Use Your Head — How to defeat the Spartans,

The Spartans are generally regarded as the one of the greatest warrior societies in history.  The soldiers who made up the Spartan ranks were perhaps the toughest ever, with grueling military training that started at childhood.  However while toughness is an advantage, it is often unreliable unless tempered with smarts and intelligence.  Take Navy Seals, for example, generally regarded as among the most badass soldiers today.  Many don’t know that they are also among the most intelligent soldiers.  They have to learn an incredible number of things, like math, science, navigation, medicine, electronics, technology, parachuting, diving, combat tactics, etc. etc. etc., and often learn it in a short amount of time.  The same is true with most other elite special forces in other military branches and other countries.  Back during peashooter’s teaching days, he once had a student who was a strapping young lad, very athletic and very tough, who wanted to be a Navy Seal.  Physically he had a chance of achieving his goals, but he never applied himself academically.  Mr. Peashooter had to break it to him that if he didn’t have high grades, score high in standardize testing, and most importantly score high in the ASVAB (military testing), it would be highly unlikely he would even be considered for training.

After the Peloponnesian War Sparta came to dominate Greece. Many in Greek city states hailed the Spartans as liberators, seeing the former Athenian rulers as corrupt tyrants.  However, Greece soon learned that the new boss was no better than the old boss, as the Spartans soon brought Greece in line with an iron fist.  One Greek city state called Thebes was so resentful of Spartan rule that it revolted against Sparta in 387 BC, thus declaring itself independent and instituting a new democratic government.  A six year long war ensued, and amazingly the Thebans were able to hold the line against the Spartans by conducting brilliant raids, surprise attacks, and through the construction of large fortifications (Spartans were not good at siege warfare).  

By 371 BC the Theban Army was manned by a group of tough and experienced soldiers.  More importantly, they were led by the brilliant Theban general named Epaminondas, a man who was an expert at solving problems by thinking outside of the box.  On that same year, the Spartans organized a grand army of Spartan soldiers and other Greek Allies with the intent of ending the rebellion once and for all.  The army number around 10,000 with another 1,000 cavalry.  In contrast, the Theban Army only numbered around 6,000 - 8,000.  It was obvious to Epaminodas that victory could not be achieved through brute force alone.  Thus, he came up with a grand idea that would bring the mighty Spartan Empire to its knees.

In ancient Greek warfare, phalanxes met opposite of each other in straight lines, with roughly equal columns and ranks (if possible).  It was a traditional honor that the best soldiers were placed on the right wing, thus the veterans had the privilege of slaughtering the less experienced.  Epaminodas’ goal wasn’t to satisfy honor, he was in it to win.  Instead of placing his best to the right, he placed them on the left flank so that his best would face their best.  He then placed more units on his left, so that in all the left flank was fifty ranks deep, and also placed all his cavalry on the left.  Traditionally, Greek armies engaged all at once, smashing into each other until once side was victorious and the other broke and ran. Instead of straight lines, Epaminodas attacked with his army staggered in echelon formation, thus making his left the spearhead of the attack in a flanking maneuver.  While such tactics were new and revolutionary at the time, they would become a staple of future warfare, with generals such as Alexander the Great, Frederick the Great, and Napoleon Bonaparte using similar formations to win epic battles.

When the battle commenced, the Theban left flank, comprising of 50 rank deep column, smashed against the opposing Spartan right flank, which was only 8-12 ranks deep.  Overpowered by the massive assault, the Spartans immediately lost 1,000 of their best soldiers, as well as their king, Cleombrotus I.  The other Greek allies, most of whom were slaves or unwilling participants, turned tail and ran at the sight of the mighty Spartans being butchered, and their right flank being turned.  Those Spartans and Greeks who stood their ground were surrounded and massacred.

The Battle of Leuctra was the first time the Spartans were defeated in an open battlefield.  Once news spread across Greece that the Spartans had been defeated the city states rose up in revolt. More importantly, the helots, Spartan slaves who were the backbone of the Spartan economy, likewise rose up and rebelled against Sparta.  In the end, Sparta was forced to sue for peace, and would lose its status as a major power in Greece as the city state entered a brutal and sad decline.  As decades proceeded Greek and Macedonian leaders such as Philip II, Alexander the Great, and King Pyhrrus would develop even smarter and better tactics.  In the meantime, Spartan warfare would never change, and thus Spartan ways become quaint and dated.  By the time of the Punic Wars, Spartan technology and tactics were laughable at best.  Spartan independence ended in 192 BC when it was annexed by the Aechaen League, and in 146 BC when it was conquered by Rome.

Figurine of a dancer/captive

Greek, Boeotian
About 330–300 BCE
Terracotta, mold-cast
13.6 cm

Ancient Greek terracotta figurines are one of the most common forms of religious artifacts because they were cheap and easy to produce. This figure is mold-made – a simple process of applying the clay or plaster to a dried prototype. This figure was produced at the beginning of the Hellenistic Period when terracotta figurines began to take on a decorative function whereas previously, the types of figurines were primarily produced for votive use. These often included subjects such as dancers and doll-like statues like this one.

Whether this woman represents a dancer bending over an instrument, or perhaps a captive about to be sacrificed at an altar is unclear. Her chiton(robe) is slipping off her shoulder. Her hands are held above her head. Usually war captives would be men, except in the case of Amazons.  She also wears a Phrygian cap and boots which would indicate an Amazon or other barbarian. Her bare breast supports the idea of her as an Amazon, but her skirt is longer than that of a typical Amazon. Whatever the iconographic content, the fact that this object is mold-made indicates some level of mass-production. Therefore, this figure probably held meaning for a number of Boeotians.

via >

Greek Terracotta Goddess, Tanagra, Boeotia c. 580 BC

The body of this terracotta figure is made from a rectangular plank of clay, bent at the waist. A prop at the back forms a chair. The details of the face and hair, and the patterns on the dress and polos are painted in the same dilute clay slip that was used to decorate contemporary pottery. The headdress and the long robes worn by such figures are similar to those worn by Greek orthodox priests; Greek workmen on early excavations named these figures ‘Pappas figures’ from the word for an orthodox priest.

The polos is especially associated with the underworld goddesses Demeter and her daughter Persephone. The pomegranate ornament around the figure’s neck is another attribute of these goddesses. According to Greek mythology, after eating a few pomegranate seeds in the house of Hades, Persephone was condemned to spend half her time in the Underworld, returning to the earth with the spring. Model terracotta pomegranates are sometimes found in tombs, either as an offering to the underworld deities or because their thousands of seeds seemed to promise a renewal of life.



THE third phase of the Delian League begins with the Thirty Years Peace between Athens and Sparta and ends with the start of the Ten Years War (445/4 – 431/0 BCE). 

The First Peloponnesian War, which effectively ended after the Battle of Coronea, and the Second Sacred War forced both the Spartans and Athenians to realize a new dualism existed in Hellenic affairs; the Hellenes now had one hegemon on the mainland under Sparta and one in the Aegean under Athens.

By the early 450’s BCE, the Delian League had secured for Athens an almost inexhaustible grain supply, enormous wealth, unprecedented control of the Aegean as well as dominance in central Greece, and thus the Athenians possessed almost absolute security from invasion. By 445/4 BCE, however, the Delian League suffered a devastating defeat in Egypt, the loss of Megara to the Peloponnesian League, and several Boeotian poleis had successfully rebelled.

Read More    

Article by Christopher Planeaux on AHE


In 378 BC, Thebes organized the Sacred Band which was a troop of 150 male lovers - the elite forces. Those men were being chosen by commander Gorgidas “purely for ability and merit, regardless of social class.

The Sacred Band was stationed in Cadmea as a standing force, likely as defense against future attempts by foreign forces to take the citadel. It was occasionally referred to as the "City Band” (ἐκ πόλεως λόχος), due to their military training and housing being provided at the expense of the Boeotian polis. Their regular training included wrestling and dance. The Sacred Band played a crucial role in the Battle of Leuctra. It was annihilated by Philip II of Macedon in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC.

The origin of the “sacred” appellation of the Sacred Band is unexplained by Dinarchus and other historians. But Plutarch claims that it was due to an exchange of sacred vows between lover and beloved.

An Amazing Boeotian Helmet, c. Late 4th Century BC

“The Boeotian type (of helmet)…gives the greatest protection to all parts above the cuirass, but allows free vision.” - Xenophon of Athens

This magnificent helmet was found in June 1854, in the bed of the Tigris River at the confluence with its tributary the Sert (ancient Centrites) near Tille (map) in present day Turkey. A Mr. R.B. Oakley of Oswaldkirk, Yorkshire was traveling down the Tigris to Mosul by raft when one of the boatman pushed his boathook into the stream to keep the raft from running ashore. When he lifted it out of the water, this stunning helmet was caught on the hook! It was bought for the equivalent of about one shilling and brought to Britain and is now at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford. It is thought that this helmet may have belonged to one of Alexander the Great’s cavalrymen, and was lost in the Tigris during their invasion of Persia.

The Boeotian helmet is a metaled copy of the Greek petasos, a type of sun hat. Originating in the Boeotian region of Greece, the helmet was usually made from a single piece of shaped bronze. It was popular with cavalrymen, who required less impairment to their vision and hearing than the infantry hoplites. By the time of Alexander the Great, it had become the standard helmet of the cavalry, as can be seen on the Alexander Sarcophagus (photo) and the Pompeiian mosaic (photo). The Boeotian type helmet was used for in the centuries after Alexander among the various Hellenistic Empires and well into the Roman Republic.


Archaeological Museum of Chaironeia:

Beauty and fashion in the ancient world:

Terracοtta figurines, the famous “tanagraies” (4th century B.C). The colourful figurines of elegant women represented taking a stroll or in other everyday scenes became extremely fashionable in the 19th century, which to led to the savage looting of the Boeotian necropolises on large scale to supply the demand. The earlier view that these figurines were mainly produced in Tanagra- hence the name “tanagraies”- has been refuted by modern research, which has concluded that the widely produced all over Greece, with athenian workshops leading the field.

Bone spoons for the preparation of cosmetics. Women used these to mix unguents and scoop tiny quantities of cosmetics from containers. (Roman period)

A glass-paste alabaster for perfume. (5th century B.C)

A box mirror with a bucolic scene (3rd century B.C).

Bone needles for the care of hair. Sometimes they were also used in weaving and sewing. (Roman period)

A necklace with glass-paste beads(4th century B.C), rings and pins, the alabaster (5th century B.C) and a lekanis for keeping cosmetics and jewellery (4th century B.C).

A close up of the “tanagraia” with the very stylish hat and purse.

Heads from female figurines. (4th century B.C)

Greek Silver Stater from Thebes, Boeotia, c. 440-425 BC

On the obverse, a Boeotian shield. On the reverse, the bearded head of an aged Heracles wearing the lion’s skin headdress with Q-E inscribed across the lower field; all within an incuse square.

In Thebes, Heracles married King Creon’s daughter, Megara. In a fit of madness induced by Hera, Heracles killed his children by Megara. After his madness had been cured with hellebore by Antikyreus, the founder of Antikyra, he realized what he had done and fled to the Oracle of Delphi. Unbeknownst to him, the Oracle was guided by Hera. He was directed to serve King Eurystheus for ten years and perform any task Eurystheus required of him. Eurystheus decided to give Heracles ten labours, but after completing them, Heracles was cheated by Eurystheus when he added two more, resulting in the Twelve Labors of Heracles.

According to another myth, the Theban Iolaus was Heracles’ charioteer, squire and lover. In the end, Heracles helped Iolaus find a wife. Plutarch reports that down to his own time, male couples would go to Iolaus’s tomb in Thebes to swear an oath of loyalty to the hero and to each other.

Made with Flickr