The siege of Sestus (Sestos) in the
Autumn-winter of 479-478 was the last significant fighting during the campaign
of 479, and saw an Athenian force besiege and capture the main Persian base in
the Chersonese, on the European side of the Hellespont (Greco-Persian Wars). In
the aftermath of their victory at the battle of Mycale in 479 the Greeks decided to move north to
the Hellespont, to dismantle the bridges of ships that the Persians had built
to support their invasion of Greece in 480. When they arrived they discovered
that the bridges had already been destroyed. The Peloponnesian contingent, led
by King Leotychidas of
Sparta, the overall Greek commander at Mycale, decided to go home for the
winter. The Athenians, under Xanthippus decided to try
and expel the Persians from the Chersonese (the Gallipoli peninsula) - command
of the sea routes to the Black Sea was important to the Athenians, who got much
of their grain from that area.
The strongest Persian position was at Sestus, about half way up the straits on
the European side, opposite Abydos. The city was populated by Aeolian Greeks,
but also had a sizable Persian population, and was now filled with refuges from
the surrounding area. The defenders were commanded by Artayctes, the Persian
governor of the Chersonese. Artayctes hadn't expected to be attacked, and so
found himself trapped inside the city.
The siege lasted for some time. It began in the late summer of 479. By the
autumn the Athenian troops were getting rather unhappy with the situation and
demanded to be allowed to go home. Their commanders refused to release them
until either Sestus had fallen or the Athenian government recalled them, and
managed to win them over. The siege continued on. Inside the city supplies soon
ran out. Eventually the defenders were reduced to boiling the leather straps
used to support these beds. When this last supply of food ran out, the Persians
escaped from Sestus by climbing down a remote and badly guarded part of the
On the next morning the inhabitants opened the gates to the Athenians. Part of
the force occupied Sestus, while rest attempted to catch the fleeing Persians.
Artayctes was caught near Aegospotami, taken back to Sestus and crucified on
the shore, while his son was stoned to death in front of him. Earlier in his
career Artayctes had violated a sanctuary of the hero Protesilaus at Elaeus.
The Greeks then returned home, taking with them the cables that had been used
to support the bridge.