The Politics of Ethnicity and the Crisis of the Peloponnesian League

  Funke, Peter, and Nino Luraghi, eds. 2009. The Politics of Ethnicity and the Crisis of the Peloponnesian League. Hellenic Studies Series 32. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

I. Between Mantinea and Leuctra: The Political World of the Peloponnese in a Time of Upheaval

Peter Funke

1. Thebes and the Effects of the Battle of Leuctra (371 BCE)

Hartmut Beister (1973) and Christopher Tuplin offer the most recent extensive discussions of these texts, revising previous interpretations in the attempt to clarify possible connections between the inscription and the literary tradition. They come to very different conclusions, which cannot be discussed in detail here, especially since it seems impossible to reach a final decision. [6] However, they agree that the story of the shield of Aristomenes reported by Pausanias has to be considered an invention of the Messenian historiography of the fourth century BCE. [7] This integration of the hero of Messenian freedom into Theban traditions about the battle of Leuctra certainly goes back to the attempt by the Messenians to consolidate their identity in the years after 370/69; [8] but it also reveals something about the way in which Thebes, the new dominant power in the Greek world, if for a short time, depicted itself in historiography. For the Thebans, it was obviously very important to show their newly acquired hegemony in the best light and to underpin it with ideology. [9] Of course, the Thebans did unquestionably play a decisive role in the liberation of Messenia. The foundation of the city at Mount Ithome and the creation of a new Messenian state that accompanied it were doubtless consequences of the first Theban expedition in the winter of 370/69; Epaminondas’ initiative and commitment clearly deserve credit for this. [10] It is also beyond question that the battle of Leuctra laid the foundations for the dissolution of Spartan hegemony over the Peloponnese. From this point of view, it can be said that the (fictive) participation of Aristomenes in the outcome of the battle of Leuctra was perfectly justified on the level of ideology.

It is not my intention to throw out the baby with the bath water and to suggest that Thebes could not have had any influence whatsoever on the political developments in the Peloponnese. What my contribution criticizes is the overestimation of the role of Thebes in the political reorganization of the Peloponnese, because it promotes a distorted assessment of the complexity of the situation. There is no doubt that the outcome of the battle of Leuctra was a fundamental and necessary precursor to the thorough-going transformation of the power balance in the Peloponnese—fundamental and necessary, but not sufficient. By the same token, it is beyond question that Thebes played an active role in the liberation of Messene and in the creation of the Messenian state. Theban ambitions and their clash with Spartan hegemony corresponded to the interests of most Peloponnesian states—but only temporarily, as shown by the admonition of Lykomedes of Mantinea, who as early as 368 warned his fellow Arcadians against the danger of rashly granting the Thebans the dominant position formerly occupied by the Spartans (Xenophon Hellenica 7.1.24).

2. Sparta and the Consequences of the Battle of Mantinea (418 BCE)

In the immediate aftermath of the Peloponnesian War, burgeoning resistance amongst their former allies, which had sprung up suddenly, was already creating difficulties for the Spartans. [25] Disappointed by the limited readiness of the Spartans to allow for their allies’ interests in the rearrangement of the political balance, some states, especially Boeotia and Corinth, famously turned their backs to the Spartan alliance and eventually, together with Athens and Argos, openly declared their hostility to Sparta in 395/4. The Corinthian War that followed, which soon sucked in the whole Greek world, destabilized Sparta’s hegemonic position, increasingly endangering even the cohesion of the core area of the Peloponnesian League. Only in 386 were the Spartans able to emerge as προστάται of the King’s Peace and to exploit this position in order to consolidate their wavering hegemony. The fact that in these circumstances Sparta treated its own allies in the Peloponnese particularly harshly shows how tense the situation within the Spartan alliance had become. With targeted punitive measures the Spartans tried to re-establish their authority over the Peloponnese and to prevent any further disloyal behavior on the part of their allies (Xenophon, Hellenica 5.2.1). At first, in 385/4, they made of Mantinea an example that cannot have failed to impress the other allies. Since the Mantineans had rejected the request of the Spartan envoys to pull down their city-walls as a token of loyalty to the Peloponnesian League, the Spartans started a siege that ended up with the conquest of Mantinea and the διοικισμός of the city. [26]

The implications of this treaty in terms of political history have so far received surprisingly little attention. However, it sheds new light not only on the relationship between Sparta and Mantinea in the late fifth and early fourth century, but also on the ways and means used by Peloponnesian polities in order to create and protect autonomous zones of action for themselves. Having discussed the date of this treaty in depth elsewhere, I do not intend to repeat my arguments here. Suffice it to say that, after considering the various options, the sympolity treaty has to be dated before 385. [35] What are the implications of such a date for the historical interpretation of this document? In order to find an answer, it is necessary to consider the situation of Mantinea before 418. For the first phase of the Peloponnesian War, some hints in Thucydides point to a close relationship between Mantinea and Helisson. Even though Helisson itself is not mentioned, it is possible to infer from Thucydides (4.134.1; 5.29.1; 5.33.1; 5.47.1; 5.67.2; 5.81.1) that, at the latest during the Archidamian War, the Mantineans had succeeded in building in Southwestern Arcadia a small hegemony of their own, which extended to Maenalia, of which Helisson was part. Thucydides uses for this the terminology of hegemonic symmachy, and based on Thomas Heine Nielsen’s comprehensive investigation, we may suppose that Mantinea’s hegemony was structured like the larger hegemonic symmachies, such as the Delian and Peloponnesian Leagues. [36] It is perfectly understandable that the Spartans were keen to dissolve such regional hegemony within their own sphere of influence. Therefore, when Mantinea too, soon after 418, had to acquiesce in a peace with Sparta, one of the main points of the treaty was that the Mantineans had to “give up their rule over the poleis” (Thucydides 5.81.1: τὴν ἀρχὴν ἀφεῖσαν τῶν πόλεων) and thereby to renounce control over extended parts of Arcadia.

We can therefore conclude that from the mid-twenties of the fifth century at the latest, and until 418/7, Helisson, like the majority of the other polities of northern Mainalia, was almost certainly linked to Mantinea by an alliance. After that, such ties were necessarily severed by the treaty between Sparta and Mantinea. Since, however, we have every reason to date the sympolity between Mantinea and Helisson before 385, we can see it as evidence that, at the beginning of the fourth century, Mantinea was again attempting to build up its power, especially against Sparta but also against other neighboring poleis such as Tegea, by extending the citizen body. In this connection, one thinks especially of the Corinthian War. The Mantineans probably exploited Sparta’s weakness at that point, in order to win back the position of power that had been taken away from them by the thirty-years peace with Sparta. In the sympolity treaty, the reference to “the other poleis” (SEG 37.340 line 9: κατάπερ ἐν ταῖς ἄλλαις πόλισι) suggests strongly that at that point other polities, too, possibly former allies of the Mantineans, had concluded a sympolity with them. This reference to further poleis and the long distance between Mantinea and Helisson show with full clarity the political significance of such agreements.

The fact that Mantinea was now no longer using treaties of alliance, but rather sympolities, was certainly a clever trick to circumvent the corresponding clauses of the thirty-years peace with Sparta. Of prime importance was the insight that a sympolity ensured a much stronger bond than any sort of alliance. It seems that the Mantineans were operating already at the beginning of the fourth century with an instrument of constitutional law that was going to be applied on a much larger scale and with even more success in the foundation of the Arcadian League in 370. The example of the fusion of Argos and Corinth in 392 shows that other poleis, too, were able to resort to sympolity or to similar systems in order to strengthen their autonomous position in the balance of power in the Peloponnese. [37] This emergence of sympolity, attested impressively by the case of Mantinea, can be observed also in other parts of the Greek world, but it seems to be particularly pronounced in the Peloponnese. Here, the relations and conflicts between polities were characterized in a peculiar way by the interplay between the autonomy of the polis and regional—that is, ethnic—cohesion. The tendency towards sympolity across the boundaries of the individual poleis may in many ways have been determined by foreign policy, especially insofar as it worked in opposition to Sparta. However, it is also the political consequence of a conspicuous phenomenon: the “ethnicization” of the political world of the Peloponnese at the end of the fifth and beginning of the fourth centuries BCE.


Amit, M. 1973. Great and Small Poleis. A Study in the Relations between the Great Powers and. the Small Cities in Ancient Greece. Brussels.

Beck, H. 1997. Polis und Koinon. Untersuchungen zur Geschichte und Struktur der griechischen Bundesstaaten im 4. Jahrhundert v. Chr. Historia Einzelschriften 114. Stuttgart.

Beck, H. 2000. “Thebes, the Boiotian League, and the ‘Rise of Federalism’ in Fourth Century Greece.” Presenza e funzione della città di Tebe nella cultura greca (ed. P. A. Bernardini) 331–344. Pisa.

Behrwald, R. 2005. Hellenica von Oxyrhynchos. Herausgegeben, übersetzt und kommentiert. Darmstadt.

Beister, H. 1970. Untersuchungen zu der Zeit der thebanischen Hegemonie. Bonn.

———. 1973. “Ein thebanisches Tropaion bereits vor Beginn der Schlacht bei Leuktra. Zur Interpretation von IG VII 2462 und Paus. 4,32,5 f.” Chiron 3:65–84.

———. 1989. “Hegemoniales Denken in Theben.” Boiotika. Vorträge zum 5. Internationalen Böotien-Kolloquium (eds. H. Beister and J. Buckler) 131–153. Münchener Arbeiten zur Alten Geschichte 2. Munich.

Buckler, J. 1980. The Theban Hegemony, 371–362 B.C. Harvard Historical Studies 98. Cambridge, MA.

———. 2003. Aegean Greece in the Fourth Century BC. Leiden.

Cartledge, P. 1987. Agesilaos and the Crisis of Sparta. Baltimore.

Curtius, E. 1889. Griechische Geschichte. III: Bis zum Ende der Selbständigkeit Griechenlands. Berlin. Sixth Revised Edition.

Dubois, L. 1988. “À propos d’ une nouvelle inscription arcadienne.” BCH 112:279–290.

Dušanić, S. 1970. The Arcadian League of the Fourth Century. Belgrade.

Figueira, T. J. 1999. “The Evolution of the Messenian Identity.” Sparta: New Perspectives (eds. S. Hodkinson and A. Powell) 211–244. London.

Funke, P. 1980. Homónoia und Arché. Athen und die griechische Staatenwelt vom Ende des Peloponnesischen Krieges bis zum Königsfrieden (404/3 – 387/6 v. Chr.) Historia Einzelschriften 37. Wiesbaden.

———. 1998. “Die Bedeutung der griechischen Bundesstaaten in der politischen Theorie und Praxis des 5. und 4. Jh. v. Chr.” Politische Theorie und Praxis im Altertum (ed. W. Schuller) 59–71. Darmstadt.

———. 2004. “Sparta und die peloponnesische Staatenwelt zu Beginn des 4. Jahrhunderts und der Dioikismos von Mantineia.” Xenophon and his World (ed. C. Tuplin) 427–435. Historia Einzelschriften 172. Stuttgart.

Gehrke, H.-J. 1985. Stasis. Untersuchungen zu den inneren Kriegen in den griechischen Staaten des 5. und 4. Jahrhunderts v. Chr. Munich.

Grandjean, C. 2003. Les Messéniens de 370/369 au 1er siècle de notre ère. Monnayages et histoire. Athens.

Grote, G. 1888. History of Greece. London.

Gschnitzer, F. 1978. Ein neuer spartanischer Staatsvertrag und die Verfassung des Peloponnesischen Bundes. Beiträge zur klassischen Philologie 93. Meisenheim.

Hamilton, C. D. 1979. Sparta’s Bitter Victories: Politics and Diplomacy in the Corinthian War. Ithaca.

———. 1991. Agesilaus and the Failure of Spartan Hegemony. Ithaca.

Hodkinson, S., and Hodkinson, H. 1981. “Mantineia and the Mantinike: Settlement and Society in a Greek Polis.” ABSA 76:239–296.

Hornblower, S. 1990. “When was Megalopolis Founded?” ABSA 85:71–77.

———. 2002. The Greek World 479–323 BC. London. Third Revised Edition.

Kiechle, F. 1959. Messenische Studien. Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der Messenischen Kriege und der Auswanderung der Messenier. Kallmünz.

Lehmann, G. A. 2001. Ansätze zu einer Theorie des griechischen Bundesstaates bei Aristoteles und Polybios. Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen. Philologisch-Historische Klasse 3.242. Göttingen.

Luraghi, N. 2002. “Becoming Messenian.” JHS 122:45–69.

Meyer, E. 1978. “Messene/Messenien.” RE Suppl. 15:136-289.

Moggi, M. 1976. I sinecismi interstatali greci. Pisa.

———. 1996. “I sinecismi greci del IV secolo a.C.” Le IVe siècle av. J.-C. Approches historiographiques (ed. P. Carlier) 259–271. Paris.

Nielsen, T. H. 1996. “A Survey of Dependent Poleis in Classical Arkadia.” More Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis (eds. M. H. Hansen and K. A. Raaflaub) 63–105. Historia Einzelschriften 108. Stuttgart.

Nielsen, T. H. 2002. Arkadia and its Poleis in the Archaic and Classical Periods. Göttingen.

Ogden, D. 2004. Aristomenes of Messene: Legends of Sparta’s Nemesis. Swansea.

Peek, W. 1974. Ein neuer spartanischer Staatsvertrag. Abhandlungen der Sächsischen Akademie der Wissenschaften Leipzig. Philologisch-Historische Klasse 65.3. Berlin.

Rhodes, P. J., and Osborne, R., eds. 2003. Greek Historical Inscriptions 404–323 BC. Oxford.

te Riele, G. J. M. G. 1987. “Hélisson entre en sympolitie avec Mantinée: une nouvelle inscription d’Arcadie.” BCH 111:167–190.

Roebuck, C. A. 1941. A History of Messenia from 369 to 146 B.C. Chicago.

Shipley, G. 2004. “Messenia.” An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis (eds. M. Hansen and T. H. Nielsen) 547–568. Oxford.

Shrimpton, G. S. 1971. “The Theban Supremacy in Fourth-Century Literature.” Phoenix 25:310–318.

Sordi, M. 1974. “Propaganda politica e senso religioso nell’azione di Epaminonda.” CISA 2:45–53.

Tuplin, C. J. 1982. “The Date of the Union of Corinth and Argos.” CQ 32:75–83.

———. 1984. “Pausanias and Plutarch’s Epameinondas.” CQ 78:346–358.

———. 1987. “The Leuctra Campaign: Some Outstanding Problems.” Klio 69:72–107.

———. 1993. The Failings of Empire: A Reading of Xenophon Hellenica 2.3.11–7.5.27. Historia Einzelschriften 76. Stuttgart.

Whitby, M. 1984. “The Union of Corinth and Argos: A Reconsideration.” Historia 33:295–308.

Yates, D. C. 2005. “The Archaic Treaties between the Spartans and their Allies.” CQ 55:65–76.


[ back ] 1. I thank K. Freitag and M. Haake for their critical reading of my manuscript, as well as all participants in the conference for suggestions and stimuli, and especially N. Luraghi and R. Short, who have also translated the text of my contribution.

[ back ] 2. IG VII 2462; CEG 632; Rhodes and Osborne 2003:150–151 (= Nr. 30); references to further editions in Beister 1973:65fn3a.

[ back ] 3. Translation from Rhodes and Osborne 2003:151.

[ back ] 4. For the date see the commentary of W. Dittenberger to IG VII 2462; see also Tuplin 1987:94f.

[ back ] 5. The inscription was first published on May 17th, 1877 by S. A. Kumanudis in the Athenian newspaper Palingenesia and immediately generated lively reactions; see Beister 1973:65n1 and 2.

[ back ] 6. See also the commentary by Rhodes and Osborne 2003:151f.

[ back ] 7. Beister 1973:79–81; Tuplin 1987:101–103; Ogden 2004:134–138; see already Kiechle 1959:126f. On the person of Aristomenes, around whom many legends obviously grew after the liberation of Messenia by the Boeotians, see now Ogden 2004.

[ back ] 8. However, the relationship to Boeotia, which was also displayed in, for example, the iconographic program of the statuary in the sanctuary of Asklepios and in the hierothysion at Messene (Pausanias 4.31.10–32.1), is only one component of this effort; on this, see also the fundamental treatments of Figueira 1999; Luraghi 2002; Luraghi, this volume.

[ back ] 9. See also Ogden 2004:138–142.

[ back ] 10. See Roebuck 1941:27–41; Meyer 1978:263–266; Buckler 1980:70–90; Buckler 2003:308–310; Grandjean 2003:49–53, 65–70; Shipley 2004:562f.

[ back ] 11. Pausanias 9.15.6; translation from Beck 2000:341f; cf. also Luraghi, this volume.

[ back ] 12. A brief overview of the development of Boeotian historiography is offered by F. Jacoby in FGH IIIb:151–153; see also Shrimpton 1971; Sordi 1974; Buckler 1980:263–277; Tuplin 1984.

[ back ] 13. Curtius 1889:383: “Bedenkt man, wie Epameinondas mit seinen geringen Mitteln und in so kurzer Frist Mantineia, Messene, Megalopolis gründete oder gründen half, … so wird man dem Epameinondas nicht die Ehre streitig machen dürfen, dass er in der königlichen Kunst der Stadtgründungen Alexanders und seiner Nachfolger Vorgänger gewesen ist.”

[ back ] 14. Beister 1989:151: “Kennzeichnend … für die thebanische Außenpolitik nach Leuktra ist bekanntlich die Reproduktion und Verbreitung des eigenen politischen Modells.”

[ back ] 15. Hornblower 2002:200; see also 258f.

[ back ] 16. For an overview of these political developments, with references to sources and bibliography, see Beck 1997; Funke 1998; Lehmann 2001.

[ back ] 17. Beck 2000.

[ back ] 18. Beck 2000:338.

[ back ] 19. Contrary to what I previously thought, see Funke 1998:63 on the Arcadian League.

[ back ] 20. See most recently, with further bibliography, Lehmann 2001:25–33; Behrwald 2005:119f. Notice that the system of the συντέλεια of single member-states already functioned as an instrument of power before 386.

[ back ] 21. Grote 1888 v.8:194–196.

[ back ] 22. Συνοικισμός of Mantinea: Moggi 1976:251–256 (= Nr. 40); foundation of the Arcadian League: Dušanić 1970; Nielsen 2002:474–499; foundation of Megalopolis: Moggi 1976:93–325 (= Nr. 45); Hornblower 1990; Nielsen 2002:414–455.

[ back ] 23. On this, with references to sources and bibliography, Hornblower 2002:247–249; Buckler 2003:302–310.

[ back ] 24. A more comprehensive discussion of the διοικισμός of Mantinea, here taken as case study, can be found in Funke 2004.

[ back ] 25. On what follows, see the relevant discussions e.g. in Hamilton 1979; Funke 1980; Hamilton 1991; Tuplin 1993; Buckler 2003.

[ back ] 26. Moggi 1976:151–153 with overview of the sources.

[ back ] 27. The destruction of the city-walls was part of the normal repertoire of Greek power politics; cf. e.g. the measures taken by the Athenians against Poteidaia (Thucydides 1.56.2), Thasos (1.101.3), or Chios (4.51.1), by the Thebans against Thespiai (4.133.1), and by the Spartans themselves in previous years against Argos (5.83.2), Athens (Xenophon Hellenica 2.2.20; 2.2.23) and Elis (Xenophon Hellenica 3.2.30). By comparison, the διοικισμός was extraordinarily harsh.

[ back ] 28. Xenophon Hellenica 5.2.5–7; Ephoros FGH 70 F 79; Diodorus 15.5.4;15.12.2; Strabo 8.3.2.

[ back ] 29. On the question to what extent the treatment of Mantinea equalled a violation of the King’s Peace see Funke 2004:429.

[ back ] 30. On the institutional form of the constitution of Mantinea in the years between 384 and 370 the sources offer hardly any useful evidence. According to a note in Xenophon Hellenica 5.2.7, from 384 onwards it was no longer the polis of Mantinea that had to contribute its contingent of troops, but each of the four or five villages by itself, each under the control of one Spartan xenagos. This regulation suggests that in all likelihood the very unity of the polis was at least to some extent dissolved. It is questionable whether this dissolution implies that each of the components of the former polis of Mantinea now had its own oligarchic constitution, as suggested by Gehrke 1985:104f; cf. e.g. Hodkinson and Hodkinson 1981:287f. In any case, this rearrangement could not be very effective, since clearly the vast majority of the population of Mantinea opposed it. The extraordinarily smooth and resolute implementation of the second synoecism (see Moggi 1976:251–256 [=Nr. 40]; Gehrke 1985:105) shows that even fifteen years later the cohesion of the civic body had not suffered lasting damage.

[ back ] 31. Staatsverträge II2 195.

[ back ] 32. The interpretation advanced by Gschnitzer 1978 (= SEG 28.408; also SEG 49.392) for the treaty originally published by Peek 1974 (= SEG 26.461) still seems to me convincing, both as regards the date (first half of the fifth century BCE) and in the interpretation (treaty between Sparta and a hitherto unknown Peloponnesian polity). Every attempt to date the treaty later and to connect it with the Aetolians of Central Greece (see the overview of the different suggestions in Yates 2005:66n4) is undermined by a consideration of the historical circumstances that this would imply; see now also SEG 51.449.

[ back ] 33. On the history of the relationship between Sparta and Mantinea see the summary accounts in Amit 1973:121–182; Nielsen 2002:389–391.

[ back ] 34. Te Riele 1987 (= SEG 37.340); see also Dubois 1988; IPArk 9.

[ back ] 35. Funke 2004:431–433.

[ back ] 36. Nielsen 1996:79–84; Nielsen 2002:367–372; see already Cartledge 1987:257–259.

[ back ] 37. On this fusion, see Robinson’s contribution to this volume, and cf. Moggi 1976:242–250 (= Nr. 39); Funke 1980:82n29; Tuplin 1982; Whitby 1984; Moggi 1996:159f.

[ back ] 38. Pausanias 8.9.3–4; 8.36.8; on this, see Nielsen 2002:403f.

[ back ] 39. Xenophon Hellenica 7.1.23–24. Herodotus 2.171.3; 8.78,1 and Thucydides 1.2.3 show that Lykomedes could count on older and widespread notions.