The Battle of the Nemea has been regarded in modern times as the last of the
old hoplite clashes. However this does not seem so as here the Spartans
deliberately manoeuvred to bring about the same results that had been produced
by accident at Mantinea some 24 years before. Concluding that the Spartans had
made a study of the previous battle and had now profited from its lessons.
At Mantinea the Spartans had to deploy in a hurry being surprised by the unexpected appearance of the enemy force, the dispositions were then hasty and faulty and made worse by Agis' attempt to correct them and the polemarchs refusal to comply causing a considerable gap in the battle line which the enemy exploited. The right wing had by the natural tendency of each man to guard his unshielded side drifted to the right. Both armies were victorious on the right and defeated on the left. This was always so until Leuctra were Epaminondas opposed the strong wing of the Spartans with his own strength. and refusing his left. The destruction of their left was not so dangerous to the Spartans as their superior discipline and control would enable them to act to restore the situation.
At Nemea however the two armies had been camped near to each other for several days and therefore both sides had time to plan the disposition of their forces. At least it was so on the Spartan side for the Thebans took matters into their own hands and deployed against the weakest wing and in greater depth than their allies thus hoping to minimise their casualties by shortening their line.
Aristodemus, regent for Agesipolis ,while the allies debated their tactics
had picked up his allied forces and forced his way into the coastal plain. The
allies came back north to meet them and camped behind the Nemea stream. A delay
of a day or more ensued as the Boeotians were waiting their turn to hold the
right wing and so not face the Spartans. The forces at Nemea were far larger
than those that fought at Mantinea. Aristodemus had some 6,000
Lakedaimonian hoplites with 5 out of the 6 mora available on a 35 year call-up
(32 * 35 * 5 = 5600 + 300 Hippies), 1 mora being the
garrison at Orchomemos in Boeotia, the allied contingents consisted of another 12,500
hoplites or so
made up of Tegeans (2,500) Epidaurans, Hermiones, Troezens and Hyseians (3,000) Mantineans
(2-3,000) Eleans (3,000) and Sicyonians (1,500) plus some from Pellene (700?). The
Spartans also brought 600 cavalry and there were 400 Elean slingers from the
hill villages that had revolted from Elis and there were 300
mercenary Cretan archers. In all there were 18-19000 hoplites.
I do not believe as some do that there were enfranchised helots at Nemea and the Lakedaimonian phalanx consisted on this occasion of Homoioi, Hypomeiones and Perioeci.
Note: Modern authors are at variance over the number of the Lacedaemonian
forces at the Nemea.
Anderson says there were 5 Moa + Sciritae + Neodamodeis
Lazenby 5 Mora of + Hippeis (all Spartaites?) on a 35 yr call-up, no Neodamodeis or Perioicoi
Cartledge % Mora of mixed Spartan/Periocic composition and a sizeable number of Neodamodeis.
For my part I don't believe there were any enfranchised helots present, they were for the most part employed in garrisons or on long expeditions and the Sciritae had been converted to hammipoi by the time of the Corinthian War.
On the allied side there were heavy infantry from Athens (6,000), Argos (7,000?), Boeotia (5,000), Euboea (3,000) and Corinth (3,000). Boeotia (800) and Athens (600) provided the bulk of the estimated ,1500 cavalry present. There were also light armed troops from Corinth and the North West who had harried the Spartans on their march from Sicyon but played no part in the battle to come. On the allied side therefore there were about 24000 hoplites in all. Thus the Spartans were outnumbered and this probably led them to give a depth to their phalanx of 12, at Mantinea they were 8 deep. The allies as I have previously implied were at various depths, the agreed one was 16 but the Boeotians were probably 25 deep.
Battle of the Nemea Stage 1 and 2
Surprising everyone even their own allies the Boeotians led off deliberately moving to their right in an attempt to outflank the troops opposing them. and forcing their allies to do the same lest they leave a gap in the line. Thus the Athenians would be further flanked by the Spartan line. The Spartans when they heard the enemies paean moved forward also naturally moving to their right as the men on the flank sought to place their un-shielded sides beyond the reach of their opposite numbers to outflank the Athenians. Less than a stade (200 yards) from the enemy the Spartans sacrificed a goat to Artemis and continued the advance. The men in a position to outflank the Athenians, about half the Spartan line, were ordered to wheel and take the Athenians in the flank and roll-up the Athenian line. The allies apart from the men of Pellene were beaten and fled the field. The Spartans next encountered the Euboeans and the rest of the allied contingents were rolled up by the Spartans as they retreated from the field.
Battle of the Nemea Stage 3
According to Xenophon only 8 Spartans were killed although 1100 of their allies were lost, of the Boeotians and their allies 2800 fell. The defeated Theban alliance fled to the walls of Corinth but ended up having to camp outside that night since the people of Corinth had closed the gates to them.
Why did the Athenian cavalry not check the movement of the Spartan right wing
and try to support their beaten heavy infantry? It was usual to post cavalry on
the wings, from the little evidence we have from Xenophon we must assume that
the Lakedaimonian cavalry was all positioned on the right and was able to hold
off the Athenians.
Why did the victorious 4 regiments of Athenians who had just driven off the Tegeans not attack the rear of the Spartans and why did the victorious allies on the left not attempt to reform a new front and confront the Spartans? The answer must surely be that these forces were strictly amateur and had insufficient training and discipline to reform. Their ranks after combat and pursuit would surely have been broken and their officers would not now be in effective control of their troops. The superior discipline of the controlled Spartan phalanx was on them before they could attempt to reform.
Why did the Spartans not attempt a longer pursuit and finish them off more completely? In this case a pursuit by hoplites would surely have seriously disrupted the Spartan line and made them vulnerable to light troops and cavalry besides should the enemy rally the Spartans were heavily outnumbered their allies having disappeared from the battlefield. It is also possible that the Spartans believed they had done enough to break up the coalition and end the war as happened after Mantinea.
after a rearrangement which gave them the right, placing the Athenians opposite the Lakedaimonian, and themselves opposite the Achaeans, at once, we are told, the victims proved favourable, and the order
was passed along the lines to prepare for immediate action. The Boeotians, in the first place, abandoning the rule of sixteen deep, chose to give their division the fullest possible depth, and, moreover, kept veering more and more to their right, with the intention of overlapping their opponent's flank. The consequence was that the Athenians, to avoid being absolutely severed, were forced to follow suit, and edged towards the right, though they recognised the risk they ran of having their flank turned. For a while the Lakedaimonian had no idea of the advance of the enemy, owing to the rough nature of the ground, but the notes of the paean at length announced to them the fact, and without an instant's delay the
answering order "prepare for battle" ran along the different sections of their army. As soon as their troops were drawn up, according to the tactical disposition of the various generals of foreign brigades, the order was passed to "follow the lead," and then the Lakedaimonian on their side also began edging to their right, and eventually stretched
out their wing so far that only six out of the ten regimental divisions of the Athenians confronted the Lakedaimonian, the other four finding themselves face to face with the men of Tegea. And now when they were less than a furlong apart, the Lakedaimonian sacrificed in customary fashion a kid to the huntress goddess, and advanced upon their opponents, wheeling round their overlapping columns to outflank his left. As the two armies closed, the allies of
Lacedaemon were as a rule fairly borne down by their opponents. The men of Pellene alone, steadily confronting the Thespiaeans, held their ground, and the dead of either side strewed the position. As to the Lacedaemonians themselves: crushing that portion of the Athenian troops which lay immediately in front of them, and at the same time
encircling them with their overlapping right, they slew man after man of them; and, absolutely unscathed themselves, their unbroken columns continued their march, and so passed behind the four remaining divisions of the Athenians before these latter had returned from their own victorious pursuit. Whereby the four divisions in question also emerged from battle intact, except for the casualties inflicted by the Tegeans in the first clash of the engagement. The troops next
encountered by the Lacedaemonians were the Argives retiring. These they fell foul of, and the senior polemarch was just on the point of closing with them "breast to breast" when some one, it is said, shouted, "Let their front ranks pass." This was done, and as the Argives raced past, their enemies thrust at their unprotected sides and killed many of them. The Corinthians were caught in the same way as they retired, and when their turn had passed, once more the
Lacedaemonians lit upon a portion of the Theban division retiring from the pursuit, and strewed the field with their dead. The end of it all was that the defeated troops in the first instance made for safety to the walls of their city, but the Corinthians within closed the gates, whereupon the troops took up quarters once again in their old
encampment. The Lacedaemonians on their side withdrew to the point at which they first closed with the enemy, and there set up a trophy of victory. So the battle ended." (Xenophon)
"The Boeotians, as long as they occupied the left wing, showed no anxiety to join battle, but