Battle of Leuctra, 371 BC

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Epaminondas versus Cleombrotus: A Theban army under Epaminondas undertakes a daring new formation against a feared Spartan army under Cleombrotus. Will this new formation alter the traditional hoplite method of warfare?

The Spartan reputation was hit hardest of all in this clash for Greece, deciding one of few decisive wars in the ancient history of the peninsula.
In “The Leuctra Mirage,” Hanson argues that the battle was not a masterpiece and that Epaminondas deserves less credit, emphasizing the intoxication of the Spartan soldiers and the simplicity of Epaminondas’ oblique attack formation (1990: 54-59). While perhaps the fact that Epaminondas won is not exceptionally impressive – the Spartans suffered many defeats in their history – it is the method by which he won that is so important. Epaminondas’ victory features the first real use of the oblique maneuver, something that cannot be over-stated. In their expansive survey of the great battles of antiquity, Gabriel and Boose point out that Epaminondas’ tactics
proved to have a long historical reach. It was Frederick the Great who, after reading the account of Epaminondas’ tactics at the battle of Leuctra, introduced oblique battle formations to eighteenth-century warfare. Perhaps of greater moment was the young Macedonian hostage who had been at the Theban court during the time when Epaminondas won his great victory over the Spartans, The youth was an ardent student of the reforms and tactics of Epaminondas, and took great care to study the lessons of Leuctra so that, one day, when he returned to his native Macedonia he might remember how to use them. That young hostage was Philip of Macedon, the creator of the new armies that revolutionized Greek warfare. (1994: 155)
Of course, although the battle had far-reaching influence, it did not dismantle traditional hoplite warfare; Epaminondas was killed at the Battle of Mantinea in 362 BC attempting to mirror Leuctra.
leuctra preview 2
Leuctra is technically the first battle I animated although the movements were continuous and there were no narrations triggers or landscape. I animated Leuctra as a way to determine if PowerPoint was sufficient to accomplish what I wanted to do. As it turns out, it was. Then, months later when I was completing Season 2, I realized that Season I was forever going to be shorter than the others and this was unnecessary. So rather than skipping the number “I” in the animations’ titles as a tribute, I hastily animated the battle at my present standards to satisfy my Prussian needs for order and conformity.
– Jonathan Webb
Works Consulted
Davis, Paul K. 100 Decisive Battles from Ancient Times to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Gabriel, Richard A. and Donald W. Boose Jr. The Great Battles of Antiquity: A Strategic and Tactical Guide to Great Battles that Shaped the Development of War. Westport: Greenwood, 1994.
Goodenough, Simon. Tactical Genius in Battle. Oxford: Phodian Press, 1979.
Hanson, Victor Davis. “The Leuctra Mirage.” Military History Quarterly 2.2 (1990): 54-59.
United States Military Academy History Department. “Atlas for Ancient Warfare.” United States Military Academy. (accessed Sep. 23, 2009).
Warry, John. Warfare in the Classical World. London: Salamander, 1980.

Athenian hoplite:

Map of Greece:

Map of the world:

Spartan hoplite:

If you enjoyed the Battle of Leuctra 371 BC battle animation, you may also enjoy these other battle animations:

Battle of Paraitakene 317 BC, another battle featuring an attack in oblique order in the Ancient Era:

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Readers Comments (5)

  1. Why did the spartan army not try to push its left wing into the weak centre of Theban army ?

  2. Answer to Daniel’s question: Epaminondas had given his center and right wing the order to gradually retreat in order to avoid heavy fighting. If Sparta’s allies in the left had, at that point, tried to chase after them and to suddenly mass their forces against the Theban center they would have a) lost the cohesion and order of their phalanx and b) left their left wing unprotected and provided the Theban right wing with a change to overlap their left.

  3. Par Exellence! I’ve always thought PowerPoint a very suitable application to showcase the tactical linear progression of battle in the ancient era. I hope to develop a few of my own for Cannae and a few others I’ve been endeavoring with.

    Keep up the good work!


  4. Why didn’t the Spartans shift soldiers from their left and center to aid the right flank? Was it because they were intoxicated or because it just wasn’t proper?

  5. This is the first I’ve heard about Spartan hoplites being pissed at this battle. No arguments, just never heard of this previously. I have always wondered about the Theban victory from attack in echelon, and this site answers my questions pretty well. Good demo.

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