Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Asia Minor FOUNDATION OF THE HELLENIC WORLD
Αναζήτηση με το γράμμα AΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα BΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα CΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα DΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα EΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα FΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα GΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα HΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα IΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα JΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα KΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα LΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα MΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα NΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα OΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα PΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα QΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα RΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα SΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα TΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα UΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα VΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα WΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα XΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα YΑναζήτηση με το γράμμα Z

Agesilaos II

Author(s) : Kitsos Dimitrios (1/27/2001)
Translation : Koutras Nikolaos

For citation: Kitsos Dimitrios, "Agesilaos II",
Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Asia Minor
URL: <http://www.ehw.gr/l.aspx?id=7040>

Αγησίλαος Β' (10/26/2007 v.1) Agesilaos II (3/15/2009 v.1) 

1. Biography

Agesilaus was born in 445/444 BC. He was the son of the Spartan King Archidamus II from his second spouse, Eupolia. As he was not destined as a successor to the throne, he received the upbringing of a normal citizen, the customary Spartan discipline. He was rather small and lame by birth, but this did not stop him from standing up to the challenges of military life. Although lacking in good looks, his cheerful character and demeanour made him endearing. The virtues he exhibited as a young man attracted the interest of Lysander, whose favourite he became. He married Cleora, and had three children, Eupolia, Proauga and Archidamus.1

2. Political and Military Activity

In around 400 BC and with the support of Lysander, Agesilaus succeeded his half-brother Ages II, since the regular successor, Leotychidas, was considered illegitimate.2 At that time Sparta was dominant politically and militarily, having emerged victorious from the Peloponnesian War. Soon after his coronation, Agesilaus played a part in revealing and thwarting the conspiracy of Cinadon, aimed at overturning the polity.3

Escalating the war against the Persians to liberate the Greek cities of Asia Minor, in spring of 396 BC Agesilaus landed at Ephesus leading a force of 8,000 men. He managed to mislead the satrap Tissaphernes with respect to the direction of his military operations, and instead of Caria he invaded and pillaged Hellespontic Phrygia. During the winter and until spring of 395 BC he intensely prepared in Ephesus and then invaded Lydia again, perhaps tricking the enemy once more. Close to Sardis he trapped and defeated Tissaphernes’ army. In fall he invaded Phrygia Magna, penetrating as far as Paphlagonia, where he became allied with the local potentate, and returned to Hellespontic Phrygia.4Agesilaus probably intended to wrench as many regions as possible, inciting revolts in the hinterland to secure the coastal areas.5

While preparing to march once more in spring of 394 BC,6 he was called back to Greece to face a coalition of Greek cities backed by the Persians.7 Though Agesilaus was positively pro-oligarchic, he was apparently moderate when it came to dealing with the domestic political affairs of the cities of Asia Minor.8 From 394 to 387 BC he fought with distinction in several battles of the Corinthian War.9 Perhaps he was opposed to the rapprochement between Sparta and Persia which led to the Peace of Antalcidas.10

In the following years he pursued an aggressive policy to preserve Spartan hegemony, but the clashes with Athens and Thebes led to its dissolution. After 371 BC he was forced to fight to preserve Sparta’s very existence, facing incursions and internal unrest.11 In 366/365 BC he helped the mutinous satrap Ariobarzanes in the Hellespont.12 In order to secure precious resources for Sparta he served successfully as the leader of a mercenary force in Egypt in 361/360 BC. Returning with a sum of 230 talents, he steered into the Harbour of Menelaus in Cyrene, where he died in the winter of 360/359 BC. He was succeeded by his son Archidamus III.13

3. Assessment

The view of the ancient literature on Agesilaus is generally favourable.14 His close friend and admirer Xenophon wrote an encomium bearing his name and Isocrates praised him for his Panhellenism.15 Theopompus considered him the greatest man of his times.16 Diodorus recognized his bravery and military skill,17 but thought he was too bellicose.18 Plutarch criticized some of his actions, but extolled his personality in his biography and in his Moralia,19 while Polyaenus provides evidence for his military genius and his fine character.20

During the Renaissance Agesilaus was seen as the quintessential Classical man, in all except for his looks off course.21 From the 18th century until our days, his fame was tarnished due to ethical and political reasons.22

Of the more recent scholars, Cartledge is more critical on the subject of his foreign policy, while Cawkwell attempts a concise but thoroughly researched and balanced approach. Indubitably a brave soldier and an able tactician, Agesilaus was not a great strategist.23 There are indications of his Panhellenism, but the subject is still debated.24

The charge that his aggressive policies led to Sparta’s downfall is surely overblown. On the contrary, through his tactic he managed to secure Spartan supremacy for many years. The fact that he is the most widely known exponent of this policy does not mean he was solely responsible for it. The roots of Sparta’s decline need to be understood in the context of economic, social and demographic changes. Perhaps he should be mostly blamed for remaining loyal to Lycurgus’ spirit and for his unwillingness or inability to promote reforms.25

1. Plut., Ages. 1-2.1, 19.10-11, 40.5; Nep., Ages. 8.1. On his upbringing see Cartledge, P., Agesilaοs (London 1987), pp. 20-33.

2. Xenoph., Ages. 1.5; Xenoph., Hellen. 3.3.1-4; Plut., Ages. 3.4-9; Nep., Ages. 1.

3. Xenoph., Hellen. 3.3.4-10.

4. Xenoph., Ages. 1.6-16 & 1.23-25; Xenoph., Hellen. 3.4-25 & 4.1.1-41; Greek Oxyrrynchus 11(6), 12(7), 21(16)-22(17).1-3; Plut., Ages. 6-13; Diod. S. 79.1-3; Nep., Ages. 2.1-3.6.

5. Seager, R.S., “Agesilaus in Asia: propaganda and objectives”, LCM 2 (1977), p. 184· Kelly, D.H., “Agesilaus’ strategy in Asia Minor”, LCM 3 (1978), p. 98.

6. Xenoph., Hellen. 4.1.41· Greek Oxyrrynchus 22 (17).4.

7. Xenoph., Hellen. 4.2; Plut., Ages. 15; Diod. S. 14.83.1; Nep., Ages. 4.1-4.4.

8. Xenoph., Ages. 1.37-38; Parke, H.W., “The development of the second Spartan empire”, JHS 50 (1930), pp. 37-79.

9. Xenoph., Ages. 1.6-10; Xenoph., Hellen. 4.3-5.1· Plut., Ages. 16-23; Diod. S. 14.83-84, 97; Nep., Ages. 4.5-5.

10. Plut., Ages. 23.2-4; Cawkwell, G.L., “Agesilaus and Sparta”, CQ 70 (1976), pp. 68-69. For the opposite view see Smith, R.E., “The opposition to Agesilaus’ foreign policy”, Historia 2 (1953/4), pp. 287-288; Cartledge, P., Agesilaοs (London 1987), pp. 195-199; Lewis, D.M., Sparta and Persia (Leiden 1977), p. 145, note 61.

11. Xenoph., Ages. 2.21-25· Xenoph., Hellen. 5-7· Plut., Ages. 23-25· Diod. S. 15.19.31-34, 52, 59, 83· Nep., Ages. 5-7.

12. Xenoph., Ages. 2.26.

13. Xenoph., Ages. 2.27-31· Plut., Ages. 36-40.5· Διόδ. 15.92.2-3, 93.2-6· Nep., Ages. 8.2-6.

14. Cartledge, P., Agesilaοs (London 1987) examines critically the sources on Agesilaus, pp. 53-73; Cawkwell, G.L., “Agesilaus and Sparta”, CQ 70 (1976), pp. 63-66.

15. Isocr., Letter to Archidamus 11.

16. Plut., Ages. 10.10.

17. Diod. S. 15.92.2.

18. Diod. S. 15.19.4.

19. Plut., Mor. 208b-236e.

20. Polyaenus., Strategemata 2.1.1-33, 2.3.10, 3.11.15, 4.4.3.

21. Rawson, E., The Spartan tradition in European thought (Oxford 1969), p. 135.

22. Cartledge, P., Agesilaοs (London 1987), pp. 420-426, mentions and discusses these views.

23. Just to mention one, that he sailed for Asia without having secured his rear, despite the manifest hostility of the major Greek cities, and that he was not diligent enough in developing the Spartan fleet, see Cartledge, P., Agesilaοs (London 1987), pp. 208-218.

24. Cawkwell, G.L., “Agesilaus and Sparta”, CQ 70 (1976), pp. 69-71.

25. Cawkwell, G.L., “Agesilaus and Sparta”, CQ 70 (1976), pp. 83-84.


Entry's identity

press image to open photo library