Battle of the 300 Champions at Thyrea

By Thanos Voudouris

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[ 🇬🇷Ελληνικά | 🇬🇧English ] Note: in English is “The Battle of 300”, whereas in Greek is “The Battle of 600”


The battle of the 300 Champions in 546 BC between Spartans and Argives

In 546 BC an extraordinary battle took place between Sparta and Argos for a claim of a fertile territory that both city-states wanted. Historically, the Thyrea area around today’s Astros Kynourias, Peloponnese, has always been fertile land with olive groves and vineyards. This was the reason for the many conflicts and wars in antiquity between the neighboring city-states of Argos and Sparta as both wanted claim of the area.  

Both city-states did not want to carry out a full blown battle, so there was arrangement between the two sides, in order to reduce men casualties. Each city Sparta and Argos pitted 300 men (Lakedemonians vs. Argives) to battle  with  the winner taking ownership of the Thyrea territory. No man had to be left standing alive except a winner. The battle was indecisive with 299 Spartans and 298 Argives dead. The survived Argives were Alcenor and Chromius, and thought they had won as no man was standing. They immediately ran to Argos to declare victory. However Spartan Othryades, yet injured, he managed to stand up and declare victory for Sparta after the Argians left. 

On the next day, both sides came to the battlefield to inquire about the result, and both claimed victory. The Argians were saying that more of them had remained alive, and the Spartans were declaring that the two Argives had fled away, whereas their own man had stood his ground.

Below is Herodotus’ detailed account for the legendary battle of the 300 Champions in 546 BC between Spartans and Argives and what happened next to them and territory of Thyrea. In addition, how would men wear their hair and women have their jewelry, and the fate of Othryades.

Herodotus Histories – Book 1, Clio [1.82]

Exact Translation Herodotus’ Original

82. [1] So then in sending to his other allies he sent also to Lacedemon. But these too, the Spartans I mean, had themselves at this very time (for so it had fallen out) a quarrel in hand with the Argives about the district called Thyrea.

[2] For this Thyrea, being part of the Argive possessions, the Lacedemonians had cut off and taken for themselves. Now the whole region towards the west extending as far down as Malea was then possessed by the Argives, both the parts situated on the mainland and also the island of Kythera with the other islands.

[3] And when the Argives had come to the rescue to save their territory from being cut off from them, then the two sides came to a parley together and agreed that three hundred should fight of each side, and whichever side had the better in the fight that nation should possess the disputed land: they agreed moreover that the main body of each army should withdraw to their own country, and not stand by while the contest was fought, for fear lest, if the armies were present, one side seeing their countrymen suffering defeat should come up to their support.

[4] Having made this agreement they withdrew; and chosen men of both sides were left behind and engaged in fight with one another. So they fought and proved themselves to be equally matched; and there were left at last of six hundred men three, on the side of the Argives Alkenor and Chromios, and on the side of the Lacedemonians Othryades: these were left alive when night came on.

[5] So then the two men of the Argives, supposing that they were the victors, set off to run to Argos, but the Lacedemonian Othryades, after having stripped the corpses of the Argives and carried their arms to his own camp, remained in his place. On the next day both the two sides came thither to inquire about the result;

[6] and for some time both claimed the victory for themselves, the one side saying that of them more had remained alive, and the others declaring that these had fled away, whereas their own man had stood his ground and had stripped the corpses of the other party:

[7] and at length by reason of this dispute they fell upon one another and began to fight; and after many had fallen on both sides, the Lacedemonians were the victors. The Argives then cut their hair short, whereas formerly they were compelled by law to wear it long, and they made a law with a curse attached to it, that from that time forth no man of the Argives should grow the hair long nor their women wear ornaments of gold, until they should have won back Thyrea.

[8] The Lacedemonians however laid down for themselves the opposite law to this, namely that they should wear long hair from that time forward, whereas before that time they had not their hair long. And they say that the one man who was left alive of the three hundred, namely Othryades, being ashamed to return to Sparta when all his comrades had been slain, slew himself there in Thyrea.

82. [1] ἔς τε δὴ ὦν τὰς ἄλλας ἔπεμπε συμμαχίας καὶ δὴ καὶ ἐς Λακεδαίμονα. τοῖσι δὲ καὶ αὐτοῖσι τοῖσι Σπαρτιήτῃσι κατ᾽ αὐτὸν τοῦτον τὸν χρόνον συνεπεπτώκεε ἔρις ἐοῦσα πρὸς Ἀργείους περὶ χώρου καλεομένου Θυρέης

[2] τὰς γὰρ Θυρέας ταύτας ἐοῦσα τῆς Ἀργολίδος μοίρης ἀποταμόμενοι ἔσχον οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι. ἦν δὲ καὶ ἡ μέχρι Μαλέων ἡ πρὸς ἑσπέρην Ἀργείων, ἥ τε ἐν τῇ ἠπείρῳ χώρῇ καὶ ἡ Κυθηρίη νῆσος καὶ αἱ λοιπαὶ τῶν νήσων.

[3] βοηθησάντων δὲ Ἀργείων τῇ σφετέρῃ ἀποταμνομένῃ, ἐνθαῦτα συνέβησαν ἐς λόγους συνελθόντες ὥστε τριηκοσίους ἑκατέρων μαχέσασθαι, ὁκότεροι δ᾽ ἂν περιγένωνται, τούτων εἶναι τὸν χῶρον· τὸ δὲ πλῆθος τοῦ στρατοῦ ἀπαλλάσσεσθαι ἑκάτερον ἐς τὴν ἑωυτοῦ μηδὲ παραμένειν ἀγωνιζομένων, τῶνδε εἵνεκεν ἵνα μὴ παρεόντων τῶν στρατοπέδων ὁρῶντες οἱ ἕτεροι ἑσσουμένους τοὺς σφετέρους ἀπαμύνοιεν.

[4] συνθέμενοι ταῦτα ἀπαλλάσσοντο, λογάδες δὲ ἑκατέρων ὑπολειφθέντες συνέβαλον. μαχομένων δὲ σφέων καὶ γινομένων ἰσοπαλέων ὑπελείποντο ἐξ ἀνδρῶν ἑξακοσίων τρεῖς, Ἀργείων μὲν Ἀλκήνωρ τε καὶ Χρομίος, Λακεδαιμονίων δὲ Ὀθρυάδης· ὑπελείφθησαν δὲ οὗτοι νυκτὸς ἐπελθούσης.

[5] οἱ μὲν δὴ δύο τῶν Ἀργείων ὡς νενικηκότες ἔθεον ἐς τὸ Ἄργος, ὁ δὲ τῶν Λακεδαιμονίων Ὀθρυάδης σκυλεύσας τοὺς Ἀργείων νεκροὺς καὶ προσφορήσας τὰ ὅπλα πρὸς τὸ ἑωυτοῦ στρατόπεδον ἐν τῇ τάξι εἶχε ἑωυτόν. ἡμέρῃ δὲ δευτέρῃ παρῆσαν πυνθανόμενοι ἀμφότεροι.

[6] τέως μὲν δὴ αὐτοὶ ἑκάτεροι ἔφασαν νικᾶν, λέγοντες οἳ μὲν ὡς ἑωυτῶν πλεῦνες περιγεγόνασι, οἳ δὲ τοὺς μὲν ἀποφαίνοντες πεφευγότας, τὸν δὲ σφέτερον παραμείναντα καὶ σκυλεύσαντα τοὺς ἐκείνων νεκρούς·

[7] τέλος δὲ ἐκ τῆς ἔριδος συμπεσόντες ἐμάχοντο, πεσόντων δὲ καὶ ἀμφοτέρων πολλῶν ἐνίκων Λακεδαιμόνιοι. Ἀργεῖοι μέν νυν ἀπὸ τούτου τοῦ χρόνου κατακειράμενοι τὰς κεφαλάς, πρότερον ἐπάναγκες κομῶντες, ἐποιήσαντο νόμον τε καὶ κατάρην μὴ πρότερον θρέψειν κόμην Ἀργείων μηδένα, μηδὲ τὰς γυναῖκάς σφι χρυσοφορήσειν, πρὶν Θυρέας ἀνασώσωνται.

[8] Λακεδαιμόνιοι δὲ τὰ ἐναντία τούτων ἔθεντο νόμον· οὐ γὰρ κομῶντες πρὸ τούτου ἀπὸ τούτου κομᾶν. τὸν δὲ ἕνα λέγουσι τὸν περιλειφθέντα τῶν τριηκοσίων Ὀθρυάδην, αἰσχυνόμενον ἀπονοστέειν ἐς Σπάρτην τῶν οἱ συλλοχιτέων διεφθαρμένων, αὐτοῦ μιν ἐν τῇσι Θυρέῃσι καταχρήσασθαι ἑωυτόν.

Related: Thousands Years Old Olive Tree Groves at Thyrea


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