The naval Battle of Arginusae took place in 406 BC during the Peloponnesian War. The Spartans, under Callicratidas, had blockaded an Athenian force under Conon at Mytilene. A scratch relief force of 155 ships was sent out from Athens. So few skilled oarsmen remained in the city that the triremes had to be crewed largely with freed slaves; as no regular naval commander was available, the force was jointly commanded by eight generals. Callicratidas intercepted this force near the Arginusae islands, between Lesbos and mainland Turkey. His force, reduced by the necessity of leaving 50 ships to blockade Mytilene, numbered 120.
In the actual battle, the Athenians utilized a novel strategy to counteract the superiority of the more experienced Spartan crews at open water maneuvering. Instead of the traditional single line of ships, the Athenian center was drawn up as two lines, with wider than usual gaps between the ships. The ships of the second line were thus able to protect the flanks of the ships in the first line. Unsure how to attack this unexpected formation, the Peloponnesians hung back from attacking the Athenian center.
Details of the battle are unclear, but it appears that as the battle wore on, the Athenian superiority in numbers on the wings began to bend back the Spartan flanks, and the presence of the undamaged Athenian center served to further compress the Spartan formation. Eventually, the Spartans were routed and put to flight, losing 70 ships to the Athenians's 25. Callicratidas was killed in the action.
Following the battle, however, the Athenians suffered a severe reverse. A storm blew up, which prevented them from rescuing many of their shipwrecked sailors. A large number of Athenians drowned. Upon returning to Athens, the Athenian admirals were impeached for their failure to rescue these men. Six were executed, most notably Pericles' son, while the other two fled and were sentenced to exile in absentia. This loss of talented commanders would be felt at Aegospotami the next year.
Diodorus Siculus Book 13 Chapter XIV
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