Lelantine War - Prohibition of Missiles

"The war between Chalkis and Eretria was the one in which most cities belonging to the rest of Greece were divided up into alliances with one side or the other."
"History of the Peloponnesian War" by Thucydides (Book 1. Section 15, part 3)

Both Thucydides and Herodotus [1], say the Lelantine plain was a continual cause of friction between Erectria and Chalcis. During the the Lelantine War that took place between them it is stated that the two city-states made an agreement banning the use of 'missile weapons'. If this prohibition of a specific type of weapon is true it stands unique and would be the earliest example of arms limitation in history. The next recorded ban on something similar was the Second Lateran Council's ban in 1139 A.D [3]. on the use of bows and crossbows against Christians (but was permitted against infidels and heretics) offers anything close to a parallel.

There are ancient literary evidence towards the treaty as well:

  • Polybius speaks about it 13.3.2 to 4
  • Strabo 10.1.12. Who says he read an inscribed treaty in Erectria.
  • Archilochus fr.3 West

Historians have argued that the main reason the treaty was set up was because of the 'chivalry' code, in which archery was shunned as un-heroic leading to close combat as the only acceptable alternative. But this seems hard to swallow as the divinities on Erectria were archers, Artemis, Apollo and even Hercules (who wielded a club but also used the bow). How could this be? Most of the temples on Euboea were for Artemis and Apollo, twins at birth who were famed for their bow and arrow prowess, this doesn't fit well with a treaty supposedly set up because it was 'un-heroic' to use missile weapons.

What of the stele that Strabo is said to have read in an Erectrian temple referring to the treaty? Scholars against this, state that the temple was Amarythus which was dedicated to Artemis, so again, why would a treaty against missiles including the use of arrows be left in a temple dedicated to Artemis, who used a bow and arrow as her primary weapon? They have also claimed that Greek dialect used on Euboea could not have been read by Strabo who didn't know that dialect, so someone had to read it to him, which means Strabo himself could not confirm what was actually written on the stele. Even more, they claim that the Persians sacked Erectria in the 480 B.C. invasion of the island, burning all their temples to the ground (this was the main reason Persia wanted to sack the island). So how could a stele which pre-dated this even have survived the sack? The only real question is why would they lie to Strabo in this way? It is claimed that the Erectrians wanted to show Strabo that they were 'warrior' like and that Archilochus was referring to them in his works.

Personally, we have not come against legitimate responses against these reasons. Still, we think, the answer is hidden in the reason why the treaty might (or was) set up, what is it's purpose?

In short we believe the reason for the treaty banning of missile weapons in the Lelantine War was set up so as to not offend the god Apollo. We will have to explain the history of the island, so the reader will have to allow us a little grace as we relive the mythology of the past.

Artwork: 'Apollo with Bow' by Dutch sculptor Adriaen de Vries

Apollo is said, when he was looking to find a sacred place to set up his sanctuary one of the places he visited was the Lelantine Plain, for whatever reason he thought against it there and moved on, ultimately he located his sanctuary at Delphi [4]. This now leads us to the question of, what role did Delphi play in this war? The battle was over the Lelantine Plain sacred to Apollo, he was on the verge of founding his city there. It can't be justified to say the Oracle of Delphi played no role in this war. So many times in wars in ancient Greece, references to oracles are given, most of them ambiguous, but still the guidenst of the gods was sort out. Unfortunately, we know of no oracle for the Lelantine War, so the rest now is pure conjecture on our part, but we think it's feasible.

The Lelantine War which was not just one battle but went on for some time, at some stage a guidence was sort by Chalcis and/or Erectria. The Oracle of Delphi not wanting to aid one side or the other came out with an oracle stating that Apollo will not be aiding either side and in honour of the god, neither side should seek his support and neither side should use missile weapons.

The reason the oracle would prohibit the use of missile weapons is because the use of the weapon was admittance that the help of Apollo was sort. To have suffered an injury with a missile weapon would be an indication that the god was against your side.

Now too, it can be better understood a little better why Strabo saw the treaty in a temple dedicated to Artemis and not Apollo. By doing this the people of Erectria were trying to get Apollo's sister Artemis to tell her brother that the Erectrian's had upheld the treaty against missiles, as to even have the treaty put in a temple dedicated to Apollo might be seen by the god that his assistance was being requested.

Homer in the story of Troy refers to the Euboeans (Abantes) as 'experts in close combat', who shaved their front part of their head fully and let the back half grow long, this was supposedly so that in close combat the enemy could not pull their hair. Chalcidians too had a reputation for the manufacture of swords [2]. So it may be that the treaty was not just for this war, but was discouraged on the island anyway.


NEXT PAGE>>>The Aegina Invasion



  • *1 'Histories' by Herodotus (5.99)
  • *2 'Geography' by Strabo (10.1.12)
  • *3 'The Just War in the Middle Ages (Cambridge 1975) (156-58)
  • *4 'Works and Days' by Hesiod
  • *5 'Geography' by Strabo (10.1.12)

Ancient References:


Note#1:The allies of Chalcis mentioned are Corinth, Sparta, Erythrae, Thessaly and Samos. The allies of Eretria mentioned are Megara, Chios, Messenia, Argos and Miletus.

The island of Aegina may well have been allied with Eretria [3], though not mentioned by name. Also, Strabo says that Eretria controlled the islands of Andros[7], Tenos and Ceos [5].

Note#2: There may be a connection here with the relationship on both sides to horses, and horse hair being used on helmets.

Note#3: During the Peloponnesian War Eretria was an Athenian ally against her Dorian rivals Sparta and Corinth. Also Sparta and Messenia were adversaries in this war.
Samos and Miletus adversaries here seem to have always been at odds. Over 300 years later, they would both be fighting against each other for the island of Priene, that would lead to the Battle of Samos 440 B.C.

Note#4: There is evidence to show that from the earliest times the Lelantine Plain was a plain of discord between the two cities.

NOTE#5: This war can't be dated presisouly, but this struggle seems to fall between 750 B.C. and 660 B.C.

NOTE#6: There are 4 ancient references which are universally accepted as pertaining to this war. Thucydides (1.15), Herodotus (5.99.1), Plutarch and Strabo (10.1.11-12).

NOTE#7: The island of Andros which was under control of Erectria, after the war went out and founded new colonies at Stageirus, Sane and Acanthus with colonists from Chalcis. These friendly endeavors between the two are best explained as a result of Andros having been freed from Erectrian control after the Lalentine War.

History of Euboea:
Euboea was colonised in antiquity by people from Thessaly, these settlers were joined by Ionians, Aeolians and Dorians from the Peloponnese. The island, also called Makris because of its length, was divided between seven independent city-states, of which the most important were Eretria and Chalkis These two rich and powerful merchant cities founded colonies on the coasts of Thrace, Italy and Sicily, as well as in the islands of the Aegean.

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