Spartan Navy

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Spartan Navy
Ensign of Sparta.png
The letter lambda (Λ) military symbol of Sparta from 420 BC.
Active700-185 BC
AllegianceKingdom of Sparta
RoleNaval warfare
Garrison/HQGythion, Sparta
Engagements(see table below)

The Spartan Navy was first established around 700 BC it existed until 185 BC when it was heavily defeated the Roman Navy resulting in its ships being handed over to the Roman Republic.


a Spartan Galley shown for illustrative– purposes

During the Greek Archaic period (700-480 BC), it is certain that Sparta had a fleet of pentikonteres that is warships with 50 oars in one deck, perhaps also some biremes (warships with approximately 120 oars arranged in two decks), all of them provided by the Lakonian coastal perioikidae towns. Throughout their history, the Spartans were a land based force par excellence. Eventually, it was the creation of a Spartan Navy that enabled Sparta to eventually overcome the Athenian Navy. The letter lambda (Λ), standing for Laconia or Lacedaemon was a military symbol used by the Spartans from the 420's BC.

During the Persian Wars, they contributed a small navy of 20 triremes, and provided the overall fleet commander, but they largely relied on their allies, primarily the Corinthians, for naval power. This fact meant that, when the Peloponnesian War broke out, the Spartans were supreme on land, but the Athenians supreme at sea. The Spartans repeatedly ravaged Attica, but the Athenians kept being supplied by sea, and were able to stage raids of their own around the Peloponnese with their navy. In 524 BC, Sparta and Corinth, her loyal Dorian ally, united their fleets for a naval campaign against the island of Samos. Around 500 BC, the Spartan fleet of pentekonteres was replaced by a new fleet of triremes, with which Sparta took part in the naval operations of the Greco-Persian Wars.

In 429 BC the navy took part in the Battle of Rhium also known as the battle of Chalcis that was a naval battle in the Peloponnesian War between an Athenian fleet commanded by Phormio and a Peloponnesian fleet composed of contingents from various states, each with its own commander. The battle came about when the Peloponnesian fleet, numbering 47 triremes, attempted to cross over to the northern shore of the Gulf of Patras to attack Acarnania in support of an offensive in northwestern Greece; Phormio's fleet attacked the Peloponnesians while they were making the crossing.

In 411 BC the navy was engaged in the Battle of Abydos that was eventually an Athenian naval victory in the Peloponnesian War. In the battle, the Spartan fleet under Mindarus attempted to rescue a small allied fleet that had been driven ashore at Dardanus, but was attacked by the Athenian fleet, under Thrasybulus. The fighting was evenly contested for a great length of time, but towards evening the arrival of Alcibiades with Athenian reinforcements tipped the balance in favor of the Athenians, and the Peloponnesians were forced to flee back to their base at Abydos, suffering heavy losses along the way.

In 410 BC The naval Battle of Cyzicus took place during the Peloponnesian War. In the battle, an Athenian fleet commanded by Alcibiades, Thrasybulus, and Theramenes routed and completely destroyed a Spartan fleet commanded by Mindarus. The victory allowed Athens to recover control over a number of cities in the Hellespont over the next year. In the wake of their defeat, the Spartans made a peace offer, which the Athenians rejected.

In 406 BC the Spartan Fleet took part in the Battle of Notium also known as the Battle of Ephesus that resulted in a Spartan naval victory in the Peloponnesian War. Prior to the battle, the Athenian commander, Alcibiades, left his helmsman, Antiochus, in command of the Athenian fleet, which was blockading the Spartan fleet in Ephesus. In violation of his orders, Antiochus attempted to draw the Spartans into battle by tempting them with a small decoy force. His strategy backfired, and the Spartans under Lysander scored a small but symbolically significant victory over the Athenian fleet. This victory resulted in the downfall of Alcibiades, and established Lysander as a commander who could defeat the Athenians at sea.

The same year the naval Battle of Arginusae took place in 406 BC during the Peloponnesian War near the city of Canae in the Arginusae islands, east of the island of Lesbos. In the battle, an Athenian fleet commanded by eight strategoi defeated a Spartan fleet under Callicratidas. The battle was precipitated by a Spartan victory which led to the Athenian fleet under Conon being blockaded at Mytilene; to relieve Conon, the Athenians assembled a scratch force composed largely of newly constructed ships manned by inexperienced crews. This inexperienced fleet was thus tactically inferior to the Spartans, but its commanders were able to circumvent this problem by employing new and unorthodox tactics, which allowed the Athenians to secure a dramatic and unexpected victory

In 394 BC the Spartan Navy was engaged at the Battle of Cnidus which was an operation conducted by the Achaemenid Empire against the Spartan naval fleet during the Corinthian War. A fleet under the joint command of Pharnabazus and former Athenian Admiral, Conon, destroyed the Spartan fleet led by the inexperienced Admiral Peisander, ending Sparta's brief bid for naval supremacy.

The Spartan Navies engagement with the sea would be short-lived, however, and did not survive the turmoils of the Corinthian War: in the Battle of Cnidus of 394 BC, the Spartan navy was decisively defeated by a joint Athenian-Persian fleet, marking the end of Sparta's brief naval supremacy. The final blow would be given 20 years later, at the Battle of Naxos in 376 BC. A small fleet was periodically maintained thereafter, but its effectiveness was limited

The last revival of Spartan naval power was under King Nabis, who, with aid from his Cretan allies, created a fleet to control the Laconian coastline in 207 BC. Nabis started building the first worthy of mention Spartan fleet after almost two centuries (since 404 BC). The new Spartan navy was again stuffed by Laconian perioikoi and was using Gythion as its main military harbor. Additionally it was strengthened by squadrons of Nabis’ Cretan allies and mercenaries, actually corsairs. The strength of spartan navy was evidenced by the fact that the Roman General Flamininus who confronted himthe Spartan Navy in 195 BC, was so careful considering the Spartan naval power that in order to fight it he gathered a large fleet of Roman, Rhodian, Attalid, Athenian and other warships from his Greek allies. After the defeat, King Nabis was forced to hand over his entire fleet to Rome in 185 BC.


The offices of the Spartan and the Peloponnesian fleet were not significantly different from the respective naval offices of the other Greeks. Close to the end of the Peloponnesian War, the Spartans formally introduced the title of the Αdmiral (Navarchos) for the Commander-in-chief of the Fleet whose mandate was strictly a year and apparently could not be reappointed. His deputy or Vice-Admiral was called the Chief of Staff of the Fleet (Eepistoleas) Each trireme was commanded by the Trierarch or (the Chief of the trireme).[1]

Fleet Commanders

  • Alcidas
  • Anaxibius
  • Antalcidas
  • Antisthenes of Sparta
  • Astyochus
  • Callicratidas
  • Cnemus
  • Epicleas
  • Eteonicus
  • Eurybiades
  • Hegesandridas
  • Hierax
  • Lysander
  • Peisander


Admirals and Senior Officers
# Title Greek Title Notes
1. Admiral Navarchos (Ναύαρχος) Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet [2]
2. Vice-Admiral Eepistoleas (Επιστολεύς) Chief of Staff of the Fleet.[3]
3. Captain Triírarcho (Tριήραρχο) Chief of the Trireme.[4]
Senior Deck and Command Crew
# Tile Greek Title Notes
1. Deck and command crew Hypēresia collective name for all senior crew on deck of a warship.[5]
2. Helmsman Kybernētēs experienced seaman and was often the commander of the vessel.[6]
3. Prow master Prōreus or Prōratēs the ships bow lookout [7]
4. Boatswain Keleustēs [8]
5. Quartermaster Pentēkontarchos [9]
6. Shipwright Naupēgos [10]
7. Piper Aulētēs gave the rowers rhythm.[11]
8. Superintendent of the Rowers Toicharchoi 2 men command the rowers one left and one right[12]

Naval Engagements


# name against date/s part of result
1. Battle of Pylos Athenian Navy 425 BC Peloponnesian War Loss
2. Battle of Abydos Athenian Navy 411 BC Peloponnesian War Loss
3. Battle of Cynossema Athenian Navy 411 BC Peloponnesian War Loss
4. Battle of Eretria Athenian Navy 411 BC Peloponnesian War Won
5. Battle of Syme Athenian Navy 411 BC Peloponnesian War Won
6. Battle of Cyzicus Athenian Navy 410 BC Peloponnesian War Loss
7. Battle of Arginusae Athenian Navy 406 BC Peloponnesian War Won
8. Battle of Mytilene Athenian Navy 406 BC Peloponnesian War Won
9. Battle of Notium (or Ephesus) Athenian Navy 406 BC Peloponnesian War Won
10. Battle of Aegospotami Athenian Navy 405 BC Peloponnesian War Won
11. Battle of Naxos Athenian Navy 374 BC Boeotian War Loss


  1. Deligiannis, Periklis. "THE NAVY OF SPARTA AND THE PELOPONNESIAN LEAGUE". Academia. Retrieved 18 March 2019.
  2. Deligiannis.
  3. Deligiannis.
  4. Deligiannis.
  5. Deligiannis.
  6. Deligiannis.
  7. Deligiannis.
  8. Deligiannis.
  9. Deligiannis.
  10. Deligiannis.
  11. Deligiannis.
  12. Deligiannis.
  13. Deligiannis, Periklis. "THE NAVY OF SPARTA AND THE PELOPONNESIAN LEAGUE". Academia. Retrieved 18 March 2019.


  1. Periklis, Deligiannis. (2016). The Navy of Sparta and Peloponnesian League
  2. Navy