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. https://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HLNC.ESSAY:103900194.
Spartan nauarchs, 399–394
Diodorus and Xenophon: methods and aims
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.  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.  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.  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.
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.
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.
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.