Pausanias of Sparta

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Pausanias (Greek: Παυσανίας) was the Agiad King of Sparta from 445 BC to 426 BC and then from 408 BC to 395 BC. He was the son of the Spartan Agiad king Pleistoanax.

His first reign was as a minor after his father, Pleistoanax, was temporarily deposed and exiled after being charged by the Spartans with taking a bribe, probably from the Athenian leader, Pericles, to withdraw from the plain of Eleusis in Attica (Athens) after leading the Peloponnesian forces there following the revolts of Euboea and Megara from the Athenian empire. In 426 BC, Pleistoanax was recalled and restored as Agiad King of Sparta and ruled until his death in 409 BC.

Following the Spartan victory over Athens in the Battle of Aegospotami in 405 BC, the Spartans were in a position to finally force Athens to capitulate. Pausanias laid siege to Athens main city while the Spartan admiral Lysander's fleet blockaded the port of Piraeus. This action effectively closed the grain route to Athens through the Hellespont, thereby starving Athens. Realising the seriousness of the situation, the Athenian statesman, Theramenes, started negotiations with Lysander. These negotiations took three months, but in the end Lysander agreed to terms at Piraeus. An agreement was reached for the capitulation of Athens and the cessation of the Peloponnesian War in 404 BC.

Lysander then put in place a puppet government in Athens with the establishment of the oligarchy of the Thirty Tyrants under Critias which included Theramenes as a leading member. However, in 403 BC Pausanias was able to undermine Lysander's dominance of Athens after Pausanias gained the command of the Peloponnesian League expedition against the Athenian democrats then based in Piraeus. Despite opposition from Lysander, Pausanias took the opportunity to promote a reconciliation between the democratic party in Piraeus and the oligarchs controlling Athens main city, thus allowing the re-establishment of democratic government in Athens. Pausanias was able to restore democracy in Athens while bringing the Athenians, temporarily, into an alliance with Sparta.

Pausanias's actions led to a major conflict with the Spartan ephors. Pausanias was prosecuted, but then acquitted.

Returning to Sparta in 395 BC, Lysander was instrumental in starting a war with Thebes and other Greek cities, which came to be known as the Corinthian War. The Spartans prepared to send out an army against this new alliance of Athens, Thebes, Corinth and Argos (with the backing of the Persians).

The Spartans arranged for two armies, one under Lysander and the other under Pausanias, to rendezvous at and attack the city of Haliartus, Boeotia. Lysander arrived at the city while Pausanias's forces were still several days away. Not willing to wait for Pausanias, Lysander advanced to Haliartus with his troops. In the ensuing Battle of Haliartus, Lysander was killed after bringing his forces too near the walls of the city. Pausanias's army arrived after Lysander's defeat but then left the battle scene primarily due to Athenian military opposition.

Because of his poor leadership at Haliartus, Pausanias was condemned to death by the Spartans and replaced as king by his young son Agesipolis I.

However, Pausanias was able to escape execution and fled Sparta to live in exile in Tegea. While living there he wrote a pamphlet. No fragments of the pamphlet have survived and its contents or purposes are not clear. However, it seems that he wrote the pamphlet to criticise his opponents in Sparta accusing them of violating traditional Spartan laws and advocating the abolition of the ephors.

The year of Pausanias's death is unknown. He was also the father of Cleombrotus I.


Preceded by
Agiad King of Sparta
445–426 BC and 408–395 BC
Succeeded by
Agesipolis I