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AgesilausHe long reign of Agesilaus, one of the greatest kings of Sparta, shows that country both at the height of its power and also overcome by its rival, Thebes. It connects the period in which Persia sought to reduce Greece to a province of its empire with that in which Alexander led the Greeks to the heart of Persia and overthrew the Great King.


Agesilaus was the younger son of King Archidamus, and as he had nothing to expect but a private station, he received the common Spartan education, full of laborious exercises. Before he came to govern he had learned to obey. In person he was diminutive, and his appearance was unprepossessing. But his intellectual ability was superior to that which Spartan training usually produced. A perpetual vivacity and cheerfulness, attended with a talent for raillery, which was expressed without any severity," says Plutarch, "made him more agreeable in age than the young and handsome." His brother Agis died in 398 B.C., leaving a son, Leotychidas but Lysander, then the most powerful person in Sparta, raised Agesilaus to the throne, alleging that Leotychidas was a bastard. The majority of the citizens, knowing the virtues and training of Agesilaus, willingly accepted him as their king.


Soon after his accession, Agesilaus learned that the King of Persia was preparing a large fleet to dispossess the Spartans of the dominion of the sea. By Lysander's influence, Agesilaus was appointed commander of the Spartan army. Lysander desired to be again sent abroad, and he therefore persuaded Agesilaus to fix the seat of war at a great distance from Greece by invading Asia. In 396 B.C. he conducted an expedition into Asia Minor, where he was opposed by the Persian satrap Tissaphernes, and was assisted by Xenophon, the historian, who, having returned from the memorable Retreat of the Ten Thousand, had entered his service. The first campaign resulted in the capture of many cities in Phrygia and the securing of immense treasures. Lysander, who had expected to have the direction of affairs, found himself deprived of power by the artifices of Agesilaus. He was sent to a distant command, but soon returned to Sparta, where he organized a formidable conspiracy against the king. Before it could be put into execution, some of the principal actors became alarmed and withdrew their co-operation. Lysander then took command of a trifling expedition and was killed in a skirmish.


Agesilaus pursued his career unchecked. In 394 B.C. the Persian army was defeated near Sardis. 800n after this battle, the Ephori of Sparta invested the victorious king with the command of the navy as well as army, an honor never granted to any Spartan but himself. By his generosity and popular manners, Agesilaus induced several subjects of the Persian king to renounce their allegiance to him. The aim of the sagacious Spartan was to remove the seat of war to the heart of Persia, so that the Great King might have to fight for Ecbatana and Susa, instead of sitting at his ease there to bribe the orators of Greece. But suddenly the Ephori, who had in certain respects more power than the king, ordered him to return and defend his own country, which was involved in war against the Athenians and Thebans. Plutarch praises the virtue of Agesilans and the reverence which he showed for his country's laws, when, in the midst of his successful career, he abandoned his flourishing prospects and left his great work unfinished. Agesilaus himself said, perhaps with more wit than truth he was driven out of Asia by ten thousand of the king's archers, for the orators of Athens and Thebes had been bribed by so many Persian coins bearing the figure of an archer, and had excited their countrymen to wage war against Sparta.


In prosecution of the war in Greece, Agesilaus entered Breotia and encountered the army of Thebans, Argives and Athenians at Coronea (or Koroneia), in August, 394 B.C. In this rather indecisive battle, Agesilaus was wounded. Xenophon, who fought here by the side of the Spartan king, affirms that this was the most furious action in his time. When he returned to Sparta, the citizens testified their approval because, after a victorious career in Asia, he retained his simple, temperate habits and his attachment to the rigid Spartan customs.


After the Athenian Conon and the Persian Pharnabazus, who were masters of the sea, had ravaged the coasts of Laconia, the Spartans made overtures of peace to the King of Persia, and conducted the disgraceful treaty called the Peace of Antalcidas in 387 B.C. By it the Greek cities and dependencies in Asia were basely yielded to Persia, but Sparta secured the supremacy of Greece. In all the cities the Spartans assisted the oligarchic party, and wherever they could they introduced their own garrisons. Agesilaus, carried away by his ambition and resentment, hated the Thebans and screened from punishment Phrebidas, who had seized by treachery the citadel of Thebes. When the Athenians restored the Thebans to liberty, Agesilaus declared war against the latter for having put two tyrants to death.


All the States and parties of Greece being weary of war and disposed to peace, sent deputies to Sparta to a congress held in 372 B.C. Here occurred an altercation between Agesilaus and Epaminondas, who advocated peace. Agesilaus, highly exasperated and glad of a pretense against the Thebans, struck their name out of the treaty, because they signed on behalf of all Boeotia, and not for their city alone. He went further and declared war against them upon the spot, but the result was most disastrous to his own country. Epaminondas, commanding about 7,000 Thebans, met a superior number of Spartans at Leuctra, 37r B. c., and gained a decisive victory, which was a fatal blow to the supremacy of Sparta. In this battle the Spartans lost about 4,000 killed, and the Thebans only 300. In the year 369 Epaminondas invaded Laconia with a large army and ravaged the country to the Eurotas and reached the suburbs of Sparta, but failed to take that city. Agesilaus was obliged to remain on the defensive, but still showed ability and courage. In 362 B.C. the Thebans again attacked Sparta, and were repulsed by Agesilaus. He was joint commander at the battle of Mantinea in 362 D.C., when Epaminondas again conquered, but fell on the field.


In the next year Sparta sent the aged, but still active king, to Egypt to aid King Nectanabis, then in revolt against Persia. For his services he received the splendid gift of 230 talents for the Spartan people. But he did not live to carry the tribute home. Being eighty years old, he .succumbed to the fatigues of the march to Cyrene and his body, embalmed in wax, was carried to Sparta. Agesilaus was the greatest man produced by the severe discipline of Lycurgus, and his long career exhibits clearly both its merits and defects.




The decision of the Ephors to recall Agesilaus reached him just when the full tide of success was carrying him onwards, as he hoped, to Sousa. The dream would in any case have been rudely disturbed so soon as he should learn the catas. trophe of Knidos; but at the moment it seemed both to himself and to his friends that he was called away from a work which would requite on the barbarian the wrongs done to Hellas by Xerxes. In the first stirrings of their grief his allies were eager to accompany him to Sparta; and although many drew back when they remembered that he was returning to fight not against barbarians, but against Greeks, yet a large body resolved to cast in their lot with his. Among these were many Cyreians, headed by Xenophon.


On his outward voyage Agesilaus likened himself to Agamemnon. On returning from Asia he was constrained to follow the line of march taken by Xerxes. At Ampbipolis Derkyllidas met him with tidings of the victory won at Corinth; the thought of the task which he had been compelled to abandon left no room for any feeling but that of grief that so much blood had been shed to so little -purpose. Bearing down all opposition made to his onward march he reached the Boiotian Chaironeia. Here an earthquake filled him with gloomy forebodings, which were realized a few days later by the news of the battle of Knidos. Taking in at once the full significance of this great event, Agesilaos informed his army that the Lakedaimonian fleet had wall a great victory, but that he had to mourn the death of his brother-in-law, Peisandras. His next march brought him to the scene of the memorable battle which fifty-five years ago finally dispelled the dream of Athenian supremacy in Boiotia. Here in the plain of Koraneia the confederate army awaited his coming, with hopes undoubtedly raised high by the tidings of Konon's success, if these had then reached them. Their confidence availed them but little. The weight of the Peloponnesian hoplites was stilt a force too mighty to be with stood by any but troops of the first quality. The division of Herippidas, including the Cyreians under Xenophon, bore down the men opposed to them, while on the side of the confederates the Argives without striking a blow fled up the slopes of Helikon. Thither the Thebans, who had put to flight the Orehomenians opposed to them, resolved to force their way on returning from the pursuit. The path was barred by the boplites of Agesilaos; the two masses met in direct encounter, and a conflict ensued which marked a new era in the history of Greek warfare. It was a strife in which the front ranks of men, all of tried courage and skill, received a tremendous impetus from the weight of the hinder ranks, consisting of warriors not less formidable. The ghastly sight presented the next day by the battle.field attested the desperate ferocity of a struggle which had been carried on not with wild and piercing cries, but with the subdued murmur of men intent on business which they knew to be deadly.


In a certain sense Agesilaos had won a real victory. He was master of the battle-ground, and even the Thebans formally admitted their defeat by asking a truce for the burial of the dead; but the latter, on the other hand, had fully carried out their purpose of forcing their way through the Spartans to the high grounds where their allies bad taken refuge, and in the mind of Agesilaus the sense of their tremendous power was even deeper than that of his own success. That success, moreover, brought him no solid fruit He returned home by way of Delphoi, and across the Corinthian Gulf, as he might have done without fighting this dreadful battle. At Sparta he was received with profound respect. The simplicity with which he still submitted himself to the public discipline not only showed that the man was unchanged, but won for him a deference not so readily paid to men like Lysandros.


Two years later the Spartans determined to send envoys not to the cities confederated against them, but to the Persian king whom they were ready to worship as the supreme arbiter in Hellenic affairs. Hitherto they had used the term freedom in the sense most convenient to themselves; but the effort to enforce this interpretation had failed and the time was therefore come to play another card in the game which must at whatever cost be made to end in the profit of Sparta. This card was the absolute autonomy or independence of every Hellenic city,-in other words, the suppression of every local confederacy excepts of courses her own. Henceforth Thebes and Athens Corinth and Argos were not to have any allies; and in theory the pettiest townships of Boiotia and Attica were to stand as completely by themselves as the most prominent cities of the Hellenic world. 'With these propositions the Spartan Autalkidas was dispatched to Tiribazos, satrap of Armenia during the retreat of the Cyreians now viceroy of Ionia in the place of Tithraustes. For the present his only success was the arrest and detention of the Athenian Konon, which he secured through his influence with Tiribazos. So ended the public career of a man whose loss to Athens was irreparable. He escaped it would seem to Cyprus and there died in the house of his friend Euagoras.


Oppressed with the burden of carrying on a wearisome and unprofitable war~ the Athenians became almost helpless against Spartan intrigues. On all sides there was a widespread feeling of mingled disgust and fear; and when at length Antalkidas returned with a peace sent down so the phrase ran, from Sousa, it was accepted by all in the sense which Sparta chose to put upon it. The Thebans alone claimed to take the oath in the name of the Boiotian confederacy. The claim seemed to Agesilaus to furnish that opportunity for revenge against Thebes for which he had long been yearning. " If you do not swear for yourselves and yourselves only," he said, "you will be shut out from the treaty." In the feverish hope that they would thus bar themselves he hastened to lead an army across the border. At Tegea he was met by Theban envoys who declared themselves ready to swear for Thebes alone. Agesilaus was baulked of his vengeance in blood; hut he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had left the proud Boiotian city a mere unit amongst a crowd of paltry towns and villages.


The Persian king chose to regard the acceptance of the peace by the Spartans as an act of submission not less significant than the offering of earth and water. In the disgrace which it involved the one was as ignominious as the other; but Sparta had now not even the poor excuse which long ago she had put forward for calling in the aid of the barbarian. She was no longer struggling for self-preservation. The fear that Athens might be once more on the road to empire, absurd though under the changed conditions of the Greek world such fear must be, may together with the consciousness of her own unpopularity have prompted that cession of the islands of Lemnos, Imbros, and Skyros, which gave to Athens a faint semblance of maritime power. Otherwise the purposes of Sparta were fully achieved. She had obtained the sanction of the Persian king to a policy which isolated the Hellenic cities, at a time when there was no confederate empire to break up except her own; and that the provisions of the peace should be applied within the limits of her own alliance was no part of her intention.


Freedom and independence were words which she still used, which she had always used, in' the sense which, as Perikles told his countrymen, meant nothing hut her own aggrandizement. That the people in each city was to determine its own form of government, was a thing not to be thought of; and refuse to pay the yearly tribute was to be punished as treason or rebellion. In short, by Sparta the peace of Antalkidas was adopted with the settled resolution to divide and govern; and all those of her acts, which might seem at first sight to have a different meaning, carry out in every instance this golden rule of despotism.


It was the curse of the Hellenic race, and the ruin ultimately of Sparta itself, that this maxim flattered an instinct which they had cherished with blind obstinacy, until it became their bane. But for Sparta, the consolidation of the Athenian empire would long ago have restrained this self-isolating sentiment within its proper limits. When the Thesbians meditated revolt, their envoys at Olympia had nothing more to say for themselves than that Athens had offended this feeling. In theory, the Spartans by enforcing the peace of Antalkidas restored to the several Creek States the absolute power of managing their own affairs and of making war upon one another. In practice Sparta was resolved that their armies should move only at her dictation; that into her treasury should flow the tribute, the gathering of which was denounced as the worst crime of imperial Athens, and that in the government of the oligarchical factious she should have the strongest material guarantee for the absolute submission of the Greek cities.-SIR G. W. Cox.



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