Battle of Lechaeum
IPHICRATES & PELTASTS TRIUMPH


From the Substack post on September 1, 2021, by Aulus.

During the Corinthian War, Agesilaus led an army to Lechaeum to raid Corinthian territory. A man named Callias was leading a Mora of Spartans (about 600 men). The best Heavy Infantry in all of Greece. Iphicrates had been requested to relieve bottled up Athenians and in 391 BC a battle broke out.

Iphicrates had taken a force of peltasts, lightly armed javelinmen with shields, and determined to use them to harass the enemy. He knew Callias could either march his men away, or stay in position. If he stayed in position and charged, the peltasts could always run and if he chose to move he would open up his flanks to the javelinmen. Hannibal used a similar tactic with javelinmen with shields at Ager Falernus, could it be Iphicrates’ attack against Greek heavy infantry inspired Hannibal’s against Roman heavy infantry? Either way, Callias foolishly chose to draw up for battle, forming a line.

Here a man was wounded, and there another dropped, not to rise again. Each time orders were given to the attendant shield-bearers (18) to pick up the men and bear them into Lechaeum; and these indeed were the only members of the mora who were, strictly speaking, saved.
— Xenophon

Iphicrates waited for the Spartans to send some of their decent troops to attack, the Peltasts seem to have retreated, thrown a volley at close range and then outrun the Spartans causing huge casualties. The Spartan polemarch Callias foolishly sent forward his good men, and then his best, suffering higher casualties in succession. Oh, imagine the yells, the clank of the armour, sword and shield as a javelin rammed through it and then it dropped to the ground. The sounds of the Spartans panting as they attempted to catch the peltasts only to be struck down, going so far just to die!

They desperately massed on a hill, as their enemy grew bolder and bolder, striking more and more down. The hill was short enough away from the sea for the rest of the garrison in Lechaeum to come and for more men to be slain. By now, Iphicrates elected to strike the killing blow.

His heavy infantry advanced and slew them. Those who managed to escape with the cavalry, were lucky…

At least 250 mighty Spartans were killed. I estimate that as many were wounded, killing or wounding ⅚ of the Mora. However, the cavalry seems to have escaped intact. Overall, though, this was the beginning of the end of the Hoplite. Iphicrates’ reforms were expanded on by Pelopidas and Epaminondas, and then those were expanded upon by Philip and Alexander, then Sparta’s hoplites were put on life support by Cleomenes’ reforms. The coup de grace would come when Nabis of Sparta finally surrendered to Philopoemen, ending Sparta’s Hoplite system forever...