Author Topic: Mantinea (First Battle) 418 BC  (Read 2518 times)

Patrick Waterson

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Mantinea (First Battle) 418 BC
« on: June 08, 2012, 06:13:14 PM »
Mantinea (First Battle) 418 BC (the second battle is in 362 BC, between Spartans and Thebans)

Spartans:  c.9,700 (c.4,700 Spartans, 3,000(?) Tegeans and 2,000(?) Helots) under King Agis
Argives and Allies:  generals not named and strength not given, but c.8,000-9,000 ("The Lacedaemonian army looked the larger.")

Result: Spartan victory.  Losses: Spartans c.300, Argives and allies c.1,100

Principal source: Thucydides V.64-74 (background and preliminaries 64-69; battle 70-74)
Other sources: Diodorus XII.79.6

64. At this juncture arrived word from their [the Spartans'] friends in Tegea that unless they speedily appeared, Tegea would go over from them to the Argives and their allies, if it had not gone over already. [2] Upon this news a force marched out from Lacedaemon, of the Spartans and Helots and all their people, and that instantly and upon a scale never before witnessed. [3] Advancing to Orestheum in Maenalia, they directed the Arcadians in their league to follow close after them to Tegea, and going on themselves as far as Orestheum, from thence sent back the sixth part of the Spartans, consisting of the oldest and youngest men, to guard their homes, and with the rest of their army arrived at Tegea; where their Arcadian allies soon after joined them. [4] Meanwhile they sent to Corinth, to the Boeotians, the Phocians, and Locrians, with orders to come up as quickly as possible to Mantinea. These had but short notice; and it was not easy except all together, and after waiting for each other, to pass through the enemy's country, which lay right across and blocked up the line of communication. Nevertheless they made what haste they could. [5] Meanwhile the Lacedaemonians with the Arcadian allies that had joined them, entered the territory of Mantinea, and encamping near the temple of Heracles began to plunder the country.

65. Here they were seen by the Argives and their allies, who immediately took up a strong and difficult position, and formed in order of battle. [2] The Lacedaemonians at once advanced against them, and came on within a stone's throw or javelin's cast, when one of the older men, seeing the enemy's position to be a strong one, hallooed to Agis that he was minded to cure one evil with another; meaning that he wished to make amends for his retreat, which had been so much blamed, from Argos, by his present untimely precipitation. [3] Meanwhile Agis, whether in consequence of this halloo or of some sudden new idea of his own, quickly led back his army without engaging, [4] and entering the Tegean territory, began to turn off into that of Mantinea the water about which the Mantineans and Tegeans are always fighting, on account of the extensive damage it does to whichever of the two countries if falls into. [5] His object in this was to make the Argives and their allies come down from the hill, to resist the diversion of the water, as they would be sure to do when they knew of it, and thus to fight the battle in the plain. He accordingly stayed that day where he was, engaged in turning off the water. The Argives and their allies were at first amazed at the sudden retreat of the enemy after advancing so near, and did not know what to make of it; but when he had gone away and disappeared, without their having stirred to pursue him, they began anew to find fault with their generals, who had not only let the Lacedaemonians get off before, when they were so happily intercepted before Argos, but who now again allowed them to run away, without any one pursuing them, and to escape at their leisure while the Argive army was leisurely betrayed. [6] The generals, half-stunned for the moment, afterwards led them down from the hill, and went forward and encamped in the plain, with the intention of attacking the enemy.

66. The next day the Argives and their allies formed in the order in which they meant to fight, if they chanced to encounter the enemy; and the Lacedaemonians returning from the water to their old encampment by the temple of Heracles, suddenly saw their adversaries close in front of them, all in complete order, and advanced from the hill. [2] A shock like that of the present moment the Lacedaemonians do not ever remember to have experienced: there was scant time for preparation, as they instantly and hastily fell into their ranks, Agis, their king, directing everything, agreeably to the law. [3] For when a king is in the field all commands proceed from him: he gives the word to the Polemarchs; they to the Lochages; these to the Pentecostyes; these again to the Enomotarchs, and these last to the Enomoties. [4] In short all orders required pass in the same way and quickly reach the troops; as almost the whole Lacedaemonian army, save for a small part, consists of officers under officers, and the care of what is to be done falls upon many.

67. In this battle the left wing was composed of the Sciritae, who in a Lacedaemonian army have always that post to themselves alone; next to these were the soldiers of Brasidas from Thrace, and the Neodamodes with them; then came the Lacedaemonians themselves, company after company, with the Arcadians of Herea at their side. After these were the Maenalians, and on the right wing the Tegeans with a few of the Lacedaemonians at the extremity; their cavalry being posted upon the two wings. [2] Such was the Lacedaemonian formation. That of their opponents was as follows:—On the right were the Mantineans, the action taking place in their country: next to them the allies from Arcadia; after whom came the thousand picked men of the Argives, to whom the state had given a long course of military training at the public expense; next to them the rest of the Argives, and after them their allies, the Cleonaeans and Orneans, and lastly the Athenians on the extreme left, and their own cavalry with them.

68. Such were the order and the forces of the two combatants. The Lacedaemonian army looked the larger; [2] though as to putting down the numbers of either host, or of the contingents composing it, I could not do so with any accuracy. Owing to the secrecy of their government the number of the Lacedaemonians was not known, and men are so apt to brag about the forces of their country that the estimate of their opponents was not trusted. The following calculation, however, makes it possible to estimate the numbers of the Lacedaemonians present upon this occasion. [3] There were seven companies [lochoi] in the field without counting the Sciritae, who numbered six hundred men: in each company [lochos] there were four Pentecostyes, and in the Pentecosty four Enomoties. The first rank [zugon] of the Enomoty was composed of four soldiers: as to the depth, although they had not been all drawn up alike, but as each captain chose, they were generally ranged eight deep; the first rank along the whole line, exclusive of the Sciritae, consisted of four hundred and forty-eight men.

69. The armies being now on the eve of engaging, each contingent received some words of encouragement from its own commander. The Mantineans were reminded that they were going to fight for their country and to avoid returning to the experience of servitude after having tasted that of empire; the Argives, that they would contend for their ancient supremacy, to regain their once equal share of Peloponnese of which they had been so long deprived, and to punish an enemy and a neighbour for a thousand wrongs; the Athenians, of the glory of gaining the honours of the day with so many and brave allies in arms, and that a victory over the Lacedaemonians in Peloponnese would cement and extend their empire, and would besides preserve Attica from all invasions in future. [2] These were the incitements addressed to the Argives and their allies. The Lacedaemonians meanwhile, man to man, and with their war-songs in the ranks, exhorted each brave comrade to remember what he had learnt before; well aware that the long training of action was of more saving virtue than any brief verbal exhortation, though never so well delivered.

70.  After this they joined battle, the Argives and their allies advancing with haste and fury, the Lacedaemonians slowly and to the music of many flute-players—a standing institution in their army, that has nothing to do with religion, but is meant to make them advance evenly, stepping in time, without breaking their order, as large armies are apt to do in the moment of engaging.

71. Just before the battle joined, King Agis resolved upon the following manoeuvre. All armies are alike in this: on going into action they get forced out rather on their right wing, and one and the other overlap with this their adversary's left; because fear makes each man do his best to shelter his unarmed side with the shield of the man next him on the right, thinking that the closer the shields are locked together the better will he be protected. The man primarily responsible for this is the first upon the right wing, who is always striving to withdraw from the enemy his unarmed side; and the same apprehension makes the rest follow him. [2] On the present occasion the Mantineans reached with their wing far beyond the Sciritae, and the Lacedaemonians and Tegeans still farther beyond the Athenians, as their army was the largest. [3] Agis afraid of his left being surrounded, and thinking that the Mantineans outflanked it too far, ordered the Sciritae and Brasideans to move out from their place in the ranks and make the line even with the Mantineans, and told the Polemarchs Hipponoidas and Aristocles to fill up the gap thus formed, by throwing themselves into it with two companies taken from the right wing; thinking that his right would still be strong enough and to spare, and that the line fronting the Mantineans would gain in solidity.

72. However, as he gave these orders in the moment of the onset, and at short notice, it so happened that Aristocles and Hipponoidas would not move over, for which offence they were afterwards banished from Sparta, as having been guilty of cowardice; and the enemy meanwhile closed before the Sciritae (whom Agis on seeing that the two companies did not move over ordered to return to their place) had time to fill up the breach in question. [2] Now it was, however, that the Lacedaemonians, utterly worsted in respect of skill, showed themselves as superior in point of courage. [3] As soon as they came to close quarters with the enemy, the Mantinean right broke their Sciritae and Brasideans, and bursting in with their allies and the thousand picked Argives into the unclosed breach in their line cut up and surrounded the Lacedaemonians, and drove them in full rout to the wagons, slaying some of the older men on guard there. [4] But the Lacedaemonians, worsted in this part of the field, with the rest of their army, and especially the center, where the three hundred knights [hippes], as they are called, fought round King Agis, fell on the older men of the Argives and the five companies [pente lokhois] so named, and on the Cleonaeans, the Orneans, and the Athenians next them, and instantly routed them; the greater number not even waiting to strike a blow, but giving way the moment that they came on, some even being trodden under foot, in their fear of being overtaken by their assailants.

73. The army of the Argives and their allies having given way in this quarter was now completely cut in two, and the Lacedaemonian and Tegean right simultaneously closing round the Athenians with the troops that outflanked them, these last found themselves placed between two fires, being surrounded on one side and already defeated on the other. Indeed they would have suffered more severely than any other part of the army, but for the services of the cavalry which they had with them. [2] Agis also on perceiving the distress of his left opposed to the Mantineans and the thousand Argives, ordered all the army to advance to the support of the defeated wing; [3] and while this took place, as the enemy moved past and slanted away from them, the Athenians escaped at their leisure, and with them the beaten Argive division. Meanwhile the Mantineans and their allies and the picked body of the Argives ceased to press the enemy, and seeing their friends defeated and the Lacedaemonians in full advance upon them, took to flight. [4] Many of the Mantineans perished; but the bulk of the picked body of the Argives made good their escape. The flight and retreat, however, were neither hurried nor long; the Lacedaemonians fighting long and stubbornly until the rout of their enemy, but that once effected, pursuing for a short time and not far.

74. Such was the battle, as nearly as possible as I have described it; the greatest that had occurred for a very long while among the Hellenes, and joined by the most considerable states. [2] The Lacedaemonians took up a position in front of the enemy's dead, and immediately set up a trophy and stripped the slain; they took up their own dead and carried them back to Tegea, where they buried them, and restored those of the enemy under truce. [3] The Argives, Orneans, and Cleonaeans had seven hundred killed; the Mantineans two hundred, and the Athenians and Aeginetans also two hundred, with both their generals. On the side of the Lacedaemonians, the allies did not suffer any loss worth speaking of: as to the Lacedaemonians themselves it was difficult to learn the truth; it is said, however, that there were slain about three hundred of them.

Mantinea, together with Delium (424 BC) is one of our key references for hoplites customarily deploying eight deep.  It is also both a typical and untypical hoplite battle at the same time.  Both armies draw up in typical fashion (the Spartans in a bit of a hurry); each army's right is typically successful, but the Spartan commander is untypically in the middle, and untypically tries to adjust his deployment just before the armies clash, with unfortunate results.

Thucydides' account is also valuable for what it tells us about the organisation of Greek, and particularly Spartan, armies.  The latter is noteworthy, particularly the comment: “almost the whole Lacedaemonian army, save for a small part, consists of officers under officers,” which explains to some extent the legendary Spartan cohesion, and “the Lacedaemonians [advanced] slowly and to the music of many flute-players—a standing institution in their army, that has nothing to do with religion, but is meant to make them advance evenly, stepping in time, without breaking their order,” a clear indication that they marched in step.

We also get a description of units and subunits.  The basic Spartan unit is the 32-man enomotia, four of which form a 128-man pentekostia, and four of these form a 512-man lochos.  The 'span of command' is in each case four units, and the lochoi can, given orders and opportunity, manoeuvre as discrete units.  Interesting is that the Sciritae, traditionally stationed on the extreme left, the point of greatest danger (because of outflanking) number 600 – perhaps to give the unit more depth and hence staying-power - and that each lochagos (commander of a lochos) had discretion regarding the depth with which he drew up his soldiers (though eight was the average and seemingly the norm).  Thucydides uses a roundabout way to tell us that the Spartans, exclusive of the Sciritae (600) and the troops returned from Thrace (c.500?), fielded 3,584 men.

The contrast between the steady Spartan advance on the one hand and the Argives and their allies “advancing with haste and fury” makes the distinction between Spartan professionalism and the enthusiastic amateurishness of other Greeks, though the Argives did field 1,000 men “to whom the state had given a long course of military training at the public expense,” suggesting they may have been more on a par with the Spartans and perhaps an early example of epilektoi, the picked and trained citizen troops who became the core of later Greek armies and in the following century often hired out as mercenary contingents.

Perhaps the most noteworthy part of Thucydides' account is where he describes the 'right hand drift' characteristic of Greek hoplite battles.  This is important for assessing the frontage on which hoplites fought, as a 3' wide shield can only overlap two men if they are quite close to one another.  However, Mantinea was unusual in that Agis, the Spartan king, decided that he could make use of his numerical superiority and Spartan discipline to counteract this phenomenon and even make it work to his advantage.  Possibly misled over timing by the deliberate Spartan advance, he ordered a limited shift and redeployment too close to the enemy, whose rapid advance left insufficient time to carry out the adjustment (and caught the Spartan left in the process of 'order, counter-order, disorder').  Had both sides been advancing at the Spartans' pace it would probably have worked.

In the event, each side's right routed the opposing left in short order (the Spartan right put some of their opponents to flight before contact).  What happened next illustrated the difference between the Spartan approach to war and that practised by the rest of Greece: the victorious Mantineans and Argives on the right pursued their beaten foes 'in full rout to the wagons', but the Spartan right, instead of pursuing its defeated opponents, turned to assist its stricken left, causing the flight of the hitherto successful wing of Mantineans and elite Argives.

Despite the lack of a pursuit, casualties for the losing side were quite high (1,100 dead), mainly from the left wing, which cracked at impact.  Thucydides considers they would have been higher had not the Athenian cavalry been present.

This battle re-established Sparta as the premier power in the Peloponnese.
  • Patrick Waterson
"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened." - Winston Churchill


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Re: Mantinea (First Battle) 418 BC
« Reply #1 on: June 13, 2012, 09:28:46 AM »
Interesting that a unit commander can choose the deployment depth of his troops independent of the army command. That rather echoes the deployment of cavalry in the Strategikon of Maurice (6th-7th century AD) in which cavalry depths vary from seven to ten according to how good the troops are.  However, that must make for an interesting army deployment . I wonder how frontages were allocated , after all 4,000 men eight deep is 500 yards, whereas ten deep they are 400 yards and that's quite a big gap.

  • Roy Boss

Patrick Waterson

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Re: Mantinea (First Battle) 418 BC
« Reply #2 on: June 13, 2012, 11:03:30 AM »
Good point.  One way to read it (not necessarily the correct one) might be to assume that because the Spartan line assembled in some haste that lochagoi (commanders of lochos formations) each decided on the spot that they could deploy eight deep, or needed to cover a bit more space and went six deep, or saw not quite enough room for their unit in the assembling line and so went for twelve deep.  Thucydides reckons it all averaged out to eight deep, so presumably the army expected to draw up on a fixed frontage but perhaps the first to arrive spread out a bit to minimise gaps visible to the enemy and thus cramped the later arrivals.

Or it may be that the lochagos actually had discretion over his depth (and by inference frontage), but this seems difficult for two reasons: 1) it messes up expected frontages, 2) Spartan culture did not habitually encourage initiative.  This is why I suspect it was more a matter of improvisation than a principle of discretion.

Or it could be that a more 'junior' lochos would be expected to deploy in greater depth, and a 'senior' one in less, and the depths and frontages for individual units would be fixed by a 'staff conference' before going on campaign.  This would accord better with Spartan mentality and temperament while allowing Thucydides' comment some validity but transferring it from battlefield deployment to pre-campaign judgement.

My best guess.

  • Patrick Waterson
"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened." - Winston Churchill