Hellenica (Xenophon)/Book 4/Chapter 3

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1Meanwhile Agesilaus was rapidly hastening with his reinforcements from Asia. He had reached Amphipolis when Dercylidas brought the news of this fresh victory of the Lacedaemonians; their own loss had been eight men, that of the enemy considerable. It was his business at the same time to explain that not a few of the allies had fallen also. 2Agesilaus asked, "Would it not be opportune, Dercylidas, if the cities that have furnished us with contingents could hear of this victory as soon as possible?" And Dercylidas replied: "The news at any rate is likely to put them in better heart." Then said the king: "As you were an eye-witness there could hardly be a better bearer of the news than yourself." To this proposal Dercylidas lent a willing ear--to travel abroad[1] was his special delight--and he replied, "Yes, under your orders." "Then you have my orders," the king said. "And you may further inform the states from myself that we have not forgotten our promise; if all goes well over here we shall be with them again ere long." 3So Dercylidas set off on his travels, in the first instance to the Hellespont;[2] while Agesilaus crossed Macedonia, and arrived in Thessaly. And now the men of Larissa, Crannon, Scotussa, and Pharsalus, who were allies of the Boeotians--and in fact all the Thessalians except the exiles for the time being--hung on his heels[3] and did him damage.

4For some while he marched his troops in a hollow square,[4] posting half his cavalry in front and half on his rear; but finding that the Thessalians checked his passage by repeated charges from behind, he strengthened his rearguard by sending round the cavalry from his van, with the exception of his own personal escort.[5] 5The two armies stood confronted in battle order; but the Thessalians, not liking the notion of a cavalry engagement with heavy infantry, turned, and step by step retreated, while the others followed them with considerable caution. 6Agesilaus, perceiving the error under which both alike laboured, now sent his own personal guard of stalwart troopers with orders that both they and the rest of the horsemen should charge at full gallop,[6] and not give the enemy the chance to recoil. 7The Thessalians were taken aback by this unexpected onslaught, and half of them never thought of wheeling about, whilst those who did essay to do so presented the flanks of their horses to the charge,[7] and were made prisoners. 8Still Polymarchus of Pharsalus, the general in command of their cavalry, rallied his men for an instant, and fell, sword in hand, with his immediate followers. This was the signal for a flight so precipitate on the part of the Thessalians, that their dead and dying lined the road, and prisoners were taken; nor was any halt made until they reached Mount Narthacius. 9Here, then, midway between Pras and Narthacius, Agesilaus set up a trophy, halting for the moment, in unfeigned satisfaction at the exploit. It was from antagonists who prided themselves on their cavalry beyond everything that he had wrested victory, with a body of cavalry of his own mustering. Next day he crossed the mountains of Achaea Phthiotis, and for the future continued his march through friendly territory until he reached the confines of Boeotia.

10Here, at the entrance of that territory, the sun (in partial eclipse)[8] seemed to appear in a crescent shape, and the news reached him of the defeat of the Lacedaemonians in a naval engagement, and the death of the admiral Peisander. Details of the disaster were not wanting. 11The engagement of the hostile fleets took place off Cnidus. Pharnabazus, the Persian admiral, was present with the Phoenician fleet, and in front of him were ranged the ships of the Hellenic squadron under Conon. 12Peisander had ventured to draw out his squadron to meet the combined fleets, though the numerical inferiority of his fleet to that of the Hellenic navy under Conon was conspicuous, and he had the mortification of seeing the allies who formed his left wing take to flight immediately. He himself came to close quarters with the enemy, and was driven on shore, on board his trireme, under pressure of the hostile rams. The rest, as many as were driven to shore, deserted their ships and sought safety as best they could in the territory of Cnidus. The admiral alone stuck to his ship, and fell sword in hand.

13It was impossible for Agesilaus not to feel depressed by those tidings at first; on further reflection, however, it seemed to him that the moral quality of more than half his troops well entitled them to share in the sunshine of success, but in the day of trouble, when things looked black, he was not bound to take them into his confidence. Accordingly he turned round and gave out that he had received news that Peisander was dead, but that he had fallen in the arms of victory in a sea-fight; 14and suiting his action to the word, he proceeded to offer sacrifice in return for good tidings,[9] distributing portions of the victims to a large number of recipients. So it befell that in the first skirmish with the enemy the troops of Agesilaus gained the upper hand, in consequence of the report that the Lacedaemonians had won a victory by sea.

15To confront Agesilaus stood an army composed of the Boeotians, Athenians, Argives, Corinthians, Aenianians, Euboeans, and both divisions of the Locrians. Agesilaus on his side had with him a division[10] of Lacedaemonians, which had crossed from Corinth, also half the division from Orchomenus; besides which there were the neodamodes[11] from Lacedaemon, on service with him already; and in addition to these the foreign contingent under Herippidas;[12] and again the quota furnished by the Hellenic cities in Asia, with others from the cities in Europe which he had brought over during his progress; and lastly, there were additional levies from the spot-- Orchomenian and Phocian heavy infantry. In light-armed troops, it must be admitted, the numbers told heavily in favour of Agesilaus, but the cavalry[13] on both sides were fairly balanced.

16Such were the forces of either party. 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. 17As 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. 18At 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.

19At 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. 20And 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.

21But 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.[20] Gylis the polemarch meanwhile withdrew into Phocis at the head of his troops, and from that district made a hostile advance into Locris. 22Here nearly a whole day was spent by the men in freely helping themselves to goods and chattels out of the villages and pillaging the corn;[21] but as it drew towards evening the troops began to retire, with the Lacedaemonians in the rear. The Locrians hung upon their heels with a heavy pelt of stones and javelins. Thereupon the Lacedaemonians turned short round and gave chase, laying some of their assailants low. Then the Locrians ceased clinging to their rear, but continued their volleys from the vantage- ground above. 23The Lacedaemonians again made efforts to pursue their persistent foes even up the slope. At last darkness descended on them, and as they retired man after man dropped, succumbing to the sheer difficulty of the ground; some in their inability to see what lay in front, or else shot down by the enemy's missiles. It was then that Gylis the polemarch met his end, as also Pelles, who was on his personal staff, and the whole of the Spartans present without exception--eighteen or thereabouts--perished, either crushed by stones or succumbing to other wounds. Indeed, except for timely aid brought from the camp where the men were supping, the chances are that not a man would have escaped to tell the tale.

  1. See "Pol. Lac." xiv. 4.
  2. See below, "Hell." IV. viii. 3.
  3. See "Ages." ii. 2; Grote, "H. G." ix. 420, note 2.
  4. See Rustow and Kochly, S. 187 foll.
  5. See Thuc. v. 72; Herod. vi. 56, viii. 124.
  6. Lit. "and bids them pass the order to the others and themselves to charge," etc.
  7. See "Horsemanship," vii. 16; Polyb. iv. 8.
  8. B.C. 394, August 14.
  9. "Splendide mendax." For the ethics of the matter, see "Mem." IV. ii. 17; "Cyrop." I. vi. 31.
  10. Lit. "a mora"; for the numbers, see "Ages." ii. 6; Plut. "Ages." 17; Grote, "H. G." ix. 433.
  11. I.e. "enfranchised helots."
  12. See "Ages." ii. 10, 11; and above, "Hell." III. iv. 20.
  13. See Hicks, op. cit. 68.
  14. Lit. "a stade."
  15. Lit. "Alalah."
  16. Like a tornado.
  17. Lit. "about three plethra."
  18. Or, "All these made up the attacking columns . . . and coming within . . . routed . . ."
  19. Or, "they slew, they were slain." In illustration of this famous passage, twice again worked up in "Ages." ii. 12, and "Cyrop." VII. i. 38, commented on by Longinus, {peri upsous}, 19, and copied by Dio Cassius, 47, 45, I venture to quote a passage from Mr. Rudyard Kipling, "With the Main Guard," p. 57, Mulvaney loquitur: "The Tyrone was pushin' an' pushin' in, an' our men was sweerin' at thim, an' Crook was workin' away in front av us all, his sword-arm swingin' like a pump-handle an' his revolver spittin' like a cat. But the strange thing av ut was the quiet that lay upon. 'Twas like a fight in a dhrame--excipt for thim that wus dead."
  20. = 25,000 pounds nearly.
  21. Or, "not to speak of provisions."