19.1.17

The 300 Spartan Warriors against the 300 Warriors of Argos!

Battle of the 300 Champions - 546 BC (War of Argos/Sparta)
Artwork: The flute players signal the beginning of the Battle of Champions. 
The battle became legendary even in it's own day.

The Battle of Champions was a battle between Sparta and Argos who fought for control of the Thyrean plains. The Argives comprehensive defeat of the Spartans at the Battle of Hysiae 669 B.C. have given the Argives the upper hand in the area, but Sparta it seems had recovered enough in the interim to again challenge Argos for Peloponnesian supremacy. Previously, many small skirmishes and such took place, but both nemeses' now agreed to conclude hostilities once and for all in a all in battle.
The Spartans and the Argives decided that instead of another major war taking place it should be decided by just 300 champion hoplites from each side and thus spare the others. This would be known as 'The Battle of Champions'.

With everything to loose, the battle would have been hard and fierce. The killing was on an unprecedented scale, each side would not allow any survivors for any reason. The injured or incapacitated hoplite did not mean he would be left for medical attention, wholesale butchery was the call of the day.

The fighting was so very fierce that neither force could outdo the other, until it ended with two exhausted Argives left standing. They surveyed the area to make sure there were no more survivors and left to return to Argos to inform them of their victory.
Artwork: Sculpture, artist: Johan Tobias Sergel (1740-1814) 
Called: Othryades the Spartan Dying, c. 1778. Location: Louvre in France

However, they had made an unimaginary blunder, they had overlooked the Spartan hoplite Orthryades, who wounded as he was, was still technically alive and with the last two surviving Argives gone, Orthryades was technically the last surviving member out of both armies left on the field of battle. He survived long enough to inform his baggage handlers and witnesses to the battle that he Orthryades proclaimed himself victor of the battle in the name of Sparta, soon afterwards dying probably never even moving from the spot where he fell.

It is said that Orthryades 'killed himself because he was too ashamed to return to Sparta as the sole survivor'. This was the story that was circulating, but is probably not correct. Orthryades realised or probably was told that he needed to kill himself, his injuries being so devastating that he had little prospect of making it back to Sparta alive, he probably couldn't even move. The fact that he killed himself is of monumental importance, because when he killed himself, he did not die by an Argive warrior in battle. Argos could not use the argument that 'he was going to die anyway because of the injuries we inflicted him', the Spartans now had the argument that 'he was the last man on the field of battle and then he killed himself afterwards in shame'.

Both sides now claimed absolute victory. The Argives arguing that they had won the battle and had the last men standing, the Spartans saying that their man was alive when they left and he proclaimed himself victor with no Argives remaining to oppose him.

Even though this battle was suppose to be the final answer between the Argo and Spartan hostilities, in fact it ended up even more confusing than before. It solved nothing and only upped the ante of anger between the two city-states. Soon afterwards aggression between the two would flare up again.

The dying Otryades. here he is very near death but still inscribing his shield proclaiming a Spartan victory. Image By Boattail

The Spartans began a "style" during this period that would last for many years. They would let their hair grow long and have no moustaches, and only after they would be victorious would they cut their hair again.

The Spartans made many great advances after this, capturing Phigaleia and Hira, as well as conquering Pylos and Mothone. 
Yet still the Spartans achieved more war with Tegea around 560 BC (Which ended up with Sparta setting up pro Spartan government there), and worse, another war with Argos ensured.

Around the year 505 BC, Sparta and Argos went to war again. No reason is known for this war, but by this time there was so much bad blood between the two, any reason would have been good enough.

Kleomenes of Sparta advanced his army into Argolis, but he had failed to take Argos itself. The Argive army was very careless, and in that same year he surprised and defeated the Argive army near Sepia. The fleeing Argives attempted to take sacred refuge in a holy grove of the mythical Hero Argos. Kleomenes did the unthinkable and set fire to the grove. The Argives were either killed by the fire or driven out and killed, and in the end the Argive casualties numbered 6,000, over two thirds of the entire Argive army.

This was considered the last major battle Argos fought by itself against Sparta, and it was the biggest loss Argos would ever encounter at the hands of Sparta. The Spartans then after had all the male citizens of Argos executed to ensure that Argos would never again cause trouble for Sparta (This was very merciful, as the average thing to do in this period in Greece was a complete slaughter of a city's citizens).

With Argo severely cut down nothing further is heard of fighting between Argos and the Lacedaemonians until c494 B.C.

Souce/Photography/Bibliography

Herodotus, The Histories 1.82
N. Robertson, Festivals and legends: The Formation of Greek Cities in the Light of Public Ritual (University of Toronto press, 1992), pp. 179-207.
https://en.wikipedia.org
J.E. Lendon, "Soldiers & Ghosts: A history of Battle in classical antiquity" (Yale University press, 2006)
Paul Cartledge, "The Spartans: The World of the Warrior-Heroes of Ancient Greece", pp. 87-88.

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