Wednesday, 11 September 2013


CYNOSSEMA : ATHENS AT BAY : (Thucydides Book 8, 99ff.)

Having suffered the ignominious disaster of the Sicilian adventure, Athens now had the problem a Peleponnesian fleet operating in the Hellespont which could interfere with supplies from the Black Sea.

An Athenian fleet sailed into the Hellespont to meet the Peleponnesians who were based at Abydos.

The two fleets met at the narrowest area of the Hellespont, near the promontory of Cynossema - headland of the Bitch's  Tomb, where Hecuba, wife of Priam had been buried after she was metamorphosed into a dog and drowned.

The fleets approached in column and when it was obvious they must clash in the narrow waters they both formed their battle line.

(THE FLEETS APPROACH : should be Peleponnesian LEFT  :))

According to Thucydides it was only during the course of the battle that the Athenian left sailed past the promontory, becoming detached from the rest of their fleet as they did so. This means that the two sides initially faced each other some distance to the west.Therefore the Peleponnesians  must have been able to sail past Cynossema with their left (leading) squadron to form a battle line.

The Peleponnesian strategy was to execute a periplous to their left and thus cut the Athenians off from the open sea and trap them in the Hellespont. Thus the 86 Peleponnesians may hope to defeat the 76 Athenians. Simultaneously, a forceful attack in the centre across the narrow waters should lead to the Athenian centre running out of sea-room and going aground or at least falling into confusion on the shores of Cynossema.

The Athenian centre was driven into the coast but the Peleponnesian periplous failed and the Athenian right turned the tables to execute their own periplous on the over-extended  Peleponnesian left.

The Athenian left and Peleponnesian right were engaged north of Cynossema in an equal struggle.

The Athenian right was now able to sweep north and take the Peleponnesians in the flank and rear, especially the centre which had lost order as it rushed to send some troops on land and tried to finish off the disorganised Athenians facing them.

The Peleponnesians broke and fled northward where they could easily find refuge in Abydos and the mouth of the River Midius.

Athens had won a victory against a larger fleet at a crucial time when they desperately needed a filip to counter the Sicilian tragedy.

This battle has many elements which lend themselves to an interesting wargame.
  • Not too many ships involved
  • Confined waters
  • Combat onshore is possible
  • The underdogs win

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