Hellenica (Xenophon)/Book 1/Chapter 6

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Hellenica (Xenophon) by Xenophon, translated by H. G. Dakyns
Book 1, Chapter 6

1In the following year--the year of the evening eclipse of the moon, and the burning of the old temple of Athena[1] at Athens[2] --the Lacedaemonians sent out Callicratidas to replace Lysander, whose period of office had now expired.[3]

2Lysander, when surrendering the squadron to his successor, spoke of himself as the winner of a sea fight, which had left him in undisputed mastery of the sea, and with this boast he handed over the ships to Callicratidas, who retorted, "If you will convey the fleet from Ephesus, keeping Samos[4] on your right" (that is, past where the Athenian navy lay), "and hand it over to me at Miletus, I will admit that you are master of the sea."

3But Lysander had no mind to interfere in the province of another officer. Thus Callicratidas assumed responsibility. He first manned, in addition to the squadron which he received from Lysander, fifty new vessels furnished by the allies from Chios and Rhodes and elsewhere. When all these contingents were assembled, they formed a total of one hundred and forty sail, and with these he began making preparations for engagement with the enemy.

4But it was impossible for him not to note the strong current of opposition which he encountered from the friends of Lysander. Not only was there lack of zeal in their service, but they openly disseminated an opinion in the States, that it was the greatest possible blunder on the part of the Lacedaemonians so to change their admirals. Of course, they must from time to time get officers altogether unfit for the post--men whose nautical knowledge dated from yesterday, and who, moreover, had no notion of dealing with human beings. It would be very odd if this practice of sending out people ignorant of the sea and unknown to the folk of the country did not lead to some catastrophe. Callicratidas at once summoned the Lacedaemonians there present, and addressed them in the following terms:--

5"For my part," he said, "I am content to stay at home: and if Lysander or any one else claim greater experience in nautical affairs than I possess, I have no desire to block his path. Only, being sent out by the State to take command of this fleet, I do not know what is left to me, save to carry out my instructions to the best of my ability. For yourselves, all I beg of you, in reference to my personal ambitions and the kind of charges brought against our common city, and of which you are as well aware as I am, is to state what you consider to be the best course: am I to stay where I am, or shall I sail back home, and explain the position of affairs out here?"

6No one ventured to suggest any other course than that he should obey the authorities, and do what he was sent to do. Callicratidas then went up to the court of Cyrus to ask for further pay for the sailors, but the answer he got from Cyrus was that he should wait for two days.

7Callicratidas was annoyed at the rebuff: to dance attendance at the palace gates was little to his taste. In a fit of anger he cried out at the sorry condition of the Hellenes, thus forced to flatter the barbarian for the sake of money. "If ever I get back home," he added, "I will do what in me lies to reconcile the Athenians and the Lacedaemonians." And so he turned and sailed back to Miletus.

8From Miletus he sent some triremes to Lacedaemon to get money, and convoking the public assembly of the Milesians, addressed them thus:-- "Men of Miletus, necessity is laid upon me to obey the rulers at home;

9but for yourselves, whose neighbourhood to the barbarians has exposed you to many evils at their hands, I only ask you to let your zeal in the war bear some proportion to your former sufferings. You should set an example to the rest of the allies, and show us how to inflict the sharpest and swiftest injury on our enemy, whilst we await the return from Lacedaemon of my envoys with the necessary funds.

10Since one of the last acts of Lysander, before he left us, was to hand back to Cyrus the funds already on the spot, as though we could well dispense with them. I was thus forced to turn to Cyrus, but all I got from him was a series of rebuffs; he refused me an audience, and, for my part, I could not induce myself to hang about his gates like a mendicant.

11But I give you my word, men of Miletus, that in return for any assistance which you can render us while waiting for these aids, I will requite you richly. Only by God's help let us show these barbarians that we do not need to worship them, in order to punish our foes."

12The speech was effective; many members of the assembly arose, and not the least eagerly those who were accused of opposing him. These, in some terror, proposed a vote of money, backed by offers of further private contributions. Furnished with these sums, and having procured from Chios a further remittance of five drachmas[5] a piece as outfit for each seaman, he set sail to Methyma in Lesbos, which was in the hands of the enemy.

13But as the Methymnaeans were not disposed to come over to him (since there was an Athenian garrison in the place, and the men at the head of affairs were partisans of Athens), he assaulted and took the place by storm.

14All the property within accordingly became the spoil of the soldiers. The prisoners were collected for sale by Callicratidas in the market-place, where, in answer to the demand of the allies, who called upon him to sell the Methymnaeans also, he made answer, that as long as he was in command, not a single Hellene should be enslaved if he could help it.

15The next day he set at liberty the free-born captives; the Athenian garrison with the captured slaves he sold.[6] To Conon he sent word:--He would put a stop to his strumpeting the sea.[7]

16And catching sight of him, as he put out to sea, at break of day, he gave chase, hoping to cut him off from his passage to Samos, and prevent his taking refuge there. [8] But Conon, aided by the sailing qualities of his fleet, the rowers of which were the pick of several ships' companies, concentrated in a few vessels, made good his escape, seeking shelter within the harbour of Mitylene in Lesbos, and with him two of the ten generals, Leon and Erasinides. Callicratidas, pursuing him with one hundred and seventy sail, entered the harbour simultaneously;

17and Conon thus hindered from further or final escape by the too rapid movements of the enemy, was forced to engage inside the harbour, and lost thirty of his ships, though the crews escaped to land. The remaining, forty in number, he hauled up under the walls of the town.

18Callicratidas, on his side, came to moorings in the harbour; and, having command of the exit, blocked the Athenian within. His next step was to send for the Methymnaeans in force by land, and to transport his army across from Chios. Money also came to him from Cyrus.

19Conon, finding himself besieged by land and sea, without means of providing himself with corn from any quarter, the city crowded with inhabitants, and aid from Athens, whither no news of the late events could be conveyed, impossible, launched two of the fastest sailing vessels of his squadron. These he manned, before daybreak, with the best rowers whom he could pick out of the fleet, stowing away the marines at the same time in the hold of the ships and closing the port shutters.

20Every day for four days they held out in this fashion, but at evening as soon as it was dark he disembarked his men, so that the enemy might not suspect what they were after. On the fifth day, having got in a small stock of provisions, when it was already mid-day and the blockaders were paying little or no attention, and some of them even were taking their siesta, the two ships sailed out of the harbour: the one directing her course towards the Hellespont, whilst her companion made for the open sea.

21Then, on the part of the blockaders, there was a rush to the scene of action, as fast as the several crews could get clear of land, in bustle and confusion, cutting away the anchors, and rousing themselves from sleep, for, as chance would have it, they had been breakfasting on shore. Once on board, however, they were soon in hot pursuit of the ship which had started for the open sea, and ere the sun dipped they overhauled her, and after a successful engagement attached her by cables and towed her back into harbour, crew and all.

22Her comrade, making for the Hellespont, escaped, and eventually reached Athens with news of the blockade. The first relief was brought to the blockaded fleet by Diomedon, who anchored with twelve vessels in the Mitylenaean Narrows.[9]

23But a sudden attack of Callicratidas, who bore down upon him without warning, cost him ten of his vessels, Diomedon himself escaping with his own ship and one other.

24Now that the position of affairs, including the blockade, was fully known at Athens, a vote was passed to send out a reinforcement of one hundred and ten ships. Every man of ripe age,[10] whether slave or free, was impressed for this service, so that within thirty days the whole one hundred and ten vessels were fully manned and weighed anchor. Amongst those who served in this fleet were also many of the knights.[11]

25The fleet at once stood out across to Samos, and picked up the Samian vessels in that island. The muster-roll was swelled by the addition of more than thirty others from the rest of the allies, to whom the same principle of conscription applied, as also it did to the ships already engaged on foreign service. The actual total, therefore, when all the contingents were collected, was over one hundred and fifty vessels.

26Callicratidas, hearing that the relief squadron had already reached Samos, left fifty ships, under command of Eteonicus, in the harbour of Mitylene, and setting sail with the other one hundred and twenty, hove to for the evening meal off Cape Malea in Lesbos, opposite Mitylene.

27It so happened that the Athenians on this day were supping on the islands of Arginusae, which lie opposite Lesbos.

28In the night the Spartan not only saw their watch-fires, but received positive information that "these were the Athenians;" and about midnight he got under weigh, intending to fall upon them suddenly. But a violent downpour of rain with thunder and lightning prevented him putting out to sea. By daybreak it had cleared, and he sailed towards Arginusae.

29On their side, the Athenian squadron stood out to meet him, with their left wing facing towards the open sea, and drawn up in the following order:--Aristocrates, in command of the left wing, with fifteen ships, led the van; next came Diomedon with fifteen others, and immediately in rear of Aristocrates and Diomedon respectively, as their supports, came Pericles and Erasinides. Parallel with Diomedon were the Samians, with their ten ships drawn up in single line, under the command of a Samian officer named Hippeus. Next to these came the ten vessels of the taxiarchs, also in single line, and supporting them, the three ships of the navarchs, with any other allied vessels in the squadron.

30The right wing was entrusted to Protomachus with fifteen ships, and next to him (on the extreme right) was Thrasylus with another division of fifteen. Protomachus was supported by Lysias with an equal number of ships, and Thrasylus by Aristogenes.

31The object of this formation was to prevent the enemy from manouvring so as to break their line by striking them amidships,[12] since they were inferior in sailing power. The Lacedaemonians, on the contrary, trusting to their superior seamanship, were formed opposite with their ships all in single line, with the special object of manouvring so as either to break the enemy's line or to wheel round them. Callicratidas commanded the right wing in person.

32Before the battle the officer who acted as his pilot, the Megarian Hermon, suggested that it might be well to withdraw the fleet as the Athenian ships were far more numerous. But Callicratidas replied that Sparta would be no worse off even if he personally should perish, but to flee would be disgraceful.[13]

33And now the fleets approached, and for a long space the battle endured. At first the vessels were engaged in crowded masses, and later on in scattered groups. At length Callicratidas, as his vessel dashed her beak into her antagonist, was hurled off into the sea and disappeared. At the same instant Protomachus, with his division on the right, had defeated the enemy's left, and then the flight of the Peloponnesians began towards Chios, though a very considerable body of them made for Phocaea, whilst the Athenians sailed back again to Arginusae.

34The losses on the side of the Athenians were twenty-five ships, crews and all, with the exception of the few who contrived to reach dry land. On the Peloponnesian side, nine out of the ten Lacedaemonian ships, and more than sixty belonging to the rest of the allied squadron, were lost.

35After consultation the Athenian generals agreed that two captains of triremes, Theramenes and Thrasybulus, accompanied by some of the taxiarchs, should take forty-seven ships and sail to the assistance of the disabled fleet and of the men on board, whilst the rest of the squadron proceeded to attack the enemy's blockading squadron under Eteonicus at Mitylene. In spite of their desire to carry out this resolution, the wind and a violent storm which arose prevented them. So they set up a trophy, and took up their quarters for the night.

36As to Etenoicus, the details of the engagement ware faithfully reported to him by the express despatch-boat in attendance. On receipt of the news, however, he sent the despatch-boat out again the way she came, with an injunction to those on board of her to sail off quickly without exchanging a word with any one. Then on a sudden they were to return garlanded with wreaths of victory and shouting "Callicratidas has won a great sea fight, and the whole Athenian squadron is destroyed."

37This they did, and Eteonicus, on his side, as soon as the despatch-boat came sailing in, proceeded to offer sacrifice of thanksgiving in honour of the good news. Meanwhile he gave orders that the troops were to take their evening meal, and that the masters of the trading ships were silently to stow away their goods on board the merchant ships and make sail as fast as the favourable breeze could speed them to Chios. The ships of war were to follow suit with what speed they might.

38This done, he set fire to his camp, and led off the land forces to Methymna. Conon, finding the enemy had made off, and the wind had grown comparatively mild,[14] got his ships afloat, and so fell in with the Athenian squadron, which had by this time set out from Arginusae. To these he explained the proceedings of Eteonicus. The squadron put into Mitylene, and from Mitylene stood across to Chios, and thence, without effecting anything further, sailed back to Samos.


  1. I.e. as some think, the Erechtheion, which was built partly on the site of the old temple of Athena Polias, destroyed by the Persians. According to Dr. Dorpfeld, a quite separate building of the Doric order, the site of which (S. of the Erechtheion) has lately been discovered.
  2. The MSS. here add "in the ephorate of Pityas and the archonship of Callias at Athens;" but though the date is probably correct (cf. Leake, "Topography of Athens," vol. i. p. 576 foll.), the words are almost certainly a gloss.
  3. Here the MSS. add "with the twenty-fourth year of the war," probably an annotator's gloss; the correct date should be twenty- fifth. Pel. war 26 = B.C. 406. Pel. war 25 ended B.C. 407.
  4. Lit. on the left (or east) of Samos, looking south from Ephesus.
  5. About 4d.
  6. Grote, "Hist. of Greece," vol. viii. p. 224 (2d ed.), thinks that Callicratidas did not even sell the Athenian garrison, as if the sense of the passage were: "The next day he set at liberty the free-born captives with the Athenian garrison, contenting himself with selling the captive slaves." But I am afraid that no ingenuity of stopping will extract that meaning from the Greek words, which are, {te d' usteraia tous men eleutherous apheke tous de ton 'Athenaion phrourous kai ta andrapoda ta doula panta apedoto}. To spare the Athenian garrison would have been too extraordinary a proceeding even for Callicratidas. The idea probably never entered his head. It was sufficiently noble for him to refuse to sell the Methymnaeans. See the remarks of Mr. W. L. Newman, "The Pol. of Aristotle," vol. i. p. 142.
  7. I.e. the sea was Sparta's bride.
  8. Grote, "Hist. of Greece," vol. viii. p. 224 (2d ed.), thinks that Callicratidas did not even sell the Athenian garrison, as if the sense of the passage were: "The next day he set at liberty the free-born captives with the Athenian garrison, contenting himself with selling the captive slaves." But I am afraid that no ingenuity of stopping will extract that meaning from the Greek words, which are, {te d' usteraia tous men eleutherous apheke tous de ton 'Athenaion phrourous kai ta andrapoda ta doula panta apedoto}. To spare the Athenian garrison would have been too extraordinary a proceeding even for Callicratidas. The idea probably never entered his head. It was sufficiently noble for him to refuse to sell the Methymnaeans. See the remarks of Mr. W. L. Newman, "The Pol. of Aristotle," vol. i. p. 142.
  9. Or, "Euripus."
  10. I.e. from eighteen to sixty years.
  11. See Boeckh. "P. E. A." Bk. II. chap. xxi. p. 263 (Eng. trans.)
  12. Lit. "by the diekplous." Cf. Thuc. i. 49, and Arnold's note, who says: "The 'diecplus' was a breaking through the enemy's line in order by a rapid turning of the vessel to strike the enemy's ship on the side or stern, where it was most defenceless, and so to sink it." So, it seems, "the superiority of nautical skill has passed," as Grote (viii. p. 234) says, "to the Peloponnesians and their allies." Well may the historian add, "How astonished would the Athenian Admiral Phormion have been, if he could have witnessed the fleets and the order of battle at Arginusae!" See Thuc. iv. 11.
  13. For the common reading, {oikeitai}, which is ungrammatical, various conjectures have been made, e.g. {oikieitai} = "would be none the worse off for citizens," {oikesetai} = "would be just as well administered without him," but as the readings and their renderings are alike doubtful, I have preferred to leave the matter vague. Cf. Cicero, "De Offic." i. 24; Plutarch, "Lac. Apophth." p. 832.
  14. Or, "had changed to a finer quarter."