Xenophon’s Hellenika Book VII: The End of Battle With Little Gained

Book VII, the final book of Xenophon’s Hellenika, begins during the following year in 369 BC wherein the Athenians and the Spartans debate the terms of an equal alliance against Thebes. Prokles of Phleia argues that Athens should maintain leadership and control of the seas, while Kephisodotos argues that power should be shared equally. Prokles believes in a hierarchy of abilities and strength, whereas Kephisodotos is a strict egalitarian. While Prokles was initially praised, ultimately the Athenians change their minds and support Kephisodotos’s suggestion.

Fighting begins between Sparta and Athens, and Thebes with the support of Persia. Sparta loses several skirmishes and Xenophon notes that all Spartans begin weeping, “So it is indeed the case that tears are common to both. joy and grief” (7.1.32). However, the cities revolt and reject the authority of Thebes over Hellas, thus ending Pelopidas’s attempt to rule all of Greece. Xenophon defends himself for highlighting the “noble deeds”of smaller cities as a self-described “historian” -especially those of the city of Phleious who courageous tend to supplies for the need of the city (contrast their dangerous midnight run for agriculture and supplies from the marketplace with the starving Athenians described earlier in the Hellenika).

Xenophon returns to the weakening cause of Thebes and contrasts it with the tyranny of Euphron over Sicyon. Meanwhile peace is made with Corinth. The military conquests come to a head as the opposing forces converge on the sanctuary of Olympia amazingly enough.

Book VII concludes as “nearly all of Greece” goes to fight on the plain of Mantineia in 362 BC (known today as the “Second Battle of Mantineia” -the first battle was documented by Thucydides). In the battle Thebes is led by Epaminondas who outmaneuvers the Spartans in praiseworthy fashion (per Xenophon) however he is killed on the field of battle and the formation of his troops immediately collapses. Upon the end of battle Xenophon offers the following remarks: “When the battle was over, the result was the opposite of what everyone expected… And although each side claimed the victory, neither side was seen to have gained anything -no city, territory, or increased rule- that they did not have prior to the battle. In Greece as a whole there was more uncertainty and disturbance after the battle than there had been before” (7.5.27).

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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