Battle of the 300 Champions

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Battle of the Champions
Date546 BC
Location
Result Indecisive
Belligerents
Sparta Argos
Strength
300 hoplites 300 hoplites
Casualties and losses
299 men 298 men

The Battle of the 300 Champions, known since Herodotus' day as the Battle of the Champions, was a battle fought in roughly 546 BC between Argos and Sparta. Rather than commit full armies both sides agreed to pitting 300 of their best men against each other.

According to Herodotus[1] Sparta had surrounded and captured the plain of Thyrea. When the Argives marched out to defend it, the two armies agreed to let 300 champions from each city fight, with the winner taking the territory. Presumably the idea was to reduce the total number of casualties. Both armies marched home, so as to prevent either side from helping their champions and escalating the duel into a full battle.

Neither side would allow for any injured men to be taken. The day called for complete destruction of the enemy force for victory. The two armies were evenly matched and neither could gain the upper hand. They fought until nightfall, and after a bloody battle only three men remained, two Argives and one Spartan. The Argives, Alcenor and Chromius, believing that they had killed all of the Spartans, left the battlefield racing home to Argos to announce their victory. However, they had made one mistake: Othryades, an injured Spartan, had survived. As he was technically the last man standing on the battlefield from either army, he too claimed victory. He survived long enough to tell his baggage handlers of this, and then he committed suicide. By tradition, Othryades was ashamed to be the only man in his unit to live, and so he killed himself on the field of battle rather than return to Sparta. The reason for the suicide is up for debate, but the act is of great importance. Othryades did not die by an Argive sword, and the Spartans could always claim that he survived the battle and killed himself in shame, thus gaining an upper hand due to this act of honor.

Both sides were able to claim victory: the Argives because more of their champions had survived, and the Spartans because their single champion held the field. Argos did not take too kindly to the Spartans claiming victory and sent their entire hoplite army which was met by a Spartan force of equal magnitude. The Spartans won a decisive victory and as a result gained control of Thyreatis.

Pausanias adds that the battle was foretold by the Sibyl, and that the Argives considered themselves the victors and dedicated a bronze sculpture of the Trojan horse at Delphi to commemorate the victory. However, Pausanias says that the sculptor of this horse was Antiphanes of Argos, who dates to ca. 400 BC. Therefore, either Pausanias is mistaken, or he is confusing this with a battle at Thyrea in 424 BC.

Years later, in 420 BC during a lull in the Peloponnesian War, Argos challenged Sparta to a rematch of the Battle of the 300 Champions. Sparta declined.

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. Paul Cartledge, "The Spartans: The World of the Warrior-Heroes of Ancient Greece", pp. 87-88.
  2. Ancient Greek battles,Battle of Champions