Cornelius Nepos : Life of Agesilaus

Translated by J.C. Rolfe (1929). Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each chapter.   Click on ** to go to the translator's footnotes.


XVI.   Pelopidas   


  [1] L   Agesilaus the Lacedaemonian was praised, not only by all other historians, but in particular by Xenophon, the disciple of Socrates, whose intimate friend he was.   

  2 He began by having a dispute about the throne with Leotychides, his brother's son; for it was the custom of the Lacedaemonians, handed down from their forefathers, always to have two kings (whose power, however, was rather nominal than real) from the families of Procles and Eurysthenes, who were descendants of Hercules and the first kings at Sparta. 3 It was not lawful for one of these to be made king from one family in place of the other; so each family kept its order of succession. Consideration was first given to the eldest of the children of the one who had died upon the throne; but if he had left no male offspring, then his nearest relative was chosen. 4 Now King Agis, the brother of Agesilaus, had died, leaving a son Leotychides; he had not acknowledged the boy at his birth, but on his death-bpd he declared that he was his son. He it was that disputed the title of king with his uncle Agesilaus, but he was unsuccessful; 5 for thanks to the support of Lysander, a man, as we have already shown, who at that time was ambitious and powerful, Agesilaus was preferred.   

  [2] L   As soon as Agesilaus was in possession of the throne, he persuaded the Lacedaemonians to send out armies to Asia and make war upon the king,  pointing out that it would be better to fight in Asia than in Europe; for the rumour had gone forth that Artaxerxes ** was equipping a fleet and land forces to send to Greece. 2 As soon as permission was given him, Agesilaus acted with such rapidity that he arrived in Asia with his forces before the king's satraps knew that he was on his way. The result was that he surprised them all and caught them all unprepared. 3 As soon as his arrival became known to Tissaphernes, who then held the chief authority among the king's governors, he asked the Laconian for a truce, under pretext of trying to reconcile the Lacedaemonians and the king, but actually for the purpose of mustering his forces; and he obtained a truce of three months. 4 The two parties took oath that they would loyally observe the armistice.   

  That promise Agesilaus kept with the utmost scrupulousness ; Tissaphernes, on the contrary, devoted all his time to preparing for war. 5 Although the Laconian knew this, he nevertheless kept his oath and said that in so doing he gained a great advantage, since Tissaphernes by his perjury not only turned men against him but also incurred the wrath of the gods; while he, on the contrary, by keeping his pledge, inspired confidence in his army, because they saw that they had the favour of the gods, while men were more sympathetic towards them, since they commonly side with those whom they see keeping their faith.   

  [3] L   As soon as the period of the truce came to an end, since the barbarian had many palaces in Caria and that region in those times was regarded as by far the richest part of the kingdom, ** he felt sure that it was against this that the enemy would be most likely to direct their attack. Accordingly he massed all his troops there. 2 But Agesilaus turned towards Phrygia and laid that country waste before Tissaphernes could make any move. The great booty enriched his soldiers, and Agesilaus led his army back to Ephesus for the winter; there he established manufactories of arms and prepared for war with great energy. And in order that the arms might be made with greater care and adorned more artistically, he offered rewards to those who showed the greatest energy in their manufacture. 3 He followed the same plan with regard to various forms of exercise, giving handsome prizes to those who excelled their fellows; and in that way he succeeded in having an army both finely equipped and excellently trained.   

  4 When it appeared to him to be time to lead his troops from their winter quarters, he saw that if he openly announced in advance where he was going to march, the enemy would not believe him and would post their garrisons in other regions, feeling sure that he would do something different from what he had said. 5 And in fact, when he announced that he would march upon Sardis, Tissaphernes, as before, thought that it was Caria that he ought to defend. And when he was mistaken in that, and saw that he had been outwitted, he was too late in going to the defence of his countrymen ; for when he arrived at the spot, Agesilaus had already stormed many places and got possession of a great amount of booty. 6 Moreover, since the Laconian perceived that the enemy were superior in cavalry, he always avoided meeting them on level ground, but joined battle in places where infantry was more effective; and so, whenever he engaged, he routed far superior forces of his opponents, and conducted his campaigns in Asia in such a manner that in the judgment of all men he was regarded as the victor.   

  [4] L   Agesilaus was already planning to march against the Persians and attack the king himself, when a message from home arrived, sent by the ephors, that the Athenians and Boeotians had declared war upon the Lacedaemonians; ** that he must therefore return at once. 2 At this juncture his patriotism is no less to be admired than his valour in war; for although he was at the head of a victorious army and had the fullest confidence in his ability to conquer the kingdom of Persia, he showed as much deference in obeying the orders of the magistrates, far away as they were, as if he had been a private citizen in the Ephoreium ** at Sparta. An example that I only wish our generals had been willing to follow ! ** 3 But let us return to our subject. Agesilaus preferred good repute to the richest of kingdoms, and thought it far more glorious to conform to the customs of his native land than to vanquish Asia by his arms. 4 Because of that feeling, then, he led his forces across the Hellespont, and showed such speed that in thirty days he completed the march which had occupied Xerxes for an entire year. ** 5 He was already nearing the Peloponnese, when the Athenians, the Boeotians and their allies attempted to stop him at Coronea; but he defeated them all in a sanguinary battle.  

  6 Of that victory the most glorious feature was this: many of the fugitives had rushed into the temple of Minerva, ** and when Agesilaus was asked what he wished to be done with them, although he had received several wounds in the battle and was obviously incensed with all those who had borne arms against Sparta, yet he subordinated his anger to respect for religion and forbade their being injured. 7 And it was not in Greece alone that he held the temples of the gods sacred, but among the barbarians also he was most scrupulous in sparing all their statues and altars. 8 Indeed, he openly declared that he was surprised that those who had injured their suppliants who had taken refuge in such places were not regarded as guilty of sacrilege, or that those were not more severely punished who made light of sacred obligations than those who robbed temples.   

  [5] L   After this battle ** the entire war centred about Corinth and hence was known as the Corinthian War. 2 There in a single battle under the lead of Agesilaus ten thousand of the enemy were slain, and in consequence of that disaster the power of his adversaries seemed to be shattered. Yet he was so far from feeling boastful arrogance, that he lamented the fortune of Greece, because through the fault of his opponents his victory had cost the lives of so many of her citizens: for with that great number, if the Greeks had been sensible, they might have been able to take vengeance on the Persians. 3 Again, when he had driven his foes within the walls and many were urging him to attack Corinth, he said that such an act was unworthy of his valour; for it was his part to recall to their duty those who had gone astray, not to storm the most famous cities of Greece. 4 "For," said he, "if we set about destroying those who have stood side by side with us against the barbarians, we ourselves shall triumph over one another, while they quietly look on. That done, they will crush us without difficulty, whenever they wish."   

  [6] L   In the meantime that famous disaster at Leuctra befell the Lacedaemonians. Not wishing to embark on that campaign, although he was urged by many to go, as if he divined the outcome he refused to do so. ** Again, when Epaminondas was attacking Sparta and the city was without walls, he showed himself so able a commander, that it was evident to all that if it had not been for him Sparta would at that time have ceased to exist. ** 2 In fact, in that critical situation it was his quickness of wit that saved all the citizens. For some young men, panic-stricken by the arrival of the enemy, wished to desert to the Thebans and had taken possession of an elevated place outside the city; then Agesilaus, realising that the knowledge that anyone was trying to go over to the enemy would be most dangerous, joined them with his troops and commended their good judgment in occupying such a position, pretending to believe that they had done so with good intent, and saying that he too had seen the advisability of such a step. 3 Thus by his pretended praise he won back the young men, and by joining with them some of his own companions he left the position safe. For they, when the number of those who were not implicated in the plot was increased, did not dare to make any move, and remained quiet the more willingly because they thought that their real designs were not known.   

  [7] L   It is beyond question that after the battle of Leuctra the Lacedaemonians never recovered their strength or regained their former hegemony, although in the meantime Agesilaus never ceased to aid his country in whatever way he could. 2 For example, when the Lacedaemonians were above all in need of funds, he went to the help of all those who had revolted against the great king, and when they gave him large sums of money he devoted it to the service of his country. 3 And a trait of his that was especially worthy of admiration was this: although lavish gifts were bestowed upon him by kings, princes and nations, he never took anything home with him, ** and made no change in the manner of life and dress usual with the Laconians. 4 He was content with the same house that had been used by Eurysthenes, the first of his line ** ; on entering it, no sign of licence, no sign of luxury was visible, but on the contrary many indications of austerity and frugality; in fact, in its equipment the house did not differ from that of any private citizen of humble means.   

  [8] L   But although Nature had favoured this great man in bestowing qualities of mind, in fashioning his body he found her unkindly; for he was short of stature, of slender frame, and lame in one foot. These defects made him somewhat ill-favoured, and strangers, who judged him from his appearance, were apt to look upon him with contempt; but those who knew his good qualities could not sufficiently admire him. 2 That was his experience when, at the age of eighty, he had gone to the help of Tachos in Egypt. He had taken his place at meat with his men on the shore, without any shelter and having for a couch straw spread on the ground and covered with nothing but a skin; and there too all his companions reclined beside him in plain and well-worn clothing. Their appearance, far from suggesting that there was a king among them, would indicate that they were men of no great wealth.   

  3 When the report of the Spartan's arrival had reached the king's officers, they hastened to bring to his camp gifts of every kind. When they inquired for Agesilaus, they could hardly believe that he was one of those who were then at meat. 4 When they offered him in the name of the king what they had brought, he refused everything except some veal and similar kinds of food which his circumstances made necessary; perfumes, garlands and desserts he distributed among his servants, the rest he ordered to be taken back. 5 Such conduct led the barbarians to hold him in still greater contempt, since they supposed that he had made his choice through lack of acquaintance with fine things.   

  6 When Agesilaus was on his way back from Egypt after having received from King Nectenebis two hundred and twenty talents to give as a gift to his country, on arriving at the place called the Port of Menelaus, situated between Cyrene and Egypt, he fell ill and died. 7 Thereupon his friends, in order that his body might the more readily be taken to Sparta, having no honey, ** covered it with wax and thus bore it to his native land. 

XVIII.   Eumenes →



1.   Artaxerxes Mnemon is meant.

2.   The statement is true of Lydia rather than of Caria.   

3.   See ix. 2. 4.   

4.   As Roman writers frequently do, Nepos uses the Roman term comitium for the corresponding place in Sparta, either the Ephoreium, the place of meeting of the ephors, or perhaps the agora.    

5.   Referring to Julius Caesar, Antony and Ootavian, all of whom had refused to obey the senate.   

6.   See note on ii. 5. 2. 5 

7.   See note on iv. 5. 2.   

8.   Until 387 B.C.  

9.   The sentence is an awkward one; various emendations have been suggested.   

10.   See note on xi. 2. 5.   

11.   Cf. xii. 2. 3.   

12.   Agesilaus was of the line of Procles, not Eurysthenes.   

13.   The bodies of Spartan kings who died abroad were usually embalmed in honey. The friends of Agesilaus substituted melted wax.  

XVIII.   Eumenes →

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