Cleomenes’s Mirrored Orders

In a war between Sparta and Argos, King Cleomenes was in charge of the Spartan troops.  Sparta had such a reputation for military prowess and trickery that the Argives, for fear of being caught off-guard, matched every Spartan order.  If Cleomenes ordered his troops to arm themselves, the Argives did the same.  If he ordered his troops to rest, the Argives did the same.  Cleomenes therefore gave secret orders to his troops that the next time he ordered a retreat, they should instead advance.  When he gave that order, the Argives sound found themselves being pressed upon while unarmed and unprepared, and Cleomenes thereby gained an easy victory.

It’s not well-known, but despite the popular conception of Spartans as strong, honorable warriors, they actually preferred victory by deceit.  If a victory were won by force, a rooster were sacrificed.  If by deceit, a bull.  They were excellent warriors, but they would rather win without battle.


Teaching Your Enemies

Lyrcurgus, lawgiver of the Spartans, gave the advice to his people that they ought not to make war too often against the same people, in order that no one else would learn how to wage war as well as the Spartans did.  For centuries, the Spartans were the sole professionals of war in a field of amateurs, and it was by facing them in war so often that the Thebans learnt how to defeat them at Leuctra.

Interhellenic Strife

The Ancient Greek city-states, although we think of them as a cohesive whole, fought amongst each other almost constantly.  The intensity of the violence only escalated after the Persian Wars, weakening the Greeks.  First, Sparta and Athens bled each other dry during the Peloponnesian War, which killed far more Greeks than the massive Persian invasion had.  Having achieved hegemony, Sparta made its superiority odious with its corrupt local magistrates and heavy-handedness, and Thebes was able to battle it for supremacy, freeing its helots and breaking its power.  However, all this bloodshed had only weakened the Greeks, and when the Macedonians, semi-Hellenized northern barbarians, invaded, the Greeks were almost powerless to resist and lost their freedom forever.

The Polgar Sisters

In the late 1960s, Laszlo Polgar decided to test his theory that anyone could, with proper training, become a genius.  He announced before the birth of his children that he would attempt this, and he homeschooled his three daughters.  Among those things in which they were trained was the game of chess.  From a very early age, the three daughters, Zsuzsa, Zsófia, and Judit, studied chess for an average of eight to ten hours every day-perhaps a total of some 20,000 hours from age eight to eighteen.

The results were as Laszlo had predicted.  At the age of 21, Zsuzsa became the first woman to become a grandmaster through qualifying tournaments, and was Women’s Chess Champion from 1996 to 1999.  Zsófia also became a world-class player.  Her most spectacular play was  in 1989, during the “Sack of Rome,” where she achieved a rating of 2735 at the age of 14, possibly the best play by a woman in the history of the game.  Judit, at age 15, became the youngest grandmaster in history and is often considered the strongest female chess player in history.

With this example before their eyes, let no one doubt that anyone can be made into something great with proper training.

Agathocles against Carthage

The Carthaginians and the Greeks spent centuries fighting over Sicily.  By the late 300s BCE, Agathocles, tyrant of Syracuse, was the undisputed master of the Sicilian Greeks.  Carthage besieged his city, trapping him and his army within.  However, with the bulk of their forces in Sicily, Carthage itself lay undefended.  Realizing this, Agathocles snuck out of the city by ship and landed in North Africa, threatening Carthage directly.  Carthage was forced to recall its army for its own defense, saving Syracuse.  This strategy would later by used by Scipio Africanus to great effect against Hannibal’s Carthage, as well.

The Army of Liechtenstein

The last time Liechtenstein’s army was sent to battle was in 1866, against the Italians.  Eighty men left, and not only did not one die, but eighty-one men returned, because they had made a friend along the way who had joined them.  Two years later, the Crown Prince of Liechtenstein disbanded the army entirely, perhaps sensing that it was not destined for great victories.