The book is split into four sections. The first one looks at the battles of the Persian Wars, where victories at sea helped repel the Persian invasions. The next two look at the major parts of the Great Peloponnesian War, a conflict in which Athen’s reputation at a great naval power didn’t result in as many major victories as one might expect, and which ended with the destruction of their last fleet at Aegospotami. The last section looks at the naval battles that ended Sparta’s brief time as a naval power.
The book benefits from using a standard format for each battle, with sections on the background, forces involved, the battle itself and its aftermath. In some cases the battles are chosen because they demonstrate an interesting aspect of naval warfare – in particular the development of new tactics that helped overcome Athen’s famous skill at sea, while others are simply too important to be excluded (Salamis, Aegospotami and Cnidus being key examples of this).
The final section reminds us that the period of Spartan dominance and Athenian weakness that followed the end of the Great Peloponnesian War didn’t actually last for very long. The Athenians surrendered in 404 BC, but only ten years later a Persian fleet largely manned and led by Athenians defeated the Spartan fleet, and the walls of Athens were rebuilt.
The author has done a good job of demonstrating the importance of naval power in all of these wars. The Greek victory at Salamis left the Persian army dangerous exposed and convinced the Emperor to return home. The Spartan victory at Aegospotami destroyed Athenian naval power and led to the siege of Athens. We also see a wide range of tactics in use, from the Athenian use of the ram to boarding actions, to the skilful use of misdirection that led to the Athenian fleet at Aegopotami being destroyed almost without a struggle.
Part 1 – The Persian Conflicts
1 – Battle of Lade (494 BC)
2 – The Battle of Artemisium (480 BC)
3 – The Battle of Salamis (480 BC)
Part 2 – Archidamian War
4 – The Battle of Sybota (433 BC)
5 – The Battle of the Corinthian Gulf (429 BC)
6 – The Battle of Corcyra (427 BC)
Part 3 – The Ionian War
7 – Battle of Erineus (413 BC)
8 – The Battle for the Great Harbour of Syracuse (413 BC)
9 – Battles of the Ionian Coast (412-411 BC)
10 – The Battle of Arginusae (406 BC)
11 – The Battle of Aegospotami (405 BC)
Part 4 – Turning of the Tide
12 – Battle of Catane (396 BC)
13 – Battle of Cnidus (394 BC)
Author: Owen Rees
Publisher: Pen & Sword Maritime