Alternate History

Battle of Eleusis (Athenian Legacy)

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Battle of Eleusis
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394 BCE


394 BCE


Eleusis, Attica


Decisive Athenian-Corinthian Victory;

Thebes makes peace

End of the stalemate in Sicily





Boeotian Allies


Conon the Great (KIA)

Periclas of Corinth

Pagondas (KIA)


10,000 Athenians

6,000 Corinthians

11,000 Thebans

5,000 Boeotian Allies

Casualties and Losses

7000 Athenians

600 Corinthian troops

7000 Thebans

2,000 Boetian troops

The Battle of Eleusis was the climactic battle in the First Syracusan War. Usually attributed as the largest engagement in the conflict, Eleusis is best known for its miraculous and total consequences, one that effectively gave the Athenian-Corinthian Alliance domination over Greece. The battle consisted of around 33,000 troops, with a 50% casualty rate, resulting in the deaths of both Pagondas and Conon. The Battle of Eleusis is also the main conflict in Lucas Mander's 1973 Oscar winning film (some who argue is the greatest film of all time), The Bronze Man, that tells the story of an arrogant Athenian child who quickly grows up to see the horrors of the world as an Athenian Soldier.

To the right is the famous scene in The Bronze Man where the Corinthian Army arrives at the battlefield to defeat the seemingly victorious Thebans.


Following the intervention of the war by the Theban army in 396 BCE, Athens had allowed itself to become increasingly vulnerable to foreign invasion. When Pagondas entered Attica in 395 BCE, after the split of the Athenian Expedition force and their defeat at the Battle of Leontinoi,  , Athens had become very demoralized and politically divided. Even with their numerical advantages, Athens was unable to muster proper forces, and Pagondas freely pillaged and sacked the North of Attica, eventually winning his famous "three victories" in a single week.

Conon, caught in the cross-fire of political chaos, initially attempted to march without the consent of the Assembly, but following a strict ultimatum by the people of Athens, Conon reluctantly came home. Following the three victories, Conon was given the order to confront Pagondas with his armies. However, the Theban General was very aware of his disadvantages and instead adopted a scorched earth policy. Finally, the two armies confronted each other after a series of blunders that brought both armies to their untimely destruction.

The Battle

Early on a spring morning, three days prior to the battle, a large scouting of 1,000 Eleusisans (Athenian allies), caught glimpse of Pagondas's army moving south west to attack Eleusis. The Eleusians took a position near a deep river, and camped there for the night as the Theban army drew near. When they rose the next morning, the Thebans were marching upon them with a horse of cavalry, and the Eleusians were forced to rush to the defense of the river. Pagondas's advisors were foolish, and ignored the depth of the river. Several hundred soldiers drowned the 30 feet of water, forcing a prompt retreat to avoid any more foolish casualties. Eventually, the majority of the Theban army arrived, and rained thousands of arrows on the Eleusians while a group of engineers and workers began to build a small bridge. The Bridge was positioned one mile south of the Eleusian camp and army, so the Thebans were able to quietly sneak around the overextended scouting force.

However, the Eleusians held the formation, bending their flanks to ensure the enemy did not strike from the sides. The Eleusians (who were not hoplites), held off the enemy for several hours, with the camps defenses help slowing down the enemy. By nightfall though, the Eleusian forces were in full rout and had agreed to make a final stand on a small ridge one km behind their original position. Pagondas attacked the Eleusian division at night, despite the fatigue of his soldiers. The Elesuains believed it was to be their last night, and for many of them, it was. Fighting through the night, the Eleusians bravely held off the Theban advance, until finally Pagondas led a personal cavalry charge that smashed the Eleusian regiment and forced them into defeat.

The Theban army then took camp on the ridge, resting for most of the following day. However, Theban scouts had miscarried information, and by morning, Conon's host was marching upon the camp from the west. Pagondas demanded that his troops form in phalanx position, facing the incoming Athenian Army. However, for the first time, Pagondas realized that Conon had made a mistake. The Athenian had neglected the Theban armies quantity, which numbered 6000 more then the incoming army with the Bioeotian Allies. Instead of holding the ridge, Pagondas quickly deserted the high ground to the flatland that the Athenian Army was marching towards, and directly confronted the attackers. When Conon realized his numerical weakness, it was too late, and he was forced to hold his ground, creating a backwards angle formation, with the point heading in the direction of the Theban force.

Pagondas had his army divided into three parts, each one marching towards a specific Athenian force. When the two armies collided in phalanx formation, Conon famously remarked, "The Wrath of Ares is upon us all," then the General threw his personal divisions into the fray. Pagondas tried to outflank the Athenians, but his attempts were foiled by extra divisions of spearmen that held the outside of the engagement, denying any chance for the Theban cavalry to pour through. All through the day, the titanic forces clashed, as thousands died in the never-ending struggle. Finally, in a act of anger and desire to win, Pagondas dismounted his horse and charged into the mess of spears and swords. Some Ancient Historians say that Pagondas and Conon met on the field of battle, and Pagondas slew Conon, but many other believe this is a "over-dramatization" of the engagement. What is known though, is that Conon's efforts to drive back the Thebans ended in his own death on the field of battle and the apparent defeat of the Athenian Army.

However, casualties had been so high and destructive that neither side, even despite lacking a leader, could push the enemy into a decisive move. Several Athenian "aristocrats", led famous charges into the thick of the fighting, but many of them simply ended in a continuous stream of death.  Finally, with less then 4000 troops left, the Athenian army prepared for a last stand. Indeed, soon enough the Athenian flanks cracked and the army was totally encircled. For three hours, the surrounded army fought to the death, desperately trying to fend off Hades and restore honor to the name of Athens.

The end of the battle is recounted by Greek Historian, Philistus, a Syracusan General and supporter of the Tyrant. Philistus fantasizes the Athenian struggle near the final moments of the battle:

"The constant clash of Iron and Bronze rang through the ears of every soldier at Eleusis. The phalanx's had been shattered, the formations destroyed. All that remained was an endless beating of sword and spear. Any Athenian soldier, no matter his class, would call out a brother's name and run into the noise with his fellow beside him, the endless cheering of cries for death rang through every mans heart. The Thebans too, trampling on dead, called on their last reserve for bravery, and of strength. Pagondas led numerous charges into the core of the Athenian defense, all of which brave men brushed off, and counterattacked. As the ground turned red, and the skies wept, a horn blew. No man knew where it was, or what is was, but it was loud, it was stern, and it was hope for the battered soldiers. The very spear of Athena descended upon the battlefield, and with a large screaming noise struck the ground with a triumphant thump. Then, like a miracle from the Gods, 5,000 men came storming from the ridge that Pagondas had left hours earlier. An army, seemingly unleashed from the Mountain Olympus itself, stormed down the hill and slammed with the force of Poseidon's waves against the Thebans. There were many cries, and then there was silence."

The final moment of the battle is unforgettable in Athenian history, and is still celebrated today. 6000 Corinthians, obliged by the pact they had made years ago, rushed to the defense of Athens and defeated Thebes in the last moments where defeat was certain.


The defeat of Thebes was total. Nearly the entire army had been killed or routed to the countryside, leaving Thebes without any sort of defense. Amongst the dead, Pagondas and Conon lay, with nearly half of their countrymen with them. The Corinthian General, Periclas, famously said, "Today, a generation has died."

Corinthians emerged the battle victorious saviors of Athens, and were gifted several large lumps of gold for their valiant victory. The Athenians returned home, many of them who had lost many friends, and for some, all of them. The Thebans sent three diplomats and surrendered to Athens, and a few days later, enormous concessions were made to Athens, though the damage done could not be fully repaired.

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