The battle of Thespiae in 378 was a Theban victory that ended a period
of Sparta raids from their base at Thespiae, and in which the Spartan commander
Phoebidas was killed
(Theban-Spartan War (379-371 BC)). In 382 the Spartans had seized control of
Thebes, but three years later a group of Theban exiles, with help from within
the city, had overthrown the pro-Spartan government and expelled the Spartan
garrison of the Cadmea, the citadel of Thebes. The first Spartan campaign in
Boeotia, in 379, had achieved very little other than dragging Athens into the
war. In 378 King Agesilaus
II took command, but he did little better, and was eventually forced to
retreat after a standoff near Thebes. Before he left he refortified Thespiae,
and then left a Spartan garrison in the city, commanded by Phoebidas, the
Spartan commander who had seized Thebes in 382.
The Thebans were unwilling to leave the Spartans in peace at Thespiae. A force
commanded by Gorgidas, and which included cavalry and probably the Theban
Sacred Band, of which he was the commander, was sent to attack Thespiae.
Gorgidas began by defeating a Spartan force of 200 men on the road between
Thebes and Thespiae. The Thebans then attempted to attack Thespiae itself, but
they were repulsed outside the walls. When the Thebans finally decided to
retreat, Phoebidas led his peltasts against them, and almost turned the retreat
into a rout. This may have been a feint, designed to draw the Spartan peltasts
away from the Thespian hoplites. After retreating for some way the Theban
cavalry turned and counterattacked, either because it had reached a ravine that
it couldn't pass, or in response to a signal from Gorgidas. In either case
Phoebidas was killed and his peltasts were overrun. The Theban cavalry then hit
the Thespian hoplites, who were probably in their marching formation. The
survivors fled back to Thespiae, where they finally managed to stop the rot and
stopped another Theban attack on the new fortifications.
The battle had cost Sparta and her allies 500 dead, and greatly encouraged her
enemies. Many Boeotians living in cities allied to Sparta deserted to Thebes.
The Spartans responded by sending one of their regiments (morai) to Thespiae,
commanded by one of the polemarchs. This helped them maintain a foothold in
Boeotia, and helped keep the mountain passes open at the start of Agesilaus's
Theban campaign of 377 BC.
Sparta at War, Scott M. Rusch. A study of the rise, dominance
and fall of Sparta, the most famous military power in the Classical Greek
world. Sparta dominated land warfare for two centuries, before suffering a
series of defeats that broke its power. The author examines the reasons for
that success, and for Sparta's failure to bounce back from defeat.
The Spartan Supremacy 412-371 BC, Mike Roberts and Bob Bennett. . Looks
at the short spell between the end of the Great Peloponnesian War and the
battle of Leuctra where Sparta's political power matched her military
reputation. The authors look at how Sparta proved to be politically unequal to
her new position, and how this period of supremacy ended with Sparta's military
reputation in tatters and her political power fatally wounded.