The Battle of Sphacteria was a battle of the Peloponnesian War in 425 BC, between Athens and Sparta. It was an important part of the longer Battle of Pylos.
|Battle of Sphacteria|
|About 3000 men||440 men|
- "Sparta calls upon you to make a treaty and to end the war. She offers you peace, alliance, friendly and neighbourly relations. In return she asks for the men on the island, thinking it better for both sides that the affair should not proceed to the bitter end...Now is the time for us to be reconciled, while the final issue is still undecided, while you have won glory and can have our friendship as well, and we, before any shameful thing has taken place, can, in our present distress, accept a reasonable settlement." (Thucydides 4.18-20)
Although there was still fighting going on in Sicily after Sparta had incited Messina to revolt from Athens, Athens could no longer commit any ships there, as the majority of the Athenian navy was at Pylos. Despite some successes, the Athenians left the Sicilians to fight amongst themselves, although they would return later in the war.
Meanwhile the blockade of Sphacteria continued for much longer than either side had anticipated, and there was very little food or water for the Athenians. The Spartans had enough food for themselves and for the hoplites on Sphacteria, when they could successfully risk running the blockade. Many people in Athens by now felt that they should have accepted the offer of peace. Cleon at first refused to believe the Athenians were so unsuccessful, and then blamed Nicias for the supposed cowardice of the generals. Nicias offered to resign his post as strategos and let Cleon take command of the siege, thinking that Cleon would be just as unsuccessful; nevertheless, Cleon accepted this challenge and sailed to Pylos with a few hundred men, claiming he would take Sphacteria within twenty days.
Demosthenes, the commander at Pylos, had meanwhile been planning to land on the island. He was aided in this endeavour when a Spartan soldier accidentally burned down the forest hiding the Spartan troops, making it easier for Demosthenes to view their movements. Cleon soon arrived, and the two called on the Spartans to surrender, but they refused.
Demosthenes and Cleon then landed about 800 men on the island, taking the Spartans by surprise. The next morning the rest of the Athenians landed as well, consisting of the crews of the ships, as well as more than 1600 other men, competely surrounding the Spartans. The Athenians pushed the Spartans across the island into the small fort located on the beach at one end, which the Spartans were able to defend for most of the day. The Spartan commander Epitadas was killed in the fighting, and Styphon took command. At the end of the day a force of archers found a way around the fort and began attacking the Spartans from behind.
Cleon and Demosthenes called back their forces, wanting to take the remaining Spartans alive. Surprisingly, the Spartans surrendered, something they were not accustomed to doing. Of the 440 Spartan hoplites, 148 had been killed. After seventy-two days of siege and battle at Pylos and Sphacteria, both sides withdrew, and Cleon returned to Athens having fulfilled his promise to capture the island in twenty days.