Spartan Nauarchs of the 390s: Xenophon, Diodorus, and the Naval War

  Tsakmakis, Antonis. 2023. “Spartan Nauarchs of the 390s: Xenophon, Diodorus, and the Naval War.” In “Γέρα: Studies in honor of Professor Menelaos Christopoulos,” ed. Athina Papachrysostomou, Andreas P. Antonopoulos, Alexandros-Fotios Mitsis, Fay Papadimitriou, and Panagiota Taktikou, special issue, Classics@ 25.

Our knowledge about the Spartan nauarchs of the mid-390s [1] is derived exclusively from literary sources: Xenophon, Diodorus and the anonymous author of the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia. Since the accounts of these three historians are not fully compatible with one another, discussion of what seems to be a historical issue—the history of Spartan nauarchy between 399 and 394—turns out to give rise to a series of philological questions: How are conflicting testimonies by Greek historians to be dealt with; how are we to assess the reliability of literary sources; and, ultimately, how should we read Greek historical narratives? The first part of this paper surveys the historical information which the texts provide; the second part aims at the interpretation of some key historiographical passages in their respective contexts.
The Spartan nauarchy is not well documented. It is generally known that a person could hold this office only once, [2] and that the naval year began around the end of summer or in the early autumn; the new nauarch was nominated by the magistrates during the summer, but we possess no details about the actual election procedure. Only a few names of fifth-century Spartan nauarchs have been preserved, most of these pertaining to the last fifteen years of the century. Sparta was a land power and expanded its navy during the Peloponnesian War; the fleet took on great important in the Ionian War. Sparta’s decisive victory in the naval battle of Aegospotami (405) was a triumph of Lysander who had been nauarch in 408/407, an epistoleus (vice-admiral) in 406/405 (and perhaps also in 405/404), and remained the mastermind behind Spartan foreign and defence policy during the first period of the Spartan hegemony. The nauarchs continued to play a crucial role even after Lysander’s decline in the years following the restoration of democracy in Athens (403), as Sparta tried to establish its influence not only in mainland Greece but also in Ionia and the West. A naval defeat, in the battle of Cnidus in August 394, played a decisive in the decline of Spartan hegemony. [3]
Before the London papyrus of the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia was published (1908), the only established names of Spartan nauarchs between 399 and the battle of Cnidus (394) were Pharax and Peisandros. The Hellenica Oxyrhynchia added three further names to the list, those of Archelaidas, Pollis, and Cheiricrates. While this was a welcome addition to our knowledge, the testimony of the anonymous historian raised further problems. Firstly, Pollis (who according to the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia became nauarch in 395) was mentioned by Xenophon as the nauarch of 377/376, [4] a state of affairs which would have violated the rule prohibiting the same person from holding the office twice. Secondly, the replacement of Archelaidas by Pollis happened in spring 395 rather than at the customary time of year (i.e. the end of the summer). Did Pollis serve more or less than a year? Was he an ordinary nauarch or was he charged with a nauarch’s duties without being officially nominated, because the official nauarch Archelaidas had for some reason become unable to fulfil the role? Thirdly, while the new text tells us that the nauarch of 395/394 was Cheiricrates, Xenophon (Hellenica 3.4.27–29) mentions another nauarch in relation to this period, namely Peisandros. Our aim here is to make some suggestions as to how all of these inconsistencies might be resolved.

Spartan nauarchs, 399–394

Pharax is mentioned by Xenophon in Hellenica 3.2.12–14 as a nauarch who was active in the Aegean in the first half of the 390s. Diodorus reports that he initiated a blockade of the Persian fleet under Conon in Caunus; he further mentions that the blockade was lifted by Pharax himself several months later (14.79.4–7). Pharax is referred to in Hellenica Oxyrhynchia 10.1 as the nauarch of a (the?) previous year (ὁ πρότερον ναύαρχος) in a passage which deals with the so-called Demaenetos affair, in which the latter took a trireme and sailed from Athens to join Conon, an incident which is known from this text alone and whose date does not appear in the preserved fragments of the work. The event is now safely dated to the end of 396 or, rather, to the first months of 395, [5] which means that, Pharax must have been the nauarch of 397/396 or earlier. We know of no other nauarch for the years 399/398 and 398/397, yet these dates would be too early for the activities reported by Xenophon and Diodorus. [6] We may thus conclude that Pharax was nauarch in 397/396. [7] Consequently, the blockade of Conon’s fleet by Pharax in Caunus must be dated to 396. [8] Its duration is unknown.
A further question regarding Pharax is whether he is the same person as a certain Φαρακίδας who, according to Diodorus (14.63.4, 14.70.1, 14.70.3, 14.72.1), was sent in 396/395 as commander of a Spartan naval force to support Dionysius of Syracuse against the Carthaginians. [9] Most scholars accept the identification of the two. [10] The different form of the name may be due to Diodorus’ use of a different source. [11] The number of individuals named Pharax is also a matter of debate. Pausanias 4.3.15 reports that after Aigospotami the Ephesians dedicated statues of Pharax, Lysander, Eteonicos, and other Spartans to the temple of Artemis, a sign that Pharax (the nauarch) took an active part in the final stages of the Ionian War. He is probably the same Pharax who became proxenos of Thebes, [12] and was sent as an ambassador to Athens in 370. [13] The name is also associated with one of the ten σύμβουλοι who accompanied King Agis in Mantineia in 418. However, this person must have been old enough to be the King’s σύμβουλος in the early 410s (cf. Diodorus 12.79.6: ἀξίωμα … μέγιστον ἔχων ἐν τῇ Σπάρτῃ); he can hardly have remained active in public life for some fifty years after that; [14] this second Pharax may also have been the father of a certain Styphon (called son of Pharax), who served as a commander in Pylos in 425 (Thucydides 4.38.1). Another Spartan of the same name was active in Sicily in 355; he was reputedly of bad character. [15]
The name Archelaidas is found only in the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia 12.2 (εἰς τὴν ναυαρχίαν τὴ]ν ᾽Αρχελαΐδα κατα[στὰς διάδοχος). The text is corrupt and there is no general agreement that this is the name of a nauarch, as is assumed by most editors and commentators, who accept the restoration of the passage by Newman. [16] An intriguing question is why the nauarch of 396/395 was replaced in spring 395, but the reason for the replacement is not attested in any source.
The name of Archelaidas’ successor has not been preserved in this passage, but it can only be Pollis, since in 22.1 the Oxyrhynchus historian reports that in late summer 395 Pollis was succeeded in the nauarchy by Cheiricrates. It follows that he served for less than a year in this office, more specifically a full summer season (which includes the spring). Pollis remained active for several years. He is mentioned as a vice-admiral (epistoleus) at the side of nauarch Podanemos in 393/392 (Xenophon Hellenica 4.8.11); in 388 he was sent as an envoy to Syracuse. [17] In addition, as already noted, he is mentioned as the nauarch of 377/6 who was defeated by Chabrias at Naxos.
Cheiricrates is not known from any other source. According to the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia, in autumn 395 he replaced Pollis as commander of a fleet consisting of vessels from Sparta and the Ionian cities. He is mentioned again en passant in 25.4 (in autumn 395 he sent a certain Pangalos to the Hellespont with five triremes; Pangalos collaborated with Agesilaus who spent the following winter in Phrygia). Xenophon not only ignores Cheiricrates, but actually mentions another nauarch in relation to the same period. The Athenian author states that in the summer of 395, following Agesilaus’ victory in Sardeis, the king was asked by the Spartan authorities to appoint a nauarch himself (an astonishing piece of information) and accordingly chose Peisandros. [18] He later reports Peisandros’ death in Cnidus (see 3.4.27–29). It is inconceivable that the terms of office of two nauarchs could have overlapped; was Cheiricrates relieved of his duties, [19] or does one of the two historians err? Xenophon’s text will be discussed in the second part of this paper. First, however, let us examine Diodorus’ passage on the earlier events of the naval war.

Diodorus and Xenophon: methods and aims

Diodorus provides the most complete record of the beginning of the naval war. Here is his text:

Τούτων δὲ πραττομένων Λακεδαιμόνιοι μὲν πρέσβεις ἀπέστειλαν πρὸς Νεφερέα τὸν Αἰγύπτου βασιλέα περὶ συμμαχίας, ὃς ἀντὶ τῆς βοηθείας ἐδωρήσατο σκευὴν τοῖς Σπαρτιάταις ἑκατὸν τριήρεσι, σίτου δὲ μυριάδας πεντήκοντα. Φάραξ δὲ ὁ τῶν Λακεδαιμονίων ναύαρχος ἀναχθεὶς ἐκ όδου ναυσὶν ἑκατὸν εἴκοσι κατέπλευσε τῆς Καρίας πρὸς Σάσανδα, φρούριον ἀπέχον τῆς Καύνου σταδίους ἑκατὸν πεντήκοντα. Ἐκεῖθεν δὲ ὁρμώμενος ἐπολιόρκει τὴν Καῦνον, καὶ Κόνωνα μὲν τὸν τοῦ βασιλικοῦ στόλου τὴν ἡγεμονίαν ἔχοντα, διατρίβοντα δ´ ἐν Καύνῳ μετὰ νεῶν τεσσαράκοντα. Ἀρταφέρνους δὲ καὶ Φαρναβάζου μετὰ πολλῆς δυνάμεως παραβοηθήσαντος τοῖς Καυνίοις, ὁ Φάραξ ἔλυσε τὴν πολιορκίαν καὶ μετὰ τοῦ στόλου παντὸς ἀπῆρεν εἰς όδον. Μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα Κόνων μὲν ἀθροίσας ὀγδοήκοντα τριήρεις ἔπλευσεν εἰς Χερρόνησον, όδιοι δ´ ἐκβαλόντες τὸν τῶν Πελοποννησίων στόλον ἀπέστησαν ἀπὸ Λακεδαιμονίων, καὶ τὸν Κόνωνα προσεδέξαντο μετὰ τοῦ στόλου παντὸς εἰς τὴν πόλιν. Οἱ δ´ ἐκ τῆς Αἰγύπτου τὸν δωρηθέντα σῖτον κατακομίζοντες Λακεδαιμόνιοι τὴν ἀπόστασιν τῶν οδίων ἀγνοοῦντες τεθαρρηκότες προσέπλεον τῇ νήσῳ· όδιοι δὲ καὶ Κόνων ὁ τῶν Περσῶν ναύαρχος καταγαγόντες τὰς ναῦς εἰς τοὺς λιμένας ἐπλήρωσαν σίτου τὴν πόλιν. Παρεγενήθησαν δὲ τῷ Κόνωνι τριήρεις ἐνενήκοντα, δέκα μὲν ἀπὸ Κιλικίας, ὀγδοήκοντα δ´ ἀπὸ Φοινίκης, ὧν ὁ Σιδωνίων δυνάστης εἶχε τὴν ἡγεμονίαν.
While these events were taking place, the Lacedaemonians dispatched ambassadors to Nephereus, the king of Egypt, to conclude an alliance; he, in place of the aid requested, made the Spartans a gift of equipment for one hundred triremes and five hundred thousand measures of grain. Pharax, the Lacedaemonian admiral, sailing from Rhodes with one hundred and twenty ships, put in at Sasanda in Caria, a fortress one hundred and fifty stades from Caunus. From this as his base he laid siege to Caunus and blockaded Conon, who was commander of the King’s fleet and lay at Caunus with forty ships. But when Artaphernes and Pharnabazus came with strong forces to the aid of the Caunians, Pharax lifted the siege and sailed off to Rhodes with the entire fleet. After this Conon gathered eighty triremes and sailed to the Chersonesus, and the Rhodians, having expelled the Peloponnesian fleet, revolted from the Lacedaemonians and received Conon, together with his entire fleet, into their city. Now the Lacedaemonians, who were bringing the gift of grain from Egypt, being unaware of the defection of the Rhodians, approached the island in full confidence; but the Rhodians and Conon, the Persian admiral, brought the ships into the harbours and stored the city with grain. There also came to Conon ninety triremes, ten of them from Cilicia and eighty from Phoenicia, under the command of the lord of the Sidonians.
Diodorus 14.79.4–8 [20]

The above record is valuable, because Xenophon omits these incidents completely. However, the chronology and relative order of events between Conon’s appointment as commander of the Persian fleet (397) and the democratic revolution in Rhodes (summer 395) is not entirely clear. Diodorus’ account evidently includes events from more than one year. In chapters 14.40–78 he had related the events of four consecutive years in the West (see 14.44.1, 47.1 and 54.1), after which (14.79.1–3) he returned to the East to report Agesilaus’ campaign; this section covers a year’s activity up to autumn 396. When he finally turns to the naval war, he has to return to earlier developments. [21] In addition, the activities he attributes to Pharax extend beyond the end of the latter’s nauarchy and move to Sicily (late summer/early autumn 396). With this in mind, Meyer (1909:71), suggested that Diodorus was mistaken in attributing the blockade to Pharax. [22] It is, however, possible that the blockade began under Pharax in summer 396, meaning that the first mention of him by Diodorus is justified, but that Diodorus then omitted to report the change of nauarch. [23] The reason for this confusion may have been Diodorus’ practice of grouping actions by different agents into distinct, consecutive sections: as in the macro-structure of his work, Diodorus gives priority to a thematic arrangement also on a micro-level, i.e. within a single narrative, when he summarizes a more detailed source; this leads to a division of information according to individual actors. Thus, in the first section, he brings together the activities of the Spartans, starting with the mission to the Egyptian king and then focusing on Pharax. He gives a complete account of his actions (overlooking, however, the fact that, the nauarch had changed in the meantime partly because of the suppression of chronology) and only after having mentioned the termination of the blockade, does he move on to events in the opposite camp (Conon and the Rhodians, who had already changed sides). At the end, he concentrates on the actions of others: the arrival of the Egyptian help (which was captured by the Rhodians) and of the Phoenician fleet.

Taking into account the limits of Diodorus’ reliability, a consequence of his method of summarizing longer narratives, we can tentatively reconstruct the events in a way which is fully compatible with the other available sources. Conon was appointed commander of the Persian fleet in 397. After preparing his squadron, he moved to Cilicia, at the end of the same year. [24] In spring or early summer 396 [25] Conon sailed with forty triremes from Cilicia to Caunus. Pharax, who was still in office, initiated the blockade. After some months, the appearance of a large Persian force under Tissaphernes and Artaphernes alarmed the Spartans, and the new nauarch, who had replaced Pharax in late summer/early autumn 396 (and whose name we know to have been Archelaidas thanks to the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia), lifted the blockade. This provided Conon with the opportunity to move his fleet from Caunus to the Rhodian Chersonesos on the Asian coast. [26] At the same time, the increased Persian military presence in the area made it clear to the oligarchic government of Rhodes that their alliance with Sparta might prove a source of trouble for the city. They therefore expelled all Spartan officials from the island and closed their harbour to the Lacedaemonian fleet. That violent acts were perpetrated against Spartans is strongly suggested by their own harsh treatment of the Rhodian Dorieus: they arrested their former ally in Greece and executed him. [27] Diodorus’ statement όδιοι δ’ ἐκβαλόντες τὸν τῶν Πελοποννησίων στόλον ἀπέστησαν ἀπὸ Λακεδαιμονίων must not be taken literally, i.e. as meaning that the fleet was physically driven out. The revolt may have broken out while the fleet was absent, [28] so that the Spartans did not to return to Rhodes, as Diodorus suggested, but perhaps to Sasanda, [29] where they had been based during the blockade.
These events include the reason for Archelaidas’ early replacement. It appears that he was believed to be responsible for the failure of the blockade and the loss of Rhodes to the opposing alliance. As a consequence, he was deposed. Such a reaction is not atypical of Sparta; commanders who withdrew from an operation were regularly regarded as being ineffectual, or suspected of treachery. [30] In such a case, the new nauarch, Pollis must have been officially nominated. Consequently, even if his term of office lasted less than a year, he would not have been permitted to be re-elected as nauarch (due to the rule mentioned above), and this brings us to the next problem, his function in 377/376 Xenophon’s text runs as follows:

ταῦτα δὲ λογισάμενοι ἑξήκοντα μὲν τριήρεις ἐπλήρωσαν, Πόλλις δ᾽ αὐτῶν ναύαρχος ἐγένετο. καὶ μέντοι οὐκ ἐψεύσθησαν οἱ ταῦτα γνόντες, ἀλλ᾽ οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι ἐπολιορκοῦντο· τὰ γὰρ σιταγωγὰ αὐτοῖς πλοῖα ἐπὶ μὲν τὸν Γεραστὸν ἀφίκετο, ἐκεῖθεν δ᾽ οὐκέτι ἤθελε παραπλεῖν, τοῦ ναυτικοῦ ὄντος τοῦ Λακεδαιμονίων περί τε Αἴγιναν καὶ Κέω καὶ Ἄνδρον. γνόντες δ᾽ οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι τὴν ἀνάγκην, ἐνέβησαν αὐτοὶ εἰς τὰς ναῦς, καὶ ναυμαχήσαντες πρὸς τὸν Πόλλιν Χαβρίου ἡγουμένου νικῶσι τῇ ναυμαχίᾳ. καὶ ὁ μὲν σῖτος τοῖς Ἀθηναίοις οὕτω παρεκομίσθη.
Swayed by these arguments, the Spartans fitted out sixty triremes and chose Pollis to command them. And those who had made these criticisms were not disappointed, for the Athenians now found themselves besieged. Their grain transports went as far as Geraistos, but from there they refused to sail along the coast, since the Spartan navy was around Aegina, Keos, and Andros. The Athenians, recognizing the necessity, themselves boarded their ships and, with Chabrias as their commander, fought a battle at sea against Pollis and were victorious. And after that, the grain was successfully transported by ship to the Athenians.
Xenophon Hellenica 5.4.61 [31]

The expression Πόλλις δ᾽ αὐτῶν ναύαρχος ἐγένετο does not necessarily entail that Pollis was a nauarch; it rather points to the opposite, since αὐτῶν and ἐγένετο suggest an ad hoc nomination. Thus, the expression merely identifies Pollis as the commander of a specific naval force, the sixty triremes sent to the Corinthian Gulf against the Athenians. Ναύαρχος is not used as a technical term but has a broader significance. This terminological inaccuracy perhaps conflicts with modern expectations of historiography, but it is compatible with ancient writing conventions and, especially, with Xenophon’s habits.

Let us now turn to another Xenophontic section, where the historian claims the same title of nauarch for Peisandros.

ὄντι δ᾽ αὐτῷ ἐν τῷ πεδίῳ τῷ ὑπὲρ Κύμης ἔρχεται ἀπὸ τῶν οἴκοι τελῶν ἄρχειν καὶ τοῦ ναυτικοῦ ὅπως γιγνώσκοι καὶ καταστήσασθαι ναύαρχον ὅντινα αὐτὸς βούλοιτο. τοῦτο δ᾽ ἐποίησαν οἱ Λακεδαιμόνιοι τοιῷδε λογισμῷ, ὡς, εἰ ὁ αὐτὸς ἀμφοτέρων ἄρχοι, τό τε πεζὸν πολὺ ἂν ἰσχυρότερον εἶναι, καθ᾽ ἓν οὔσης τῆς ἰσχύος ἀμφοτέροις, τό τε ναυτικόν, ἐπιφαινομένου τοῦ πεζοῦ ἔνθα δέοι. ἀκούσας δὲ ταῦτα ὁ Ἀγησίλαος, πρῶτον μὲν ταῖς πόλεσι παρήγγειλε ταῖς ἐν ταῖς νήσοις καὶ ταῖς ἐπιθαλαττιδίοις τριήρεις ποιεῖσθαι ὁπόσας ἑκάστη βούλοιτο τῶν πόλεων. καὶ ἐγένοντο καιναί, ἐξ ὧν αἵ τε πόλεις ἐπηγγείλαντο καὶ οἱ ἰδιῶται ἐποιοῦντο χαρίζεσθαι βουλόμενοι, εἰς εἴκοσι καὶ ἑκατόν. Πείσανδρον δὲ τὸν τῆς γυναικὸς ἀδελφὸν ναύαρχον κατέστησε, φιλότιμον μὲν καὶ ἐρρωμένον τὴν ψυχήν, ἀπειρότερον δὲ τοῦ παρασκευάζεσθαι ὡς δεῖ. καὶ Πείσανδρος μὲν ἀπελθὼν τὰ ναυτικὰ ἔπραττεν· ὁ δ᾽ Ἀγησίλαος, ὥσπερ ὥρμησεν, ἐπὶ τὴν Φρυγίαν ἐπορεύετο.
When Agesilaos was in the plain above Cyme, there came a message from the authorities at home that he should command the fleet as well and that he should appoint whomever he wished to be admiral. The Spartans had made this decision in the belief that if Agesilaos was commander of both, his army would be much stronger, since the manpower of both forces could be combined into one, and the navy, too, would be stronger, since the army could be present wherever it needed support. When Agesilaos heard this, he ordered the cities of the islands and the coast to build as many triremes as each was willing to man. These new triremes, some of which were promised by the cities and others by individuals who wished to gratify Agesilaos, numbered in all about 120. Agesilaos selected Peisander, his wife’s brother, as admiral; he was an ambitious man, strong in spirit, but a bit too inexperienced in the matter of building and equipping ships. So Peisander departed and began to attend to naval matters, while Agesilaos, just as he had originally intended, marched off toward Phrygia.
Xenophon Hellenica 3.4.27–29 [32]

Peisandros’ designation as a nauarch is reiterated in 4.3.10 (the announcement of the defeat at Cnidus and of Peisandros’ death to Agesilaus) and is also echoed in Diodorus’ account of the battle. While Diodorus’ confused narrative does not add anything to the discussion, Xenophon’s account is remarkable. Following his recall from Asia Minor, Agesilaus had just arrived at the border of Boeotia, where he received the news about Cnidus.

ὄντος δ᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τῇ ἐμβολῇ ὁ ἥλιος μηνοειδὴς ἔδοξε φανῆναι, καὶ ἠγγέλθη ὅτι ἡττημένοι εἶεν Λακεδαιμόνιοι τῇ ναυμαχίᾳ καὶ ὁ ναύαρχος Πείσανδρος τεθναίη. ἐλέγετο δὲ καὶ ᾧ τρόπῳ ἡ ναυμαχία ἐγένετο. εἶναι μὲν γὰρ περὶ Κνίδον τὸν ἐπίπλουν ἀλλήλοις, Φαρνάβαζον δὲ ναύαρχον ὄντα σὺν ταῖς Φοινίσσαις εἶναι, Κόνωνα δὲ τὸ Ἑλληνικὸν ἔχοντα τετάχθαι ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ. ἀντιπαραταξαμένου δὲ τοῦ Πεισάνδρου, καὶ πολὺ ἐλαττόνων αὐτῷ τῶν νεῶν φανεισῶν τῶν αὑτοῦ τοῦ μετὰ Κόνωνος [τοῦ] Ἑλληνικοῦ, τοὺς μὲν ἀπὸ τοῦ εὐωνύμου συμμάχους εὐθὺς αὐτῷ φεύγειν, αὐτὸν δὲ συμμείξαντα τοῖς πολεμίοις ἐμβολὰς ἐχούσῃ τῇ τριήρει πρὸς τὴν γῆν ἐξωσθῆναι· καὶ τοὺς μὲν ἄλλους ὅσοι εἰς τὴν γῆν ἐξεώσθησαν ἀπολιπόντας τὰς ναῦς σῴζεσθαι ὅπῃ δύναιντο εἰς τὴν Κνίδον, αὐτὸν δ᾽ ἐπὶ τῇ νηὶ μαχόμενον ἀποθανεῖν.
While Agesilaos was on the border of Boeotia, the sun appeared in the shape of a crescent moon; and the news arrived that the Spartans had been defeated in the naval battle and that the admiral Peisander had died. Also reported was a description of how the sea battle was conducted. It was said that the encounter between the fleets had taken place in the vicinity of Cnidus and that the Persian Pharnabazos was the admiral commanding the Phoenician ships, while Konon who led the Greek contingent for the Persians, was placed in front of him. When Peisander arrayed his ships, it was clear that he had far fewer ships than the Greek contingent under Konon, and in the ensuing battle, the allied ships on his left wing immediately fled. While Peisander was attacking, his trireme was struck by the enemy and was forced to land. Now the rest of those who were driven to the land abandoned their ships and saved themselves as best they could, trying to reach Cnidus, but Peisander himself was killed while fighting on his ship.
Xenophon Hellenica 4.3.10–12 [33]

Let us start from the end. From Xenophon’s brief reference to the battle, it is clear that his intention was to exculpate Peisandros for the defeat: his fleet was numerically inferior in number and his allies had deserted him, nevertheless he displayed bravery and went down fighting. The same holds, naturally, for the account of his appointment. Xenophon emphasizes his qualities as a man, although he admits that he was inexperienced as a naval commander. As he had been selected by Agesilaus, a personal friend whom Xenophon constantly defended. the story that Agesilaus was summoned by the Spartans to appoint a commander seems to clear the king of responsibility for this initiative, in as much as this is possible: He was obliged to nominate the commander and—under the circumstances—his brother-in-law was a good choice. Once more, Xenophon uses ναύαρχος in its non-technical sense. The informed reader is expected to understand this, since the procedure described in the narrative would go against Spartan legislation and practice (if the term were to be interpreted in its narrower sense). In reality, the passage on Peisandros’ appointment makes clear that his task was first to supervise the building of ships in the allied cities of Asia Minor (this must have been the instruction from Sparta), then to assume command of this unit of the fleet.

Xenophon’s text contains a further important hint at the rationale behind the awkward arrangement: its goal was to assure optimal co-operation between the navy and the land forces. It follows that after Agesilaus’ departure for Greece, the navy would have avoided any military engagement. It also explains why the (real) nauarch Cheiricrates was not present. The Lacedaemonians did not envisage a naval battle in the East; the fleet intended to return to Greece, where it was needed in the Corinthian War, and Peisandros, who was the commander of the allied force, was responsible for guiding them to Greece.
Xenophon seems to be writing for contemporaries who knew the facts and would be capable of evaluating his own view of them. For him, defending Agesilaus was a personal priority, not least because he had associated his own career with the Spartan king. At the same time, his treatment of Spartan nauarchs reflects his own views about the office. Read between the lines, we are invited to uncover a message from the experienced Athenian cavalryman. In general, he is quite reticent about naval enterprises, and in 377/376 he allows Jason of Pherae, one of his heroes, to express doubt about a policy aiming at naval supremacy, [34] a traditional target of Athenian politics. Scholars usually regard Xenophon’s omissions regarding the naval war of the 390s as a weakness of Xenophon the historian, but I prefer to treat them as an indirect statement by Xenophon the military theorist. In the case of Spartan nauarchy, we are lucky enough to have, in addition to silences, Xenophon’s unorthodox statements. In my opinion, these cohere and reveal the author’s views about the Spartan military system.
Xenophon had a good knowledge of Spartan affairs. His inaccuracy cannot but be deliberate. By using the technical term more freely, he ostensibly diminishes the importance of technical discourse on the matter, and, as a result, of the matter itself: he suggests that in a way there is something wrong about the nauarchy. In the case of Pollis, he was certainly aware of his term of office (as a nauarch) in 395. And, of course, he had not forgotten what he had already attested, that nauarchs could be elected to the office only once. By calling Pollis a nauarch, while he was not (5.4.61), he indirectly casts doubt on the efficiency of the prohibition on re-election. Understanding that he was only an ad hoc nauarch (ναύαρχον αὐτῶν) readers are indirectly prompted to retrieve their knowledge about the office and wonder whether experienced leaders like Pollis, who were needed and trusted by the Spartans, should be excluded from further service as admirals. The passage about Peisandros addresses another sensitive topic, namely the independence of the nauarch and the lack of communication between the army and the navy, sometimes a source of antagonism between kings and nauarchs. [35] Xenophon takes sides; he argues indirectly that this system is problematic.
To sum up, in the first part of this paper, the list of Spartan nauarchs of the mid-390s was established as follows: 397/396 Pharax; 396/395 Archelaidas (deposed), Pollis; 395/394 Cheiricrates; 394/393 (unknown); 393/392 Podanemos. Peisandros did not hold the office of nauarch. In the second part, we explained inconsistencies in Diodorus’ and Xenophon’s accounts via a discussion of Diodorus’ method and Xenophon’s aims. To abbreviate a longer narrative from his sources, Diodorus rearranges the material by separately grouping together actions by one individual or collective agent. This confuses the order of events, but reduces the complexity of the narrative and makes it more concise; it also better supports the characterization of individuals (at this point Diodorus adheres to the principles of biographic writing). Xenophon’s omissions and inconsistencies can be explained in terms of the nature of his work. The Hellenica is not scientific historiography; it is a literary piece of historical narrative, functioning as a comment on the events of the historian’s times and as a didactic (and self-defensive) personal statement addressed to his contemporaries, in particular the younger ones. Viewed thus, the assertion that the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia is of superior value as a historical source than Xenophon’s Hellenica does not look like a petitio principii, as Xenophon’s apologists sometimes complain, but rather, a reality.


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[ back ] 1. All dates are BCE unless stated otherwise.
[ back ] 2. Xenophon Hellenika 2.1.7; cf. Westlake 1983b:272n17.
[ back ] 3. On the Spartan navy in the Ionian War and its decline in the first decades of the fourth century, see Hyland 2019.
[ back ] 4. Xenophon Hellenica 5.4.60–61; Diodorus 15.34.3–5; Polyaenus 3.11.11.
[ back ] 5. As D’Alessio 2001:32 has shown, the event belongs to the same year as the battle of Sardeis.
[ back ] 6. Xenophon Hellenica 3.2.12–14; Diodorus 14.79.4–6.
[ back ] 7. Kahrstedt 1910:181–187, Bauer 1910. Pareti 1908–1909 (1961):91–95 had dated his office one year earlier, due to his dating of the Demaenetos-affair in spring/early summer 396, which is no more tenable.
[ back ] 8. Pareti 1908–1909 (1961):90; Funke 1980a:55n29; see below on 12.2.
[ back ] 9. The operation has to be dated after Pharax’ nauarchy; cf. Bonamente 1973:89.
[ back ] 10. See esp. Kahrstedt 1910:181; Bianco 2018:87–99; doubts expressed by Bearzot 2018:486–492.
[ back ] 11. Most probably Timaeos, cf. Lehmann 1978:115n.16.
[ back ] 12. Xenophon Hellenica 4.5.6.
[ back ] 13. Xenophon Hellenica 6.5.33; Mosley 1963.
[ back ] 14. Cf. Bearzot 2018:481–483; Bianco 2018:90.
[ back ] 15. Plutarch Timoleon 11.6; Dion 48–49; Theopompus FGH 115, 192; see Mosley 1963.
[ back ] 16. Apud Grenfell and Hunt’s OCT edition (1909); contra Occhipinti 2022:214; d’Alessio 2001:29–30 objects that the construction of διάδοχος with εἰς is improbable in classical Greek, but the style of the Oxyrhynchus historian is not typical of classical Greek prose; it features many expressions that announce later prose, such as the writing of Polybius. There are two different interpretations of the proper name: either a Spartan nauarch who was replaced (most likely) or the name of a ship (Grenfell and Hunt 1908:211, who add: “Possibly there is some connexion with Archelaus king of Macedonia, a country which is mentioned in ix.29 [=17.1]”).
[ back ] 17. There, according to the biographical tradition, Dionysius handed Plato over to Pollis, whom he later sold in Aegina (Plutarch Dion 5; Diogenes Laertius 3.19).
[ back ] 18. Something akin to this version of events is preserved by Pausanias 6.7.6, who clearly relies on Xenophon and adds that the Spartans’ decision was a response to Agesilaus’ success in Sardeis.
[ back ] 19. Cf. Krentz 1995:193.
[ back ] 20. Translation Oldfather 1954.
[ back ] 21. Grenfell and Hunt 1908:211; Bruce 1967:73–75. Diodorus gives priority to a thematic rather than annalistic arrangement (κατὰ γένος); Rathmann 2016:141–154.
[ back ] 22. Cf. Grenfell and Hunt 1908:213; Bruce 1967:73–75; Lehmann 1978:114–115.
[ back ] 23. Isocrates 4.142 claims that the blockade lasted “almost three years,” but this is an exaggeration; cf. Grenfell and Hunt 1908:211–212; Lehmann 1978:113–114. Isocrates probably refers to the time Conon needed to overpower the Spartan navy from his arrival at the Aegean to his victory in Cnidus; see also Isocrates 9.64 (ἐντὸς τριῶν ἐτῶν ἀφείλετο τὴν ἀρχήν).
[ back ] 24. Under archon Souniades, i.e. 397/396, according to Philochoros FGH 328 F 144–145; the summer of this year, which has been suggested by March 1997:25, would be rather too early.
[ back ] 25. Lehmann 1978:115.
[ back ] 26. Perhaps to Loryma, but the mention of the location in Philochoros, FGrHist 328 F 144–145 is probably related to the battle of Caunus; cf. Harding 2006:181.
[ back ] 27. Androtion, FGH 324 F 46 (in Pausanias 6.7.4–6); Funke 1980b:61 argues that Dorieus was also acting for Persia in Greece by that time.
[ back ] 28. Westlake 1983a:336.
[ back ] 29. The place is unknown; Harding 2021:94 n.472 suggests Pasanda, located south of Caunus.
[ back ] 30. We also know of another naval commander, who had been prosecuted, namely Pasippidas in 410 (Xenophon Hellenica 1.1.32). On harmosts who came under suspicion see Thommen 2015:315. Not even the kings were beyond suspicion (Pleistoanax had been deposited in 446, Pausanias was tried twice in 403 and 395).
[ back ] 31. Translation Marincola (in Strassler 2009).
[ back ] 32. Translation Marincola (in Strassler 2009).
[ back ] 33. Translation Marincola (in Strassler 2009).
[ back ] 34. Xenophon Hellenica 6.1.10–12.
[ back ] 35. See also Xenophon Hellenica 1.6.4–5, and Aristotle Politika 1271a37–41.