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Agesilaus II, Spartan king of the Eurypontid house, c. 445–359 BCE

Agesilaus II (c. 445–359 bce), Spartan king of the junior, Eurypontid line. Son of Archidamus II by his second wife, he was not expected to succeed his older half-brother Agis II and so went through the prescribed educational curriculum (agōgē) like any other Spartan boy. In 400 he unexpectedly secured the succession, with the aid of his former lover Lysander, ahead of Agis' son Leotychidas, whose parentage was suspect (rumour had it that his true father was the exiled Alcibiades).

The first king to be sent on campaign in Asia, where his proclaimed aim was to liberate the Greeks from Persian suzerainty, Agesilaus achieved some success against the Persian viceroys Pharnabazus and Tissaphernes in 396–5 before his enforced recall to face a coalition of Sparta's Greek enemies in central and southern Greece. The battle of Coronea (394) was a Pyrrhic victory, and, despite some minor successes of his around Corinth and in Acarnania (391–388), the coalition was defeated not on land by Agesilaus but at sea by the Spartan nauarchosAntalcidas with a Persian-financed fleet. Agesilaus, however, threw himself wholeheartedly behind the Peace of Antalcidas, or King's Peace (386), which he interpreted to suit what he took to be Sparta's best interests. Pro-Spartan oligarchs were brought to power in Mantinea, Phlius, and Olynthus, but the most flagrant violation of the autonomy clause of the peace was the occupation of Thebes (1) (382). By condoning that breach and securing the acquittal of Sphodrias (father of his son's beloved), who was on trial for an illegal attempt to seize the Piraeus (378), Agesilaus provoked a further anti-Spartan coalition supported by Persia. Despite some success of Agesilaus in Boeotia in 378 and 377, the Thebans and their Boeotian federation (see boeotian confederacy) eventually proved too strong for an enfeebled Spartan alliance at Leuctra in 371. The Theban ascendancy of 371 to 362, presided over by Epaminondas and Pelopidas, and the consequent liberation of Messenia from Sparta, are directly attributable to Agesilaus' unremitting hostility to Thebes. Agesilaus nevertheless did not lose face or influence at home, and continued to direct Spartan counsels in the years of his city's humiliation. He organized the defence of the city against Epaminondas' coalition in 370 and 362, and sought to augment the state's revenues by foreign service as a mercenary (in Asia Minor with the Persian satrap Ariobarzanes in 364, and in Egypt with King Nectanebis II in 361–59). He died in Cyrenaica on the return journey from Egypt, aged about 84.

Though born lame in one leg, and displaying a streak of romanticism, Agesilaus was typically Spartan in his qualities and limitations. He was an efficient soldier, but a better tactician than strategist, who failed to understand the importance of siegecraft and sea power. At home, no Spartan king ever exploited better than he the resources of charisma and patronage available to a blue-blooded Heraclid king (see heraclidae). But the narrowness of his personal loyalties and political sympathies dissipated those moral assets by which alone Sparta might have maintained her Greek hegemony, in the face of a sharply dwindling citizen population and the constant hostility of the helots at home and Sparta's Greek and non-Greek enemies beyond her borders.

Bibliography

P. Poralla and A. S. Bradford, A Prosopography of Lacedaemonians from the Earliest Times to the Death of Alexander the Great, 2nd edn. (1985), no. 9.Find this resource:

    P. Cartledge, Agesilaos and the Crisis of Sparta (1987).Find this resource:

      C. D. Hamilton, Agesilaus and the Failure of Spartan Hegemony (1991).Find this resource:

        J. Buckler, Aegean Greece in the Fourth Century BC (2003).Find this resource:

          J. Buckler and H. Beck, Central Greece and the Politics of the Fourth Century BC (2008).Find this resource:

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