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May 27, 2022

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From the Archives - Amompharetos Refuses to "Retreat"

Following their devastating defeat in the Naval Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C., a large Persian host remained in central Greece, in the hope of inflicting a decisive defeat on the Greek alliance the following year. Thus, in mid-479 B.C., a Greek army confronted the Persians near the city of Plataea, in Boeotia. The campaign came to a head in August, as the two armies spent about 12 days maneuvering against each other. On the tenth day of these operations (probably August 25th), the Greeks had been heavily harassed by the Persian cavalry. Their water was running short, and that night the Greek commanders, the Spartans Pausanias and Euryanax, decided that the army should shift its position to better ground. But when the orders were given these generals found themselves in an altercation with one of their own regimental commanders, which they resolved by threatening to abandon him and his troops to the enemy, as is told by Herodotos, in Book IX of his History.

. . . Amompharetos the son of Poliades, commander of the Pitanate Regiment, said that he would not flee from the strangers, nor with his own will would he disgrace Sparta; and he expressed wonder at seeing that which was being done, not having been present at the former discussion. Pausanias and Euryanax were greatly disturbed that Amompharetos did not obey them and still more that they should be compelled to leave the Pitanate behind, since he thus refused; for they feared that if they should leave it in order to do what they had agreed with the other troops, both Amompharetos himself would perish being left behind and also the men with him. With this thought they kept the [rest of the] Spartan troops from moving, and meanwhile endeavored to persuade Amompharetos that it was not right for him to do so.

They then exhorted Amompharetos . . . while the Athenians were keeping themselves quiet in the place where they had been posted, knowing the spirit of the Spartans, that they were apt to say otherwise than they really meant. When the army began to move, the Athenians sent a herald to see whether the Spartans were attempting to set forth, or whether they had in truth no design at all to retire; and they bade him ask Pausanias what they ought to do.

So when the herald came to the Spartans, he saw that they were still in their place and that the chiefs of them had come to strife with one another: for when Euryanax and Pausanias both exhorted Amompharetos not to run the risk of remaining behind with his men, alone of all the Lacedaemonians, they did not at all persuade him. At last they had come to downright argument; and meanwhile the herald of the Athenians had arrived and was standing by them. Amompharetos in his contention took a piece of rock in both his hands and placed it at the feet of Pausanias, saying that with this pebble he gave his vote not to fly from the strangers, meaning the Barbarian Persians. Pausanias then, calling him a madman and one who was not in his right senses, bade tell the state of their affairs to the Athenian herald, who was asking that which he had been charged to ask; and at the same time he requested the Athenians to come towards the Spartans and to do in regard to the retreat the same as they did.

The herald then went away back to the Athenians; and as the dawn of [the 26th] found them yet disputing with one another, Pausanias, who had remained still throughout all this time, gave the signal, and led away all the rest over the low hills, supposing that Amonpharetos would not stay behind when the other Spartans departed (in which he was in fact right); and with them also went the Tegeans. Meanwhile the Athenians, following the commands which were given them, were going in the direction opposite to that of the Lacedaemonians; for these were clinging to the hills and the lower slope of Kithairon from fear of the cavalry, while the Athenians were marching below in the direction of the plain.

As for Amonpharetos, he did not at first believe that Pausanias would ever venture to leave him and his men behind, and he stuck to it that they should stay there and not leave their post. But when Pausanias and his troops were well in front, Amompharetos perceived that they had actually left him behind, and he made his troops take up their arms and led them slowly towards the main body. This, when it had got away about ten furlongs, halted to wait for him at the river Moloeis at a place called Argiopion, where also there stands a temple of the Eleusinian Demeter. . . . So Amompharetos and his men were coming up to join them, and the cavalry also of the Barbarians was at the same time beginning to attack them in full force: for the horsemen did on this day as they had been wont to do every day; and seeing the place vacant in which the Hellenes had been posted on the former days, they rode their horses on continually further, and as soon as they came up with them they began to attack them.

With Amompharetos now back obeying orders, the Greek army prepared for battle. And on the following day inflicted a decisive defeat on the Persians.

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