4. Trade Routes, Location, and Naval Power: Corcyra’s Potential as an Athenian Ally in 431 BCE and Beyond

  Rutishauser, Brian. 2023. “Trade Routes, Location, and Naval Power: Corcyra’s Potential as an Athenian Ally in 431 BCE and Beyond.” In “The Athenian Empire Anew: Acting Hegemonically, Reacting Locally in the Athenian Arkhē,” ed. Aaron Hershkowitz and Michael McGlin, special issue, Classics@ 23. https://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HLNC.ESSAY:103490530.


The position of the island of Corcyra on commercial routes across the Adriatic was not only key to its strategic importance to Athens, but was also an important factor in its prosperity and its emergence as a naval power. However, during the Peloponnesian War the extent of Corcyrean military collaboration with Athens was modest. This study will examine the growth of Corcyra’s navy before the alliance with Athens and the Battle of Sybota in 433, including its economic basis and infrastructure, and will then explore the evidence for Corcyrean naval strength after the stasis of 427. Although the Corcyreans never reclaimed their status as a leading naval state after that event, they maintained a notable if diminished, naval capability into the early fourth century. This was an adaptation to the changed political and military circumstances rather than a result of economic decline or limits imposed by an outside hēgemōn such as Athens. Moreover, a reduced naval presence still fulfilled the needs of the Corcyreans for protecting and controlling local commerce. This underscores not only Corcyra’s continuing importance as a vital link on shipping routes across the Adriatic, but also the island’s unique status as an Athenian ally.

For historians of the Peloponnesian War, [1] the Athenian alliance with Corcyra and the stasis that occurred on the island in 427 are crucial for understanding this pivotal epoch. [2] Yet Corcyra was never a true member of the Delian League or arkhē, and its historical trajectory was quite different from other warship-operating allies such as the Lesbians and Chios. Its position vis-à-vis commercial routes across the Adriatic was not only key to its strategic importance to Athens, but was also an important factor in the prosperity of this island polis and its emergence as a naval power with a fleet second only to that of Athens in the Greek world by the middle of the fifth century. Nevertheless, after the outbreak of the war, and particularly after the excesses of the stasis, the extent of their military collaboration with Athens was minimal. It would seem that the island’s promise as an ally to the Athenians did not match expectations. [3]
This study will examine the growth of Corcyra’s naval power before the alliance with Athens and the Battle of Sybota in 433, and then explore the changed nature of this power during the Peloponnesian War and into the early fourth century. The failure of the Corcyreans to reclaim their status as a leading naval state was not owed to economic decline or to limits imposed by an outside hēgemōn such as Athens. It was instead an adaptation. The maintenance of a smaller naval force was not only more suitable to the changed political and military circumstances of the late fifth and early fourth centuries, but also fulfilled the needs of the Corcyreans for protecting and controlling commerce. This adaptation underscores not only Corcyra’s continuing importance as a vital link on shipping routes across the Adriatic, but also the island’s unique status as an Athenian ally.

Corcyrean Naval Power Before Sybota

Thucydides defines the power of a state as the sum of its khrēmata and its nautika. [4] Specifically, prosodoi (revenues) applied to the construction and maintenance of warships, particularly triremes, were necessary in his view for a Greek state to rise to a position of prominence. [5] While Thucydides introduces these concepts in a discussion on the origins of the power of Corinth, he also characterizes Corcyra in this manner. Thucydides considers a seventh-century sea engagement between Corinth and Corcyra to be the first true naval battle in history, [6] and he also dates the construction of the first Corcyrean triremes to right before the Persian Wars. [7] By the time of the renewed hostilities between Corcyra and Corinth in the 430s, Corcyra had become a naval superpower with 120 triremes. [8]
But why exactly did the Corcyreans construct and maintain a fleet of this size? There had been no outright hostilities with the Corinthians for some time. Although Thucydides characterizes the Corinthians as once policing the seas, [9] they had fallen far behind Athens after the Themistoklean building program of the late 480s. Although they provided forty triremes at Salamis (the third-largest Greek force after Athens and Aigina), the Corcyreans had provided sixty, which most certainly was not the entirety of their current force, [10] and thirty triremes of their own at Leukimme in 435. [11] Nonetheless, after their defeat at the hands of the Corcyreans at Leukimme had highlighted their relative disadvantage, the Corinthians began a new program of ship construction, which led the Corcyreans to seek their alliance with the Athenians. [12]
One might posit Syracuse as another possible rival. From what little is known of its naval history earlier in the fifth century, tyrants of the city such as Gelon and Hieron had focused on operations in the Tyrrhenian Sea against adversaries such as Carthage and the Etruscan cities. [13] Gelon, however, offered 200 triremes to the Greek allies in 480 if allowed to take command, and Thucydides noted both the Syracusans and the tyrants of Sicily at this time. [14] Diodorus’ account for 439/8 states that the Syracusans made a decision that year to build 100 triremes, a statement that has drawn modern skepticism. [15] Nevertheless, Syracusan naval operations are attested for 427/6, when according to Thucydides they blockaded Leontini. [16] And in sharp contrast to the poor performance of Peloponnesian fleets early in the Archidamian War, Thucydides testifies to the competence of crews from Syracuse (and from their Lokrian allies) in the engagements off Messana during the first Athenian expedition to Sicily in 427–425. [17] While it must be stressed that we have no specific evidence of hostility between Corcyra and Syracuse (or any other Sicilian polis) prior to the Peloponnesian War, it is possible that the Corcyrean naval buildup was meant to contain the threat of both Syracuse and Corinth.
Control of piracy in the Adriatic is another possible motive for the construction, but again the evidence is not clear-cut. References to Illyrian piracy abound in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, but it is not known when they began to harass shipping in the area because no secure attestation is known from before the mid-third century BCE. [18] There are archaeological signs of a robust trade between Spina and Adria and the Greek mainland at this time, but no Athenian naval operations are recorded and citations in later authors of Spina’s own role in protecting shipping have been questioned. [19] If piracy was a problem at this time, the Corcyreans may have been the only state in the area with the ability to keep it under control. [20]
However, naval control of sea lanes could go beyond mere suppression of piracy, and this leads us back to the Corinthians. The Corinthian ambassadors in Athens assert that the Corcyreans did not need to make judicial agreements with other states because merchant ships were compelled by “necessity” (anankē) to put in at Corcyra. [21] The ability of the Corcyreans to prosper without making trade agreements with other states was not through naval dominance of the entire Adriatic, but rather through their specific mastery of the passage across the Ionian Sea to Italy and Sicily. Corcyrean patrols may have compelled shipping to dock at Corcyra, allowing the Corcyreans to collect harbor dues and export local products. [22] Corcyra possessed several harbors, all of which would have needed surveillance. [23] Nevertheless, a reserve of no more than fifteen to twenty-five triremes would probably have been required for such patrolling.
It is clear from their swift action in 435 that the Corcyreans could not tolerate a Corinthian naval presence at Epidamnos. And it is also clear from their actions that the Corinthians were eager to take the opportunity to establish such a presence. These actions included the recruitment of troops from Ambrakia and Leukas, [24] as well as the later gathering of allied triremes from Megara, Elis, Ambrakia, Leukas, and Anaktorion in preparation for Sybota. [25] The intensive minting of coinage on the Corinthian standard, both in Corinth and in various allied cities in the 430s, most likely to support these efforts, is another strong indication of their determination in this project. [26] Although most recent scholarship has trended against the importance of economic factors in the war that broke out between Corcyra and Corinth, these potential factors deserve re-examination. The maintenance of such a powerful fleet by the Corcyreans could be seen as the product of not only a political, but also an economic rivalry with Corinth, a rivalry that led to eventual warfare triggered by the crisis at Epidamnos. [27]
Nothing is known of the administrative structure of the Corcyrean fleet, but it is reasonable to speculate that the earliest Corcyrean naval organization resembled what is attested for states such as Aigina and Samos in the late Archaic period, where elite shipowners used pentekonters and even some triremes for both warfare and commerce, their vessels rowed by slaves and freedmen bound by ties of clientage. [28] The Athenian system of naukraroi provides another potential parallel. [29] The participation of elites as ship commanders and epibatai at Sybota indicates their importance to Corcyrean naval operations. However, more massive trireme fleets required an elaborate infrastructure comparable to the Themistoklean naval program. [30] It is intriguing to speculate on what organizational concepts may have been borrowed from Themistokles during his purported time on that island. [31]
The potential economic basis underlying Corcyrean naval capacity remains only partially explored. [32] Their peraia may have contributed to the island’s already extensive agricultural and pastoral production. [33] References attest to several important local resources, including wine. [34] The fine that Peithias and his faction attempted to levy on the five wealthiest Corcyreans for the theft of vine-props from land sacred to Zeus and Alkinoos (see below on the stasis) provides one indication of the importance of that crop. [35] Fishing also appears to have also been important on Corcyra, judging from Pausanias’ account of a bronze cow dedicated at Delphi by the Corcyreans as a thank-offering for an exceptional tuna catch, of which a tenth was reserved to pay for the sculpture. [36]
The weight standard used on Corcyra was a modified version of the Corinthian, with the stater set at 11.6 grams (equal to four Corinthian drachmas), and issued in several fractions. Hoard evidence indicates that this coinage circulated locally, and if its use was mandated by the Corcyrean polis for transactions on the island, then the profits accruing to the state from money-changing (especially if the references about shipping routinely putting in at Corcyra are true), could have been extensive. [37] Lead plaques from early in the fifth century, and inscribed with loan records, may also be connected to trade. [38]

Sybota and its Aftermath

The Corcyrean ambassadors attempting to persuade the Athenians to make an alliance (symmachia) with them in 433 offered the inducement that the Athenians would see their own naval power augmented by the Corcyrean fleet without expense to themselves. [39] The Athenians, however, were initially reluctant to become involved in the dispute between Corcyra and Corinth. Thucydides states that at least some of the Athenians would have approved of a weakening of both Corinthian and Corcyrean sea power. [40] Several scholars have proposed that the lesson of Samos had led some Athenians to oppose making further alliances with states that possessed their own warships. [41]
However, two factors led to a decision to support Corcyra: (1) the Athenians did not wish the Corinthians to gain control over the Corcyrean navy; and (2) Corcyra’s position on the sea lanes between the Greek mainland and Italy/Sicily gave it great importance to Athenian strategy. [42] After much debate, the Athenians decided to make a defensive alliance (epimachia) with the Corcyreans instead, so as to avoid a technical breach of the Thirty Years’ Peace. [43] Whatever the implications of the terminology, the result was the well-known Athenian intervention at the Battle of Sybota, an intervention that nevertheless failed to prevent serious Corcyrean losses of 70 out of 110 triremes, as well as the loss of more than 1,000 prisoners, including 800 slaves. [44]
Although the defeat at Sybota dealt a severe blow to Corcyra’s status as a naval power, it by no means ended it completely. The Corcyreans sent fifty triremes in 431 to assist an Athenian fleet in an expedition that ravaged the coastline of the Peloponnese and made an unsuccessful assault on Methone. [45] It has been suggested that this number did not represent the full available complement of the Corcyrean fleet, in that some of the damaged hulks from Sybota could have been refurbished in the interim, and in any event the Corcyreans would not have risked their entire remaining fleet. [46] If that is correct, it would appear that the original Corcyrean fleet strength of 100–120 warships had now diminished to something approaching 60–75, if we are to assume that a few dozen warships were needed to be retained to patrol the waters around Corcyra and on the Ionian passage. This is, however, the only reference we have to Corcyrean naval activity between Sybota and the stasis of 427. [47]

The Stasis of 427

Thucydides’ account of the stasis has been amply treated elsewhere, so that no more than a brief summary is in order here. [48] The Corinthians returned 250 upper-class prisoners to Corcyra, and these men attempted to persuade the dēmos to come over to the Corinthian side. A pro-Athenian faction led by Peithias countered that the Corcyreans should instead become full allies of the Athenians. The initial vote of the dēmos attempted to find a middle ground, favoring the continuation of the epimachia with Athens, but also a renewal of philia with (unspecified) communities in the Peloponnese. [49]
The repatriated prisoners then attempted to prosecute Peithias on the charge of attempting to “enslave” Corcyra to Athens. Peithias was acquitted and retaliated with a proposal that fines be levied on the five most wealthy of the returnees for removing vine-props from land sacred to Zeus and Alkinoos. The Five were convicted of this charge, and then learned that Peithias intended to renew his call for a symmachia between Corcyra and Athens. Gathering a group of supporters, the Five murdered Peithias and sixty men of his faction at a council meeting [50] and then forced the dēmos to agree to a return to neutrality—that only a lone diplomatic ship from either side could be received on Corcyra. [51]
But violence continued, with slaves joining the dēmos and their opponents hiring mercenaries, and the dēmos ultimately prevailed. After the arrival of twelve Athenian ships under Nikostratos, the Corcyrean dēmos finally agreed to a full symmachia between Corcyra and Athens, and proposed that five Corcyrean ships be manned by their political opponents and sent away to Athens in return for five Athenian triremes remaining on Corcyra. Those opponents refused to serve aboard the ships and became suppliants at the Temple of the Dioscuri. Thucydides refers to them as the “enemies” (tous ekhthrous). [52] He also refers to “the others” (tois allois) who appear to be the 400 suppliants at the Temple of Hera.
Within days, fifty-three Peloponnesian warships led by Alkidas arrived, and the Corcyreans sent out sixty ships against them (assisted by Nikostratos’ twelve). [53] However, the Corcyrean ships performed poorly in this engagement, losing a total of thirteen vessels in the battle, along with two that deserted their force. However, the Peloponnesian flotilla sailed away the next day when they learned of the approach of sixty Athenian vessels under Eurymedon. This led directly to the famous massacre of the elites by the Corcyrean dēmos.
The role of economic grievances in the stasis is hinted at in Thucydides’ account, and these references have spurred some debate. [54] It has been proposed that Corcyra recovered economically after the stasis and that new elites must have arisen from those who acquired the lands of the purged. This is possible and perhaps even likely, although no details survive. [55] Although the stasis should still be seen as predominantly a political dispute, some socioeconomic rivalries may indeed have contributed to the high level of violence exhibited by both sides in the struggle.

The Alliance with Athens after the Stasis

At the end of summer 427 the Athenians sent twenty ships to southern Italy and Sicily in response to a request for assistance from their allies Leontini and Rhegion in Italy against Syracuse. [56] According to Thucydides, the Athenians also wanted to stop shipments of grain from Sicily to the Peloponnese, as well as arrange Sicilian affairs to their liking. [57] Some have proposed that an additional Athenian aim was to disrupt the supply of shipbuilding timber from the west to Corinth. [58] Whether or not the west was the only source of timber for Corinth, Thucydides does cite continuing Athenian naval efforts to control the western route and the Corinthian Gulf later in the war, and such efforts must have been at least somewhat successful in interdiction of shipping. [59] The abandonment of the so-called “Punic Amphora Building” in Corinth during the last quarter of the fifth century indicates at least a certain level of commercial disruption. [60]
Although Corcyra was used as a staging point by Athenian vessels, there is no reference to any Corcyrean triremes accompanying them to Sicily in 427. However, it may have been impossible for any pro-Athenians to depart Corcyra at this time, as 500 oligarchs had survived the purge and had formed a base on Mount Istome, carrying out depredations and causing a severe famine on Corcyra until they were eliminated with Athenian help in 425, when forty ships were sent as reinforcements to Sicily but also had orders to assist the Corcyreans on their way. [61]
Corcyrean ships are only attested in two expeditions recorded in Thucydides for the remainder of the Peloponnesian War. The first was fifteen triremes sent to assist Demosthenes at Leukas in 426. [62] However, Demosthenes changed plans and used his force to attack the Aitolians instead, which led the Corcyrean vessels to depart before the operation met with disaster. [63] The second was to Sicily in 413 when fifteen triremes joined the reinforcements to the Sicilian Expedition brought by Demosthenes and Eurymedon in 413. [64]
These small contingents have been dismissed as indicative of either Corcyrean military and economic weakness, or of a lack of political will. [65] John Wilson sees the original fleet as a product of political circumstances (“a temporary and fragile congruence of the interests of the oligoi and the dēmos”), [66] circumstances that changed so drastically after the stasis that warships could no longer be operated by the Corcyreans on the same scale. He, therefore, proposes that it was a political decision of the Corcyreans not to provide more assistance to Athens during the Peloponnesian War, rather than a limitation caused by decreased economic potential. He also finds it remarkable that the Athenians did not put more pressure on them to participate in military operations. [67]
This lack of participation is a surprising state of affairs that our sources unfortunately do not provide enough evidence to explain. After his focus on the events of the stasis, Thucydides does not provide substantive detail on any later events involving the Corcyreans (although he continues to stress the enmity between the Corcyreans and their mother city, as we will see below). In fact, he states categorically that his account from that point forward will only mention the most important military actions in the west. [68] According to Thucydides’ own criteria, its diminished ship numbers demoted the status of Corcyra from its former place as a first-rank naval power, and this could have been another mark against more detailed coverage.
Diodorus relates a brief tale of a second stasis on Corcyra under the year 411/10. [69] While this event is omitted by both Thucydides and Xenophon, most recent scholarship accepts its veracity though disagreeing on its severity. [70] Class distinctions factored in this event, with the “leading citizens” favoring the establishment of a pro-Spartan oligarchy and the dēmos calling for Athenian assistance, which arrived with Konon and 600 Messenians from Naupaktos. An additional intriguing detail is that the dēmos is said to have enfranchised foreigners who were on the island in order to enlist their support, an indication that commerce may still have been important on Corcyra. [71] Diodorus speaks of many deaths and over a thousand Corcyreans being exiled, but then a reconciliation several days later, when the Corcyreans “stopped their contentiousness, and lived in their fatherland in common.” [72] This outcome, if accurate, would likely have made this second stasis less destructive than the first, when no such reconciliation occurred. The recent loss of the Corcyrean ships and crews that accompanied the Athenians to Sicily may have contributed to the power struggle on the home island. It is intriguing, however, to see the dēmos maintaining a pro-Athenian stance even after the disaster in Sicily.

The ‘Anomalous Ally’

Maria Intrieri has referred to the Corcyreans as one of the “alleati anomali” of the Athenians in the Ionian Sea, along with other island states such as Zakynthos and the four poleis of Kephallenia. [73] This concept is useful but deserves further examination. The speech of the Athenian envoy Euphemos at Kamarina in Book Six of Thucydides characterizes the relationship of Athens to its allies in the following way:

We manage [them] as our interest requires—the Chians and Methymnians furnish ships and are their own masters, others pay tribute—others, although they are islanders and might be easily conquered, enjoy complete freedom, because they are situated conveniently for operations around the Peloponnese.
Thucydides 6.85.1–2, translation Dent 1910 [74]

With all due consideration given to the political agenda of an Athenian envoy in this setting, the islands ‘round the Peloponnese’ do appear to be those in the Ionian Sea referenced by Intrieri. They were more remote from the Aegean and therefore not as easily brought under the aegis of Athens. However, even finer distinctions within this group are discernable.

In Thucydides’ catalogue of allies that accompanied the Athenians on the Sicilian Expedition in 415, the Corcyreans are listed together with the Kephallenians and Zakynthians but are then distinguished from them in terms of motivation for participation, and also according to Thucydides’ schema for detailing colonial relationships. Thucydides states that the Kephallenians and Zakynthians went because they were kept in awe as islanders by Athenian sea power. [75] The Corcyreans, however, went “under color of compulsion but really out of free will through hatred of Corinth.” [76]
It is not stated how many Corcyrean warships were involved in 415. [77] However, Thucydides states that fifteen Corcyrean triremes were “directed” (keleusas) to join Eurymedon’s force in 413. [78] The question of how much compulsion was required on the part of Athens to procure naval assistance from Corcyra brings to mind the aforementioned expedition of Demosthenes in 426, which shifted its intended target to Aitolia. The Zakynthians and Kephallenians followed the new plan, but the fifteen Corcyrean ships departed the force. [79]
The vagaries of the Athenian/Corcyrean military and political alliance were undoubtedly part of the basis for the curse directed against the Corcyreans by the comic poet Hermippos in the Phormophoroi (dated ca. 425). At the end of a satirical catalog of various goods brought to Athens from around her empire, the poet calls upon Poseidon to destroy the Corcyreans and their hollow ships, “since they are of two minds.” [80] As has been pointed out by Rusten, the ambiguity of the expression could refer to the stasis, to the alliance with Athens, or to the failure of the Corcyreans to honor their pledge to join the Greek fleet at Salamis. [81] Obviously the comic thrust of the invective may have depended on all of these simultaneously. But it does help underscore the unique circumstances of the alliance. Corcyra was just remote enough to avoid a complete assertion of Athenian dominance, and yet was just important enough to Athens’ western strategy that it needed to be secured from control by the enemies of the Athenians. Hermippos’ jibe can be seen as a recognition that this state of affairs would not have been ideal from an Athenian perspective, but it may be seen from a Corcyrean perspective as an advantage.

Corcyra in the Early Fourth Century

We are ill-informed about events on Corcyra from 411/10 to the 370s, [82] but eventually aspects of Corcyrean economics and history repeated themselves. In successfully enticing Athenian support against the Spartans in the 370s, the Corcyreans are said to have made a very similar ‘sales pitch’ to the one from 433, citing their island’s advantageous position and possession of warships. [83] After Timotheos’ expedition of 375, the Corcyreans, along with the Kephallenians and Akarnanians, became members of the Second Athenian League. [84] When Spartan forces under Mnasippos ravaged Corcyra in 373, the island is said to have been extremely prosperous at that time, with many vineyard-producing estates, sumptuous houses, and many slaves. [85] We also hear of Corcyrean naval operations again. They contributed at least ten triremes to the forces under Timotheos in 375. [86] There is also a reference to Corcyrean triremes assisting Iphikrates in 373. Iphikrates came to the island with a force of seventy ships and then led ninety to Kephallenia, indicating that approximately twenty Corcyrean triremes were involved. [87]
Thus, we see the Corcyreans still enjoying the material benefits of their local productivity and geographic advantages, and maintaining a fair number of triremes even if they were no longer one of the leading naval powers of the Greek world. Although it would press the evidence much too far to claim that conditions on the island had remained completely unchanged for decades, it is enough to dismiss severe economic decline on Corcyra after the Peloponnesian War. Some decline in prosperity would have been almost inevitable, given the generally depressed economic conditions on the Greek mainland at the end of the fifth century, and might have made it impossible to achieve anything close to the 120-trireme peak of the mid-fifth century. However, the lower level of fleet strength could be seen instead as more of an adaptation to changed political circumstances than a reflection of economic malaise.
As Corinth was no longer a major naval power, [88] their former rivalry no doubt continued but would have become less important. Syracuse must also be considered. Syracusan expansion in the Adriatic occurred early in the 380s when Dionysios I established naval bases on the islands of Lissos and Issa near the Illyrian coast. [89] However, his primary attention was directed against the Carthaginians and despite the assertions of some, no evidence strongly supports the idea that Syracusan forces were now regularly policing the Ionian Sea. [90] In 375 the Spartans informed the tyrant that it would be more in line with his interests if Corcyra did not become an ally of the Athenians. [91] Even then, no Syracusan response was immediately forthcoming. Dionysios I did not intervene until 372, sending only ten ships against Corcyra and the Athenians, all but one of which were lost. [92] Later attempts to control shipping on the Ionian passage by Dionysios II were limited to the establishment of two bases in Apulia. [93] Therefore, it is not prudent to place too much emphasis on the threat (or even influence) of Syracuse.
It may have been the threat of Spartan naval power that entered Corcyrean calculations. Spartan political machinations involving Syracuse and Sicily after 404 show that they maintained an interest in affairs in the west. [94] Although the Spartans concentrated on the Aegean during their period of naval dominance and did not show direct aggression against Corcyra until the 370s, the Corcyreans would have certainly remembered their interventions during the Peloponnesian War. Had they embarked on another major shipbuilding program, they may very well have been targeted by the Spartans, and the Athenians would have been in no position to help them. [95]
Their decision not to reclaim their old status may have been made easier by a new realization. It is intriguing to see figures of ten to twenty triremes operating in several instances from 413 to 373. It may be that the Corcyreans came to realize that this number was all that they needed to control merchant shipping that passed their island on the route between Italy and Sicily. [96] It could have thus become a new standard operating strength that the Corcyreans maintained for several decades, with more no doubt kept in reserve (approaching a fleet total of perhaps thirty to forty, but likely not exceeding fifty vessels).
By the time that the Spartans were once again motivated to intervene in the west in the 370s, a rejuvenated Athens could be approached for help yet again. The Corcyreans may have come to regret their overtures to Athens after Chares helped install an oligarchy on the island in 361/0, [97] but one cannot fault them for failing to predict that eventuality.


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[ back ] 1. I would like to thank all of my fellow panelists at the Celtic Conference in Classics 2017 in Montreal, and especially Thomas J. Figueira, Michael McGlin, and Aaron Hershkowitz for helpful comments, corrections, and assistance with the final draft. Any errors of fact or interpretation that may remain are the sole responsibility of the author. This study represents a further exploration of my views on Corcyra expressed in Rutishauser 2012:66–71. Unlike there, I have adopted the spelling “Corcyra” because of general usage and familiarity for the present work.
[ back ] 2. The bibliography is extensive, but relevant studies include: Bruce 1971; Stadter 1983; Gehrke 1985:328–339; Wilson 1987; Intrieri 2002 and 2015; Fantasia 2008; Parmeggiani 2016.
[ back ] 3. Wilson 1987:111 sees the alliance as a missed opportunity and Corcyra’s contribution to Athens’ western strategy as a “might-have-been”; Bloedow 1991:209 thinks Athenian confidence in the Corcyreans and their competence was misplaced.
[ back ] 4. Thucydides 1.13.1–5.
[ back ] 5. Kallet-Marx 1993:21–36.
[ back ] 6. Thucydides 1.13.4, stating that it occurred 260 years before the Peloponnesian War (664 BCE).
[ back ] 7. Thucydides 1.14.2; Herodotus 7.168 for the ships in 480.
[ back ] 8. Thucydides 1.25.4 (also referencing their pride in their purported Phaiakian heritage) and 1.33.1–2. There may have been enough timber available for shipbuilding in their own territory, either on the island itself or in its peraia: Thucydides 3.85.4; Psoma 2016:150–151; Intrieri 2011:190–191.
[ back ] 9. Thucydides 1.13.5 on early Corinthian suppression of piracy.
[ back ] 10. Herodotus 7.168.4. The Corcyreans would have most likely possessed at least one hundred triremes at this time to spare so many.
[ back ] 11. At Salamis: Herodotus 8.1. At Leukimme: Thucydides 1.27.2.
[ back ] 12. At Sybota in 433 they could deploy ninety, with a further sixty from their allies: Thucydides 1.46.1.
[ back ] 13. Morakis 2016:266–269.
[ back ] 14. Herodotus 7.158.4; Thucydides 1.14.2 on nautika axiologia.
[ back ] 15. Diodorus 12.30.1. Morakis 2016:271 states that “maintaining a permanent fleet was not a priority for Syracuse” in the fifth century.
[ back ] 16. Thucydides 3.86.4. De Angelis 2016:295 suggests that the Syracusans were attempting to stop grain exports from Leontini to Athens.
[ back ] 17. Thucydides 4.25.1–7.
[ back ] 18. Dell 1967:355–356 finds little evidence of such activity before the late fourth century. See also Hornblower 1991:70. There are statements in Lysias regarding the hazards of navigation in the Adriatic at the end of the fifth century (Against Diogeiton 32.25 and Against Aischines fr.4=Athenaios Deipnosophistai 13.612d), but Dell 1967:350–351 on the possibility that these are references to general sailing conditions since piracy is not specifically mentioned.
[ back ] 19. Kiechle 1979:183–184 (dismissing Strabo 5.1.7 C214 and Dionysius of Halicarnassus 1.18.4). However, the Athenians do appear to have targeted commerce in the Corinthian Gulf in the 440s. Tolmides’ expedition brought Zakynthos and Kephallenia over to the Athenian side but did not reach Corcyra: Thucydides 1.108.5; Diodorus 11.84.2–8. For discussion see Rahe 2019:174–177.
[ back ] 20. Psoma 2015:158–162 thinks control of piracy was the main purpose of the Corcyrean navy.
[ back ] 21. Thucydides 1.37.3. The meaning of “necessity” is somewhat vague—see Hornblower 1991:81. However, at 1.37.4 the Corinthians accuse the Corcyreans of criminality in this context, interpreted as a charge of “piracy” by Foster 2010:60n45. See also Wilson 1987:26; Debnar 2011:120.
[ back ] 22. For the Ionian passage, see Marangio 1998, and Intrieri 2011:186n34 for a list of ancient testimonia. For the interpretation of a deliberate control of commerce by the Corcyreans see Rutishauser 2012:66–70. Kiechle 1979:178 expresses skepticism that shipping needed to put in at Corcyra for purely operational reasons. Bresson 2016:55 likens Corcyra’s position to Byzantion’s in terms of control of a sea passage.
[ back ] 23. [Skylax] 29 attests to three harbors, although Thucydides 3.72.3 only mentions two, the Hyllos and the Alkinoos ports.
[ back ] 24. Thucydides 1.26.1.
[ back ] 25. Thucydides 1.46.1.
[ back ] 26. Kraay 1979; Figueira 1998:489–493; Kagan 1998 and 2013a.
[ back ] 27. The original proponent of economic causes for the war, particularly in regards to control of supplies of silver, was Beaumont 1936:183–184. His position was assailed by Kagan 1969:205–221, and Hornblower 1991:81 is also skeptical. However, some acknowledgement of potential economic rivalries can be seen in Wilson 1987:26 and Kagan 1998:171 and n.35.
[ back ] 28. For Aigina: Figueira 2016:508–509, citing Pindar Olympian 8.20–30 with scholia and Aristotle fr. 475.1 Gigon. For Polykrates on Samos sending suspect elite captains and their client crews on forty triremes to Egypt: Herodotus 3.44.1–2.
[ back ] 29. Figueira 2011.
[ back ] 30. On the Themistoklean naval reform see [Aristotle] Athenaion Politeia 22.7 and Figueira 2011:199–200. Kagan 2013b:5 suggests that the large issue of Corcyrean staters known from the late sixth-/early fifth-century hoard found in the agora of Corcyra (over one hundred obverse and reverse dies estimated) may have been struck for their shipbuilding program.
[ back ] 31. On his brief sojourn on Corcyra before his flight to Admetos, see Thucydides 1.136.1 (where he is called “benefactor” to the Corcyreans) and other references gathered in Rahe 2019:259n62. On his supposed role (undated) as an arbitrator between Corcyra and Corinth: Theophrastos fr. 611 (Fortenbaugh 1992) and Plutarch Themistocles 24.1. Marr 1998:138–139 is skeptical of Theophrastos’ testimony.
[ back ] 32. The most extensive modern treatments are Intrieri 2001 and Psoma 2015.
[ back ] 33. Carusi 2001:95–105 cites archaeological remains to propose that the coastal area between the peninsula of Lygia and that of Hexamili (Butrint) was the most likely center of this peraia.
[ back ] 34. References gathered at Psoma 2015:148–149 and Intrieri 2011:194–196.
[ back ] 35. Thucydides 3.70.4–5. See Bresson 2016:127 on the significance of this passage, though Bruzzoni and Olson 2020 have proposed that it was actually timber that was cut by the oligarchs from the sacred precinct. Kiechle 1979:185 doubts that the elites on Corcyra were much involved in commerce, but Fantasia 2008:197n79 correctly notes that the statement of Thucydides 3.74.2 on the destruction of their own property as well as that of others in the agora shows otherwise. Though the finds begin later in the fourth century, Italy, Sicily, and Tripolitania were all destinations for ‘Corinthian B’ amphoras produced in Corcyra and elsewhere: Whitbread 1995:278–285; Wilson 2006; Bresson 2016:127–128. Another source from the late fourth century, [Aristotle] Peri Thaumasiōn Akousmatōn 839a–b, mentions merchants trading in Corcyrean amphoras in the Adriatic.
[ back ] 36. Pausanias 10.9.3–4 on the dedication. For discussion: Psoma 2015:147–148; Bresson 2016:178; Intrieri 2011:192–193.
[ back ] 37. Psoma 2015:153–157, with a chart of fractions and weights and references to older literature. On pages 154–155, Psoma draws a comparison to the decree from Olbia that mandated the use of local currency in all transactions (IK Kalchedon 16).
[ back ] 38. Calligas 1971; Wilson 1997–1998:50–53.
[ back ] 39. Thucydides 1.33.2.
[ back ] 40. Thucydides 1.44.2. Lazenby 2004:23 calls it “machiavellian.” Stadter 1983:135–136 posits that the Athenians would not have wished another state to have the potential for naval hegemony, and that all the Athenians really needed out of the epimachia was a base for western expeditions. Hornblower 2008:1057–1059 is skeptical that this motive was the dominant one among most Athenians.
[ back ] 41. Stadter 1983:4; Bloedow 1991:208–209; Wilson 1987:130; Debnar 2011:129. The Corcyrean envoys admit this at Thucydides 1.35.5, where they state that the Athenians would be better off having a state with a strong navy as their friend.
[ back ] 42. Thucydides 1.36.2 and 1.44.3. Bloedow 1991:197–199 goes too far in stating Athens had nothing to fear even if the Corinthians had appropriated the Corcyrean ships, because of outmoded naval tactics demonstrated by the Corinthians at Sybota. Any augmentation of the Corinthian fleet could have changed the power dynamic with Athens at this time.
[ back ] 43. Thucydides 1.44.1. It is unclear whether or not the distinction mattered much from a Corinthian perspective, and Diodorus 12.33.4 implies that the Athenians intended to send more than ten ships all along. Parmeggiani 2016:41 calls the epimachia a “smoke screen” (“una cortina fumogena”). At Thucydides 1.53.3 the Athenians refer to the Corcyreans as their ‘symmachois’ when answering the Corinthian charges of breaking the Thirty Years’ Peace during negotiations right after the battle.
[ back ] 44. Thucydides 1.47.1 (initial ship strength); 1.54.2 (losses of ships); 1.55.1 (prisoners).
[ back ] 45. Thucydides 2.25.1; Diodorus 12.43 incorrectly dates the event to 430/29.
[ back ] 46. Wilson 1987:50–51, citing Thucydides 1.54.1–2.
[ back ] 47. Fantasia 2008:175–176 suggests that the Corcyreans may have held back from more robust assistance to the Athenians during this period, out of concern for the safety of the prisoners held in Corinth.
[ back ] 48. Thucydides 3.69–81. The account in Diodorus 12.57.3–4 is unsatisfactory (among other problems, the suppliants in the temples are spared by the dēmos, in direct contradiction to Thucydides’ tale of extreme violence). The bibliography on the stasis is extensive, but the most recent treatment is Palmer 2017:410–414.
[ back ] 49. Thucydides 3.70.2. Bruce 1971:109 calls this a “perhaps naive and unrealistic decision.” See also Bauslaugh 1991:133–135.
[ back ] 50. Thucydides 3.70.1–6 on the prosecutions and subsequent murders.
[ back ] 51. Thucydides 3.71.1–2. Bruce 1971:111 regards the resolution to return to neutrality as “remarkably moderate” given the violence that had occurred, but it did carry considerable risks as both Athenian and Peloponnesian warships were soon to intervene in Corcyrean affairs.
[ back ] 52. Thucydides 3.75.3–4. Wilson 1987:97–98 estimates 200 men for five triremes.
[ back ] 53. Thucydides 3.77.1.
[ back ] 54. Thucydides 3.81.4 on debtors killing the wealthy during the stasis, for which see the cautionary remarks of Hornblower 1991:476–477, who points out that Peithias had at least sixty supporters in the Council, who were presumably well-off. Economic factors in the stasis have been dismissed by Gehrke 1985:368–369, but supported by Fantasia 2008:197–199 and Christ 1989:144–147. Thucydides 3.84 refers to some committing violence during the stasis out of greed for the possessions of the rich. This chapter is considered by many to be spurious (see Fuks 1971:53–54 and Hornblower 1991:488–489), though its authenticity is defended by Christ 1989. The remark of Hornblower 1991:489 that Thucydides “does not, or does not often, give us the kind of economic detail that we would like” is very relevant. The statement on debtors in 3.81.4, as well as the reference to poverty in 3.82.2, give support to the interpretation of Christ 1989:145 that Thucydides considered economic motives to have been one of many in the stasis, without necessarily giving it precedence over other motives.
[ back ] 55. Intrieri 2016:260n111 favors a redistribution of property afterward. A possible parallel is Thucydides 8.21, which speaks of the confiscation of the land and houses of the Geomoroi on Samos after an uprising in 412/11 led to the deaths of 200 of their number and the exile of a further 400. No details on the fate of the “confiscated” properties of these Samians survive, but other parallels are known. Thucydides 5.4 mentions a plan of the dēmos at Leontini to redistribute land that was thwarted by the rich of that polis after they called in assistance from the Syracusans. Although hard evidence for a redistribution on Corcyra after the stasis is lacking, the possibility must not be dismissed.
[ back ] 56. Thucydides 3.86.1. The Athenians had renewed earlier symmachia agreements with Leontini (IG I3 54) and Rhegion (IG I3 53) in 433. For both inscriptions see now Osborne and Rhodes 2017 #149:282–287.
[ back ] 57. Thucydides 3.86.1–3. See also 6.84.1 (from the speech of the Athenian envoy Euphemos at Kamarina). Lazenby 2004:57–58 is skeptical on the importance of grain shipments to Corinth from the west, but this factor is accepted by Westlake 1960:390–391.
[ back ] 58. Legon 1981:219–221 favors a Corinthian dependence on western timber, though Meiggs 1982:129–130 expresses skepticism. Rahe 2020:313n37 follows Meiggs, but then emphasizes at 340n36 the inability of Corinth to regain its status as a naval power by 421. Even if the Corinthians could source timber from Epiros or elsewhere in northwestern Greece, the ships carrying it would have to enter the Corinthian Gulf.
[ back ] 59. Thucydides 7.17.2–4 and 7.34.1–8; 8.13. The effectiveness of Athenian blockade efforts has also been debated, with MacDonald 1982 dismissive and Pébarthe 2008:150–151 in support.
[ back ] 60. Zimmerman-Munn 2003:214.
[ back ] 61. Thucydides 3.85 (on the exiles); 4.2.3 (on the Athenian orders to help); 4.46–48 (on the suppression of the exiles).
[ back ] 62. Thucydides 3.94.
[ back ] 63. Thucydides 3.95–98 (3.95.2 on the departure of the Corcyreans).
[ back ] 64. Thucydides 7.31.
[ back ] 65. Intrieri 2015:56 (“potesse riflettere una situazione di intrinseca debolezza o di semplice riluttanza”).
[ back ] 66. Wilson 1987:117.
[ back ] 67. Wilson 1987:114–118.
[ back ] 68. Thucydides 3.90.1. Hornblower 1991:498 remarks on what he calls “surprising omissions” from the historian’s account of the first Athenian expedition to Sicily.
[ back ] 69. Diodorus 13.48.5–8.
[ back ] 70. Intrieri 2015:57–58 and 2016:260; Fantasia 2008:187n53; Wilson 1987:113–114 proposes that an oligarchic takeover could have made Corcyrean warships available to the Spartans. Bleckmann 1998:251–257 theorizes that the Oxyrhynchos Historian was Diodorus’ source, and that this Historian magnified the importance of the event in order to criticize Thucydides’ closure of discussion of stasis on the island after the 420s. Rood 2004:381–382 confesses to an inability to explain Diodorus’ treatment of the event or Xenophon’s omission of it, stating at 382 that “at most we can say that … [it]was a minor event, peripheral to the course of the Peloponnesian War.” Christien 2015:126–127 considers it destructive enough to have ended Corcyrean naval power until the 370s.
[ back ] 71. Intrieri 2015:57–59.
[ back ] 72. Diodorus 13.48.8: εἰς ὁμολογίας ἦλθον πρὸς ἀλλήλους, καὶ τῆς φιλονεικίας παυσάμενοι κοινῶς ᾤκουν τὴν πατρίδα.
[ back ] 73. Intrieri 2002:76–78 and 2015:53.
[ back ] 74. Thucydides 6.85.2: καὶ γὰρ τοὺς ἐκεῖ ξυμμάχους ὡς ἕκαστοι χρήσιμοι ἐξηγούμεθα, Χίους μὲν καὶ Μηθυμναίους νεῶν παροκωχῇ αὐτονόμους, τοὺς δὲ πολλοὺς χρημάτων βιαιότερον φορᾷ, ἄλλους δὲ καὶ πάνυ ἐλευθέρως ξυμμαχοῦντας, καίπερ νησιώτας ὄντας καὶ εὐλήπτους, διότι ἐν χωρίοις ἐπικαίροις εἰσὶ περὶ τὴν Πελοπόννησον.
[ back ] 75. Thucydides 7.57.7: Κεφαλλῆνες μὲν καὶ Ζακύνθιοι αὐτόνομοι μέν, κατὰ δὲ τὸ νησιωτικὸν μᾶλλον κατειργόμενοι, ὅτι θαλάσσης ἐκράτουν οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι.
[ back ] 76. Thucydides 7.57.7: ἀνάγκῃ μὲν ἐκ τοῦ εὐπρεποῦς, βουλήσει δὲ κατὰ ἔχθος τὸ Κορινθίων οὐχ ἦσσον εἴποντο (translation Dent 1910).
[ back ] 77. Wilson 1987:111–112 is skeptical that any participated at all because no ship numbers are given.
[ back ] 78. Thucydides 7.31.5.
[ back ] 79. Thucydides 3.95.2.
[ back ] 80. Poetae Comici Graeci fr. 63, 10–12: ὁτιὴ ɗίχα θυμὸν ἔχουσι.
[ back ] 81. Rusten 2011:106–107. The Corcyreans are singled out at Herodotus 7.168.1–2.
[ back ] 82. Christien 2015:124–132 gives an overview.
[ back ] 83. Xenophon Hellenica 6.2.8–9 places this appeal in response to Mnasippos’ expedition. However, Diodorus 15.46.2 places it earlier, in response to Alkidas’ expedition of 375, which Tuplin 1984:553 advocates.
[ back ] 84. Timotheos’ expedition: Xenophon Hellenica 5.4.62–66 and Diodorus 15.36.5. Enrollment in the League: IG II2 96 (= Rhodes and Osborne 2003 #24:108–113).
[ back ] 85. Xenophon Hellenica 6.2.6.
[ back ] 86. Xenophon Hellenica 5.4.66.
[ back ] 87. Xenophon Hellenica 6.2.24, 38. Although some have favored textual corruption in 38, it is easily resolved by understanding the attested ninety ships as Iphikrates’ total force after being augmented by Corcyrean ships, not a figure for just the Corcyrean contribution. Christien 2015:134 and 142 refers to this as a brief reemergence of Corcyrean maritime power. Isokrates Antidosis 15.109 attempts to exaggerate the achievements of Timotheos by claiming that the Corcyreans possessed a total of eighty triremes when he brought their island into alliance with Athens in 375, leading Fauber 1998:113 to call Corcyra “a regional power of some stature” at that time. Isokrates’ figure, included in a rhetorical exercise composed in the 350s, should not be taken literally but can support the memory of an appreciable certain level of Corcyrean capabilities.
[ back ] 88. Christien 2015:124 states that the Corcyreans were “exhausted” by the end of the Peloponnesian War, but then claims that they could still have guarded the Ionian passage.
[ back ] 89. Diodorus 15.13.1, 4.
[ back ] 90. As advocated by Christien 2015:131–132, who expressly states that the Corcyreans were incapable of performing this task at the time. Caven 1990:149–150 surmises that Dionysios wished to acquire new sources of timber, silver, and mercenaries from the east, but to use against Carthage. Other targets far from Corcyra tempted him as well, as Etruria was raided by a major Syracusan fleet in 384: Diodorus 15.14.3; Livy 5.40, 7.20; Strabo 5.226.
[ back ] 91. Xenophon Hellenica 6.2.4.
[ back ] 92. Xenophon Hellenica 6.2.73.
[ back ] 93. Diodorus 16.5.3.
[ back ] 94. For the activities of Dexippos at Gela in 406: Diodorus 13.93.1. For Aretes at Syracuse: Diodorus 14.10.3. For Pharax at Syracuse in 396: Diodorus 14.63, 70. For general discussion of this phenomenon, see Hornblower 2008:7–9.
[ back ] 95. In this sense, Christien 2015:129 is correct to state that Sparta in a practical sense had replaced Corinth as the ‘métropole’ of Corcyra.
[ back ] 96. This is in fact surmised by Wilson 1987:109 in noting the figure of fifteen triremes to Sicily in 413.
[ back ] 97. Aeneas Tacticus 11.13–15.