Conon, c.450-389 BC

Conon (c.450-389 BC) was an Athenian commander who survived the defeats that ended the Great Peloponnesian War and went on to play an important part in the revival of Athenian naval power in the aftermath of the war.

In 413, during the disastrous Athenian siege of Syracuse, Conon was given command of a fleet that was posted off Naupactus in the Corinthian Gulf in order to prevent the Corinthian fleet from intervening in the siege. The resulting naval battle was inconclusive, but this was all that the Athenians needed.

In 410 he was selected as strategus, and spent some of the year at Corcyra.

In 409 he served alongside Alcibiades and Thrasybulus as strategus.

In 407 Alcibiades finally returned to Athens. He was made commander in chief of the Athenian armies, and began his first campaign in this position with an attack on Andros. This campaign quickly bogged down, and Alcibiades decided to move on to Cos and Rhodes. Conon was left behind on Andros to continue with the siege. Alcibiades's return to favour would prove to be short lived. While he was away from the fleet his subordinate Antiochus ignored his orders and engaged in a battle with the Spartans, suffering a heavy defeat (battle of Notium, 407 BC). When this news reached Alcibiades he decided not to risk a return to Athens and instead went into exile.

In the spring of 406 the Athenians decided to replace Alcibiades with a group of ten generals, with Conon as the senior member of the group. He had 100 ships at his disposal, but could only find crews for 70, and morale was poor. He was faced by an inexperienced Spartan naval commander, Callicratidas, who had 140 ships at his disposal.

Conon was soon forced to take refuge in Mytilene after a failed attempt to defend Lesbos, where he was blockaded by Callicratidas (after an inconclusive naval clash outside Mytilene). He was saved by the Athenian naval victory at Arginusae, but that victory was tainted by the decision to execute most of the victorious admirals because they hadn't made enough of an effort to save the crews of those Athenian ships sunk in the battle.

In the aftermath of these trials Conon was given joint command of the fleet. The Spartans managed to raise a fleet to replace the one lost at Arginusae, and inflicted a crushing defeat on the Athenians at Aegospotami (405 BC). Conon wasn't in command on the day of the battle, and managed to escape with nine ships. The rest of the Athenian fleet was destroyed. This was the city's last fleet, and in the aftermath of this defeat Athens was besieged and eventually forced to surrender, ending the Great Peloponnesian War.

Conon took refuge with King Evagoras on Cyprus, although he did sent the Athenian sacred ship Paralus back to the city with news of the defeat. At the time Evagoras was on good terms with the Persians, and Conon was thus in a good position to take advantage of the outbreak of hostilities between the Persians and Spartans in 400 BC (Persian-Spartan War, 400-387 BC).

In 397 BC the satrap Pharnabazus convinced Artaxerxes II to build a new fleet. Conon was given responsibility for raising at least part of this fleet, and also given command of it (under Pharnabazus). The fleet included elements from Phoenicia, the Greek cities of Asia Minor and even a small contingent from Athens.

This fleet was attacked by the Spartan admiral Pharax at Caunus, but Conon was able to fight off the Spartans. He was then able to convince Rhodes to end its alliance with Sparta, and as a result intercepted a large grain convoy heading to Sparta from Egypt. However a lack of money then limited the activities of the fleet and even triggered a mutiny, and in 395 Conon went to court and helped convince the Emperor to provide more funds.

The revitalised Persian and Greek fleet won a decisive victory over the Spartans under Peisander at Cnidus (394 BC). Conon's Greek ships formed the front line of the allied fleet, and at first were hard pressed by the Spartans. As reinforcements arrived, the allies gained the upper hand. Some of Peisander's allies fled without fighting, and the Spartan admiral was killing while fighting on his own ship.

This defeat effectively ended Spartan naval power, and also weakened their power on land. While Peisander was being defeated at sea, a Spartan and allied army under Agesilaus II was marching into central Greece from the north (Corinthian War). Agesilaus realised that his allies from Asia Minor would probably soon desert him, and in order to preserve his army for a little longer lied about the outcome of the battle. This gave him the time he needed to win the battle of Coronea (394 BC), but this was an inconclusive victory and his army soon dissolved.

Just as Agesilaus had expected, Conon and Pharnabazus took advantage of their victory to expel the Spartan garrisons from many coastal and island communities around the Aegean. Conon also managed to convince Pharnabazus to announce that he wouldn't leave garrisons in the Greek cities, a move that helped encourage more to change sides.

In the winter of 394-393 they visited the Hellespont, before in 393 raiding the coast of the Peloponnese and capturing the island of Cythera.

The allies then moved to Corinth, where they provided funds that allowed the Corinthians to revive their fleet, before Conon returned to Athens in triumph. With his support and the aid of his sailors the Athenians began to rebuild the Long Walls and the fortifications of Piraeus, marking the start of the revival of Athenian power only a decade after the humiliating end of the Great Peloponnesian War.

Conon's fall was very sudden. In 392 the Spartans, led by Antalcidas, opened negotiations with Tiribazus, a Persian official who is recorded as being worried about Conon's successes. The Athenians sent Conon to try and counter the Spartans, but they denouncing him. Tiribazus arrested him for plotting to restore Athenian control over the Greek cities of Asia Minor, and imprisoned him, pointing out that he was still a Persian officer and thus under his jurisdiction. There are two accounts of his eventual fate. In some sources he was sent into Asia and executed. In others he escaped to Cyprus, where he died while still in exile. He left a significant sum of money to his son Timotheus (a successful admiral in his own right), and he was given a tomb at the Cerameicus at Athens. Conon had been a key figure in the pro-Persian party at Athens, and his removal made a renewal of conflict between the two sides more likely.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 January 2016), Conon, c.450-389 BC ,

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