Agesilaus II (ca. 444-360 B.C.), a Spartan king and general, dominated Spartan politics. Through military might he made his state supreme in Greece by about 380 B.C.
Agesilaus was a son of the Spartan king Archidamus II. Agesilaus was not in the direct line of succession after his elder brother King Agis II died, but the powerful military commander Lysander contrived to have Agis's son disqualified as a bastard fathered by Alcibiades and engineered Agesilaus's election as king about 399. Lysander hoped to exploit the lame and inexperienced Agesilaus, but the new king asserted his power and dismissed Lysander from service.
Agesilaus's first command was in Asia Minor against the Persians in 396-394. He failed to gain any permanent advantage but amassed a huge amount of booty. Meanwhile Sparta's supremacy in Greece was broken by the states in central Greece. Lysander was killed in Boeotia, and the other of Sparta's dual kings, Pausanias, was banished for incompetence in the face of the enemy. Agesilaus was recalled from the field and marched his army homeward. He broke through the enemy lines at Coronea, where he was wounded, and reached Sparta well laden with loot. Agesilaus thus became in effect sole king, and he dominated the politics of Sparta until his death.
From 394 to 388 Agesilaus tried in vain to break a stalemate with the states of central Greece, which held the Isthmus of Corinth. He therefore entered into an alliance with Persia and negotiated a general peace with Persian backing in 386. Thebes alone remained independent; Agesilaus mustered his troops and subdued Thebes.
The King's Peace, as it was called, was a triumph for Persia and restored Sparta's supremacy. Agesilaus, however, failed to reform Sparta's ways and in particular to offset its dwindling population. He enforced Sparta's rule in Greece by ruthless methods, which appealed to the militarist strain in the Spartan character, and between 385 and 379 he subdued Mantinea, Phlius, Thebes, and the Chalcidian League. Sparta now dominated the Greek world, with Persia in the east and Syracuse in the west as allies.
The tide turned in 379-378. Thebes broke away from Spartan dominance. Athens followed Thebes into a coalition when a Spartan officer, Sphodrias, made an unsuccessful treacherous attack on Athens in time of peace and Agesilaus shielded him from the consequences. Saddled with a war against Thebes and Athens, Agesilaus invaded Boeotia in 378 and 377 but achieved nothing. In 376 he became ill, and his coruler at the time, Cleombrotus, failed to invade Boeotia. Thebes resurrected the Boeotian League, and Athens formed a maritime coalition. In 371 a new King's Peace was made, but Agesilaus again broke it. This time Epaminondas, the Theban commander, was not intimidated. A Spartan army under Cleombrotus invaded Boeotia and was decisively defeated by Epaminondas; Sparta's empire collapsed. The old king Agesilaus organized Sparta's defenses in 370 and again in 362. He led a Spartan force fighting the Persians in Egypt in 361 and died at sea while returning.
Further Reading on Agesilaus II
Ancient sources on Agesilaus II are Xenophon's Agesilaus and Hellenica; "Life of Agesilaus" in Plutarch's Lives; and "Agesilaus" in The Lives of Cornelius Nepos. Modern works which discuss Agesilaus II include J. B. Bury, A History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great (1900; 3d rev. ed. 1951); M.L.W. Laistner, A History of the Greek World from 479 to 323 B.C. (1936; 3d rev. ed. 1957); N.G.L. Hammond, A History of Greece to 322 B.C. (1959; 2d ed. 1967); and A. H. M. Jones, Sparta (1967).
Additional Biography Sources
Cartledge, Paul., Agesilaos and the crisis of Sparta, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.