Battle of Sybota - 433 B.C.

The battle of Sybota was a sea fight between Corcyra and Corinth, and the outcome would soon engulf the entire Greek world in the gruling Peloponnesian War.

The animity felt between Corcyra and Corinth were for many reasons, predominantly the lucrative trade with the west went through Corcyra at that time, leading to the island's great wealth and large naval force. Corinth who claimed founding status of the island of Corcyra were jealous of that trade and the fortune it would bring, this meant that they looked upon Corcyra with both, distain and envy. The new found trade meant that Corcyra didn't want to be under Corinthian control and were looking for an excuse to break the shackels of the mother city, so during festivales, when it was custom for the mother country to be granted some honours, Corcyra denied them these, adding even more animosity between them.

The 150 Corinthian ships arrived at Sybota and the 110 Corcyraeans came out to meet them by forming up a battle line, with the 10 Athenians on the right and their own ships making up the rest of the line in three squadrons. The Corinthian ships were lined up with the Megarans and Ambraciots on the right, the Corinthians on the left, and the remainder of their allies in the centre. Both sides fought with hoplites on their ships, along with archers and javelin-throwers, in a manner Thucydides calls "old-fashioned." Which means instead of ramming each other, both sides attempted to board their opponents' ships and fight each other using their marines. The Athenian ships, although they were part of the line, did not at first join the battle, they has express orders from the Athenian assembly not to engage and to only help out incase of one side or the other breaking through with the threat to invade the others lands. As the battle was at Sybota, Corcyra was under immediate threat of invasion if their fleet failed.

The Corcyraean ships on the left routed the Corinthian right wing, chasing them all the way back to their camp on the coast, which they then burned. The Corinthian left wing, however, was more successful, and the Athenians were forced to come to the aid of their allies. Nevertheless, the Corinthians were victorious, and sailed through the wreckage of defeated ships killing everyone they could find instead of taking prisoners, including, although they did not know it, some of their own allies who had been defeated on the right-wing, in the heat of battle there would have been wholesale carnage. They did not kill everyone, however, and ended up with a number of prisoners.

The Corycraeans and Athenians headed back to Corcyra to defend the island, but when the Corinthians arrived, they almost immediately retreated, as 20 Athenian ships, arrived to back up the 10 that were already there. The next day, the new Athenian ships threatened a second battle if the Corinthians attempted to land on Corcyra. The Corinthians retreated completely rather than risk another battle. Both the Corinthians and Corcyraeans claimed victory, the Corinthians having won the first battle, and the Corcyraeans having avoided a Corinthian occupation of their island.

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'The history of the Peloponnesian Wars' by Thucydidies (written c431 B.C),translated by Richard Crawley 1910.


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