Read Hiero the Tyrant and Other Treatises (Penguin Classics) Online
 Later, when he was about eighty years old, it came to his attention that the king of Egypt wanted to go to war with Persia, and that he had foot-soldiers, horsemen and money in abundance. When a message arrived appealing for his assistance, and even promising him command  of the expedition, he was pleased, since he thought that at a stroke he could repay the Egyptian king for the favours he had done Sparta, restore the Asian Greeks’ independence and punish the Persian king not only for past wrongs, but also because, while claiming to be an ally of the Spartans, he was demanding that they relinquish Messene.
 However, the Egyptian who was asking for his help withdrew his offer of command of the expedition, and this made Agesilaus uncertain
what he should do, since he had been so emphatically misled. Next, a division of the Egyptian army which was on a separate campaign rose up against the king, and then all the rest of his troops abandoned him too. The king fled the country in fear and took refuge in Sidon in Phoenicia, while civil war broke out in Egypt and
kings were chosen. Agesilaus realized at this point that if he supported neither of  the two kings, not only would the Greeks not be paid or provisioned by either of them, but also the eventual victor would bear them a grudge, whereas if he helped one or the other of them, whichever one he helped would probably repay the favour with goodwill. So he decided which of the two kings was apparently more pro-Greek, joined forces with him, defeated the anti-Greek one in battle and helped to settle the other one on the throne. So he established friendly relations between Egypt and Sparta, and gained a great deal of money.
It was now the middle of winter, but even so he sailed back home, because he was in a hurry to ensure that the state would be able to mount an effective campaign against its enemies in the following summer.
So much, then, for Agesilaus’ public exploits, accomplished in front of a host of witnesses. Achievements of this kind do not need supporting evidence: the mere mention of them is enough to win instant belief. However, I shall now try to present a picture of the virtue which resided in his soul, because it was this that motivated all these achievements and prompted him to feel such a passionate desire for morality and abhorrence for immorality.
Agesilaus was so religious that even his enemies trusted his oaths  and treaties more than they did their own ties of friendship. Although they were reluctant to meet <, for instance, when dealing with one another>,
they would put themselves into Agesilaus’ hands. To allay any disbelief, I wish actually to mention some specific cases involving particularly eminent people. First, then, when Spithridates the Persian  was faced with what he regarded as the monstrous behaviour of Pharnabazus, who was arranging to marry the Persian king’s daughter,
but still intended to have Spithridates’ daughter as an unmarried concubine, he entrusted himself, his wife, his children and his assets  to Agesilaus. Then again, when Cotys,
the ruler of Paphlagonia, refused to comply with the Persian king’s wishes, even though the demand was accompanied by the king’s personal assurances,
he became afraid of being taken into custody and either fined a great deal of money or even put to death, but he too trusted the truce he made with Agesilaus and paid him a visit in his camp, which resulted in his entering into an alliance with Agesilaus and choosing to have his 2,000 horsemen and 4,000
light foot-soldiers fight alongside  Agesilaus and his men. Even Pharnabazus came and met with Agesilaus, and arranged to rebel against the Persian king if he were not given supreme command of the army. ‘However,’ he added, ‘if I
become commander-in-chief, I will do my utmost to win the war against you, Agesilaus.’ He could not have made this threat unless he had complete confidence that Agesilaus would honour the terms of their truce in his dealings with him.
All this just goes to show how vital and admirable it is for anyone, but especially a military commander, to have and be known to have piety and trustworthiness. Anyway, so much for his religious sensibility.
 As for his honesty in financial dealings, surely there could be no more telling proof than to point out that while no one ever claimed that he had been defrauded of anything by Agesilaus, many people used to acknowledge that they had benefited from his kindness. When it affords a person pleasure to give his own money away to help others, how could he think of stealing someone else’s money and so tarnishing his honour? After all, if he wanted money, it would be far simpler for him to keep his own instead of taking what does not belong to him.
 A person cannot be taken to court for failing to pay a debt of gratitude, so it is surely unthinkable that someone who would not deprive others of thanks might be prepared to deprive them of money, when this would actually be a crime under the law. And Agesilaus
not only judged it wrong to fail to pay a debt of gratitude, but also for someone with greater resources not to pay considerable interest on the debt. How could anyone plausibly accuse him of stealing from  the state when he handed over to his country, for the public benefit, the tokens of gratitude due to him? And what about the fact that, whenever he wanted to offer a state or some friends financial assistance, he was able to help by getting the money from others? Does this not clearly imply that he was not corruptible by money, because if he had  been in the habit of selling his favours or accepting bribes for his services, no one would have felt at all in his debt? On the contrary, it is when favours are freely given that people are glad to do something for their benefactor, not just to repay the favour, but also in gratitude for being judged trustworthy enough to safeguard the advance loan of a favour.
Also, when a person invariably chooses honesty and relative poverty  rather than dishonesty and excess, it is surely easy to acquit him of the charge of avarice. Well, when the state decreed that Agesilaus should receive Agis’ property in its entirety, he gave half of it to his relatives on his mother’s side, because he saw that they were not well off. The whole state, everyone in Sparta, can bear witness to the truth of this.
When Tithraustes offered to shower him with gifts if he  would only leave the country, Agesilaus replied: ‘Where I come from, Tithraustes, it is considered better for a ruler to enrich his army rather than himself – that is, to try to take booty rather than gifts from the enemy.’
What about all the pleasures to which people commonly succumb? Does anyone know of Agesilaus having been conquered by them? This was a man who would no more choose drunkenness than madness, or overeating than idleness.
He never used to eat the two portions he was served at feasts, but gave them away, leaving neither for himself, because in his opinion the reason why the king was served double the amount was not so that he could overeat, but so that he
could use it as another way of conferring honour on anyone he wanted  to.
He treated sleep as the subject rather than the master of his activities, and was visibly embarrassed if his bed was not the most modest one around, because he thought that a ruler should be tougher,  not softer, than ordinary citizens.
There were, however, some things of which he was not ashamed to have more than his share – such as direct sunlight in summer and cold in winter – and he made himself work harder than anyone else whenever hard work was called for out on campaign. He thought that this sort of thing would raise morale among his men. In short, then, Agesilaus revelled in hard work and totally avoided idleness.
 Where sex was concerned, his self-control was amazing, and is surely worth mentioning for this reason alone. If his abstinence had been due to lack of desire, it would be true to say that anyone else would have done the same; but in fact the desire he felt for Megabates the son of Spithridates was as strong as such a passionate man might be expected to feel for such a good-looking boy. Even so, when Megabates tried to kiss Agesilaus – it is the native Persian way to greet people they respect with a kiss
– Agesilaus resisted with all his might and refused to let him kiss him. Does this not already indicate a  superhuman degree of self-restraint? After that Megabates never tried to kiss him, because he felt insulted, so Agesilaus asked one of his comrades to persuade Megabates to pay his respects to him again. The comrade asked whether Agesilaus would kiss Megabates if his suit was successful. Agesilaus was silent for a while, and then said, ‘By the two gods,
no – not even if I were suddenly to become the best-looking man in the world, and the strongest, and the fastest runner! I swear by all the gods that I would rather fight that battle all over again than  have everything I see turn to gold!’
Opinions differ on this, I know, but I would maintain with some confidence that for most people these temptations prove more difficult to resist than their enemies do.
Disbelief may be the general reaction to
statement, since only a few people recognize its truth, but we all know that the more a person is in the public eye, the less he can hide anything he does.
And yet no one ever reported seeing Agesilaus get up to this kind of activity, and idle conjectures on this score would just have seemed
implausible, because when he was abroad he was not in the habit of  taking a private house to stay in, but could always be found either in a shrine, where it is impossible to do anything of the kind, or in the open, with the result that everyone could vouch for his self-control, having seen evidence of it with their very own eyes. The whole of Greece knows the facts of this matter, so for me to lie about it would be to fail in my aim of praising Agesilaus and succeed only in incriminating myself.
As for courage, two features of his behaviour seem to me to provide  clear evidence of this virtue: first, the enemies he undertook to fight were always the ones who constituted the worst threat to his state and to Greece as a whole; second, in engaging these enemies, he always posted himself in the front line. When his opponents were  prepared to join battle, it was not panic-stricken flight on their part that enabled him to defeat them: no, if he set up a victory trophy it was after overcoming his enemies in a close-fought battle. He not only bequeathed to future generations undying memorials of his bravery, but also bore off the field visible signs of the heat of the fighting,
so that people could use their eyes to assess his character, rather than having to rely on listening to tales.
In actual fact one should really count all the campaigns he launched  rather than the victory trophies he set up, because even when his adversaries refused to fight he still overcame them, and did so with less risk and more benefit to the state and his allies. It is the same in athletic competitions too: those who go through uncontested
win the garland just as much as those who have to fight for their victory.
Turning to his skill, it is impossible to find any of his achievements  which do not display it. His attitude towards his fatherland was such that as a result of his exemplary obedience <…>
and because he was so devoted to his friends he earned the unswerving
loyalty of his friends. He also made his troops both obedient and loyal – and are there any factors more important for the effectiveness of a phalanx
of men than good discipline and reliability, the first of which is engendered by obedience and the second by loyalty towards the commander?
 He made it impossible for his enemies to find fault with him – though they could not help resenting him, since he always found a scheme which enabled his side to get the better of them. He would trick them when the opportunity presented itself, beat them to some objective when speed was called for, hide when appropriate, and generally treat them in quite the opposite way from the way he treated  his friends. For instance, he treated night exactly like day and, by disguising his location, destination and intentions, treated day like night as well. He negated the strength of his opponents’ strongholds  by circumventing, overrunning or stealing into them. Whenever he was on the march and knew that the enemy might choose to engage him in battle, he led his men in a tight formation to enable his efforts to be as concerted as possible, and had their progress resemble that of the most modest of maidens in its orderliness,
the idea being that this would reduce his men’s liability to fear, dismay, confusion, error and  ambush. These tactics of his explain why he was so formidable to his enemies and such a source of encouragement and energy for his friends. And so he lived his life without his enemies ever treating him lightly, without his fellow citizens punishing him, without his friends ever finding fault with him; he was everyone’s favourite and the most idolized person in the world.
 As for his patriotism, it would take too long to go through the evidence of this in detail; I think that every single one of his accomplishments is relevant in this context. In brief, then, we all know that if Agesilaus ever thought he could do his fatherland some good, he would not spare any effort, shrink from any danger, hold back any money, or use his physical state or his old age as an excuse.
No, it was his view that it is in fact the job of a good king to do his subjects as much good as possible.
 An aspect of his behaviour that I would count as one of the most
important benefits he conferred on his state was that despite his unrivalled political power he was obviously the most assiduous servant of the laws. After all, how could anyone have been prepared to break the law when he saw how law-abiding the king was? How could anyone have attempted a coup out of dissatisfaction with his lot when he knew that the king put up even with restrictions to his power without turning against the laws?
His attitude towards his political  opponents was that of a father towards his sons. He would tell them off for their mistakes, but congratulate them on their creditable achievements and support them in times of trouble. He refused to regard any of his fellow citizens as an enemy and found something to approve of in all of them; he counted the preservation of each and every one of them as a profit and the death of even a worthless one as a loss. He obviously thought that his fatherland’s prosperity depended on his fellow citizens continuing to live in peaceful observance of the laws, and that it would remain strong as long as the Greeks behaved sensibly.
Then again, if it is true that a good Greek is a supporter of Greece,  I challenge anyone to name another military commander who would refuse to take a city if he thought that would involve destroying it, and who considered victory in a war against Greeks a catastrophe.
Once, when he received a report that in the battle at Corinth only  eight Spartans had been killed, compared with almost 10,000 of the enemy, it was plain to see that the news distressed him. In fact he said: ‘Alas, poor Greece! Enough men have just died to have defeated in battle, were they alive, the whole Persian army. ’
And when the  Corinthian exiles informed him of the city’s imminent surrender and pointed to the siege-engines with which they confidently expected to take the walls, he refused to attack, and argued that the proper course of action in the case of Greek cities was to discipline them rather than enslave them. ‘If we annihilate those of our own people who make mistakes,’ he added, ‘the chances are that we will fail to have the means to overcome the Persians.’
Moreover, if hatred of Persia is also a valid stance, not just because  of their earlier invasion, the purpose of which was to reduce Greece to slavery, but also because of their current policy of allying themselves
with whichever side in a conflict will enable them to do Greece the most harm, because they bribe those individuals who they think will then be particularly bad for Greece, and because they negotiate a peace which will, in their opinion, be extremely successful at getting us to fight one another – well, it is obvious to everyone what Persia is up to, but who else, apart from Agesilaus, ever got a tribe to revolt against Persia, or made the security of a rebel tribe his responsibility, or, in general, ensured that the Persian king had enough problems to stop him making trouble for Greece? Even when his fatherland was involved in a war against other Greeks, he still bore the common good of Greece in mind and set out by sea with the intention of harassing the Persians in any way that he could.