Timeline: the Spartans

Traditional foundation date for Olympic Games c.776 BC

Homer’s epics The Iliad and The Odyssey composed c.750 BC

Image: Rufus46/CC BY-SA 4.0.

Sparta conquers Messenia c.700 BC

Messenian Revolt followed by Spartan Reconquest c.650 BC

At this time, radical changes took place in Sparta, with a new constitution (the Laws of Lykourgos), the development of the hoplite phalanx, and the emergence of a distinct Spartan ethos, as immortalised in the poetry of Tyrtaeus. It was this ‘new Sparta’ – created by the military crisis of the Messenian Revolt – that became the basis of the very conservative system which then endured through the next three centuries.

Foundation of the Peloponnesian League c.550 BC

The Peloponnesian League was a military coalition that existed from the 6th to the 4th centuries BC. The league was led by Sparta, the Peloponnese city-state with the most political and military clout. Reliable sources for the League’s history are scarce, but it is thought to have included Corinth, Kythira, Melos, Pylos, Mantinea, Elis, Epidaurus, Boeotia, Lefkada, Ambrakia, and perhaps Macedonia.

Image: courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

The alliance was designed to maintain peace within the Peloponnese at the height of Sparta’s power – mainly by marginalising Argos – while also providing a defensive force capable of fending off outside invasion.
The League led the defence of the Greek city-states against Persian invasions – though, critically, Athens fought alongside Sparta and the Peloponnesian League on this occasion.

Persian conquest of Lydia and the Anatolian Coast c.546 BC

In an attempt to expand his territory eastwards, King Croesus of Lydia led an invasion into Persian Cappadocia against Cyrus the Great. The two leaders met in a drawn battle at Pteria in 547 BC, but Croesus then withdrew and was pursued and defeated at the Battle of Thymbra, and Lydia came under control of the Persian Achaemenid Empire.

Image: sodacan/CC BY-SA 3.0.

The Battle of Marathon 490 BC

A stunning Athenian victory. The Spartan Army arrived too late to participate, but its soldiers surveyed the battlefield and attempted to draw tactical lessons.

Xerxes’ invasion of Greece – battles of Thermopylae Artemisium and Salamis 480 BC

The second Persian invasion was on a much greater scale than the first. Xerxes suffered a first decisive defeat at Salamis, a naval battle fought off the Athenian coast, and he was forced to withdraw the remains of his fleet and a large proportion of his land forces. However, a massive Persian army remained on Greek soil over the winter.

Battle of Plataea 479 BC

Peace with Persia 449 BC

The Peloponnesian War 431-404 BC

This epic ancient Greek civil war pitted the conservative, Spartan-dominated Peloponnesian League against the democratic, Athenian-dominated Delian League. Sparta was a land-based power, Athens a naval one, so for a long time it was a matter of the elephant and the whale, with the decisive victory eluding each side. Only when the Spartans developed a navy – financed by Persian gold – was it possible for them to break Athenian power and win the war. Sparta was then supreme in Greece for a generation.

Image: digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Battle of Leuktra 371 BC

Spartan power was broken by Epaminondas and the Theban ‘heavy phalanx’ on the battlefield of Leuktra – a result confirmed by a second Theban victory over the Spartans at Mantinea in 362 BC. The resulting Theban supremacy also lasted only a single generation.

Battle of Chaeronea 338 BC

Alliance of Greek city-states defeated by Philip II of Macedonia.