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Agesila'us Ii.

son by his second wife, Eupolia, of Archidamus II., succeeded his half-brother, Agis II. as nineteenth king of the Eurypontid line; excluding, on the ground of spurious birth, and by the interest of Lysander, his nephew, Leotychides. [LEOTYCHIDES.] His reign extends from 398 to 361 B. C., both inclusive; during most of which time he was, in Plutarch's words, "as good as thought commander and king of all Greece," and was for the whole of it greatly identified with his country's deeds and fortunes. The position of that country, though internally weak, was externally, in Greece, down to 394, one of supremacy acknowledged : the only field of its ambition was Persia; from 394 to 387, the Corinthian or first Theban war, one of supremacy assaulted: in 387 that supremacy was restored over Greece, in the peace of Antalcidas, by the sacrifice of Asiatic prospects : and thus more confined and more secure, it became also more wanton. After 378, when Thebes regained her freedom, we find it again assailed, and again for one moment restored, though on a lower level, in 371; then overthrown for ever at Leuctra, the next nine years being a struggle for existence amid dangers within and without.

Of the youth of Agesilaus we have no detail, beyond the mention of his intimacy with Lysander. On the throne, which he ascended about the age of forty, we first hear of him in the suppression of Cinadon's conspiracy. [CINADON.] In his third year (396) he crossed into Asia, and after a short campaign, and a winter of preparation, he in the next overpowered the two satraps, Tissaphernes and Pharnabazus; and, in the spring of 394, was encamped in the plain of Thebe, preparing to advance into the heart of the empire, when a message arrived to summon him to the war at home. He calmly and promptly obeyed; expressing however to the Asiatic Greeks, and doubtless himself indulging, hopes of a speedy return. Marching rapidly by Xerxes' route, he met and defeated at Coroneia in Boeotia the allied forces. In 393 he was engaged in a ravaging invasion of Argolis, in 392 in one of the Corinthian territory, in 391 he reduced the Acarnanians to submission; but, in the remaining years of the war, he is not mentioned. In the interval of peace, we find him declining the command in Sparta's aggression on Mantineia; but heading, from motives, it is said, of private friendship, that on Phlius; and openly justifying Phoebidas' seizure of the Cadmeia. Of the next war, the first two years he commanded in Boeotia, more however to the enemy's gain in point of experience, than loss in any other; from the five remaining he was withdrawn by severe illness. In the congress of 371 an altercation is recorded between him and Epaminondas; and by his advice Thebes was peremptorily excluded from the peace, and orders given for the fatal campaign of Leuctra. In 370 we find him engaged in an embassy to Mantineia, and reassuring the Spartans by an invasion of Arcadia; and in 369 to his skill, courage, and presence of mind, is to be ascribed the maintenance of the unwalled Sparta, amidst the attacks of four armies, and revolts and conspiracies of Helots, Perioeci, and even Spartans. Finally, in 362, he led his countrymen into Arcadia; by fortunate information was enabled to return in time to prevent the surprise of Sparta, and was, it seems, joint if not sole commander at the battle of Mantineia. To the ensuing winter must probably be referred his embassy to the coast of Asia and negotiations for money with the revolted satraps, alluded to in an obscure passage of Xenophon (Agesilaus, 2.26, 27): and, in performance perhaps of some stipulation then made. he crossed, in the spring of 361, with a body of Lacedaemonian mercenaries into Egypt. Here, after displaying much of his ancient skill, he died, while preparing for his voyage home, in the winter of 361-60, after a life of above eighty years and a reign of thirty-eight. His body was embalmed in wax, and splendidly buried at Sparta.

Referring to our sketch of Spartan history, we find Agesilaus shining most in its first and last period, as commencing and surrendering a glorious career in Asia, and as, in extreme age, maintaining his prostrate country. From Coroneia to Leuctra we see him partly unemployed, at times yielding to weak motives, at times joining in wanton acts of public injustice. No one of Sparta's great defeats, but some of her bad policy belongs to him. In what others do, we miss him; in what he does, we miss the greatness and consistency belongings to unity of purpose and sole command. No doubt he was hampered at home; perhaps, too, from a man withdrawn, when now near fifty, from his chosen career, great action in a new one of any kind could not be looked for. Plutarch gives among numerous apophthegmata his letter to the ephors on his recall : " We have reduced most of Asia, driven back the barbarians, made arms abundant in Ionia. But since you bid me, according to the decree, come home, I shall fellow my letter, may perhaps be even before it. For my comniand is not mine, but my country's and her allies'. And a commander then commands truly according to right when he sees his own commander in the laws and ephors, or others holding office in the state." Also, an exclamation on hearing of the battle of Corinth : "Alas for Greece! she has killed enough of her sons to have conquered all the barbarians." Of his courage, temperance, and hardiness, many instances are given : to these he added, even in excess, the less Spartan qualities of kindliness and tenderness as a father and a friend. Thus we have the story of his riding across a stick with his children; and to gratify his son's affection for Cleonymus, son of the culprit, he saved Sphodrias from the punishment due, in right and policy, for his incursion into Attica in 378. So too the appointment of Peisander. [PEISANDER.] A letter of his runs, " If Nicis is innocent, acquit him for that ; if guilty, for my sake; any how acquit him." From Spartan cupidity and dishonesty, and mostly, even in public life, from ill faith, his character is clear. In person he was small, mean-looking, and lame, on which last ground objection had been made to his accession, an oracle, curiously fulfilled, having warned Sparta of evils awaiting her under a "lame sovereignty" In his reign, indeed, her fall took place, but not through him. Agesilaus himself was Sparta's most perfect citizen and most consummate general; in many ways perhaps her greatest man. (Xen. Hell. 3.3, to the end, Agesilaus ; Diod. xiv. xv; Paus. 3.9, 10; Plut. and C. Nepos, in vita ; Plut. Apophthegm.)


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  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.10
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.9
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 3.3
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