Hellenica (Xenophon)/Book 4/Chapter 5

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B.C. 390.[1] 1Subsequently the Lacedaemonians made a second expedition against Corinth. They heard from the exiles that the citizens contrived to preserve all their cattle in Peiraeum; indeed, large numbers derived their subsistence from the place. Agesilaus was again in command of the expedition. In the first instance he advanced upon the Isthmus. It was the month of the Isthmian games,[2] and here he found the Argives engaged in conducting the sacrifice to Poseidon, as if Corinth were Argos. So when they perceived the approach of Agesilaus, the Argives and their friends left the offerings as they lay, including the preparations for the breakfast, and retired with undisguised alarm into the city by the Cenchrean road.[3] 2Agesilaus, though he observed the movement, refrained from giving chase, but taking up his quarters in the temple, there proceeded to offer victims to the god himself, and waited until the Corinthian exiles had celebrated the sacrifice to Poseidon, along with the games. But no sooner had Agesilaus turned his back and retired, than the Argives returned and celebrated the Isthmian games afresh; so that in this particular year there were cases in which the same competitors were twice defeated in this or that contest, or conversely, the same man was proclaimed victor twice over.

3On the fourth day Agesilaus led his troops against Peiraeum, but finding it strongly defended, he made a sudden retrograde march after the morning meal in the direction of the capital, as though he calculated on the betrayal of the city. The Corinthians, in apprehension of some such possible catastrophe, sent to summon Iphicrates with the larger portion of his light infantry. These passed by duly in the night, not unobserved, however, by Agesilaus, who at once turned round at break of day and advanced on Piraeum. He himself kept to the low ground by the hot springs,[4] sending a division to scale the top of the pass. That night he encamped at the hot springs, while the division bivouacked in the open, in possession of the pass. 4Here Agesilaus distinguished himself by an invention as seasonable as it was simple. Among those who carried provisions for the division not one had thought of bringing fire. The altitude was considerable; there had been a fall of rain and hail towards evening and the temperature was low; besides which, the scaling party were clad in thin garments suited to the summer season. There they sat shivering in the dark, with scarcely heart to attack their suppers, when Agesilaus sent up to them as many as ten porters carrying fire in earthen pots. One found his way up one way, one another, and presently there were many bonfires blazing--magnificently enough, since there was plenty of wood to hand; so that all fell to oiling themselves and many supped over again. The same night the sky was lit up by the blaze of the temple of Poseidon--set on fire no one knows how.

5When the men in Piraeum perceived that the pass was occupied, they at once abandoned all thought of self-defence and fled for refuge to the Heraion[5]--men and women, slaves and free-born, with the greater part of their flocks and herds. Agesilaus, with the main body, meanwhile pursued his march by the sea-shore, and the division, simultaneously descending from the heights, captured the fortified position of Oenoe, appropriating its contents. Indeed, all the troops on that day reaped a rich harvest in the supplies they brought in from various farmsteads. Presently those who had escaped into the Heraion came out, offering to leave it to Agesilaus to decide what he would do with them. He decided to deliver up to the exiles all those concerned with the late butchery, and that all else should be sold. 6And so from the Heraion streamed out a long line of prisoners, whilst from other sides embassies arrived in numbers; and amongst these a deputation from the Boeotians, anxious to learn what they should do to obtain peace. These latter Agesilaus, with a certain loftiness of manner, affected not even to see, although Pharax,[6] their proxenus, stood by their side to introduce them. Seated in a circular edifice on the margin of the lake,[7] he surveyed the host of captives and valuables as they were brought out. Beside the prisoners, to guard them, stepped the Lacedaemonian warriors from the camp, carrying their spears--and themselves plucked all gaze their way, so readily will success and the transient fortune of the moment rivet attention. 7But even while Agesilaus was still thus seated, wearing a look betokening satisfaction at some great achievement, a horseman came galloping up; the flanks of his charger streamed with sweat. To the many inquiries what news he brought, the rider responded never a word; but being now close beside Agesilaus, he leaped from his horse, and running up to him with lowering visage narrated the disaster of the Spartan division[8] at Lechaeum. At these tidings the king sprang instantly from his seat, clutching his spear, and bade his herald summon to a meeting the generals, captains of fifties, and commanders of foreign brigades.[9] 8When these had rapidly assembled he bade them, seeing that the morning meal had not yet been tasted, to swallow hastily what they could, and with all possible speed to overtake him. But for himself, he, with the officers of the royal staff,[10] set off at once without breakfast. His bodyguard, with their heavy arms, accompanied him with all speed--himself in advance, the officers following behind. In this fashion he had already passed beyond the warm springs, and was well within the plateau of Lechaeum, when three horsemen rode up with further news: the dead bodies had been picked up. On receipt of these tidings he commanded the troops to order arms, and having rested them a little space, led them back again to the Heraion. The next day he spent in disposing of the captured property.[11]

9The ambassadors of the Boeotians were then summoned, and, being asked to explain the object of their coming, made no further mention of the word "peace," but replied that, if there was nothing to hinder it, they wished to have a pass to their own soldiers within the capital. The king answered with a smile: "I know your desire is not so much to see your soldiers as to feast your eyes on the good fortune of your friends, and to measure its magnitude. Wait then, I will conduct you myself; with me you will be better able to discover the true value of what has taken place." 10And he was as good as his word. Next day he sacrificed, and led his army up to the gates of Corinth. The trophy he respected, but not one tree did he leave standing--chopping and burning, as proof positive that no one dared to face him in the field. And having so done, he encamped about Lechaeum; and as to the Theban ambassadors, in lieu of letting them pass into the city, he sent them off by sea across to Creusis.

But in proportion to the unwontedness of such a calamity befalling Lacedaemonians, a widespread mourning fell upon the whole Laconian army, those alone excepted whose sons or fathers or brothers had died at their post. The bearing of these resembled that of conquerors,[12] as with bright faces they moved freely to and fro, glorying in their domestic sorrow. 11Now the tragic fate which befell the division was on this wise: It was the unvaried custom of the men of Amyclae to return home at the Hyacinthia,[13] to join in the sacred paean, a custom not to be interrupted by active service or absence from home or for any other reason. So, too, on this occasion, Agesilaus had left behind all the Amyclaeans serving in any part of his army at Lechaeum. At the right moment the general in command of the garrison at that place had posted the garrison troops of the allies to guard the walls during his absence, and put himself at the head of his division of heavy infantry with that of the cavalry,[14] and led the Amyclaeans past the walls of Corinth. 12Arrived at a point within three miles or so[15] of Sicyon, the polemarch turned back himself in the direction of Lechaeum with his heavy infantry regiment, six hundred strong, giving orders to the cavalry commandant to escort the Amyclaeans with his division as far as they required, and then to turn and overtake him. It cannot be said that the Lacedaemonians were ignorant of the large number of light troops and heavy infantry inside Corinth, but owing to their former successes they arrogantly presumed that no one would attack them. 13Within the capital of the Corinthians, however, their scant numbers--a thin line of heavy infantry unsupported by light infantry or cavalry-- had been noted; and Callias, the son of Hipponicus,[16] who was in command of the Athenian hoplites, and Iphicrates at the head of his peltasts, saw no risk in attacking with the light brigade. Since if the enemy continued his march by the high road, he would be cut up by showers of javelins on his exposed right flank; or if he were tempted to take the offensive, they with their peltasts, the nimblest of all light troops, would easily slip out of the grasp of his hoplites.

With this clearly-conceived idea they led out their troops; 14and while Callias drew up his heavy infantry in line at no great distance from the city, Iphicrates and his peltasts made a dash at the returning division.

The Lacedaemonians were presently within range of the javelins.[17] Here a man was wounded, and there another dropped, not to rise again. Each time orders were given to the attendant shield-bearers[18] to pick up the men and bear them into Lechaeum; and these indeed were the only members of the mora who were, strictly speaking, saved. Then the polemarch ordered the ten-years-service men[19] to charge and drive off their assailants. 15Charge, however, as they might, they took nothing by their pains--not a man could they come at within javelin range. Being heavy infantry opposed to light troops, before they could get to close quarters the enemy's word of command sounded "Retire!" whilst as soon as their own ranks fell back, scattered as they were in consequence of a charge where each man's individual speed had told, Iphicrates and his men turned right about and renewed the javelin attack, while others, running alongside, harassed their exposed flank. At the very first charge the assailants had shot down nine or ten, and, encouraged by this success, pressed on with increasing audacity. 16These attacks told so severely that the polemarch a second time gave the order (and this time for the fifteen-years-service men) to charge. The order was promptly obeyed, but on retiring they lost more men than on the first occasion, and it was not until the pick and flower of the division had succumbed that they were joined by their returning cavalry, in whose company they once again attempted a charge. The light infantry gave way, but the attack of the cavalry was feebly enforced. Instead of pressing home the charge until at least they had sabred some of the enemy, they kept their horses abreast of their infantry skirmishers,[20] charging and wheeling side by side.

Again and again the monotonous tale of doing and suffering repeated itself, except that as their own ranks grew thinner and their courage ebbed, the courage of their assailants grew bolder and their numbers increased. 17In desperation they massed compactly upon the narrow slope of a hillock, distant a couple of furlongs[21] or so from the sea, and a couple of miles[22] perhaps from Lechaeum. Their friends in Lechaeum, perceiving them, embarked in boats and sailed round until they were immediately under the hillock. And now, in the very slough of despair, being so sorely troubled as man after man dropped dead, and unable to strike a blow, to crown their distress they saw the enemy's heavy infantry advancing. Then they took to flight; some of them threw themselves into the sea; others--a mere handful--escaped with the cavalry into Lechaeum. The death-roll, including those who fell in the second fight and the final flight, must have numbered two hundred and fifty slain, or thereabouts.[23] 18Such is the tale of the destruction of the Lacedaemonian mora.

Subsequently, with the mutilated fragment of the division, Agesilaus turned his back upon Lechaeum, leaving another division behind to garrison that port. On his passage homewards, as he wound his way through the various cities, he made a point of arriving at each as late in the day as possible, renewing his march as early as possible next morning. Leaving Orchomenus at the first streak of dawn, he passed Mantinea still under cover of darkness. The spectacle of the Mantineans rejoicing at their misfortune would have been too severe an ordeal for his soldiers.

19But Iphicrates had not yet reached the summit of his good fortune. Success followed upon success. Lacedaemonian garrisons had been placed in Sidus and Crommyon by Praxitas when he took these fortresses, and again in Oenoe, when Peiraeum was taken quite lately by Agesilaus. One and all of these now fell into the hands of Iphicrates. Lechaeum still held out, garrisoned as it was by the Lacedaemonians and their allies; while the Corinthian exiles, unable since[24] the disaster of the mora any longer to pass freely by land from Sicyon, had the sea passage still open to them, and using Lechaeum as their base,[25] kept up a game of mutual annoyance with the party in the capital.

  1. Al. B.C. 392. The historian omits the overtures for peace, B.C. 391 (or 391-390) referred to in Andoc. "De Pace." See Jebb, "Att. Or." i. 83, 108; Grote, "H. G." ix. 474; Curtius, "H. G." Eng. tr. iv. 261.
  2. Grote and Curtius believe these to be the Isthmian games of 390 B.C., not of 392 B.C., as Sauppe and others suppose. See Peter, "Chron. Table," p. 89, note 183; Jowett, "Thuc." ii. 468, note on VIII. 9, 1.
  3. Lit. "road to Cenchreae."
  4. Near mod. Lutraki.
  5. Or, "Heraeum," i.e. sanctuary of Hera, on a promontory so called. See Leake, "Morea," iii. 317.
  6. See "Hell." III. ii. 12, if the same.
  7. Or, "on the round pavilion by the lake" (mod. Vuliasmeni).
  8. Technically "mora."
  9. Lit. the polemarchs, penteconters, and xenagoi.
  10. See "Pol. Lac." xiii. 1.
  11. See Grote, "H. G." ix. 480, in reference to "Ages." vii. 6.
  12. See Grote, "H. G." ix. 488.
  13. Observed on three days of the month Hecatombaeus (= July). See Muller's "Dorians," ii. 360. For Amyclae, see Leake, "Morea," i. ch. iv. p. 145 foll.; Baedeker's "Greece," p. 279.
  14. See below, "Hell." VI. iv. 12; and "Pol. Lac." xi. 4, xiii. 4.
  15. Lit. "twenty or thirty stades."
  16. See Cobet, "Prosop. Xen." p. 67 foll.
  17. See Grote, "H. G." ix. 467, note on the improvements of Iphicrates.
  18. Grote, "H. G." ix. 484; cf. "Hell." IV. viii. 39; "Anab." IV. ii. 20; Herod. ix. 10-29.
  19. Youngest rank and file, between eighteen and twenty-eight years of age, who formed the first line. The Spartan was liable to service at the age of eighteen. From twenty-eight to thirty-three he would belong to the fifteen-years-service division (the second line); and so on. See below, IV. vi. 10.
  20. See Thuc. iv. 125.
  21. Lit. "two stades."
  22. Lit. "sixteen or seventeen stades."
  23. See Grote, "H. G." ix. 486.
  24. Lit. "owing to."
  25. The illustrative incidents narrated in chapter iv. 17 may belong to this period.