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.
18–20; E. David, Eranos 90, 1992, 11–21; Sekunda 1998: 20–2, 24–5, 26–8; Hodkinson 2000: 221–6; Lipka 2002: 191–4. 61 Xenophon Lakedaimoniōn Politeia 11.1–2; Lipka 2002: 188–91. 62 Xenophon Lakedaimoniōn Politeia 13.1–5; quote: 13.5; Lipka 2002: 209–17. 63 Xenophon Lakedaimoniōn Politeia 12; Lipka 2002: 202–9. 64 Snodgrass 1999: 48–77, 89–98; Hanson 1989: 55–88; J.K. Anderson 1970: 13–42, and in Hanson 1991: 15–37; Sekunda 1998: 25–31; van Wees 2004: 47–54; Connolly 2006: 51–63; Lee 2007:
kings who had the charisma and political skills to exploit fully his privileges, and was a controversial character. Herodotus reports tales of Cleomenes’ virtue and wit,26 and of his cruelty and madness.27 As rivals he had both the Eurypontid king Demaratus and his own eldest half-brother, Dorieus, first among those of his age at Sparta. Unhappy at being ruled by Cleomenes, Dorieus led colonising expeditions abroad in the 510s, and died in Sicily.28 Cleomenes continued the policy of refusing to
story may have arisen from the Argives’ desire to provide a less embarrassing explanation of their cautiousness than a simple fear of Spartan prowess. Cleomenes’ earlier withdrawal from the Erasinus may have been due to the Argives’ taking position behind it, with the king using the excuse of unfavourable sacrifices to justify his withdrawal. The ‘taking Argos’ tale, and that of the omens at the Heraeum, won a trial for the king, giving him reason to create them. In spite of its more fabulous
Spartan soldiers of the era. Judging from his short hair, he may be a Perioec or freed Helot. Absence of body armour is common in period depictions. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fletcher Fund 1940 [40.11.23]. Image � The Metropolitan Museum of Art) Eight THE NAVARCHS’ WAR, 413–404 Revolts, Athenian Civil Strife, and Indecision at Sea, 413–4111 The disaster in Sicily raised hopes among Athens’ foes for the speedy downfall of its democracy and rule. The Spartans and their allies started
‘slowly and to [the sound of] many pipers as established by custom, not for the sake of religion, but so that, going on evenly with rhythm, they should advance and their battle-order not break apart, as large armies are likely to do in their onsets’.72 By maintaining their formation, the Spartans gave enemies no openings to exploit. It cost them the final charge into battle performed by other hoplite armies, which encouraged attackers and caused their rear ranks to push the front ones ahead. The