Brasidas (died 422 BC in Amphipolis, Macedonia) was an ancient Spartan general who was very successful throughout his career, and son of a man named Tellis. Our main source for the life of Brasidas comes from the ancient historian Thucydides in his work The History of the Peloponnesian War. Accordingly, the reason why Thucydides switched from being a general himself to becoming a historian is because of his defeat to Brasidas, as he was unable to reach Amphipolis fast enough to save it from the invasion of Brasidas, and was therefore exiled and lost his position as a general. Brasidas inspired a number of Athenian cities to revolt against the ancient Athenians. The greatest successes of Brasidas on the battlefield is considered to be his capture of Amphipolis.
For the ancient general Brasidas, no history is known about this man presiding 431 BC, where he suddenly appears in the historical record as a general of Sparta defending his lands from the Athenians. The first events mentioned of the life of Brasidas are mentioned as the Athenians were invading Methone. The Athenians took with them a hundred ships, backed up by another squadrion of fifty ships from the region of Corcyraean. The Athenians noticed a weak wall at Methone, and thus planned to invade the city from there. However, the general Brasidas happened to be there at the time, and therefore quickly gathered a heavy infantry of a hundred men to assist the city of Methone as it was being sieged. The forces of Brasidas quickly plunged through the lines of the Athenians, scattering them across the battlefield, and eventually forcing them to withdraw. Because of the great deeds of Brasidas at Methone, we are told by Thucydides that he "won the thanks of Sparta by his exploit, being thus the first officer who obtained this notice during the war."
Later on in 429 BC, the Athenian fleets decisively won many engagements with the Spartans in the seas, as the Spartans were apparently incompetent at naval battle. Thus, the Spartans sent Brasidas along with two commissioners in order to advice the Spartan governor battling with the Athenians, and after reorganizing the fleet, they were able to win a small battle. This victory did not last long however, as the Athenians would return to deal many more heavy blows against the Spartans in the naval battles. In 427 BC, Brasidas was again sent to advise a Spartan admiral, this time by the name of Alcidas, as a civil war was breaking out in Corcyra. It was in the interest of the Spartans to aid the regional oligarchic and pro-Peloponnesian party to defeat the pro-Athenian party. Because of the disorganization of the battles taking place, the pro-Peloponnesian oligarchic party struck a small victory, however as Athenian reinforcements arrived, they were forced to retreat.
The next time we hear of Brasidas is in 425 BC, at the Battle of Pylos, a naval invasion on the Athenian fort located beyond the harbor at Pylos. According to Thucydides, Brasidas distinguished himself in this battle and was able to convince his fellow Spartans to run their ships aground on the shore of Pylos, and disembark from their ships to raid the fort at Pylos from the ground. After heavy casualties on both sides, the Athenians were able to maintain control of the harbor, even causing Brasidas himself to receive some wounds.
In 424 BC, the Athenians were planning to invade Megara, a very strategic location that has produced many fruits for the Athenians during the beginning of the Peloponnesian War when they first controlled it. However, Brasidas was within the vicinity of Megara during this attack, and he quickly responded to the Athenian threat by gathering over 6,000 hoplites and 600 cavalry for the battle, and requesting reinforcements from Thebes. As the Athenians were overpowered, they were forced to withdraw from the invasion. Megara, which had been waiting to see which side would become victorious in this conflict, after seeing to the victory of Brasidas, opened their borders to him and executed anyone that was thought to be coordinating with the Athenians.
Later in 424 BC, Brasidas was now marching north of Greece to conduct the battles in his life that would make him most famous later in what was then Amphipolis. Before that however, he was able to successfully persuade the Acanthus to defect from its Athenian rule, by convincing them that all he desired was the freedom of Greece, and of course, if anyone be unconvinced by his great oration, he threatened the destruction of the vines and crops of those who did not obey him. Then, continuing in that same year, Brasidas besieged Amphipolis and quickly conquered it. The Athenian general Thucydides was sent to reinforce Amphipolis before Brasidas was to capture it, however he did not get there in time and Brasidas had already affirmed control over the city, as well as had won the loyalty of the populace by offering them good terms. Thucydides, although he was able to reinforce Eion, was sent into exile for his failure to reinforce Amphipolis and lost his position as a general, and in his following years, he became a historian who would now be the basis of almost all our knowledge on the Peloponnesian War, as well as Brasidas himself. The Athenians were unwilling to let go of Amphipolis, however. In 422 BC, they sent Cleon with his army in order to defeat Brasidas. Once Cleon and his forces arrived at nearby Eion, Cleon marched forward to simply take a view of Amphipolis before he was to invade it. However, as the Athenians were viewing Amphipolis, Brasidas and his army surprised them and unexpectedly raided their army. In a state of disorganization, the Athenians were forced to flee, and Cleon was killed in the pursuit. Brasidas himself however, suffered heavy wounds in what had become the Battle of Amphipolis, and died shortly after hearing of his victory at Amphipolis and repulsion of the Athenians.
After the death of Brasidas, the people of Amphipolis publicly buried him at the expense of the city, and regarded him not only as a hero, but as the founder of the city and a great man.
- Britannica | Brasidas
- Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War. Book 2, Chapter 25
- see ref 2
- Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 4.11-12
- Thucydides. The Peloponnesian War, 4.85-87.
- Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 5.11