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The treaties between Persia and Sparta


Corinthian helmet. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.
Corinthian helmet (British Museum)
In the first phase of the Peloponnesian War, the Archidamian War, the Spartans had been unable to achieve their aim: dissolving the Delian League. However, after the catastrophic losses that Athens had suffered during the Sicilian Expedition, the balance of power had changed and Sparta renewed the war: the Decelean or Ionian War. Moreover, the Athenians had supported a rebel in the Persian Empire, Amorges, an act that broke the (tacit or official) agreement between the Achaemenid king and the Delian League not to interfere in each other's sphere of influence. So, Sparta and Persia shared a dislike of Athens and had something to offer to each other. In 412, they concluded an agreement, which was later revised.

It was not certain that the new alliance would bring down Athens. In the mid-fifth century, it had survived a war against an identical coalition. However, after the losses of the Sicilian Expedition, things might be different. Still, Athens held out for seven more years.

The Athenian historian Thucydides (c.460-c.395) has included the three versions of the treaty in the eighth book of his History of the Peloponnesian War, which was translated by Richard Crawley.

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A satrap receiving a visitor. Relief from the Monument of the Nereids, British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.
A satrap receiving a visitor. Monument of the Nereids, Xanthus (British Museum)

First treaty (412)

The Spartans and their allies made a treaty with the King and Tissaphernes [the satrap of Lydia] upon the terms following:
  1. Whatever country or cities the King has, or the King's ancestors had, shall be the king's: and whatever came in to the Athenians from these cities, either money or any other thing, the King and the Spartans and their allies shall jointly hinder the Athenians from receiving either money or any other thing.
  2. The war with the Athenians shall be carried on jointly by the King and by the Spartans and their allies: and it shall not be lawful to make peace with the Athenians except both agree, the King on his side and the Spartans and their allies on theirs.
  3. If any revolt from the King, they shall be the enemies of the Spartans and their allies.[1] And if any revolt from the Spartans and their allies, they shall be the enemies of the King in like manner.
This was outrageous. The treaty stated that Sparta surrendered all of Greece outside the Peloponnese. The Persian king Cyrus had subdued all "Yaunâ" living in Asia (ca.545), Darius I the Great had conquered Thrace and Macedonia (c.512), to which king Xerxes had briefly added Thessaly, Boeotia, and Attica in 480-479. The Spartan government was unable to accept this treaty, because it had started the war "to liberate Greece". Therefore, the Spartans kept the treaty secret and sent Therimenes to ask for a revision.
Persian coin (daric)
Persian coin (©!!)

Second treaty (winter 412/411)

The convention of the Spartans and the allies with King Darius [II Nothus] and the sons of the King,[2] and with Tissaphernes for a treaty and friendship, as follows:
  1. Neither the Spartans nor the allies of the Spartans shall make war against or otherwise injure any country or cities that belong to King Darius or did belong to his father or to his ancestors; neither shall the Spartans nor the allies of the Spartans exact tribute from such cities. Neither shall King Darius nor any of the subjects of the King make war against or otherwise injure the Spartans or their allies.
  2. If the Spartans or their allies should require any assistance from the King, or the King from the Spartans or their allies, whatever they both agree upon they shall be right in doing.
  3. Both shall carry on jointly the war against the Athenians and their allies: and if they make peace, both shall do so jointly.
  4. The expense of all troops in the King's country, sent for by the King, shall be borne by the King.
  5. If any of the states comprised in this convention with the King attack the King's country, the rest shall stop them and aid the King to the best of their power. And if any in the King's country or in the countries under the King's rule attack the country of the Spartans or their allies, the King shall stop it and help them to the best of his power.
The revised treaty can be seen as a clarification of the terms of the first treaty. The line "whatever country or cities the King has shall be the king's", which may have been a conventional Persian expression, was replaced by an expression that sounded better to Greek ears: neither side would injure each other's possessions. The Persians also explained that they would pay Spartan troops in Asia, something that may have gone without saying in the first treaty, because the Persian king was supposed to give presents to anyone who had done him a service. Persia's demand that Sparta would help to punish rebels could be dropped from the treaty, because Amorges, who was the most important rebel, had by now been eliminated.

On the other hand, the Spartans clarified their intentions. The first treaty had said that the allies would prevent Athens from collecting tribute; now it was stated that Sparta was not supposed to do this either. In other words, the Persian negotiators obtained a guarantee that Sparta would not found an empire.

So, the revised treaty was not a big improvement of Sparta's position, and it is not surprising that the Spartan ambassador Therimenes disappears from history. The Spartans were not happy with his results.

Coin of Tissaphernes.
Tissaphernes (©!!)

Third treaty (late spring 411)

In the thirteenth year of the reign of Darius,[3] while Alexippidas was ephor at Sparta, a convention was concluded in the plain of the Meander by the Spartans and their allies with Tissaphernes, Hieramenes, and the sons of Pharnaces, concerning the affairs of the King and of the Spartans and their allies.
  1. The country of the King in Asia shall be the King's, and the King shall treat his own country as he pleases.
  2. The Spartans and their allies shall not invade or injure the King's country: neither shall the King invade or injure that of the Spartans or of their allies. If any of the Spartans or of their allies invade or injure the King's country, the Spartans and their allies shall prevent it: and if any from the King's country invade or injure the country of the Spartans or of their allies, the King shall prevent it.
  3. Tissaphernes shall provide pay for the ships now present, according to the agreement, until the arrival of the King's vessels: but after the arrival of the King's vessels the Spartans and their allies may pay their own ships if they wish it. If, however, they choose to receive the pay from Tissaphernes, Tissaphernes shall furnish it: and the Spartans and their allies shall repay him at the end of the war such moneys as they shall have received.
  4. After the vessels have arrived, the ships of the Spartans and of their allies and those of the King shall carry on the war jointly, according as Tissaphernes and the Spartans and their allies shall think best. If they wish to make peace with the Athenians, they shall make peace also jointly.
The first article was the same as in the first treaty: "the country of the King shall be the King's". It is clear that the Persians used the opportunity to use their own formula again. However, the Spartan negotiator, Lichas, obtained a concession: the King's country was described as "Asia". Darius accepted that he would not recover Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly, Boeotia, and Attica. Another interesting novelty is that the Persians promised to send a fleet; in return, to Spartans gave up all claims for the freedom of the Greek towns in Asia.

For the Spartans, this was a highly embarrassing treaty: they gave up their role as liberators of Greece. But they had no alternative. The Sicilian disaster had offered them a great opportunity, but Athens had not collapsed. Sparta needed Persia, but after the elimination of Amorges, the great king no longer needed Sparta, so he could demand anything he he wanted.

In the end, both parties decided to ignore the treatiy. The Persian navy never reached the Aegean, and the Spartans felt free to make peace offers to Athens without consulting king Darius. It was only after Tissaphernes had been replaced by Darius' son Cyrus that Persia really started to support Sparta. It is possible that Cyrus, who did not like the idea that his brother Artaxerxes would succeed to the throne, was already planning a revolt. Unlike Darius and Tissaphernes, he needed something that only Sparta could offer: mercenaries for a march to the Persian heartland.

Note 1:
At this moment, only Amorges was a rebel in the Persian empire, and the Spartans would indeed help the Persians to get rid of him. However, this article of the treaty might even involve Spartan support for war against, say, a tribe in Central Asia.

Note 2:
The future king Artaxerxes II Mnemon and his brother Cyrus the Younger.

Note 3:
A common expression in eastern texts. The "thirteenth year of Darius" started on 29 March 411 and ended on 16 April 410.

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