Pylos and Sphacteria 425 BC, William Shepherd

Pylos and Sphacteria 425 BC, William Shepherd

Campaign 261

The battles of Pylos and Sphacteria were two of the most significant Athenian victories of the Great Peloponnesian War. After seized an unoccupied headland on the south-west coast of the Peloponnese, the Athenians fought off a Spartan attack, defeated the Spartan fleet in a naval battle, besieged a Spartan force on the island of Sphacteria and after an amphibious assault forced the surrender of a large number of full Spartiates.

I have written on these battles, but I didn't realise quite how dramatic the local landscape was, with flat ground inland, and a line of high ground on the coast, with cliffs facing inland and steep slopes heading down to the sea. The author's pictures help set the scene, although the presence of a lagoon just inland slightly confuses the issue (it would have been useful to mark this on the first map showing the local area).

It is clear that the author has explored the campaign area in person, especially when he discusses the limited number of places where it was possible to beach triremes. The excellent selection of photographs of the area also looks to come from the author's own collection.

The author includes useful material on the diplomatic background, and in particular the Athenian overconfidence that led to them turning down Spartan peace terms, extending this first stage of the Great Peloponnesian War so long that any advantage gained at Sphacteria was lost.

We start with a good account of the overall campaign, explaining how the Athenians came to be campaigning off the western coast of the Peloponnese. We then trace the course of the campaign, the diplomatic efforts that punctuated it and the final Athenian amphibious assault that forced the Spartan surrender.

The text is supported by excellent maps, including one that shows the overall progress of the war, the campaign in western waters and the fighting around Pylos.

This excellent book proves that there was always more to Greek warfare than just the stereotyped Hoplite battle.

Origins of the Campaign
Opposing Commanders
Opposing Forces
Opposing Plans
The Campaign to Pylos
The Battles
After Sphacteria
The Battlefield Today

Author: William Shepherd
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 96
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2013

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