Ancient History & Civilisation


For Spartan words and phrases, see the Glossary of Spartan Terms. All dates are BC.


1. Olympic truce: See further Ch. 23. According to legend, the earliest Olympic Games were ones in which gods took part. These lapsed, but were then revived by Iphitus of Elis – in 776 according to the reckoning made around the year 400 by his fellow Elean, thesophist (or teacher) Hippias. The sacred truce, whereby all Greeks were expected to suspend hostilities between each other for the duration of the games and a period both before and afterwards, was an essential feature of these and other panhellenic games (seeCleomenes, note 42).

2. Aristotle the philosopher: For the authors cited by Plutarch, see Introduction, ‘Lycurgus: Plutarch's Sources’.

3. name inscribed: This cannot have been an authentic document, not least because the art of writing was only just reviving in Greece during the early eighth century.

4. Homer's time: The shadowy epic poet (c. ninth century) to whom the Iliad and Odyssey were attributed.

5. XenophonHeraclids: For Xenophon, see Spartan Society, Ch. 10. Heraclids are lists of kings were compiled from the fifth century, if not even earlier: the first surviving ones are those of Herodotus (The Histories, 7.204 and 8.131, Penguin, 2003). The further back they go, the less reliable historically they are likely to be. Heracles was the outstanding Greek hero and god, famous for his ‘Labours' and other exploits.

6. Simonides: Of the late sixth/early fifth centuries.

7. Spartiates… helots: Spartiates are full citizens of Sparta. For helots, see Introduction, ‘Lycurgus: Non-Lycurgan Institutions' and Glossary of Spartan Terms.

8. prodikoi: Literally, defenders in legal proceedings.

9. Creophylus’: A legendary figure, variously made the follower, friend or even son-in-law of Homer.

10. differentiating labourers: Spartiates were distinguished by the fact that they were forbidden to practise any manual craft: see further Ch. 24 and Agesilaus, Ch. 26.

11. Gymnosophists: Literally ‘naked sophists‘: Indian philosophers and teachers.

12. Delphi… famous oracle: Delphi: The most celebrated Greek oracle, located in the sanctuary of Pythian Apollo; thus his priestess was called the ‘Pythia’. famous oracle: Quoted by Herodotus, The Histories, 1.65.

13. agora: Though commonly translated as ‘market-place’, in fact the agora in Greek communities had a wider function as the centre for most civic activities.

14. Elders… Plato: The twenty-eight Elders (gerontes, literally ‘old men’), together with the two kings, comprised the Gerousia. Its powers are explained further in Ch. 6 and the method of election to it in Ch. 26. Plato: The Laws, 691e (Penguin, 2004).

15. next perfect number after six: The point is that 6= 1 + 2 + 3, and 28 = 1 + 2 + 4 + 7 + 14.

16. rhetra: At the end of Ch. 13, Plutarch says that Lycurgus called his laws rhetras because they were divine oracles. But the word itself simply means a ‘saying' (as opposed to a ‘writing’) and so could be used of any Spartan enactment.

17. ‘After dedicating… power’: Almost everything about the rhetra and its supplement which Plutarch proceeds to quote here – the former often termed the ‘Great Rhetra' in modern discussions (see note 22) – has generated tremendous controversy. The manuscripts are defective and variant readings have been proposed for many words, especially in the last sentence of the Great Rhetra. All the same, there is general acceptance that a genuine archaic Spartan document in Doric Greek is being cited. Where Plutarch copied it from must remain unknown, although Aristotle's lost Constitution seems the most likely source.

18. phylai… obai: Very little more is known for certain about the organization of Spartiates into phylai (commonly translated ‘tribes’) and obai.

19. Apollo: Literally ‘to apellaze' is to celebrate a festival of Apollo.

20. Babyca and Cnacion…: The ‘present name' for Babyca has dropped out of Plutarch's text.

21. theatres: The size and design of Greek theatres made them obvious places to hold any large public meeting.

22. rhetras: In all likelihood the Great Rhetra embodies the resolution of a major crisis: the unique, and perhaps very novel, compromise achieved by it was to have a formative influence on the character of the Spartan state in the long term. The kings' sovereignty had presumably been under severe threat. Now this rhetra safeguarded their position, but at the cost of diminished authority. Thus the people, meeting in their assembly at regular intervals, gain the formal right to make the final decision on all matters of state. Political initiative, however, is skilfully reserved for the small Council of Elders (Gerousia) and the kings. They alone can lay business before the assembly (see further Agis, Ch. 11), and according to the supplement are even empowered to overrule any unacceptable decision by the assembly. Tyrtaeus, the Spartan poet of the mid seventh century, attributed this supplement at least to the action of the kings Polydorus and Theopompus, who probably reigned together at the beginning of the century. It is impossible to be sure how much earlier the Great Rhetra had been enacted – if, indeed, there was any interval at all. Plutarch's quotation probably derives from a longer poem by Tyrtaeus, which he called Eunomia.

23. ‘inflated and fervent’: The Laws, 692a.

24. Theopompus: Eurypontid king in the late eighth/early seventh centuries. For the ephorate – a magistracy which Plutarch significantly does not attribute to Lycurgus – see further Introduction, ‘Lycurgus: Non-Lycurgan Institutions’. At the end of Ch. 29, Plutarch repeats his point that the institution of the ephorate strengthened the Lycurgan constitution.

25. allocation of land: According to legend there had been an agreed allocation of territories by lot at the time of the original occupation of Messenia, the Argolid and Laconia.

26. 9,000: These totals have attracted suspicion in view of the coincidence that they just happen to be precisely double those proposed by Agis IV, king 244/3–241. By that period Spartan territory was roughly half what it had been in archaic times, because control of Messenia was lost after 369 (see Agis, Ch. 8).

27. medimni of barley: One medimnus is approximately 74 litres. Attempts to extrapolate from the figures here and in Ch. 12 the size and yield of a ‘Lycurgan' lot are fascinating, but historically unreliable. Note that barley was consumed, not wheat – as unappealing a choice to many in the ancient world as it would be today.

28. property… divided between themselves: It is entirely credible that at some early date there had been a redistribution of Spartan land – a demand commonly voiced in Greek states facing economic difficulties (Tyrtaeus alludes to such agitation at Sparta in his time). The details in Plutarch's account seem much less trustworthy, however. While it is true that the Spartiates did refer to themselves as homoioi (literally ‘equals' or ‘peers’), there can be no certainty that the respects in which they were thus ‘equal' had ever extended to landholding. In historical times it is plain that their wealth (and thus landed property) varied widely: they did not each own just a single lot of equal productivity, as later idealists liked to believe.

The argument has been put that, in addition to whatever ‘free market’ property each Spartiate could afford, he did still hold an inalienable lot assigned to him by the state, until a rhetra proposed by the ephor Epitadeus early in the fourth century (see Agis, Ch. 5) allowed this lot too to be disposed of freely, and thus opened the way to concentration of landholding among a few owners. However, even this subtle attempt to reconcile differences in our evidence remains unsatisfactory. Inequality in landholding had developed long before the early fourth century, and was definitely not prompted by any rhetra of Epitadeus, which is most probably a fiction designed to offer a (lame) explanation of what had become a crisis. Moreover it is hard to credit that in a state with as limited an administrative structure as Sparta there had long existed a ‘land bank’ for the assignment and reclamation of state-owned lots of land.

29. currency: Since there was no coinage in early Greece, this measure is an obvious anachronism. Plutarch's statement is accurate to the extent that the Spartan state did not issue coinage until the early third century. Instead, the official currency long continued to be iron spits. In archaic times these had been widely used throughout Greece, though thereafter coins took their place – except in economically less developed areas, where values are found expressed in terms of ‘spit drachmas’ or other objects as late as the fourth and third centuries. Remains of spits have been uncovered in excavations at Laconian sanctuaries, though there is no knowing whether these had been used as money, cult objects or cooking utensils. Coins minted elsewhere in fact came into use at Sparta too. For the value of a mina, compare Cleomenes, note 51.

30. luxury atrophied: Sweeping though the point may be, there is truth in it. While it can be shown that architecture and sculpture did continue to be appreciated at Sparta, without doubt many other art forms had gradually disappeared through lack of patronage by the end of the sixth century. Instead, wealthy Spartiates lavished their resources on such activities as breeding and racing horses, most notably abroad at the Olympic Games. See further Agesilaus, Ch. 20.

31. Plutus: God of wealth.

32. andreia: Literally ‘men's places’. Instead of the official Spartan term phiditia, Plutarch subsequently uses the more common syssitia (‘places to eat together’). For another instance of this practice, see note 52.

33. barley-meal… meat: All the provisions are local produce – the cheese being made from the milk of sheep or goats, not cows. Modern equivalents for the amounts cannot be offered with any certainty. However, the quantity of barley (a total of 12 medimni) over the year does seem modest by comparison with the 70 medimni which a Spartiate's lot was supposed to yield for himself alone, according to Ch. 8. fish or meat: A reflection of the fact that the ordinary diet of most ancient Greeks by no means always included either.

34. King Agis… fined him: Presumably the Eurypontid Agis II (king, 427–400) on his return from the battle of Mantinea in 418. Plutarch is probably more accurate when he repeats this story elsewhere and says that the fine was levied by the ephors.

35. join a mess: Although Plutarch is not concerned here to bring out its full significance, it is worth stressing that admission to full Spartiate status was contingent upon election to a mess, and that thereafter anyone who failed to furnish the required contributions forfeited his status. See in particular Aristotle, The Politics, 1271a (rev. edn, Penguin, 1992).

36. hollow ballot: Plutarch may well be thinking of the system in the Athenian courts where each juror was given two bronze ballots, one hollow and one solid – the former to vote for condemnation, the latter for acquittal.

37. black broth: Elsewhere Plutarch explains that this consisted of pork cooked in its own blood and seasoned with salt and vinegar.

38. writing… prohibition: It is clear from Ch. 6 that some rhetras might still attain written form. Presumably most did not; at least, laws were not displayed publicly at Sparta as they were in Athens. However, one treaty with an ally does survive inscribed on stone.

39. training: The sense of the Greek term used here (agoge) cannot be conveyed neatly in English. It denotes a mixture of upbringing and training, and is used of the Spartan system in particular.

40. education: Plutarch's inconsistent attitude towards education in this section remains unexplained.

41. Epaminondasa meal: Epaminondas: Famous Theban general who was responsible for Sparta's two great defeats at the battles of Leuctra (371) and Mantinea (362). See further Agesilaus, Ch. 27 onwards. no treason in such a meal: In other words, anybody content with such plain fare could have no wish to be extravagant and would thus prove incorruptible.

42. Leotychidas: Seventh-century Eurypontid king. Another version of this remark is attributed to Agesilaus (Sayings of Spartans, Agesilaus, no. 27).

43. saw him wounded: See Agesilaus, Ch. 26. The occasion of this incident is uncertain. Xenophon (A History of My Times, 5.4.58, Penguin, 1979) mentions that Agesilaus burst a blood vessel at Megara in 377, on his return from a campaign in which the Theban army reckoned itself to have performed well.

44. Aristotle: The Politics, 1269b.

45. sheltered upbringing… of any kind: Note the fragment of Heracleides Lembus, probably derived from Aristotle: ‘The women in Sparta are deprived of make-up, and they are not permitted to have their hair long or to wear gold.’

46. Gorgo: See Sayings of Spartan Women.

47. Plato: The Republic, 458d (Penguin, 2003).

48. Dercyllidas: Of the late fifth and early fourth centuries.

49. assigned… land: Such alleged assignment of a lot by the tribe at a child's birth, when he had not even begun the process of gaining full Spartiate status (through completion of the agoge and election to a mess), only deepens the mystery of Spartan land tenure. See also note 28.

50. Alcibiades: Distinguished fifth-century leader; see further Agesilaus, Ch. 3 and note 7.

51. Spartan girl: But presumably not of citizen status.

52. Troops: Literally ‘herds’. Plutarch uses the common Greek word agele, but inscriptions show that the official Spartan term was boua (‘herd of cattle’).

53. Squadron: The precise relationship of the Squadron (ile) to the Troop is unknown.

54. Trainer-in-Chief: Literally ‘boy-herdsman' (paidonomus).

55. boys' class: The class of boys (paides) in the agoge included all those aged between seven and eighteen. For the subsequent classes, see the next paragraph and Xenophon, Spartan Society, Chs. 2–4 and note 1.

56. ephebes: The general Greek term for youths in their late teens. For the Spartan equivalent, paidiskoi (the class above the paides), see Xenophon, Spartan Society, Ch. 3.

57. Artemis Orthia: British archaeologists early in the twentieth century excavated a shrine of Orthia, later assimilated to Artemis (hence Artemis Orthia), set up close to the west bank of the River Eurotas before 700. Much remains obscure about the character and purpose of the ritual. Authors of the Roman period (like Plutarch) mention a contemporary ceremony where youths were lashed at the altar. But for the classical period we hear from Xenophon (Spartan Society, Ch. 2) of boys running a gauntlet of whips to steal cheeses from the altar. There is no knowing whether the former endurance test, or initiation rite, represents a crude partial revival of the latter, or whether the two are completely distinct.

58. Agis retorted… our daggers': In Sayings of Spartans this remark is attributed to the Eurypontid Agis III, king 338–331.

59. hand is not raised: Notionally, therefore, games like boxing were banned. According to Sayings of Spartans, Lycurgus, no. 23, the aim was to prevent Spartiates acquiring the habit of crying off (by raising a hand) when in difficulties. In other words, any combat which a Spartiate entered was to be to the death.

60. HecataeusArchidamidas‘: Neither figure can be identified with certainty. But the former may be Hecataeus of Abdera or Teos, and the latter the Eurypontid King Archidamus IV of the early third century.

61. Demaratus: Eurypontid king, late sixth century-491.

62. Agis: In Sayings of Spartans, Agis son of Archidamus, no. 10, this remark is appropriately attributed to Agis II.

63. Pleistoanax: Agiad king, 458–446/5 and 427/6–408. (He was in exile in the intervening period.)

64. One Spartan: Plutarch, Agesilaus, Ch. 21, attributes the remark specifically to Agesilaus.

65. Ares: God of war.

66. tresantes: The Spartan term for men who had shown cowardice in battle or had surrendered to the enemy. They were liable to a wide range of social and legal disabilities: most serious among the latter was the partial loss of their citizen status. For details, see in particular Agesilaus, Ch. 30 and Xenophon, Spartan Society, Ch. 9.

67. Terpander and Pindar: Terpander: Musician and poet from Lesbos. He lived in Sparta in the mid seventh century. Pindar: Famous fifth-century lyric poet.

68. the Spartan poet: Alcman – in fact of uncertain origin, possibly a Laconian, possibly even an Asiatic non-Greek. He lived at Sparta in the second half of the seventh century.

69. phalanx: Battle formation of heavily armed soldiers standing several ranks deep.

70. Castor's Air: For Spartan devotion to the twin gods Castor and Pollux, see Sayings of Spartans, note 3.

71. amount mentioned earlier: See Ch. 8.

72. refusal to work: Early lawgivers were said to have made this an offence at Athens. It continued so in the fifth and fourth centuries, though precisely how the law was framed is unknown.

73. statue of Laughter: Note further in this connection Cleomenes, Ch.9.

74. Pedaritus: Spartan military governor (harmost) on Chios; killed in action there in 411.

75. Brasidas’: Distinguished commander in the early years of the Peloponnesian War, killed in 422. See also note 93.

76. red cloak: Part of the Spartiate's battle dress. See Xenophon, Spartan Society, Ch. 11.

77. died in labour: The latter exception represents an attempt to make sense of what is otherwise a confused section of text. Given our knowledge of the Spartan ideals that men should fight for Sparta and women produce fine children, it seems highly plausible and is supported by the evidence of some inscriptions.

78. abandon their grief: It is notable that this restrained commemoration of the dead was abandoned in the case of any king, for whom elaborate ceremonies were held. See Xenophon, Spartan Society, Ch. 15 and Herodotus, The Histories, 6.58–9.

79. Thucydides: The Peloponnesian War, 2.39 (Penguin, 1972).

80. Plato: For his description of the krypteia, see The Laws, 633b.

81. character was as follows: The sketch by Plutarch here represents the fullest surviving account of this institution. Revolting though it may be, there seems no good reason to doubt the outline. However, we are still left with no clue as to the scale of the operations or their frequency (does ‘periodically' denote some regular form of initiation for youths, for instance?).

82. History of the Peloponnesian War: 4.80. The context is the aftermath of the Athenian capture of Pylos and Sphacteria, where 292 Spartan troops, including about 120 Spartiates, had been taken prisoner, and the Spartan authorities were in a panic. This was their devious means of eliminating potential helot trouble-makers. Plutarch is no doubt writing from memory since, strictly, Thucydides has the helots themselves select the 2,000. Plutarch's implication that the krypteia eliminated them is his own conjecture.

83. unmixed wine: Normal Greek practice was to drink wine diluted with water.

84. penetrated Laconia: From 370 (following the Spartan defeat at Leuctra).

85. Spendon the Spartan: Otherwise unknown.

86. freedom… slave: We happen to know from a fragment elsewhere that this forceful phrasing must derive from Critias (see Introduction, ‘Lycurgus: Plutarch's Sources’).

87. dire threat to the city: There is no doubt that the severe earthquake of the mid 460s, which caused extensive damage to the city of Sparta and high casualties among its inhabitants, did prompt a great rebellion in which the Messenian helots were joined not only by some of the normally less troublesome Laconian ones, but also by two perioecic communities in Messenia. See Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 1.101–3, and Plutarch, Cimon, Chs. 16–17 (in The Rise and Fall of Athens, rev. edn, Penguin, forthcoming). It is less certain, however, whether Plutarch is right to suggest that after finally overcoming this rebellion the Spartans just became more brutal towards the helots. Instead they may have realized that there were also other, more diplomatic means of keeping this large, and by no means homogeneous, class in subjection. It is hardly remarkable that the Spartans themselves never drew attention to such alternative methods. But we may note the points that by the early fourth century thousands of ex-helots termed neodamodeis were loyally serving as free (though non-citizen) troops in Sparta's foreign campaigns, and that no further helot revolt is known until after Leuctra, despite a continuing fall in the number of Spartiates.

Predictably enough, the tradition that helots received harsh treatment is reflected in a fragment of the lost Messenian Affairs written during the third century (and thus after the liberation of Messenia) by Myron of Priene:

They impose on the helots every kind of insulting work which leads to total degradation. For they made it a requirement that each should wear a dogskin cap and be dressed in leather as well as receive a fixed number of lashes annually – without reference to any offence – so that they should never forget to behave like slaves. Moreover, if the physical well-being of any surpassed the usual appearance of slaves, they prescribed a death sentence and also a penalty for owners who failed to curb those putting on weight.

88. god: Apollo at Delphi.

89. Plato's description: Timaeus, 37c (Penguin, 1971).

90. Agis… Archidamus: Agis II: Eurypontid king, 427–400. Archidamas II: c. 469–427.

91. Lysander: The outstanding commander of the late fifth and early fourth centuries, who played a crucial role in the achievement of Sparta's eventual victory over Athens in the Peloponnesian War. See further Saying of Spartans and Plutarch's Life in The Rise and Fall of Athens.

92. undermining the laws: Plutarch returns to this theme in Agis, Chs. 3 and 5.

93. Gylippus and Brasidas: Both achieved outstanding success during the Peloponnesian War. Gylippus reached Syracuse when it was on the point of surrendering to its Athenian besiegers and then retrieved the situation so completely as to destroy the enemy (414–413). At an earlier stage Brasidas, by his liberation of Athens' subject allies in Chalcidice, undermined her successes elsewhere (424–422).

94. Lysander, Callicratidas and Agesilaus: See Sayings of Spartans attributed to each.

95. Stratonicus: A fourth-century Athenian noted for his witticisms.

96. Diogenes, Zeno: Respectively, the founders of Cynicism in the fourth century and Stoicism in the early third.

97. Euripides: The fifth-century Athenian tragedian.

98. Antiorus: Plutarch says nothing of Lycurgus' wife.


1. Archidamus… Agesilaus: Archidamus II died in 427, after a reign of over forty years; he married twice. His second son Agesilaus II was born around 445, king 400–360.

2. agoge: See Lycurgus, note 39.

3. Simonides: See Lycurgus, note 6.

4. Troops: See Lycurgus, note 52.

5. lover Lysander: See Lycurgus, Chs. 17–18 and note 91.

6. Archidamus was fined: Presumably on the occasion of his second marriage.

7. Agis'… Alcibiades: Agis II, son of Archidamus by his first marriage, succeeded his father in 427 and reigned until his death in 400. Alcibiades, the distinguished Athenian leader during the Peloponnesian War (see Lycurgus, Ch. 16), served as one of the three commanders of the forces sent to Sicily in 415, but when recalled to Athens shortly afterwards to stand trial for sacrilege he fled to Sparta. Plutarch offers a fuller account of his time at Sparta in Alcibiades, Chs. 23–4 (see The Rise and Fall of Athens, rev. edn, Penguin, forthcoming).

8. Duris: Ruler of Samos in the late fourth/early third centuries, and prolific writer of histories (all lost except for fragments), including one of his own island. Since Samos became Alcibiades' base not long after he fled from Sparta, he was a figure of special interest to Duris, who even claimed to be descended from him.

9. naval victory over the Athenians: At Aegospotami in 405: see Sayings of Spartans, Lysander, no. 5.

10. illegitimacy disqualified Leotychidas: For this episode, compare Xenophon, A History of My Times 3.3 (Penguin, 1979), and Plutarch, Lysander, Ch. 22 in The Rise and Fall of Athens.

11. Heracles: Claimed as the ancestor of all Spartan kings: see Lycurgus, Ch. 1.

12. Poseidon… earthquake: God of the sea, earthquakes and horses. For his famous shrine at Taenarum, see Agis, Ch. 16, and Cleomenes, Ch. 22. Spartan territory was notoriously earthquake-prone: see Lycurgus, Ch. 28 and note 87.

13. Lycurgus: Chs. 5–7.

14. ephors… fined him: By contrast, Xenophon (Agesilaus 6.8) claims that Agesilaus was never punished by his fellow citizens.

15. philosophers… stop: Such views were articulated especially by Heraclitus around the beginning of the fifth century, and (somewhat later) by Empedocles.

16. Sparta's lawgiver: Lcurus

17. ‘with fearsome words’: A well-known episode cited in Homer, Odyssey 8.75–77 (Penguin, 2003).

18. neodamodeis… dispatched Agesilaus: Helot volunteers who were granted their freedom and recruited into the army: see Lycurgus, note 87. Agesilaus was sent in 396.

19. Agamemnon… soothsayers: In legend, Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and commander of the Greek expedition against Troy, sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to Artemis at Aulis in order to gain a favourable wind for the fleet.

20. Boeotarchs: The eleven elected officials who led the league of cities in Boeotia (Thebes being the most prominent), and who particularly objected to Agesilaus promoting his expedition as a panhellenic initiative. This clash was to make Agesilaus an implacable enemy of Thebes.

21. proceeded as follows: For Plutarch's account of these events from Lysander's perspective, see Lysander, Chs. 23–4 (where Agesilaus is portrayed as envious and resentful

22. Pharnabazus': Persia's satrap of the region east and south of the Hellespont.

23. death on campaign: At Haliartus in 395.

24. Tissaphernes: Persia's satrap based at Sardis.

25. Xenophon… in battle: Xenophon's work The Persian Expedition (Penguin, 1967) records these exploits, which date to 401–399.

26. Caria… Phrygia: In other words, Agesilaus proceeded north towards the Hellespont, rather than southwards to Caria.

27. sacrificial… lack lobes: A bad omen.

28. exempting… service: See Homer, Iliad, 23.295 (Penguin, 2003).

29. next season… territory: In 395.

30. Great King's: Standard Greek term for the Persian king.

31. a dispatch: A skytale: see Glossary of Spartan Terms.

32. Megabates… turned away: Other versions of this story appear in Sayings of Spartans, Agesilaus, no. 15, and in Xenophon, Agesilaus 5.4–5. Although a kiss was a regular form of greeting among Persians, Agesilaus was evidently concerned that it might be misinterpreted by Greeks in this instance.

33. you ran away: Cowardice was, of course, a very damaging slur to level against any Spartiate: see Ch. 30.

34. guest-friend: This relationship (xenia) was a formal bond of trust, often hereditary, between men of equal or comparable social standing.

35. war against the Athenians: That is, during the latter years of the Peloponnesian War, which ended in 404.

36. boy-athlete… trouble: Xenophon (A History of My Times 4.1.40) sheds further light on this incident, which perhaps dates to the 380s. Evidently the boy's physique was considered too well developed to substantiate his claim that he was under eighteen and thus eligible to compete in the boys' race.

37. Hidrieus the Carian… Nicias: The former is presumably the well-known member of Caria's ruling family, although he did not become satrap until after Agesilaus' death. Nothing is known about Nicias' identity or origin.

38. Hieronymus the philosopher: A Rhodian by origin, he taught at Athens during the third century. Only fragments of his many works survive. He no doubt used this story in a discussion of the moral dilemmas generated by conflicting duties.

39. second year… command: In 394.

40. sacred precincts by himself: Agesilaus' purpose was to discount any allegation of dishonourable behaviour. The account of his practice in Sayings of Spartans, Agesilaus, no. 18, differs.

41. Timotheus': Celebrated lyre-player and poet of the late fifth/early fourth centuries, from Miletus.

42. Ecbatana and Susa: The faraway Persian royal capitals in Media and Elam respectively.

43. war in Greece: In 395 an alliance headed by Corinth, Argos, Boeoia and Athens went on the offensive to curb Sparta's dominance.

44. ‘Such… cruelty’: Line 764, spoken by Andromache, in Euripides' tragedy The Trojan Women (in Electra and Other Plays, Penguin, 1998).

45. Demaratus the Corinthian: A friend of Alexander the Great; his remark presumably dates to the 320s or thereabouts.

46. Alexander… Arcadia: Alexander is regarded as Macedonian here, rather than Greek. All the battlefields mentioned (both specific and general) were the scene of fighting between the 390s and 360s.

47. war at home: The Romans invaded North Africa in 203 after Hannibal had been campaigning in Italy less and less successfully for fifteen years; this was the point at which he was recalled to Carthage. See Livy, The War with Hannibal 30.20 (Penguin, 1964).

48. Antipater's battle: In 331, Antipater, Alexander's viceroy in Greece, ended a Spartan rising led by Agis III, king 338–331, at a battle near Megalopolis. See Sayings of Spartans, Astycratidas.

49. ‘leaving his task unfulfilled’: Homer, Iliad 4.175.

50. Erasistratus: An Athenian politician of the late fifth century.

51. Trochalians… Xerxes: Trochalians: Beyond what appears here, nothing further is known of these people or their location; there is even doubt about the correct form of their name. Xerxes: The Persian king who invaded Greece by land in 480. See Sayings of Spartans, Leonidas son of Anaxandridas, no. 22.

52. moras: Regiments. See Xenophon, Spartan Society, Ch. 11.

53. Peisander… Conon: Peisander: The Spartiate in command of the fleet. Conon: An Athenian naval commander in the Persian service.

54. a trophy erected long ago: In 447. See also Ch. 32

55. established… had won: When no clear winner emerged from a pitched battle, Greek custom awarded that distinction to whichever side held the field. Here the Thebans showed that they were in no position to contest the Spartans for it further.

56. the god: Apollo.

57. Aristodemus: According to tradition, a very early Spartan king. See Lycurgus, Ch. 1, and Spartan Kings to 222 BC.

58. Epaminondas’: See Lycurgus, note 41.

59. Cynisca… Olympic Games: In fact she won at the games of 396 – the first female owner ever to do so – and again at the next games in 392. A poem inscribed on stone at Olympia in honour of her success survives (see Pausanias, Guide to Greece, vol. 2 (Penguin, 1984), p. 286).

60. bring them up in Sparta: Twin sons of Xenophon evidently did receive at least part of their education at Sparta.

61. Lysander's death… assembly: In 395. Plutarch, Lysander, Chs. 24–6 gives an account of Agesilaus' schemes; note also Sayings of Spartans, Lysander, no. 14. Nothing more is known of Cleon.

62. father had been banished: Strictly speaking, King Pausanias fled after being sentenced to death for failing to avenge Lysander's defeat and death at Haliartus (see Ch. 8 and Agis, Ch. 3).

63. Lycurgus: Chs. 17–18.

64. the Long Walls: They joined Corinth to its port at Lechaeum.

65. while Teleutias… when Agesilaus appeared: These events date to 391, and Agesilaus appeared the following year. The bracketed words are supplied to fill a gap in the manuscripts.

66. contestcompeted: See Lycurgus, Ch. 14.

67. nightingale's song: In Lycurgus, Ch. 20, Plutarch records the remark as an anonymous illustration of pithy Spartan humour.

68. During his time on Corinthian territory: In 390.

69. Iphicrates: A talented Athenian commander. At least 250 men on the Spartan side were killed, although how many of these were Spartiates is unknown.

70. Next: In 389.

71. land all sown: For a community to lose its staple food supply for the next year was catastrophic.

72. negotiate with Tiribazus: Tissaphernes' successor as satrap at Sardis. The agreement reached (in 386) is often termed the ‘King's Peace’.

73. ‘medizing’… ‘laconizing’: In other words, the Spartans were not taking the Persian side, but the Persians the Spartan.

74. Boeotia become independent: Thebes dominated the league of Boeotian cities: see Chs. 6 and 28.

75. PhoebidasCadmeia: In 382 the Spartan commander Phoebidas was leading an army northwards to campaign in Thrace; when offered the opportunity by Archias and Leontiadas, two pro-Spartan leaders at Thebes, he seized the city's acropolis or citadel, the Cadmeia.

76. liberated their city: In 379. This important episode is narrated at length by Plutarch, Pelopidas, Chs. 7–13 (The Age of Alexander, rev. edn, Penguin, forthcoming), and is also the subject of his dialogue On Socrates' Personal Deity (in Essays, Penguin, 1992, pp. 308–58).

77. polemarchs in name: Chief magistrates (the same title is used at Sparta, but for a different post: see Glossary of Spartan Terms).

78. Agesipolis was dead: He succumbed to fever in 380.

79. military service: A Spartiate was liable for military service between the ages of twenty and sixty. Only on reaching the latter age did he become eligible for election as an Elder (see Lycurgus, Ch. 26).

80. Phlius: A strategically placed city in the northern Peloponnese, whose recent record as a member of Sparta's alliance had been a loyal one. It was ruled by a democracy, however, and Agesilaus was persuaded to install a group of exiled oligarchs instead.

81. seizing the Piraeus: Sphodrias attacked the port of Athens, 7 km from the city in 378.

82. CleonymusArchidamus: Cleonymus was probably a little under twenty, and Archidamus in his early twenties.

83. his children: We only hear of three: a son, Archidamus, and two daughters whose names Plutarch was proud to have discovered (Ch. 19).

84. rhetras: Spartan laws: see Lycurgus, note 16 and Ch. 13, where Antalcidas' remark is also quoted.

85. manual craft: See Lycurgus, Chs. 4 and 24.

86. back from Thebes: In 377, after campaigning in Boeotia for a second successive year.

87. Tegyra… a settlement: In 375 and 371, respectively.

88. Laconia… independent: Agesilaus was implying that Thebes' domination of its Boeotian allies should be brought to an end. Epaminondas in turn raised the even more shocking prospect of the perioecic communities in Laconia being released from Spartan control; as a result, Sparta would no longer be able to rely on their military support.

89. Prothous the Laconian: Nothing more is known of him or his status.

90. in front of the king: A place of honour: see Lycurgus Ch. 22.

91. Xenophon: Conversations of Socrates 1.1 (Penguin, 1990).

92. proud, cheerful mood: These attitudes are repeatedly reflected in Sayings of Spartan Women.

93. tresantes: See Lycurgus, Ch. 21 and note 66.

94. invaded Arcadia: In 370.

95. abandoned the rest. At this time: It is important to remember that there was no city-wall to give protection; see Map, p. 215. It was the winter of 370/69.

96. temple of Artemis: Said to be somewhere north of the acropolis in the Pitana quarter; see Map, p. 215.

97. happy life… state: Compare Lycurgus, Chs. 30–31.

98. tyrant… ‘Tearless Battle’: Dionysius I of Syracuse. In 368.

99. Thucydides: The Peloponnesian War 5.64–75 (Penguin, 1972); the battle occurred in 18.

100. city of Messene: In 370/69. See Introduction, ‘Agesilaus: Historical Introduction’.

101. The occasion… help: In 362.

102. beyond his years: Agesilaus would have been over eighty, an exceptional age by ancient standards.

103. the Egyptian Tachos: Pharaoh of Egypt, which had broken free of Persian rule about forty years before Agesilaus served there in 3 60. Strictly speaking, Tachos was now going on the offensive against the Great King rather than ‘rebelling’.

104. worldwide reputation: Compare Theopompus’ assessment cited in Ch. 10.

105. freedom of the Greeks: In Asia Minor.

106. papyrus: A marsh plant of the Nile delta that was put to many uses, in particular the production of the classical world's equivalent of paper.

107. they believe will advance Sparta: This is the viewpoint articulated by Agesilaus in Ch. 23.

108. war at home: No doubt he had in mind continued efforts to regain Messenia.

109. 230 talents: Compare the 1,000 talents which Agesilaus brought back from Asia Minor (Ch. 19).

110. died, aged eighty-four: In the winter of 360/59.

111. kings' bodies were brought home: Note in this connection Xenophon, Spartan Society, Ch. 15.

112. This Agis was the fifth in descent from Agesilaus: See Plutarch's Life of him. To be really precise, Agis was a fifth-generation descendant of Agesilaus, but the sixth king after him in the Eurypontid line.


1. Sophocles': The fifth-century Athenian tragedian, in a lost play.

2. Phocion… Antipater: Phocion: An Athenian (402–318) noted for his long service as general; Plutarch's Life of him appears in The Age of Alexander (rev. edn, Penguin, forthcoming). Antipater: Macedonian viceroy of Greece during Alexander the Great's absence in Persia.

3. Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus: Roman senators of the late second century, noted for their wide-ranging legislative proposals. See their Lives in Plutarch, Rome in Crisis (rev. edn, Penguin, forthcoming).

4. Megalopolis: Agis' death at this battle ended his anti-Macedonian rising (see Introduction, ‘Agis and Cleomenes: Historical Introduction’.

5. succeeded by… the Agis: For the succession of Spartan kings, see Spartan Kings to 222 BC.

6. exile… at Tegea: See Agesilaus, Ch. 20.

7. death: Around 255.

8. Leonidas… Seleucus: Nothing more is known of Leonidas' earlier career, beyond the allegations in Chs. 10 and 11. The Seleucid empire was one of the great ‘successor kingdoms' carved out at the end of the fourth century following Alexander the Great's death. Its centre was in Syria; individual regions were governed by satraps. The king served by Leonidas is most likely to have been Seleucus II, great-grandson of the Macedonian founder of the dynasty.

9. Athenian hegemony: In 404, with the conclusion of the Peloponnesian War.

10. to his son: This is completely wishful thinking, since Spartiate numbers fell at an alarming rate from the early fifth century onwards. Moreover, there is no sign that equality of landholdings between Spartiates had ever existed during historical times, and therhetra of Epitadeus is probably fiction. At the end of the chapter Plutarch is wrong to imagine that each Spartiate still held a ‘lot' of land. See further Lycurgus, Ch. 8 and note 28.

11. Lysander elected an ephor: The chronology is uncertain. Possibly Agis became king in late 244 or early 243, and Lysander was elected an ephor for 243/2.

12. messes of 400 and 200: Note the departure from the traditionally small, intimate size of mess (compare Lycurgus, Ch. 12).

13. ancestors: According to tradition, Lycurgus assigned equal landholdings to all Spartiates: see Ch. 9 and Lycurgus, Ch. 8.

14. discussed the matter with the citizens: Only informal consideration was possible, since no valid decision could be taken unless the business was duly proposed by the Gerousia. See further Ch. 11 and Lycurgus, Ch. 6.

15. oracle… Thalamae: Thalamae lies not far south of the Little Pamisus river which marked the border between Messenia and Laconia (see Map 3). Though nothing is known of the origin of the oracle or the development of its links with Sparta, it was already functioning by the fifth century. Those wishing to consult it slept in the sanctuary, and the goddess's response came to them in a dream: see further Cleomenes, Ch. 7.

16. Terpander, Thales and Pherecydes: Terpander: See Lycurgus, note 67. Thales: See Lycurgus, Ch. 4. Pherecydes: Sixth-century thinker and writer about religion and the natural world, born on Syros.

17. Ecprepes: Fifth-century ephor.

18. Timotheus: See Agesilaus, note 41.

19. preliminary approval: See Ch. 9 and note 14, and Lycurgus, Ch. 6.

20. majority of one: If the Gerousia comprised just the two kings and twenty-eight Elders, and all voted on the issue, this result is impossible. But it seems that the five ephors were also involved (see especially Chs. 8 and 12), so that the vote could have been 17–18. It is not clear whether the ephors had normally participated in meetings of the Gerousia in earlier periods, except when it sat as a court.

21. convicted by the omen: Even though this practice is otherwise unattested, and its use here sounds suspiciously convenient, it may genuinely have been ancient. A persuasive case has been made for its use in the deposition of the Eurypontid king Demaratus in 491.

22. newly installed ephors: For 242/1.

23. opposition… unlawful: Such a power is not known to have been invoked before, and gives every impression of having been fabricated for the occasion. On the development of the ephorate, see further Introduction, ‘Lycurgus: Non-Lycurgan Institutions’.

24. appointed others: Appointment of ephors by kings (here and in Ch. 18), as opposed to their election in the assembly, was, of course, irregular.

25. wrote to the ephors: Traditionally Sparta had been an implacable opponent of Macedon, and she is not said to have displayed any interest in allying with the Achaean League since its revival from 280 onwards. Thus the date and circumstances of the alliance to which Aratus appealed here are a puzzle. Agis' part in arranging it, if any, is unknown. It must have lapsed after his death.

26. Agesilaus… Lysander… Leonidas: For each of these commanders, see the Sayings attributed to them, and the Life of Agesilaus.

27. Baton of Sinope: An orator and prolific historical writer, possibly contemporary with these events. This is the only citation of him anywhere in Plutarch's works, and no further light can be shed on it. Sinope was a Greek city on the southern shore of the Black Sea.

28. dismissed his forces: Aratus’ reasons of deciding against a battle are unknown. But in part he may have been wary of offering Agis and his Spartans the opportunity to display their new prowess. Aratus later routed the Aetolian invaders at Pellene, north-west of Sicyon.

29. further term as ephor: This was unconstitutional.

30. shrine of Poseidon: At Taenarum, on the far south-western tip of Laconia. The shrine was especially famous for the asylum it offered to runaway helots.

31. put on trial: This aside is consistent with the fact that the Gerousia heard capital cases. The demand made near the end of the chapter for trial ‘in front of the citizens' was highly irregular.

32. CleombrotusTheopompusAristomenes: Cleombrotus was defeated and killed by the Thebans at Leuctra in 371 (see Agesilaus, Ch. 28). Plutarch phrases his point with care! King Leonidas' death at Thermopylae in 480 need not count because his opponents were Persians. Certainly in the century and more after Leuctra a succession of kings did die in battle – Archidamus III, Agis III, Areus I and Acrotatus (see Ch. 3) – although again their enemies were not always Greeks. Theopompus: See Lycurgus, note 24.Aristomenes: See Introduction, ‘Plutarch and Sparta’.


1. newborn infant: This was Eudamidas III (less probably Eurydamidas), who succeeded to the Agiad throne on his father's execution in 241, though of course in a purely formal capacity: no regent is known to have been appointed for him. It was his death which offered Cleomenes the opportunity of inviting back Agis' brother Archidamus V to occupy the Agiad throne: see Ch. 5. Pausanias (see Introduction, ‘Lycurgus: Plutarch's Sources’), claims that Eudamidas was poisoned by Cleomenes (2.9.1). Not least because other points in his account of Cleomenes' career are demonstrably inaccurate, the claim should be viewed with considerable scepticism.

2. Sphaerus from Olbia: See Introduction, ‘Lycurgus: Plutarch's Sources’. Olbia was a Greek city on the northern shore of the Black Sea.

3. Leonidas… Tyrtaeus': Respectively, the Agiad king, 491–480; and see Lycurgus, Ch. 6.

4. by then: About 235.

5. system of education: The agoge: see Lycurgus, note 39.

6. Aratus… and inexperienced: The Eleans were allied to the Aetolians. While Sparta's earlier alliance with the Achaeans had lapsed, the main impetus for hostilities against her came not from Aratus but from Lydiadas and Aristomachus, former tyrants of Megalopolis and Argos respectively, who had relinquished their positions and joined their cities to the Achaeans – the former in 235 (see Ch. 6), the latter in 229/8. In 229 a Spartan force led by Cleomenes had taken over the Arcadian cities of Tegea, Mantinea, Orchomenus and Caphyae, possibly at their own request; they had previously been remote allies of the Aetolians. If Aratus’ ‘testing' of the Spartans really did go back to the death of Leonidas and the accession of Cleomenes, we are ignorant of how it proceeded until 229.

7. Caphyae… again: Following Cleomenes' seizure of the shrine near Belbina, the Achaeans formally declared war on Sparta late in 229 or early in 228. Aratus’ capture of Caphyae must occur before May 228, when his term as general ends. He is succeeded by Aristomachus.

8. Aratus… moved off: Methydrium was an Arcadian town belonging to Megalopolis. Pallantium lies just west of Tegea. The figure for the Achaean force here sounds inflated. Aratus’ caution may reflect a reluctance to see the Achaean breach with Sparta deepen further, as well as a concern not to upset Ptolemy III, who was a friend and supporter of both the Achaeans and Sparta.

9. advance… this rout: These events occurred in the first half of 227, when Aratus was re-elected general of the Achaeans from May. Mount Lycaeum is in Arcadia.

10. other royal house: It was the death of Agis' son, the boy Agiad king Eudamidas III (see note 1), which offered Cleomenes the opportunity to invite back Archidamus.

11. forced Cleomenes' hand: Polybius (The Rise of the Roman Empire, 5.37, Penguin, 1979) states flatly that Cleomenes ordered Archidamus' execution. According to him, Cleomenes' chief intermediary in the negotiations which led to Archidamus' return was Nicagoras, on whom see further Ch. 35.

12. town walls: More operations of 227. Leuctra was a fort about ten kilometres south of Megalopolis.

13. Tarentines and Cretans: Names given to troops of mercenaries – light cavalry and archers respectively – who did not necessarily come from Tarentum or Crete.

14. sanctuary of Pasiphaë: See Agis, Ch. 9 and note 15.

15. captured Heraea… long marches: This campaign and the subsequent coup both occurred late in 227. Heraea was a city in the west of Arcadia, near the frontier with Elis. Asea, or Alea, are possible emendations of a name garbled in the manuscripts, but Plutarch is probably referring to somewhere in the vicinity of Orchomenus, to which Aratus had laid siege after his capture of Mantinea (Ch. 5). Orchomenus in fact fell to him early in 226. Cleomenes' stepfather Megistonous was among those taken prisoner; he was later ransomed.

16. mothakes: The significance of the term is not altogether clear. As here, it certainly denotes men who had passed through the agoge alongside those of unblemished Spartiate birth, and it may also be a general term for all such men. However, even after a successful passage, not all were eligible to become full Spartiates, though some mothakes did. This should indicate that they were born of Spartiate parents – who in all probability had come to be degraded.

17. been well said: By the early epic poet Stasinus of Cyprus.

18. ‘I respect… their leaders’: Respectively, Helen addressing Priam in Homer, Iliad, 3.172 (Penguin, 2003) and Iliad, 4.431.

19. developed a magistracy: See further Lycurgus, Ch. 7 and Introduction, ‘Lycurgus: Non-Lycurgan Institutions’.

20. king… goes to them: Compare Sayings of Spartans, under Anaxilas.

21. King Charillus: See Lycurgus, Chs. 3 and 5, where he is called Charilaus.

22. Aetolians and Illyrians: See Chs. 18 and 27.

23. a sarissa… arm-strap: The change to Macedonian styles of equipment and fighting as late as the 220s shows how conservative Sparta had been in this regard – perhaps partly due to lack of means. But in fact the Boeotians had not made the same change until the mid third century, and the Achaeans were only to do so well after Sparta. The Greek heavy infantryman wore a large shield on his left arm and carried a spear in his right. His counterpart in the Macedonian army was armed with a sarissa, a massive tapered pike up to 6.5 metres in length, which had to be gripped with both hands. While he did still carry a shield, it needed to be small enough not to obstruct his manipulation of the sarissa, and in battle was evidently either held in position on the left forearm by means of a loop, or was just slung over the shoulder and ignored.

24. invaded… Megalopolis: In 226.

25. minas: For the value of this amount, compare Ch. 23 and note 51, and Lycurgus, Ch. 9.

26. two cotylae: Just over half a litre.

27. abandoned the area: The account of Cleomenes' operations in 226 is resumed. Hyperbatas was general of the Achaeans from May of that year. Pharae was one of the oldest members of the League. Cleomenes was now determined to shake the League to its foundations, and at the same time impress the Eleans (with their considerable military strength) to abandon the Aetolians and ally with Sparta.

28. Dymae: Another founder member of the Achaean League. Little is known of the Hecatombaeum, which was a shrine near the town.

29. Lasium: This (rather than Langon) is the most likely reading of another uncertain name: it was a fort on the border between Achaea and Elis.

30. relinquishing his own authority: Aratus declined to stand for the generalship of 225/4. His motive may have been not so much dismay at the League's difficulties (as Plutarch suggests), but a wish to leave himself free to pursue approaches to Antigonus III of Macedon.

31. leadership be handed to him: Achaean negotiations with Cleomenes had begun during the winter of 226/5. The ‘leadership' which he might gain was an honorary office (previously voted to Ptolemy III in 243), not a permanent active generalship (which the League's constitution did not allow for).

32. thirty-three years: Since his career only began with his liberation of Sicyon in 251, the claim that by 225/4 he had occupied the leading position for thirty-three years remains a puzzle.

33. filled the Peloponnese with Macedonians: Aratus is in fact known to have authorized approaches to Macedon as far back as the winter of 227/6. Though well aware of how controversial this policy was, his main concern was to preserve the Achaean League (and his own influence within it) rather than accept outright subjugation to Sparta, possibly to be accompanied by revolutionary social measures. Though by no means all League members agreed, he calculated that a distant Macedonian overlord would prove preferable to Cleomenes. He also knew that the League's disintegration had prompted Ptolemy III to cease supporting it and to subsidize Sparta instead.

34. liberated Acrocorinth: The fortress on top of the mountain which rises sheer to the south of Corinth, a vital strongpoint for domination of the Peloponnese. Aratus liberated it from the Macedonians in 243.

35. free… from Macedonians: With Aratus’ assistance the Athenians negotiated the departure of the Macedonian garrison from their port of Piraeus in 229.

36. right into its women's quarters: Aratus’ daughter-in-law was later seduced by the Macedonian king Philip V.

37. Sicyonians and Tritaeans: Sicyon was Aratus’ own city; Tritaea is cited as a typical ordinary member state.

38. Achaeans had arrived: Summer 225.

39. outside the city: Probably beyond the south-east gate.

40. Aegium: The usual meeting-place of the League assembly.

41. Penteleium: A fortress close to Pheneus.

42. Nemean Games: A panhellenic festival similar in character to the Olympic Games, held in alternate years. This celebration was in July 225. Note that Cleomenes broke the usual sacred truce (compare Lycurgus, Ch. 1 and note 1).

43. near the Aspis: At Argos there were two hills fortified as citadels – the Larisa on the western edge of the city and the smaller Aspis on the north-eastern edge. However, not least because the theatre is closer to the Larisa, it has been argued that it is really this citadel which Plutarch means to refer to here and in Ch. 21.

44. Pyrrhus: King of Epirus, who died thus in 272. See Plutarch, Pyrrhus, Chs. 31–4 (in The Age of Alexander, rev. edn, Penguin, forthcoming).

45. Solon: Famous for his reforms at Athens in the early sixth century. Plutarch's Life of him appears in The Rise and Fall of Athens (rev. edn, Penguin, forthcoming).

46. this was the occasion: Both the date and the occasion are uncertain, but it may be 241 after the death of Agis and the abandonment of his reforms – reflecting how Sparta was once again militarily weak. Many of the slaves captured must have belonged toperioeci; even so, the figure of 50,000 sounds exaggerated.

47. Corinth: The total of five cities mentioned here and in the previous paragraph as coming over to Cleomenes from the Achaeans all did so during the summer of 225: these gains drove a wedge through League territory. In addition to blockading Acrocorinth, Cleomenes made Aratus virtually a prisoner in his own city for three months. By then he must have been aware that negotiations between Antigonus and Achaean envoys were at an advanced stage, and this accounts for his desperation to achieve an accommodation with Aratus. However, when the League assembly met in the spring of 224, Aratus did gain assent to the Macedonian terms, as Plutarch records, though by then Antigonus was in any case moving south with his army.

48. the rebellion: This revolt – a decisive turning-point for Cleomenes – cannot be dated securely, but is most likely to have occurred in the latter months of 224.

49. the second watch of the night: Around midnight.

50. Once Antigonus: The events in this chapter occurred in 223.

51. talents: From the figures, we can deduce that there were as many as 6,000 helots sufficiently wealthy and eager to take up Cleomenes' offer. One Attic mina weighed about 430 grams (of silver, in this instance), and sixty minas made up a talent.

52. ‘White Shields’: His crack troops.

53. Rhoeteium… Helissous: The names are again uncertain: Zoitium and Helicous are also possibilities.

54. was in the city: Though Plutarch does not mention it, this successful assault on Megalopolis in fact followed an abortive one three months earlier.

55. separate account of him: Life of Philopoemen, Ch. 5 (in The Rise of Rome, rev. edn, Penguin, forthcoming).

56. council at Aegium: Autumn 223.

57. winter quarters: These were mostly in Macedon itself.

58. invaded… Argos: Spring 222.

59. Heraeum: The famous sanctuary of Hera, about eight kilometres north of the city of Argos.

60. Demades: Athenian politician active in the second half of the fourth century. The exact wording of his remark is uncertain, but the point is presumably that any expedition must be adequately prepared.

61. Archidamus of old: Eurypontid king, c. 469–427. The Peloponnesian War began in 431.

62. an engagement: Polybius, The Rise of the Roman Empire, 2.63, cites Phylarchus for the point that just ten days before the battle Cleomenes learned of Ptolemy's decision to withdraw subsidies and to urge peace with Antigonus.

63. ready for battle: This was fought at Sellasia, about fourteen kilometres north of Sparta, in mid 222. Plutarch wrote another description of the battle in his Life of Philopoemen, Ch. 6.

64. krypteia: See Lycurgus, Ch. 28.

65. stades: One stade is a little under 200 metres.

66. Gytheum: Sparta's port, forty-five kilometres to the south.

67. restored both her laws and her constitution: The scope of this ‘restoration' remains obscure. Antigonus certainly reversed Cleomenes' political changes: the ephorate was restored, while the kingship was left vacant. Whether he also cancelled the social and economic reforms is disputed.

68. victory… barbarians: Antigonus defeated the Illyrians late in 222, and probably died early the following year.

69. Cyrene: A major city under Egyptian control, close to the coast in present-day Libya.

70. Ptolemy's: The reign of Ptolemy III (nicknamed Euergetes or ‘Benefactor’) dated back to 246. He was ruler of another of the Macedonian ‘successor kingdoms' carved out following the death of Alexander the Great (compare Agis, note 8, for the Seleucids); Egypt, with its capital Alexandria, was its centre.

71. the king: Ptolemy IV Philopator (aged just over twenty) succeeded his father Ptolemy III Euergetes in February 221 after the latter had been murdered at the instigation of his senior adviser Sosibius.

72. Apis: The bull which was the object of an official cult at Memphis in Egypt. When the sacred bull died it was mummified and entombed, and a successor chosen.

73. Continued… fighting: Homer, Iliad, 1.491–2.

74. Nicagoras: See note 11.

75. Cybele: The great mother-goddess of Anatolia, popular in the Greek world from the fifth century. A state of ecstasy was characteristic of her worship.

76. Canopus: Twenty-five kilometres east of Alexandria, and linked to it by canal. The city was the site of a temple of Sarapis, as well as being a popular resort. It gave its name to one of the three principal mouths of the River Nile.

77. kingsixteen years: Thus if his accession is correctly dated to 235, his death occurred in 219.


1. “whate'er… a nod of the head”: A reference to Homer, Iliad, 1.527 (Penguin, 2003).

2. in line to become king: There must be confusion here, since Agesilaus only became king following the death of his elder half-brother Agis II and a dispute over the succession. Thus he had passed through the agoge in the normal way: exceptionally this wasnotrequired of an heir apparent. See Agesilaus, Chs. 1–3.

3. two gods: The divine twins, Castor and Pollux. In myth they were the sons of the king of Lacedaemon, Tyndareus, and his successors as joint kings. Thus the twins had a special link with the royal houses and in general were greatly revered at Sparta.

4. Thasians': The correct proper name has been garbled irrecoverably in the manuscripts. Agesilaus, Ch. 36, relates no. 24 here in the context of Agesilaus' service in Egypt as a mercenary commander (360).

5. cowards… distinguished: Presumably the eager advance of the brave will contrast with the nervous shuffling of the cowards.

6. recalled him: In 394.

7. letter: The Greek text uses the Doric dialect throughout for the sake of ‘authenticity’.

8. moras: Regiments. See Xenophon, Spartan Society, Ch. 11.

9. Xenophon: For the Athenian Xenophon, see further in general Introduction to Appendix; for his participation in the battle (in 394), see Agesilaus, Ch. 18.

10. loss of status: See Lycurgus, Ch. 21. The battle occurred in 371.

11. battle near Mantinea: According to Xenophon (A History of My Times, 7.5.10, Penguin, 1979), Agesilaus was not present, but remained at Sparta. Plutarch, in Agesilaus, Ch. 35, gives him no part in the battle either.

12. call from… Egyptians: In 360. See further Agesilaus, Chs. 36–40.

13. demolished Olynthus in a few days: Since this occurred in 348, the reference must be anachronistic. Confusion with Agesipolis' brother and successor, Cleomenes, seems the most likely explanation.

14. Philip… inaccessible to them: The fact that Philip's rule (over Macedon) dates from 359 to 336 indicates confusion over the attribution of these remarks. They are more likely to have been made by Agis the Younger.

15. Demades: An Athenian politician. See Cleomenes, note 60.

16. Agis the last Spartan king: Presumably ‘the last Spartan king of that name' is meant.

17. ‘They take many days… open’: Anaxandridas' explanations are consistent with fragments of what is probably Theophrastus' lost Laws of the fourth century, in which recommendations are made that cases should be ‘heard for a number of days, as at Sparta’, and that ‘when some (judges) have heard and questioned (a defendant), even if he is acquitted he ought to be made subject to examination again in some sanctioned manner, as at Sparta’. The Agiad king Pausanias was made to suffer in just this way: after being narrowly acquitted of undue leniency towards the democrats at Athens in 403, he was charged with the same offence again in 395.

18. kings… ‘overseers’: For the relationship of kings and ephors, see further Cleomenes, Ch. 10.

19. wounded… Thebans: See Lycurgus, note 43.

20. Dionysiusdisreputable to me: Another example of anachronism, since Dionysius only seized power in 405. The same story is told of Lysander (no. 1).

21. battle of Chaeronea: This defeat of the Athenians and Thebans in 338 secured Macedonian domination of Greece. Archidamus was in fact in southern Italy at the time, where he met his death in battle against the Messapii at Mandorium (Plutarch, Agis, Ch. 3) – on the very same day as the battle of Chaeronea, in one version of the story.

22. battle against the Arcadians: The so-called ‘Tearless Battle' of 368. See Agesilaus, Ch. 33.

23. Peloponnesian War… amounts': Anachronism. Since the Peloponnesian War dates to 431–404, the remark is more plausibly attributed to Archidamus, son of Zeuxidamus (see Cleomenes, Ch. 27).

24. ‘While a sheep… object’: Another anachronism. This saying should be attributed to Agis the Younger, who led the abortive revolt against Macedon mentioned in the next saying.

25. ANAXIBIUS: This saying has probably slipped to this position through confusion over the name; the manuscripts read ‘Bias' or ‘Bios’. For the same story told by Xenophon of a commander named thus, see A History of My Times, 4.8.37–8 (about 390).

26. he wrote: In Doric dialect.

27. Dercyllidasto us’: For the appeal of King Areus' exiled uncle Cleonymus, which led to Pyrrhus' invasion in 272, see Plutarch, Pyrrhus, Ch. 26 (in The Age of Alexander (rev. edn, Penguin, forthcoming). This remark is made there by Mandrocleidas. Its attribution to Dercyllidas here suggests some confusion with the distinguished general of the late fifth and early fourth centuries (see Lycurgus, Ch. 15).

28. King's parasite: A man maintained by the Great King as jester and flatterer.

29. Xenocrates: Philosopher, head of Plato's Academy, 339–314.

30. all exiles except Thebans: 324. Thebans were made an exception because of their city's resistance to Macedonian domination, which had resulted in its destruction by Alexander in 335.

31. Thermopylae: The battle here against Xerxes occurred in 480.

32. Hesiod: From Boeotia, active c. 700. Farming is the topic of his Works and Days (in Hesiod and Theognis, Penguin, 1973).

33. envoys from Samos… Polycrates: The occasion is possibly anachronistic since Polycrates was assassinated by the Persians in about 522. Alternatively, some confusion may have arisen with the incident in no. 16.

34. previous defeat… substituting one syllable: The occasion is obscure. Sparta defeated Argos in the mid sixth century, and again (under Cleomenes) in about 494. substituting one syllable: That is, in English, ‘retrieve' for ‘repeat’. In Greek, where the change happens to be more awkward, ‘adding two syllables' is required.

35. Maeandrius… fled to Sparta: About 516.

36. Demaratus’: Leotychidas' distant cousin: his deposition in 491 gave Leotychidas the kingship.

37. a dispatch: A skytale. See Glossary of Spartan Terms.

38. hand is not raised… difficulties’: Compare Lycurgus, note 59.

39. sent as envoy: About 401, if there was any such visit in fact.

40. Aegospotami: 405.

41. punished for slandering: The point is that Nicander was ravaging Argos at the time.

42. Delians: Inhabitants of the small Aegean island of Delos, sacred to the god Apollo, who had a shrine there.

43. Tyrtaeus a citizen: According to some stories he was not Spartan by origin, but from Athens or another city.

44. Plataea: 479.

45. into exile: Pausanias was deposed mainly for the inadequacy of his generalship against the Thebans in 395.

46. doctor a general: The point must be that treatment by him would kill off the enemy.

47. the first kings: The Agiads were named after the second king of their line (Agis), and the Eurypontids after the third of theirs (Eurypon). See Lycurgus, Ch. 2.

48. Battle of the Three Hundred: There seems to be confusion here with the mid-sixth-century battle where, according to Herodotus (The Histories, 1.82, Penguin, 2003), after a fight between 300 men on each side, only two Argives and one Spartan remained alive. Subsequent argument over which side should be considered victorious led to a further battle, which Sparta won.

49. PHOEBIDAS: The name seems either a mistake or anachronistic, since the only known Phoebidas was killed in 378, seven years before the battle of Leuctra. See Agesilaus, Chs. 23–4.


1. Brasidas… death: 422.

2. war… support of the Ionians: 500.

3. Perhaps best identified as mother of the Agiad king, Areus I. Although he had campaigned in Crete, his son Acrotatus was actually killed in battle near Megalopolis (Agis, Ch. 3).

4. wrote to him: In Doric dialect.

5. this message: In Doric dialect. For Pedaritus, see Sayings of Spartans.

6. either with this or on this’: Most naturally taken as instructions for his return – either alive and victorious carrying his shield, or lying dead upon it after a fight to the finish. In fact most Spartans killed abroad were buried on the spot: compare no. 20 andAgesilaus, Ch. 40.

7. 27: This saying and the following ones all relate to the sale of Spartan women as slaves.


1. account of the education: This chapter and the two following in fact set out the three main stages of training for males of the Spartiate class: that of the boys (paides), aged 7 to 18, in Ch. 2; the youths (paidiskoi, equivalent to ephebes elsewhere in Greece), aged 18–19, in Ch. 3; and the young adults (hebontes), aged 20 to 29, in Ch. 4.

2. Trainer-in-Chief: Compare Plutarch, Lycurgus, Ch. 17 and note 54.

3. cheesas… prestige: Compare Plutarch, Lycurgus, note 57.

4. Squadron: See Lycurgus, note 53.

5. bashful than the ‘little girl' in the eye: A play on the double meaning of parthenos – (bashful) little girl and pupil (of the eye). In English the latter word derives from the Latin pupilla, which has exactly the same double meaning as the Greek parthenos.

6. Hippagretae… picks 100 men: The men thus chosen composed the crack army unit termed the ‘Three Hundred' or Hippeis. For the selection process compare Plutarch, Lycurgus, Ch. 25. It is open to question whether the Hippagretae in fact chose more than replacements for men no longer available to serve.

7. ephorate: For this annually elected board of five magistrates, see Introduction, ‘Lycurgus: Non-Lycurgan Institutions’.

8. the god: Pythian Apollo. Compare Plutarch, Lycurgus, note 12.

9. Gerousia: On this council, see further Plutarch, Lycurgus, Chs. 5 and 26.

10. Equals: Homoioi in Greek – the term by which the full citizens, the Spartiates, referred to themselves.

11. mora… enomotarchs: The six polemarchs were the senior army officers, immediately subordinate to the king as commander. It is hard to elucidate the remarks made about the various other officers, since the size and precise relationship to one another of the units mentioned both here and later are obscure; in all likelihood, too, there were changes in the army's organization over the centuries. For concise, balanced discussion of these military matters, see N. Sekunda, The Spartan Army (1998), especially pp. 13–18.

12. required of them: The text is corrupted irrecoverably at this point.

13. phalanxes: The battle formations of heavy infantry.

14. front to the left: The arrangement must be for the leading enomotia to halt, and then for each following one to move up level with it and left of the enomotia ahead.

15. commander… the left: It was normal for a commander to be on the right.

16. protected side: That is, the hoplite's left arm, protected by his shield: his right arm, in which he held a weapon, was exposed.

17. trireme: The classical Greek warship with three banks of oars (as the name indicates). In battle the main objective was to ram enemy ships with the prow.

18. Sciritae: A distinct corps of men named after Sciritis, the rough hill-country on the northern edge of Laconia.

19. the practices… identical purpose: Precautions of the type mentioned by Xenophon are also reflected in a fragment of Critias' lost Constitution of the Spartans (see Introduction, ‘Lycurgus: Plutarch's Sources’):

Out of mistrust for these helots a Spartiate at home removes the handle from his shield. On campaign the frequent need for quick action makes it impossible for him to do this; instead he always carries his spear about with him, in the conviction that this way he will get the better of a helot who might attempt a rising with just a shield. They have devised locks too, which they believe have the strength to withstand a helot plot.

20. ‘Volunteers’: Never mentioned elsewhere; their role and status remain unknown.

21. groomed… appearance: Whether or not some words have dropped out here is a matter of debate.

22. Hellanodicae: Nothing further is known of these judicial officers.

23. 14: For the placement of Chs. 14 and 15, see Introduction to Appendix.

24. But now… Spartan rule: This looks a tempting clue from which to date the postscript, but it remains too vague.

25. Pythii: When required they went as official envoys to the oracle of the ‘Pythian' god Apollo at Delphi. See Herodotus, The Histories, 6.57 (Penguin, 2003).

26. special honour… heroes: For the elaborate ceremonies on the death of a king, see Herodotus, The Histories, 6.58–9.

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