Lelantine War

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Lelantine War

date=Sometime between late 8th century BC and first half of 7th century BC
place=Euboea island, Greece
territory=Eretria lost control of Andros, Tenos, Kea islands
result=subject to debate
combatant1=Eretria and allies
combatant2=Chalcis and allies
The Lelantine War was a long military conflict between the two ancient Greek city states Chalkis and Eretria that took place in the early Archaic period, between "circa" 710 and 650 BC. The eponymous reason for war was, according to tradition, the struggle for the fertile Lelantine Plain on the island of Euboea. Due to the economic importance of the two participating "poleis", the conflict spread considerably, with many further city states joining either side, resulting in much of Greece being at war. The historian Thucydides describes the Lelantine War as the most widespread war in Greece between the mythical Trojan War and the Persian Wars of the early fifth century BC.Thucydides I 15.]

::"The war between Chalcis and Eretria was the one in which most cities belonging to the rest of Greece were divided up into alliances with one side or the other."

-Thucydides (I 15, 3)


The term "Lelantine War" is not contemporary but modern. Ancient authors normally refer to the "War between Chalkidians and Eretrians" (ancient Greek: polytonic|πόλεμος Χαλκιδέων καὶ Ἐρετριῶν " _gr. pólemos Chalkidéon kaì Eretriōn").Thucydides I 15.]

Date of the War

We have no direct information in ancient sources to date this war. Indirect evidence point towards somewhere between the last twenty years of the 8th century BC and the middle of the 7th century BC, at a date that situates it halfway between history and legend. At the very same time, the site of Lefkandi was being deserted, perhaps as a consequence of the turmoil. There is, however, some evidence that throughout the 8th century BC Chalcis and Eretria were cooperating, thus making this date less probable. Furthermore, Theognis implies there was a conflict between Eretria and Chalcis in the middle of the 6th century BC. While a few historians have suggested this as the date of the Lelantine War, it is more probable that Theognis refers to a second, smaller and even less known Lelantine War.


Since the conflict took place at a very early point in Greek history, before historiography had developed, there are virtually no written sources on the events. The few such sources and the much more copious archaeological evidence allow for a sketchy picture of the Lelantine War. However, as a result of the ambiguity of the surviving written sources, date and extent of the war are disputed among Classical scholarship. Some authors have even suggested that the war may be entirely mythicalKlaus Tausend: „Der Lelantische Krieg – ein Mythos?“, in: "Klio" 69, 1987, p. 499–514, esp. p. 513f.] or even fictionalDetlev Fehling: „Zwei Lehrstücke über Pseudo-Nachrichten“, in: "Rheinisches Museum für Philologie" 122, 1979, p. 199–210, esp. p. 204f.] .

Written sources

No detailed record of the Lelantine War was produced by a contemporary author (such as Thucydides for the Peloponnesian War), as Greek historiography only developed 200 years later, starting with the works of Herodotus. The Greek literary tradition as a whole started only in the late 8th century BC, with Homer. Therefore, the only contemporary sources about the lelantine War are references in the early poets Hesiod and Archilochos. The first references in historical works are from the fifth century, two centuries after the events, and remain vague and brief.

In the introduction of his work on the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides (460 BC to early 4th century) gives a short summary of earlier Greek history, stating that there were no major collective military actions by Greeks between the Trojan War and the Persian Wars. As an exception, he mentions the War between Chalkidians and Eretrians, during which most of the rest of Hellas joined one of the warring parties:

Elesewhere, Plutarch mentions a poetic competition between Homer and Hesiod on the occasion of the funeral games of a Chalkidian nobleman called Amphidamas. Plutarch states that Amphidamas fell in the struggle for the Lelantine Plain, after performing several heroic deeds fighting the Eretrians.

A similar agreement is indirectly referred to by Archilochos (680 to 645 BC), the second contemporary author to refer to the Lelantine War. He tells how the "warlike lords of Euboea" will not use bow or sling, but only swords, in a (future) battle.

On the basis of these literary sources, and assisted by a variety of archaeological finds, modern scholarship has reconstructed an outline of the Lelantine War.

Archaeological evidence

Archaeological study has shown that the first warrior burials in the area of the later heroon of Eretria took place around 710-705 BC.A.M. Ainian: „Geometric Eretria“, in: "Antike Kunst" 30, 1987, p. 3–24.] The last such burial dates to around 690 BC. Chalkis has been subject to very little archaeological research, but similar burials of warriors are indicated by written sources, especially in reference to Amphidamas.. Around 680 BC, a triangular building was erected atop the warrior graves at Eretria and used to dedicate offerings to the fallen heroes.C. Bérard: "L'Hérôon á la porte de l'ouest" (= "Eretria" 3), Bern 1970.] This may be connected to a rekindling of the conflict after a lull or truce (see below), leading to the Eretrians seeking the aid of their dead heroes.


Chalkis and Eretria are ports on the west coast of Euboea. Both cities claimed the Lelantine Plain, perhaps originally using the river Lelas, which traverses the plain from north to south, as a natural border. Although, strictly speaking, Eretria is located outside the plain, it had a historical claim to it. The reason is that Eretria was probably initially the port for a mother town situated further east. That town was located at the mouth of the Lelas, near modern Lefkandi. Its ancient name is unknown, so it is generally called by that of the modern settlement. Lefkandi suffered heavy destructions in "ca." 825 BCM.R. Popham & L.H. Sackett: "Lefkandi 1: The Iron Age", London 1980.] , after which the majority of its population probably moved to Eretria.

Eretria and Chalcis originally had a political union with Athens as they were all of the Ionian tribe. Evidence of this is that the two Ionian seats in the Delphic Amphictyony were given to Athens and the Ionians of Euboea; Chalcis and Eretria. The two soon turned towards the nearby Cyclades islands and to locations further abroad for expansion and trade.

In the eighth century BC, Euboea was one of the economically strongest regions of Greece.V. Parker: "Untersuchungen zum Lelantischen Krieg", Stuttgart 1997, p. 167.] The two leading powers of the island, Chalkis and Eretria were among the driving forces behind the "apoikiai" of the Mediterranean, acting for a long time not as competitors but as collaborators. Around the mid-eighth century, they jointly founded Al Mina, a colony conceived to facilitate trade with the eastern Mediterranean. [M.R. Popham et al.: „Euboean Exports to Al Mina, Cyprus, and Crete: A Reassessment“, in: "Annual of the British School at Athens" 78, 1983, p. 281–290.] Roughly at the same time, they expanded westwards. Together with Kerkyra, Eretria secured access to the western Mediterranean. Since the second quarter of the eighth century, Euboean traders were present on the island of Ischia (Pithekoussai) off the coast of Campania, to conduct trade with the Etruscans. A few decades later, Cumae, the first Greek colony on the Italian mainland was founded. Around 735 BC, Chalkis founded the first Greek colony in Sicily, a point which Thucydides saw as the true start of Greek colonisation. Shortly thereafter, Rhegion and Zankle were founded on either side of the strategically important Straits of Messina. [Thukydides VI 4,5–6.]

Reason for war

According to tradition, the war was caused by a conflict about the Lelantine Plain. This very fertile area had for a long time been used for agriculture, including the cultivation of vines. In Greece, where fertile land is scarce, wars for agriculturally attractive terrain were not uncommon, especially in the Archaic period, eg. between Megara and Athens. [Plutarch, "Solon" 7–10.] Nevertheless, it remains unclear why Chalkis and Eretria suddenly came to blows over the Lelantine Plain after apparently being in agreement on its use for a long time.

The origin of the conflict could be connected to a natural disaster. At the end of the eighth century BC, Attica, Euboea and other nearby islands suffered from a severe drought. [J. McK. Camp: „A Drought in the Late Eight Century BC“, in: "Hesperia" 48, 1979, p. 397–411.] It is likely that the Eretrian establishment on Andros was abandoned as a result. [A. Cambitoglou and J.J. Coulton: „Polytonic|Ἀνασκαφαὶ Ζαγορᾶς Ἄνδρον“, in: "Ephemeris" 1970, p. 154ff.] This drought and the attendant famine could have led to both Chalkis and Eretria laying claim on all of the Lelantine Plain.

Course of war

The war between Chalkis and Eretria probably began around 710 BC. Although both cities must have possessed large fleets, it was waged on land. [According to Thucydides (I 3), the first Greek naval battle took place between Corinth and Kerkyra in 664 BC.] Since the war took place before the development or introduction of hoplite warfare, but under exclusion of bows and slingshots,, most of the combattants were probably lightly armed swordsmen.V. Parker: "Untersuchungen zum Lelantischen Krieg", Stuttgart 1997.] According to another view, the war consisted mainly of cavalry engagements. The relevant lines by Archilochus indicate that the war was still still ongoing through the poet's lifetime (he died "ca." 645 BC). It is possible, and likely, that the conflict was subdivided in several phases of warfare and ceasefires, as were eg. the Peloponnesian War and the Messenian Wars.


Eretria at its height (a period brought to an end by this war) could field 3,000 hoplites, 600 cavalry and 60 chariots. This implies that this conflict took place at the transitional time between the Homeric "aristos", entering the war on chariot and fighting his enemies like the heroes of the Iliad, and the classical hoplite. The size and numbers of Chalcis's forces are unknown. We only know that their infantry was superior and their cavalry inferior to that of Eretria.

Alliances and extent

Primarily, the war would have involved the two conflicting cities and their territories. At the time of the war, the state of Eretria included one quarter of the island of Euboea as well as the nearby Cyclades (Andros, Tenos, and Kea). The expansion of the conflict into other regions and the number of allies are disputed. There are direct references to three further participants apart from Chalkis and Eretria: Miletus on the side of Eretria and Samos as well as Thessaly on that of Chalkis. Beyond these, the enmities and alliances between Archaic Greek states known from other sources have led to further suggestions of parties involved, leading some scholars to propose up to 40 participants. [A. R. Burn: „The so-called “Trade-Leagues” in Early Greek History and the Lelantine War“, in: "Journal of Hellenic Studies" 49, 1929, p. 14-37.] Such numbers would, however, imply broad-ranging political alliance systems, which the majority of scholars do not consider likely for the eighth century BC. [E. Will: "Korinthiaka", Paris 1955, p. 398-404.] Even if many other cities were involved in warfare at the same time, it cannot, however, be argued that every conflict between Greek states of the time was part of this war. Thus, most scholars assume that, apart from the cities mentioned above, only Aegina, Corinth and MegaraM. Cary: "Cambridge Ancient History" III, 1929, S. 622f.] , perhaps also Chios and Erythrai took part.D. W. Bradeen: „The Lelantine War and Pheidon of Argos“, in: "Transactions of the American Philological Association" 78, 1947, p. 223–241.]

The island state of Aegina was mainly active in the trade with Egypt, where its major competitor was Samos. Samos was allied with Chalkis, which suggests that Aegina took the side of Eretria. Corinth and Megara were at war for practically all of the Archaic period, primarily because of the Conrinthian conquest of the Perachora peninsula which had originally belonged to Megara. [Pausanias I 44,1.] The actions of Chalkis and Corinth in the context of western colonisation suggests that the two cities were allied, or at least friendly; Chalkis had prevented Megarian settlers from establishing themselves at Leontinoi, [Thucydides VI 4.] , while Corinth had driven Eretrian settlers from Kerkyra. [Plutarch "Quaestiones Graecae" XI.] In analogy, a friendship between Megara and Eretria is assumed. Herodotus reports that Chios supported Miletus in the Ionian Revolt, because Miletus had previously assisted the Chiotes against Erythrai. [Herodot I 18.] Thus, based on the allegiance of Miletus, an alliance between Chios and Eretria, as well as one between Erythrai and Chalkis can be suggested.

Most current scholarship is of the opinion that such long-distance alliances cannot have existed in the eighth century BC. Instead, there may have been alliance-like based on personal relationships among the nobility, so that the struggle involved only Eretria, Chalkis and the Thessalian aristocrat Kleomachos of Pharsalos with his own troops. The German historian Detlev Fehling believes that the entire Lelantine War is an invention of later centuries, produced by a chain of "Pseudo-Nachrichten" (pseudo-reports). This opinion has been generally rejected.

Around 700 BC, the Eretrian mother town at Lefkandi was finally destroyed, probably by Chalkis. This cut Eretria's link with the Lelantine Plain. At about the same time, Eretria's ally, Miletus, ravaged the southern Euboean town of Karystos. During this phase, Miletus rose to be the dominant power in the eastern Aegean. The war (perhaps interrupted by truces) lasted until the mid-seventh century BC. It may have been concluded, in favour of Chalkis, by the intervention of a Thessalian cavalry army, led by Kleomachos of Pharsalos, although it is not entirely clear whether the event in question decided the war, or indeed whether Chalkis definitely won it.


After the long war, Euboea, once the leading region of Greece, had become a backwater. Not only defeated Eretria, but also the probable victor, Chalkis, had lost their former economic and political importance. On the Mediterranean markets, Corinthian vase painting had taken over the dominant role previously occupied by Euboean pottery (see Pottery of ancient Greece). The leading role in colonisation was taken over by the "poleis" of Asia Minor, such as Miletus (eastern colonisation) and Phokaia (western colonisation). Chalcis entered a long decline while the islands in the Cyclades that Eretria controlled earlier seem to have become independent. From Theognis, another conflict over the Lelantine field is implied in the 6th century, so it seems the two cities fought again. In any case, after the war both cities continued the colonization of the Chalcidice peninsula in Northern Greece. Eretria felt compelled by the help Miletus had given her during the war to repay its debt by assisting Miletus during the Ionian Revolt. This led to Eretria's destruction prior to the battle of Marathon in 490 BC. Chalkis retained control of the Lelantine Plain until 506 BC, when Athens established a cleruchy in it. [H. B. Mattingly: „Athens and Euboia“, in: "Journal of Hellenic Studies" 81, 1961, p. 124-132.]


* Parker, Victor (1997): "Untersuchungen zum Lelantischen Krieg und verwandten Problemen der frühgriechischen Geschichte" (= "Historia" Einzelschriften 109), Stuttgart. ISBN 3-515-06970-4

*Translation/Ref|de|Lelantischer Krieg|oldid=38475460


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