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    THE FLIELD AT LEUCTRA Essay (1314 words)

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    Imagine if you will, It is a bright sun soaked day in Thebes. You are a soldier in theTheban Army under the command of General Epaminonads. To your front are the lowgreen plains of Boeotia. Plains that would latter become known as the blood alley(Hanson, 55) of Greece.

    In the distance you can see the sea of Spartan phalanxes, thereshields gleaming in the sun. To your left the sound of Cavalry as they rush out to meet theon coming Spartan horsemen. Another uneventful day in the live of a soldier? Most allhistorians of the day and of times past will tell you differently. The battle between the Spartans and the Thebans at the battle of Leuctra has beenstudied for a great many years. There are a great many arguments both for and against thepivotal engagement.

    Was it superior tactics or luck that defeated the Spartans. Thedifficulties lay in the fact that there is only one person present during the engagement thatrecorded the action. The person was a Athenian by the name of Xenophon. His the onlycontemporary description of Leuctra, and thus must over shadow all subsequentaccounts.

    (Hanson, 55) These accounts can be found in Xenophon`s papers calledHellenica. The first thing that needed is a description of the engagement itself. Thedescription of the engagement can be found everywhere from college history books toin-depth military history novels. The engagement began with standard linear tactics.

    The Spartans and their allies tookup positions head of the Theban column. At the time it was standard procedure to havethe commander and his elite troops placed to the right of his column, but Epaminondas diddifferently that day. He placed his elite troops and himself to the left. Now bothcommanders, Epaminondas and Cleombrotus face each other with their fines troops. Before the Thebans began movement against the Spartans the army resized its elitehoplites into forty to fifty shields deep instead of the standard twelve to fifteen man deepphalanx.

    The Spartan sent in their outnumbered cavalry in front of them at the beginningof the assault. The Thebans sent in their cavalry to meet them. The brief skirmish to followwas to although the Theban generals time to drive some of his infantry into the fray. Theresult was to force the enemies horsemen fleeing into the Spartan infantrys advance,breaking them up. At this point the Thebans began a left echelon march toward theSpartan right.

    Exploiting the gaps caused by the cavalry flight the Thebans preceded tosmash the Spartans. During the fighting that ensued the Cleombrotus was slain. After thefall of the king, the Spartans began to give ground. The event of their leader being killedthe Spartan allies fled the field. The Spartan right, although now alone, leaderless, andpressed by the Theban mass, withdrew undaunted-and in formation.

    (Hanson, 56) Thebattle for Lecutra was over the Spartans and their allies were defeated, Thebes and wonthe day, no longer would Sparta be an invincible nation. Now we must look at the controversies surrounding the battle at Lecutra. Was militarygenius or luck that won the day? First let use look at the commander of the Thebantroops. Many historians wish to place much of the victory itself on the genius ofEpaminonda. Evidence can be found in many of the historical novels.

    Phalanx warfarewas revolutionized at the battle of Leuctra in 371 by Epaminonda the Theban general. (Montgomery, 70) The simple fact is, Epaminonda was not alone in his command of theTheban forces at Leuctra. Epaminonda was joined by another general by the name ofPelopidas along with other Boeotian commanders. These tactics, battles and decision werejoint endeavors. Second, a review of the revolutionary tactics applied at Leuctra. First the innovation ofadjusting in depth of the Phalanxes.

    At face value the increase in the number of depthseems to be a stroke of genius, where the need for a hard hitting strike is needed. Thereare only two problems with this thinking. One this tactic was used before in otherengagements of the time. The fifty-shield mass at Leuctra was not unheard of.

    As mostGreek commanders knew, such an attack in column ordinarily had few advantages. (Hanson, 56) The placing of the command and elite troops on the left to meet withSpartans best and their command was also not a new tactic at the battle of Lecutra. Pelopidas, for example, who was in the field with the Theban army at Lecutra, had puthis best troops on the left wing four years earlier at Tegyra. (Hanson, 56) The use of aleft oblique appears to be the first account of such a tactic, but there is to still argument ofthe reasoning for this.

    Was it well planned manner of attack to keep the long Spartan linebusy while the Thebans smashed into the Spartan right? Or was it just a means forEpaminonda`s army who was outnumbered to keep from being enveloped. The infantryof the refused center and left advanced slowly, occupying the attention of the Spartans totheir front, but without engaging them. (Dupuy, 43) This to is in doubt as of the onlydirect writings on the subject of the maneuver are left out by Xenophon. The use of thecavalry with the infantry was also nothing new in combat of the time. The army ofDionysius I of Syracuse consisted of integrated bodies of hoplites, light infantry andcavalry.

    (Montgomery, 70) Epaminonda did make use of this confusion caused by thefleeing Spartan cavalry back into their own lines. He recognized the confusion betweenhorse and foot among the enemy ranks as a gift. This proves him an able hoplitecommander, but hardly a military genius. (Hanson, 58) In the end it was probably thedeath of the Spartan commander Cleombrotus, that defeated the Army.

    Losses ofcommanders throughout history have resulted in like defeats of the time. Withoutleadership the troops new not what to do. Lastly I will touch on some the controversy of the battle. In many cases the victory atLecutra is portrayed as a stroke of genius. As mentioned earlier, almost every so calledrevolutionary tactic was used at some point and time before Lecutra.

    Historians speak ofthe grand defeat of the Spartans and their total lack of cohesion in the face of these newtactics of warfare. The Spartans were hopelessly confused by these novel tactics. (Dupuy, 43) If this was so why when Cleombrotus was killed did the Spartan exit the fieldin formation. Xenophon correctly points out that they were holding their own until theirking fell. And the fact after the Theban onslaught, they were able to maintain enoughcohesion to withdraw in formation and carry his body out of the melee. (Hanson, 58)This citations not only confirms the effect of killing the leader but the fact of howorganized the Spartans during the battle really were.

    It proves that although the Spartanswere broken up by the friendly cavalry they were by no means rendered combatineffective. In conclusion, their will always seem to be contrary on the action at Lecutra. Fromwhat were the real reasons the once invincible Spartans were defeated. As said earlier itseems to be a combination of quite a few things. From friendly cavalry retreating into theirown lines to the tactic of Epaminonda putting his best against the Spartans best in anattempt to overwhem the Spartan king to the fact that in the battle king Cleombrotus waskilled. These truths are just that but in no way new or innovative at the time of theegagement.

    Time and time again historians will argue on the subject. Few take the time todig through the ancient texts and discover that most of the tactics used by Epaminondawere used before him, in either minor battles or without as great as success that wouldforever leave the innovator over shadowed by someone luckier with the same tactics. Work CitiedDupuy R. Ernest and Dupuy Trevor N., The Encyclopedia of Militarty History, NewYork and Evanston, Harper & Row, 1970Hanson Victor Davis, The Leuctra Mirage, MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of MilitaryHistory, Volume 2, Number 2, Winter 1990, 54-59Montgomery Viscount, Field-Marshal , A History of Warfare, Ceveland and NewYork, The World Publishing Company, 1968

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