Aigospotamoi (11)

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.

Battle 5: Aftermath

Aigospotamoi, seen from the European side; Lampsacus across the Hellespont
Aigospotamoi, seen from the European side; Lampsacus across the Hellespont

Our sources more or less agree on the number of Athenian triereis that managed to escape. Diodorus mentions ten Athenian galleys escaping, commanded by Conon. According to Xenophon, Conon escaped with nine ships, one of them being the Paralus. The Athenian admiral fled to Cyprus with eight triereis, while the Paralus returned to Athens to bring the bad news.note

Determining the number of prisoners is more problematic. Diodorus claims that the greater part of the Athenian fleet managed to reach Sestos. Xenophon, on the other hand, claims that almost all Athenian troops, except for those who had managed to flee, were captured, including Philocles and Adeimantus. The captives were taken to Lampsacus. Here Lysander held a council of war for all his allies, to decide what should be done with the Athenian "war criminals".note

According to Xenophon, the outcome of the council was that all Athenian citizens would be executed. Only Adeimantus was to be spared, because of his earlier opposition towards the Athenian atrocities. All non-Athenian troops would also be spared. Xenophon and Diodorus do not give an exact number, but Plutarch and Pausanias estimate the number of Athenian citizens at about 3,000 to 4,000.note This estimate seems realistic if one considers that the crews of 170 triereis were captured, and that every ship carried twenty Athenian hoplites.

However, the number of executed Athenians is not doubted by modern historians, but whether an execution actually took place. A commonsense examination by Wylienote brings several inconsistencies to light. First of all, one must bear in mind that roughly 28,000 fleeing soldiers needed to be rounded up by merely a few thousand Spartan soldiers. This would be a time-consuming endeavor, and in the hypothetical case that all men (one may assume that the Athenians would not voluntarily reveal their nationality) had been rounded up, it would be an immense enterprise to ship them all to Lampsacus. Lastly there remains the carrying out of the execution. Could Lysander ask of his soldiers to perform this execution for hours on end? Wylie does not believe so. To Wylie, the whole episode is implausible. Moreover, the only author to refer to the mass execution is Xenophon. Diodorus states that only Philocles was executed.

Lotze, on the other hand, does believe a mass execution took place.note He bases his belief on the notion that Lysander was aware that a considerable element of the Athenian prisoners belonged to the lower social classes. In 411 BCE, these had proved to be fierce opponents of the oligarchy. It would therefore suit Lysander to reduce the number of potential opponents by 3000. In my opinion, however, Lotze's arguments are not as good as Wylie's. The difficulties which one would face in carrying out this mass execution lead me favor Wylie's hypothesis.