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‘The Weather Was Unusually Bad’
The Red-Face-Island War #12
© 2020 James LaFond
BOOK IV: CHAPTER XII: Seventh Year of the War—Occupation of Pylos—Surrender of the Spartan Army in Sphacteria
The rising primacy of lighter infantry facing the Athenians also plagues the Spartans, with a defeat before Argos by ambush in the 6th year of war and the unprecedented surrender of Spartan Similars on the island of Sphactria in this 7th year. An adhoc unit of Spartan troops was drafted by lot—a sure way to ruin morale—and marooned on a close island Sphactria, to deny its use by the Athenians as a port.
“Meanwhile Demosthenes, seeing the Lacedaemonians about to attack him by sea and land at once, himself was not idle.”
His force was poorly armed and mixed of heavy foot, sailors, archers and peltasts, a classic combined arms force which would receive the famous surrender of the Spartan lottery battalion. In this way the misfortunes of the Athenians in one campaign, were used as learning tools to inflict similar misfortunes on their enemies in the next, the spiral spring of war seemingly being unwound to afflict more. In this victory won by Demonsthenes [Mob-strength] his key force was a huge battalion of 800 mercenary and slave archers bought or hired from barbarian chieftains. What is generally described as the downfall of the hoplite before the peltast was in fact a defeat of a small, isolated force of heavy infantry with no [ammunition, just bayonets and body armor] against a larger, better led, well-supplied, combined arms team.
The author provides more notes on the dysgenic nature or what was seen as a predominantly demoralizing war in which the surrender of Spartans was astonishing to all:
“Nothing that happened in the war surprised the Hellenes so much as this. It was the opinion that no force or famine could make the Lacedaemonians give up their arms, but that they would fight on as they could, and die with them in their hands: indeed people could scarcely believe that those who had surrendered were of the same stuff as the fallen; and an Athenian ally, who some time after insultingly asked one of the prisoners from the island if those that had fallen were men of honour, received for answer that the atraktos—that is, the arrow—would be worth a great deal if it could tell men of honour from the rest; in allusion to the fact that the killed were those whom the stones and the arrows happened to hit.”
In much the same way as conservatives of modern times always seem surprised to find their moral courage exceeded by the cruelty and avarice of the collective class and the collective class seem incapable of developing grace or even simple, functional moral systems, the author hints at the doom that awaits every fool side of the disastrous equation that was the war, with all decisions either made in the rush of panic or cast in the mold of cruelty:
“The Lacedaemonians, hitherto without experience of incursions or a warfare of the kind, finding the Helots deserting, and fearing the march of revolution in their country, began to be seriously uneasy, and in spite of their unwillingness to betray this to the Athenians began to send envoys to Athens, and tried to recover Pylos and the prisoners. The Athenians, however, kept grasping at more…”
“Meanwhile the Syracusans…”
It was the nature of this war that evil befell the antagonists in separate theaters at the same time, keeping the conflict in cruel balance. The allies of each would prove to draw their principle member into ever more dire circumstances.
“The Sicels,” the indigenous inhabitants of Sicily, or Sickle-Island began coming down from the interior and taking sides. As with the Homeland of Hellas, such barbarian warriors rendered losses more total as they had the capacity to pursue and kill routing heavy troops in rough terrain like horseman could in the open plain.
The war became more varied, more terrible, more innovative and more fraught with slaughter.
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