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ithin ancient history, the Spartans are well known to be a superior power that surpasses all odds when it comes to military combat. The most valuable principle within the Ancient Spartan culture is the honor of fighting until death. Surrendering and retreating is something that is deemed shameful and dishonorable, a type of shame that Spartans simply could not live with.

From a very young age, Spartans would be taught the principle of honor and how they should live their lives as well as fight around this principle. I go more in-depth about how this was developed within the Spartan culture in this article.

However, there is one record in history where Spartans had surrendered despite having the upper hand on the enemy. This shows that although Spartans were all about honor and integration, they would not let themselves die in vain.

Peloponnesian War

The Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) was fought between Sparta and Athens, a war full of complex combat strategies from both parties. During 425 BC Sparta launched an ambitious offensive on Athens which would become known as the battle of Sphacteria.

The plan was to attack the main fortress of Athens from the side by accosting their ships in a quick offense and breaking the walls of the fortress. Sparta only had a couple of hundred warriors but they were deemed the elite at the time, giving them an extra reason not to retreat nor surrender.

Athens managed to speculate this offensive and prepared with the right defenses right before the attack. After a whole day of failed offensives, the Athenian naval force made its appearance. Being flanked and attacked on two fronts, the Spartan army decided to retreat to Sphacteria island.

This meant that most of their ships were left behind in the possession of the Athenians. Sparta sent a diplomat to negotiate although all of those attempts failed. The Athenians knew that if they didn’t attack the retreated Spartans soon, they would leave the Island and come back with new forces.

Spartans were attacked in the battle of Sphacteria. Artwork by Peter Dennis (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Athenian army on the island was composed of almost 1,000 troops that were all veterans of this war, meaning that they were seen as the best troops around. The Athenians launched a surprise attack on the retreated Spartans. Although the Spartans used their brilliant defensive tactic. Each attempt of the Spartan army to counter-attack ended up in major losses as the Athenians were filling the sky with arrows and spears.

The last Spartan counter-attack within the battle of Sphacteria led to the death of the general commanding the Spartan army. Meanwhile, a message was sent from the council of Sparta saying that the remaining troops can choose their own faith as long as they are not dishonored. This was the point where all of the Spartan remaining troops surrendered, something that shocked the whole of Grece.

Dishonor

All of the remaining Spartan soldiers were taken as prisoners and turned into slaves.

The main reason that I see viable to give a logical answer as to why these Spartan soldiers who had been indoctrinated their whole life with the code of honor decided to surrender is due to simple fatigue. These men had been fighting for days without a break and with a lack of food. Many of them were injured from the main offensive and after their retreat, they all had to remain in a state of emergency.

Not that this would be something that the council of Sparta would ever understand or consider. For them, this event only brought shame which they tried to ignore in order to maintain their pristine reputation as the most elite contemporary warriors.

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