Lysander (died 395 B.C.) was a Spartan military commander and statesman who defeated Athens in the Peloponnesian War and was responsible for establishing a Spartan administration in the conquered territories.
Lysander son of Aristocritus, was appointed naval commander in 407 B.C., when the Peloponnesian fleet had become demoralized by several defeats, and after previous Spartan commanders had quarreled with their Persian allies. Lysander restored confidence. He assembled a fleet at Ephesus and ingratiated himself with the Persian viceroy, Cyrus, who had received secret orders to support Sparta. Lysander hired mercenary rowers with high wages, manned 90 ships, and organized a network of personal supporters, who were to establish themselves as oligarchic rulers or dictators in any liberated states. He waited until the Athenian fleet was divided, and then early in 406 he defeated an Athenian flotilla at Notium.
When his term as commander expired, Lysander could not be reappointed by Spartan law. His successor was killed in a disastrous defeat at Arginusae. His friends and Cyrus clamored for the reappointment of Lysander, and he was sent as nominal second-in-command but with actual full power.
With Cyrus's subsidies Lysander manned 200 ships and advanced to the Dardanelles, where his threat to Athens's supplies from the Black Sea brought the Athenian fleet to a beach two miles away at Aegospotami. For four days in August 405 B.C. the Athenians offered battle, but Lysander declined. He noted, however, that each evening the Athenians disembarked and scattered. On the fifth evening Lysander attacked and caught 171 ships empty or half manned. Only nine ships escaped destruction.
Lysander sought total victory and personal power. He executed 3,000 Athenian prisoners and advanced to blockade Piraeus harbor. In April 404 B.C. Athens surrendered, and Lysander demolished Athens's fortifications. He established oligarchies or tyrannies in Athens and throughout the conquered and liberated areas. When reaction set in and democrats at Athens seized Piraeus, Lysander got himself appointed to suppress the rising. But the two Spartan kings, distrusting him, persuaded the Spartan authorities to supersede Lysander, reverse his policies at Athens, and modify them elsewhere.
Back in Sparta, Lysander planned unsuccessfully to convert the hereditary monarchy into an elective monarchy, banking on his own prestige. When Agis II died in 398, Lysander secured the election of Agesilaus, who took command in Asia Minor. Lysander accompanied him as chief of staff, but Agesilaus soon dismissed him. In 395, when Boeotia and Athens rose against Sparta, Lysander was killed in action at Haliartus.
Further Reading on Lysander
Ancient sources on Lysander include Xenophon, Diodorus Siculus, and Plutarch, In modern works, accounts of Lysander are in John Bury, History of Greece (1902; 3d ed. 1951); Humfrey Michell, Sparta (1952); and Nicholas G. L. Hammond, History of Greece to 322 B.C. (1959; 2d ed. 1967), all of which are also useful for historical background.