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The end of Spartan hegemony and the rise of Thebes

"the Spartans always prevailed in war but were destroyed by empire simply because they did not know how to use the leisure they had won because they practiced no more fundamental skill than skill in war" (Aristotle)

Sparta settles matters in Greece


Sparta, secure in its position because of Persian support, began to renew its activity in the mainland.  Mantinea, which had been accused of various acts of disloyalty, they had at times refused to provide contingents when required and when they did contribute they fought reluctantly, was ordered to tear down its walls, they refused. Now that the Corinthian war was over and the 30 year treaty concluded with Mantinean in 418 had run its course King Agesipolis marched out, redirected the river Ophis to undermine the city's mud brick walls and the city capitulated. Sparta broke up Mantinea into its original 4 smaller villages.


In 392 King Amnytas III of Macedonia troubled with Illyrian invasions had concluded a defensive alliance with the Chalcidian league and had been forced to turn over much of lower Macedonia and the area around the Thermaic gulf to the Chalcidian Confederacy. led by Olynthus which started to impose its will on reluctant cities of the region. Acanthus and Apollonia appeal to Sparta for help. Amyntas, who has recovered his position by then, wants his cities back, and also asks for  Spartan aid. Olynthus has also been showing pro Theban leanings. It is also Sparta's policy to oppose and break up confederacies before they get too powerful. In 382 the Peloponnesian league raised a force of 10,000 commanded by the brothers Eudamidas and Phoebidas and Agesilaus' half-brother Teleutias to destroy the league and an advance force of 2,000 made up of emancipated helots, perioeci and Sciritans  under Eudamidas was sent out and although too small to meet the confederate army directly its goal was to protect cities which had not yet been drawn into league, Potidaea being induced to revolt from the League and there he made his base. The expedition was supported enthusiastically by the Peloponnesian league not only due to the exemplary treatment of Mantinea but also because they were not obliged to supply citizen contingents, this being replaced if desired with cash payments on a recognized scale. The rate was 3 obols for each man and for those that usually sent cavalry the rate was the equivalent of 4 hoplites. The fine for states that did not meet their commitment was 2 drachmas per day per man. Agesilaus must have realised that the support of the League members and even of the hoplite class could not be relied on in some cities and the substitution of mercenaries was preferable and more reliable. The expedition however did not begin well, Agesilaus' half-brother was killed when he pressed his attack too closely to the Olynthus city wall. King Agesipolis was sent out with a larger force composed of picked perioeci, 'inferiors', volunteers from the allied states including cavalry from Thessaly and a staff of 30 Spartans of the officer class. However Agesipolis died of fever in 380 after storming and taking the town of Torone. It was left to Polybiades to reduce Olynthus by siege and famine in 379. They were forced to send an embassy to Sparta to sue for peace. The plenipotentiaries on their arrival accepted articles of agreement by which they bound themselves to have the same friends and the same foes as Lacedaemon, to follow her lead, and to be enrolled among her allies; and so, having taken an oath to abide by these terms, they returned home. The federation was dissolved and the cities admitted individually to the Peloponnesian League. Amnytas recovered the cities he had lost and perhaps here we see the pivotal moment the eventual rise of Macedonia, without the threat of a strong league on its border and the eventual vacuum left by Sparta's decline in the region a strong ruler was only required, that ruler was to be Philip II of Macedon.


In 381 Sparta's attitude to the Phliasians, a democracy like Mantinea, hardened under Agesilaus, previously Sparta had not insisted that the exiled oligarchs be allowed to return even though she had a garrison at Phlius request there since 390. The Phliasians had compromised themselves in Agesilaus' eyes by supporting Agesipolis personally in his campaign against Olynthus. A siege lasting 20 months by the Peloponnesian levy starved the Phliasians into surrender and an oligarchic government was put in place.

Sparta seizes Thebes

 In 382 while following the advance force to Olynthus, Phoebidas when in the region of Thebes, let himself be persuaded by the pro-Spartan Leontiades and others there to seize the Cadmeia, the Acropolis of Thebes. A pro-Spartan government was established in Thebes and many of the anti-Spartans in the city driven out or arrested. This was technically a violation of the King's Peace and Sparta fined Phoebidas for his actions, but left things as they were, with a garrison of 1,500 troops and a Harmost. Also Sparta resurrected  Plataea 40 years after its destruction by Thebes and took away half of Thebes' territory. Most of the independent Boeotian cities also got Spartan harmosts. This was now the height of Spartan power in Greece but also at its most stretched. had Agesilaus overestimated the ability of Spartan power keeping the empire held together. The next few years would show that however hard this empire was won it could be lost much more easily.

In the winter of 379/378 six of the Theban exiles who had taken refuge at Athens entered Thebes after establishing contact with anti-Spartan elements within the city. They assassinated Leontiades and most of the leaders of the pro-Spartan party in Thebes, freed the political prisoners  and roused other anti-Spartans in Thebes. The garrison commanders panicked when they saw what had happened and negotiated the city for their lives, one was subsequently executed at Corinth while the other two were fined and exiled. The rest of the exiles and a contingent of Athenian volunteers repelled Spartan reinforcements from Thespiai and Plataea. King Cleombrotus, of the anti-Athenian party at Sparta enters Boeotia with an army, he marches around Boeotia to little effect and retires leaving Sphodrias, the Spartan harmost at Thespiai, with one third of the army and money for the hiring of additional forces. Athens is asked to explain its actions, which violated the current peace with Sparta. Not wanting to fully break with Sparta, Athens disavowed the actions of the volunteers and punished their leaders. But shortly thereafter Sphodrias, whether it was on his own initiative or due to bribery (Xenophon blames the Thebans) entered up on a very risk venture to attack and seize Piraeus by a night march. Sphodrias barely got to Eleusis before the plot was uncovered and Athens imprisoned the Spartan ambassadors there. They are released when it became obvious they knew nothing of the action. Agesilaus secures the acquittal of Sphodrias, thus putting his patron Cleombrotus in his debt. Both Cleombrotus and Sphodrias were to die later on the field of Leuctra. All this leads to renewed hostility between Athens and Sparta and in 378 Athens allies with Thebes claiming Sparta has breached the Peace of Antalcidas. Which was to become part of a wider anti-Spartan alliance, the 2nd Athenian League.

2nd Athenian League

Athens had been forming alliances with states in Thrace, the Aegean, and Asia Minor for the last several years. The current breach with Sparta induced Athens to form these separate alliances into a common league, with the express intent of resisting Spartan imperialism and it was in the addition of Thebes that the intent could be fulfilled. This was to be done within the framework of the Kings peace yet already by 378 Thebes had declared its intension of  resurrecting the Boeotian confederacy broken up in 386. The ghost of the old Delian league which became Athenian Empire haunted this new undertaking so Athens provided a number of safeguards against Athenian abuses of power in its arrangement for the new league. The  rule of Persia over the Asiatic Greeks was recognized, thus limiting the scope of the new league to be a purely defensive league. The new league quickly grew to about 70 members including  most of the Euboean cities the exception being Oreos which had a Spartan garrison, the Thracian cities, the Chalcidic league, Corcyra, Pherai in Thessaly and Epirus.

Operations in Boeotia

The new league played little military role as Spartan attention in 378 was focussed on land operations in Boeotia. Agesilaus was charged by the state to invade Theban territory and won a small engagement and burned and destroyed the country side up to the walls of Thebes. Leaving Phoebidas as governor in Thespiae he returned to Sparta and disbanded the allied contingents. Phoebidas continued to ravage Theban territory hoping to goad the Thebans out of their city, in this he was successful and the Thebans advanced with their whole army into the territory of Thespiae. Phoebidas and his peltasts fell upon the Theban army engaged in ravaging outlying Thespian farms and managed to drive it back in confusion. The Theban retreat turned into a rout as Phoebidas and his peltasts rapidly pressed their advantage. The Thebans abandoned their loot and fled, their infantry hoplites scrambling for safety across a steep ravine, leaving approximately 1,500 of their cavalry boxed in, unable to cross the rough ground. Sensing an opportunity to annihilate the much vaunted Theban cavalry, Phoebidas called forward the 2,500 Thespian hoplite levy while he attempted to close with his mercenary peltasts. Unable to retreat, the Theban cavalry rallied and charged. In fierce fighting, they fought their way through the peltasts, who broke when Phoebidas was cut down in single combat. The sight of the mercenaries routing was too much for the poorly drilled Thespian levy, who turned tail and fled back to their city walls, leaving the Theban cavalry in command of the field.

In 377 Agesilaus suffered a serious leg injury at Megara exacerbated by incompetent medical treatment that would lay him up for seven years. After suffering two seasons of ravaging and being almost reduced to famine the death of the Spartan harmost in Oreos and that cities revolt secured the grain route from Thessaly to Boeotia. Being untroubled by Spartan invasion in 376 and 375 after Peloponnesian League had a change of tactics by transferring their efforts against Athens at sea ( this strategy ended in failure when trying to cut off Athens' grain shipments from the Black Sea, 80 Athenian ships defeated a Spartan fleet of 60 near Naxos in the late summer of 376, all but 11 Spartan ships escaped) Thebes was able to drive the remaining Spartan garrisons out of Boeotian cities Orchomenos and Chaeronea in the west. How had Thebes managed to turn the tables on Sparta by 375 when only a few years earlier they had been afraid to leave their city walls. It was said by Antalclidas that all Agesilaus had done in three years of ravaging their land was train the Thebans in the Spartan way of war. In 378 the Theban Gorgidas had set up an elite force of 150 pairs of hoplites known as the Sacred Band under Pelopidas this force with some cavalry successfully fought the out-going Spartan  garrison mora of Orchomenus, 600 strong returning from a raid into Locris. Although the Spartan losses were not significant the lessons were there for all to see.


Sometime around 382 Sparta had reasserted her control over Heraclea Trachinia in the territory of the Malians and from here had begun her campaign against Olynthus. It was also used as the starting point for the Spartan campaign in Thessaly in 375 at the behest of Polydamos of Pharsalus who had appealed to Sparta to intervene with military support to prevent Jason of Pherae becoming master of a united Thessaly. Jason had built up his power from Pherae that extended to many cities in Thessaly and had been in alliance with Thebes since 376. With Cleombrotus in Phocis with four of the regiments and the commitment to defend the home coast against raids by the Athenians the Spartans felt that they had become over stretched and would not be able to commit forces in sufficient strength to defend Pharsalus from Jason who could command 6,000 mercenaries and put a further 6,000 cavalry and 10,000 hoplites from his Thessalian allies into the field. Nor could Sparta depend on the support of her Peloponnesian allies for an expedition into northern Greece, the allies might just be prepared to carry the fight to Thebes in central Greece and to Athens in western waters but intervention in Thessaly may have seemed to them to be supporting Spartan imperialism. Also they were probably unaware of the potential threat posed by a united Thessaly under Jason. Thus Polydamus' request for aid was turned down and he was advised to seek the best terms he could get from Jason, this he did and Jason subsequently became Tagos of all Thessaly. Jason of Pherae  was extremely ambitious and clearly wanted to emerge as the dominant power in Greece, his immediate concern was Sparta, whose colony at Heraclea kept him from acquiring Thermopylae, and thus the gates to southern Greece.

The road to Leuctra

In 375 Artaxerxes II wishing to recruit Greek mercenaries for his recovery of Egypt proposed a renewal of the Peace of Antalcidas. Both Sparta and Athens were eager to cease hostilities, Sparta because she was over stretched and the Athenians realising that due to their help the power of Thebes was increasing and yet Thebes was not contributing to the financial effort required for the upkeep of the fleet and the expenses of the campaigns. The Athenians themselves were exhausted by taxation, raids on their coast and onerous garrison duties. Thus Sparta was recognised in her hegemony on land while the Athenians were in their turn  recognised in their hegemony of the sea. Thebes as an individual member of the 2nd Athenian League were forced to comply grudgingly as they were not yet ready to insist on being recognised as leader of the Boeotians. However the peace was soon broken by the Athenian Timotheus who showed little tact in restoring some pro-Athenian democrats to Zacynthos and ejecting some pro-Spartans from Corcyra in 374 and 373. This was regarded by Sparta as a breach of the Peaces' autonomy clause and a fleet of 60 ships was prepared for operations at Corcyra with Mnasippos as admiral and a force of 1,500 Lacedaemonians and 1,500 mercenaries. After successfully blockading Corcyra, Mnasippos grew over confident, so much that he discharged some of his mercenaries and kept the rest in arrears and kept them badly supplied against the advice of his lochagoi. The result was his forces suffered from low morale and were routed by the Corcyrans. The loss of Corcyra to Athens meant that the threat to the Laconian and Messenian coasts from Athenian raids was made more likely.

In 372 Thebes destroyed Plataea and the fortifications of Thespiae, this had the effect of bringing Sparta and Athens closer together and more motivated to renew the peace.. A conference was held in June of 371 to agree a second renewal with the blessing of Ataxerxes becoming more urgent with a Theban invasion of Phocis. By refusing to agree to leave the Boeotian cities autonomous Epaminondas Thebes was excluded from the Peace and Cleombrotus was ordered to invade Boeotia from Phocis. A lone voice in the council at Sparta, Prothous advocated delay followed by a general Greek campaign if Thebes persisted but he was ignored.

 Forced with the threat of invasion the Thebans and their Boeotian allies took up a  defensive position between Coronea and Lake Copais with 6,000 hoplites, sent another 1,000 to guard the pass of Cythairon and a smaller force to guard the mountain route at Helicon. Cleombrotus turned the Theban defences by advancing from Ambrossos to Styris and on to Thisbe and Creusis where he captured 12 triremes. He probably also reasoned to secure his route home. Cleombrotus then camped on the high ground overlooking Leuctra. A clash with the smaller Theban force on the way had probably alerted the Thebans to Cleombrotus' progress and they marched to the Theban plain concentrating all their forces. At  Leuctra the two armies clashed and to the surprise of all Cleombrotus and the Spartan part of his army was destroyed.

The defeated Spartans slipped away quietly and were met by the rest of the Spartan army, the other 2 mora plus the age classes not called up, and the rest of the Peloponnesian levy under Archidamos' son of Agesilaus at Aigosthena. After some debate it was decided not to reengage the Thebans who by now had Jason's 6,000 mercenaries with them but to withdraw to Corinth and from their disperse to their cities. On this occasion Agesilaus himself advised that the 'tresantes' should not be visited with the full penalty that custom required and that 'the laws should be rested for a day'. This law was also to be forgotten following the defeat at Megalopolis some 40 years later.

Shortly thereafter, Jason took Heraclea and thus Thermopylae but in 370 he was assassinated, thus putting an end to his ambitions, and no successor emerged to keep Thessaly on the course Jason was taking it. The result was that the hegemony, for a while at least, of Thebes as the strongest power in the Greek world.

Aftermath of Leuctra

Prior to Leuctra Sparta had operated an effective policy of divide and rule in Arcadia. As a result the Arcadians had been unable to translate an Arcadian consciousness into political reality. Encouraged by Spartan military weakness and the disaffection of the Laconian perioecic subjects along their mutual border, Tegea threw out the pro Spartan oligarchs and united with rival Mantinea to forge a Pan-Arcadian political and military federation.  Joining with long dissident Elis and with Sparta's traditional rival for Peloponnesian hegemony, Argos they appealed to the two strongest powers in the Isthmus, Athens and Thebes to complete the job of humbling Sparta.

Theban hegemony

Athens was the head of a large and powerful naval alliance and was less inclined to Theban power than Spartan and therefore declined. However more willing was the Boeotian League and Epaminondas. In 370 at the head of a large army, some say 70,000 strong including Sparta's internal and external Peloponnesian enemies (both the Scirite and Carae and Belminatis perioeci had revolted) crossed the borders of the Spartan heartland (where even Spartan armies had to stop and pray before crossing). Significantly, the remaining perioeci of central Laconia and the southern coast remained loyal, also interestingly 6,000 Laconian helots volunteered for service as hoplites in exchange for their freedom also the mercenaries from Arcadian Orchomenus remained loyal. Sparta was saved not by its defences of which it had none, being un-walled but because the bridge to Sparta  was well guarded, and the Eurotas itself too swollen with rain to cross, this gave time for help to arrive from Phlius, Corinth, Epidaurus and Pellene. After being ambushed by 300 of the younger Spartan hoplites and cavalry Epaminondas withdrew and marched off to Gytheum burning the unfortified places on the way. Gytheum a fortified town was besieged for several days but was not taken. This place had been fortified after the Athenians had burnt the dockyards in 456. 

In the winter of 370/69 Epaminondas turned to the liberation of the more numerous and politically motivated helots of Messenia  who had revolted en masse, the Messenian perioeci remained uniformly loyal, planting the foundation of a new city state at Ithome as a place for Messenian exiles and separated all of the area west of Mt. Tayegetos from Spartan control. The Athenians after much debate and argument on both sides decided to come to the aid of the Spartans and Iphicrates was sent with a force to block the isthmus. By this time the Thebans allies had gone home with their plunder and as his term of office was up and his army was diminishing and supplies were getting scarcer Epaminondas led his army safely home in early 369 unchallenged by Iphicrates.

  The political geography of the Peloponnese which had lain unchanged for 300 years had now been dramatically altered and to complete the emasculation of Sparta the city of Megalopolis was founded in the south western plain to institutionalise the Arcadian national spirit by becoming its capital. Thus Sparta by 369 had been stripped of almost half of her lands, her perioecic citizen soldiery and agricultural workforce and by 365 whatever was left of her Peloponnesian alliance. More serious perhaps was the catastrophic shrinkage of the Spartan population of full citizens, the Spartiates brought about by almost continuous warfare for 60 years, the unsustainable losses at Leuctra and the subsequent loss of the kleros and its income that allowed a Spartan to be an 'Equal'. This meant the loss of 80 percent of the citizen body through either death or demotion since the Persian wars.

In July 369 Epaminondas led a second invasion of the Peloponnese detaching Pellene and Sicyon from the Spartan alliance and laid waste the land around Epidaurus. Dionysios I of Syracuse had sent the Spartans 2,000 Celt and Iberian mercenaries with 50 cavalry, these defeated the Sicyonians and harassed the Thebans before they sailed home. At Phlius the Sacred Band was worsted and put to flight. After only a few days the Thebans also returned home after growing disagreements amongst their allies, particularly among the Eleans and Arcadians.

 The Boeotian alliance under Pelopidas now began meddling in the affairs of Thessaly and Macedonia, Pelopidas was sent with an army against Alexander of Pherae in 369 who was in alliance with the Athenians. After driving Alexander out, he passed into Macedonia and arbitrated between two claimants to the throne. In order to secure the influence of Thebes, he brought home hostages, including the kings brother, afterwards Philip II. In 368 Ptolemy of Alorus murdered Alexander II of Macedon, Pelopidas raised a mercenary force in Macedonia, but the mercenaries deserted, and he was forced to make peace with Ptolemy. Pelopidas marched to Pharsalus to revenge himself on the mercenaries, but was captured there by Alexander of Pherae, who kept him prisoner. An expedition to free him was launched was comprehensively beaten by the Thessalians and Athenians.

 In late 369 Philiskos of Abydos arrived with money from his master Ariobarzanes the Persian and a peace conference was set up at Delphi in 368 which failed over the question of Messenian autonomy.  The Athenians were intent on recovering their control over Amphipolis so much so that major allies like Mytilene were questioning the validity of the 2nd Athenian League.

Thanks to Persian money Sparta in 368 was now in a position to retrieve some of her losses to the Arcadians and prevent the completion of Megalopolis. A second force of mercenaries from Dyonisius were used along with citizen troops were used by Archidamos to storm the perioecic city of Carae for their treachery they had shown in 370, the city was taken and all prisoners were killed. From there Archidamos moved to Parrhasia in Arcadia devastating the countryside around and from there to the Megalopolis plain where he was intercepted by the forces of the Arcadians, Argives and the Messenians on the road to Melea. There Archidamos exhorted his men to great deeds and with the omens in his favour led the charge. Only a few of the enemy even waited for the Spartans to come within spear thrust, the rest turned in flight and were cut down in great numbers by the cavalry and Celt mercenaries. The battle became known as the 'Tearless Battle' since not a single Spartan was killed. For all this the victory failed to prevent the completion of Megalopolis nor could it prevent the loss of Persian support.

In 367 Pelopidas after his rescue by Epaminondas, was sent as the Theban ambassador to the Persians to counteract the Spartan and Athenian ambassadors already there. He persuaded Artaxerxes that the Boeotian League offered a better return than the Spartan-Athenian alliance, they were on the Persian side at Leuctra, they had not gone with Agesilaus in their attack on Persia and had been victorious against the Spartans at Leuctra. At Susa in 367 under the terms of the proposed peace, Messenia was to be autonomous from Sparta, Amphipolis from Athens, Athens was to lay up her fleet and Elis was to get back her perioecic towns in Trphylia. These were not terms for peace but for war. Sparta would never acquiesce to Messenian autonomy, the Athenians were commited to the recovery of Amphipolis and the Arcadians had no wish to relinquish territory to Elis. Neither did the Corinthians wish to go in alliance with the King, other cities also answered in the same way.

It was now that the diplomatic map of alliances got a little blurred. In 366 Epaminondas for a third time took an army into the Peloponnese. After persuading the Achaeans to come over to the Boeotian alliance Arcadian pressure to throw out the oligarchic factions from the Achaean cities the Thebans sent governors for them. This propelled the Achaeans back into the Spartan sphere. The Arcadians now saw that they were pressed by enemies on 3 sides, from Elis in the east, Sparta in the south and the Achaeans in the north and concluded an anti-Theban alliance with the Athenians The Corinthians now believed that there security was compromised and asked the Spartans if they could be relieved of their oaths of alliance and make peace with the Thebans. The Spartans advised the Corinthians to make peace and also gave permission to any other of her allies to do the same. This marked the end for all practical purposes of the Peloponnesian League. In 365 The pro-Spartan party of Callistratus in Athens was replaced in power by the party of Timotheus. Peace was made with Thebes on the basis of the status quo. Breaking its promise, Athens sent a cleruchy to garrison its ally Samos.

At this time Ariobarzes had revolted against Artaxerxes and Agesilaus at his request had been sent to aid him in as he did by relieving the seige of Assos in 365. Agesilaus was well rewarded and was able to buy mercenaries for Sparta's attempt to recover Messenia. In the spring of 365 a third shipment of mercenaries from Syracuse arrived this time from Dionysios II, the son of the first. With these Sparta regained Selassia and Pellana in the Belmenatis. A change of regime at Elis had brought the Eleians into the Spartan alliance and in 364 the splits in the Arcadian federation were plain to see. After some setbacks the Eleians had appealed to Sparta to take the field against the pro Theban Arcadians who had been active in Messenia taking two of Sparta's remaining perioecic towns. Archidamos marched out with the full citizen army of 12 lochoi and captured Cromnus garrisoning it with 3 of them. Once he had left though the Arcadians returned to blockade Cromnus. Archidamos once more marched to relieve it laying waste on the way to much of Arcadia and the Sciritis in attempt to draw away the besieging forces. Under the wall of Cromnus however Archidamos suffered a defeat against the forces of the Arcadians, men of Argos and the Boeotians and he himself was wounded. More than 100 Spartaites and perioeci from the garrison were captured. 

In 364 the Thebans once again intervened in Thessaly, Alexander of Pherae was making trouble in Thessaly again. The Thessalians sought help from the Thebans and asked for Pelopidas to be the leader of any force that was sent. Before the Theban force was due to leave for Thessaly there was an eclipse of the sun which panicked the Thebans. Pelopidas left with only 300 volunteer cavalrymen, to be supplemented by Thessalians on his arrival. In the Battle of Cynoscephalae he attacked Alexander's much stronger army and succeeded in dislodging them from their position, but while attacking Alexander and his guards in person, Pelopidas was killed. In 363 Epaminondas led a Theban army into Thessaly and again defeated Alexander of Pherae and Pherae become a Boeotian dependency. Also about this time Orchomenos, the old Boeotian rival of Theban hegemony, was destroyed.

In the spring of 363 the Arcadian federation began to break up principally over the disagreements between Mantinea and Tegea over the use of sacred funds held at Olympia in being used to maintain a standing army of 5,000 hoplites. When the funds eventually ran out the choice becomes either to reduce this force to an affordable level or return to using citizen hoplite as and when needed. The problem was for the democratic faction that the latter solution would put power back into the hands of the wealthier citizens, the oligarchs. The final break was precipitated by the breaking of a truce between Elis and Tegea led Arcadia through the action of the Theban governor of Tegea. The Mantineans, Elians and Achaeans appealed to Sparta and Athens while the Tegeans  sought the aid of Thebes.

Thus Epaminondas entered the Peloponnese for a fourth time at the head of a large army including all the Boeotians, the Euboeans, the Thessalians but not the Phocians who said they were bound only to follow the Thebans if attacked. Having camped at tegea Epaminondas heard that the whole Spartan army was on route to a general rendezvous at Mantinea. He struck camp quickly and with his whole force marched to catch Sparta undefended. But, as the story goes, for a Cretan mercenary who spotted the Theban army and reported to Agesilaus and Archidamos who quickly marched back with 9 of his 12 lochoi sending the remainder plus the cavalry and light troops on to Mantinea. Though the Spartans were still seriously outnumbered their spirited defence was enough to deter Epaminondas who withdrew after penetrating the outskirts of the city. Plutarch in his 'Life of Agesilaus' that one Spartan, Isidas son of Phoibidas, was rewarded by the ephors for his bravery and then fined for fighting without armour.

The Thebans then marched back toward Mantinea hoping to find the Mantineans unprepared and the cattle easy targets, however in this they were thwarted by the Athenian cavalry. This feint toward Sparta had achieved a purpose in that it allowed Thebes Peloponnesian allies time to join him while ensuring the full Spartan army would not fight at Mantinea. The result of the battle was status quo, both sides put up trophies and both sides recovered their dead under a truce, Epaminondas was killed with no one of stature to replace him. The battle that all of Greece took part in and would settle who would rule Greece settled nothing. A common peace was sworn to by all parties except Sparta and of course Agesilaus who could not reasonably acquiesce in the loss of territory Sparta had ruled for two centuries or more and as far as Sparta was concerned the situation in the Peloponnese had if anything changed in Sparta's favour. The Arcadian federation had been broken up and the driving force for Theban hegemony against Sparta, Epaminondas, was dead.

Death of Agesilaus II

In 361 Sparta had responded positively to a request for aid from the satrap of Egypt, Tachos, a nationalist who was revolting against Artaxerxes. In the spring of 360 Agesilaus sailed with 30 Spartans of the officer class and 1,000 neodamodeis, shades of 395. Instead of being given command of the army Tachos  appointed Agesilaus  only general of the mercenaries. A slight he put up with until Tacos' nephew Nectanabis revolted. Agesilaus then secured Nectanabis on the throne against the Persian king. On the trip back to Sparta at Cyrenaica, Agesilaus died at the age of 84.  He had been king for 41 years, and for 30 years he had the reputation of the greatest man in all of Greece.  His men embalmed him in wax for lack of honey and took him back for an honourable burial in Sparta. He had earned 230 talents for Sparta's recovery of Messenia, sufficient to pay for 5,000 mercenaries for a year.

The failure of Spartan Hegemony

Why did Spartan Hegemony fail and could the blame be placed with Agesilaus as arbiter of Spartan policy?

With the death of Agesilaus Sparta ended its last period of true greatness as a power in the Greek world. Leuctra as some historians claim did not lose Sparta its position as a major power, the myth may of Spartan invincibility although irretrievably broken was not so damaging as some would have us believe there had been Spartan defeats before. The demagraphic problems were more problematical but could be aleiviated by a more liberal policy on citizenship as carried out by Agis and Cleomenes in the next century. The two things that determined Spartan policy in this period that eventually would alienate allies and subjects was the policy not just of Agesilauas but of the Spartan ruling class. For Agesilaus hatred of Thebes may have clouded his judgement but without Agesilaus' driving force would Sparta have remained inviolate given the determined Theban invasions. I doubt it. The loss of Messenia was a blow that none could swallow and its recovery became the sole policy of the Spartan state to the detriment in the long term of Spartan influence. As it was Sparta failed to consider any measures that might have halted the decline in the citizen body and with the loss of allied manpower and the lack of money to buy mercenaries meant Sparta was no longer able to play a role as a great power. But the blame cannot be laid entirely at Agesilaus' door although he was virtually unopposed within Sparta this is not to say that his was the only voice that was heard at council.