The Battle for Tegea - 560 B.C.

Herodotus' account for the Tegean War (1.65-1.68) indicates that it was long and difficult for Sparta. It began under one pair of Kings, Leon and Agesicles but was concluded in the reigns of the next pair, Anaxandrides and Ariston. It is debatable then that the war must have lasted c590-580 B.C. and concluded c560-550 B.C.

The situation with the helots plauged on the Spartans mind, there were no plans for any far off conquests of new lands, but anxiety existed that if Sparta did not control the neighbouring city-states, the city-states would come to invade the unwalled city of Sparta. Xenophobia exisited, anything foreign was immediatly suspected of treachery.

Though they had failed in previous attempts to defeat the Tegeas, the oracle predition of the ultimately victory spurred the Lacedaemonians on.

It is not sure how the truce happend between the two, but it was probably a number of small skirmishes and a few battles, but it is certain that Tegea moved away from any form of democracy and turned into an oligopoly, just like the Spartans would have wished. Sparta finally did win the last major confrontation between the two and forced or succumed Tegea into political change. When they conquered their neighbor, Tegea, they set up a truce with them rather than annex their land and people. They demanded instead an alliance. Tegea would follow Sparta in all its foreign relationships, including wars, and would supply Sparta with a fixed amount of soldiers and equipment. In exchange, the Tegeans could remain an independent state. This was a brilliant move on the part of the Spartans. In a short time, Sparta had formed alliances with a huge number of states in the southern part of Greece.

Herodotus, describes a very fanciful version of the subjecation of Tegea, in which the Spartans again consulted the Oracle at Delphi for a second time, he says:

"Throughout the whole of the early contest with the Tegeans, the Lacedaemonians met with nothing but defeats; but in the time of Kings Anaxandrides and Aristo, fortune had turned to their favor.

They asked of Delphi, "Which god they must propitiate to prevail in the war against the Tegeans". The Pythoness said that before they could prevail, they must remove to Sparta the bones or Orestes, the son of Agamemnon. {O08}. Another utterance of the Delphic oracle promised that Sparta would become 'protector' of Tegea.

A Spartan called Lichas who had traveled to Tegea, befriended a blacksmith working in his shop. The smith told him a story about wanting to dig a well but coming across a grave 7 cubits in length, after checking to see if the body was still in it (which the bones were) he reburied it again. At the time of the tale, this just seemed like another interesting story that friends would speak about. But in light of what the oracle had said repeated the story to his countrymen.

The Lacedaemonians quizzed Lichas who said he remembered the smithy had two bellows (which blows air into the furnace), which could relate to the line about the two winds. The hammer and anvil would do for the stroke and counterstroke, and the iron that was being wrought for the evil lying upon evil, iron was believed to have been discovered for the hurt of man.

The Spartans believed they had found Orestes.

Taxing Lichas to go back, the again entered Tegea and acquainted with his friend and ending up boarding with him. While there he secretly dug up the bone and headed back to Sparta.

Thus, believing that the oracle had been fulfilled every time the Spartans and the Tegeans made trial of each other's skill in arms, the Spartans always had greatly the advantage. It should be noted that during the campaign of 479 B.C. at the Battle of Plataea, the Tegans were amoung the allies of the Lacedaemon and that they 'traditionally' had the privilege of taking the place of honor on the wing in the battle line. (Hdt 9.26.2)

So it seems that the war led not to the subjugation of Tegea, but to an alliance between that city and Lacedaemon. When the war had began, the Spartans may have hoped to treat Tegea as they had treated Messenia, they may have expected to absorb its territory and reduce its inhabitants to dependent status. But it did not turn out this way. There maybe a few reasons for this:
1) Tegea proved too tough to conquer, perhaps because of the difficulty of campaigning in the highland of Arcadia and too formidable to leave the Tegans unchecked, therefor an alliance was more exectable
2) The Delphic oracles utterences that Sparta was to be Tegeas 'protector', lead them away from a battle victory against Tegea. The Spartan's were known to be very religious, and therefore not wanting to anger the gods.
3) The Spartans had just recently subjucated Messenia and the Spartan army was already responcible to make sure the Messenian's did not succesfully revolt. As the Messenians probably out numbered the Spartans 5 to 1 to subjucate Tegea as well would have made a chance of a succsessful revolt more likely.
4) Unlike the Messenias, Tegea stood between Sparta and Argos their eternal nemessis. To reduce Tegea to the value of helots would not be tenable to keep as the warriors of Argos could at anytime invade Tegea without the Spartans having any idea. Better to arm Tegea and leave the city as a 'buffer' between Sparta and Argos, almost like an advance post or early warning system in alarming the Spartans against any advance on Sparta.


It was about at this time that Croesus, from Lydia had decided to ally with the Spartans.


NEXT PAGE>>>Lydia and Croesus


The Egyptians and Lacedaemonians resembled each other in the custom of when their young men meet their elders in the streets, they would give way and step aside. [1]

Spartan citizens, were called 'Homoioi' or 'Similars', not 'Equals' as is often translated.

It was around this time too that Sparta allied with Corinth and Elis.

Spartan artists that flourished at this time include; Tyrtaeus

The Map illistrates the most likely route that would be taken by any army wanting to invade Sparta by the mainland. The important cities on the direct route inside the Peloponnese are, Corinth, Argos and Tegea. That is why Sparta was trying so hard to get Tegea to have a pro-Spartan government, and also why after Tegea had been won over, next on the Spartan hit list was the city of Argos. It is also not suprising as well that it was around this time that Sparta allied with Corinth.


To read more about Spartan religion goto here.



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