The battle of Abydos in 411 was a second
Athenian victory won in the Hellespont during 411, and played a major part in
securing Athens's food supplies from the Black Sea and in restoring morale
after the disaster at Syracuse in 413 (Great Peloponnesian War). This was the
first battle to take place after Thucydides ends, and we thus have to rely on
the accounts of Xenophon and Diodorus Siculus. Their accounts of the battle are
similar in outline, but differ in some details. In both versions the battle
begins when Dorieus, son of Diagoras, a Rhodian serving on the Peloponnesian
side and commanding a fleet from Rhodes entered the Hellespont. He was spotted
by the Athenians, and a chase developed. The Rhodians were forced to run for
the shore, where they came under severe pressure.
Peloponnesian admiral in the Hellespont, saw this battle developed and sailed
out with his main fleet.
A major naval battle then developed between the Athenian and Peloponnesian
fleets. This was a hard-fought battle until Alcibiades arrived with Athenian
reinforcements. At this point the Peloponnesians made for the shore, where they
were saved from a total disaster by their ally the Persian satrap Pharnabazus.
The Athenians managed to capture a number of enemy ships and then withdraw
having won a victory. Both of our sources agree on the first moments of the
battle. Dorieus and his fleet entered the Hellespont where they were spotted by
Athenian lookouts. Xenophon gives Dorieus fourteen ships, Diodorus doesn't
mention the size of this fleet. We now come to our first disagreement. Both
sources agree that the Athenians put to sea to intercept Dorieus, but disagree
on the number of ships involved at this point. Diodorus gives a figure of
seventy four ships, the entire Athenian fleet. Xenophon puts the figure at
twenty, suggesting that only part of the Athenian fleet was involved at this
stage. Dorieus responded by making for the shore, landing at either Dardanus or
Rhoeteum. Both of these places were on the southern shore of the Hellespont,
and were south-west of the main Peloponnesian base at Abydos. The Athenians
followed Dorieus and attempted to capture his beached ships, but apparently
without success. According to Xenophon they eventually gave up and returned to
their own base.
In both accounts the Peloponnesian admiral Mindarus saw the fighting, and put
to sea with his main fleet. Diodorus gives him eighty-four ships in his own
fleet and a total of ninety seven once the two fleets were united, suggesting
that Dorieus now had thirteen ships. Mindarus took command of the right wing,
and his Syracusan allies commanded on the left. The Athenians responded by
bringing their entire fleet to face the new threat.
Thrasybulus led their
right wing, facing Mindarus, and
Thrasyllus the left,
facing the Syracusans.
(Note the problem - if Mindarus is on right then Thrasybulus cannot both be on
his right and opposite Mindarus) - same for Thrasyllus and Dorieus)
Both of our sources agree that the resulting battle was a hard fought and
lengthy affair, lasting from early morning to mid-afternoon according to
Xenophon. It was decided by chance.
Alcibiades, now back in
Athenian service, arrived in the Hellespont with either 18 or 20 ships. At
first neither side knew for certain whose side the new arrivals would join, but
it soon became clear that they were Athenians. The Peloponnesians reacted by
attempting to escape to safety back at Abydus, where they would be protected by
the Persian army of Pharnabazus. According to Diodorus the Athenians captured
ten ships during the pursuit, but a storm prevented them from pressing the
pursuit. By the time they caught up with the Peloponnesians, they had run
ashore and joined up with the Persians, and despite their best efforts the
Athenians were unable to capture any more ships. Xenophon doesn't mention the
storm, but he does agree that fighting took place on the shore, between the
Athenians attempting to capture ships, and the Peloponnesians and Persians. In
this account the Athenians are more successful, capturing thirty enemy ships
without their crews (presumably by towing them off the beach while their crews
were onshore). They also recaptured their own ships lost during the main
hard-fought naval battle. In either case the battle ended as an Athenian
victory, and combined with the earlier victory at Cynossema in 411 helped to
prevent the Peloponnesians cutting of Athens's crucial supply lines to the
Black Sea, where much of the city's food came from.