The Decline of Sparta 378-362 BC
The Facts • 400 BC: Sparta is the leader of the Greek World, planning an invasion of Persia • 395-387: Corinthian war leaves Sparta weakened, and her prestige bruised. • 387: King’s Peace: Artaxerxes II, becomes the arbitrator of Greek affairs and Sparta his policeman. • 387-371: Sparta’s role as the king’s watchdog shatters her good name in the Greek world
Thebes • The city of Thebes was the dominant city of the Boeotian confederacy. • Thebes sometimes forced her will on the other members of the confederacy, and some (e.g. Plataia, Thespiai) resisted. • Sparta invoked the King’s peace guaranteeing the independence of all Greek Cities and refused. Then decided to go to war against Thebes to enforce the King’s peace. • In reality, Agesilaos II disliked Thebes and wanted her humiliated, and he influenced the decision of Sparta to attack Thebes. • The Thebans, in response to constant Spartan harassment, have reorganized their army (oblique phalanx and Sacred Band)
371: Battle of Leuctra • King Kleombrotos, with a Spartan army invades Boeotia • In the ensuing battle at the field of Leuctra the inherently weak Spartan cavalry goes down fast, allowing the superior Boeotian cavalry to harass the Spartan hoplites • The tactics of Epameinondas prove superior • 400 Spartan citizens and king Kleombrotos are killed in the Battle. • Sparta could never recover from this.
The follow up • 371-362: Epameinondas invades the Peloponnese several times • Messenia gains independence from Spartan control • The Arcadian confederacy is formed with Megalopolis as the Center • Thus Sparta is left cut in half, weakened and isolated, with sworn enemies on both its land borders. • It takes the entire force of the Athenian army to save Sparta from complete annihilation in the Battle of Mantineia. The Thebans win but Epameinondas is killed.
After 362 (Mantineia) • Sparta is a shadow of her former glory, but still steadfastly refuses to introduce much needed reforms, political and economic. • Sparta will never again be a considerable power in Greek affairs • When Alexander mounts a campaign against Persia (330 BC), a much weakened Sparta refuses to follow, “for it is the role of the Spartans to lead, not to follow”, but she is so insignificant as a power, that Alexander does not even bother to punish her (as he does with Thebes, which is completely destroyed). • In subsequent centuries an impoverished Sparta fades into insignificance.
The reasons for Sparta’s decline • Political: refusal to change the constitution to include all citizen-born men. • Inferiors become resentful • Masses of poor Spartans are losing their rights as fewer and fewer are becoming wealthier • Thus the numbers of Spartans decline to a point of no return. This is why a single defeat (Leuctra) is enough to seal Sparta’s fate. • Reforming the constitution was necessary but never happened.
Ideological • Adherence to Sparta’s ideals proved detrimental in the end • Flexibility and change are historical necessities, while Sparta’s refusal for renewal stunted her growth and eventually proved fatal • Discipline and obedience proved fatal at a time when revolutionary thinking and radical change were an inescapable necessity in a world that was constantly shifting and reshaping the present and the future. • The short-lived Spartan empire (c. 400) exposed Spartans to the outside world and changed for ever the until then incorruptible Spartan psyche.
Economic • The breakdown of the traditional Spartan economic system in the late 5th century hastened the decline • Property was concentrated in fewer hands with serious political/military implications • Corruption and greed, qualities almost unknown in traditional Spartan institutions, entered the Spartan way of life • The brief shot of Sparta to an empire opened the flood-gates, as it brought into Sparta a taste of the temptations which the outside world had to offer and permanently changed the willingness of Sparta to remain above money and luxury.