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Agesilaus was also distracted by the disorderly and excited state of
the city itself, for the old men were in an agony of grief,
resentment, and wounded honour, while the women could not be kept
quiet, but were wrought to frenzy, by hearing the cries of the enemy,
and seeing the fires which they lighted. He also suffered much at the
thought of his own dishonour; for when he had ascended the throne,
Sparta was the greatest and most powerful city in Greece, and now he
beheld her shorn of all her glories, and his favourite boast, that no
Laconian woman had ever seen the smoke of an enemy's fire rendered
signally untrue. We are told that when some Athenian was disputing
with Antalkidas about the bravery of their respective nations, and
saying, "We have often chased you away from the Kephissus," Antalkidas
answered, "Yes, but we have never had to chase you away from the
Eurotas." This is like the answer made by some Spartan of less
distinction to an Argive, who said, "Many of you Spartans lie buried
in Argive soil," to which he replied, "But none of you are buried in

XXXII. We are told at this time Antalkidas was one of the Ephors, and
became so much alarmed that he sent his family away to the island of
Kythera. Agesilaus, when the enemy attempted to cross the river and
force their way into the city, abandoned most part of it, and drew up
his forces on the high hills in the centre. At that time the river
Eurotas was in high flood, as much snow had fallen, and the excessive
cold of the water, as well as the strength of the stream, rendered it
hard for the Thebans to cross. Epameinondas marched first, in the
front rank of the phalanx; and some of those who were present pointed
him out to Agesilaus, who is said to have gazed long at him, saying
merely, "O thou man of great deeds."

Epameinondas was eager to assault the city itself, and to place a
trophy of victory in its streets; but as he could not draw Agesilaus
into a battle, he drew off his forces, and again laid waste the
country. Meanwhile, in Lacedæmon itself, a body of two hundred men, of
doubtful fidelity, seized the Issorium, where the temple of Artemis
stands, which is a strong and easily defensible post. The
Lacedæmonians at once wished to attack them, but Agesilaus, fearing
that some deep-laid conspiracy might break out, ordered them to remain
quiet. He himself, dressed simply in his cloak, unarmed, and attended
only by one slave, went up to the two hundred, and, in a loud voice,
told them that they had mistaken their orders; that they had not been
ordered to go thither, nor yet to go all together in a body, but that
some were to be posted _there_, pointing to some other place, and the
rest elsewhere in the city. They, hearing his commands, were
delighted, imagining that their treason was undiscovered, and
immediately marched to the places which he indicated. Agesilaus at
once occupied the Issorium with troops which he could trust, and in
the ensuing night seized and put to death fifteen of the leaders of
the two hundred. Another more important conspiracy was betrayed to
him, whose members, full Spartan citizens, were met together in one
house to arrange revolutionary schemes. At such a crisis it was
equally impossible to bring these men to a regular trial, and to allow
them to carry on their intrigues. Agesilaus therefore, after taking
the Ephors into his confidence, put them all to death untried, though
before that time no Spartan had ever been executed without a trial.

As many of the Periœki and helots who had been entrusted with arms
escaped out of the city and deserted to the enemy, which greatly
disheartened the Spartans, he ordered his servants to visit the
quarters of these soldiers at daybreak every morning, and wherever any
one was gone, to hide his arms, so that the number of deserters might
not be known.

We are told by some historians that the Thebans left Laconia because
the weather became stormy, and their Arcadian allies began to melt
away from them. Others say that they spent three entire months in the
country, and laid nearly all of it waste. Theopompus relates that when
the Bœotarchs had decided to leave the country, Phrixus, a Spartan,
came from Agesilaus and offered them ten talents to be gone, thus
paying them for doing what they had long before determined to do of
their own accord.

XXXIII. I cannot tell, however, how it was that Theopompus discovered
this fact, and that no other historian mentions it. All writers agree,
nevertheless, in declaring that at this crisis Sparta was saved by
Agesilaus, who proved himself superior to party-spirit and desire of
personal distinction, and steadily refused to risk an engagement. Yet
he never was able to restore the city to the glorious and powerful
condition which it had previously held, for Sparta, like an athlete
who has been carefully trained throughout his life, suddenly broke
down, and never recovered her former strength and prosperity. It is
very natural that this should have happened, for the Spartan
constitution was an excellent one for promoting courage, good order,
and peace within the city itself; but when Sparta became the head of a
great empire to be maintained by the sword, which Lykurgus would have
thought a totally useless appendage to a well-governed and prosperous
city, it utterly failed.

Agesilaus was now too old for active service in the field, but his
son, Archidamus, with some Sicilian mercenary troops which had been
sent to the aid of the Spartans by the despot Dionysius, defeated the
Arcadians in what was known as the 'Tearless Battle,' where he did not
lose one of his own men, but slew many of the enemy. This battle
strikingly proved the weakness of the city, for in former times the
Spartans used to regard it as such a natural and commonplace event for
them to conquer their enemies, that they only sacrificed a cock to the
gods, while those who had won a victory never boasted of it, and those
who heard of it expressed no extravagant delight at the news. When the
Ephors heard of the battle at Mantinea, which is mentioned by
Thucydides in his history, they gave the messenger who brought the
tidings a piece of meat from the public dining-table, as a present for
his good news, and nothing more. But now, when the news of this battle
reached Sparta, and Archidamus marched triumphantly into the town, all
their accustomed reserve broke down. His father was the first to meet
him, weeping for joy. After him came the senate, and the elders and
women flocked down to the river side, holding up their hands to heaven
and giving thanks to the gods for having put away the undeserved
reproach of Sparta, and having once more allowed her to raise her
head. It is said, indeed, that the Spartans before this battle were so
much ashamed of themselves, that they dared not even look their wives
in the face.

XXXIV. The independence of Messenia had been restored by Epameinondas,
and its former citizens collected together from all quarters of
Greece. The Lacedæmonians dared not openly attack these men, but they
felt angry with Agesilaus, because during his reign they had lost so
fine a country, as large as Laconia itself, and as fertile as any part
of Greece, after having enjoyed the possession of it for so many
years. For this reason Agesilaus refused to accept the terms of peace
offered by the Thebans. He was so unwilling to give up his nominal
claim to Messenia, although he had practically lost that country, that
instead of recovering it he very nearly lost Sparta as well, as he was
out-manœuvred by Epameinondas. This happened in the following manner.
The people of Mantinea revolted from the Thebans, and solicited aid
from the Lacedæmonians. When Epameinondas heard that Agesilaus was
marching thither at the head of an army, he eluded the Mantineans by a
night march from Tegea, invaded the Lacedæmonium territory, and very
nearly succeeded in avoiding the army of Agesilaus and catching Sparta
defenceless. However, Euthynus of Thespiæ, according to Kallisthenes,
or, according to Xenophon, a certain Cretan warned Agesilaus of his
danger, upon which he at once sent a mounted messenger to the city
with the news, and shortly afterwards marched thither himself. Soon
the Thebans appeared, crossed the Eurotas, and assaulted the city with
great fury, while Agesilaus, old as he was, defended it with all the
spirit and energy of youth. He did not, as on the former occasion,
consider that caution would be of any service, but perceived that
reckless daring alone could save Sparta. And by incredible daring he
did then snatch the city from the grasp of Epameinondas, and set up a
trophy of victory, having afforded to the women and children the
glorious spectacle of the men of Lacedæmon doing their duty on behalf
of the country which reared them. There, too, might Archidamus be seen
in the thick of the fight, displaying the courage of a man, and the
swiftness of a youth, as he ran to each point where the Spartans
seemed likely to give way, and everywhere with a few followers
resisted a multitude of the enemy. I think, however, that Isidas, the
son of Phœbidas, must have been most admired both by his own
countrymen and even by the enemy. He was remarkably tall and handsome,
and was just of the age when boyhood merges into manhood. Naked,
without either clothes or armour, having just been anointing himself
at home, he rushed out of his house, with a sword in one hand and a
spear in the other, ran through the front ranks, and plunged among the
enemy, striking down all who opposed him. He received not a single
wound, either because the gods admired his bravery and protected him,
or else because he appeared to his foes to be something more than man.
After this exploit we are told that the Ephors crowned him for his
bravery, and fined him a thousand drachmas for having fought without
his shield.

XXXV. A few days afterwards was fought the battle of Mantinea, where,
just as Epameinondas was carrying all before him and urging his troops
to pursue, Antikrates the Lacedæmonium met him and wounded him,
according to Dioskorides with a spear, while the Lacedæmonians to this
day call the descendants of Antikrates Machairones, that is, children
of the sword, as though he struck him with a sword. Indeed, they
regarded Antikrates with such a love and admiration, because of the
terror which Epameinondas had struck into their hearts while he was
alive, that they decreed especial honours and presents to be bestowed
upon him, and granted to his descendants an immunity from taxes and
public burdens which is enjoyed at the present day by Kallikrates, one
of the descendants of Antikrates.

After this battle and the death of Epameinondas the Greek states made
peace between one another. When, however, all the other states were
swearing to observe the peace, Agesilaus objected to the Messenians,
men, he said, without a city, swearing any such oath. The rest,
however, raised no objections to the oath of the Messenians, and the
Lacedæmonians upon this refused to take any part in the proceedings,
so that they alone remained at war, because they hoped to recover the
territory of Messenia. Agesilaus was thought an obstinate and headlong
man, and insatiable of war, because he took such pains to undermine
the general peace, and to keep Sparta at war at a time when he was in
such distress for money to carry it on, that he was obliged to borrow
from his personal friends and to get up subscriptions among the
citizens, and when he had much better have allowed the state some
repose and watched for a suitable opportunity to regain the country;
instead of which, although he had lost so great an empire by sea and
land, he yet insisted on continuing his frantic and fruitless efforts
to reconquer the paltry territory of Messenia.

XXXVI. He still further tarnished his glory by taking service under
the Egyptian Tachos. It was thought unworthy of a man who had proved
himself the bravest and best soldier in Greece, and who had filled all
the inhabited world with his fame, to hire himself out to a barbarian
rebel, and make a profit of his great name and military reputation,
just like any vulgar captain of mercenaries. If, when more than eighty
years old, and almost crippled by honourable wounds, he had again
placed himself at the head of a glorious crusade against the Persian
on behalf of the liberties of Greece, all men would have admired his
spirit, but even then would not entirely have approved of the
undertaking; for to make an action noble, time and place must be
fitting, since it is this alone that decides whether an action be good
or bad. Agesilaus, however, cared nothing for his reputation, and
considered that no service undertaken for the good of his country
would be dishonourable or unworthy of him, but thought it much more
unworthy and dishonourable to sit uselessly waiting for death at home.
He raised a body of mercenary troops with the money furnished by
Tachos, and set sail, accompanied, as in his former expedition, by
thirty Spartan counsellors.

When he landed in Egypt, the chief generals and ministers of King
Tachos at once came to pay their court to him. The other Egyptians
also eagerly crowded to see Agesilaus, of whom they had heard so much.
When, however, they saw only a little deformed old man, in mean
attire, sitting on the grass, they began to ridicule him, and
contemptuously to allude to the proverb of the mountain in labour,
which brought forth a mouse. They were even more astonished when, of
the presents offered to him, he accepted flour, calves, and geese, but
refused to receive dried fruits, pastry, and perfumes. When greatly
pressed to accept of these things, he ordered them to be given to the
helots. Yet we are told by Theophrastes that he was much pleased with
the flowering papyrus, of which garlands are made, because of its neat
and clean appearance, and he begged for and received some of this
plant from the king when he left Egypt.

XXXVII. When he joined Tachos, who was engaged in preparing his forces
for a campaign, he was disappointed in not receiving the chief
command, but being merely appointed to lead the mercenary troops,
while Chabrias the Athenian was in command of the fleet, Tachos
himself acting as commander-in-chief. This was the first vexatious
circumstance which occurred to Agesilaus; and soon he began to feel
great annoyance at the vainglorious swaggering tone of the Egyptian
king, which nevertheless he was obliged to endure throughout the whole
of a naval expedition which they undertook against the Phœnicians,
during which he suppressed his feelings of disgust as well as he could
until at last he had an opportunity of showing them. Nektanebis, the
cousin of Tachos, and the commander of a large portion of his force,
revolted, and caused himself to be proclaimed King of Egypt. He at
once sent to Agesilaus begging for his assistance, and he also made
the same proposals to Chabrias, offering them great rewards if they
would join him.

Tachos, hearing of this, also began to supplicate them to stand by
him, and Chabrias besought Agesilaus to remain in the service of
Tachos, and to act as his friend. To this, however, Agesilaus
answered, "You, Chabrias, have come here on your own responsibility,
and are able to act as you please. I was given by Sparta to the
Egyptians as their general. It would not become me, therefore, to make
war against those whom I was sent to aid, unless my country orders me
to do so." After expressing himself thus, he sent messengers to
Sparta, with instructions to depreciate Tachos, and to praise
Nektanebis. Both these princes also sent embassies to the
Lacedæmonians, the one begging for aid as their old friend and ally,
the other making large promises of future good-will towards them.
After hearing both sides, the Spartans publicly answered the
Egyptians, that Agesilaus would decide between them, and they sent
him a private despatch, bidding him to do what was best for Sparta.
Hereupon Agesilaus and the mercenaries left Tachos, and joined
Nektanebis, making the interests of his country the pretext for his
extraordinary conduct, which we can hardly call anything better than
treachery. However, the Lacedæmonians regard that course as the most
honourable which is the most advantageous to their country, and know
nothing of right or wrong, but only how to make Sparta great.

XXXVIII. Tachos, deserted by the mercenaries, now fled for his life;
but another claimant of the throne arose in the district of Mendes,
and made war against Nektanebis with an army of one hundred thousand
men. Nektanebis, in his talk with Agesilaus, spoke very confidently
about this force, saying that they were indeed very numerous, but a
mere mixed multitude of rustic recruits, whom he could afford to
despise. To these remarks Agesilaus answered, "It is not their
numbers, but their ignorance which I fear, lest we should be unable to
deceive them. Stratagems in war consist in unexpectedly falling upon
men who are expecting an attack from some other quarter, but a man who
expects nothing gives his enemy no opportunity to take him unawares,
just as in wrestling one cannot throw one's adversary if he stands

The Mendesian soon began to intrigue with Agesilaus, and Nektanebis
feared much that he might succeed in detaching him from himself.
Consequently, when Agesilaus advised him to fight as soon as possible,
and not prolong the war against men who were indeed inexperienced in
battle, but who were able, from their enormous numbers, to raise vast
entrenchments and surround him on every side, he took the exactly
opposite course, and retired to a strongly fortified city, of great
extent, viewing Agesilaus with suspicion and fear. Agesilaus was
grieved at this, but, feeling ashamed to change sides a second time
and so completely fail in his mission, he followed Nektanebis into his

XXXIX. When the enemy advanced and began to build a wall round the
city, Nektanebis, fearing the consequences of a siege, was eager to
fight, as were also the Greeks, for they were very short of
provisions. Agesilaus, however, opposed this design, for which he was
heartily abused by the Egyptians, who called him a traitor and the
betrayer of their king. He paid but little attention to their
slanders, but watched for an opportunity to effect the project which
he had conceived. This was as follows: - The enemy were digging a
trench round the city, with the intention of completely isolating the
garrison and starving it out. When then the two ends of this trench,
which was to surround the city, had nearly met, Agesilaus towards
evening ordered the Greeks to get under arms, and, proceeding to
Nektanebis, said, "Young man, this is our opportunity. I would not say
anything about it before, lest the secret should be divulged. But now
the enemy themselves have secured our position by digging this
enormous trench; for the part of it which is completed will keep off
their superior numbers from us, while upon the ground which still
remains unbroken we can fight them on equal terms. Come now, prove
yourself a man of courage, charge bravely with us, and save both
yourself and your army. Those of the enemy whom we first attack will
not be able to resist our onset, and the rest will not be able to
reach us because of the trench."

Nektanebis was surprised at the ingenuity of Agesilaus, placed himself
in the midst of the Greeks, and charging with them gained an easy
victory. Having once established an ascendancy over the mind of
Nektanebis, Agesilaus now proceeded to use the same trick again with
the enemy. By alternately retreating and advancing he led them on
until he had enticed them into a place between two deep canals. Here
he at once formed his troops on a front equal to the space between the
canals, and charged the enemy, who were unable to use their numbers to
outflank and surround him. After a short resistance they fled. Many
were slain, and the rest completely dispersed.

XL. This victory secured the throne of Egypt for Nektanebis. He now
showed great esteem for Agesilaus, and begged him to remain in Egypt
during the winter. Agesilaus, however, was anxious to return home and
assist in the war which was going on there, as he knew that Sparta was
in great want of money, and was paying a force of mercenary troops.
Nektanebis escorted him out of the country with great honour, giving
him many presents, and the sum of two hundred and thirty talents of
silver to be used in meeting the expenses of the war. As it was
winter, and stormy weather, Agesilaus did not venture to cross the
open sea, but coasted along the shores of Libya, as far as a desert
spot known as the Harbour of Menelaus, where he died, in the
eighty-fourth year of his age, and having been king of Sparta for
forty-one years, during thirty of which he was the greatest and most
powerful man in Greece, having been looked upon as all but the king of
the whole country, up to the time of the battle of Leuktra.

It was the Spartan custom, in the case of citizens who died in foreign
countries, to pay them the last rites wherever they might be, but to
take home the remains of their kings. Consequently the Spartan
counsellors enveloped the body in melted wax, as they could not obtain
honey, and took it home to Lacedæmon.

Archidamus, the son of Agesilaus, succeeded him on the throne, and his
posterity continued to reign until Agis, the fifth in descent from
Agesilaus, was murdered by Leonidas, because he endeavoured to restore
the ancient discipline of Sparta.


[Footnote 174: This passage has been admirably paraphrased by Grote,
'History of Greece,' Part II. ch. lxxiii.: -

"Combined with that ability and energy in which he was never
deficient, this conciliatory policy ensured him more real power than
had ever fallen to the lot of any king of Sparta - power, not merely
over the military operations abroad, which usually fell to the kings,
but also over the policy of the state at home. On the increase and
maintenance of that real power, his chief thoughts were concentrated;
new dispositions generated by kingship, which had never shown
themselves in him before. Despising, like Lysander, both money,
luxury, and all the outward show of power, he exhibited, as a king, an
ultra-Spartan simplicity, carried almost to affectation in diet,
clothing, and general habits. But like Lysander, also, he delighted in
the exercise of dominion through the medium of knots or factions of
devoted partizans, whom he rarely scrupled to uphold in all their
career of injustice and oppression. Though an amiable man, with no
disposition to tyranny and still less to plunder, for his own
benefit - Agesilaus thus made himself the willing instrument of both,
for the benefit of his various coadjutors and friends, whose power and
consequence he identified with his own." See also infra, ch. xiii. et

[Footnote 175: We see here the beginning of that tendency of the
Neoplatonic school to find a sanction for all their theories in some
perversion of the plain meaning of Homer's words.]

[Footnote 176: Compare Life of Lysander, ch. xxiii.]

[Footnote 177: In Sintenis's text of Plutarch this prince's name is
spelt as above. Xenophon, however, in his Life of Agesilaus, spells it
Otys; and this reading has been adopted by Grote. It must be
remembered that Xenophon was probably an eye-witness of the
proceedings which he records, and that Plutarch lived several
centuries later.]

[Footnote 178: The Greek word here translated "guest" is explained by
Liddell and Scott, s.v., to mean "any person in a foreign city with
whom one has a treaty of hospitality for self and heirs, confirmed by
mutual presents and an appeal to [Greek: Zeus xenios] Ζεὺς ξένιος."]

[Footnote 179: He sought to compose the dissensions and misrule which
had arisen out of the Lysandrian Dekarchies, or governments of ten, in
the Greco-Asiatic cities, avoiding as much as possible the infliction
of death or exile. - Grote, part ii. ch. lxxiii.]

[Footnote 180: Nothing is known of this tribe. There is a city,
Tralles, in Asia Minor, which Clough conjectures may possibly have
been connected with them. Liddell and Scott speak of "Trallians" as
"Thracian barbarians employed in Asia as mercenaries, torturers, and

[Footnote 181: The people living about Pharsalia.]

[Footnote 182: Mora, a Spartan regiment of infantry. The number of men
in each varied from 400 to 900, according as the men above 45, 50,
&c., years were called out.]

Online Library46 PlutarchPlutarch's Lives Volume III → online text (page 18 of 55)