Author: Xenophon


To write the praises of Agesilaus in language equalling his virtue and renown is, I know, no easy task; yet must it be essayed; since it were but an ill requital of pre-eminence, that, on the ground of his perfection, a good man should forfeit the tribute even of imperfect praise.

As touching, therefore, the excellency of his birth, what weightier, what nobler testimony can be adduced than this one fact? To the commemorative list of famous ancestry is added to-day the name[1] Agesilaus as holding this or that numerical descent from Heracles, and these ancestors no private persons, but kings sprung from the loins of kings. Nor is it open to the gainsayer to contend that they were kings indeed but of some chance city. Not so, but even as their family holds highest honour in their fatherland, so too is their city the most glorious in Hellas, whereby they hold, not primacy over the second best, but among leaders they have leadership.

[1] Or, "even to-day, in the proud bead-roll of his ancestry he stands
commemorated, in numerical descent from Heracles."

And herein it is open to us to praise both his fatherland and his family. It is notable that never throughout these ages has Lacedaemon, out of envy of the privilege accorded to her kings, tried to dissolve their rule; nor ever yet throughout these ages have her kings strained after greater powers than those which limited their heritage of kingship from the first. Wherefore, while all other forms of government, democracies and oligarchies, tyrannies and monarchies, alike have failed to maintain their continuity unbroken, here, as the sole exception, endures indissolubly their kingship.[2]

[2] See "Cyrop." I. i. 1.

And next in token of an aptitude for kingship seen in Agesilaus, before even he entered upon office, I note these signs. On the death of Agis, king of Lacedaemon, there were rival claimants to the throne. Leotychides claimed the succession as being the son of Agis, and Agesilaus as the son of Archidamus. But the verdict of Lacedaemon favoured Agesilaus as being in point of family and virtue unimpeachable,[3] and so they set him on the throne. And yet, in this princeliest of cities so to be selected by the noblest citizens as worthy of highest privilege, argues, methinks conclusively, an excellence forerunning exercise of rule.[4]

[3] For this matter see "Hell." III. iii. 1-6; V. iv. 13; Plut.
"Ages." iii. 3 (Cloigh, iv. 3 foll.); Paus. iii. 3.

[4] See Aristides ("Rhet." 776), who quotes the passage for its
measured cadence.

And so I pass on at once to narrate the chief achievements of his reign, since by the light of deeds the character of him who wrought them will, if I mistake not, best shine forth.

Agesilaus was still a youth[5] when he obtained the kingdom, and he was still but a novice in his office when the news came that the king of Persia was collecting a mighty armament by sea and land for the invasion of Hellas. The Lacedaemonians and their allies sat debating these matters, when Agesilaus undertook to cross over into Asia. He only asked for thirty Spartans and two thousand New Citizens,[6] besides a contingent of the allies six thousand strong; with these he would cross over into Asia and endeavour to effect a peace; or, if the barbarian preferred war, he would leave him little leisure to invade Hellas.

[5] B.C. 399; according to Plut. ("Ages." ad fin.) he was forty-three,
and therefore still "not old." See "Hell." III. iv. 1 for the
startling news, B.C. 396.

[6] For the class of Neodamodes, see Arnold’s note to Thuc. v. 34
(Jowett, "Thuc." ii. 307); also Thuc. vii. 58; "Hell." I. iii. 15.

The proposal was welcomed with enthusiasm on the part of many. They could not but admire the eagerness of their king to retaliate upon the Persian for his former invasions of Hellas by counter-invasion on his own soil. They liked the preference also which he showed for attacking rather than awaiting his enemy’s attack, and his intention to carry on the war at the expense of Persia rather than that of Hellas; but it was the perfection of policy, they felt, so to change the arena of battle, with Asia as the prize of victory instead of Hellas. If we pass on to the moment when he had received his army and set sail, I can conceive no clearer exposition of his generalship than the bare narration of his exploits.

The scene is Asia, and this his first achievement. Tissaphernes had sworn an oath to Agesilaus on this wise: if Agesilaus would grant him an armistice until the return of certain ambassadors whom he would send to the king, he (Tissaphernes) would do his utmost to procure the independence of the Hellenic cities in Asia. And Agesilaus took a counter oath: without fraud or covin to observe the armistice during the three months[7] necessary to that transaction. But the compact was scarcely made when Tissaphernes gave the lie to the solemn undertaking he had sworn to. So far from effecting peace, he begged the King to send him a large armament in addition to that which he already had. As to Agesilaus, though he was well aware of these proceedings, he adhered loyally to the armistice.

[7] See Grote, "H. G." x. 359; "Hell." III. iv. 5.

And for myself, I look upon this as the first glorious achievement of the Spartan. By displaying the perjury of Tissaphernes he robbed him of his credit with all the world; by the exhibition of himself in contrast as a man who ratified his oath and would not gainsay an article of his agreement, he gave all men, Hellenes and barbarians alike, encouragement to make covenant with him to the full extent of his desire.

When Tissaphernes, priding himself on the strength of that army which had come down to aid him, bade Agesilaus to be gone from Asia or to prepare for war,[8] deep was the vexation depicted on the faces of the Lacedaemonians there present and their allies, as they realised that the scanty force of Agesilaus was all too small to cope with the armaments of Persia. But the brow of their general was lit with joy as gaily he bade the ambassadors take back this answer to Tissaphernes: "I hold myself indebted to your master for the perjury whereby he has obtained to himself the hostility of heaven, and made the gods themselves allies of Hellas." And so without further pause he published a general order to his soldiers to pack their baggage and prepare for active service; and to the several cities which lay on the line of march to Caria, the order sped to have their markets in readiness; while to the men of Ionia and the Aeolid and the Hellespont he sent despatches bidding them send their contingents to Ephesus to join in the campaign.

[8] Lit. "When Tissaphernes, priding himself . . . bade Agesilaus be
gone . . . deep was the annoyance felt."

Tissaphernes meanwhile was influenced by the fact that Agesilaus had no cavalry, and that Caria was a hilly district unsuited for that arm. Moreover, as he further bethought him, Agesilaus must needs be wroth with him for his deceit. What could be clearer, therefore, than that he was about to make a dash at the satrap’s home in Caria? Accordingly he transported the whole of his infantry into Caria and marched his cavalry round the while into the plain of the Maeander, persuaded that he would trample the Hellenes under the hoofs of his horses long before they reached the district where no cavalry could operate.

But Agesilaus, instead of advancing upon Caria, turned right about and marched in the direction of Phrygia. Picking up the various forces that met him on his progress, he passed onwards, laying city after city at his feet, and by the suddenness of his incursion capturing enormous wealth.

Here was an achievement which showed the genius of a general, as all agreed. When once war as declared, and the arts of circumvention and deceit were thereby justified, he had proved Tissaphernes to be a very bade in subtlety;[9] and with what sagacity again did he turn the circumstances to account for the enrichment of his friends. Owing to the quantity of wealth captured, precious things were selling for a mere song. Thereupon he gave his friends warning to make their purchases, adding that he should at once march down to the sea-coast at the head of his troops. The quartermasters meanwhile received orders to make a note of the purchasers with the prices of the articles, and to consign the goods. The result was that, without prior disbursement on their part, or detriment to the public treasury, his friends reaped an enormous harvest. Moreover, when deserters came with offers to disclose hidden treasures, and naturally enough laid their proposal before the king himself, he took care to have the capture of these treasures effected by his friends, which would enable them to do a stroke of business, and at the same time redound to their prestige. For this reason he was not long in discovering many an eager aspirant to his friendship.

[9] See below, xi. 4; "Mem." III. i. 6; IV. ii. 15; "Cyrop." I. vi.
31; Plut. "Ages." xi. (Clough, iv. 10).

But a country pillaged and denuded of inhabitants would not long support an army. That he felt. A more perennial source of supply was surely to be found in waving cornfields and thickly clustering homesteads. So with infinite pains he set himself not merely to crush his foes by force, but also to win them to his side by gentleness. In this spirit he often enjoined upon his soldiers to guard their captives as fellow-men rather than take vengeance upon them as evildoers;[10] or, on a change of quarters, if aware of little children left behind by the dealers (since the men often sold them in the belief that it would be impossible to carry them away and rear them), he would show concern in behalf of these poor waifs and have them conveyed to some place of safety; or he would entrust them to the care of fellow-prisoners also left behind on account of old age; in no case must they be left to ravening dogs and wolves. In this way he won the goodwill not only of those who heard tell of these doings but of the prisoners themselves. And whenever he brought over a city to his side, he set the citizens free from the harsher service of a bondsman to his lord, imposing the gentler obedience of a freeman to his ruler. Indeed, there were fortresses impregnable to assault which he brought under his power by the subtler force of human kindness.

[10] See Grote, vol. ix. p. 365 foll.

But when, in Phrygia even, the freedom of his march along the flats was hampered by the cavalry of Pharnabazus, he saw that if he wished to avoid a skulking warfare under cover, a force of cavalry was indispensable. Accordingly he enlisted the wealthiest members of every city in those parts to breed and furnish horses; with this saving clause, however: that the individual who furnished a horse and arms with a good rider should be exempt from service himself. By this means he engendered an eagerness to discharge the obligation, not unlike that of the condemned man, casting about to discover some one to die in his place.[11] He further ordered some of the states themselves to furnish contingents of mounted troopers, and this in the conviction that from such training-centres he would presently get a pick of cavaliers proud of their horsemanship. And thus once more he won golden opinions by the skill with which he provided himself with a body of cavalry in the plenitude of strength and ripe for active service.

[11] Instead of the plain {zetoie} of the parallel passage ("Hell."
III. iv. 15) the encomiast prefers the poetical {masteuoi}.

On the approach of early spring[12] he collected his whole armament at Ephesus, and set himself to the work of training it. With that object he proposed a series of prizes: one set for the cavalry squadron which rode best, another for the heavy infantry divisions which presented the best physique, another again for various light troops, peltasts, and bowmen, which showed themselves most efficient in their respective duties.

[12] B.C. 395; see "Hell." III. iv. 16; Plut. "Marcel." (Clough, ii.
262); Polyb. xii. 20, 7.

Thereupon it was a sight to see the gymnasiums thronged with warriors going through their exercises, the racecourses crowded with troopers on prancing steeds, the archers and the javelin men shooting at the butts. Nay, the whole city in which he lay was transformed into a spectacle itself, so filled to overflowing was the market-place with arms and armour of every sort, and horses, all for sale. Here were coppersmiths and carpenters, ironfounders and cobblers, painters and decorators—one and all busily engaged in fabricating the implements of war; so that an onlooker might have thought the city of Ephesus itself a gigantic arsenal. It would have kindled courage in the breast of a coward to see the long lines of soldiers, with Agesilaus at their head, all garlanded as they marched in proud procession from the gymnasiums and dedicated their wreaths to our Lady Artemis. Since, where these three elements exist—reverence towards heaven, practice in military affairs, and obedience to command—all else must needs be full of happy promise.

But seeing that contempt for the foe is calculated to infuse a certain strength in face of battle, he ordered his criers to strip naked the barbarians captured by his foraging parties, and so to sell them. The soldiers who saw the white skins of these folk, unused to strip for toil, soft and sleek and lazy-looking, as of people who could only stir abroad in carriages, concluded that a war with women would scarcely be more formidable. Then he published a further order to the soldiers: "I shall lead you at once by the shortest route to the stronghold[13] of the enemy’s territory. Your general asks you to keep yourselves on the alert in mind and body, as men about to enter the lists of battle on the instant."

[13] Or, "the richest parts of the country," viz. Lydia; Plut. "Ages."

But Tissaphernes was persuaded that this was all talk on his part for the purpose of outwitting him a second time: now certainly Agesilaus would make an incursion into Caria. So once again the satrap transported his infantry over into that country just has he had done before, and as before he posted his cavalry in the plain of the Maeander.

This time, however, Agesilaus was true to his word. In accordance with his published order he advanced straight upon the region of Sardis, and, during a three days’ march through a country where not an enemy was to be seen, provided his army with abundant supplies. On the fourth day the enemy’s cavalry came up. The Persian general ordered the commandant of his baggage train to cross the Pactolus and encamp, whilst his troopers, who had caught sight of the camp followers of the Hellenes scattered in search of booty, put many of them to the sword. Agesilaus, aware how matters were going, ordered his cavalry to the rescue, and the Persians on their side, seeing the enemy’s supports approaching, collected and formed up in line to receive them with the serried squadrons of their cavalry. And now Agesilaus, conscious that his enemy’s infantry had not as yet arrived, whilst on his side no element in his preparation was lacking, felt that the moment was come to join battle if he could. Accordingly he sacrificed and advanced against the opposing lines of cavalry. A detachment of heavy infantry, the ten-years-service men, had orders to close with them at the run, while the light infantry division were told to show them the way at a swinging pace. At the same time he passed the order along the line of his cavalry to charge in reliance of the support of himself and the main body in their rear. Charge they did, these troopers, and the pick of Persian cavalry received them bravely, but in face of the conjoint horror of the attack they swerved, and some were cut down at once in the river-bed, while others sought safety in flight. The Hellenes followed close on the heels of the flying foe, and captured his camp. Here the peltasts, not unnaturally, fell to pillaging, whereupon Agesilaus formed a cordon of troops, round the property of friends and foes alike, and so encamped.

Presently hearing that the enemy were in a state of disorder, the result of every one holding his fellow responsible for what had happened, he advanced without further stay on Sardis. Having arrived, he fell to burning and ravaging the suburbs, while at the same time he did not fail to make it known by proclamation that those who asked for freedom should join his standard; or if there were any who claimed a right of property in Asia he challenged them to come out and meet her liberators in fair fight and let the sword decide between them. Finding that no one ventured to come out to meet him, his march became for the future a peaceful progress. All around him he beheld Hellenes who formerly were forced to bow the knee to brutal governors now honoured by their former tyrants, while those who had claimed to enjoy divine honours were so humbled by him that they scarce dared to look a Hellene in the face. Everywhere he saved the territory of his friends from devastation, and reaped the fruits of the enemy’s soil to such good effect that within two years he was able to dedicate as a tithe to the god at Delphi more than one hundred talents.[14]

[14] = 25,000 pounds nearly.

It was then that the Persian king, believing that Tissaphernes was to blame for the ill success of his affairs, sent down Tithraustes and cut off the satrap’s head. After this the fortunes of the barbarians grew still more desperate, whilst those of Agesilaus assumed a bolder front. On all side embassies from the surrounding nations came to make terms of friendship, and numbers even came over to him, stretching out eager arms to grasp at freedom. So that Agesilaus was now no longer the chosen captain of the Hellenes only, but of many Asiatics.

And here we may pause and consider what a weight of admiration is due to one who, being now ruler over countless cities of the continent, and islands also (since the state had further entrusted the navy to his hands), just when he had reached this pinnacle of renown and power, and might look to turn to account his thronging fortunes; when, too, which overtops all else, he was cherishing fond hopes to dissolve that empire which in former days had dared to march on Hellas;—at such a moment suffered himself not to be overmastered by these promptings, but on receipt of a summons of the home authorities to come to the assistance of the fatherland, obeyed the mandate of his state as readily[15] as though he stood confronted face to face with the Five in the hall of ephors; and thus gave clear proof that he would not accept the whole earth in exchange for the land of his fathers, nor newly-acquired in place of ancient friends, nor base gains ingloriously purchased rather than the perilous pursuit of honour and uprightness.[16]

[15] Cf. Hor. "Od." III. v. 50.

[16] See Pindar, "Olymp." vi. 14.

And, indeed, glancing back at the whole period during which he remained in the exercise of his authority, no act of deeper significance in proof of his kingly qualities need be named than this. He found the cities which he was sent out to govern each and all a prey to factions, the result of constitutional disturbances consequent on the cessation of the Athenian empire, and without resort to exile or sanguinary measures he so disposed them by his healing presence that civil concord and material prosperity were permanently maintained. Therefore it was that the Hellenes in Asia deplored his departure,[17] as though they had lost, not simply a ruler, but a father or bosom friend, and in the end they showed that their friendship was of no fictitious character. At any rate, they voluntarily helped him to succour Lacedaemon, though it involved, as they knew, the need of doing battle with combatants of equal prowess with themselves. So the tale of his achievements in Asia has an end.

[17] See Plut. "Ages." xv.


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Chicago: Xenophon, "I," Agesilaus, ed. Firth, John B. and trans. Dakyns, H. G. (Henry Graham) in Agesilaus Original Sources, accessed May 19, 2024,

MLA: Xenophon. "I." Agesilaus, edited by Firth, John B., and translated by Dakyns, H. G. (Henry Graham), in Agesilaus, Original Sources. 19 May. 2024.

Harvard: Xenophon, 'I' in Agesilaus, ed. and trans. . cited in , Agesilaus. Original Sources, retrieved 19 May 2024, from