The Lacedaemonian Empire

I have already shown that Sparta, after a battle with the Argives,

B.C. 547, obtained the ascendency in the southern part of the

Peloponnesus, and became the leading military State of Greece. This

prestige and power were not lost. The severe simplicity of Spartan life,

the rigor of political and social institutions, the aristocratic form of

government, and above all the military spirit and ambition, gave

permanence to all conquests, so that in the Persian wars Sparta took the

load of the land forces. The great rival power of Sparta was Athens, but

this was founded on maritime skill and enterprise. It was to the navy of

Athens, next after the hoplites of Sparta, that the successful resistance

to the empire of Persia may be attributed.

After the Persian wars the rivalship between Athens and Sparta is

the most prominent feature in Grecian history. The confederacy of Delos

gave to Athens supremacy over the sea, and the great commercial prosperity

of Athens under Pericles, and the empire gained over the Ionian colonies

and the islands of the AEgaean, made Athens, perhaps, the leading State. It

was the richest, the most cultivated, and the most influential of the

Grecian States, and threatened to absorb gradually all the other States of

Greece in her empire.

This ascendency and rapid growth in wealth and power were beheld

with jealous eyes, not only by Sparta, but other States which she

controlled, or with which she was in alliance. The consequence was, the

Peloponnesian war, which lasted half a generation, and which, after

various vicissitudes and fortunes, terminated auspiciously for Sparta, but

disastrously to Greece as a united nation. The Persian wars bound all the

States together by a powerful Hellenic sentiment of patriotism. The

Peloponnesian war dissevered this Panhellenic tie. The disaster at

Syracuse was fatal to Athenian supremacy, and even independence. But for

this Athens might have remained the great power of Greece. The democratic

organization of the government gave great vigor and enterprise to all the

ambitious projects of Athens. If Alcibiades had lent his vast talents to

the building up of his native State, even then the fortunes of Athens

might have been different. But he was a traitor, and threw all his

energies on the side of Sparta, until it was too late for Athens to

recover the prestige she had won. He partially redeemed his honor, but had

he been animated by the spirit of Pericles or Nicias, to say nothing of

the self-devotion of Miltiades, he might have raised the power of Athens

to a height which nothing could have resisted.

Lysander completed the war which Brasidas had so nobly carried on,

and took possession of Athens, abolished the democratic constitution,

demolished the walls, and set up, as his creatures, a set of tyrants, and

also a Spartan governor in Athens. Under Lysander, the Lacedaemonian rule

was paramount in Greece. At one time, he had more power than any man in

Greece ever enjoyed. He undertook to change the government of the allied

cities, and there was scarcely a city in Greece where the Spartans had not

the ascendency. In most of the Ionian cities, and in all the cities which

had taken the side of Athens, there was a Spartan governor, so that when

Xenophon returned with his Ten Thousand to Asia Minor, he found he could

do nothing without the consent of the Spartan governors. Moreover, the

rule of Sparta was hostile to all democratic governments. She sought to

establish oligarchal institutions everywhere. Perhaps this difference

between Athens and Sparta respecting government was one great cause of tho

Peloponnesian war.

But the same envy which had once existed among the Grecian States

of the prosperity of Athens, was now turned upon Sparta. Her rule was

arrogant and hard and she in turn had to experience the humiliation of

revolt from her domination. "The allies of Sparta," says Grote,

"especially Corinth and Thebes, not only relented in their hatred of

Athens, now she had lost her power, but even sympathized with her

suffering exiles, and became disgusted with the self-willed encroachments

of Sparta; while the Spartan king, Pausanias, together with some of the

ephors, were also jealous of the arbitrary and oppressive conduct of

Lysander. He refused to prevent the revival of the democracy. It was in

this manner that Athens, rescued from that sanguinary and rapacious

regime of the Thirty Tyrants, was enabled to reappear as a humble and

dependent member of the Spartan alliance--with nothing but the recollection

of her former power, yet with her democracy again in vigorous action for

internal government."

The victory of AEgospotami, which annihilated the Athenian navy,

ushered in the supremacy of Sparta, both on the land and sea, and all

Greece made submission to the ascendant power. Lysander established in

most of the cities an oligarchy of ten citizens, as well as a Spartan

harmost, or governor. Everywhere the Lysandrian dekarchy superseded the

previous governments, and ruled oppressively, like the Thirty at Athens,

with Critias at their head. And no justice could be obtained at Sparta

against the bad conduct of the harmosts who now domineered in every city.

Sparta had embroiled Greece in war to put down the ascendency of Athens,

but exercised a more tyrannical usurpation than Athens ever meditated. The

language of Brasidas, who promised every thing, was in striking contrast

to the conduct of Lysander, who put his foot on the neck of Greece.

The rule of the Thirty at Athens came to an end by the noble

efforts of Thrasybulus and the Athenian democracy, and the old

constitution was restored because the Spartan king was disgusted with the

usurpations and arrogance of Lysander, and forbore to interfere. Had

Sparta been wise, with this vast accession of power gained by the

victories of Lysander, she would have ruled moderately, and reorganized

the Grecian world on sound principles, and restored a Panhellenic

stability and harmony. She might not have restored, as Brasidas had

promised, a universal autonomy, or the complete independence of all the

cities, but would have bound together all the States under her presidency,

by a just and moderate rule. But Sparta had not this wisdom. She was

narrow, hard, and extortionate. She loved her own, as selfish people

generally do, but nothing outside her territory with any true magnanimity.

And she thus provoked her allies into rebellion, so that her chance was

lost, and her dominion short-lived. Athens would have been more

enlightened, but she never had the power, as Sparta had, of organizing a

general Panhellenic combination. The nearest approach which Athens ever

made was the confederacy of Delos, which did not work well, from the

jealousy of the cities. But Sparta soon made herself more unpopular than

Athens ever was, and her dream of empire was short.

The first great movement of Sparta, after the establishment of

oligarchy in all the cities which yielded to her, was a renewal of the war

with Persia. The Asiatic Greek cities had been surrendered to Persia

according to treaty, as the price for the assistance which Persia rendered

to Sparta in the war with Athens. But the Persian rule, under the satraps,

especially of Tissaphernes, who had been rewarded by Artaxerxes with more

power than before, became oppressive and intolerable. Nothing but

aggravated slavery impended over them. They therefore sent to Sparta for

aid to throw off the Persian yoke. The ephors, with nothing more to gain

from Persia, and inspired with contempt for the Persian armies--contempt

created by the expedition of the Ten Thousand--readily listened to the

overtures, and sent a considerable force into Asia, under Thimbron. He had

poor success, and was recalled, and Dereyllidas was sent in his stead. He

made a truce with Tissaphernes, in order to attack Pharnabazus, against

whom he had an old grudge, and with whom Tissaphernes himself happened for

the time to be on ill terms. Dereyllidas overrun the satrapy of

Pharnabazus, took immense spoil, and took up winter-quarters in Bythinia.

Making a truce with Pharnabazus, he crossed over into Europe and fortified

the Chersonesus against the Thracians. He then renewed the war both

against Pharnabazus and Tissaphernes upon the Maeander, the result of which

was an agreement, on the part of the satraps, to exempt the Grecian cities

from tribute and political interference, while the Spartan general

promised to withdraw from Asia his army, and the Spartan governors from

the Grecian cities.

At this point, B.C. 397, Dercyllidas was recalled to Sparta, and

King Agesilaus, who had recently arrived with large re-enforcements,

superseded him in command of the Lacedaemonian army. Agesilaus was the son

of king Archidamus, and half-brother to King Agis. He was about forty when

he became king, through the influence of Lysamler, in preference to his

nephew, and having been brought up without prospects of the throne, had

passed through the unmitigated rigor of the Spartan drill and training. He

was distinguished for all the Spartan virtues--obedience to authority,

extraordinary courage and energy, simplicity and frugality.

Agesilaus was assisted by large contingents from the allied Greek

cities for his war in Asia; but Athens, Corinth, and Thebes stood aloof.

Lysander accompanied him as one of the generals, but gave so great offense

by his overweening arrogance, that he was sent to command at the

Hellespont. The truce between the Spartans and Persians being broken,

Agesilaus prosecuted the war vigorously against both Tissaphernes and

Pharnabazus. He gained a considerable victory over the Persians near

Sardis, invaded Phrygia, and laid waste the satrapy of Pharnabazus. He

even surprised the camp of the satrap, and gained immense booty. But in

the midst of his victories he was recalled by Sparta, which had need of

his services at home. A rebellion of the allies had broken out, which

seriously threatened the stability of the Spartan empire.

"The prostration of the power of Athens had removed that common

bond of hatred and alarm which attached the allied cities to the headship

of Sparta; while her subsequent conduct had given positive offense, and

had excited against herself the same fear of unmeasured imperial ambition

which had before run so powerfully against Athens. She had appropriated to

herself nearly the whole of the Athenian maritime empire, with a tribute

of one thousand talents. But while Sparta had gained so much by the war,

not one of her allies had received the smallest remuneration. Even the

four hundred and seventy talents which Lysander brought home out of the

advances made by Cyrus, together with the booty acquired at Decelea, was

all detained by the Lacedaemonians. Hence there arose among the allies not

only a fear of the grasping dominion, but a hatred of the monopolizing

rapacity of Sparta. This was manifested by the Thebans and Corinthians

when they refused to join Pausanias in his march against Thrasybulus and

the Athenian exiles in Piraeus. But the Lacedaemonians were strong enough to

despise this alienation of the allies, and even to take revenge on such as

incurred their displeasure. Among these were the Elians, whose territory

they invaded, but which they retreated from, on the appearance of an


The following year the Spartans, under King Agis, again invaded the

territory of Elis, enriched by the offerings made to the temple of

Olympeia. Immense booty in slaves, cattle, and provisions was the result

of this invasion, provoked by the refusal of the Elians to furnish aid in

the war against Athens. The Elians were obliged to submit to hard terms of

peace, and all the enemies of Sparta were rooted out of the Peloponnesus.

Such was the triumphant position of Sparta at the close of the

Peloponnesian war. And a great change had also taken place in her internal

affairs. The people had become enriched by successful war, and gold and

silver were admitted against the old institution of Lycurgus, which

recognized only iron money. The public men were enriched by bribes. The

strictness of the old rule of Spartan discipline was gradually relaxed.

It was then, shortly after the accession of Agesilaus to the

throne, on the death of Agis, that a dangerous conspiracy broke out in

Sparta itself, headed by Cinadon, a man of strength and courage, who saw

that men of his class were excluded from the honors and distinctions of

the State by the oligarchy--the ephors and the senate. But the rebellion,

though put down by the energy of Agesilaus, still produced a dangerous

discontent which weakened the power of the State.

The Lacedaemonian naval power, at this crisis, was seriously

threatened by the union of the Persian and Athenian fleet under Conon.

That remarkable man had escaped from the disaster of AEgospotami with eight

triremes, and sought the shelter of Cyprus, governed by his friend

Evagoras, where he remained until the war between Sparta and the Persians

gave a new direction to his enterprising genius. He joined Pharnabazus,

enraged with the Spartans on account of the invasion of his satrapy by

Lysander and Agesilaus, and by him was intrusted with the command of the

Persian fleet. He succeeded in detaching Rhodes from the Spartan alliance,

and gained, some time after, a decisive victory over Pisander--the Spartan

admiral, off Cnidus, which weakened the power of Sparta on the sea, B.C.

394. More than half of the Spartan ships were captured and destroyed.

This great success emboldened Thebes and other States to throw off

the Spartan yoke. Lysander was detached from his command at the Hellespont

to act against Boeotia, while Pausanias conducted an army from the

Peloponnesus. The Thebans, threatened by the whole power of Sparta,

applied to Athens, and Athens responded, no longer under the control of

the Thirty Tyrants. Lysander was killed before Haliartus, an irreparable

blow to Sparta, since he was her ablest general. Pausanias was compelled

to evacuate Boeotia, and the enemies of Sparta took courage. An alliance

between Athens, Corinth, Thebes, and Argos was now made to carry on war

against Sparta.

Thebes at this time steps from the rank of a secondary power, and

gradually rises to the rank of an ascendant city. Her leading citizen was

Ismenias, one of the great organizers of the anti-Spartan movement--the

precursor of Pelopidas and Epaminondas. He conducted successful operations

in the northern part of Boeotia, and captured Heracleia.

Such successes induced the Lacedaemonians to recall Agesilaus from

Asia, and to concentrate all their forces against this new alliance, of

which Thebes and Corinth were then the most powerful cities. The allied

forces were also considerable--some twenty-four thousand hoplites, besides

light troops and cavalry, and these were mustered at Corinth, where they

took up a defensive position. The Lacedaemonians advanced to attack them,

and gained an indecisive victory, B.C. 394, which secured their ascendency

within the Peloponnesus, but no further. Agesilaus advanced from Asia

through Thrace to co-operate, but learned, on the confines of Boeotia, the

news of the great battle of Cnidus. At Coronaea another battle was fought

between the Spartan and anti-Spartan forces, which was also indecisive,

but in which the Thebans displayed great heroism. This battle compelled

Agesilaus, with the Spartan forces, which he commanded, to retire from


This battle was a moral defeat to Sparta. Nearly all her maritime

allies deserted her--all but Abydos, which was held by the celebrated

Dercyllidas. Pharnabazus and Conon now sailed with their fleet to Corinth,

but the Persian satrap soon left and Conon remained sole admiral, assisted

with Persian money. With this aid he rebuilt the long walls of Athens,

with the hearty co-operation of those allies which had once been opposed

to Athens.

Conon had large plans for the restoration of the Athenian power. He

organized a large mercenary force at Corinth, which had now become the

seat of war. But as many evils resulted from the presence of so many

soldiers in the city, a conspiracy headed by the oligarchal party took

place, with a view of restoring the Lacedaemonian power. Pasimelus, the

head of the conspirators, admitted the enemy within the long walls of the

city, which, as in Athens, secured a communication between the city and

the port. And between these walls a battle took place, in which the

Lacedaemonians were victorious with a severe loss. They pulled down a

portion of the walls between Corinth and the port of Lechaeum, sallied

forth, and captured two Corinthian dependencies, but the city of Corinth

remained in the hands of their gallant defenders, under the Athenian

Iphicrates. The long walls were soon restored, by aid of the Athenians,

but were again retaken by Agesilaus and the Spartans, together with

Lechaeum. This success alarmed Thebes, which unsuccessfully sued for peace.

The war continued, with the loss, to the Corinthians, of Piraeum, an

important island port, which induced the Thebans again to open

negotiations for peace, which were contemptuously rejected.

In the midst of these successes, tidings came to Agesilaus of a

disaster which was attended with important consequences, and which spoiled

his triumph. This was the destruction of a detachment of six hundred

Lacedaemonian hoplites by the light troops of Iphicrates--an unprecedented

victory--for the hoplites, in their heavy defensive armor, held in contempt

the peltarts with their darts and arrows, even as the knights of mediaeval

Europe despised an encounter with the peasantry. This event revived the

courage of the anti-Spartan allies, and intensely humiliated the

Lacedaemonians. It was not only the loss of the aristocratic hoplites, but

the disgrace of being beaten by peltarts. Iphicrates recovered the places

which Agesilaus had taken, and Corinth remained undisturbed.

Sparta, in view of these great disasters, now sought to detach

Persia from Athens. She sent Antalcidas to Ionia, offering to surrender

the Asiatic Greeks, and promising a universal autonomy throughout the

Grecian world. These overtures were disliked by the allies, who sent Conon

to counteract them. But Antalcidas gained the favor of the Persian satrap

Tiribasus, who had succeeded Tissaphernes, and he privately espoused the

cause of Sparta, and seized Conon and caused his death. Tiribasus,

however, was not sustained by the Persian court, which remained hostile to

Sparta. Struthas, a Persian general, was sent into Ionia, to act more

vigorously against the Lacedaemonians. He gained a victory, B.C. 390, over

the Spartan forces, commanded by Thimbron, who was slain.

The Lacedaemonians succeeded, after the death of Conon, in

concentrating a considerable fleet near Rhodes. Against this, Thrasybulus

was sent from Athens with a still larger one, and was gaining advantages,

when he was slain near Aspendus, in Pamphylia, in a mutiny, and Athens

lost the restorer of her renovated democracy, and an able general and

honest citizen, without the vindictive animosities which characterized the

great men of his day.

Rhodes still held out against the Lacedaemonians, who were now

commanded by Anaxibius, in the place of Dercyllidas. He was surprised by

Iphicrates, and was slain, and the Athenians, under this gallant leader,

again became masters of the Hellespont. But this success was balanced by

the defection of AEgina, which island was constrained by the Lacedaemonians

into war with Athens. I need not detail the various enterprises on both

sides, until Antalcidas returned from Susa with the treaty confirmed

between the Spartans and the court of Persia, which closed the war between

the various contending parties, B.C. 387. This treaty was of great

importance, but it indicates the loss of all Hellenic dignity when Sparta,

too, descends so far as to comply with the demands of a Persian satrap.

Athens and Sparta, both, at different times, invoked the aid of Persia

against each other--the most mournful fact in the whole history of Greece,

showing how much more powerful were the rivalries of States than the

sentiment of patriotism, which should have united them against their

common enemy. The sacrifice of Ionia was the price which was paid by

Sparta, in order to retain her supremacy over the rest of Greece, and

Persia ruled over all the Greeks on the Asiatic coast. Sparta became

mistress of Corinth and of the Corinthian Isthmus. She organized

anti-Theban oligarchies in the Boeotian cities, with a Spartan harmost. She

decomposed the Grecian world into small fragments. She crushed Olythus,

and formed a confederacy between the Persian king and the Dionysius of

Syracuse. In short, she ruled with despotic sway over all the different


We have now to show how Sparta lost the ascendency she had gained, and

became involved in a war with Thebes, and how Thebes became, under

Pelopidas and Epaminondas, for a time the dominant State of Greece.

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