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Text #78

"Battle of Aegospotami", in Wikipedia.

The naval Battle of Aegospotami took place in 405 BC and was the last major battle of the Peloponnesian War. In the battle, a Spartan fleet under Lysander completely 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. […]

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.1 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.2 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.3

Whichever account of the battle itself is accurate, the result is clear. The Athenian fleet was obliterated.4 […]

Lysander and his victorious fleet sailed back to Lampsacus. Citing a previous Athenian atrocity when the captured sailors of two ships were thrown overboard, Lysander and his allies slaughtered Philocles and 3,000 Athenian prisoners, sparing other Greek captives. 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. ”

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, Athens was on the verge of starvation, and 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.

  1. Diodorus Siculus, Library 13.106.1 [OF]

  2. Kagan, Donald. The Peloponnesian War (Penguin Books, 2003).

  3. Xenophon, Hellenica 2.2.1

  4. Besides the two primary sources, Xenophon’s Hellenica 2.1.17-32 and Diodorus’ Library, 13.104.8-106.8, several other sources refer to Aigospotamoi. Among them are: Plutarch (Life of Lysander, 10-11) Frontinus, (Stratagems, 2.1.18), Polyaenus (Stratagems, 1.45.2), and Pausanias (Description of Greece, 9.32.9). These accounts are assumed to be based on Xenophon. Traditionally, Xenophon’s version of Aigospotamoi is considered to be the more complete of the two but studies of the orations by Lysias and the Oxyrhynchus Hellenica show that Diodorus’ description has merit.

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