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Battle of Leuctra Area Today

A map of the area around the battle positions

Battle of Leuctra summary

The Battle of Leuctra (or Leuktra) was a battle fought on July 6, 371 BCE, between the Boeotians and other Theban allies and the Spartans along with their allies. The battle took place in the neighbourhood of Leuctra, a village in Boeotia in the territory of Thespiae.

  1. A surprise invation by the Spartans left the six Boeotian generals present at the field divided as to whether to offer battle or not. The best among them was Epaminondas and he was in favor of battle. Later a seventh Boeotarch (Boeotian commander) arrived and sided with Epaminondas. It was a difficult decision because the Thebans were inferior in numbers and doubted the loyalty of their allies. However their allies had one thing in their favor. They would not fight the famous Spartans as the Thebans disregarded tradition and positioned their allies troops at the most honorary (and less dangerous) right flank. They would face the dreaded Spartans and Epaminondas used new tactics to do it.
  2. The battle opened with the Spartans' mercenary peltasts attacking the Boeotian camp followers.
  3. The camp followers were trying to leave the field. They did not intend to fight but the attack drove them back into the Theban army, inadvertently making the Theban force stronger.
  4. Theban and Spartan (allied) cavalry met in the field.
  5. The Spartan allied cavalry retreated and sent the Spartan force in some disarray and they had to disperce to let the cavalry pass through them.
  6. The Theban left hit the Spartan right with the Sacred Band of Thebes led by Pelopidas at its head. Instead of the eight column deep formation most Greeks used the Thebans used a fifty-deep column of Theban infantry on his left wing. They also used their cavalry there (Epaminondas taught this cavalry attack manouver to Philip of Macedon and was used by his son Alexander the Great on many occasions).
  7. The Theban allies in the shallower and weaker center and right wing columns were drawn up so that they were progressively further to the right and rear of the proceeding column, in the so-called Echelon formation.
  8. The Spartan's usual twelve column deep formation could not sustain the heavy impact of their opponents' 50-deep column. At first they held their ground but finally they were overwhelmed and the unthinkable happened. The Spartan right retreated with great loss of men, including the king Cleombrotus I.
  9. Seeing their right wing beaten, the rest of the Peloponnesians (Spartan allies), retired and left the enemy in possession of the field.
  10. According to Spartan law those who retreated in battle were severely punished. However the loss of men was so great that the Spartan king Archidamus (Sparta had two kings) decided to: let the laws go to sleep. Otherwise he would not have enough forces to defend Sparta proper later.