Hellenica (Xenophon)/Book 7/Chapter 5

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B.C. 362. 1This answer was duly reported to the general assembly of the Arcadians, and throughout the several states of the league. Consequently the Mantineans, along with those of the Arcadians who had the interests of Peloponnesus at heart, as also the Eleians and the Achaeans, came to the conclusion that the policy of the Thebans was plain. They wished Peloponnesus to be reduced to such an extremity of weakness that it might fall an easy prey into their hands who were minded to enslave it. 2"Why else," they asked, "should they wish us to fight, except that we may tear each other to pieces, and both sides be driven to look to them for support? or why, when we tell them that we have no need of them at present, do they insist on preparing for a foreign campaign? Is it not plain that these preparations are for an expedition which will do us some mischief?"

3In this mood they sent to Athens,[1] calling on the Athenians for military aid. Ambassadors also went to Lacedaemon on behalf of the Eparitoi, summoning the Lacedaemonians, if they wished to give a helping hand, to put a stop to the proceedings of any power approaching to enslave Peloponnesus. As regards the headship, they came to an arrangement at once, on the principle that each of the allied states should exercise the generalship within its own territory.

4While these matters were in progress, Epaminondas was prosecuting his march at the head of all the Boeotians, with the Euboeans, and a large body of Thessalians, furnished both by Alexander[2] and by his opponents. The Phocians were not represented. Their special agreement only required them to render assistance in case of an attack on Thebes; to assist in a hostile expedition against others was not in the bond. 5Epaminondas, however, reflected that inside Peloponnesus itself they might count upon the Argives and the Messenians, with that section of the Arcadians which shared their views. These latter were the men of Tegea and Megalopolis, of Asea and Pallantium, with any townships which owing to their small size or their position in the midst of these larger cities were forced to follow their lead.

6Epaminondas advanced with rapid strides; but on reaching Nemea he slackened speed, hoping to catch the Athenians as they passed, and reflecting on the magnitude of such an achievement, whether in stimulating the courage of his own allies, or in plunging his foes into despondency; since, to state the matter concisely, any blow to Athens would be a gain to Thebes. 7But during his pause at Nemea those who shared the opposite policy had time to converge on Mantinea. Presently the news reached Epaminondas that the Athenians had abandoned the idea of marching by land, and were preparing to bring their supports to Arcadia by sea through Lacedaemon. This being so, he abandoned his base of Nemea and pushed on to Tegea.

8That the strategy of the Theban general was fortunate I will not pretend to assert, but in the particular combination of prudence and daring which stamps these exploits, I look upon him as consummate. In the first place, I cannot but admire the sagacity which led him to form his camp within the walls of Tegea, where he was in greater security that he would have been if entrenched outside, and where his future movements were more completely concealed from the enemy. Again, the means to collect material and furnish himself with other necessaries were readier to his hand inside the city; while, thirdly, he was able to keep an eye on the movements of his opponents marching outside, and to watch their successful dispositions as well as their mistakes. More than this: in spite of his sense of superiority to his antagonists, over and over again, when he saw them gaining some advantage in position, he refused to be drawn out to attack them. 9It was only when he saw plainly that no city was going to give him its adhesion, and that time was slipping by, that he made up his mind that a blow must be struck, failing which, he had nothing to expect save a vast ingloriousness, in place of his former fame.[3] He had ascertained that his antagonists held a strong position round Mantinea, and that they had sent to fetch Agesilaus and the whole Lacedaemonian army. He was further aware that Agesilaus had commenced his advance and was already at Pellene.[4] Accordingly he passed the word of command[5] to his troops to take their evening meal, put himself at their head and advanced straight upon Sparta. 10Had it not been for the arrival (by some providential chance) of a Cretan, who brought the news to Agesilaus of the enemy's advance, he would have captured the city of Sparta like a nest of young birds absolutely bereft of its natural defenders. As it was, Agesilaus, being forewarned, had time to return to the city before the Thebans came, and here the Spartans made distribution of their scanty force and maintained watch and ward, albeit few enough in numbers, since the whole of their cavalry were away in Arcadia, and so was their foreign brigade, and so were three out of their twelve regiments.[6]

11Arrived within the city of Sparta,[7] Epaminondas abstained from gaining an entry at a point where his troops would have to fight on level ground and under attack from the houses above; where also their large numbers would give them no superiority over the small numbers of the foemen. But, singling out a position which he conceived would give him the advantage, he occupied it and began his advance against the city upon a downward instead of an upward incline.

12With regard to what subsequently took place, two possible explanations suggest themselves: either it was miraculous, or it may be maintained that there is no resisting the fury of desperation. Archidamus, advancing at the head of but a hundred men, and crossing the one thing which might have been expected to form an obstacle to the enemy,[8] began marching uphill against his antagonists. At this crisis these fire-breathing warriors, these victorious heroes of Leuctra,[9] with their superiority at every point, aided, moreover, by the advantage of their position, did not withstand the attack of Archidamus and those with him, but swerved in flight.

13The vanguard of Epaminondas's troops were cut down; when, however, flushed with the glory of their victory, the citizens followed up their pursuit beyond the right point, they in turn were cut down--so plainly was the demarking line of victory drawn by the finger of God. So then Archidamus set up a trophy to note the limit of his success, and gave back those who had there fallen of the enemy under a truce. 14Epaminondas, on his side, reflecting that the Arcadians must already be hastening to the relief of Lacedaemon, and being unwilling to engage them in conjunction with the whole of the Lacedaemonian force, especially now that the star of Sparta's fortune shone, whilst theirs had suffered some eclipse, turned and marched back the way he came with all speed possible into Tegea. There he gave his heavy infantry pause and refreshment, but his cavalry he sent on to Mantinea; he begged them to "have courage and hold on," instructing them that in all likelihood they would find the flocks and herds of the Mantineans and the entire population itself outside their walls, especially as it was the moment for carrying the corn. 15So they set off.

The Athenian cavalry, started from Eleusis, had made their evening meal at the Isthmus, and passing through Cleonae, as chance befell, had arrived at Mantinea and had encamped within the walls in the houses. As soon as the enemy were seen galloping up with evidently hostile intent, the Mantineans fell to praying the Athenian knights to lend them all the succour they could, and they showed them all their cattle outside, and all their labourers, and among them were many children and graybeards who were free-born citizens. The Athenians were touched by this appeal, and, though they had not yet broken fast, neither the men themselves nor their horses, went out eagerly to the rescue. 16And here we must needs pause to admire the valour of these men also. The enemy whom they had to cope with far outnumbered them, as was plain to see, and the former misadventure of the cavalry in Corinth was not forgotten.[10] But none of these things entered into their calculations now--nor yet the fact that they were on the point of engaging Thebans and Thessalians, the finest cavalry in the world by all repute. The only thing they thought of was the shame and the dishonour, if, being there, they did not lend a helping hand to their allies. In this mood, so soon as they caught sight of the enemy, they fell with a crash upon him in passionate longing to recover the old ancestral glory. 17Nor did they fight in vain--the blows they struck enabled the Mantineans to recover all their property outside, but among those who dealt them died some brave heroes;[11] brave heroes also, it is evident, were those whom they slew, since on either side the weapons wielded were not so short but that they could lunge at one another with effect. The dead bodies of their own men they refused to abandon; and there were some of the enemy's slain whom they restored to him under a flag of truce.

18The thoughts now working in the mind of Epaminondas were such as these: that within a few days he would be forced to retire, as the period of the campaign was drawing to a close; if it ended in his leaving in the lurch those allies whom he came out to assist, they would be besieged by their antagonists. What a blow would that be to his own fair fame, already somewhat tarnished! Had he not been defeated in Lacedaemon, with a large body of heavy infantry, by a handful of men? defeated again at Mantinea, in the cavalry engagement, and himself the main cause finally of a coalition between five great powers--that is to say, the Lacedaemonians, the Arcadians, the Achaeans, the Eleians, and the Athenians? On all grounds it seemed to him impossible to steal past without a battle. And the more so as he computed the alternatives of victory or death. If the former were his fortune, it would resolve all his perplexities; if death, his end would be noble. How glorious a thing to die in the endeavour to leave behind him, as his last legacy to his fatherland, the empire of Peloponnesus! 19That such thoughts should pass through his brain strikes me as by no means wonderful, as these are thoughts distinctive to all men of high ambition. Far more wonderful to my mind was the pitch of perfection to which he had brought his army. There was no labour which his troops would shrink from, either by night or by day; there was no danger they would flinch from; and, with the scantiest provisions, their discipline never failed them.

20And so, when he gave his last orders to them to prepare for impending battle, they obeyed with alacrity. He gave the word; the cavalry fell to whitening their helmets, the heavy infantry of the Arcadians began inscribing their clubs as the crest on their shields,[12] as though they were Thebans, and all were engaged in sharpening their lances and swords and polishing their heavy shields. 21When the preparations were complete and he had led them out, his next movement is worthy of attention. First, as was natural, he paid heed to their formation, and in so doing seemed to give clear evidence that he intended battle; but no sooner was the army drawn up in the formation which he preferred, than he advanced, not by the shortest route to meet the enemy, but towards the westward-lying mountains which face Tegea, and by this movement created in the enemy an expectation that he would not do battle on that day. 22In keeping with this expectation, as soon as he arrived at the mountain-region, he extended his phalanx in long line and piled arms under the high cliffs; and to all appearance he was there encamping. The effect of this manouvre on the enemy in general was to relax the prepared bent of their souls for battle, and to weaken their tactical arrangements. Presently, however, wheeling his regiments (which were marching in column) to the front, with the effect of strengthening the beak-like[13] attack which he proposed to lead himself, at the same instant he gave the order, "Shoulder arms, forward," and led the way, the troops following.

When the enemy saw them so unexpectedly approaching, not one of them was able to maintain tranquility: some began running to their divisions, some fell into line, some might be seen bitting and bridling their horses, some donning their cuirasses, and one and all were like men about to receive rather than to inflict a blow. 23He, the while, with steady impetus pushed forward his armament, like a ship- of-war prow forward. Wherever he brought his solid wedge to bear, he meant to cleave through the opposing mass, and crumble his adversary's host to pieces. With this design he prepared to throw the brunt of the fighting on the strongest half of his army, while he kept the weaker portion of it in the background, knowing certainly that if worsted it would only cause discouragement to his own division and add force to the foe. The cavalry on the side of his opponents were disposed like an ordinary phalanx of heavy infantry, regular in depth and unsupported by foot-soldiers interspersed among the horses.[14] 24Epaminondas again differed in strengthening the attacking point of his cavalry, besides which he interspersed footmen between their lines in the belief that, when he had once cut through the cavalry, he would have wrested victory from the antagonist along his whole line; so hard is it to find troops who will care to keep their own ground when once they see any of their own side flying. Lastly, to prevent any attempt on the part of the Athenians, who were on the enemy's left wing, to bring up their reliefs in support of the portion next them, he posted bodies of cavalry and heavy infantry on certain hillocks in front of them, intending to create in their minds an apprehension that, in case they offered such assistance, they would be attacked on their own rear by these detachments. Such was the plan of encounter which he formed and executed; nor was he cheated in his hopes. He had so much the mastery at his point of attack that he caused the whole of the enemy's troops to take flight.

25But after he himself had fallen, the rest of the Thebans were not able any longer to turn their victory rightly to account. Though the main battle line of their opponents had given way, not a single man afterwards did the victorious hoplites slay, not an inch forward did they advance from the ground on which the collision took place. Though the cavalry had fled before them, there was no pursuit; not a man, horseman or hoplite, did the conquering cavalry cut down; but, like men who have suffered a defeat, as if panic-stricken[15] they slipped back through the ranks of the fleeing foemen. Only the footmen fighting amongst the cavalry and the light infantry, who had together shared in the victory of the cavalry, found their way round to the left wing as masters of the field, but it cost them dear; here they encountered the Athenians, and most of them were cut down.

26The effective result of these achievements was the very opposite of that which the world at large anticipated. Here, where well-nigh the whole of Hellas was met together in one field, and the combatants stood rank against rank confronted, there was no one doubted that, in the event of battle, the conquerors would this day rule; and that those who lost would be their subjects. But God so ordered it that both belligerents alike set up trophies as claiming victory, and neither interfered with the other in the act. Both parties alike gave back their enemy's dead under a truce, and in right of victory; both alike, in symbol of defeat, under a truce took back their dead. 27And though both claimed to have won the day, neither could show that he had thereby gained any accession of territory, or state, or empire, or was better situated than before the battle. Uncertainty and confusion, indeed, had gained ground, being tenfold greater throughout the length and breadth of Hellas after the battle than before.

At this point I lay aside my pen: the sequel of the story may haply commend itself[16] to another.

  1. For a treaty of alliance between Athens, the Arkadians, Achaeans, Eleians, and Phliasians, immediately before Mantinea, B.C. 362, {epi Molonos arkhontos}, see Hicks, 94; Kohler, "C. I. A." ii. p. 405. It is preserved on a stele ("broken at bottom; but the top is surmounted by a relief representing Zeus enthroned, with a thunderbolt; a female figure [= the {Summakhia}?] approaches lifting her veil, while Athena stands by") now standing among the sculptures from the Asklepieion on the Acropolis at Athens. See Milchhofer, p. 47, no. 7, "Die Museum," Athens, 1881. For the date, see Demosth. "c. Polycl." 1207.
  2. For Alexander of Pherae, see above, VI. iv. 34. In B.C. 363 the Thebans had sent an army under Pelopidas into Thessaly to assist their allies among the Thessalians with the Phthiot Achaeans and the Magnetes against Alexander. At Kynos Kephelae Alexander was defeated, but Pelopidas was slain (see Grote, "H. G." x. 420 foll.). "His death, as it brought grief, so likewise it produced advantage to the allies; for the Thebans, as soon as they heard of his fall, delayed not their revenge, but presently sent seven thousand foot and seven hundred horse, under the command of Malcitas and Diogiton. And they, finding Alexander weak and without forces, compelled him to restore the cities he had taken, to withdraw his garrisons from the Magnesians and Achaeans of Phthiotos and swear to assist the Thebans against whatsoever enemies they should require."--Plut. "Pelop." 35 (Clough, ii. 236).
  3. Or, "dull obscurity in place of renown."
  4. Pellene (or Pellana), a town of Laconia on the Eurotas, and on the road from Sparta to Arcadia; in fact the frontier fortress on the Eurotas, as Sellasia on the Oenus; "Dict. of Anct. Geog." s.v.; see Paus. iii. 20, S. 2; Strab. viii. 386; Polyb. iv. 81, xvi. 37; Plut. "Agis," 8; Leake, "Morea," iii. 14 foll.
  5. Cf. "Hipparch." iv. 9.
  6. Lit. "lochi." See above, VII. iv. 20; "Pol. Lac." xi. 4.
  7. Grote ("H. G." x. 455) says: "Though he crossed the Eurotas and actually entered into the city of Sparta," as the words {epei de egeneto en te polei ton Spartiaton} certainly seem to me to imply. Others interpret "in the close neighbourhood of."
  8. Or, "to serve as his defence"; or, "the one obstacle to his progress," i.e. Archidamus's. It was a miraculous thing that the Thebans did not stop him.
  9. See Mahaffy, "Hist. Gk. Lit." vol. ii. p. 268, 1st ed. See above, "Hell." VI. iv. 24; Diod. xv. 39, 56.
  10. Or, "and in Corinth an untoward incident had been experienced by the cavalry." See Grote, "H. G." x. 458, note 2. Possibly in reference to "Hell." VI. v. 51, 52.
  11. Probably Xenophon's own son Gryllus was among them.
  12. Grote ("H. G." x. 463) has another interpretation.
  13. Or, "the wedge-like attack of his own division"; see Grote, "H. G." x. 469 foll. I do not, however, think that the attacking column was actually wedge-shaped like the "acies cuneata" of the Romans. It was the unusual depth of the column which gave it the force of an ironclad's ram. Cf. "Cyrop." II. iv. for {eis metopon}.
  14. See Rustow and Kochly, p. 176; and for the {amippoi} Harpocration, s.v.; Pollus, i. 131; "Hipparch." v. 13; Thuc. v. 58; Herod. vii. 158; Caes. "B. G." i. 48; "B. Civ." iii. 84.
  15. Or, "they timorously slipped back."
  16. Or, "win the attention of some other writer."