Ancient Greece—Late Classical

404 to 338 B.C.
Thirty Tyrants in Athens to Battle of Chaeronea

Era Summary       Characters       Timeline       Reading Assignments      

Era Summary—Late Classical

After the defeat of Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War, Sparta became the undisputed first power among the Greek city-states. The walls of Athens were pulled down and the Spartan general Lysander appointed thirty men who were loyal to Sparta to run the city. The leaders were called the "thirty tyrants" and they put many of their political opponents, including Socrates to death. Plato was a student of Socrates and witnessed these oppressions and they greatly influenced his later writings.

Liberation of Sicily
The period immediately after the Peloponnesian war is called the "Spartan Hegemony" because, although Sparta did not collect tribute, it allowed only governments which were friendly to Sparta to exist throughout Greece. The major figure of this period was Agesilaus, a brave and noble Spartan king who came very near to freeing all of the Greek Colonies in Asia Minor before he was recalled to deal with a political crisis at home. While Agesilaus was off fighting Persians in the east, the Spartan government had fallen into a great deal of trouble. The spoils from the successful wars had done much to corrupt Sparta; there was intrigue and infighting and wars with Corinth and Thebes.

These problems combined with a significantly reduced population led to the disaster the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC. Only 33 years after they prevailed in the Peloponnesian War, the Spartans suffered a humiliating defeat against Thebes, the first major land battle that the Spartans had lost to another Greek city-state in 500 years. Sparta never recovered its mystique. The spoils of victory had done more to damage Sparta in a generation then any enemy had been able to do in half a millennium.

The rise of Thebes as a dominant power in Greece was unprecedented. Although always a large and prosperous city it had never had particularly talented military leaders until the rise of Epaminondas and Pelopidas. Under their leadership, Thebes achieved a military predominance over most of Greece and provided a real check to Sparta’s influence. The battle of Leuctra revealed Epaminondas as a military genius of first rank, and his subsequent diplomatic victories also showed his talent as a statesman. The period of Theban influence however, did not survive the death of Epaminondas in 362 BC. Sparta was humiliated, Thebes was leaderless, and no great power arose to provide dominant leadership to Greece. The fortunes of Athens eventually improved, but it never recovered its former predominance, and it was not prepared to resist the Macedonian threat when it did arise.

Macedonia was a semi-barbaric country north of Greece that had never been considered as fully civilized by the great city-states of the Greek mainland. Philip of Macedonia, however, spent his youth as a hostage in Thebes under the great Epaminondas. There he had learned the best of Greek military strategies and became a great admirer of Greek culture. He ascended to the throne of Macedonia in 359 and spent the early part of his reign reforming the Macedonian military, expanding his power, and promoting Greek culture. His first military dealings with Greece involved the Sacred War during which he generously defended the interests of the Oracle at Delphi against a band of marauding Phocians. Once this foothold was made, he used statesmanship and diplomacy to gain ascendency over many weaker Greek allies until Athens and Thebes, at the behest of the Athenian orator Demosthenes finally recognized the threat. When Philip finally met their combined forces in 338 BC at the Battle of Chaeronea, the Greeks were soundly thrashed, and Athens fell under the Macedonian Yoke. Philip was however, an admirer the Greeks and granted them many freedoms, but little power. Greek culture and philosophy continued to thrive in Athens for many years afterward, but the political autonomy on mainland Greece was gone forever.

Just as mainland Greece was losing its independence, the island of Sicily was preparing to overthrew Dionysius the Younger, a tyrant whose family had reigned in Syracuse for two generations. The tyrants of Syracuse were notoriously oppressive and paranoid, although the younger Dionysus made pretensions of high culture and was a patron of the arts. He even hired the great philosopher Plato as a private tutor for several years, but that episode did not end well. Eventually, Timoleon, a native of Corinth, became the great hero of the Sicilian Wars, when he overthrew the tyrant of Syracuse, fought off invaders from Carthage, and established an independent Greek republic in Syracuse that thrived for over 100 years, until it was conquered by Rome.

Characters—Late Classical

Character/Date Short Biography

Retreat of the 10,000

430–357 BC
Historian who led Greek army out of Persia, in retreat of the Ten Thousand.
Cyrus the Younger
d. 401 BC
Plotted to kill his brother Artaxerxes, and assume the Persian throne.
d. 401 BC
Spartan mercenary who commanded the 'Ten Thousand' Greeks at Cunaxa. Treacherously killed by Tissaphernes.
d. 395 BC
Persian Satrap of Asia Minor during Peloponnesian War. Allied with Sparta.
Artaxerxes Mnemon
d. 358 BC
King of Persia during the retreat of the Ten Thousand.

Sparta-Thebes Rivalry

444–360 BC
Leader of Sparta after the Peloponnesian War. Campaigned in Asia Minor and warred with Thebes.
410–364 BC
Helped to liberate Thebes. Leader of the "Sacred Band" of Theban Warriors.
418–362 BC
Greatest General of his age. Defeated the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra, and made Thebes predominant.

Science and Philosophy

427–347 BC
Writer of moral philosophy. Well known for 'Dialogues'. Student of Socrates.
384–322 BC
Renowned scientist and philosopher. Cataloged all types of knowledge. Tutor to Alexander the Great.
412–323 BC
Cynic Philosopher.

Tyrants in Sicily

Dionysius the Elder
430–367 BC
From humble origins, arose to become Tyrant of the city of Syracuse.
Damon and Pythias
~ 380 BC
Story of Damon and Pythias celebrates trusted friendship and willingness to die for one another.
Dionysius the Younger
397–343 BC
Continued tyrannical reign in Syracuse after the death of his father; student of Plato, overthrown by Dion.
409–354 BC
Brother-in-law of the Tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse; helped to overthrow him.
d. 337 BC
Liberated the entire island of Syracuse from Tyrants and Carthaginians.

Rise of Macedonia

402–318 BC
Athenian statesmen who tried to avoid war between Athens and Macedonia. Sometimes opposed Demosthenes.
Philip of Macedonia
382–336 BC
Used statesmanship as well as military force to bring Greece under sway of Macedonia.
385–322 BC
One of Greece's greatest orators. Spoke against Philip and the Macedonians.

Timeline—Late Classical

BC YearEvent
404 Pro-Spartan government of the "Thirty Tyrants" oppresses popular Athenian leaders.
403 Thrasybulus, leader of the exiled Athenian democrats, overthrows the Thirty Tyrants.
401-399 Retreat of the Ten Thousand Greek soldiers from the heart of Persia, recorded by Xenophon.
401 Cyrus the Younger is killed, during a rebellion against Artaxerxes at the Battle of Cunaxa.
399 Socrates is condemned to death for "impiety and corruption of youth.".
393 Long walls of Athens are rebuilt.
387 Disastrous "Peace of Antalcidas" treaty ends the Corinthian War.
386 Dionysius the Elder comes to power as the tyrant of Syracuse.
385 Plato founds his Academy in Athens.
382 Spartans capture citadel at Thebes, install a puppet government.
379 Theban rebels, led by Pelopidas overthrow the pro-Spartan government.
373-363 Boeotian Wars destroys Spartan hegemony over Greece.
371 Theban general Epaminondas routes the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra.
364 Pelopidas is killed while fighting Alexander, despot of Phera.
362 Death of Epaminondas at the Battle of Mantinea ends Theban supremacy.
367 Dionysius the Younger succedes to power in Syracuse, after the death of his father.
357 Dion, an exiled minister, raises a fleet and overthrows of Syracuse.
357–356 Athenian Social War disrupts Athens' effort to rebuild its empire.
355-352 Philip of Macedonia begins meddling in Greek affairs, by getting involved in the Sacred War.
338-335 Macedonian Conquest of Greece
338 Philip of Macedonia defeats Athens and Thebes at the Battle of Chaeronea.
336 Philip of Macedonia is assassinated at a wedding.
335 Thebes is besieged and destroyed by Alexander after it rebels from Macedonia.
345-340 Third Carthaginian Invasion of Sicily
340 Timoleon drives Carthage out of Sicily at Battle of Crimesus.

Recommended Reading—Late Classical

Book Title
Selected Chapters (# chapters)

Core Reading Assignments *

Guerber - The Story of the Greeks   Overthrow of Thirty Tyrants to Philip Masters Greece (23)
Macgregor - The Story of Greece   March of the Ten Thousand to The Sacred War (12)

Supplemental Recommendations

Weston - Plutarch's Lives W. H. Weston   Pelopidas to Philopoemen (4)
Tappan - The Story of the Greek People   When Sparta Ruled to Philip of Macedonia (3)
Morris - Historical Tales: Greek   Retreat of the Ten Thousand to The Sacred War (5)
Church - Pictures from Greek Life and Story   The Wisest of Men to The One Hero of Thebes (4)
Church - Helmet and Spear   The Lord of Syracuse to The Fight on the River (5)
Kaufman - Our Young Folks' Plutarch   Artaxerxes to Timoleon (6)
Younghusband - The Retreat of the Ten Thousand    entire book
Church - Callias—The Fall of Athens    entire book

Easy Reading Selections

Haaren - Famous Men of Greece   Xenophon to Epaminondas and Pelopidas (2)
Shaw - Stories of the Ancient Greeks   Retreat of the Ten Thousand to The Wise Man Who Lisped (8)
Gould - Tales of the Greeks: The Children's Plutarch   In Old Persia to The Man Who Saved Sicily (6)
Lemon - Stories from Greek History    entire book