Best Spartan Generals Poll

Best Spartan Generals


  • Total voters
    79
Apr 2017
5
Chicago
Also, did Leonidas ever actually win a battle that we know of? Or was his only known contribution a single defensive effort and then hopeless last stand? If Thermopylae was all he did, then I hardly think he could ever be considered one of Sparta's greatest generals, despite the tremendous sacrifice he gave.
Fantastic point. I don't believe Leonidas ever won a battle. His only claim to fame was his last stand at Thermopylae. In my opinion that is not a worthy feat to be named the best Spartan General. I am not sure why he is in number 2 in the polls. And also great point in regards to what you mentioned about Lysander. I voted for Brasidas. I would love to hear your thoughts on him.
 
Mar 2017
176
UK
I voted for Brasidas. I would love to hear your thoughts on him.
I voted for Lysander for the significance of his victories, if not for his actual talents. Admittedly, Brasidas is not someone I am overly familiar with but he seems like a good choice, perhaps even better than Lysander. Brasidas could win battles from seemingly unwinnable positions and he did so emphatically and in the face of an ever-changing threat. Against the Illyrians, he managed to escape even when the Macedonians had abandoned him and even when the Illyrians outmanoeuvred him. At Amphipolis, he saw off an Athenian siege, killing Cleon while sustaining only a few losses. That amounts to tactical mastery, in my mind.

But there is more to him than that. What, I think, gives him another level is his diplomacy, as well as that cool-headed and maniacally-brave mastery of battle. When he went to Thrace, Brasidas, perhaps aided by Spartan reputation, managed to turn many poleis against Athens. Those poleis gave him more men and so he sustained his own campaign, often independent of Macedon, with only a small contingent of Spartans. Turning Macedon into an enemy might not have been the greatest move but I will forgive him that because Perdiccas did absolutely abandon him to be slaughtered by the big and scary Illyrians.

That, I think, vindicates your choice. Was it not for the importance of Lysander in ending the Peloponnesian War, I think I too would have gone for Brasidas; a master at land warfare, a leader of Lacedaemon and a charming and cunning man. If Brasidas could have survived Amphipolis, I think his further victories would have inspired more love for him in this thread. He was a man who could actually win land battles (unlike the fame-drenched Leonidas), even the unwinnable ones (unlike Lysander, who lost the winnable on land).

Long story short- Brasidas is a very good choice.
 

macon

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
4,198
Slovenia, EU
Cleomenes III to me.

Leonidas is a case of personal bravery and self sacrifice, Lysander an admiral. Cleomenes III comes as a figure similar to Hannibal.
 

okamido

Forum Staff
Jun 2009
29,885
land of Califia
I'm sure it is. But I have to say, I've never read anything about the Spartans that wasn't terribly dry. I can't say I've read that many books about them, but the ones that I have read, Paul Cartledge I think, were really boring.

Any recommendations for some readable and entering Spartan books/authors?
Here is a thread from the Phalanx group, that has a list of good sources. It hasn't been updated in a while, but good stuff there.


Historum - History Forums - List of good sourcebooks
 

okamido

Forum Staff
Jun 2009
29,885
land of Califia
Although I agree with you almost completely, He died a dishonorable death. And he was facing much weaker forces than what Sparta faced during the Peloponnesian War.
And sometimes, maybe I don't. ;)
 
Sep 2016
1,364
Georgia
Fantastic point. I don't believe Leonidas ever won a battle. His only claim to fame was his last stand at Thermopylae. In my opinion that is not a worthy feat to be named the best Spartan General. I am not sure why he is in number 2 in the polls. And also great point in regards to what you mentioned about Lysander. I voted for Brasidas. I would love to hear your thoughts on him.
Leonidas is the most famous one out of them. No Spartan King or commander had so many movies , books , songs written about their battles . Not surprising that he is number 2 in polls.
 
Nov 2011
1,146
The Bluff
I am bumping this in the hopes that Cleomenes III can pick up some much deserved votes. This is an injustice that I simply cannot stand!
Kleomenes III was something of a violent thug. While not the devil incarnate that Polybios would paint, he was most certainly an ambitious brute of a 'king'. Some historians have reacted to the Megalopolitan's vitriolic appraisal by seeing in Kleomenes a true social reformer with Hadas declaring that Kleomenes (and Nabis!) were “actuated by a desire to help their fellow men, to raise the poor from the dung heap” (Hadas,‘The Social Revolution in Third-Century Sparta (Concluded),’ Classical Weekly, V. 26, No. 10, 1932, pp. 73-76. p.72). Africa is far more correct in that “the past was reconstructed to meet the needs of the new era” its purpose “the restoration of military vigour; the means violence, propaganda and political myth” (Africa, ‘Cleomenes III and the Helots’, California Studies in Classical
Antiquity, Vol. 1 pp. 1-111960, p.267).

That said, after he murdered the ephors and set about reinventing the Spartan army (which is what the entire "social revolution" was all about), the pugnacious, self appointed king was quite a bit to handle. Poor old Aratus, Polybios' hero, was quite put out having come to the realisation that far from converting the entire Peloponnese into an Achaian League, it might well all fall to Kleomenes. With all the artless grace of the political player he was, Aratus promptly hands over Acrocorinth to Doson and the Macedonians as the price for having his Achaian arse saved. By the time of Sellasia, Kleomenes' true nature had seen him deserted by allies and he was boxed into Lakonia. He lost an epic battle to a better general (Doson) who had the answers to Kleomenes' tripple plug battle plan. In the end, even with the advantage of higher ground, the better drilled Macedonians drove the Spartans from the field with considerable casualties. Doson's clever use of Illyrians on his right, some brigaded in alternate speirai with Macedonian phalangites and others out of sight in the Gorgylos, carried Evas. Kleomenes, despite excellent use of defensive positions and dispositions, failed when it mattered.

I voted for Brasidas even though he got himself killed. Underrated I believe.

GIf Pelopidas double timed his wing to prevent Kleombrotus' attempt to circle him, this would create the famed oblique order that people just assume was intentionally planned. This would by default, deny the center and left.
I don't think there's any real doubt that the oblique advance was planned in advance. It was clear that Epameinondas stacked his attacking wing with this in mind. Much debate has ensued with Pelopidas' charge but it seems clear enough that he did so in order to cut off the attempted Spartan extension of their right wing. This does not mean that the Theban line was not oblique.

Diodorus, 15.55.1-2:
while on the Boeotian side Epameinondas, by employing an unusual disposition of his own, was enabled through his own strategy to achieve his famous victory. 2 He selected from the entire army the bravest men and stationed them on one wing, intending to give to the finish with them himself. The weakest he placed on the other wing and instructed them to avoid battle and withdraw gradually during the enemy's attack. So then, by arranging his phalanx in oblique formation, he planned to decide the issue of the battle by means of the wing in which were the élite.

Plut. Pel. 23.1
In the battle, while Epaminondas was drawing his phalanx obliquely towards the left, in order that the right wing of the Spartans might be separated as far as possible from the rest of the Greeks, and that he might thrust back Cleombrotus by a fierce charge in column with all his men-at‑arms
Xenophon is disappointingly obscure on the tactics of the most important battle of his day. He is content to blame "the deity", Kleombrotos and his officers' drinking and the Spartan cavalry. He contents himself only with noting the massed ranks of the Thebans and that the left of the Spartan line played little or no part in the battle. It is clear, though, from other sources that the Thebans aimed to decide this battle via their left wing and that this led the advance with a refused right.
 
Last edited:
Dec 2019
36
Adelaide
My vote for best Spartan general is Dercylidas, nicknamed Sisyphus. Favoured emissary and harmost of King Agesilaus, who won several major battles barely lifting a sword and by his cunning. He is the only Spartan to have really beaten Conon, the best Athenian general of his time, and he was master of the Hellespont (Athens most important trade route and source of taxation). If forcing the enemy to retreat and winning all one's objectives with least casualties of men and cost to one's allies is the object of command, then Dercylidas is a general unsurpassed. He is also the soldiers' choice for best general. He understood a situation immediately, seized the initiative and created opportunities where others would retreat. And men still stand in awe of the Peloponnesian War because it is the last great war between the two greatest powers of Greek history, the origins of all modern civilization and democracy, the lifetime of the greatest historian of war, and the birth place of the wisest man who ever lived. At least these are starting points for contention. Also my second choice for best Spartan general is Agesilaus. The reason Peloponnesian generals predominate this list of Spartan generals is because most of the generals who beat the Persians were Athenians, other than Agesilaus and Xenophon (Spartan by adopted citizenship).