The Siege of Gythium was fought in 195
between Sparta and the coalition of Rome, Rhodes, the Achaean League, and
Pergamum. As the port of Gythium was an important Spartan base, the allies
decided to capture it before they advanced inland to Sparta. The Romans and the
Achaeans were joined outside the city by the Pergamese and Rhodian fleets. The
Spartans held out, but one of the joint commanders, Dexagoridas, decided to
surrender the city to the Roman legate. When Gorgopas, the other commander,
found out, he killed Dexagoridas and took sole command of the city. After
Dexagoridas' murder, the Spartans held out more vigorously. However, Titus
Quinctius Flamininus of the allied forces arrived with 4,000 more men and the
Spartans decided to surrender the city on the condition that the garrison could
leave unharmed. The result of this siege forced Nabis, the tyrant of Sparta, to
abandon the surrounding land and withdraw to the city of Sparta. Later that
year, Sparta capitulated to the allies.
Opponents: Sparta alone versus the Roman Republic, Achaean League, Rhodes,
Commanders and leaders:
Sparta - Dexagoridas, Gorgopas
Romans and allies - Titus Quinctius Flamininus, Eumenes II of Pergamum
Romans - About 50,000 men
The Macedonians had been defeated in the Second Macedonian War in 197 which
left the Spartans in control of Argos. This Spartan gain was a setback for the
Achaean League who had been trying to incorporate Sparta into their league for
many years. The Romans had won the Second Macedonian War and it left them in
control of Greek affairs. However, they decided not to occupy Greece but to
garrison some cities for five years.
The tyrant of Sparta, Nabis, who had declared himself king, was troubling the
Achaean League and was also threatening to destroy the peace in Greece. In 195,
Flamininus summoned his army in Greece and that of his allies at Plataea in
Boeotia. He then marched from Plataea to Argos where he was joined by 10,000
Achean infantry and 1,000 cavalry. After a few brief skirmishes, the allies
decided to abandon the siege and they pitched in Tegea. They then advanced upon
Caryae where they were joined by 1,500 Macedonians and 400 Thessalian cavalry.
Nabis also made his own preparations. Nabis had always been on good terms with
Cretan leaders and he requested 1,000 of their best soldiers who were hand
picked to assist him. As well as the Cretans, he hired 3,000 mercenaries and
10,000 citizens. The Romans and their allies then advanced upon Sellasia not
far north of Sparta. The Romans were defeated in a small battle and they
retreated. The Romans then won another battle against the Spartans and forced
them to retreat into the city.
Some coastal cities surrendered to the Romans which allowed them to have a base
in the coastal regions of Laconia. Gythium was a large city and had been made
by the Spartans as their main port and naval arsenal. The Romans advanced upon
the city and they were joined there by the combined Rhodian and Pergamese
fleets. The sailors from the Roman, Pergamese, and Rhodian fleets built siege
engines which had devastating effects on the walls.
One of the city's joint commanders, Dexagoridas, offered to surrender the city
to the Roman legate in charge of the fleet while Flamininus was gone. When the
other commander Gorgopas found out, he murdered Dexagoridas.
Now with the city under Gorgopas' command the defenders became reinvigorated.
The siege was proving more difficult until Flamininus arrived with 4,000 Roman
soldiers. With the arrival of the new soldiers, the allied soldiers were
encouraged and began bombarding the city again with their siege engines while
the Rhodian and Pergamese fleet continued to put pressure on the Spartans from
the sea. The Spartans knew that they did not have much of a chance of
withstanding the renewed allied assault and Gorgopas decided to surrender the
city to the Romans under the condition that the garrison was allowed to leave
the city unharmed.
When Nabis found out that Gythium had fallen to the allies he decided to
abandon the remaining Laconian countryside that he controlled. Nabis sent
envoys to Flamininus who offered Nabis a parley. The Romans attacked Sparta
when the parley ended but the Spartans withstood the initial allied assaults.
Nabis, however, seeing that the situation was hopeless, agreed to surrender the
city to the Romans. The Romans forced Nabis to abandon Argos and most of the
coastal cities of Laconia. The Romans formed all the cities that had broken off
from Sparta on the Laconian coast into the Union of Free Laconians. However,
the Romans didn't strip Nabis of his powers because they wanted a state in the
Peloponnese to counter the growing Achaean League. Nabis attacked Gythium two
or three years later only to retreat after being unable to capture the city but
in 192 he was assassinated by the Aetolians before he had a chance to attempt
another attack on the city. In 189, the Spartans, having been deprived of a
port, attacked and captured the city of Las. The Acheans, threatened by the
attack, demanded the surrender of those responsible for the attack and when
that was refused they captured the city.