How Elite Gay Warriors Overran Spartan Military Power

The Peloponnesian War (431-404) lasted almost 30 years, in which Sparta finally defeated its rival Athens and achieved hegemony over Greece.

How Elite Gay Warriors Overran Spartan Military Power

The Peloponnesian War (431-404) lasted almost 30 years, in which Sparta finally defeated its rival Athens and achieved hegemony over Greece. The city was hardly able to retain its supremacy any longer. In Thebes in Boeotia, military power suddenly faced an adversary who dared to challenge Sparta's dreaded professional soldiers. A certain Epaminondas (ca. 418-362) had developed the remedy for this. On August 5, 371 BC he challenged the Spartan army at Leuktra.

Epaminondas came from a respected but not very wealthy family in Thebes. He is said to have received an extensive education, a Pythagorean philosopher is said to have been his teacher, which would possibly explain the pragmatic use of numbers. The Roman historian Cornelius Nepos has Epaminondas in the 1st century BC. dedicated a biography to:

"He was measured, wise, thoughtful, knew how to use the time wisely, was skilled in warfare, personally courageous, extremely courageous and so truthful that he never told an untruth even in jest. Likewise he was master of himself, gentle and tolerant to an admirable degree, indifferent to offense not only on the part of the people but also of his friends, above all a faithful keeper of entrusted secrets, a virtue which is at times no less useful than eloquence, and eager to listen, as he thought that was the easiest way to teach oneself."

Epaminondas showed a test of his personal courage on a military expedition in 385 BC. when, although wounded, he rescued his comrade Pelopidas. Both became the architects of the Theban great power.

Basically, under the Spartan hegemony, there was a war of everyone against everyone in Greece. Sparta was only able to assert its claim to power against changing coalitions with difficulty. His most important ally was the Persian Empire, with whose gold Sparta had already built the fleet that Athens was finally able to conquer. In order to be able to limit himself to Greece, the Great King was granted rule over the Greeks of Asia Minor in the "Royal Peace" of 387/6. In Hellas itself, the autonomy of each polis (city-state) was made the rule.

This meant that the Boeotian League, in which Thebes played the leading role, had to be dissolved. In numerous cities, Sparta installed oligarchic regimes dependent on the protection of its arms. For a few years, the Spartans even managed to establish themselves on Kadmeia, the castle of Thebes.

Epaminondas was among those involved in the expulsion of this garrison. As a result, the Boeotian League was restored, which Sparta had to understand as an open challenge. In the meantime elected one of the Botarchs – officials who, along with the executive branch of the federation, were also responsible for conducting the war – Epaminondas refused all demands for dissolution at a peace congress in Sparta in 371. Only a few weeks later, its king Cleombrotos II invaded Boeotia.

The Spartan army numbered a good 10,000 men, including around 700 full citizens; the majority were citizens of minor rights, mercenaries and allies. In contrast, Thebes could only muster 7,000 fighters, who had to deploy knowing that the assembled Spartan army had not lost a major battle in the past 200 years.

The Greek historian Xenophon, a contemporary witness who, as a mercenary leader and former officer in the Spartan service, knew the military conditions very well, described Epaminondas' battle plan at Leuktra precisely. After this, the Theban massed his best troops on the left wing. At its core, it was the Holy Host commanded by Pelopidas. This troupe consisted of 150 gay couples whose relationships were intended to create a special cohesion.

With a "depth of no less than fifty shields," this wing was clearly superior to its Spartan counterpart, which "only came to a depth of no more than twelve men," writes Xenophon. Thus Epaminondas, although outnumbered, gained an advantage at a focal point of the battle. The Greek phalanx was a deep line of heavily armored foot soldiers. While the front ranks fought, the rear ranks were tasked with pushing them against the enemy. By making his wings of different strengths, Epaminondas created the so-called "leaning order of battle", with which two millennia later Frederick the Great would also achieve his most famous victory.

Kleombrotos made it easy for the Thebans. Confident of victory and because he and his subordinates "had drunk quite a bit" at lunchtime, he lined up his cavalry in front of his phalanx. As usual in Greek armies, the cavalry was hardly practiced, the Spartan probably even less than their opponent. Both rushed into battle before Kleombrotos gave the order to advance. His riders were defeated and tumbled back, throwing the phalanx into disarray.

The reinforced left wing of the Thebans now advanced against their right wing. Here Kleombrotos was in supreme command and put up dogged resistance. But after he fell and his men tried to save his body, the Spartan phalanx broke up and turned to flee. 1000 Spartans, including 400 full citizens, died.

That was the end of Spartan hegemony over Greece. From the following year, Epaminondas carried the war to the gates of Sparta. His state slaves in Messenia were freed, and many of his allies, who had long bowed to the superiority of military power, were freed. Oligarchic regimes were overthrown.

As long as Epaminondas was alive, Thebes was able to secure its hegemonic position. When 362 BC BC Sparta in alliance with Athens and others to turn the tables, he was able to conquer parts of the city. He defeated the Coalition at Mantineia but was killed himself. Thebes lost the man who knew how to use the limited resources of the city so virtuously. From then on, until the rise of the Macedonians, there would be no hegemon over Greece.

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