Xenophon’s Hellenika Book VI: Proxy Wars of Sparta, Thebes, and Athens

Xenophon begins Book VI or the penultimate book of the Hellenika, by turning our attention to the Thebans in 375 BC. The noble King Polydamas of Pharsalus visits Sparta and unsuccessfully tries to persuade the Spartans to support a fight against Jason of Pherai who attempts to overthrow rule in Thessaly. Perhaps if Sparta had listened to this early warning it would have prevented the need for future military conquests. We also see conflicts with Athens and Corcya -reading along it comes to light that Sparta simply does not possess the expansive spirit to maintain a vast empire needed to unite the Greeks. Tensions increase between Sparta and Thebes, and Athens fails to respond a proposed alliance so Thebes turns to Jason of Pherai who confidently comes to their aid.

The proxy wars continue until a new “King’s Peace” is proposed in Athens in 371 BC, however a new conflict breaks out when Mantineia decides to re-fortify itself as an independent city but Sparta stands in opposition and so Agesilaos invades. Eventually another truce is attempted in Athens with Sparta requesting aid from Athens in its conflict with Thebes. Athens votes to support Sparta with a force headed by Iphikrates. Xenophon concludes Book VI by noting that Iphikrates was “a good general” yet Xenophon also says he was “incompetent and ineffectual” (6.5.51).

For this reading I used the impeccable Landmark edition of Xenophon’s Hellenika by businessman-turned classical scholar Robert B. Strassler.

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