Agesilaus II

Agesilaus II

Agesilaus II, or Agesilaos II (Greek polytonic|Ἀγησίλαος) (444 BC – 360 BC) was a king of Sparta, of the Eurypontid dynasty, ruling from approximately 400 BC to 360 BC, during most of which time he was, in Plutarch's words, "as good as thought commander and king of all Greece," and was for the whole of it greatly identified with his country's deeds and fortunes.Citation | last = Clough | first = Arthur Hugh | author-link = Arthur Hugh Clough | contribution = Agesilaus II | editor-last = Smith | editor-first = William | title = Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology | volume = 1 | pages = 69-70 | publisher = Little, Brown and Company | place = Boston | year = 1867 | contribution-url = ]


Early life

Agesilaus was the son of Archidamus II and his second wife Eupolia,Citation | last = Cartledge | first = Paul Anthony | author-link = | contribution = Agesilaus II | editor-last = Hornblower | editor-first = Simon | title = Oxford Classical Dictionary | volume = | pages = | publisher = Oxford University Press | place = Oxford | year = 1996 | contribution-url = ] brother to Cynisca (the first woman in ancient history to achieve an Olympic victory), and younger half-brother of Agis II. [ Agesilaus] from [ Livius.Org] ]

Of the youth of Agesilaus we have little detail, be­yond the mention of his intimacy with Lysander. We do know that he was not expected to succeed to the throne after his brother, king Agis II, since the latter had a son, named Leotychidas, and so Agesilaus was trained in the traditional curriculum of Sparta, the "agoge". But Leotychidas was ultimately set aside as illegitimate, contemporary rumors representing him as the son of Alcibiades, and Agesilaus became king around 401 BC, at the age of about forty. In addition to questions of his nephew's paternity, Agesilaus' succession was largely due to the intervention of his former "eispnelas" (pederastic lover), the Spartan general Lysander, who hoped to find in him a willing tool for the furtherance of his political designs.

Early reign

We first hear of him as king in the suppression of the conspiracy of Cinadon. Then, in 396 BC, Agesilaus crossed into Asia with a force of 2,000 neodamodes (freed helots) and 6,000 allies to liberate Greek cities from Persian dominion. On the eve of sailing from Aulis he attempted to offer a sacrifice, as Agamemnon had done before the Trojan expedition, but the Thebans intervened to prevent it, an insult for which he never forgave them. On his arrival at Ephesus a three months' truce was concluded with Tissaphernes, the satrap of Lydia and Caria, but negotiations conducted during that time proved fruitless, and on its termination Agesilaus raided Phrygia, where he easily won immense booty from the satrap Pharnabazus; Tissaphernes could offer no assistance, as he had concentrated his troops in Caria. After spending the winter in organizing a cavalry force ("hippeis"), he made a successful incursion into Lydia in the spring of 395 BC. Tithraustes was thereupon sent to replace Tissaphernes, who paid with his life for his continued failure. An armistice was concluded between Tithraustes and Agesilaus, who left the southern satrapy and again invaded Phrygia, which he ravaged until the following spring. He then came to an agreement with Pharnabazus and once more turned southward.

It was said that in 394 BC, while encamped on the plain of Thebe, he was planning a campaign in the interior, or even an attack on Artaxerxes II himself, when he was recalled to Greece owing to the war between Sparta and the combined forces of Athens, Thebes, Corinth, Argos and several minor states. A rapid march through Thrace and Macedonia brought him to Thessaly, where he repulsed the Thessalian cavalry who tried to impede him. Reinforced by Phocian and Orchomenian troops and a Spartan army, he met the confederate forces at Chaeronea in Boeotia, and in a hotly contested battle was technically victorious, but the success was a barren one and he had to retire by way of Delphi to the Peloponnese. Shortly before this battle the Spartan navy, of which he had received the supreme command, was totally defeated off Cnidus by a powerful Persian fleet under Conon and Pharnabazus. In 393 BC, Agesilaus engaged in a ravaging invasion of Argolis. In 392 BC he took a prominent part in the Corinthian War, making several successful expeditions into Corinthian territory and capturing Lechaeum and Piraeus. The loss, however, of a mora, destroyed by Iphicrates, neutralized these successes, and Agesilaus returned to Sparta. In 389 BC he conducted a campaign in Acarnania, but two years later the Peace of Antalcidas, warmly supported by Agesilaus, put an end to hostilities. In this interval, we find him declining the command in Sparta's aggression on Mantineia, but heading, from motives of private friendship, that on Phlius, and openly justifying Phoebidas' seizure of Cadmea.


When war broke out afresh with Thebes the king twice invaded Boeotia (in 378 BC and 377 BC), although he spent the next five years largely out of action due to an unspecified but apparently grave illness. In the congress of 371 BC an altercation is recorded between him and the Theban general Epaminondas, and due to his influence Thebes was perempto­rily excluded from the peace, and orders given for Cleombrotus to march against Thebes in 371 BC. Cleombrotus was defeated at Leuctra and the Spartan supremacy overthrown.

In 370 BC we find Agesilaus engaged in an embassy to Mantineia, and reassuring the Spartans by an invasion of Arcadia. His prudence and heroism preserved an un-walled Sparta against the revolts and conspiracies of helots, perioeci and even Spartans, and against her enemies, four different armies led by Epaminondas, that penetrated Laconia that same year, and again in 362 BC when they all but succeeded in seizing the city by a rapid and unexpected march. The Battle of Mantinea, in which Agesilaus took no part, was followed by a general peace: Sparta, however, stood aloof, hoping even yet to recover her supremacy. According to an obscure passage of Xenophon, [Xenophon, "Agesilaus", ii. 26, 27] Agesilaus, in order to gain money for prosecuting the war, supported the satrap Ariobarzanes II in his revolt against Artaxerxes II in 364 BC, and in 361 BC he went to Egypt at the head of a mercenary force to aid the king Nectanebo I and his regent Teos against Persia. He soon transferred his services to Teos's cousin and rival Nectanebo II, who, in return for his help, gave him a sum of over 200 talents. On his way home Agesilaus died in Cyrenaica, around the age of 84, after a reign of some 41 years. His body was em­balmed in wax, and buried at Sparta.


Agesilaus was of small stature and unimpressive appearance, and was lame from birth. These facts were used as an argument against his succession, an oracle having warned Sparta against a "lame reign." Most ancient writers considered him a highly successful leader in guerrilla warfare, alert and quick, yet cautious--a man, moreover, whose personal bravery was rarely questioned in his own time. Of his courage, temperance, and hardiness, many in­stances are cited: and to these were added the less Spartan qualities of kindliness and tenderness as a father and a friend. Thus we have the story of his riding across a stick with his children; and because of the affection of his son Archidamus' for Cleonymus, he saved Sphodrias, Cleonymus' father, from execution for his incursion into the Piraeus, and dishonorable retreat, in 378 BC. Modern writers tend to be slightly more critical of Agesilaus's reputation and achievements, reckoning him an excellent soldier, but one who had a poor understanding of sea power and siegecraft.

As a statesman he won himself both enthusiastic adherents and bitter enemies. Referring to the above sketch of Spartan history, we find Agesilaus shining most in its first and last period, as commencing and surrendering a glorious career in Asia, and as, in extreme age, maintaining his prostrate country. Other writers acknowledge his extremely high popularity at home, but suppose his occasionally rigid and even irrational political loyalties and convictions contributed greatly to Spartan decline, notably his unremitting hatred of Thebes, which led to Sparta's humiliation at the Battle of Leuctra and thus the end of Spartan hegemony.

Plutarch gives among numerous apophthegmata his letter to the ephors on his recall:

And when asked whether he wanted a memorial erected in his honor:

He lived in the most frugal style alike at home and in the field, and though his campaigns were undertaken largely to secure booty, he was content to enrich the state and his friends and to return as poor as he had set forth. [Xenophon, "Hell." iii. 3, to the end, "Age­silaus"] [Diodorus Siculus, xiv. xv] [Pausanias, "Description of Greece" iii. 97 10] [Plutarch and Cornelius Nepos, "in vita"] [Plutarch, "Apophthegmata Laconica"]


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