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Diemedes

Born: 500 BC

Died: 413 BC

City/ region: Sparta, Laconia

Affiliation: Greek

Occupation: Professional soldier

Deimedes the Spartan, of the tribe of Pamphyloi, was born in Amyclae in the month of Carneios at the start of the festival of Carneia. When he was inspected by the gerousia they determined him to be a strong child with long limbs and powerful lungs. This was hardly surprising, as even for a Spartan he came from particularly athletic stock.

His father Akmatidas won the Pentathlon at Olympia that same year, and his uncle Damaratos had won the Tethrippon at the previous games four years earlier. Their father was Euagoras, the great Olympic champion and winner of the Tethrippon at Olympia in 548, 544 and 540BC. As Olympic victors all were accorded the honour of fighting in the front rank of battle, and at the ripe age of 72 Euagoras was awarded aristeia for distinguished service in the battle of Sepia in 494BC, in which both his sons also fought.

At the start of his seventh summer Deimedes entered the Agoge, the tough Spartan education machine for turning boys into men. There he learned stealth by being starved and encouraged to steal his food, loyalty to his companions through group punishment, martial skills, hunting, dancing, singing, and above all physical endurance and tolerance of pain. There he also became friends with another young Spartan noble called Aeimnestus, who would later fight beside him at the battle of Plataea.

Having excelled in his training, in the autumn of 481 BC at the age of nineteen Deimedes was given the opportunity to take part in the Krypteia, a rite of passage reserved for those who showed great potential as leaders. Successful completion was required if he wanted to attain the highest ranks in the Spartan military. Together with the other kryptes, including Aeimnestus, Deimedes went out into the countryside armed with nothing but a knife, forced to rely on his wits and survival skills to live off the land, with instructions to kill any Helot he encountered. Deimedes completed his task admirably. He was awarded his own klaros in September the following year, just as King Leonidas was leading his 300 to Thermopylae.

Both his uncle and father were killed at the battle of Thermopylae, Damaratos whilst fighting to recover the body of Leonidas, Akmatidas during the final stand.

That year Deimedes became a member of Amompharetus's mess, as his father had been before him, and was promoted to Demi-Phylarch in the spring of 479 BC before the battle of Plataea. He fought with distinction with Amompharetus's contingent, who held the ridge whilst the Greek army reformed. During the battle he also pulled the Mede general Mardonius from his horse and killed several of his bodyguard while his companion Aeimnestus killed Mardonius with a rock. In recognition of these actions, after the battle Deimedes was promoted to Phylarch.

Deimedes continued to serve in several campaigns and was awarded the prize of Aristeia and promoted to Enomotarch after the battle of Tegea in 473 BC. He was further promoted to Pentekoster after the battle of Dipaea in 471 BC. The following year, on reaching the age of thirty, he was entitled to attend the Apella, the Spartan assembly. The Apella voted on peace and war, treaties and foreign policy, and decided which of the kings should conduct a campaign.

In the same year Deimedes married Aletheia, youngest daughter of Amompharetus. Following her father’s death at Plataea, leaving no living male heirs, Aletheia was a patrouchos and thus brought her own klaros to the marriage. Almost the moment the hymns to Hymen that accompanied the bride to her nuptial bed had finished, Aletheia needed to switch her prayers to Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth. The following spring she safely bore Deimedes a son, Akesiloas.

Sadly that was the only child she gave him, as Aletheia died when Akesiloas was just four years old, in the great earthquake of 465 BC. At the time Deimedes was on a diplomatic and military mission to the Spartan colony of Taras in Magna Graecia, aiding them with their war against the Lapyges after their great defeat of the previous year.

Returning to Sparta, Deimedes devoted the next three years to rebuilding his klaros, seeing to the raising of his son and putting down the Helot revolt in Messenia. In 462 BC when Akesiloas entered the agoge, Deimedes finally used the wealth from his two klaroi to buy breeding stock, and began rearing and training horses for the Tethrippon. This enabled Akesiloas to follow in his grandfather and great grandfather’s footsteps, winning Olympic Tethrippon victories in 448 and 444 BC.

Deimedes served Sparta faithfully both at home and abroad, seeing Akesiloas grow to manhood, marry and have a son of his own. Deimedes entered the Gerousia in 439 BC at the age of 61 and became an Ephor in 432 BC. Later that same year, when relations between Sparta and Athens were deteriorating and war seemed probable, he was chosen as a member of the diplomatic mission to Athens, where he met the historian Thucydides.

Deimedes did not live to see Sparta win the subsequent Athenian War (known to history as the Peloponnesian war, as named by Thucydides). He died peacefully at home in the summer of 413 BC, just short of his 87th birthday, after returning victorious from campaign in Syracuse.

Glossary:

Tethrippon – 4 horse chariot race
Aristeia – military honour
Klaros – a portion of land worked by a team of Helots
Demi-Phylarch – leader of a second half of a phyle, i.e. 6 men
Phylarch – leader of a phyle, i.e. 12 men
Enomotarch – captain of an enomotia, i.e. 3 phyles
Pentekoster – commander of 5 enomotia, i.e. 15 phyles, roughly 180 men
Patrouchos – heiress
Gerousia – the Spartan council of elders, made up of 28 men over 60 years old and the 2 Spartan kings. Had the power to veto decisions made by the Apella
Ephor – leader of Sparta who shared power with the kings. 5 ephors were elected by the assembly every year. Any citizen was eligible, but they could only serve one term

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