Ancient History & Civilisation



This book presents a reconstruction of Athenian naval history from 483 to 322 B.C. based on ancient historical sources, archaeological discoveries, and surveys of the islands, coasts, channels, and seas in which Athenian mariners operated and fought their battles. In sticking as closely as possible to the primary evidence, the narrative in Lords of the Sea departs at a number of points from the interpretations of many modern scholars. Notes on each chapter are listed below, followed by the principal ancient sources listed alphabetically and a bibliography of modern scholarly works. Major historical controversies are indicated in the chapter notes along with citations of the relevant sources. For modern works cited in the chapter notes below, publication data not found in the notes is provided in the bibliography, beginning on page 370.


In the epigraphs, as elsewhere in this book, translations are by the author unless otherwise noted.

Epigraph for front matter, page ix: Pericles’ speech to the Athenians in 430 B.C., recorded in Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, 2.62.


Spartan accuses Athenian navy of “fornicating with the sea”: Xenophon, Hellenica, 1.6.15. Naval warfare in the Mediterranean: Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon History (Boston, 1890), page 33. “Everything is going with the beat”: Jack Kerouac, Desolation Angels(New York, 1965), page 123.

Democracy based on sea power: Aristotle, Politics, 4.4 and 5.4, translation by T. A. Sinclair. Peitholaus and the “People’s Big Stick”: Aristotle, Rhetoric, 3.10, translation by G. C. Armstrong. The claim of Socrates to be a “citizen of the world”: Plutarch, On Exile, 600F. “O Athens, queen of cities! How fair your Navy Yard!”: anonymous fragment of a lost Athenian comedy, R. Kassel and C. Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci VIII, Berlin, 1995, fragment 155.

Delphic oracle predicting that Athens would ride the waves of the sea: Plutarch, Life of Themistocles, 24.

Chapter 1. One Man, One Vision [483 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 3: Aristophanes, Wasps, lines 28-30.

Themistocles proposes to use silver from Laurium to build a fleet: Herodotus, 7.144; Aristotle, Constitution of Athens, 22.7. Themistocles starts to fortify the Piraeus during his archonship of 493-492 B.C. : Thucydides, 1.93. Details of Themistocles’ family, character, and career: Nepos, Life of Themistocles; Plutarch, Life of Themistocles. Plutarch is also the source for his father Neocles’ observation about the abandoned triremes, and for Themistocles’ own signature motto on “how to make a small city great.” In hisLife of Cimon Plutarch explains that the source of the latter quotation was Ion of Chios, who heard it at a symposium in Athens within the lifetime of Themistocles. Modern studies of Themistocles: Frank J. Frost, Plutarch’s Themistocles: A Historical Commentary;Robert J. Lenardon, The Saga of Themistocles.

Poetical description of mêtis: Homer, Iliad, 23.358-62. Modern analysis of mêtis: Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society.

Athenian Assembly procedures: David Stockton, The Classical Athenian Democracy. Rules for speakers: Aeschines, Against Timarchus, 35. Archaeology of the Assembly’s meeting place on the Pnyx: Björn Forsén and Greg Stanton, eds., The Pnyx in the History of Athens. The four classes of Athenian citizens: C. Hignett, A History of the Athenian Constitution to the End of the Fifth Century B.C. Aristides opposes Themistocles’ navy bill and is subsequently ostracized: Nepos, Life of Aristides; Plutarch, Life of Aristides.The Athenian ten-drachma coins struck in the early fifth century, possibly for the annual dole of silver from Laurium, described and illustrated by C. Seltman in Athens, Its History and Coinage Before the Persian Invasion. On the question of what ten drachmas would buy in ancient Athens, see William T. Loomis, Wages, Welfare Costs and Inflation in Classical Athens.

Chapter 2. Building the Fleet [483-481 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 15: Homer, Odyssey, 8.34-35.

Fifty Athenian ships participate in the Trojan War: Homer, Iliad, 2.573-759 (the “Catalog of Ships”). Early naval history of Greece, the Aegean, and the eastern Mediterranean: Herodotus, books 1 and 3; Thucydides, 1.2-17. Both these ancient historians take it for granted that triremes were already in use during the age of Greek exploration and colonization starting in the eighth century B.C., though triremes were not used in naval battles until the late sixth century B.C.

Themistocles decides to build fast triremes without overall decks: Thucydides, 1.14. Wood for Athenian fleets and building projects: Russell Meiggs, Trees and Timber in the Ancient Mediterranean World. (An invaluable compendium of ancient evidence, but Meiggs’s view that the Athenians in 483 B.C. procured wood from southern Italy rather than using their homegrown timber is hard to credit.) Ships sewn with linen: Rosalba Panvini, The Archaic Greek Ship at Gela; M. E. Polzer, “An Archaic Laced Hull in the Aegean: The 2003 Excavation and Study of the Pabuç Burnu Ship Remains.” Manufacturing a ram for an ancient warship: Asaf Oron, “The Athlit Ram Bronze Casting Reconsidered.” Construction of the ship Olympias in 1985-86: Frank Welsh, Building the Trireme, for comparisons.

Exactly how a Greek trireme was designed and rowed is one of the longest-standing controversies in the entire field of classical studies. For the author’s interpretation of the evidence see the article by John R. Hale, “The Lost Technology of Ancient Greek Rowing.”

Chapter 3. The Wooden Wall [481-480 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 29: Xenophanes, fragment 17.

Xerxes’ expedition and the Greek resistance up to midsummer 480 B.C. : Herodotus, book 7, which includes the text of the “Wooden Wall” oracle; Diodorus Siculus, book II, chapters 1-5; Nepos, Life of Themistocles; Plutarch, Life of Themistocles. Young Cimon’s example to his fellow horsemen in consenting to pull an oar: Plutarch, Life of Cimon. The Athenians resolve to face the Persian fleet, with or without the Spartans: Thucydides, 1.18 and 1.74.

The reconstruction of events in early summer 480 B.C. that is presented in this book is based on the inscription known as the “Themistocles Decree.” The inscribed stone was found at Troezen and published by Michael Jameson of the University of Pennsylvania in 1960. Subjects covered by the decree match those that would have been raised by Themistocles during a debate on the interpretation of the “Wooden Wall” oracle as described by Herodotus (7.143), namely trusting in a wooden wall (i.e., the embarkation of all the citizens in the triremes), the oracle’s command to flee from the Persians (hence the plan to evacuate noncombatants from Attica), and the oracle’s naming of Salamis as a critical site in the coming conflict (thus leading to the transfer of the Athenian government to the island of Salamis). Many scholars consider the “Themistocles Decree” to be a literary patchwork created long after the Persian Wars; some dismiss it altogether as an ancient forgery. Its authenticity seems to be supported by the testimony of Thucydides cited above. Given the oblivion into which the Artemisium campaign sank among Athenian orators of the fourth century, it is unlikely that a forger of that period or later would have made Artemisium the focus of a forged “Themistocles Decree.” Opposing views on the question of authenticity are collected in Donald Kagan, Problems in Ancient History: The Ancient Near East and Greece.

Recent scientific work conducted at the site of the Delphic Oracle: William J. Broad, The Oracle: Ancient Delphi and the Science Behind Its Lost Secrets. A modern study of Xerxes’ expedition: C. Hignett, Xerxes’ Invasion of Greece. Persian history and civilization: Lindsay Allen, The Persian Empire.

Chapter 4. Holding the Pass [Summer, 480 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 43: Plutarch, Life of Themistocles, 8, quoting the poet Pindar, fragment 93.

Battles between Persians and Greeks at Artemisium and Thermopylae: Herodotus, 8.1 to 8.39 ; Diodorus Siculus, 11.6-11.13; Nepos, Life of Themistocles; Plutarch, Life of Themistocles. Modern study of the campaigns of August 480 B.C.: Andrew Robert Burn,The Persian Wars: The Greeks and the Defence of the West, c. 546-478 B.C. An ancient inscription unearthed in 1883 on the northern coast of Euboea confirmed the identification of Artemisium with the splendid sandy beach at Pevki Bay. The inscription came from a nearby shrine of Artemis, the goddess whose shrine gave the beach its ancient name.

Chapter 5. Salamis [End of Summer, 480 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 55: Aeschylus, Persians, lines 402-5.

Principal ancient sources for the battle of Salamis in September, 480 B.C.: Aeschylus, Persians; Herodotus, book 8; Timotheus of Miletus, fragments of a poem on Salamis; Diodorus Siculus, 11.14-11.19; Nepos, Life of Themistocles; Plutarch, Life of Themistocles and Life of Aristides;Polyaenus, Stratagems, 1.30. The contribution of money from wealthy members of the Areopagus to support Athenian citizens: Aristotle, Constitution of Athens, 23.

The tactics and maneuvers that determined the outcome of the battle of Salamis have been a source of controversy since ancient times. The reconstruction presented in this book is based on the early accounts by Aeschylus and Herodotus. The former was a participant and eyewitness; the latter interviewed men who had fought on both the Greek and the Persian sides. The topography of the narrow Salamis channel, even allowing for a rise of two to three meters in sea level since antiquity, seems to support their versions of the battle.

Later writers added details unrecorded by Aeschylus and Herodotus and in some cases flatly contradicted the early accounts. The fragments of Timotheus’ poem on Salamis, which was probably written at least eighty years after the battle, include a reference to burning ships. This use of fire in a naval battle appears to be an anachronism inspired by the Syracusan use of fire ships against the Athenian fleet in 413 B.C., much closer to Timotheus’ own time.

The version of the battle presented by Diodorus Siculus probably derives from the fourth-century B.C. historian Ephorus of Cyme. This version makes Salamis mirror the battle of Thermopylae. The Salamis strait plays the role of the narrow pass that Leonidas defended, and two hundred Egyptian triremes (not mentioned by Aeschylus or Herodotus) repeat the encircling maneuver of Xerxes’ Immortals at Thermopylae. The main Persian fleet then tries to punch its way through the Greek ships that block the narrows. This time, however, the Greeks have their revenge and win the day.

It seems preferable to stick with Herodotus’ explicit testimony that the Persian right wing extended westward toward Eleusis and the left wing eastward toward Munychia at the Piraeus. In other words, Xerxes’ commanders backed their long triple line of ships up against the mainland of Attica, where they could count on the support of Persian troops on shore. They then charged across the width of the channel to engage the Greeks along the rocky coast of Salamis.

Plutarch in his Life of Themistocles seems bent on introducing as many novelties and contradictions of Herodotus as possible. The order of events is shuffled, spectacular human sacrifices are added to the narrative, and the outcome of the battle is determined by the structural design of the opposing triremes: proud and towering on the Persian side, low and unostentatious on the Greek side. Plutarch claims that Themistocles held off his attack until the morning wind caught the high Persian hulls and rendered them unmanageable; the Greek ships remained unaffected. Even in antiquity one commentator observed that Plutarch had stolen this stratagem of “waiting for the wind” from Phormio in his victory over the Peloponnesian kyklos at Patras in 429 B.C. (See the scholion to Aelius Aristides, On the Four, 2.282, referring to Thucydides, 2.83.) Plutarch was certainly wrong to claim that Themistocles launched the Greek attack at Salamis: the admiral in command of the allied fleet was Eurybiades of Sparta. Plutarch’s version appears to owe more to a sense of poetic justice than to genuine traditions that somehow eluded Aeschylus and Herodotus.

For reconstructions of the battle of Salamis that incorporate material from Diodorus and Plutarch, see John S. Morrison and R. T. Williams, Greek Oared Ships, 900-322 B.C., and Barry Strauss, The Battle of Salamis.

Epigraph for Part Two, page 75: Pericles’ Funeral Oration of 431 B.C., in Thucydides, 2.37, translation by Rex Warner.

Chapter 6. A League of Their Own [479-463 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 77: Thucydides, 1.142, translation by Rex Warner.

The naval battle of Mycale and the Greek assault on Sestos: Herodotus, book 9; Diodorus Siculus, 11.27-11.37. The exact site of the battle at the foot of Mount Mycale is uncertain. Sediment from the Meander River has silted up an extensive area of former coastline, including the spot where the Persians drew their ships onto land. The most important monument to the Greek victory over Xerxes’ forces is the Serpent Column of Plataea. It was originally set up at Delphi but later carried off at Constantine’s orders to adorn his new hippodrome at Constantinople (ancient Byzantium, modern Istanbul). The bronze column can be seen today in the park near Hagia Sophia, and the thirty-one names of the cities and islands that resisted Xerxes are still visible on the lower coils. The island of Tenos was added to the list, to recognize the heroism of the Tenian crew who brought their trireme over to the Greek side on the night before the battle of Salamis.

Herodotus’ account of the Persian Wars ends with the triumphal return of the Athenian fleet from Sestos in the autumn or early winter of 479 B.C. Thucydides began his account of Athens’ acquisition of maritime supremacy so as to pick up the story where Herodotus left off.

Themistocles instigates the building of walls at Athens, and Aristides takes the lead in creating a new “Delian League” of the Athenians and their allies: Thucydides, 1.89-93 and 1.94-97; Nepos, Life of Themistocles and Life of Aristides; Plutarch, Life of Themistocles and Life of Aristides;Diodorus Siculus, 11.38-11.47; Aristotle, Constitution of Athens, 23-24.

Cimon leads the Athenian and allied fleet in over a dozen campaigning seasons, from the early 470s to the late 460s, including a great victory over the Persians at the Eurymedon River in about 466 B.C. : Thucydides, 1.97-101; Diodorus Siculus, 11.60- 11.62; Nepos, Life of Cimon; Plutarch,Life of Cimon; Polyaenus, Stratagems, 1.34. Cimon’s stratagem of turning the course of the Strymon River against the walls of Eion is recorded only in Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.8.7. According to Plutarch, the south wall of the Acropolis was built with the proceeds from Cimon’s victory at the Eurymedon River. It is still a spectacular Athenian landmark, best viewed from the esplanade that runs from the theater of Dionysus to the theater of Herodes Atticus.

Cimon recovers the bones of Theseus from Skyros: Plutarch, Life of Theseus and Life of Cimon; also, William Blake Tyrrell and Frieda S. Brown, Athenian Myths and Institutions. The artist Mikon paints a scene showing Theseus with the sea goddess Amphitrite on the wall of the new temple of Theseus: Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.17.2-3. An Athenian red-figure kylix, now in the Louvre, is painted with the same scene: see Thomas H. Carpenter, Art and Myth in Ancient Greece, figure 244. The triakontor of Theseus in Athenian lore and ritual: Plutarch, Life of Theseus;Plato, Phaedo. The identification of the sacred triakontor with the ship Delias in an ancient lexicon was suggested by Borimir Jordan in The Athenian Navy in the Classical Period.

Themistocles flees to Persia and is welcomed by the Great King: Thucydides, 1.135-38; Diodorus Siculus, entry for the year 471-470 B.C.; Nepos, Life of Themistocles; Plutarch, Life of Themistocles. Praise of Themistocles’ genius: Thucydides, 1.138.3, translation by Rex Warner.

Based on the testimony of Plutarch in his Life of Cimon, some modern scholars argue that the Peace of Callias negotiated in 449 B.C. between Athens and Persia was preceded by a similar, short-lived peace also negotiated by Callias immediately following Cimon’s victory at the Eurymedon River in about 466 B.C. For a full review of the evidence see Ernst Badian, From Plataea to Potidaea: Studies in the History and Historiography of the Pentecontaetia.

Chapter 7. Boundless Ambition [462-446 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 95: Xenophon the Orator, Constitution of the Athenians, 1.2.

The radical democratic reforms of Ephialtes in 462-461 B.C. and the ostracism of Cimon: Aristotle, Constitution of Athens, 25-26; Diodorus Siculus, entry for the year 460-459 B.C. in 11.77 (as is often the case, Diodorus’ chronology is unreliable); Plutarch, Life of Cimon. Early career of Pericles, including his sponsorship of Aeschylus’ Persians in 472 B.C. and his association with Ephialtes: Plutarch, Life of Pericles. Quote from Aeschylus, Persians, lines 241-42.

The Athenian and allied expedition to Egypt: Thucydides, 1.104 and 1.109-111; Diodorus Siculus, entries for the years 463-462 to 460-459 B.C. in 11.71-11.77. (Diodorus’ chronology is too early, but he provides more details about the Egyptian expedition than Thucydides. The correct dates should be about 460 or 459 to 454 B.C.) Ancient evidence for the short-lived Athenian control of Dor (or Dorus) on the coast of Palestine, south of Phoenicia, is discussed by Russell Meiggs in The Athenian Empire, at pages 102, 245, and 420-21.

War in the Saronic Gulf and on the Greek mainland, including the battle of Tanagra and the circumnavigations of the Peloponnese by Tolmides and Pericles (an extended period of conflict also known as the First Peloponnesian War) from about 459 to 446 B.C. : Thucydides, 1.103-8 and 1.111-15; Diodorus Siculus, 11.78- 11.88. Inscription recording Athenian citizens of the Erectheid tribe who fell in a single year in Cyprus, Egypt, Phoenicia, Halieis, Aegina, and Megara: inscription of about 459 B.C. listed as IG II2, 929. The Athenians build Long Walls to join Athens to the coast at Phaleron and the Piraeus: David H. Conwell, Connecting a City to the Sea.

The Peace of Callias that ended the wars between Athens and Persia: Diodorus Siculus, 12.4. Thucydides does not mention this Peace of Callias, and its existence was challenged even in antiquity. Scholars are still divided on its date, nature, and exact terms.

Chapter 8. Mariners of the Golden Age [Mid-fifth Century B.C.]

Epigraph, page 110: Strabo, Geography, 1.1.16.

Everyday life for Athenian mariners: Robert Flacelière, Daily Life in Greece at the Time of Pericles. A bone of fin whale found in the Athenian Agora: John K. Papadopoulos and Deborah Ruscillo, “A Ketos in Early Athens: An Archaeology of Whales and Sea Monsters in the Greek World,”American Journal of Archaeology. Naval life at sea and ashore: M. Amit, Athens and the Sea: A Study in Athenian Sea-Power. The trireme Paralos and its crew, also the sacred trireme Ammonias and its missions to the oracle of Zeus Ammon in North Africa: Borimir Jordan, The Athenian Navy in the Classical Period. Hazards and ailments of rowers: Hippocratic Corpus—“Epidemics,” 5.32 (the man who fell on the anchor) and “On Fistulas,” 1.102 (cures for fistula of the anus in rowers). “As the Athenian goes into the harbor”: Aristophanes, Babylonians, fragment 87.

The Piraeus: Robert Garland, The Piraeus from the Fifth to the First Centuries B.C.; an overview of the Piraeus with a focus on inscriptions and religious cults. Hippodamus of Miletus: biography reconstructed by Vanessa B. Gorman in Miletos: The Ornament of Ionia. Excavations that revealed Hippodamus’ street grid and the typical Piraeus house: George A. Steinhauer, “Ancient Piraeus: The City of Themistocles and Hippodamus,” in Piraeus: Centre of Shipping and Culture. The wit who asked for silence during his haircut was King Archelaus of Macedon. Lines describing cargo of Dionysus: Hermippus, Porters, fragment 63. The Phoenician tombstone with the ship-headed god is in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

Symposia and metaphorical seafaring: M. I. Davies, “Sailing, Rowing, and Sporting in One’s Cups on the Wine-Dark Sea,” in Athens Comes of Age: From Solon to Salamis, ed. William Childs. Seafarers and sex: Jeffrey Henderson, The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Attic Comedy.

Epigraph for Part Three, page 123: Pericles’ speech to the Athenians in 430 B.C., in Thucydides, 2.64, translation by Rex Warner.

Chapter 9. The Imperial Navy [446-433 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 125: R. Kassel and C. Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci, vol. VIII, fragment 155.

The life and vision of Pericles: Plutarch, Life of Pericles; Thucydides, 2.35-46, “Pericles’ Funeral Oration”; also Donald Kagan, Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy; Philip A. Stadter, A Commentary on Plutarch’s Pericles; and Loren J. Samons, ed.,The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Pericles. The building program, including the Parthenon: Plutarch, Life of Pericles; Jeffrey M. Hurwit, The Acropolis in the Age of Pericles.

Pericles’ eloquence compared to the work of bees: Eupolis, Demes, fragment 102. Pericles explains the nature of an eclipse to his steersman: Plutarch, Life of Pericles, 35. Pericles likens Athens to the “School of Greece” and gives his opinion of the citizen who does not participate in public affairs: Thucydides, 2.41 and 2.40. Herodotus on the poor performance of the rebellious Ionian fleets at Lade in 493 B.C.: Herodotus, 6.7-16 and 7.139, translations by Aubrey de Sélincourt. Sophocles on the cowardly commander during a storm at sea: Sophocles, Ajax, lines 1142-46, translated by E. F. Watling.

The maritime empire: Russell Meiggs, The Athenian Empire, a work that includes maps of each district, lists of subject cities and the tribute that they paid, a chronological overview of the empire, and numerous specialist studies. For the expansion into the Black Sea, see also Marianna Koromila, The Greeks and the Black Sea. The Samian War of 440 B.C.: Thucydides, 1.115-17, and Diodorus Siculus, 12.27-28. The Panathenaea festival: Jenifer Neils, et al., Goddess and Polis: The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens.

Chapter 10. War and Pestilence [433-430 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 138: Aeschylus, Suppliants, lines 438-42, adapted from the translation by Philip Vellacott, Penguin Classics, 1961.

Athenian conflicts with Corinth and Megara escalate into a full-blown Peloponnesian War: Thucydides, books 1 and 2 (including all quotations attributed to Pericles); Diodorus Siculus, 12.30-45; Plutarch, Life of Pericles. The adventures of Socrates and Alcibiades at the siege of Potidaea: Plato, Symposium. Pericles on the difficulties faced by Spartans in trying to learn seamanship: Thucydides, 1.142, translation by Rex Warner. The fear felt by the people on seeing their steersman fail: Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, lines 922-23. Many attempts have been made to identify the great plague of Athens, but no known disease fits all the symptoms listed by Thucydides. Overview of the events leading up to the war, and the campaigns of the first two years: Donald Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War.

Chapter 11. Fortune Favors the Brave [430-428 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 154: Xenophon, Memorabilia, 3.1.6.

Life and character of Phormio: Eupolis’ comedy Taxiarchs (fragments); Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.23.12, with information on Phormio’s background linked to mention of his statue on the Acropolis. Pausanias mentions Phormio’s disgrace and the people’s discharging of his debts so that he can accept the command in Acarnania in the winter of 430-429 B.C. For additional details see book 3, fragment 8 of Androtion’s Atthis, or local chronicle of Attica, published with translation and commentary in Phillip Harding, Androtion and the Atthis. The lines from an Athenian comedy that describe Phormio setting up a lead tripod (instead of three silver ones) are fragment 957 in R. Kassel and C. Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci, vol. VIII.

Phormio’s early campaigns: expedition to Acarnania to capture the city of Amphilochian Argos (in the 450s?) leading to an alliance between Acarnanians and Athenians, reported in Thucydides, 2.68. Phormio uses playacting to fool the citizens of Chalcis (probably the Chalcis in Aetolia, west of Naupactus) into opening their gates: Polyaenus, Stratagems, 3.4.1. With thirty Athenian ships Phormio uses cavalry-style maneuvers to gain a victory over an enemy fleet of fifty: Polyaenus, Stratagems, 3.4.2. Polyaenus is the only source for this major battle. For a discussion of Phormio’s tactics see John R. Hale, “Phormio Crosses the T.” Phormio and two other Athenian generals bring a relief fleet to join Pericles at Samos during the Samian War of 440 B.C.: Thucydides, 1.117.

The topography and history of Naupactus: Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10.38.5. Phormio sent with twenty ships to Naupactus in winter 430-429 B.C.: Thucydides, 2.69. The little walled harbor at Naupactus is artificial and just the right size for the twenty triremes that the Athenians habitually stationed there during the Peloponnesian War. Although the harbor fortifications visible today are Venetian (Naupactus is the ancient name for Lepanto, famous for the last great battle of galleys in A.D. 1471), it is possible that the walls rest on ancient Greek foundations laid down by Phormio in the winter of 430-429 B.C.

The battle of Patras in summer 429 B.C.: Thucydides, 2.83-84, and Diodorus Siculus, 12.48. Some scholars have asserted that the “dawn wind” that disrupts the Peloponnesian kyklos seems too convenient to be true, but it still blows almost daily in the eastern part of the Gulf of Patras and is mentioned in manuals for pilots in the Mediterranean.

Thucydides calls the cape where Phormio camped Rhium of Molycria. This was also the site of the sanctuary of Poseidon. Its modern name is Antirrio, while modern Cape Rhium or Rhio lies across the channel on the southern shore. Today a spectacular suspension bridge joins the two capes.

Phormio’s speech to the mutinous crews and the battle of Naupactus: Thucydides, 2.88-92 (translation by Rex Warner), and Diodorus Siculus, 12.48 (where Phormio is called “puffed up with pride” for tackling an enemy so much more numerous than his own fleet). Some medieval manuscripts of Thucydides’ text state that Phormio faced seventy-seven enemy ships in the battle at Naupactus; others give the figure as fifty-seven. The higher figure seems more likely in view of the Peloponnesian array in four lines of ships (their line would have been shorter than Phormio’s if the Spartans commanded only fifty-seven ships) and the statement that Timocrates’ flying squadron of twenty triremes was added to the right wing, rather than being itself the right wing.

The racing turn around the anchored freighter is credited to Phormio and the Paralos in Polyaenus, Stratagems, 3.4.3. (Thucydides identifies neither the ship nor its commander.) Victory trophies from the battle set up in the stoa of the Athenians at Delphi, with an inscription also mentioning the dedication to Poseidon and Theseus at Rhium: Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10.11.5.

Phormio’s tactical genius: Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society, where a comparison is drawn between Phormio’s encircling maneuver against the Peloponnesian kyklos at Patras and a traditional Mediterranean tuna hunt or “mattanza.” See also John R. Hale, “General Phormio’s Art of War,” in Polis and Polemos, ed. Charles D. Hamilton and Peter Krentz, in which Phormio’s approach to tactics is compared to that of the slightly earlier Chinese military genius Sunzi or Sun-tzu.

Chapter 12. Masks of Comedy, Masks of Command [428-421 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 171: Sophocles, Antigone, lines 715-17.

Historical narrative: Thucydides, 2.93-5.25; Diodorus Siculus, 12.49-74; Plutarch, Life of Nicias. Modern works on this period include Donald Kagan, The Archidamian War, and John B. Wilson, Pylos 425 B.C. : A Historical and Topographical Study of Thucydides’ Account of the Campaign.Remarkable archaeological evidence for Cleon’s successful expedition is a crumpled bronze hoplite shield inscribed THE ATHENIANS FROM THE LACEDAEMONIANS ON PYLOS that was discovered in a cistern during the American excavations in the Agora: see John M. Camp, The Athenian Agora: Excavations in the Heart of Classical Athens.

The comedies of Aristophanes: Acharnians in 425 B.C. (source of the exchange about the beetle and lamp wick setting fire to the Navy Yard), Horsemen, or Knights, in 424 (source of his comparison of a playwright to a rower working his way up to the office of steersman, as well as the choralHymn to Poseidon), and Peace in 421. For a reconstruction of the conditions under which Aristophanes wrote and produced his plays, see Kenneth McLeish, The Theatre of Aristophanes.

Chapter 13. The Sicilian Expedition [415-413 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 185: Sophocles, Ajax, lines 1081-83.

Historical narrative: Thucydides, books 6 and 7. (Nicias’ letter sent to the Assembly in winter 414-413 is quoted from Thucydides, 7.11-15, translation by Rex Warner.) Additional historical material: Diodorus Siculus, 12.77-13.33; Nepos, Life of Alcibiades;Plutarch, Life of Alcibiades and Life of Nicias; Polyaenus, Stratagems, 1.39 (Nicias), 1.40 (Alcibiades), 1.42 (Gylippus), and 1.43 (Hermocrates). Excavations at Athens have unearthed official inscriptions related to various phases of the Sicilian campaign, ranging from the vote of the Assembly that enlarged the original plan of the expedition to Syracuse, to the list of Alcibiades’ personal property put up for public auction after his condemnation in absentia. Modern accounts of the Athenian campaign at Syracuse include Donald Kagan, The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition, and Peter Green, Armada from Athens. Timon of Athens congratulates Alcibiades: Life of Alcibiades, 16. The promise to show the Athenians that he is “still alive”: Plutarch, Life of Alcibiades, 22.

Archaeological surveys and excavations at Syracuse have revealed that in the fifth century B.C. the Little Harbor covered an extensive area that is now dry land. The theater and the nearby quarries where the Athenian prisoners were held after their surrender can still be visited today. The impressive fortifications that crown the heights of Epipolae postdate the Athenian campaign. On the other hand the inconvenient rocky coast at Plemmyrium where Nicias stationed his triremes is still exposed, as is the stretch of shore south of the marshy estuary of the Anapus River in the Great Harbor where the Athenians built their stockaded camp. The remains of ships and weapons that sank during the naval battles in the Great Harbor now lie sealed under a protective layer of mud from the Anapus River. In this zone underwater archaeologists may one day recover extensive physical evidence for the battles described by Thucydides, from javelin points to entire charred hulls of Syracusan fire ships.

Epigraph for Part Four, page 203: Pericles’ Funeral Oration of 431 B.C., in Thucydides, 2.43, translation by Rex Warner.

Chapter 14. The Rogue’s Return [412-407 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 205: Sophocles, Women of Trachis, lines 655-57.

Historical narrative of Athenian naval recovery after the Sicilian disaster, the split between oligarchic Athens and the democratic fleet on Samos, and naval victories up to the return of Alcibiades to Athens in 407 B.C.: Thucydides, book 8, which breaks off after the victory at Cynossema in autumn 411 B.C.; Xenophon, Hellenica, 1.1-5 (including text of the Spartan message home after the battle of Cyzicus); Aristotle, Constitution of Athens, 29-33 (on the oligarchic regime of the Four Hundred); Diodorus Siculus, 13.34-69; Nepos, Life of Thrasybulus and Life of Alcibiades;Plutarch, Life of Alcibiades. For this and the following two chapters, an authoritative account with references to modern scholarship can be found in Donald Kagan, The Fall of the Athenian Empire. “Men in exile feed on dreams”: Aeschylus, Agamemnon, line 1668, translation by Gilbert Murray. The observation that democracies are at their best when things look worst: Thucydides, 8.1. “The sea can wash away all human ills”: Euripides, Iphigenia Among the Taurians, line 1192. The Athenians both love and hate Alcibiades: Aristophanes, Frogs, lines 1425-26. The Spartans as “most convenient enemies”: Thucydides, 8.99.

Despite the central role that the Hellespont played in Greek history, the waterway and its coasts have not been extensively explored by archaeologists. The exact location of many sites, including important cities like Sestos, remains to some extent conjectural. Part of the problem lies with the burial of ancient settlements under modern construction. In addition, the course of the stream may have altered over the last twenty-five hundred years, eroding away some classical sites altogether and leaving others well inland from the modern coastline. It is clear that the naval battles of Cynossema and Abydos (fought in late summer 411 B.C.) must have taken place in the lower reaches of the Hellespont, but it is difficult to be more precise at this time.

Cyzicus, a Greek city on the southern coast of the Sea of Marmara, or Propontis, presents a different set of problems. First, aerial photographs show that the ancient harbor of Cyzicus, held by the Spartans in the spring of 410 B.C., lay on the sandy isthmus that joins the peninsula to the Asiatic mainland, but is now completely silted up. Second, the accounts of Xenophon, Plutarch, and Diodorus (supplemented by Frontinus, a Roman writer on military tactics and stratagems) do not make it absolutely clear where the Athenians set their army ashore on the night before the battle. In 2006, in company with Muharrem Zeybek of Izmir, I conducted a survey of the mainland shore west of the isthmus. We found that the steep and rocky coasts would have prevented a landing anywhere except at the point where the isthmus joins the mainland. This spot was identified as Mindarus’ emergency landing place (equivalent to the ancient site of Cleri, or Kleroi, “the allotments”) by Kagan, Fall of the Athenian Empire, pages 242-43. I believe that in the darkness before dawn the Athenians set their army ashore on the long sandy beach of modern Erdek (ancient Artaki), close to the unwalled city of Cyzicus but hidden from Spartan lookouts by a high rocky spur of land. Alcibiades’ speech to his men before the battle of Cyzicus: Xenophon, Hellenica, 1.1.14, adapted from translation by Rex Warner.

The little island called Polydoros, where Thrasybulus and Theramenes concealed their fleet and where the Athenians erected a trophy after the battle, lies just off the point of this rocky spur, and is separated from it by the channel through which Alcibiades led his flying squadron of twenty to lure Mindarus away from the safety of Cyzicus harbor. It rained heavily when I visited Erdek in 2006, with conditions like those Xenophon described on the night before the battle. As a result of the downpour some of the modern roads and streets were impassable due to runoff and mudslides. The Athenian troops would have found it hard going to work their way along the coast to the northern edge of Cyzicus, but they could certainly have counted on accomplishing their mission undetected by the Spartans who held the city. Spartans’ message home after their defeat at Cyzicus: Xenophon, Hellenica, 1.1.23. The Athenians now elect as generals men who would formerly not have been chosen as wine inspectors: Eupolis, Cities, fragment 219.

Chapter 15. Of Heroes and Hemlock [407-406 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 221: Euripides, Hecuba, lines 28-30, translated by John Davie, Penguin Classics, 1998.

Historical narrative of the naval battles at Notium, Mytilene, and the Arginusae Islands, and the trial of the Athenian generals in 406 B.C.: Xenophon, Hellenica, 1.5-7 (including Euryptolemus’ speech in defense of the generals, translation by Rex Warner); Oxyrhynchus historian or “P,” fragment 4, mentioning a naulochein, or naval ambush, associated with the battle of Notium; Diodorus Siculus, 13.69-103 (including the episode of Thrasyllus’ dream before the battle of the Arginusae Islands); Nepos, Life of Conon;Plutarch, Life of Alcibiades. Message of Callicratidas to Conon regarding Athenian fornication with the sea: Xenophon, Hellenica, 1.6.15.

Socrates as epistates or president of the Assembly at the trial of the generals: Xenophon, Hellenica, 1.7.15, and Memorabilia, 1.1.18 and 4.4.2; Plato, Apology, 32, and Gorgias, 473. Socrates is not mentioned in the account of the trial in Diodorus Siculus, 13.101-2, nor is his participation included in the anecdotes about Socrates presented in Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Because Socrates’ heroic role at the trial is attested to only by his former students Xenophon and Plato, some modern historians doubt the truth of their account.

There are a number of important Athenian official inscriptions that survive from these years, including a marble slab that thanks king Archelaus of Macedon for allowing the Athenians to build new warships in his country. See Russell Meiggs, Trees and Timber in the Ancient Mediterranean World, page 128. The most important inscription is IG II2 1951 (now renumbered IG i3 1032), which is spread over a number of fragments that were found in the area of the Erechtheum on the Acropolis and the slope below it. This is a list of complete crews for a fleet of triremes. At least eight ships are represented on the surviving fragments. Each ship was commanded by a pair of trierarchs, an innovation that links the inscription to the last decade of the fifth century B.C. or later. Each crew includes large numbers of non-Athenians and slaves (identified by place origin and name of master, who is in some cases a trierarch on board the same ship).

Any explanation of this inscription should take into account its provenance: the sanctuary atop the Acropolis, not the Agora or the Navy Yard at the Piraeus. (Most of the fragments came from the foundations of a small Christian church that was erected within the shell of the Erechtheum.) Lionel Casson supported the interpretation of earlier scholars that linked this inscription to the battle of the Arginusae Islands. See Casson’s Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World, page 323. The inscription may have been set up on the Acropolis as part of a victory monument. It is my belief that the placement on sacred ground would also ensure that slaves who fought in the battle could point to a permanent and ineradicable record of their emancipation. Similar inscriptions attesting to the emancipation of slaves cover the wall of the Athenian Stoa in Apollo’s sanctuary at Delphi. The interpretation of events presented in this book places the emancipation of the slaves before the battle as an emergency measure to man the ships (like the offer of Athenian citizenship to metics or resident aliens), rather than bestowed in gratitude after the battle as is commonly thought.

An important ancient source on the question of slaves in the navy is Xenophon the Orator (Pseudo-Xenophon or the “Old Oligarch”) whose Constitution of the Athenians has been quoted in this chapter to show Athenian attitudes toward and treatment of slaves. Xenophon the Orator noted that slaves learned to row when they accompanied their masters to sea, and that they earned bonus money for themselves when their masters hired them out to the navy. Whether they worked in the Navy Yard or on board the triremes is not specified. I follow Lionel Casson, John Morrison, and other scholars in holding that in Athens slaves did not row on warships except in exceptional cases such as the battle of the Arginusae Islands (and if these men were freed before the battle, then slaves did not row there either). Other scholars believe that slaves routinely rowed on Athenian warships and also served as petty officers: see Borimir Jordan, The Athenian Navy in the Classical Period, and Peter Hunt, Slaves, Warfare, and Ideology in the Greek Historians.

Topography helps explain the Athenian disaster at Notium and the Athenian victory at the Arginusae Islands, though uncertainties about the layout of ancient Mytilene on Lesbos still leave us in the dark about the exact location of its inner and outer harbors, and how Conon moved his triremes from one to the other. With regard to Notium, lying west of Ephesus with a view south to Mount Mycale and the island of Samos, the ancient town lay on a high promontory that blocked off the view toward Ephesus for anyone on the beach below. Thus the Athenian trierarchs could see nothing of Lysander’s sudden attack on the squadron of the rash steersman Antiochus. The promontory would have continued to screen the approach of Lysander’s fleet until the last minute, resulting in the scramble of Athenian launch ings from the beach at Notium and the ultimate victory of the Spartans.

Visiting the Arginusae Islands in 2006, I told the fisherman who kindly ferried me out to the archipelago from the coastal village of Bademli that I only wanted to see the two big islands. He insisted that we visit a third island, one that is omitted from many modern maps. It lay north of the outer Arginusae, surmounted by a crumbling chapel and surrounded by reefs and flocks of cormorants. Clearly in antiquity this had been an island of considerable size. The half mile of sea between it and the northern tip of the outer Arginusae was great enough to accommodate the Athenian right wing, which would then have been protected on its south flank by the reefs of the big island, and on its north and most exposed flank by the islet. The presence of this islet also explains why Xenophon described the opposite or south wing of the Athenian formation as being “out to sea,” since there was no islet in that direction to protect the outermost triremes (Xenophon, Hellenica, 1.6.29). It also gives more point to Diodorus’ statement that Thrasyllus “embraced” or symperiélabe the Arginusae Islands in his formation (Diodorus Siculus, 13.98.4). The eastern island lies too far away to have been incorporated in the Athenian battle line; it must be the northern islet that justified Diodorus in referring to islands in the plural.

Chapter 16. Rowing to Hades [405-399 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 233: Sophocles, Antigone, lines 951-54, translated by Robert Fagles, Penguin Classics, 1982.

Historical narrative: Thucydides, 5.26 (foretelling the end of the Peloponnesian War after twenty-seven years of fighting); Xenophon, Hellenica, book 2; Diodorus Siculus, 13.103.4-14.33.6; Nepos, Life of Alcibiades, Life of Lysander, and Life of Thrasybulus;Plutarch, Life of Alcibiades andLife of Lysander; Polyaenus, Stratagems, 1.45 (Lysander). Athenian maritime concerns in the spring of 405 B.C.: Aristophanes’ comedy Frogs. The Spartan admiral Lysander believes in fooling boys with knucklebones and men with oaths: Plutarch, Life of Lysander, 8. Athenian generals at Aegospotami dismiss Alcibiades from their camp: Xenophon, Hellenica, 2.1, translation by Rex Warner (as is the following). The arrival of the Paralos at the Piraeus with news of the disaster at Aegospotami: quote from Xenophon, Hellenica, 2.2. The delegate from Phocis changes the mood of the conference in 404 B.C. by singing a chorus from Euripides’ Electra: Plutarch, Life of Lysander, 15. The philosopher Socrates describes the deuteros plous or second voyaging that altered the course of his career: Plato, Phaedo 99D and Statesman 300B. Trial, imprisonment, and death of Socrates: Plato, Apology and Phaedo; Xenophon, Apology; and Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, book 2, “Life of Socrates.”

The reconstruction of the battle of Aegospotami that is presented in this book differs from previous interpretations. It is based on surveys of the Gallipoli peninsula that I conducted in 2006 with Muharrem Zeybek. Ancient sources imply that Aegospotami lay across the Hellespont from the city of Lampsacus, headquarters of the Spartan fleet; that is, downstream from the port town of Gelibolu on the European shore. Based on that evidence, most modern historians have been forced to conclude that the battle of Aegospotami was decided by nothing more than Athenian folly and Spartan opportunism. Locating Aegospotami directly across from Lampsacus also makes nonsense of many details of action that are reported in the accounts of Xenophon, Diodorus, and Plutarch.

Standing on a rooftop in modern Lapseki on the site of ancient Lampsacus, it is possible to count the windows on buildings on the opposite shore using nothing more than the naked eye: there would have been no need for Lysander to send a scout ship to spy on the Athenians, let alone two or three (Plutarch, Life of Lysander, 10). The Hellespont may have been even narrower in antiquity, as it appears from the indentation on the European shore with its eroding cliffs that the current is cutting steadily into the northern bank. There are no long sandy beaches along this coast such as the Athenian generals would have required for their large fleet of triremes. Indeed, a rapidly flowing stream tends to deposit sand only at bends and corners, not along straightaways. On the shore opposite Lampsacus, near the traditionally accepted site of Aegospotami, I encountered a gang of diligent workers armed with shovels, who were attempting to enhance the value of their vacation homes by creating an artificial sandy beach where nature had failed to provide one. They were using a concrete embankment as a retaining wall for their efforts.

Four additional questions arise if Aegospotami is placed within the channel of the Hellespont. First, why were the Athenians short of supplies? They were closer to Sestos than Lysander and should have been able to set up a ferry service to bring food from the granaries there.

Second, how could Alcibiades have seen the Athenian camp from his fortress at Pactye? Xenophon, who rowed past the site of the great battle when homeward bound with the Ten Thousand in 399 B.C., states that Aegospotami was visible from Pactye, which lay on the isthmus of the Gallipoli peninsula (Xenophon, Hellenica, 2.1.25). Yet I found during a visit to Pactye that the inner reaches of the Hellespont were screened from view by the high ground inland from Gelibolu.

Third, how could Lysander have expected under any circumstances to take the Athenians by surprise? If Aegospotami lay directly across from Lampsacus, Lysander’s movements would have been as easily visible to the Athenians as theirs were to him.

Fourth, how can we explain Conon’s stop at the promontory of Abarnis if he started from a point farther downstream on the Hellespont? He was trying desperately to escape to the open sea, but would have had to row upstream toward Spartan-held Lampsacus to collect Lysander’s cruising sails according to the traditional reconstruction of the battle.

The solution to these problems seemed apparent to me following a survey of the coastline between Pactye on the Sea of Marmara and the middle reaches of the Hellespont. North of modern Gelibolu stretches a sandy beach over a mile in length, cut by two small streams. This is the only beach on the European side long enough to accommodate the 180 Athenian triremes, and it is backed by a plain ideal for a camp. The beach is clearly visible from the site of Alcibiades’ fortress, but is hidden from Lampsacus by a turn of the coastline and by a headland. Beyond the headland, and closer to Gelibolu, is a smaller sandy beach.

The topographical setting has led me to believe that the long beach was Aegospotami, taking its name from the two streams that empty into the Sea of Marmara midway along the strand. Lysander would indeed have needed two or three scout ships to see around the corner: one out in the Sea of Marmara with an oblique view of the beach and the plain behind it; the other one or two triremes would have been posted at the mouth of the Hellespont within sight of Lampsacus. From that position they could relay to Lysander the message flashed from the polished bronze shield on the leading scout ship.

Moreover, we can now understand the predicament of the Athenian generals in choosing a place for their camp. By beaching their ships at Aegospotami on the Sea of Marmara they could prevent Lysander from cruising eastward and taking Byzantium (which he in fact did immediately after his victory). At the same time, the Spartan fleet at Lampsacus now lay on the sea route between the Athenian camp and the food supplies at Sestos, forcing the men to desert the ships and go overland in search of provisions.

Let us now try to explain some of the crucial points in the battle. Once Lysander had decided to attack, he had to count on the possibility of fighting a naval battle. Accordingly, he landed at the low promontory of Abarnis near Lampsacus to unload his heavy cruising sails (and presumably masts as well). He cannot have placed them there earlier, or the Athenians would have seen them from their ships during their daily row between Aegospotami and Lampsacus.

From Abarnis, Lysander could then cross to a landing place on the European side that was still screened from the view of the Athenians at Aegospotami, namely the short beach south of the headland. I take this to be the maneuver lying behind Plutarch’s otherwise inexplicable statement that as Lysander’s ships attacked the Athenian camp, the Spartan land forces ran along the seacoast to capture a headland (Plutarch, Life of Lysander, 11). Lysander was showing that infinite capacity for taking pains that is the mark of a genius. Not only had he prepared for a naval battle, but he had also ensured that the Spartans would establish a beachhead near the Athenian camp even if his direct assault on Aegospotami from the sea failed.

In the event, however, there was no naval battle, and Lysander’s assault did not fail. Only a few Athenian ships escaped, including the Paralos and Conon’s little squadron. Plutarch’s account of the battle makes it clear that Lysander was able to remain hidden from view until he was so close to the beach that the splashing oars of his ships were heard by the Athenians before they were seen. Once Conon had reached open water beyond the chaos on shore, his escape route to the Aegean would take him within sight of the Abarnis promontory, and provide him with an unexpected opportunity to supply his ships with cruising sails for the long journey ahead.

Can we explain the ancient statements implying that the beach of Aegospotami lay within the Hellespont? The most explicit ancient testimony about the location of Aegospotami comes from Xenophon and Strabo. The latter was an Asiatic Greek from a town south of the Black Sea who wrote a geography of the Roman world in the late first century B.C. at the time of the emperor Augustus. Strabo (7.331, fragment 55) noted that on a voyage up the Hellespont one would pass the ruins of Aegospotami before reaching the city of Kallipolis (modern Gelibolu) at the entrance to the Sea of Marmara. What are we to make of this testimony?

At the time of the battle in 405 B.C. there was no town at Aegospotami but only an open beach. I believe that the polis of Aegospotami was established by the Spartans in the years immediately following Lysander’s great victory, much as Octavian (the future Augustus) established the city of Nicopolis in western Greece to commemorate his defeat of the fleets of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at Actium in 31 B.C. Aegospotami minted coins bearing the image of a goat, a pun on “Goat Rivers,” but also the head of Demeter, indicating cultivation of grain. If the city was built inland, on the high ground to the north of the Hellespont, then its ruins could have been a landmark inside the channel even if the beach that inspired its name lay to the east, at the extreme end of the Sea of Marmara.

As for our other ancient source, Xenophon approached the battle site from the east, voyaging toward the mouth of the Hellespont across the Sea of Marmara in 399 B.C., as noted above. Seen from this direction, rather than from the bird’s-eye vantage point of modern maps, one could indeed describe the long beach at Aegospotami as lying across from Lampsacus, and then go on (as Xenophon does) to state the width of the Hellespont at this point.

I believe that the details given by ancient historians about the action at Aegospotami outweigh the geographical testimony. Their accounts of Alcibiades’ view of the beach, of the Athenian inability to get supplies from Sestos, and of Lysander’s plan of attack all make it likely that ancient Aegospotami was the beach north of modern Gelibolu. It seems, however, that only the discovery of the meteorite or asteroid that is said to have fallen at Aegospotami in 468-467 B.C. (see Plutarch, Life of Lysander, 12, and the chronicle on the Parian Marble) will settle the question for good. Since it appears that the two streams have heavily sedimented the plain, the stone that fell from the sky may lie far below the modern surface.

Epigraph for Part Five, page 247: Pericles’ speech to the Athenians in 430 B.C., in Thucydides, 2.64, translated by Rex Warner.

Chapter 17. Passing the Torch [397-371 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 249: Euripides, Iphigenia Among the Taurians, lines 114-17.

Historical narrative of the wars waged against the Spartans by the Persians and the Greeks, including the Athenians: Xenophon, Hellenica, books 3-6; Isocrates, Panegyricus and other orations; fragments on papyrus of the Oxyrhynchus historian or “P”; Diodorus Siculus, books 14 and 15; Nepos, Life of Conon, Life of Thrasybulus, Life of Iphicrates, Life of Chabrias, Life of Timotheus, and Life of Phocion; Plutarch, Life of Phocion; Polyaenus, Stratagems, 1.48 (Conon), 3.9 (Iphicrates), 3.10 (Timotheus, including battle of Alyzia), and 3.11 (Chabrias).

Conon urges Pharnabazos to injure the Spartans by sending ships and money to Athens in 493 B.C.: Xenophon, Hellenica, 4.8.9, translation by Rex Warner. The idea that walls should “slumber in the bosom of the earth”: Plato, Laws, 778, adapted from the translation by Benjamin Jowett. Resurrection of Athenian naval power: Jack Cargill, The Second Athenian League: Empire or Free Alliance?; and Robin Seager, “The King’s Peace and the Second Athenian Confederacy,” in The Cambridge Ancient History Volume VI: The Fourth Century B.C., ed. D. M. Lewis. Rebuilding the Long Walls, new construction in the Piraeus, and the monument to Themistocles: David H. Conwell, Connecting a City to the Sea; Robert Garland, The Piraeus from the Fifth to the First Centuries B.C.; and George A. Steinhauer, Piraeus: Centre of Shipping and Culture. Reconstruction of the shipsheds in the Navy Yard at Zea Harbor, including double shipsheds to house pairs of triremes end to end: Bjørn Lovén et al., “The Zea Harbour Project.” The deforestation of Attica in the fourth century B.C.: Plato, Critias, 111, adapted from Jowett’s translation.

In the Life of Themistocles by Plutarch, Themistocles’ tomb quotation is attributed to Plato the comic poet, not the philosopher. Texts of King’s Peace of 386 B.C. and Callistratus’ speech of 371 B.C.: Xenophon, Hellenica, 5.1.31 and 6.3.14, translations by Rex Warner. Timotheus, the lobsters and the goddess Tyche or Fortune in the world’s first known political cartoon: Aelian, Historical Miscellany, 13.43. Timotheus rebukes his superstitious steersman at Alyzia in 375 B.C.: Polyaenus, Stratagems, 3.10.2., adapted from the translation by E. Wheeler and P. Krentz. Iphicrates’ quote, “Consider what I was, and what I now am”: Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1.9, 1367B. Praise for Iphicrates’ training cruise around the Peloponnese in 373 B.C.: Xenophon, Hellenica, 6.2.7-8. Ancient sources for the careers of Cephisodotus and Praxiteles as well as the marriage that linked the families of Timotheus and Iphicrates can be found in John K. Davies’ Athenian Propertied Families, 600-300 B.C.

Chapter 18. Triremes of Atlantis [370-354 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 269: Plato, Timaeus, 25D.

Historical sources for the rise of Athenian maritime imperialism and the War with the Allies or “Social War”: Diodorus Siculus, book 16, chapters 7, 21, and 22; also Nepos, Life of Chabrias, Life of Timotheus, and Life of Iphicrates; and Plutarch, Life of Phocion.Responses to the War with the Allies and to the Athenian financial crisis in the decade of the 350s: Isocrates, “On the Peace,” 16, and Xenophon, “Poroi” (“Revenues”). For Periander’s reform of the trierarchy see Vincent Gabrielsen, Financing the Athenian Fleet.

Plato’s career, writings, and school at the Academy: Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, book 3, “Life of Plato.” Plato’s maritime metaphors: excerpts from Plato’s dialogues Republic, Critias, Laws, and Statesman. Athenian tribute payments to King Minos of Crete: Plato, Laws,706, translation by T. J. Saunders. Negative assessment of Themistocles, Cimon, and Pericles: Plato, Gorgias, 518-19. Cosmic beam of light is like the girding cables of a trireme: Plato, Republic, 616, translation by Paul Shorey. Gods govern humans as steersmen guide ships: Plato, Critias,109. Laying down the keel of a human soul: Plato, Laws, 803, translation by Saunders. Allegory of the true steersman: Plato, Republic, 488. The Atlantis myth: Plato’s dialogues Timaeus and Critias. The Atlantis myth as an allegory of maritime and imperial powers, especially Athens: Pierre Vidal-Naquet, The Atlantis Story: A Short History of Plato’s Myth; and Vidal-Naquet’s “Athens and Atlantis: Structure and Meaning of a Platonic Myth,” in his collection of articles titled The Black Hunter.

Chapter 19. The Voice of the Navy [354-339 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 280: Euripides, Andromache, lines 479-82, translated by John Davie, Penguin Classics, 1998.

Historical narrative: Diodorus Siculus, book 16; Demosthenes, Philippics, Olynthiacs, and other orations; Aeschines, On the Embassy and other orations; Isocrates, To Philip and other orations. A reconstruction of these decades is presented by J. R. Ellis in “Macedonian Hegemony Created,” inThe Cambridge Ancient History Volume VI: The Fourth Century B.C., ed. D. M. Lewis et al.

The life and career of the orator Demosthenes: Plutarch, Life of Demosthenes. Evidence for the orator’s family and early experience as a trierarch is presented in the entry for Demosthenes in John K. Davies, Athenian Propertied Families, 600-300 B.C. Aeschines and other contemporaries questioned the practical value of Demosthenes’ opposition to Philip. The same negative view was expressed in the second century B.C. by Polybius, followed by a host of historical writers down to the present day. This book, taking Demosthenes’ consistent championship of the navy as a starting point, attempts to offer a more positive view of his personality, politics, and patriotism.

Passages quoted from Demosthenes’ orations to the Assembly: On the Navy Boards, 1 and 29, adapted from the translation of J. H. Vince; First Philippic, 15, 16, 29, 40, and 50, translation by R. D. Milns; Third Philippic, 51 and 69. Demosthenes reflects on Philip’s advantages over a democratic leader such as himself, “First, he had absolute rule over his followers . . .”: On the Crown, 235-36, translation by John Keaney.

Chapter 20. In the Shadow of Macedon [339-324 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 294: Isocrates, Panegyricus 21, adapted from the translation by George Norlin, Loeb Classical Library, 1928.

“If the lightning that struck us”: Demosthenes, On the Crown, 194, adapted from translation by John Keaney. Historical narrative of Macedonian victories, the recognition by the Greeks of first Philip and then Alexander as their supreme war leaders, and Alexander’s campaigns in Asia: Diodorus Siculus, books 16 and 17; Plutarch, Life of Demosthenes and Life of Alexander; and narratives of Alexander’s expedition by Arrian, Quintus Curtius Rufus, and Justin (epitomizing the history of Pompeius Trogus). For a comprehensive history of Alexander’s career see A. B. Bosworth, Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great.

New ships added to the Athenian navy, quadriremes and quinqueremes: John Morrison, “Hellenistic Oared Warships 399-31 B.C.,” in The Age of the Galley: Mediterranean Oared Vessels Since Pre-Classical Times. Philo’s Arsenal: Elvind Lorenzen, The Arsenal at Piraeus.

The philosophical school at the Lyceum: Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, book 5, “Life of Aristotle” and “Life of Theophrastus.” Excerpts from three treatises deriving from the school of Aristotle—Problems, Meteorology, and Mechanics—are quoted or adapted from the English versions in J. Barnes, ed., The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation. Sources for quotations from the works of Aristotle are as follows: “From the collection of constitutions”: Nicomachean Ethics, 1181B; “The constitution to which Aristides pointed and Ephialtes accomplished”: The Constitution of Athens, 41, translation by P. J. Rhodes; “At Athens there is a difference between the dwellers in the city itself and those in the Piraeus”: Politics, 5.3; “The large population associated with a mob of seaman”: Politics, 7.6, the two translations from the Politics being by T. A. Sinclair and T. J. Saunders.

The monument of Lysicrates, with a frieze showing Dionysus transforming Etruscan pirates into dolphins, and the building projects of Lycurgus: John M. Camp, The Archaeology of Athens. The colonizing expedition of 324 B.C. to the Adriatic led by Miltiades and including Lysicrates as a trierarch: Athenian inscription found in the nineteenth century at the Piraeus, inscribed on a broken marble slab, and numbered IG II2, 1629. For translation and commentary, see P. J. Rhodes and Robin Osborne, Greek Historical Inscriptions 404-323 B.C. (Oxford, U.K., 2003).

Chapter 21. The Last Battle [324-322 B.C.]

Epigraph, page 311: Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, lines 68-69.

Historical narrative of Alexander’s last years and Athenian leadership in the war against the Macedonians: Diodorus Siculus, books 17 and 18; Plutarch, Life of Alexander, Life of Demosthenes, and Life of Phocion. The opposition of upper-class Athenians to the war: Diodorus Siculus, 18.10. The Athenians call on the Greeks to follow their lead in making war on the Macedonians after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.: Diodorus Siculus, 18.10.1-2.

Naval battles of the Hellenic War (also known as the Lamian War) in 322 B.C.: Diodorus Siculus, 18.15, in which two naval battles and destruction of Athenian ships are mentioned; also Plutarch, Life of Demetrius, in which the false report of victory at the battle of Amorgos and the towing home of wrecks is described, and Moralia, 338A, where Plutarch refers to the light Athenian losses at Amorgos, in contrast to the glory that Cleitus claimed for his victory. Thucydides’ verdict that the Athenians had lost the Peloponnesian War because of their own internal dissen sions: Thucydides, 2.6.65.

The version of the naval war against the Macedonians presented in this book retains Diodorus’ statement that Cleitus destroyed many Athenian ships near the Echinades Islands in western Greece (perhaps by catching them on shore, as Lysander had done at Aegospotami). It also equates Diodorus’ two defeats that Cleitus inflicted on the Athenian fleet under Euetion with, first, the shadowy operation in the Hellespont referred to in a couple of inscriptions and, second, the famous battle at the island of Amorgos in the Cyclades. The battle of Amorgos is the only one of these naval actions listed on the ancient chronological table known as the Parian Marble, where it is entered under the year 323-322 B.C. Current scholarly views on how best to deal with this meager and scrappy evidence can be found in articles by Peter Green and Brian Bosworth, in The Macedonians in Athens, 322-229 B.C., ed. Olga Palagia and Stephen V. Tracy (Oxford, 2003).

The breaking of Athenian democracy: Diodorus Siculus, 18.18, and Plutarch, Life of Phocion. The manuscripts of Diodorus, book 18, state that according to the terms of surrender to the Macedonians, twenty-two thousand Athenians lost their citizenship rights. Diodorus’ figure is commonly emended to twelve thousand, to match the number given by Plutarch. Peter Green has suggested that twelve thousand was the number of Athenian citizens who actually went into exile, while the remainder stayed home despite abusive treatment. (Peter Green, “Occupation and Co-existence: The Impact of Macedonians in Athens, 323-307,” in Macedonians in Athens, cited above.) The ancient evidence is also discussed by Lawrence Tritle in Phocion the Good.

The disharmony between upper and lower classes that appeared repeatedly in Athenian history was best described by Plutarch in his Life of Pericles, chapter 11: “Below the surface of affairs in Athens, there had existed from the very beginning a kind of flaw or seam, such as one finds in a piece of iron, which gave a hint of the rift that divided the aims of the common people and the aristocrats.” (Translation adapted from Ian Scott-Kilvert.) Nicias reminds the Assembly that a trireme’s crew can perform at its peak for only a short time: Thucydides, 7.14.

The Athenian navy ceased to exist in 322 B.C. following the Macedonian garrison’s occupation of the Piraeus, when the Assembly allowed the onshore administrative organization of the fleet and the Navy Yard to lapse. After that watershed date, Athens occasionally launched ad hoc fleets of warships, just as any Mediterranean city might do to meet a crisis or fulfill a commitment to a hegemon or ally. In the decade following their loss of maritime autonomy, the Athenians several times sent out fleets at the behest of Macedonian rulers (Diodorus, 18.5.8). In 279 B.C. Athenian warships rescued Greeks who attempted to block an invading army of Gauls at Thermopylae, and some years later the Assembly sent five ships westward to aid the Romans in their war against Carthage (Pausanias, 1.4.3 and 1.29.14). Philo’s Arsenal and the Navy Yard at the Piraeus endured until 86 B.C., when they were destroyed at the orders of the Roman general Sulla.


Aeschines (ca. 397-322 B.C.), Athenian actor turned orator. He was the principal political opponent of Demosthenes during the period of conflict with Macedon. Aeschines’ three surviving speeches provide valuable insights into the range of public opinion at Athens, along with details about contemporary personalities, events, and policies.

Aeschylus (ca. 525-455 B.C.), Athenian playwright. A veteran of the battles at Marathon and Salamis, Aeschylus frequently alluded to maritime and military matters in his tragedies, of which seven survive. His Persians includes a poetic account of the battle of Salamis.

Androtion (ca. 410-340 B.C.), Athenian “atthidographer” or chronicler of the local history of Attica. Androtion served as governor of Amorgos during the time of the Second Maritime League. Almost seventy fragments of his work survive.

Aristophanes (ca. 450-385 B.C.), Athenian playwright. His surviving comedies—from Acharnians of 425 B.C. to Plutus of 388 B.C.—are an invaluable source for reconstructing the political, social, sexual, and maritime life of Athenians in the Golden Age.Horsemen of 424 B.C. and Frogs of 405 B.C. are particularly important for their references to the Athenian navy.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), philosopher, born at Stagira in northern Greece. His school at the Lyceum maintained Athens’ place as the center of Greek philosophy. A pupil of Plato, Aristotle was famous for having tutored Alexander the Great and for his biological fieldwork in Lesbos with Theophrastus. His Rhetoric culls naval and maritime turns of phrase from contemporary orators, while his Politics shares his teacher Plato’s negative view of the effects of naval power on a city-state. The corpus of works attributed to Aristotle or his school include treatises called Mechanics, Meteorology, and Problems, all of which contain material relating to ships and the sea. In the late nineteenth century, in a most important discovery in the field of classical papyrology, a copy of aConstitution of Athens attributed to Aristotle was found among the reams of ancient papyri in the British Museum. Amid its chronological review of Athens’ changing political systems, this long-lost work provides many new details about naval history as well.

Ctesias (fifth century B.C.), Greek medical doctor from Cnidus in Asia Minor who served at the court of the Persian king Artaxerxes II. His history of the Persian Empire survives only in fragments but differs from the accounts of Herodotus and other writers especially with regard to numbers of troops and ships. References both to the expedition of Xerxes and to the Athenian expedition to Egypt in the 450s appear among the fragments of Ctesias.

Demosthenes (ca. 384-322 B.C.), Athenian orator and advocate of naval power. Posterity has remembered him best for his Philippics, brilliant speeches that attacked the Macedonian menace under Philip II.

Diodorus Siculus (first century B.C.), Sicilian Greek historian. His encyclopedic library of classical history provides alternative versions for events recounted by Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon, drawing on such lost writers as Hellanicus of Lesbos, Ephorus of Cyme, and perhaps the Oxyrhynchus historian or “P” (see below). Diodorus’ reputation has fluctuated more wildly than that of any other ancient writer, but for some events, such as the Peace of Callias and even entire battles, he remains an important source.

Diogenes Laertius (third century A.D.), Greek biographical writer. He did for philosophers what Plutarch had done for Greek and Roman men of action. Diogenes Laertius drew on more than two hundred ancient sources to create anecdotal Lives of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Theophrastus, and many others.

Eupolis (ca. 450-410 B.C.), Athenian playwright and contemporary of Aristophanes. The fragments of his comedies provide details about Athenian naval figures and maritime life. Ancient scholars claimed that Eupolis wrote the passage in Aristophanes’ Horsemenin which the Athenian triremes discuss, like angry women, a proposal to send them to Carthage. Eupolis’ comedy Taxiarchs brought the Athenian general Phormio onstage as a leading character.

Euripides (ca. 480-406 B.C.), Athenian playwright. He introduced many innovations into Attic tragedy through his ninety or so plays, of which nineteen survive. Many of them were parodied by Aristophanes. Though apparently lacking the direct contact that Aeschylus and Sophocles had with the Athenian navy, Euripides wrote detailed descriptions of ships and maritime exploits in Helen, Iphigenia in Aulis, and Iphigenia Among the Taurians.

Hermippus (fifth century B.C.), Athenian playwright. His comedies included scenes with rowers and other nautical subjects. Again, as with all poets of the Athenian Old Comedy except Aristophanes, only fragments of Hermippus’ plays survive.

Herodotus (ca. 485-425 B.C.), Greek historian, born in Halicarnassus but in later life a citizen of the panhellenic colony at Thurii in southern Italy. Herodotus’ historical work in nine books, often called The Histories, wove eyewitness accounts, oral traditions, and local chronicles into an epic account of the wars between Greeks and Persians. Herodotus is the indispensable source for the Persian Wars down to the capture of Sestos in 479 B.C. As Herodotus said himself, he considered it his mission to record the historical traditions of the Greeks—not necessarily to believe them.

Hippocrates (fifth century B.C.), medical pioneer, from the island of Cos in the Athenian Empire, who founded a school based on the careful recording of symptoms and their daily progress. Among the cases preserved in the immense Hippocratic corpus of writings (much or all of which was written by his followers) are some that deal with mariners.

Homer (ca. eighth century B.C.), Greek epic poet from Asia Minor and fountainhead of Greek literature. His works contain descriptions of ships and voyages: the “Catalog of Ships” in the Iliad purports to record the number of ships that Agamemnon levied from the different kingdoms of Greece for the expedition to Troy (Athens contributed fifty), while the episode in the Odyssey in which Odysseus builds a raft or vessel on Calypso’s island remains the most detailed literary account of the ancient shipwright’s art.

Isocrates (436-338 B.C.), Athenian patriot and teacher of rhetoric. Immensely long-lived, he was born while the Parthenon was still under construction and died shortly after the battle of Chaeronea. Isocrates circulated his “speeches” as political pamphlets and addressed such important issues as panhellenism, Athenian imperialism, and the rise of Macedon.

Nepos, Cornelius (first century B.C.), Latin writer. His short biographies of famous generals may have inspired Plutarch, more than a century later, to write more extensive Lives of Greek and Roman leaders. Like Plutarch, Nepos wrote biographical essays on Themistocles, Aristides, Cimon, Alcibiades, and Phocion. But Nepos also treated some important Athenian commanders ignored by Plutarch, such as Miltiades, Thrasybulus, Conon, Iphicrates, Chabrias, and Timotheus.

Oxyrhynchus Historian or “P” (fifth to fourth century B.C.), anonymous Greek historian whose work survives only in fragments. He picked up Greek history where Thucydides broke off in 411 B.C. and continued it down to 395 B.C., a decade after the official “end” of the Peloponnesian War. Passages from his work were recovered on scraps of papyrus in the ancient rubbish dumps at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, west of the Nile. Correspondences between his history and the version preserved in the text of Diodorus Siculus suggest that Diodorus at times used “P” as a source. The Oxyrhynchus historian is often at variance with Xenophon, whose Hellenica is the principal surviving contemporary source for this period. Many identifications have been proposed, but none has won universal acceptance.

Pausanias (second century A.D.), Greek from Magnesia in Asia Minor. His Description of Greece provides historical background about hundreds of classical buildings and statues that were still standing during the time of the Roman Empire. Pausanias often quotes inscriptions that have now vanished and sometimes anecdotes from local guides as well. Among his passages most important for Athenian naval history are his descriptions of the tombs in the state cemetery along the Sacred Way, starting with those of Thrasybulus, Pericles, Chabrias, and Phormio next to the city gate and ending with those of Ephialtes and Lycurgus near the entrance to the Academy.

Plato (ca. 429-347 B.C.), Athenian philosopher and disciple of Socrates. Plato’s dialogues contain numerous nautical images, along with anecdotes concerning such Athenian naval commanders as Nicias and Alcibiades. Many passages are harshly critical of the Athenian navy. Plato also wrote the myth of Atlantis as an allegory of the archetypal thalassocracy or naval power.

Plutarch (ca. A.D. 50-120), Greek biographer, philosopher, scholar, and essayist from Chaeronea in Boeotia. He also served as a priest of Apollo at Delphi. Such essays as “Were the Athenians more notable for war or wisdom?” reflect Plutarch’s wide reading in historical sources, many of them now lost to us. His most important works for Athenian naval history are his famous Lives. Plutarch wrote biographies of Theseus, Solon, Themistocles, Aristides, Cimon, Pericles, Nicias, Alcibiades, Demosthenes, and Phocion. Passages in his biographies of such important non-Athenians as Lysander, Philip II, and Alexander the Great also shed light on Athenian naval history.

Polyaenus (second century A.D.), Macedonian writer on tactics. He dedicated his compilation of stratagems to the Roman emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. Athenian naval exploits are represented by entries on Themistocles, Aristides, Cimon, Tolmides, Pericles, Phormio, Diotimus, Nicias, Alcibiades, Aristocrates, Thrasyllus, Conon, Iphicrates, Timotheus, Chabrias, and Phocion. For some major battles, such as Phormio’s “Battle of Fifty and Thirty” and Timotheus’ victory at Alyzia, Polyaenus is the only surviving source. The entertaining trireme tactics of the Athenian naval commander Diotimus also appear only in Polyaenus. The final two sections in the Florentine codex’s summary of Polyaenus are “Naval affairs” and “Capture of coastal sites and cities.” Intriguingly, Polyaenus seems to have had access to an ancient pilots’ manual: he describes several stratagems credited to specific steersmen on warships, including a Corinthian who faced the Athenian fleet at Syracuse.

Sophocles (ca. 496-406 B.C.), Athenian playwright. Sophocles also served his city as a naval commander during the Samian War in 440 B.C., as a treasurer of tribute money from the Athenian alliance, and as a proboulos or advisory councilor after the Sicilian disaster. His tragedies, includingAntigone and Oedipus Rex, are permeated with nautical images and metaphors. Sophocles’ evocations of the sea reach their climax in the romancelike rescue drama Philoctetes, which is set on the island of Lemnos.

Theophrastus (ca. 371-287 B.C.), natural scientist from Lesbos and follower of Aristotle. His monumental work Enquiry into Plants describes the species of trees used by shipbuilders for various parts of ships as well as for oars, masts, and other gear. Theophrastus’ writings also preserve woodsmen’s lore on the best seasons and locations for cutting trees and on methods for producing pitch. In a different vein, his comic sketches in the Characters depict contemporary Athenians from the period of Macedonian domination, many of whom are portrayed in maritime settings.

Thucydides (ca. 455-400 B.C.), Athenian historian of the Peloponnesian War. A naval commander himself, Thucydides was exiled from Athens following his failure to save Amphipolis from the Spartans in 424 B.C. During his years of banishment he devoted himself to writing a detailed history of the Peloponnesian War. His work in eight books reaches its overpowering climax in the account of the Sicilian expedition. Unlike Herodotus he avoids anecdotal and romantic elements, as well as variant versions of events from different sources. As an introduction to his history, Thucydides wrote a lengthy analysis of sea power in the Greek world, from the heroic age of the Trojan War down to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. His work is studded with public orations by such figures as Pericles as well as battle speeches delivered by generals. Some documents are quoted verbatim. Thucydides lived to see the end of the twenty-seven-year war in 404 B.C., but his year-by-year chronicle of events breaks off in 411 B.C. According to his ancient biographer Mar cellus, Thucydides was murdered when he returned to Athens following the end of the war.

Timotheus (ca. 450-360 B.C.), poet of Miletus famous for his musical innovations. He wrote a long poem on the battle of Salamis that included a vivid scene involving a Greek and a captive Persian on the shore. The work survives only in fragments on papyrus.

Xenophon (ca. 428-354 B.C.), Athenian commander, historian, and essayist. His Memorabilia provide firsthand accounts of his teacher Socrates discoursing on generalship and other practical matters. In addition to “Revenues,” in which he addresses some maritime matters, and extended naval descriptions and metaphors in the Oeconomicus, Xenophon provided vivid descriptions of voyaging in the Black Sea at the end of his Anabasis. His continuation of Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian War, called Hellenica,ultimately took Greek history down to 362 B.C.

Xenophon the Orator, also known as Pseudo-Xenophon or the “Old Oligarch” (fifth century B.C.), Athenian writer whose important essay Atheniaon Politeia (“Constitution of the Athenians”) purports to be an open letter written by an Athenian oligarch to correspondents outside Athens. In it he explains why good men like himself must put up with democracy in Athens. The writer was apparently an Athenian general or trierarch: at one point he refers to “my warships.” The date of his composition is hotly debated, but seems to me to belong to the first year of the Peloponnesian War in 431-430 B.C., after the first Peloponnesian invasion or invasions of Attica but before the outbreak of the plague. His views on the navy and sea power echo or prefigure those of Thucydides, while his appreciation of the commercial benefits of maritime empire recall lines by the playwright Hermippus. There was a wealthy Athenian citizen named Xenophon the son of Euripides, of the deme of Melite, who served as hipparch (or cavalry commander, a quintessentially aristocratic post) in the mid-fifth century. This Xenophon (not known to be related to the more famous historian of the same name) was elected regularly to the generalship from the time of the Samian War in 440 until his death in battle in 429. Xenophon the Orator (or the “Old Oligarch,” as he has been nicknamed) spelled out the link between the Athenian navy and the political power of the thetes more clearly than any other surviving ancient writer.

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