Preferred Citation: Munn, Mark H. The Defense of Attica: The Dema Wall and the Boiotian War of 378-375 B.C. Berekeley:  University of California Press,  1993.

Five The Defense of Attica, 378-375 B.C.


While these events were transpiring in the weeks following Kleombrotos' campaign, Sphodrias had decided on the most effective means of isolating Thebes from Athens. The task of closing a long frontier to the passage of enemy forces was very much more formidable than the task of keeping a single route open for the passage of one's own forces. Sphodrias therefore decided to stop the Athenians at their source, to hold Athens at bay, so to speak, by capturing Peiraieus. It was a strategically brilliant solution to his dilemma, and one, moreover, which would allow him to take capital advantage of the access to the Kithairon passes that he had by now secured. For, as events would prove, neither Chabrias and his peltasts nor any other force was on watch in the field at that time. They had all most likely been withdrawn to the Athenian garrison forts at Oinoe, Panakton, and Eleusis, while the Athenian political and military leadership was passing through a crisis in Athens. Athens and Sparta were not yet at war, after all, and a Spartan diplomatic mission in Athens at the time indicated to the Athenians that the Spartans still wanted to exchange words rather than blows.[23]

[23] Sphodrias' raid and its aftermath are described by Xenophon Hell . 5.4.20-34; Diodoros 15.29.5-7; Plutarch Pel . 14.1-15.1, Ages . 24.3-26.1. The story, endorsed by Xenophon, that Sphodrias' attack was covertly inspired by the Thebans can be no more than anti-Theban slander, circulated both at Athens and among the Peloponnesians; see appendix V. Because the outcome so perfectly suited the needs of the Thebans, Plutarch credited it as a tribute to the cleverness of Pelopidas and Gorgidas (Pel . 14.1-2) or Pelopidas and Melon (Ages . 24.4); he, or his sources, could not decidel Diodoros was surely closer to the truth when he attributed the idea to Kleombrotos (15.29.5), but this need reflect nothing more than the joint deliberations of Kleombrotos and Sphodrias on the strategic situation described above. MacDonald 1972, and Rice 1975, 112-18, see a deeper significance in all of this.


Because Athenian troops had already stood to arms against the Peloponnesians on Kithairon and at Thebes and had already, in fact or to outward appearances, joined in the fighting that led to the surrender of the Peloponnesian garrison at Thebes, the fact that Sparta and Athens were not yet formally at war might have escaped Sphodrias. Or, to give him more credit, he took an entirely practical view of the situation (as had his Athenian counterparts earlier that winter) and recognized that if war had not yet formally begun, it certainly would do so by the beginning of summer, and he ought, therefore, to fulfill his charge as effectively as possible by striking first. In the aftermath, when Sphodrias was brought to trial at Sparta, his acquittal was secured when Agesilaos arrived at precisely this assessment of the situation, announcing that "Sparta has need of such soldiers" (Xenophon Hellenika 5.4.32).

In the event, Sphodrias' plan failed only because it was too ambitious. His plan was to march, under the cover of night, from Thespiai to Peiraieus, where the recently rebuilt gates did not yet have doors. Starting from Thespiai rather than Plataia, so as to avoid having any hint of his intentions reported to the Athenians, he set out after an early supper on a march of about seventy-five kilometers. Some twelve hours or so later, dawn's light found him in the plain of Eleusis, still at least twenty kilo-meters short of his objective. By that time, the alarm had been sounded at Athens, and the Athenians were standing to arms in the city and at Peiraieus. Xenophon makes it clear that the approach of Sphodrias' army was reported not by any signal relay but by individuals who had chanced to meet the force in the night and had fled in haste to bring the news to the city. Furthermore, Sphodrias' contempt of any Athenian forces that might have been stationed in the garrison forts near the frontiers is demonstrated by the fact that after dawn had lifted the cover of surprise from his mission, he turned his attention to rounding up flocks and breaking into houses in the countryside as he withdrew. He had most definitely caught the Athenians unprepared.[24]


Although Sphodrias failed to achieve his goal, the shock of his at-tack must have stunned the Athenians into a momentary stupor of disbelief and bewilderment. How could this have happened? Were they not making every concession demanded by the Spartans to separate themselves from Thebes? The Spartan ambassadors then in Athens, likewise stunned, disavowed any knowledge of the attack and were believed by the Athenians when they promised that its perpetrator would be brought to justice. Yet even before the outcome of the trial of Sphodrias at Sparta became known weeks later, shock gave way to anger at Athens as the adherents of the Theban cause once again gained the ear of the demos, as Xenophon reports:

Among the Athenians, meanwhile, the Boiotizers were pointing out to the people that the Lakedaimonians had not only not punished, but had even praised Sphodrias, because he had plotted against Athens. As a result, the Athenians put doors on the Peiraieus gates, set about building ships, and gave support to the Boiotians with full enthusiasm.[25]

Only a few weeks earlier, the Athenians had moved to distance themselves from Thebes in view of the manifest vulnerability of Attica to "the power of the Lakedaimonians." Now, after heated debate, the Athenians signaled a decisive change of course by a pair of resolutions: first, that the Spartans could be held to be in violation of the peace treaty of 386, the so-called King's Peace; and second, that the Thebans should be allies of the Athenians.[26] Despite the fact that Attica was no less vulnerable

[26] These resolutions, amounting to a declaration of war on Sparta, are noted by Diodoros 15.29.7; cf. Plutarch Pel . 15. 1, and Xenophon Hell . 5.4.34, quoted in note 25 above. I cannot agree with Cawkwell 1973, 51-54, that the Athenian declaration was a "formal denunciation of the Kings Peace" (52). That suggestion arises from Cawkwell's supposition that the treaty of 386 contained specific clauses designating the Spartans as the official enforcers of the treaty and requiting the Athenians to, among other things, demobilize armed forces and even remove doors from the Peiraieus gates. All of these points are inferential, none of them are attested by our sources, and I believe that no such stipulations were contained in the treaty of 386 (so also Sinclair 1978, 29-37). Far from being a denunciation of the King's Peace, the Athenian resolution of the spring of 378 amounted to a declaration that the Athenians regarded themselves as the only true upholders of principles of the King's Peace, a fact that was further reflected, early in 377, in the reference to the treaty which the Greeks and the king swore to uphold in the decree of Aristoteles (IG II 243 = Tod 123, lines 12-15, where the erasure that has rendered these lines controversial can only reflect a change, some years later, in the official Athenian relationship with Artaxerxes, which in 378-375 was quite good; see note 69 below).


now than it had been before Sphodrias' attack, the Athenians were once again on the path to war with Sparta. Something more than welling anger must have occurred to the Athenians in the meantime to make this shift of opinion possible. Influential Athenians, the supporters of Thebes, must now have been listening to the advice of a military man who knew the frontier area and who had considerable experience in devising defensive works in anticipation of powerful armies.

Five The Defense of Attica, 378-375 B.C.

Preferred Citation: Munn, Mark H. The Defense of Attica: The Dema Wall and the Boiotian War of 378-375 B.C. Berekeley:  University of California Press,  1993.