Battle of Sphakteria

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Battle of Sphakteria
The south of the Peloponnese
The south of the Peloponnese
date Spring 425 BC Chr.
place Pylos
output Athenian victory
consequences Sparta's readiness for peace
Parties to the conflict




Demosthenes , Cleon


Troop strength
800 hoplites , 800 archers , 800 peltasts , 5,000–7,000 rowers 420 hoplites , 500 helots


Hoplites: 128 dead, 292 captured

At the Battle of Sphakteria in 425 BC Approx. 8,000 Athenians fought against 420 Spartans.

The place of the battle

Sphakteria is an island in front of Pylos , a natural harbor on the southwest coast of the Peloponnese (Messenia).

Pylos is located near a bay with a diameter of about 5 km. The special thing about it is an approximately 4.5 km long narrow island, Sphakteria, which lies exactly on the imaginary chord of the semicircle that forms the bay. So Sphakteria shields the bay from the sea, except for two narrow driveways. The actual harbor was at the northern apex of the bay, but is inaccessible from the open sea because of the rocky shore.

The history

The Peloponnesian War now lasted 7 years. A storm forced an Athenian fleet (50 ships) into the port of Pylos, which was in enemy territory. The fleet finally moved on. But they left 5 ships behind, whose crew should fortify the harbor on the land, commanded by Demosthenes .

Sparta immediately sent the army and navy, but for two days all attempts to capture the port failed. In order to prevent the landing of an Athenian fleet, Sphakteria was occupied, but failed to block the two approaches to the bay.

The Athenian fleet (50 ships) finally arrived, and there was a naval battle in the bay - Athens was victorious and now possessed sea sovereignty. Sparta, on the other hand, had land sovereignty in the bay - apart from the port. The Spartans on the island, however, were isolated: 420 hoplites and their helots , commanded by Epitadas.

An armistice was negotiated: The Spartans were allowed to feed their people on the island, but had to hand over their remaining 60 ships to the Athenians. A Spartan embassy went to Athens and offered a peace treaty; however, the demands of the Athenians were so high that the Spartans could not accept them. The armistice was thus invalid. The Athenians wanted to starve Sphakteria, but divers used hoses to bring honey poppy seeds and crushed flax seeds to the island.

In Athens, Kleon, who had boasted that he could defeat the Spartans within 20 days, was sent to Pylos with another fleet.

Meanwhile, a fire on the island had destroyed the forest and deprived the Spartans of an advantage.

The battle

After Kleon's arrival, the Spartans on the island refused to surrender. The next morning the Athenians began to storm the island. 800 hoplites landed on the southern tip and overran a Spartan outpost. The remaining Spartans formed the phalanx and advanced. The Athenians landed 800 archers, 800 peltasts, and 5-7,000 rowers. The Spartans were decimated by projectiles, and Epitadas died without any hand-to-hand combat. Encircling threatened, whereupon the Spartans withdrew to the northern tip.

A Messenian officer led some Peltasts over the cliffs on the north bank to the rear of the Spartans (as in the battle of Thermopylae ), who were thus in the "cross fire".

Demosthenes and Kleon, who wanted to take prisoners, called on the Spartans to surrender, and they accepted - 72 days had passed since the sea battle.

The surviving Spartans (292 hoplites, including 120 Spartians ) were brought to Athens, and Kleon had thus kept his promise.


"In the whole war this (that Spartans surrendered and surrendered their weapons) was the greatest surprise of all" ( Lit .: Thucydides , Vol. IV, Chapter 40).

Concern for the captured Spartans played a major role on the part of Sparta in bringing about the peace of Nicias four years later, in the context of which they were released.

The battle was of military historical importance because it was first decided by the light troops and not by the hoplites.

See also: List of battles