Wars of Sparta

B.C 750 to 473
Sparta — versus — Peloponnesian Rivals (Argos, Arcadia, Messenia)

Messenian Wars — 750-650 B.C.     Argive Wars, Athenian Rebellion — 670-494 B.C.     
Arcadian Wars — 570-470 B.C.     Megaran War — 595 B.C.    

By the fifth century BC, Sparta was the undisputed leading military power in Greece, and had brought virtually all of the Peloponnesian Peninsula under her sway. Sparta was the chief city in Laconia, (also known as Lacedaemonia), the southeastern most region of the Peloponnese. In order to become the predominant power in the region, she had to subdue her three nearest neighbors, Messenia to the West, the mountainous region of Arcadia to the North, and Argolis to the Northeast. The earliest dates and circumstances of Sparta's rise to supreme power in the Peloponnese are somewhat shrouded in legend, but the events occurred approximately as follows:

Messenian Wars : 750-650 B.C.

Sparta began colonizing the coast of Messene in the eighth century BC , and came into conflict the chief town of the region. In approximately 750 BC , King Theopompus of Sparta went to war with Messenia, which was led at the time by the legendary Aristodemus. After a devastating war, which lasted nearly 20 years, the Spartans finally conquered, and divided the rich plain into lots, which the Messenians, as helots, worked for their Spartan masters. About fifty years later, the helots revolted, and the Second Messenian War occurred. This involve battles, but also guerrilla activity. The Messenians, led by their great hero Aristomenes, took refuge on Mt. Eira and held out for many years. It was after the second Messenian War that Sparta, fearing further revolts, completely reorganized their state to make it more severely military.

The Helots were not entirely pacified, but there were no further major revolts until 464 BC when Sparta was almost destroyed by an earthquake. In the resulting confusion many of the Helots took up arms, and eventually sought refuge at Ithome, a natural mountain fortress that was also used during the Second Messenian War. This rebellion is sometimes called the Third Messenian war, and it resulted in a rupture with Athens, which had been allied to Sparta since the Persian War.

DateBattle Summary
743 BC  
Battle of Caprysema (First Messenian War ) Messenians victory
Fought B.C. 743, between the Spartans and Corinthians, and the Messenians with their allies from other Peloponnesian states under Cristomenes. The Spartans were routed, and, but for the eloquence of Tyrtaeus, would have abandoned the struggle.
740 BC  
Battle of Megaletaphrus   Spartans victory
Fought B.C. 740, between the Messenians, under Aristomenes, and the Spartans. The Messenians were surrounded and cut to pieces, Aristomenes escaping with a few followers.

Short Biography
Aristodemus Semi-mythical leader of Messenia during the First Messenian War.
Aristomenes Bravely defended Messenians from Spartan conquest, for 17 years.
Tyrtaeus Wrote inspiring battle ballads for Sparta during the Messenian War. Historian of Sparta.
Theopompus King of Sparta who led the first Messenian War.

Story Links
Book Links
General and the Fox  in  Fifty Famous People  by  James Baldwin
Story of Aristomenes in  Three Greek Children  by  Alfred J. Church
Messenian War  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Music of Tyrtaeus  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Aristomenes' Escape  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Aristomenes and the Fox  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Aristomenes, the Hero of Messenia  in  Historical Tales: Greek  by  Charles Morris
How the Spartans Became Powerful  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan

Argive Wars and the Athenian Rebellion : 670-494 B.C.

Although Argos lent support to Messenia during the early Messenian Wars, at the time, she was herself still a weak state, although she claimed to be the head of the Greek states because of her location near the site of the former chief city of Mycenae. In 680 BC King Pheidon made Argos powerful. He defeated Sparta in the Battle of Hysiae and also crushed Epidaurus and Athens in a war in which he supported a revolt in Aegina. After his death however, Argos declined in influence. By the mid fifth century BC Sparta, along with her Arcadian allies, met Argos in the Battle of the 300 Champions and took possession of the plain of Thyreatis. She then formed the Peloponnesian League in which the allies had equal votes on foreign policy, and paid no taxes except for war. Sparta's foreign policy was thereafter anti-tyrant, and she helped expel the tyrants of Sicyon and Naxos.

In 510 BC Sparta was invited by the Alcmaeonid clan to march on Athens and overthrow the tyrant Hippias. When this expulsion led not to a pro-Spartan oligarchy, but to the democratic reforms of Cleisthenes, Cleomenes I, the Spartan King, led an expedition into Attica which failed because of the opposition of the other Spartan King, Damaratus. In spite of this failure Cleomenes won great prestige for himself and Sparta by decisively defeating of Argos in the battle of Sepeia (494) and thereby disposing of Sparta's only remaining rival for power in the Peloponnese. He was so emboldened by this victory, he succeeded in deposing his rival Damaratus on a charge of illegitimacy. Damaratus fled to the court of Persia, and later accompanied Xerxes on his invasion of Greece.

DateBattle Summary
668 BC  
Battle of Hysiae (Argive War ) Argos victory
Fought, approximately, 668 B.C., between the Spartans and the Argives. The former were totally defeated, and Argos was left in undisputed possession of the supremacy of the Peloponnesus.
494 BC  
Battle of Sepeia (First Messenian War ) Spartans victory
Fought B.C. 494, between the Spartans, under Cleomenes, and the Argives. The Spartans, by a ruse, succeeded in surprising the Argives while the soldiers were dining, and totally routed them. This defeat deprived Argos of the paramountcy in the Peloponnesus.

Short Biography
Pheidon King of Argos, under whose leadership the city rose to great power.
Cleomenes I King of Sparta before Persian Wars, removed tyrants from Athens, defeated Argos.

Arcadian Wars : 570-470 B.C.

Tegea was the chief city of mountainous Arcadia, which in the 7th century BC was rather backward and disunited. They opposed Sparta during the Messenian Wars, but to little avail. By 560 BC Sparta reduced the Tegeates to the status of subject allies, that is, they were not enslaved like the helots or required to pay tribute, but their government was under firm Spartan control. Tegea remained in this condition until about ten years after the Persian Wars, and at that time deserted Sparta to form an alliance with Argos. These events were probably fostered by the Athenian Themistocles, a well-known political schemer. In 473 BC Sparta defeated Tegea and her allies at the battle of Tegea, but suffered heavy losses and was too weakened to take the city. Two years later however, she soundly defeated the Arcadians at Dipma and brought them back into the league. The Arcadians remained subject allies of Sparta except during a brief rebellion during the Peloponnesian War, which was settled at the battle of Mantinea. Their alliance was not permanently broken until after Spartan power was crushed by Thebes during the Boeotain Wars.

—This material is derived from the Handbook of Universal History, 1915, by Houghton Mifflin Co.

DateBattle Summary
473 BC  
Battle of Tegea (Arcadian War ) Spartans victory
Fought B.C. 473, when the Spartans defeated the combined forces of the Arcadian League and the Argives, under the walls of Tegea. Though victorious, the Spartans were too much reduced in numbers to venture upon the attack of Tegea, which had been the object of the expedition.
471 BC  
Battle of Dipma (Argive War ) Spartans victory
Fought B.C. 471, between the Spartans and the Arcadian League. The Arcadians were totally defeated, and Tegea, the head of the League, shortly afterwards submitted to Sparta.

Short Biography
Cleomenes I King of Sparta before Persian Wars, removed tyrants from Athens, defeated Argos.
Demaratus Exiled King of Sparta, advisor to Xerxes during his invasion of Greece.

Megaran War : 595 B.C.


One of the most significant battle of Athens during the sixth century was the successful conquest of the Island of Salamis from their rival Megara. This occurred during the lifetimes of the Solon and Peisistratus, and did much to establish Athens' preeminence in the region.

DateBattle Summary
595 BC  
Battle of Salamis (Aragonese Conquest of Sicily ) Athenians victory
Fought B.C. 595, between Athens, under Solon, and Cyrrha for control of the Island of Salamis.

Short Biography
Solon Rewrote the laws of Athens to better protect poor citizens from the rich.
Pisistratus Tyrant of Athens. Respected Solon's laws. Established festivals, and promoted culture.

Story Links
Book Links
Statesman and Poet  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Solon  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Athenians Take Salamis  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Solon, the Law-Giver of Athens  in  Historical Tales: Greek  by  Charles Morris

Image Links

Aristomenes Freed by the Fox
 in Greatest Nations - Greece