THE FLIELD AT LEUCTRA

Imagine if you will, It is a bright sun soaked day in Thebes. You are a soldier in the
Theban Army under the command of General Epaminonads. To your front are the low
green plains of Boeotia. Plains that would latter become known as the blood alley
(Hanson, 55) of Greece. In the distance you can see the sea of Spartan phalanxes, there
shields gleaming in the sun. To your left the sound of Cavalry as they rush out to meet the
on coming Spartan horsemen. Another uneventful day in the live of a soldier? Most all
historians of the day and of times past will tell you differently.
The battle between the Spartans and the Thebans at the battle of Leuctra has been
studied for a great many years. There are a great many arguments both for and against the
pivotal engagement. Was it superior tactics or luck that defeated the Spartans. The
difficulties lay in the fact that there is only one person present during the engagement that
recorded the action. The person was a Athenian by the name of Xenophon. His the only
contemporary description of Leuctra, and thus must over shadow all subsequent
accounts. (Hanson, 55) These accounts can be found in Xenophon`s papers called
Hellenica. The first thing that needed is a description of the engagement itself. The
description of the engagement can be found everywhere from college history books to
in-depth military history novels.
The engagement began with standard linear tactics. The Spartans and their allies took
up positions head of the Theban column. At the time it was standard procedure to have
the commander and his elite troops placed to the right of his column, but Epaminondas did
differently that day. He placed his elite troops and himself to the left. Now both
commanders, Epaminondas and Cleombrotus face each other with their fines troops.

Before the Thebans began movement against the Spartans the army resized its elite
hoplites into forty to fifty shields deep instead of the standard twelve to fifteen man deep
phalanx. The Spartan sent in their outnumbered cavalry in front of them at the beginning
of the assault. The Thebans sent in their cavalry to meet them. The brief skirmish to follow
was to although the Theban generals time to drive some of his infantry into the fray. The
result was to force the enemies horsemen fleeing into the Spartan infantrys advance,
breaking them up. At this point the Thebans began a left echelon march toward the
Spartan right. Exploiting the gaps caused by the cavalry flight the Thebans preceded to
smash the Spartans. During the fighting that ensued the Cleombrotus was slain. After the
fall of the king, the Spartans began to give ground. The event of their leader being killed
the Spartan allies fled the field. The Spartan right, although now alone, leaderless, and
pressed by the Theban mass, withdrew undaunted-and in formation. (Hanson, 56) The
battle for Lecutra was over the Spartans and their allies were defeated, Thebes and won
the day, no longer would Sparta be an invincible nation.
Now we must look at the controversies surrounding the battle at Lecutra. Was military
genius or luck that won the day? First let use look at the commander of the Theban
troops. Many historians wish to place much of the victory itself on the genius of
Epaminonda. Evidence can be found in many of the historical novels. Phalanx warfare
was revolutionized at the battle of Leuctra in 371 by Epaminonda the Theban general.

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(Montgomery, 70) The simple fact is, Epaminonda was not alone in his command of the
Theban forces at Leuctra. Epaminonda was joined by another general by the name of
Pelopidas along with other Boeotian commanders. These tactics, battles and decision were
joint endeavors.


Second, a review of the revolutionary tactics applied at Leuctra. First the innovation of
adjusting in depth of the Phalanxes. At face value the increase in the number of depth
seems to be a stroke of genius, where the need for a hard hitting strike is needed. There
are only two problems with this thinking. One this tactic was used before in other
engagements of the time. The fifty-shield mass at Leuctra was not unheard of. As most
Greek commanders knew, such an attack in column ordinarily had few advantages.

(Hanson, 56) The placing of the command and elite troops on the left to meet with
Spartans best and their command was also not a new tactic at the battle of Lecutra.

Pelopidas, for example, who was in the field with the Theban army at Lecutra, had put
his best troops on the left wing four years earlier at Tegyra. (Hanson, 56) The use of a
left oblique appears to be the first account of such a tactic, but there is to still argument of
the reasoning for this. Was it well planned manner of attack to keep the long Spartan line
busy while the Thebans smashed into the Spartan right? Or was it just a means for
Epaminonda`s army who was outnumbered to keep from being enveloped. The infantry
of the refused center and left advanced slowly, occupying the attention of the Spartans to
their front, but without engaging them. (Dupuy, 43) This to is in doubt as of the only
direct writings on the subject of the maneuver are left out by Xenophon. The use of the
cavalry with the infantry was also nothing new in combat of the time. The army of
Dionysius I of Syracuse consisted of integrated bodies of hoplites, light infantry and
cavalry. (Montgomery, 70) Epaminonda did make use of this confusion caused by the
fleeing Spartan cavalry back into their own lines. He recognized the confusion between
horse and foot among the enemy ranks as a gift. This proves him an able hoplite
commander, but hardly a military genius. (Hanson, 58) In the end it was probably the
death of the Spartan commander Cleombrotus, that defeated the Army. Losses of
commanders throughout history have resulted in like defeats of the time. Without
leadership the troops new not what to do.


Lastly I will touch on some the controversy of the battle. In many cases the victory at
Lecutra is portrayed as a stroke of genius. As mentioned earlier, almost every so called
revolutionary tactic was used at some point and time before Lecutra. Historians speak of
the grand defeat of the Spartans and their total lack of cohesion in the face of these new
tactics of warfare. The Spartans were hopelessly confused by these novel tactics.

(Dupuy, 43) If this was so why when Cleombrotus was killed did the Spartan exit the field
in formation. Xenophon correctly points out that they were holding their own until their
king fell. And the fact after the Theban onslaught, they were able to maintain enough
cohesion to withdraw in formation and carry his body out of the melee. (Hanson, 58)
This citations not only confirms the effect of killing the leader but the fact of how
organized the Spartans during the battle really were. It proves that although the Spartans
were broken up by the friendly cavalry they were by no means rendered combat
ineffective.
In conclusion, their will always seem to be contrary on the action at Lecutra. From
what were the real reasons the once invincible Spartans were defeated. As said earlier it
seems to be a combination of quite a few things. From friendly cavalry retreating into their
own lines to the tactic of Epaminonda putting his best against the Spartans best in an
attempt to overwhem the Spartan king to the fact that in the battle king Cleombrotus was
killed. These truths are just that but in no way new or innovative at the time of the
egagement. Time and time again historians will argue on the subject. Few take the time to
dig through the ancient texts and discover that most of the tactics used by Epaminonda
were used before him, in either minor battles or without as great as success that would
forever leave the innovator over shadowed by someone luckier with the same tactics.
Work Citied
Dupuy R. Ernest and Dupuy Trevor N., The Encyclopedia of Militarty History, New
York and Evanston, Harper & Row, 1970
Hanson Victor Davis, The Leuctra Mirage, MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military
History, Volume 2, Number 2, Winter 1990, 54-59
Montgomery Viscount, Field-Marshal , A History of Warfare, Ceveland and New
York, The World Publishing Company, 1968