Make your own free website on

Battle of Coronea 394 BC

"Shoving their shields together, they shoved, fought, slew, and died" (Xenophon).

While the battle at the Nemea was being fought Agesilaus was marching back to Sparta with the booty of Asia Minor and the pick of the army he had hoped of conquering the western provinces with. The news of the victory was brought to him at Amphipolis. Agesilaus hurried on through Thessaly where he won a victory near Mt. Narthacion defeating the famed Thessalian cavalry with the mercenaries he had raised and trained for the Persian War. He forced the gates at Thermopylae and enterered Phocis where he was joined by his Phocian allies and possibly by the mora that was sent from Nemea. Finally on entering Boeotia he would have been joined by Orchomenians and the garrison of half a mora stationed there. The news of the naval defeat at Cnidus and the death of the Spartan navarch Peisander which  was also brought to him was kept from his troops. On entering Boeotia Agesilaus would have found the enemy army awaiting him at Coronea.
Agesilaus had with him one and a half mora of Spartans, assuming they were at full strength then about 1,680 men. In addition he had the Neodamodeis originally 2,000 strong, what remained of the 'Ten Thousand' including Xenophon , perhaps 6,000 strong plus the Aeolians, Ionians and Hellespontines from Asia Minor all told about 3,000 hoplites and 2,000? from Phocis and 1,000? Orchemenian hoplites. About 15,000 hoplites, probably a little less.
  Facing him on the plain, near the foot of mount Helicon, was an army made up of Boeotians, Athenians, Argives, Corinthians, Euboeans, Aenianones, and Locrians. Xenophon or any other source for this battle, offers no estimates of any of these forces. Xenophon does, however, mention that, although the forces were roughly equal in cavalry, Agesilaus had a clear and "very great superiority in peltasts". We can assume, since they were on their own territory, that the Boeotians were in greater strength than at the Nemea, probably 6,000 hoplites and that the Athenians and the Euboeans who had escaped with few casualties at the Nemea fielded the same number as there, 6,000 and 3,000 respectively. The Argives and Corinthians considering their losses and the need for home defence would have been in less numbers that at the Nemea considering their losses there, probably 2,000 hoplites each. The Locrians may have supplied a further 1,000 hoplites with the Ainianians supplying peltasts.

As the two armies approached each other, Agesilaus himself commanded the Spartans on the extreme right flank of his army with the Neodamodeis, the veterans of the ‘Ten Thousand’ were next to the Neodamodeis, the Asian Greeks were next to them, then came the Phocians, with the Orchomenians on the extreme left flank. The Thebans faced the Orchomenians and the Argives faced the Spartans. Both armies advanced in total silence. At about  a stade the Thebans broke into a run shouting their war cry. At about half a stade, the mercenaries under Herippidas followed by the Ionians Aeolians and Hellaspontines charged the troops opposite. The veterans and the Asiatic Greeks quickly routed the troops opposite them. The Argives unlike the opponents of the mercenaries and Asiatic Greeks did not receive the attack of the Spartans but fled to the slopes of Mt. Helicon.

On the other wing the Thebans using their deepened phalanx cut there way through the Orchomenians.and were amongst the baggage with the Persian plunder. Agesilaus immediately counter marched his Lacedaemonians and mercenaries. The Thebans probably had learnt their lesson of Nemea and had kept together and seeing their allies fleeing advanced to join them.

Agesilaus motivated by a chance of an annihilating victory chose to confront the Boeotians head on, he probably outnumbered them 2 to 1, instead of taking them in flank or rear as Xenophon suggests.What followed was a clash of evidently one of unusual ferocity. As Xenophon described it, "So shield pressed upon shield they struggled, killed and were killed in turn". In the end a few Thebans broke through to Mount Helicon but, in the words of Xenophon, "many others were killed on their way there.". 

Agesilaus had himself been wounded in the battle and had to be carried back to the phalanx. Eighty Thebans who had got left behind sought shelter in the temple of  Itonian Athena. Agesilaus ordered that they be spared and allowed to go.
According to Diodorus more than 600 of the Boeotians and their allies fell with 350 on the Spartan side. Agesilaus formally claimed the victory and the Thebans acknowledged defeat by requesting a truce for the recovery and burial of their dead. Phocis and Orchomenos had been secured for the Spartans. Agesilaus made no attempt to follow up his victory but he returned home via Delphi  the army then retired to Phocis and to invaded Locris where the polemarch Gylis was killed.

Xenophon's account

"I will describe the battle
itself, if only on account of certain features which distinguish it
from the battles of our time. The two armies met on the plain of
Coronea--the troops of Agesilaus advancing from the Cephisus, the
Thebans and their allies from the slopes of Helicon. Agesilaus
commanded his own right in person, with the men of Orchomenus on his
extreme left. The Thebans formed their own right, while the Argives
held their left. As they drew together, for a while deep silence
reigned on either side; but when they were not more than a furlong[14]
apart, with the loud hurrah[15] the Thebans, quickening to a run,
rushed furiously[16] to close quarters; and now there was barely a
hundred yards[17] breadth between the two armies, when Herippidas with
his foreign brigade, and with them the Ionians, Aeolians, and
Hellespontines, darted out from the Spartans' battle-lines to greet
their onset. One and all of the above played their part in the first
rush forward; in another instant they were[18] within spear-thrust of
the enemy, and had routed the section immediately before them. As to
the Argives, they actually declined to receive the attack of
Agesilaus, and betook themselves in flight to Helicon. At this moment
some of the foreign division were already in the act of crowning
Agesilaus with the wreath of victory, when some one brought him word
that the Thebans had cut through the Orchomenians and were in among
the baggage train. At this the Spartan general immediately turned his
army right about and advanced against them. The Thebans, on their
side, catching sight of their allies withdrawn in flight to the base
of the Helicon, and anxious to get across to their own friends, formed
in close order and tramped forward stoutly.
  At this point no one will dispute the valour of Agesilaus, but he
certainly did not choose the safest course. It was open to him to make
way for the enemy to pass, which done, he might have hung upon his
heels and mastered his rear. This, however, he refused to do,
preferring to crash full front against the Thebans. Thereupon, with
close interlock of shield wedged in with shield, they shoved, they
fought, they dealt death,[19] they breathed out life, till at last a
portion of the Thebans broke their way through towards Helicon, but
paid for that departure by the loss of many lives. And now the victory
of Agesilaus was fairly won, and he himself, wounded, had been carried
back to the main line, when a party of horse came galloping up to tell
him that something like eighty of the enemy, under arms, were
sheltering under the temple, and they asked what they ought to do.
Agesilaus, though he was covered with wounds, did not, for all that,
forget his duty to God. He gave orders to let them retire unscathed,
and would not suffer any injury to be done to them. And now, seeing it
was already late, they took their suppers and retired to rest.

But with the morning Gylis the polemarch received orders to draw up
the troops in battle order, and to set up a trophy, every man crowned
with a wreath in honour of the god, and all the pipers piping. Thus
they busied themselves in the Spartan camp. On their side the Thebans
sent heralds asking to bury their dead, under a truce; and in this
wise a truce was made. Agesilaus withdrew to Delphi, where on arrival
he offered to the god a tithe of the produce of his spoils--no less
than a hundred talents."