Peloponnesian War: Dispute Over Epidamnus (435-3 B.C.E.) the beginning

The city of Edidamnus is on the right approach to the Ionic Gulf. It is in foreign territory that is in habited by an Illyrian race called the Taulantians. The place is a colony of Korkyra and it was founded by Phalius, the son of Eraocleides, a Korinthian of the family of the Heraclids. In accordance with the old custom, the founder had been invited from the mother city. Among the colonist there were also a certain number of Korinthians and some other Dorians.

As time went on Epidamnus became both powerful and populous; but there followed many years of political unrest, caused, they say, by a war with the foreign inhabitants of the country. As a result of this Epidamnus declined and lost most of her power. Finally, just before the war between Athens and Sparta, the democratic party drove out the aristocratic party, who then went over to the foreign enemies of the city and joined them in making piratical attacks on it both by sea and by land. The Democrats inside the city now found themselves in difficulties and sent an embassy to Korkyra, begging their mother country not to allow them to perish, and asking for help both in making some settlement with the exiled party and in putting an end to the war with the foreigners. The ambassador’s took up their position in the temple of Hera in Korkyra, and there made their requests, but the people of Korykra refused to receive the ambassadors and sent them back without having achieved anything.

When the people in Epidamnus realized that no help was forthcoming from Korkrya, they were at a loss how to deal with the situation. They therefore sent to Delphi to inquire from the god whether they should hand over their city to the Korinthians, who had founded it, and so get help from that quarter. The reply from Delphi was that they should hand over their city and accept the leadership of Korinth, and make over the colony to the Korinthians. They pointed out that the original founder had come from Korinth; they made public the reply which they had received from Delphi, and they begged the Korinthians to come to their help and not allow them to be destroyed.

The Korinthians agreed to come to their assistance. They felt they had a good right to do so, since they regarded the colony as belonging just as much to them as to Korkrya; and at the same time they hated the Korkryaeans because they failed to show Korinth the respect due from a colony to the mother city. Unlike their other colonies, the Korkryaeans did not give to Korinthians the usual rights and honours at public festivals or allow them the correct facilities for making sacrifices. Instead they looked down upon their mother country, claiming that their financial power at this time made them equal with the richest states in Hellas and that their military resources were greater than those of Korinth. In particular they boasted of their naval superiority, sometimes even basing this claim on the ground that those famous sailors the Phaeacians had inhabited Korkrya before them. This belief did in fact encourage to give particular attention to their navy, which was by no means as inconsiderable one. They had, at the outbreak of war, a fleet of 120 triremes.

All this caused ill feelings, and so the Korinthians were glad enough to send to Epidamnus the help required. They advertised for volunteers to settle there, and sent out a force consisting of Ambraciots, Leucadians, and their own citizens. This force marched by land to Apollonia, a Korinthian colony, avoiding the sea route out of fear that they might be intercepted by the Korkyraeans.

When the Korkyraeans discovered that the settlers and the troops arrived at Epidamnus and that the colony hand been handed over to Korinth, they reacted violently. As soon as the news arrived they put to sea and with twenty-five ships, which were soon followed by another fleet. Sailing up to Epidamnus, they demanded in the most threating and abusive language first that the Epidamnians should reinstate the exiled party. These exiles meanwhile, had come to Korkyra, had appealed to the claims of their family connections (pointing out the tombs of their own ancestors there), and begging for help in being brought back. Secondly they demanded that the Epidamnians should away the troops and settlers that had come from Korinth.

The Epidamnians rejected both demands, and the Korkyraeans began operations against them with a fleet of forty ships. They had with them the exiles, whom they promised to restore to power, and also the Illyrian army. Taking up their positions in front of the city, they proclaimed an offer of immunity to all, whether citizens or not, who would abandon the city; those who failed to take advantage of the opportunity would be treated as enemies. Then, since there was no response to this offer, they began to besiege the city, which stands on the isthmus.

Messengers soon arrived at Korinth with the news that Epidamnus was being besieged, and the Korinthians began to equip a relief force. At the same time they advertised for volunteers to form a new colony at Epidamnus. Those who went out there were to have absolutely equal rights, and those who were not prepared to sail at once, but still wanted to have a share in the colony, could buy this share, together with the right of remaining behind, by putting doe the sum of fifty Korinthian drachmae. There was a wide response to this offer both from people who wanted to sail at once and from people who paid the deposit. Various cities were asto help with ships to escort the convoy in case the Korkyraeans attempted to intercept it. Megara provided eith ships; Pale the Cephallenian city, provided four; five ships came from the Epidaurus, one form Herione, two from Troezen, ten from Leucas, and eight from Ambracia. The Thebans and Phliasians were asked to provide money, the Eleans were asked for money and also for hulls. The Korinthians themselves equipped a fleet of thirty ships and 3,000 hoplites.

When the Korkyraeans heard of these preparations they sent an embassy to Korinth, accompanied by some envoys from Sparta and Sikyon to support them. There they demanded that Korinth should withdrawal her troops and colonists from Epidamus, since Epidamnus was no concern of theirs. They were prepared, however, if Korinth wished to put in a counter claim, to accept arbitration. Cities in the Peloponnese should be chosen by mutual agreement to act as arbitrators, and the colony should go to whichever side the arbitrators awarded it. Alternatively, they proposed referring the matter to the oracle of Delphi. They urged Korinth not to start a war, say that, if she did, they themselves, through no fault of their own, would be forced in sheer self-defense to make friends elsewhere and in quarters where they had no wish to make friends.

The Korinthian reply to this was that if Korkyra withdrew the fleet and foreign army from Epidamnus, then discussion might be profitable, but it was quite absurd to talk of arbitration while the city was still besieged.

The Korkyraeans countered by saying that if the Korinthians also withdraw their forces from Epidamnus, they would do as was suggested. Or, they were prepared to let both sides stay in their present positions and to arrange an armistice to remain in operation until the result of the arbitration was declared.

None of these proposals was acceptable to the Korinthians. By this time their ships were manned and their allies were ready. They sent in front of them a herald to declare war, and then set sail with a force of seventy-five ships and 2,000 hoplites to fight against the Korkryaeans at Epidamnus. The fleet was under the command of Aristeus, son of Pellichas, Callicrates, son of Callias, andTimanor, son of Timanthes. The land forces were commanded by Archetimus, son of Eutytimus and Isarchidas, the son of Isarchus.

They sailed on as far as Actium in Anactoria, at the mouth Ambracian Gulf, where the temple of Apollo stands. Here they were met by a herald from the Korkryaeans who had sailed out in a light boat with instructions to urge them not to attack. At the same time the Korkyraeans were manning their ships; they had fitted new crossbeams in the old vessels to make them sea-worthy and had seen to it that the rest of their fleet was ready for action.

By the time their herald had returned and reported that his offers of peace had been rejected, the ships, eighty of them in all, were manned (forty were still engaged in the siege of Epidamnus). They then put out to sea against the enemy, formed a line, and went into action. The result of the engagement was a decisive victory for the Korkyraeans, who destroyed fifteen Korinthain ships. It happened that on that very same day the besiegers of Epidamnus had forced the city to surrender, the terms being that all foreign troops and settlers in the garrison should be sold as slaves and that Korinthian citizens should be held as prisoners pending further decision.

After the battle the Korkyraeans put up a trophy on Leukimme, a headland of Korkyra. They then put all their prisoners to death, with the exception of the Korinthians, whom they still kept in custody.

The Korinthian and their allies went back home after their defeat in the sea battle, and now Korkyra had complete control of the seas in her own area. A Korkyraean fleet decended on Leukas, a colony of Korinth, and laid its territory waste. They also burnt Cyllene, the Elean port, because the Eeans had provided Korinth with ships and money. So for the most time after the battle the Korkyraeans kept control of the sea and sent fleets to attack the allies of Korinth. Finally, however, at the beginning of the following summer, Korinth, seeing the difficulties in which her allies were placed, sent out a fleet and army. This force, in order to protect Leikas and other friendly cities, held and fortified positions at Actium and around Chimerium in Thesprotis. The Korkyraeans, also with naval and land forces, took up positions opposite them at Leukimme. Here they stayed for the rest of the summer, neither side making any move, and it was not until the beginnings of winter that they retired to their home bases.


Source: History of the Peloponnesian War; (Book 1) By Thucydides
Translated by: Rex Warner