Ancient Hoplites

Ancient Hoplites

Monday, October 15, 2018

Scorned Honors - An Excerpt from "The Olympic Charioteer"


In this excerpt from The Olympic Charioteer, the Tegean aristocrat and horse-breeder, Antyllus, announces to his slave Philip that the latter is to have the honor of driving his team at the next Olympics. Philip is a comparatively new purchase, a quarry slave who was in very poor condition when Antyllus acquired him.  He has displayed an astonishing aptitude for handling horses, however, due to his barbarian background -- or so Antyllus thinks.

 
“You don’t expect me to drive this team in competition, do you?” Philip asked.

“Of course. What do you think we’ve been training for?”

Philip did not have a ready answer to that, but after a moment he said, “We’re training your team for the Olympics, but you’ll hire a driver for the competition.”

“Why should I have a hired driver, when I can have you?”

“Because I won’t drive your team at Olympia.” The insolence was back in his voice for the first time in months ― for the first time since he’d started training.

“What’s the matter with you?” Antyllus stared at Philip, flabbergasted. It was not his tone of voice alone that astonished Antyllus, but that the gifted driver would refuse the most coveted athletic prize ― a chance to compete at Olympia.

“I won’t drive your team at Olympia or in any competition,” Philip insisted stubbornly.

“I’m offering you an honor that no Greek would dream of turning down! Do you know how many young men throughout Hellas dream of nothing else but an opportunity like this? It is an honor, Philip!”

“I know it’s an honor.”

“Then what is it?” Antyllus was getting exasperated.

“I can’t.” Philip declared definitively.

“Of course you can!” Antyllus countered. He had never imagined that this insolent, self-assured young man would have self-doubts. It seemed utterly out of character, and he tried to reassure him. “We have a good eight months to strain still. By the time you go to Olympia, you’ll be the finest driver in all Hellas!”

Philip’s lips twitched. “Maybe, but that doesn’t change things.”

“Have you gone mad? I’m offering you the chance to drive in an Olympic event! By all the Gods, I’m offering you more than that! I’m offering you the chance to win an Olympic event. Not even the Gods would turn down such a chance!”

“The victory in equestrian events goes to the owner, not the rider or driver,” Philip observed dryly.

“So what? You’re the one who’ll have the thrill of the race itself.” Antyllus told him, suddenly aware of how much he envied the young man. “You’re the one who will see the finish line ahead of you ― and no other chariot between you and it. You’re the one they’ll cheer.” Antyllus spoke with open envy. “You have no idea what an ecstatic sensation that is ― galloping down the home stretch past thousands of shouting, waving, cheering men with an Olympic victory coming nearer with each thundering hoofbeat!”

“YES I DO!” Philip shouted at him.

Stunned silence. They stared at each other.

Philip was so flushed, he looked as if he’d just run the course on foot. “You were there,” he whispered.

“When?”

“At the last Olympics.”

“Yes. So what? I lost.”

“Don’t you remember who won?”

“How could I forget! Teleklos, son of Apollonides.”

“Who was driving his team?”

“His son, Ly ― Ly ― Lysander.”

“Lysandridas.”

“Yes, that’s right, Lysandridas, who was killed just afterward. That’s why Teleklos lost at the Pythian Games. He had a different driver, I think it was his nephew―”

“Teleklos was at the Pythian Games?” Philip asked, and his face was now drained of blood. The anger and arrogance of just a moment ago were gone so abruptly that Antyllus was beginning to think he had imagined it.

“Yes, as I said, with the same team but a different driver. Lysandridas had got his wish and been selected for the Spartan Guard. He was killed defending his King against our cavalry.”

Philip was shaking his head, his eyes opaque and blind, the color of molten lead under the livid scar.

“What is it?” Antyllus demanded, vaguely alarmed. Things were happening too fast. First, the slave was stubborn and arrogant, then he was angry, now he looked as if he would be sick any second.

“Not killed ― wounded, captured, enslaved.”

Antyllus stared at him. “But ― Sparta ransomed all the captives.”

“No. The families ransomed the captives. My family didn’t.”

“That can’t be.” Antyllus stared at the slave but felt dizzy. He turned and stumbled back toward the house. He could picture the end of that Olympic race all too clearly: his own team trailing by two lengths despite the whip cracking over their heads.  His heart had fallen gently but steadily, with each thundering stride, as he realized it was absolutely hopeless. They were defeated. Fairly and soundly. And then he had been utterly alone as he stood among the cheering crowds gone wild for a charioteer who had scorned 1,000 drachmae for this moment. He remembered, too, the victory celebration: Teleklos pulling his son into the circle of revelers, placing his arm over his shoulders, crowning him with the victor’s wreath, saying, again and again, it was his son’s victory, Lysandridas’ victory, not his own. He remembered Polycritus sneering at the young man with a contemptuous wave at his crown of olives and his ribbons. “They won’t buy you even a pair of sandals when you’re old and crippled. What good is an Olympic victory to the likes of you?”

“It means I’ll stand in front of my king in battle,” Lysandridas had tossed back.

Antyllus walked blindly across the slaves’ courtyard, tripping on the cobbles, stumbling over his own feet. The images were clear ― so clear that he could not grasp how he had failed to recognize him despite his scars.  Then again, Antyllus pictured the slave he had purchased, his head shaved, his body wasted away to practically nothing. He had nothing in common with the Olympic charioteer in peak physical condition. He had been magnificent. There had not been a scar on his body anywhere. Certainly not the ugly scars marring his forehead or mutilating his thigh.

Trampled! He had been trampled! When the Tegean cavalry broke the Spartan phalanx, they had trampled down half the Spartan Guard. The Guard had flung themselves forward against the horses to give their King a chance to escape! They had killed Phaedolos. They had stabbed him eight times.

And Lysandridas’ father had not ransomed him.  No wonder Lysandridas had tried to kill himself! But how could his father have left the son who had given him an Olympic victory in slavery? Antyllus couldn’t grasp it. He couldn’t imagine it. How could any father let a son ― no matter how disobedient or apparently worthless ― languish in slavery?

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The World's First Non-Agression Pact

Despite the undoubted effectiveness of Sparta's professional army, its foreign policy relied on diplomacy as much as the force of arms to solve its differences with neighboring city-states.  In fact, the Spartans demonstrated an acute appreciation of the limits of their power and of their vulnerability, which in turn gave rise to a cautious foreign policy that relied heavily on effective diplomacy. Among other astonishing accomplishments, Sparta produced the first known permanent alliance system in history, comparable to NATO: the Peloponnesian League. It all began with Tegea...


Herodotus records that sometime before the Persian invasion and probably in the mid-6th Century BC as we reckon time, the Spartans became restless and wanted to conquer their northern neighbors in Arkadia. As the Spartans were wont to do, they sent to Delphi for advice and received the following Oracle:

Arkadia? Great is the thing you ask. I will not grant it.
In Arkadia are many men, acorn-eaters,
And they will keep you out. Yet, for I am not grudging.
I will give you Tegea to dance in with stamping feet
And her fair plain to measure out with the line.

Taking this to mean that they would be successful, the Spartan army invaded Tegea only to suffer a devastating defeat. As Herodotus explains: “…and those who were taken prisoner were forced to wear on their own legs the chains they had brought, and to ‘measure out with the line’ the plain of Tegea as laborers. In my own lifetime, the fetters they were bound with were still preserved in Tegea, hanging up around the temple of Athene Alea.” (Herodotus, The Histories, Book 1, 66)

Although Herodotus does not tell us just how many Spartiates were killed or captured, it is clear that Sparta was both defeated and that a significant number of citizens surrendered. (Incidentally demonstrating that Sparta did not have any kind of a “do or die” mentality!) Indeed, Herodotus suggests that Sparta suffered more than one defeat saying they “continually” had the worst of it against Tegea and “a long series of reverses” until the reigns of Anaxandridas and Ariston. These kings certainly lived in the second half of the 6th century and under their leadership, Sparta sent for a second oracle from Delphi.  This told them:
In Arkadia lies Tegea in the level plain,
Where under strong constraints two winds are blowing;
Smiting in there and counter-smiting, and woe on woe;
The earth, the giver of life, holds Agamemnon’s son.
Bring him home, and you will prevail over Tegea.

At this point, a clever Spartiate, Lichas, learned that a smith in Tegea had discovered a coffin ten feet long with a skeleton inside that was just as large. Interpreting this as the body of Orestes, Lichas reported what he had heard to the Gerousia. The Spartans pretended he had committed some crime and exiled him. He returned to the forge, explained what had happened and leased the plot of land with the bones. In secret, he then dug up the bones and brought them back to Sparta, and, according to Herodotus, “ever since that day the Lacedaemonians in any trial of strength had by far the better of it.”

But that is only half the story, for -- despite having recovered what was believed to be Orestes’ bones -- Sparta refrained from launching a new war against Tegea and negotiated a non-aggression pact instead.

Why? Herodotus is silent on this, so we are left to speculate.

We know Sparta opted to negotiate with Tegea rather than to resort to arms. We also know that the resulting “non-aggression” pact became a pro-type of all subsequent agreements with other cities in the Peloponnese, and so the core of the Peloponnesian League. We also know that a key feature of this agreement was that Sparta agreed to assist Tegea against external enemies (presumably they were thinking of Argos), but also that Tegea agreed to assist Sparta against internal revolts. This suggests that recognition of the threats inherent in a large subject population may have induced Sparta to seek an alliance in place of conquest. A number of historians point out that the end of the Tegean conflict probably fell in the lifetime and possibly the Ephorate of Chilon the Wise, and postulate that this universally respected Spartan leader may have been the voice of reason that held Sparta back from new aggression.

The course of history: the attack, defeat, new appeal to Delphi, successful relocation of “Orestes” and then the astonishing restraint demonstrated by Sparta in not attacking again suggest that Spartan society was probably divided between “hawks” and “doves.” Far from being a monolithic society with a single will and a robot-like population, Sparta was a complex society inherently vulnerable to internal division by the peculiar institution of the dual kingship. Since the Kings were equal in all things, any fundamental policy differences between the kings led inevitably to political strife. Each king could be assured support from his own relatives, friends, and clients in both the Gerousia and Assembly. This means that each king would seek to win majorities by various means of persuasion and the same kind of political maneuvering we are familiar with today in the U.S. Congress and British Parliament. The “hawks” won the first round; the “doves” – very probably led by Chilon the Wise – won the second round.

The above hypothesis is the basis for my novel The Olympic Charioteer. The novel opens in Tegea, after Sparta’s defeat. In the absence of any historical record about the political system in Tegea at this time, I have used Tegea to portray one of the characteristic political developments of the period: the rise of tyrants on the backs of increasing political demands by the hoplite-class against the aristocratic elite. The novel moves from Tegea to Sparta, where the internal divisions between two factions in Sparta are revealed. The central character of the novel is one of the Spartiates taken captive in the Spartan defeat: a young man, who just before the start of the war had driven his father’s chariot to victory at the Olympic games.

For more visit my website: http://schradershistoricalfiction.com

Two cities at war
Two men with Olympic ambitions
And one slave
The finest charioteer in all Hellas.

This is the story of a young man’s journey from tragedy to triumph, and the founding of the first non-aggression pact in recorded history.


Buy now!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Fateful Assembly – An Excerpt from “A Heroic King”


As I noted at the start of this month, the Spartan Assembly was far from docile or powerless. Here’s a fictional account of what a Spartan Assembly might have been like.





Polymedes called for order. The paean was sung, the sacrifice made, a priest read the entrails and declared all was in order: the Assembly could proceed.



Polymedes cleared his throat. “King Cleomenes died without a direct male heir. Since women cannot inherit, the Agiad throne passes by right to Cleomenes’ closest male relative, his eldest half-brother on his father’s side ―”



A cheer went up from Brotus’ faction, dissolving into a chant of “Brotus!”



Brotus, with a look of triumph in Leonidas’ direction, started toward to join the Council.



Polymedes raised his hand and shouted, “Wait!”



Although Polymedes could hardly be heard above the enthusiastic cheers of Brotus’ friends, his gesture was unmistakable.  Meanwhile, from the back of the Assembly, a counter-chant of “Vote! Vote! We demand a Vote!” went up.



Brotus turned to his followers and gestured for them to calm down. “We will, of course, await the vote of this sacred Assembly. According to the law, the Assembly has the final say!” He said this pointedly to Leonidas.



“Of course,” Leonidas agreed, speaking to be heard even to the outer fringes of the crowd. “The Assembly’s vote is final ― which is why the proposal needs to be debated. The Council has ruled that no woman can be king of Sparta and that my brother Cleomenes should be followed by his closest male relative. The question is who that is.”



“The Council ruled that it was his eldest half-brother,” Brotus corrected smugly.



“But who is that?” Alkander asked, looking ― to Leonidas’ bafflement ― no less smug than Brotus.



“I demand to hear the testimony of the wet nurse!” Euryleon shouted.



“Wet nurse?” Brotus looked around, bewildered.



“Your wet nurse.” Euryleon faced Brotus, looking him straight in the eye, confronting him defiantly with obvious pleasure.



“If you’ve dredged up Dido out of a slum someplace to lie on Leo’s behalf, don’t think it will work!” Brotus flung his remark at Leo to show his utter contempt for Euryleon. To the rest of the Assembly, he announced. “Dido was Leonidas’ wet nurse. Of course, she’ll lie for him. Her word is worthless.”



“And Polyxo?” Euryleon asked with obvious amusement.



“She nursed me. She knows the truth!” Brotus confirmed.



Euryleon turned and beckoned to Aristodemos and Eurytus. The two meleirenes had been standing in the doorway to the Temple of Athena of Counsel as if on guard duty. Now, however, they disappeared inside the temple to re-emerge on either side of a fat, frightened helot woman.  Leonidas would not have recognized her as Brotus’ nurse.  Her round face was flabby, her white hair thin. Her eyes, half lost in the folds of skin around them, darted nervously without fixing on anything, while her shallow, gasping breath was audible.



The woman was brought to the front of the Canopy, while the men at the back craned their necks to get a look at her and one asked another what was going on.  Polymedes asked her name, her patronymic, her profession, and then if she had anything to say that was relevant to the debate. “I ― I ―” she started in a breathy voice no one could hear and Polymede ordered her to speak up.



“I was there ― at the birth of the twins!” she squealed in a high-pitched voice that now reached the back of the crowd.



“Tell us what happened,” Polymedes urged.



“I was standing beside the midwife. The queen was having a terrible time and the first baby, when it came, seemed lifeless. The midwife cut the cord in haste and handed it to me because she could see the second baby was already on the way. I thought the first baby was dead, so I handed it off to my cousin Dido in order to help with the second baby. The second baby was much bigger and stronger than the first, and he screamed lustily when we cut the cord. I put him to my breast at once and cherished him like he was my own little boy.” Tears were by now streaming down her face. Although her account was by no means audible at the back, it was very audible to the Council, the ephors, and those in the front rows, including Brotus and Leonidas.



Brotus leaped forward as if he would strike the old woman, roaring out: “Traitor! Liar! Filthy helot slut!”



Leonidas only stared at the woman, stunned. Then he looked from Alkander to Euryleon and back to Polyxo. The old woman was blubbering, holding out her hands to Brotus, and calling him by his baby names. “My little puppy! My baby bull! I loved you! I loved you!” she wailed.



“I'll kill you!” Brotus screamed and had to be held back by his own supporters.



Polymedes was calling for order, while the gist of Polyxo’s message was relayed to the back of the Assembly from those in front. When the citizens at the back realized what Polyxo had said, the commotion in the Canopy grew louder and louder. Leonidas couldn’t hear what was being said by everyone, but the exclamations sounded more amazed than outraged. Here and there someone whooped as if in triumph. That would be one of the young men, most likely one of last year’s eirenes; they had become his staunchest admirers.



Meanwhile, the smooth Talthybiades was asking for the floor. Polymedes demanded order, and eventually, an uneasy, anticipatory silence spread across the floor of the Canopy. He nodded to Talthybiades.



“The testimony of this woman, who claims to be Cleombrotus’ wet nurse, is very dramatic. My compliments to my fellow citizens,” Talthybiades bowed to Alkander and Euryleon with a supercilious smile on his thin lips, “for dredging her up and for ― shall we say? ― persuading her to tell such a ― how should I word it? ― plausible but transparently partisan tale.”



There were grunts and nods of assent from Brotus’ faction, but farther away a young man shouted: “Just because it doesn’t suit you, Talthybiades, doesn’t make it false!” This remark also won an audible share of approving comments.



Talthybiades ignored them and continued in his precise, magistrate's voice, “Has Leonidas no credible witness to bring forward? Does no one other than a Kytheran whore and a blubbering helot woman speak on his behalf?”



“Do you consider me a credible witness, Talthybiads?” The question came from Epidydes, the youngest councilman and former headmaster.



Talthybiades was genuinely astonished by the question. He agreed instantly, “No one could doubt your credibility and integrity, Epidydes ― but with all due respect, you were not in the birthing chamber when the Agiad twins were born.”



“No, but I was present when King Anaxandridas brought his twin sons to the agoge for enrollment.” Epidydes got to his feet and moved front and center. Polymedes instantly and instinctively took a step back to make way for him.



Epidydes raised his voice and his eyes swept the crowd.  He had been headmaster of the agoge for more than thirty years, and in that time most of the citizens now assembled had passed through his upbringing. Some, like Leonidas and Brotus, had known no other headmaster and would never be entirely free of their awe of him.  The elder men, in contrast, respected him precisely because they had known his infamous predecessor, while the younger citizens had suffered under his successor and remembered Epidydes with nostalgia.  There could be no question that if one man had influence in this Assembly it was Epidydes.



The silence that gripped the Assembly was correspondingly profound. The sound of some helot workman hammering in the distance could be heard distinctly. A light breeze from the invisible Eurotas was a breath of sweetness among the sweating men. No one dared move or even breathe as they waited for Epidydes to continue.



“King Anaxandridas came to me, flanked by his boys,” Epidydes continued. “Brotus was noticeably bigger and stronger, making him look a year older than Leonidas.” Leonidas remembered that, too, and Brotus was grinning again ― or rather, leering at Leonidas with malicious satisfaction. But the old headmaster wasn’t finished. He added, “Leonidas was on the king’s right.”



The Assembly erupted. Bortus was shouting again, first “Liar!” and then, after Orthryades rebuked him, “It was just chance. Chance! It meant nothing!” Meanwhile, from the back, other men started cheering, calling, and chanting, “Leonidas! Leonidas! Leonidas!”



For the second time this morning, Leonidas was stunned. He could picture the scene from more than thirty years ago as if it were yesterday; his own anxiety, the way the instructors had fawned over Brotus because he was so big and strong, and then the way Epidydes came around his desk to approach him, saying, “Then you must be Leonidas.” But because, at the time, he did not know the significance of standing on the right, he had taken no notice of the fact ― until now.



With a sense of amazement, he realized he had indeed been on his father’s right. And no Spartan king was unaware of the significance of such a position; his father had given him the place of honor.



Polymedes moved for a vote. Brotus was furiously protesting, denying that Leonidas was the firstborn, but the roar of “ayes” for the motion was deafening, and the “nays” came out like embarrassed whimpers form men too tied to Brotus to risk abandoning him despite the evidence.




Saturday, September 1, 2018

The World's First Democracy

The Spartan constitution, commonly dated to the early 7th century BC, is the first known constitution that vested supreme power in the hands of an Assembly composed of all citizens.  Thus, Sparta was the first known functioning democracy – roughly 150 years before the introduction of democracy in Athens.


 
As is typical of early, innovative institutions, later modifications introduced in other cities made the Spartan democracy appear conservative as time went by.  Sparta, for example, never entirely freed itself of its kings.  Two jointly ruling hereditary monarchs from different families held restricted and mostly ceremonial functions throughout Sparta's history as an independent state – very much as the English monarchy functions today.

Another notoriously conservative aspect of the Spartan constitution was the Council of Elders, or Gerousia.  Although this body was elected, as were similar institutions in other cities, the Elders had to be over 60 years of age and were elected for life.  In consequence, they were not subject to the most effective of democratic censures: the need to be re-elected.

Nevertheless, Sparta's constitution clearly gave precedence to the Assembly.  The Assembly, which is believed to have met on a monthly basis, was composed of all adult male citizens.  Although it could vote only on the bills presented by the Council, the common misconception that the Assembly could only vote yes or no is belied by accounts of lively (not to say rowdy) debates.  (Note, also, that modern legislatures also vote on bills presented and do not evolve legislation spontaneously during debate.)  Certainly, the Spartan Assembly was powerful enough to exile kings.  Nevertheless, the Spartan Assembly never attained the absolute tyranny of the Athenian Assembly – a point praised widely by ancient writers, who saw in Sparta's more balanced (bicameral) democracy a means of controlling the fickleness of the mob.  Most people today, used to representational democracy, would feel more comfortable in Sparta's democracy than in that of Athens, where many officials were chosen by lottery and the votes of illiterate and impoverished citizens were easily manipulated and purchased by demagogues.


Nevertheless, the Spartan Assembly is often disparaged today as a body of dumb, illiterate, automatons, a rubber stamp for the decisions of the Kings, Gerousia and ephors.  This view of the Spartan Assembly is based on constitutional provisions that appear to have restricted debate, the absence of secret ballots, and the assumption that Sparta’s notoriously obedient soldiers would “take orders” in the Assembly just as they did on the battlefield. 

However, as any officer can tell you, the best soldiers are not automatons who wait for orders, but instead thinking, self-confident men who take the initiative and act without – or even against – orders, if necessary.  Furthermore, the famous case of Amompharetus refusing to obey Pausanias’ orders on the eve of the Battle of Plataea is a dramatic case in point demonstrating that Spartans didn’t always obey orders – not even on the battlefield.  It further highlights the fact that commanders in the Spartan army did not command obedience:  Amompharetus was not, after all, summarily executed or even relieved of his command. Instead, Pausanias tried to reason with him and finally ordered the rest of the army to move out. Last but not least, Sparta had sufficient confidence in the judgment of its individual commanders to repeatedly send men of “ordinary” status out to act as advisers to foreign powers, such as Gylippus in Syracus.

Second, the Assembly had real powers, officially more than the kings.  The Assembly elected the ephors every year and members of the Gerousia, whenever vacancies occurred in the latter due to death. Hence men with political ambitions had to lobby and ensure a majority of votes against rivals. Also, according to most interpretations of the Great Rhetra, the Assembly had “the final say” on legislation.  The Assembly forced more than one king into exile (e.g. Cleomenes I, Leotychidas, Pleistoanax) and could condemn commanders who exceeded instructions such as Pausanius and Phoebidas.  Thus, despite the inability to introduce legislation and the public nature of the vote, the Spartan Assembly did exercise real power.

Most important, however, the Spartan Assembly was made up of her soldiers and her soldiers knew that they represented the might and power of Sparta. A body in which a large minority was composed of virile young men, in peak physical condition, who have been raised to think of themselves as the elite is unlikely to have been docile. The men who were to be officers and admirals, magistrates, governors, ambassadors and military advisors around the world rose through the ranks of the army – and all had a voice (and probably a following) in the Assembly. Even if some citizens were indifferent to politics and willing to do what others advised, in every generation there would have been ambitious young men willing to challenge existing authority.  Certainly the Assembly as a whole could be quite rowdy as is demonstrated by the example of the Assembly (“the Spartans” = not the ephors or Gerousia) throwing the Persian emissaries of Darius down a well!

What the above suggests is that Spartan citizens were anything but mindless automatons manipulated by their officers and political leaders, but self-confident citizens with a highly developed sense of their own power and confidence in their own capabilities and judgment.  Sparta’s citizens were not docile or mindless pawns, but thinking and responsible citizens with a say in the policies of their city-state. The differences between Athenian and Spartan democracy were many, and both were imperfect from the modern standpoint, but the Spartan citizen’s individual status within his polity should not be denigrated. Sparta was very much a democracy in any sense of the word.

The Spartan Assembly plays a significant role in the latter two books in my  Leonidas' Trilogy:


  Buy now!













 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Thermopylae Day Three - An Excerpt

Thermopylae - Day Three
An Excerpt from 
A Heroic King


 "My lord!" the helot wailed form a hundred feet away. "My lord! They broke! The Phocians broke! The Immortals are coming down the track! The Phoecians broke!"

The boy reached him, sobbing for breath and from terror. "I tried, my lord. I swear! But in the dark, I lost the track! By the time I reached the Phocian position, the Immortals were already upon them." Leonidas just stared at the helot youth. He ws covered with cuts an scratches. The soles of his feet were raw, his hands bleeding. If he had wanted, he could have just disappeared into the mountains -- without warning the Phocians -- let alone bringing word to him here. No one would have ever known. "You can kill me if you want, my lord, but I wanted you to know...."

Leonidas nodded numbly. They were all going to die. Today.

It had always been a possibility. He had taken that risk. Now it was a certainty. Chi, Euryleon, didn't I tell you you wouldn't have long to wait? Buy why Alkander, too? Why Oliantus? Why Maron and Alpheus?

The camp was waking up to a new day. Gylis' approach had attracted the attention of other. Men started to converge on Leonidas. Men were asking Megistias what was wrong, what the signs had been. Isanor was beside him. 'Do we need to reinforce the Phocians?"

Leonidas shook his head. "It's too late. The Immortals have broken through."

"What? And the Phocians didn't even send for us?"

"They were asleep," Gylis gasped out, still panting, "caught sleeping. I don't think they--"

Demophilus arrived with several other allied commanders. "What has happened? What's the matter?"

"The deserter was telling the truth," Leonidas told them.

They stared at him blankly for a second. Then Demophilus echoed Isanor: "Then we must reinforce at once. I'll have my Thespians--"

"There's no need, Demophilus." Leonidas was utterly calm. In his heart, he was already dead, and that made it easier..  "The Phocians broke. The Immortals are already in our rear. The Pass has been turned. We must send word to Themistocles at once."  Leonidas was looking around for the helot boy who had brought him the ram, while around him the other commanders were cursing and questioning, doubting and denying. "Boy!" Leonidas had caught sight of him. "Fetch me the captain of the Athenian tiaconter at once!"

"We must withdraw immediately!" The Corinthian demanded, seconded by the Mantineans and Tegeans and some of the Arkadians.

"Cowards!" Demophilus countered furiously. "The Pass is still defensible -- we just have to defend both ends! We can hold the West Gate as we have up to now with a thousand men, and put another thousand inside the East Gate."

"Yes, exactly!" the Theban supported him.

"What? All of us crushed together between the two Gates? We have nothing to eat in there! Nowhere to rest! No fresh water!"

Leonidas was thinking it through for himself. If they had two thousand men fighting at any one time, every man would be on the line every other hour. They might hold out for one day, but not the four they needed. He raised his hand, and the others fell silent at once.

"The bulk of the army should withdraw at once. The Immortals will close off your retreat in a matter of hours. You must pull out now and put as much distance between yourselves and Thermopylae as possible -- enough so the Persian cavalry can't overtake you. Abandon everything you can't carry."

His words were met with stunned silence. No one had ever expected the Spartan king to order a withdrawal. But after they recovered from their shock, the Arkadian commanders did not wait to be told twice. The Corinthians and Mantineans were close at their heels. Isanor, Demophilus, and the Theban Leontiades, however, didn't move. They stared at Leonidas, horrified, until Demophilus asked softly, "What about you? What about the Lacedaemonians?"

Leonidas felt weak, yet detached. His emotions were numbed. Kastor had told him he would know when his time had come. It had come. "Someone has to hold the Pass long enough to give the rest of you timem to withdraw. Otherwise, as I said, the Persian cavalry will overtake and slaughter you in the open, where you won't have a chance."

"But you have a city you can defend," Demophilus countered with dignity. "We do not. My Thespians will hold Thermopylae. Take the Lacedaemonians south so they can fight in the days and weeks ahead."

Leonidas was moved by the offer. He reached out his hand in gratitude, and Demophilus too it. "You did your best, Leonidas," the Thespian continued. "No one but you could have held them this long. But if Thermophylae is lost, so is Thespiae. We have no home to return to. We might as well die here."

"And so will we," Leontiades spoke for the Thebans as well.

Dienekes and Diodoros ran up. "The allies are spreading rumors and threatening to pull out!" Dienekes announced in evident outrage.

Leonidas shook his head. "They are under orders to pull out--"

"What?"

"The Phocians broke. The Immortals are just hours away from closing off the road south. I've given the order to withdraw."

Diodoros and Dienekes gaped at him, while Kalliteles and Oliantus trotted up. "Sir! Have you heard? The allies are packing up and pulling out. It's total panic out there! We must...." He fell silent and looked at the stunned, lifeless faces of the men standing around his commander. "What is it?"

This time Diodoros provided the explanation. Leonidas was staring at Oliantus."I'm sorry," he mouthed. "I'm so sorry."

"What are you waiting for, Leonidas?" Demophilus urged. "There is very little time. Take your Lacedaemonians out, and we'll make the Persians fight for the Pass and pay dearly for each of us. We'll delay them as long as humanly possible."

"There's no hurry," Leonidas answered with a glance toward the sun, which was now a copper disk already a hand's breadth above the horizon. "I'm not going anywhere -- and whether I like it nor not, my Spartans are not going to abandon me."

"You're damned right, we're not!" Dienekes confirmed.

"That doesn't apply to the Perioikoi," Leonidas pointed out, turning to Isanor. "Take all your men, the helots, and Megistias back to Lacedaemon."

Isanor hesitated. "We're still over eight hundred strong, my lord. We'd almost double your force."

Leonidas was shaking his head. "Whether we're one thousand or five thousand, we're about to be crushed. Take the Perioikoi home with my blessings -- I'll put it in writing if you like, to ensure no one at home tries to twist facts.  I'll also send a messenger to Brotus and Leotychidas to halt the march north of the Isthmus. Have we got a good long-distance runner?" Leonidas looked automatically to Oliantus.

"Yes, I have two runners we can send."

"Good. I'll write and seal the dispatches. And pass the word to the Spartiates," he added to Diodoros, Dienekes, and Kalliteles, "to eat a hearty breakfast, as we'll be dining in Hades." 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Hero of Thermopylae - A Look at Leonidas' Legacy

No Spartan has left a larger footprint in history and art than Leonidas. Not the commander of the Spartan army that actually defeated the Persians, Pausanias, nor the Spartan that eventually defeated Athens after the gruesome thirty-years war, Lysander, are half so well remembered .  Lycurgus and Chilon are familiar names only to classical scholars; Leonidas is a cult and comic-book hero, not to mention there is a chocolate company named for him.



Leonidas was, of course, a legend in his own time. The Spartans built him a monument at Thermopylae, notably separate from the monument to the rest of the 300, and a second monument was built to him at home in Sparta as well. His body was brought home after the Persians had been driven out of Greece.  But, unless it is an accident of archeology, larger monuments were built to the victors Pausanias and Lysander than to Leonidas.  In short, Leonidas’ appeal appears to have been greater in the modern world than the ancient. This might have many explanations – starting with the political agenda of his successors (or those who controlled his immature son) or discomfort with commemorating a devastating defeat.  The modern world, perhaps influenced by the Christian tradition of honoring sacrifice, is impressed by Leonidas’ defiance and devotion to duty more than his defeat.

There is also a modern tendency to assume that Leonidas’ behavior was “typical,” that he was indeed only doing what Spartan society expected of him, or acting “in accordance with the law.” This assumes that Spartans were “never” allowed to retreat and always chose death over either retreat or surrender.  The Spartans, of course, knew better. 

Sparta had suffered many severe defeats before Thermopylae, and in no other did an entire fighting force die to the last man for a lost cause. For example, there is good reason to believe that Sparta lost the First Messenian War, and it was ensuing economic and social dislocation that led to unrest and revolution.  Certainly, Sparta was given a resounding thrashing by the Argives at Hysiai in 669 BC, but even so the Spartans retreated rather than die to the last man.  Roughly one hundred years later, Sparta again over-reached herself in an attempt to conquer Tegea, and again there were survivors; they were enslaved in Tegea and forced to do agricultural labor for Tegean masters. In 525 BC, a Spartan expedition against Samos likewise ended in humiliating defeat, but not the extermination of the expeditionary force.  Finally, in the reign of Leonidas’ half-brother Cleomenes, a Spartan force under Anchimolius was attacked by Thessalian cavalry 1000 strong at Phalerum, and, according to Herodotus, “many Lacedaemonians were killed…and the survivors driven back to their ships.”  Note, again, the survivors were driven back to their ships, which they presumably boarded and used to return to Lacedaemon. There is not a word about dying to the last man.

Nor did “death rather than surrender” become the standard for future Spartan commanders after Thermopylae. The history of the Peloponnesian war is littered with Spartan defeats; none were massacres.  Even in the infamous case of 120 Spartiates trapped on the island of Sphakteria, the record shows that they surrendered and were taken off into (brutal!) Athenian captivity.  Nor were they written off by an indignant population as cowards, "tremblers" or otherwise disgraced and worthless.  Had they been so viewed, Sparta would not have sued for peace and made serious concessions to Athens to have them returned. Even their collective degradation from full-citizen status on their return is not indicative of disapproval of surrender. On the contrary, it more likely reflects fear that men who had been in Athens for almost four years might have become subverted (brainwashed, is the Cold War term) by Athenian democracy.  After an unknown period, they were collectively reinstated, and some even ran for public office. That would not have been possible, if the majority of Spartans had felt they should have committed suicide rather than surrender.

Leonidas’ legacy was not one of blind, mindless self-sacrifice. His example was one of devotion to duty, even unto death, for a good cause.  Leonidas did not die for the sake of dying – much less take his comrades with him to a senseless death.  He had clear military objectives that he hoped to achieve by his last stand: 1) giving the other Greek contingents time to withdraw and live to fight another day, and 2) increasing Persian respect for/fear of Spartans.  Once the pass at Thermopylae was turned, Leonidas knew the Persian army would advance unopposed into Central Greece. He could not know where it would next be confronted by land-forces, but he must have feared that it might sweep through Central Greece to the Isthmus of Corinth. He must have feared that Sparta might find herself virtually alone facing the onslaught.  Anything he could do to make Xerxes hesitate to take on a Spartan army must have seemed worthwhile.  That is a legacy worth preserving.

Last but not least, as a devout Spartan, Leonidas undoubtedly believed he had to fulfill the Delphic Oracle. He knew he had to die, if Sparta was to be saved. In that sense, he was from the start a sacrificial lamb, but not until the position at Thermopylae was betrayed, did his sacrifice inherently encompass defeat as well.  He probably hoped when he set out for Thermopylae that he could die in a victorious battle – or at least an indecisive one. He certainly hoped and expected that alive or dead his advance force over 6,000 strong could hold the Hot Gates until Sparta’s full army could reinforce the advance guard. 

When it became clear he would die in a hopeless situation, he tried to minimize the losses by ordering the withdrawal of the allied contingents (and almost certainly all the Perioikoi troops that would have been with him).  He even tried to save some of the Spartiates by giving them dispatches for delivery somewhere. They saw through him and refused. They refused out of loyalty, out of friendship, out of personal affection for Leonidas, both the man and the king. They did not act for military reasons but for personal ones. Yet their legacy too is worth honoring.


Sparta's culture and military ethos are a fundamental focus of my three part biographical novel of Leonidas.




    
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Sunday, July 15, 2018

An Untenable Situation: An Excerpt

In my last entry, I discussed the importance of the Messenian War(s) in the creation of Sparta, noting that a lost war was far more likely to have provoked unrest, rebellion, and reform. Today, I present an excerpt from "Are They Singing in Sparta?" in which a young Spartiate describes the situation in Sparta to a young woman who had been sent to Athens for her safety by her father and is now on her way home. Euryanax represents the "revolutionaries" who supported Lycurgus and a change in the Spartan constitution.

The young Spartiate's expression was grim.  "The situation is--" he paused, clearly searching for the right word, "untenable. The Disinherited -- as they call themselves -- have become bolder and stronger and they stop at nothing to disrupt and threaten the security and stability of the City. They have even tried to incite the Messenians to revolt. Certainly, the lawless elements have all taken advantage of the situation and the poorest helots have nothing to lose anyway." He shook his head in apparent despair. "Nothing is sacred to desperate men and no one is safe from them."

"But there must be some way of pacifying them..." Alethea said softly. She so wanted to go home -- but home to the peaceful Laconia of her early childhood, not to an insecure Laconia ....

"Yes. Land."

"What?" 

"Land. They must be given back the land they lost. It is wrong that some men -- Aristodemos, your uncle Polymachos, my own father Leotychidas -- have estates larger than they can ride about in one day, and other men own nothing.  It is wrong that some men spend more money to feed their horses or their hounds than other men have to feed their families. It is wrong that some men have a thousand helots to do their bidding, and other men must sell their very bodies for enough to eat!"

Alethea had never heard a man talk with so much passion about injustice. She was fascinated and a little frightened too. "But there have always been rich and poor. And slaves."

"Why?" Euryanax challenged. "Why should any man have the right to treat another man -- or woman -- as a beast? Lycurgus has traveled all over the world and he says there are different laws and customs. There is no single way to make a city work. In Asia, the kings are considered gods and they rule without law, entirely at their whim and inclination. They have done so for generations. Does that make such a system right? Of course not! Something is not right just because our grandparents and their grandparents did it. Are we not men with minds and reason? with hearts and hands to change things? Are we not free to make our own laws? Why shouldn't we make new laws that are better than what has been before -- laws that are truly just?"

Why not indeed? Alethea asked herself excited. "But who would do the work if there were no slaves?"

"We must all work. Each man -- and woman -- must do what he -- or she -- is best at doing. Just as women are made to bear and rear children, men are made to fight and protect them. That is the most basic of all human distinctions -- but does it make the man better than the woman? Is fighting to protect his offspring better or more important than feeding and nurturing them? Of course not!

"In the same way, there is nothing nobler about planting a field than tending a flock of sheep. Both tasks are essential. Wouldn't you agree?"

Alethea nodded vigorously.

"All people who contribute to a society should be treated with equal respect and should recognize their own dependence on the contributions and labor of others."

"But then--" Alethea started, but bit her tongue confused. At home, she had always spoken her mind, but Euryanax was a man of a different family.

"Yes?" Euryanax prompted, looking directly at her with an alert, tense expression.

"I -- I  was just going to say that a woman, who can produce something as useful and necessary as a length of cloth should be respected too."

"Of course!" Euryanax agreed enthusiastically. "Of course! That's just my point."

Alethea was thinking of Xenokrateia sitting at her loom day after day, making virtually everything her husband wore, and her only reward was her husband's contempt for her uselessness.

"Look," Euryanax was continuing, "if I need a pair of sandals, then what right have I to look down on the man who makes them for me? If I wear a chiton or himation with pride," he held out his arms to show the very fine cloth he was indeed wearing, "then I should admire the man -- or woman -- who clothed me! It's not the cobbler alone who makes my shoes, but the tanner who made the leather, and the herdsman who kept the cows and the butcher who slaughtered and skinned the carcass.

"Wealth is the source of all injustice because it allows those with too much to take advantage of those with too little! What we need to do is give everyone the same amount of land and then make them wear the same clothes and eat the same things and then the only things that will distinguish between them is their character. A fool will no longer be able to buy votes nor an embezzler to bride the jury. An ugly man will no longer be able to hide behind silk and gold to seduce women away from better men."

Alethea timidly ventured to point out that Euryanax' father was one of the wealthiest men in Laconia. 

"My father has stolen from the poor! He has literally thrown starving women and children out of the pitiable huts they lived in. He has been so merciless that his own brother has broken with him. My uncle Leobotas won't speak to him or set foot in his house anymore."

So this was the Laconia she would return to: one in which the Unrest had become so terrible and the controversy about its causes and its cures so bitter it was tearing families apart.

Read more about the Messenian wars and the founding of Sparta in: