Sparta at War: Strategy, Tactics and Campaigns, 950-362 BC
Scott M. Rusch
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During the eighth century bc, Sparta became one of the leading cities of ancient Greece, conquering the southern Peloponnese, and from the mid-sixth century bc until the mid-fourth, Sparta became a military power of recognized importance. For almost two centuries the massed Spartan army remained unbeaten in the field. Spartan officers also commanded with great success armies of mercenaries or coalition allies, as well as fleets of war galleys. Although it is the stand of the Three Hundred at Thermopylae that has earned Sparta undying fame, it was her victories over both Persian invaders and the armies and navies of Greek rivals that upheld her position of leadership in Greece. Even a steady decline in Spartiate numbers, aggravated by a terrible earthquake in 464 bc, failed to end their dominance. Only when the Thebans learned how to defeat the massed Spartan army in pitched battle was Sparta toppled from her position of primacy.
Scott Rusch examines what is known of the history of Sparta, from the settlement of the city to her defeat at Theban hands, focusing upon military campaigns and the strategic circumstances that drove them. Rusch offers fresh perspectives on important questions of Spartan history, and illuminates some of antiquity’s most notable campaigns.
321–49; Powell 2001: 175–9; Lazenby 2004: 36, 46, 56–7, 72, 83–92, 94–108. 62 Thucydides 4.53–7; Diodorus 12.65.8–9; Plutarch Nicias 6.4, 6. 63 Thucydides 4.41.3, 55.1, 80.2–4; 5.14.3. 64 Thucydides 4.80.3–4; Diodorus 12.67.3–5. Doubters: R. J. A. Talbert, Historia 38, 1989, 24–5; Michael Whitby in Powell/Hodkinson 2004: 97–9; Hornblower 1996: 264–7; Annalisa Paradiso in Figueira 2004: 179–98. Defenders: Cartledge, Historia 40, 1991, 381; Powell 2001: 252–6; David Harvey in Figuiera 2004:
However, since the other Peloponnesians were also massing at the Isthmus of Corinth, he reconsidered and finally withdrew east, then went north into Boeotia and west to Thebes, encamping south of the city along the Asopus River. He would fight in plains suitable to his cavalry, with a friendly city at his back.11 Pausanias at Plataea, Summer 47912 Obtaining favourable sacrifices, Pausanias led his army on, rendezvousing with the Athenians on the plain of Eleusis. The united army crossed Mount
power.34 It is likely that navarchs were chosen when needed for a year’s term, with an extension of a few months possible.35 To command a specific region abroad Sparta appointed a harmost (harmostēs, ‘fixer’). Harmosts played a major role from the Peloponnesian War onwards,36 as did the xenagoi,‘leaders of foreigners’, Spartan officers sent to direct allied units.37 These allied units came most often from Sparta’s Peloponnesian League, which in time included every Peloponnesian state except
light-armed men. The Spartan hoplites counterattacked the Locrian light-armed, but became disordered and vulnerable in the growing darkness and unfamiliar terrain. It would not be the Spartans’ only failure in fighting light-armed troops during this war.22 The War Around Corinth, 394–390 23 Unable to maintain his army indefinitely in central Greece, Agesilaus dismissed its levied contingents to their cities. Pitched battle had not yielded a decision, so the combatants turned to attrition.
process of extension, he led the Sacred Band in a charge. Only the Sacred Band attacked initially, so the Spartans held it off, but its attack halted the Spartans’ rightward move, disrupted them, and mortally wounded Cleombrotus, making him the first Spartan king killed in battle since Leonidas. The Theban column then struck the already-disorganised mora, perhaps coming up on its open flank. The mora and Hippeis were crushed–most Spartiate casualties would have occurred here, where many