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Aigospotamoi (5)

Aigospotamoi: the final battle of the Peloponnesian War (431-404). In September 405, the Athenians were decisively defeated by the Spartans and lost their navy. As a result, the siege and fall of Athens became inevitable.

Conditions: Geography

Map of the Hellespont
Map of the Hellespont
Before describing the battle of Aigospotamoi, I will try to determine the location of the battlefield. An accurate geographical determination is crucial in gaining insight into the tactical disposition of both fleets. Unfortunately, the sources are not without problems.

Plutarch mentions that Aigospotamoi lies directly across the Hellespont, opposite the Spartan camp at Lampsacus. He describes the site as nothing more than a beach, specifically noting that it is not an anchoring ground.note  Xenophon also states that the site was nothing more than a beach, adding that is was not the site of a city either. Furthermore, according to Xenophon the Hellespont was fifteen stades (approximately 2¾ kilometers) wide between Aigospotamoi and Lampsacus.  It is commonly accepted that the name Aigospotamoi (literally: Goat Rivers) refers to a river or settlement in the proximity with an identical name. This assumption does not necessarily contradict Xenophon's statement that Aigospotamoi was not near a city, provided that the word city is interpreted as polis.note

Because Herodotus of Halicarnassus refers to a town named Aigospotamoi, roughly twenty kilometers south of Sestos,note much attention has been paid to the modern day village of Sütlüce (satellite photo). It is flanked by two valleys and three rivers pass through it; the Karakova Dere, the Kozlu Dere and the Büyük Dere. Traditionally the Karakova-dere has been identified with the "Aigos Potamos". However, Sütlüce is about 400 metres from the coast. This contradicts both Plutarch and Xenophon.

View across the Hellespont, from Asia to Europe (Aigospotamoi)
View across the Hellespont, from Asia to Europe (Aigospotamoi)
Bommelaer suggest an alternative, more probable location north-east of Sütlüce, near the mouth of the Büyük Dere.[satellite photo]note He emphasizes that the ancient authors use the name Aigospotamoi and not Aigospotamos. The use of the plural implies that the site of the battle was close to more than one river. Furthermore, the location that Bommelaer proposes lies close to a beach and directly opposite Lampsacus - in contrast to the Karakova Dere, which lies more to the south. Bommelaer's location therefore fits the accounts of Xenophon and Plutarch. Last of all, Bommelaer's alternative offered the Athenians a tactical advantage that they would not likely have overseen: because it lay directly opposite Lampsacus, it allowed the Athenians to act more vigilantly in case of a Spartan breakout, if only because they would not have to row upstream to confront the Spartans, which they would have to do should they set up camp near the estuary of the Karakova Dere. Finally, Xenophon's statement that the Hellespont is 2¾ kilometers wide between Aigospotamoi and Lampsacus does not seem to hold up for any of the locations. The fluctuating coastline somewhat weakens this potential counter-argument.

So, the location of the battlefield cannot be established exactly. Nevertheless, the location suggested by Bommelaer -near the estuary of the Büyük Dere- seems to be the most likely. It shows the most similarities with the location as described by our ancient sources; and, taking into consideration the defensive role into which Athens was forced, it is the most logical location from a tactical point of view. Therefore, I will keep to the location of the battle of Aigospotamoi as presented by Bommelaer.