Greece History – the Hegemony Sparta Part II
The four powers formed a league centered in Corinth and related to Persia. Agesilao, recalled, had to abandon the enterprise of Asia and, having crossed Thrace, Macedonia and northern Greece with his army, he won victory at Coronea (394); but the victory was not decisive and he did not succeed, as the Lacedaemonians of the motherland, victorious over the Confederates in a great battle near the Nemean River, did not succeed a short time before, to break the enemy lines and weaken the military power of Boeotia. Meanwhile, at Cnidus near the Asian coast, the Persian army, composed of Greek and Phoenician ships under the orders of Conone and Farnabazo, won a decisive victory over the Spartan army and put an end, after about a decade, to the maritime hegemony of Sparta. Conone, who came to Piraeus at the head of the fleet and hailed as liberator, immediately gave work to renovate the fortifications of Piraeus and the long walls, destroyed after the capitulation of Athens. And while the war continued with various events, but without decisive successes, in the peninsula, the Athenians took advantage of the contingencies to try to rebuild their maritime empire. But, although in this they did not fail to use temperaments and regard so as not to offend the Great King too much at the discovery, it was nevertheless evident that this attempt was in contrast with Persian interests. So that little by little a political change took shape in Persia, which came back to Sparta: and the first sign was the arrest of Conone in Sardis. Sparta was ready to pay the Great King the price he asked, that is, the abandonment in his hands of the Greeks of Asia, betraying his compatriots to keep what he could of his hegemony, just as he had betrayed them to buy it. But not so ready to surrender were the king’s Greek confederates, who knew well that the insidious clause of autonomy, inserted in the new treaty, would profit from Sparta to dissolve federations and sympathies and reassert its hegemony in the peninsula. On the other hand, if Persia had reason to be dissatisfied with its new allies, it had even more reason to not trust Sparta. So the conflict continued for a few more years and Sparta intervened again in Asia Minor, more for demonstration than for the real purpose of resuming the national war. But finally the Spartan pressure on the one hand and on the other the worsening of the conflict with Athens, a necessary consequence of the attempted reconstitution of the maritime empire, led Persia to the so-called peace of Antalcida (386). This peace restored the Greeks of Asia to the king and, by sanctioning the autonomy of all the large and small Greek cities of the motherland, placed this autonomy under the nominal and effective protection of the Great King of Sparta.
The result therefore of the daily fratricidal struggle was that of apparently destroying the effects of the Persian wars by enslaving the Greeks of Asia to Persia and nominally giving it a kind of high sovereignty over Greece, not unlike that which the Romans had there after the battle of cynocephalus; with the difference, however, that the Romans possessed the strength to assert that high sovereignty, within those limits that they seemed to exercise it, and they had precisely demonstrated it to Cinoscephalus, while the Persians did not possess such strength and it was known to all that they had proved not to have it. So that, despite the apparent humiliation, the actual independence of the Greek peninsula from the barbarian was in fact in no danger. But the damage to the to have for the second time abandoned the thought of a victorious expansion in the Persian empire, which was taken up again only much later, and in completely changed conditions, by Philip and Alexander. Now, having dissolved the newly reconstituted Athenian maritime league, dissolved the Boeotic league, broken the union between Argos and Corinth and Corinth returned to the Peloponnesian league, Spartan hegemony seemed established more firmly than ever in the Greek peninsula. Only to the north, around Olinto, had the Greek cities of Halkidiki constituted a more solid state body than the leagues formed in Greece up to that time, replacing the sovereign autonomies of the cities with a single federal citizenship. It was a remarkable progress, the fruit of the teachings given by fratricidal struggles. But Sparta hastened to destroy this new and vital organism and prevent others from profiting from its example. Olinto was besieged and forced to surrender. During the war, Spartan troops crossing Boeotia had, at the request of the Theban oligarchs, surprisingly occupied the fortress of Thebes, the Cadmea.
But this Spartan hegemony, which seemed so firm, was founded solely on violence and devoid of any ideal content. The defense of the autonomy of the cities did not constitute a bond, when this was not threatened or, worse, when the barriers between the cities were intentionally broken to form inter-city units. And, on the other hand, the occupation of Cadmea, done in full peace, showed the selfish spirit that animated the Spartans in the application of that principle. Even more serious was the scarce effective basis of this hegemony. Because in the dominant Spartan state a small minority of citizens, endowed with full rights, ruled by force over a very large majority of citizens and subjects in inferior conditions and serfs. And so a little military accident, into which two or three hundred Spartan hoplites fell or were made prisoner, was enough to shake an apparently very solid dominance. Under such conditions, it is no wonder that Spartan hegemony was shattered after a few years. The occasion was a coup by the exiled Theban Democrats, who under the leadership of Pelopidas killed the oligarchic leaders and drove the Spartan garrison from Cadmea.