Pausanias, d.c.470-465

Pausanias (d.c.470-465) was a controversial Spartan who commanded the victorious Greek army at Plataea, but who was later accused of treason and executed in Sparta.

Pausanias son of Cleombrotus was a member of the Agiad royal family. He was a son of King Cleombrotus I and nephew of the famous King Leonidas. After Leonidas was killed at Thermopylae in 480, Pausanias became regent for his young son. 

Battles of the Persian Invasions of Greece
Battles of the
Persian Invasions
of Greece

In 479 Pausanias commanded the Greek army that defeated the Persians at Plataea, effectively ending the Persian threat to mainland Greece (Greco-Persian Wars). He commanded the largest Greek contingent at the battle, but his control of his fellow Spartans wasn't complete. A key moment of the battle came when the Greek army decided to move from an exposed position without easy access to water to a new position near Plataea. When the move began Amompharetus, 'lochagos of the Pitanata lochos', one of the Spartan officers, refused to take part in the movement, on the grounds that Spartans didn't retreat. Pausanias was unable to convince his fellow Spartan to move, and eventually ordered the rest of the Spartan contingent to move off without him. This convinced Amompharetus to join the movement, and the two parts of the Spartan army had reunited when the Persians caught up with them and the main part of the battle began. Pausanias held his ground until the moment was right, and then launched a devastating counterattack. The Persians fought on until their commander Mardonius was killed, and then the survivors of the army fled.

In the aftermath of the battle the Greeks moved on to besiege Thebes, which had sided with the Persians. After nineteen days the Theban leaders agreed to surrender to avoid further devastation of their city. In order to prevent them from bribing their way to safely, Pausanias had the surrendered Theban leaders taken to the Isthmus of Corinth where they were executed.

In 478 he was given command of an expedition that expelled the Persians from Cyprus and then turned north to liberate Byzantium. Once in command at Byzantium his rule became increasingly arrogant and he was accused of favouring the Persians. He was recalled and tried for treason, but at this stage was acquitted.

In the meantime the Spartans had lost control of the anti-Persian alliance, which passed to Athens and became the Delian League. Pausanias returned to Byzantine as a private citizen and regained control of the city. He was no more popular on this second visit, and was soon expelled by Cimon and the Athenian-led league. He then moved to Colonae in the Troad, from where he may have entered into negotiations with the Persian satrap at Dascylium. Once again he was recalled to Sparta, and was put on trial. At this stage he was acquitted of the most serious charges. He returned to Byzantium and took power for a second time. Once again he was expelled from this city, this time by the Athenians, and recalled to Sparta.

Some time after this Pausanias was accused of attempting to seize power in Sparta with the help of a helot uprising, and of communicating with Xerxes. According to one story his guilt was proved after Argilius, one of his messengers, opened a message in which Pausanias ordered the recipients to kill the messenger. Argilius turned against his master and betrayed him to the Ephors.

Pausanias took refuge in the temple of Athena of the Brazen House, where he was said to have been walled into the sanctuary and either starved to death or taken out on the verge of dying of starvation (the details and even the basic chronology of Pausanias's fall is rather obscure). The Athenian Themistocles was also implicated in this plot, and was forced to flee into exile in Persia.

One of Pausanias's sons, Pleistoanax, later became king of Sparta.

The ancient sources disagreed on his guilt, with Herodotus supporting him but Thucydides convinced of his guilt.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 December 2015), Pausanias, d.c.470-465 ,

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us - Privacy