April 25, 404 B.C.: Lysander’s Spartan armies defeated the Athenians

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A Brief History

On April 25, 404 B.C., during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.), Lysander’s Spartan armies defeated the Athenians and the war finally ended.

Digging Deeper

The Peloponnesian War was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta.  The war dragged on for nearly three decades and expanded beyond Greece to as far away as Sicily with neither side apparently able to win a decisive, war-ending battle, at least until the skillful Spartan general Lysander (died 395 B.C.) entered the fray.

The key actions of each phase

Unlike some of his predecessors, the new Spartan general, Lysander, was not a member of the Spartan royal families and was also formidable in naval strategy.  Moreover, he was an artful diplomat, who had even cultivated good personal relationships with the Persian prince Cyrus (died 401 B.C.), the son of Great King Darius II (r. 423-404 B.C.).

Lysander as ‘leader of the Lacedaemonians’, engraved 1553.

Lysander was appointed Spartan admiral for the Aegean Sea in 407 B.C. and won a minor Spartan victory at the naval battle of Notium in 406 B.C.  Later, the Spartan fleet sailed to the Hellespont, the source of Athens’s grain.  Threatened with starvation, the Athenian fleet had no choice but to follow.  Through cunning strategy, Lysander totally defeated the Athenian fleet in 405 B.C. at the decisive Battle of Aegospotami, destroying 168 ships and capturing some three or four thousand Athenian sailors.  Only 12 Athenian ships escaped.

A Greek trireme

Without a fleet to import grain from the Black Sea, Athens was on the verge of starvation, and the city surrendered in 404 B.C.  The surrender stripped Athens of its walls, its fleet, and all of its overseas possessions.  Two other Greek city-states, Corinth and Thebes, demanded that Athens should be destroyed and all its citizens should be enslaved; however, the more merciful Spartans announced their refusal to destroy a city that had done a good service at a time of greatest danger to Greece, referring to Athens’s role in Greece’s victory over the massive Persian Empire in the Greco-Persian Wars (499-449 B.C.).

As for Lysander, he was killed nearly ten years after the Fall of Athens in the Battle of Haliartus (395 B.C.) fought against Thebes, which had allied with a resurgent Athens and Corinth against Sparta in a new war among the various Greek city-states.  Such conflicts that pitted various Greek city-states against each other persisted until the Kingdom of Macedonia finally united Greece several decades later.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Finley, M. I.  and Thucydides.   History of the Peloponnesian War.  Penguin Classics, 1972.

Kagan, Donald.  The Peloponnesian War.  Penguin Books, 2004.

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About Author

Dr. Zar

Dr. Zar graduated with a B.A. in French and history, a Master’s in History, and a Ph.D. in History. He currently teaches history in Ohio.