Battle of Aegospotami

Last updated
Battle of Aegospotami
Part of the Peloponnesian War
Trireme.jpg
A Greek trireme
Date405 BC
Location
40°15′N26°33′E / 40.250°N 26.550°E / 40.250; 26.550 Coordinates: 40°15′N26°33′E / 40.250°N 26.550°E / 40.250; 26.550
Result

Decisive Spartan victory

  • Athens is besieged and surrenders
  • End of Peloponnesian War
Belligerents
Commanders and leaders
Strength
170 ships [2] 180 ships
Casualties and losses
Minimal 160 Ships,
3,000 sailors executed [3]
Agean Sea map geographical.jpg
Red pog.svg
Location of the Battle of Aegospotami

The Battle of Aegospotami ( /ɡəsˈpɒtəm/ ee-gəs-POT-ə-my) was a naval confrontation that took place in 405 BC and was the last major battle of the Peloponnesian War. In the battle, a Spartan fleet under Lysander destroyed the Athenian navy. This effectively ended the war, since Athens could not import grain or communicate with its empire without control of the sea.

Aegospotami or Aegospotamos is the ancient Greek name for a small river issuing into the Hellespont, northeast of Sestos.

Peloponnesian War ancient Greek war

The Peloponnesian War was an ancient Greek war fought by the Delian League led by Athens against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases. In the first phase, the Archidamian War, Sparta launched repeated invasions of Attica, while Athens took advantage of its naval supremacy to raid the coast of the Peloponnese and attempt to suppress signs of unrest in its empire. This period of the war was concluded in 421 BC, with the signing of the Peace of Nicias. That treaty, however, was soon undermined by renewed fighting in the Peloponnese. In 415 BC, Athens dispatched a massive expeditionary force to attack Syracuse, Sicily; the attack failed disastrously, with the destruction of the entire force in 413 BC. This ushered in the final phase of the war, generally referred to either as the Decelean War, or the Ionian War. In this phase, Sparta, now receiving support from the Achaemenid Empire, supported rebellions in Athens's subject states in the Aegean Sea and Ionia, undermining Athens's empire, and, eventually, depriving the city of naval supremacy. The destruction of Athens's fleet in the Battle of Aegospotami effectively ended the war, and Athens surrendered in the following year. Corinth and Thebes demanded that Athens should be destroyed and all its citizens should be enslaved, but Sparta refused.

Contents

Prelude

Lysander's campaigns

In 405 BC, following the severe Spartan defeat at the Battle of Arginusae, Lysander, the commander who had been responsible for the first Spartan naval successes, was reinstated in command. [4] Since the Spartan constitution prohibited any commander from holding the office of navarch more than once, he was appointed as a vice-admiral instead, with the clear understanding that this was a mere legal fiction. [5]

Battle of Arginusae

The naval Battle of Arginusae took place in 406 BC during the Peloponnesian War near the city of Canae in the Arginusae islands, east of the island of Lesbos. In the battle, an Athenian fleet commanded by eight strategoi defeated a Spartan fleet under Callicratidas. The battle was precipitated by a Spartan victory which led to the Athenian fleet under Conon being blockaded at Mytilene; to relieve Conon, the Athenians assembled a scratch force composed largely of newly constructed ships manned by inexperienced crews. This inexperienced fleet was thus tactically inferior to the Spartans, but its commanders were able to circumvent this problem by employing new and unorthodox tactics, which allowed the Athenians to secure a dramatic and unexpected victory. Slaves and metics who participated in the battle were granted Athenian citizenship.

Navarch is an Anglicisation of a Greek word meaning "leader of the ships", which in some states became the title of an office equivalent to that of a modern admiral.

Meeting between Cyrus the Younger and Lysander, by Francesco Antonio Grue (1618-1673). Meeting between Cyrus the Younger and Lysander, by Francesco Antonio Grue (1618-1673), maiolica with a dusting technique, Castelli manufacture, Abruzzo. Italy, 17th century.jpg
Meeting between Cyrus the Younger and Lysander, by Francesco Antonio Grue (1618-1673).

One of Lysander's advantages as a commander was his close relationship with the Persian prince Cyrus. Using this connection, he quickly raised the money to begin rebuilding the Spartan fleet. [6] When Cyrus was recalled to Susa by his father Darius, he gave Lysander the revenues from all of his cities of Asia Minor. [7] With the resources of this entire wealthy Persian province at his disposal, Lysander was able to quickly reconstitute his fleet.

Cyrus the Younger Achaemenid king

Cyrus the Younger, son of Darius II of Persia and Parysatis, was a Persian prince and general, Satrap of Lydia and Ionia from 408 to 401 BC. His birth date is unknown, but he died in 401 BC after a failed battle to oust his elder brother, Artaxerxes II, from the Persian throne.

Susa Ancient city in Iran

Susa was an ancient city of the Proto-Elamite, Elamite, First Persian Empire, Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanian empires of Iran, and one of the most important cities of the Ancient Near East. It is located in the lower Zagros Mountains about 250 km (160 mi) east of the Tigris River, between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers. The site now "consists of three gigantic mounds, occupying an area of about one square kilometer, known as the Apadana mound, the Acropolis mound, and the Ville Royale mound."

Darius II King of the Persian Empire from 423 BC to 404

Darius II Ochus, also Darius II Nothus, was king of the Persian Empire from 423 BC to 404 or 405 BC.

He then set off on a series of campaigns throughout the Aegean. [8] He seized several Athenian-held cities, and attacked numerous islands. He was unable to move north to the Hellespont, however, because of the threat from the Athenian fleet at Samos. To divert the Athenians, Lysander struck westward. Approaching quite near to Athens itself, he attacked Aegina and Salamis, and even landed in Attica. The Athenian fleet set out in pursuit, but Lysander sailed around them, reached the Hellespont, and established a base at Abydos. From there, he seized the strategically important town of Lampsacus. From here, the way was open to enter the Bosporus and close down the trade routes from which Athens received the majority of her grain. If the Athenians were to avoid starvation, Lysander had to be contained immediately.

Aegina Place in Greece

Aegina is one of the Saronic Islands of Greece in the Saronic Gulf, 27 kilometres from Athens. Tradition derives the name from Aegina, the mother of the hero Aeacus, who was born on the island and became its king. During ancient times Aegina was a rival of Athens, the great sea power of the era.

Salamis Island Place in Greece

Salamis, is the largest Greek island in the Saronic Gulf, about 1 nautical mile (2 km) off-coast from Piraeus and about 16 kilometres west of central Athens. The chief city, Salamina, lies in the west-facing core of the crescent on Salamis Bay, which opens into the Saronic Gulf. On the Eastern side of the island is its main port, Paloukia, in size second in Greece only to Piraeus, the port of Athens.

Attica Region of Ancient Greece

Attica, or the Attic peninsula, is a historical region that encompasses the city of Athens, the capital of Greece. It is a peninsula projecting into the Aegean Sea, bordering on Boeotia to the north and Megaris to the west.

Athenian response

The Athenian fleet of 180 ships [9] caught up with Lysander shortly after he had taken Lampsacus, and established a base at Sestos. However, perhaps because of the need to keep a close watch on Lysander, they set up camp on a beach much nearer to Lampsacus. The location was less than ideal because of the lack of a harbor and the difficulty of supplying the fleet, but proximity seems to have been the primary concern in the minds of the Athenian generals. [10] Every day, the fleet sailed out to Lampsacus in battle formation, and waited outside the harbor; when Lysander refused to emerge, they returned home. [11]

Sestos human settlement

Sestos was an ancient city in Thrace. It was located at the Thracian Chersonese peninsula on the European coast of the Hellespont, opposite the ancient city of Abydos, and near the town of Eceabat in Turkey.

Alcibiades's involvement

At this time, the exiled Athenian leader Alcibiades was living in his ship's castle near the Athenian camp. Coming down to the beach where the ships were gathered, he made several suggestions to the generals. First, he proposed relocating the fleet to the more secure base at Sestos. Second, he claimed that several Thracian kings had offered to provide him with an army. If the generals would offer him a share of the command, he claimed, he would use this army to assist the Athenians. The generals, however, declined this offer and rejected his advice, and Alcibiades returned home. [12]

Alcibiades Athenian statesman

Alcibiades, son of Cleinias, from the deme of Scambonidae, was a prominent Athenian statesman, orator, and general. He was the last famous member of his mother's aristocratic family, the Alcmaeonidae, which fell from prominence after the Peloponnesian War. He played a major role in the second half of that conflict as a strategic advisor, military commander, and politician.

Forecastle upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast

The forecastle is the upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast, or the forward part of a ship with the sailors' living quarters. Related to the latter meaning is the phrase "before the mast" which denotes anything related to ordinary sailors, as opposed to a ship's officers.

Thrace kingdom of Thracians

Thrace is a geographical and historical region in Southeast Europe, now split between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, which is bounded by the Balkan Mountains to the north, the Aegean Sea to the south and the Black Sea to the east. It comprises southeastern Bulgaria, northeastern Greece and the European part of Turkey.

The battle

View across the Hellespont to Aegospotami. View across the Hellespont to Aigospotamoi.jpg
View across the Hellespont to Aegospotami.

Two accounts of the battle of Aegospotami exist. Diodorus Siculus relates that the Athenian general in command on the fifth day at Sestos, Philocles, sailed out with thirty ships, ordering the rest to follow him. [13] Donald Kagan has argued that the Athenian strategy, if this account is accurate, must have been to draw the Peloponnesians into an attack on the small force so that the larger force following could surprise them. [14] In the event, the small force was immediately defeated, and the remainder of the fleet was caught unprepared on the beach.

Xenophon, in contrast, relates that the entire Athenian fleet came out as usual on the day of the battle, and Lysander remained in the harbor. When the Athenians returned to their camp, the sailors scattered to forage for food; Lysander's fleet then sailed across from Abydos and captured most of the ships on the beach, with no sea fighting at all. [15] [9]

Whichever account of the battle itself is accurate, the result is clear. The Athenian fleet was obliterated; only nine ships escaped, led by the general Conon. Lysander captured nearly all of the remainder, along with some three or four thousand Athenian sailors. One of the escaped ships, the messenger ship Paralus, was dispatched to inform Athens of the disaster. The rest, with Conon, sought refuge with Evagoras, a friendly ruler in Cyprus.

Some historians, ancient and modern, suspect that the battle was lost as the result of treachery, perhaps on the part of Adeimantus, who was the only Athenian commander the Spartans captured at the battle who was not put to death, and perhaps with the treasonous connivance of the oligarchical faction at Athens, who may have wanted their city defeated in order to overthrow the democracy. But this all remains speculative. [16] [9]

Aftermath

Lysander and his victorious fleet sailed back to Lampsacus. Citing a previous Athenian atrocity when the captured sailors of two ships were thrown overboard, [17] Lysander and his allies slaughtered Philocles and 3,000 Athenian prisoners, sparing other Greek captives. [18] Lysander's fleet then began moving slowly towards Athens, capturing cities along the way. The Athenians, with no fleet, were powerless to oppose him. Only at Samos did Lysander meet resistance; the democratic government there, fiercely loyal to Athens, refused to give in, and Lysander left a besieging force behind him.

Xenophon reports that when the news of the defeat reached Athens,

...a sound of wailing ran from Piraeus through the long walls to the city, one man passing on the news to another; and during that night no one slept, all mourning, not for the lost alone, but far more for their own selves. [19]

Fearing the retribution that the victorious Spartans might take on them, the Athenians resolved to hold out from the siege, but their cause was hopeless. Without a fleet to import grain from the Black Sea, and with the Spartan occupation of Deceleia cutting off land transportation, the Athenians were beginning to starve, and with people literally dying of hunger in the streets, [20] the city surrendered in March 404 BC. The walls of the city were demolished, and a pro-Spartan oligarchic government was established (the so-called Thirty Tyrants' regime). The Spartan victory at Aegospotami marked the end of 27 years of war, placing Sparta in a position of complete dominance throughout the Greek world and establishing a political order that would last for more than thirty years.

Commemoration of the battle

The Spartans commemorated their victory with a dedication at Delphi of statues of the trierarchs who had fought in the battle. A verse inscription explained the circumstances:

These men, sailing with Lysander in the swift ships, humbled the might of the city of Cecrops
And made Lacedaemon of the beautiful choruses the high city of Hellas. [21]

Notes

  1. Pausanias; Levi, P. (July 27, 2006). Guide to Greece, Volume 2 (2nd ed.). Penguin. p. 10.9.10. ISBN   978-0140442267.
  2. Eggenberger, p 6. The author writes that the Athenians had 170 ships and that 20 escaped.
  3. Pomeroy et al, p 327. The authors claim 171 Athenian ships were captured and a "handful" escaped.
  4. Xenophon, Hellenica 2.1.6-7
  5. Kagan, The Peloponnesian War, 469
  6. Xenophon, Hellenica 2.1.11-12
  7. "He then assigned to Lysander all the tribute which came in from his cities and belonged to him personally, and gave him also the balance he had on hand; and, after reminding Lysander how good a friend he was both to the Lacedaemonian state and to him personally, he set out on the journey to his father." in Xenophon, Hellenica 2.1.14
  8. Xenophon, Hellenica 2.1.15-19
  9. 1 2 3 Bury, J. B.; Meiggs, Russell (1956). A history of Greece to the death of Alexander the Great (3 ed.). London: Macmillan. pp. 501–506.
  10. Kagan, The Peloponnesian War, 473
  11. Xenophon, Hellenica 2.1.23
  12. Xenophon, Hellenica 2.1.25-26
  13. Diodorus Siculus, Library 13.106.1
  14. Donald Kagan, The Peloponnesian War
  15. Xenophon, Hellenica 2.2.1
  16. "Xenophon, Hellenica, Book 2, chapter 1, section 32". www.perseus.tufts.edu. Retrieved 2017-09-11.
  17. Pomeroy et al, p318
  18. Pomeroy et al, p327
  19. Xenophon, Hellenica 2.2.3
  20. Burn, A. R. (1988). The Pelican history of Greece. London: Penguin. pp. 297–299.
  21. Tod, Greek Inscriptions, page number to follow

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References