The battle of Leuctra was one of the most significant battles in the history of Classical Greece, and marked the beginning of the end of Sparta’s time as a major power.
We start with an overview of the previous century of Greek history, looking at the relationship between Thebes, Sparta and Athens during the Persian Wars, and the Peloponnesian Wars. At various times during this period all three powers were allied with both of the others, and at war with both of the others, before eventually Sparta directly occupied Thebes. This set the scene for another period of alliance between Athens and Sparta and for the defeats that critically weakened Sparta.
We then move onto the first of those battles – the rather less famous battle of Tegyra of 375 BC. This was an encounter battle, between a Theban army that was returning from an attempt to capture Orchomenus and the Spartan garrison of that city, returning from an attack on Locris. The resulting battle was significant in two ways – it was the first time a Spartan army had been defeated by a smaller force, and saw the Spartans break their famous code and flee the battlefield.
The bulk of the book covers Leuctra itself. We get a good history of the background to the battle, which saw all the other combatants in the war make peace, leaving only Thebes and Sparta still fighting. There are useful sections on the senior officers on the two sides, and the relative sizes of the two armies (along with a discussion of what the different sources say about that). This is followed by an examination of the different troops on each sides, starting with the full Spartans.
Rather tellingly there is a section on the Theban plan, one of the most famous aspects of the battle, but not on the Spartan plan, which appears to have been to fight a normal hoplite battle. Somewhat unusually for a book of this size we an introduction to the four main sources for the battle (Diodorus, Plutarch, Xenophon and Pausanias), which is expanded on later in the battle account.
The battle account itself starts with a simple brief account of the fighting, followed by more detailed sections looking at key issues. This is an effective technique, giving us a clear idea of the general course of events without getting bogged down in details, but also gives space to look at those key details. After the brief account we move on to four more detailed narratives, each based on one of the key sources. These contain several key differences, not all of which can be reconciled, so this is a very useful section.
This is an excellent account of this crucial ancient battle, especially strong on its handling of our four main sources and the differences between them,
Origins of the Campaign
The Battle of Tegyra 375 BC
The Battle of Leuctra 371 BC
The Battlefields Today
Author: Murray Dahm