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A Remarkable Naval Battle at the Dardanelles: Battle of Aegospotami in 405 BC

Turkey

Fought at the end of the Peloponnesian War in 405 BC, the Battle of Aegospotami was a decisive Spartan naval victory over the Athenians.The Athenian fleet was sent off to the Black Sea in order to secure safe passage for the Athenian grain carriers, which were providing grain for the daily Athenian bread. The Spartans had at that time developed a strong fleet and Lysander, a Spartan commander, positioned the Spartan fleet of 170 Peloponnesian ships at Lampsacus (today’s Lapseki) at the southern shore of the Dardanelles. Lampsacus was the only safe port in the area and when the Athenians arrived with some 180 triremes they had to anchor at Aegospotami (which means “Goat’s River”), opposite Lampsacus. Aegospotami was no safe harbour and apparently the Athenians had to haul out their boats at unfavourable weather conditions.

On four successive days the Athenian fleet rowed across the strait, hoping to draw Lysander’s force out to give battle, but without success. On the fifth day Lysander waited until the Athenians made their usual sortie and returned to their base; once they anchored, Lysander’s fleet made a sudden dash across the water, pounced on the anchored Athenians, captured 160 ships, and killed the crews.

dardanelles

Foto: Yusuf Civelekoğlu, Puri, Orissa, India, 1982

Lysander’s decisive victory over the Athenian fleet broke the Athenian naval superiority, unchallenged until then, and effectively ended the Peloponnesian war.

As wonderfully narrated by late Prof. Süleyman Dırvana in 2001 in Bozburun, Alkibiades, the discredited legendary commander of the Athenians at that time, had warned Conon, the Athenian commander in charge, on several occasions, not to leave the fleet unattended and vulnerable to a possible Spartan attack. When the attack eventually took place, the Athenians were widely dispersed and distracted. Thus, the surprise was complete.

Lessons to be learned:
• Athenians! To be good in one way or the other at a certain time is no warranty that your enemy will not catch up!
• Athenians! First come, first anchor. If you are late to an anchorage, you will have to take the exposed roadstead, you may even have to haul out your fleet and get very vulnerable and exposed.
• Athenians! Instead of passing time with Alkibiades, you should have left guards at your ships.
• Athenians! Don’t think that the enemy whom you have provoked in vain many times will never attack. The enemy may be just waiting for you to drop your guard sufficiently.