“For the Spartans, it wasn’t walls or magnificent public buildings that made a city; it was their own ideals. In essence, Sparta was a city of the head and the heart. And it existed in its purest form in the disciplined march of a hoplite phalanx on their way to war!” – Bettany Hughes, writer/historian.
(For Part Three, go here)
DEMOSTHENES AT PYLOS
The Bay of Pylos (now Navarino Bay) is a well sheltered anchorage on the southwest coast of the Peloponnese; in the region known as Messenia. It is enclosed from the Ionian Sea to the west by a long, narrow island: Sphacteria. The bay can be entered through channels both north and south of Sphacteria. The narrow northern channel is bounded on the northern side by the rocky Pylos promontory. Here, in the Bronze Age, had been the citadel of the Trojan War leader, Nestor. In 1827 it was the site of the Battle of Navarino, where a British, French, and Russian coalition fleet defeated the Ottoman Turks.
Ever one to recognize a strategic opportunity, Demosthenes used the crews at his disposal to fortify Pylos; and when the fleet continued on to Corcyra, he remained behind with 5 triremes and their crews (about 1,000 men; less than 100 of which were likely hoplites). He was soon reinforced by another 40 Messenian-exile hoplites from Naupactos, an Athenian base on the Gulf of Corinth. None hated the Spartans more than these Messenians.
Demosthenes planned to use Pylos as a base of operations in Messenia. This land, comprising the southwestern quarter of the Peloponnese, had long been subjugated by the Spartans; and its native population reduced to helotry. From Pylos, the Athenians could raid into Spartan Messenia with impunity; and provide a refuge for runaway helots.
This potential thorn in the Spartan side was intolerable ot the Spartan government. Immediately, the Spartan army ravaging Attica under King Agis was recalled to the Peloponnese; and force of 43 ships and men was dispatched under Sparta’s most promising officer, the intrepid Brasidas son of Tellis, to expel the Athenians. This is the first we hear of this enigmatic Spartan officer; destined to have such an impact on the direction of the war….
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