplomacy and their influence at the Amphictyonic council in Delphi, but when this resulted in their former allies the Phocians seizing Delphi and beginning the Third Sacred War (c. 355), Thebes proved too exhausted to bring any conclusion to the conflict. The war was finally ended in 346 BC, by the forces not of Thebes, or any of the city-states, but of Philip of Macedon, to whom the city-states had grown desperate enough to turn. This signalled the rise of Macedon within Greece and finally brought to an end a Theban hegemony which had already been in decline.


Tithraustes was the Persian satrap of Sardis for several years in the early 4th century BC. Due to scanty historical records, little is known of the man or his activities. He was sent out from Susa to replace Tissaphernes in 395 BC, and, after arresting his predecessor, executed him.

To remove the threat to his satrapy posed by the Spartan army of Agesilaus, Tithraustes persuaded Agesilaus to march north into the satrapy of Pharnabazus, and provided him with money for the march. After this event, no further actions of his can be traced.

Xenophon states that it was Tithraustes who dispatched Timocrates of Rhodes to Greece to stir up opposition to Sparta, but this seems unlikely for chronological reasons.

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