Battle of Leuctra

Dafato Team | Jul 1, 2024

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In the Battle of Leuktra on August 5, 371 BC, the Thebans under their commander Epaminondas defeated the Spartans, who subsequently forfeited their hegemony over Greece, which had existed since the Peloponnesian War. The Thebans used the skewed order of battle for the first time at Leuktra. This was the first time that they defeated the Spartan army, which until then had been considered invincible, in an open battle and won the Boiotic War. However, Thebes' subsequent rise to power was also relatively short-lived. In the Battle of Chaironeia in 338 B.C., the Thebans and their Athenian allies were defeated by the army of Philip II of Macedonia, who thus became the hegemon of the Greek poleis.

Between 395 and 387 BC, Sparta fought for supremacy in Greece in the Corinthian War against an alliance of Thebes, Athens, Corinth and Argos, which was financially supported by Persia. The first skirmish of this war was won by Thebes at Haliartos against a Spartan intervention force before the Spartan citizen army arrived. In the further battles Sparta defeated the armies of the allies and was thus able to maintain its supremacy in the Peace of Antalkidas (= King's Peace). The following period was overshadowed by constant tensions between Thebes, which claimed supremacy in Boeotia, and Sparta, which did not want to tolerate this competitor. In 382, the Spartan commander Phoibidas, without instruction, occupied Kadmeia, the citadel of Thebes, and placed a garrison inside. This had the effect of strengthening patriotism in Thebes. Three years later, in 379, the garrison was expelled again by the Thebans. When a group of Boeotian cities asked Sparta to free them from Thebes' political control, and Sparta responded by demanding the withdrawal of Theban garrisons from these Boeotian cities, war broke out again.

One of the two Spartan kings, Kleombrotos I, was with an army in Phocis near Delphi at the beginning of the war. Instead of taking the usual pass route to Boeotia, Kleombrotos decided to march through the mountains via Thisbe, about 50 km away, and to occupy the fortified port of Kreusis, 7 km from Thisbe, including 12 Theban ships. He carried out these movements so rapidly that the Thebans did not learn of his presence until the capture of Creusis. Correctly assuming that Kleombrotos would now march directly against Thebes, Epaminondas assembled the troops of Thebes and his allies at the small village of Leuktra, about 9 km southwest of Thebes, on the road to Thisbe. After a march of 25 km, Kleombrotos also arrived there.

After the armies had formed up at Leuktra, the Spartan peltasts and skirmishers opened the battle. Then a battle developed between the Spartan cavalry and the Boeotian horsemen. Kleombrotos had placed the Spartan horsemen in front of his front line. As could be expected, the Spartan cavalry was pushed off the field, but in their evasive movement through the narrow alleys between the Spartan divisions, they disorganized the phalanx, and the flanking movement that had begun could not be completed. The Theban phalanx proceeded according to plan, thus holding back the right wing in a staggered fashion, while the deep column on the left inevitably clashed with and defeated the Spartan right wing. In the clash, two Spartan divisions totaling 1,000 men were almost completely destroyed, and King Kleombrotos, his deputies, and four hundred Spartans fell. When the rest of the Spartan army saw that the right wing was defeated, it left the field to the Thebans. Epaminondas refrained from pursuing the defeated enemy.

The brilliant victory of the Thebans had taken away Sparta's nimbus of invincibility. Epaminondas took advantage of the victory, attacked Sparta in the Peloponnese and weakened it so decisively that it lost its supremacy in Greece.

Tactical importance

In the 1880s, a dispute began with Hans Delbrück about the strength of the armies that met at Leuktra, the tactical conception (idea of the battle) that Epaminondas based the battle on, the tactical principles that came to light in this battle, and the peculiarity or ordinariness of the course and success of this battle. Delbrück doubted the figures that had been handed down. He saw no reason to assume that the Spartans had appeared on the battlefield with ten to eleven thousand hoplites, while Epaminondas would have had only six to seven thousand at his disposal. Rather, he assumed that both armies had been about equally strong in hoplites, but that the Boeotians had a numerically superior cavalry. Decisive for him was, among other things, the consideration that the Theban victory even against an equal number was to be evaluated as an outstanding tactical achievement, the victory against one and a half times superiority could not increase the fame of Epaminondas. The dispute continues to this day. Today's critics of Delbrück's view are Victor Davis Hanson and Donald Kagan, who assume that the skewed order of battle did not correspond to any plan, but rather arose by chance during the battle and was not an expression of a will to win, but of a delaying tactic. Both also rely on the numerical superiority of the Spartans. Both see the introduction of the combat of the connected weapons only under Alexander the Great in the Macedonian army. They do not credit Epaminondas with the use of cavalry, the depth division, and the possibility of using the elite on the left, since this had existed in some battles before, but not in this combination. However, they accept Epaminondas as the founder of the principle of concentration.


  1. Battle of Leuctra
  2. Schlacht bei Leuktra
  3. Eduard Meyer: Geschichte des Altertums. 5. Band, Buch 4, 403.
  4. a b Hermann Bengtson: Griechische Geschichte von den Anfängen bis in die römische Kaiserzeit. Ausgabe 5, Verlag: C. H. Beck, 1977, ISBN 3-406-06660-7, S. 277 (
  5. ^ Plutarco, Pelopida, 5-6.
  6. ^ Plutarco, Pelopida, 8-10.
  7. a b Grimberg, Carl: Kansojen historia. Osa 4. Kreikka-Rooma, s. 38-40. WSOY, 1980. ISBN 951-0-09732-2.

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