A History of Greece: From the Time of Solon to 403 B.C

By George Grote; J. M. Mitchell et al. | Go to book overview

22 [LII]

SEVENTH YEAR OF THE WAR - CAPTURE OF SPHAKTERIA

IN describing the operations round Pylus and Sphakteria, Grote has followed the traditional account, which, in supposed adherence to Thukydidês' exposition, makes the Bay of Navarino and the land around it the scene of all the operations. Grote, indeed, notices one discrepancy between Thukydidês'

and the modern Navarino Bay - viz., that the entrances to the latter are much wider than Thukydidês admits (the south entrance being really about 1,300 yards). But his explanation, that the physical features of the bay have greatly altered during the last 2,300 years, has been proved untenable; the changes have been shown by geologists to be very slight. The traditional account further omits to notice that Navarino Bay gives very poor shelter, especially before the frequent south-west gales. Dr. Arnold endeavoured to remove these difficulties by identifying the with the lagoon of Osmyn Aga, which is well protected from the wind; furthermore, he sought for Sphakteria in the Palæokastro promontory, which lies along the western side of the lagoon, and is connected with the land to the north by a low sand-bar, which he supposed non-existent in ancient times, thus making the headland an island; Pylus would then be the hill of Hagio Nikolo to the north-west of the lagoon.

Against this theory Grote urges that Thukydidês' account will not allow two islands ('Sphagia' and 'Palæokastro') near the scene of battle. Besides (1) further research has shown that Palæokastro has been a peninsula for some thousands of years; (2) Palæokastro has all the features of the Pylus of Thukydidês; (3) the ancient fort of Sphakteria has been clearly identified on Sphagia.

The most probable solution is given below; it may serve to correct at various points Grote's account as it has been retained in the text:

1. The Athenian fleet sailed for shelter into the lagoon, and fortified part of Palæokastro. (The positions where the Athenians anchored or beached their ships and raised their fortifications are still matters of dispute.)

2. The Peloponnesian fleet and army assailed Palæokastro both from the sea-side and from inside the lagoon (the exact points of attack being once again objects of controversy).

3. In order to prevent an Athenian relief squadron from finding a landing-place, the Peloponnesians occupied Sphagia and the entrances to the lagoon - i.e. (1) the outer strait between Sphagia and Palæokastro (

iv. 8); (2) the inner strait between Sphagia and the sand-spit stretching between the lagoon and Navarino Bay. The modern fairways at these points are about 130 and 200 yards (the

-566-

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