The Battle of Amphipolis was fought in 422 BC during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. It was the culmination of events that began in 424 BC with the capture of Amphipolis by the Spartans.
Capture of Amphipolis, 424 BC/3 BC
In the winter of 424/3, around the same time as the Battle of Delium, the Spartan general Brasidas besieged Amphipolis, an Athenian colony in Thrace on the Strymon river.1 The city was defended by the Athenian general Eucles, who sent for help from Thucydides (at that point a general, later a famous historian), who was stationed at Thasos with seven Athenian ships.2
In order to capture the city before Thucydides arrived, Brasidas offered to let everyone who wished to stay keep their property, and offered safe passage to those who wanted to leave.3 Amphipolis surrendered, despite protests from Eucles.4 Thucydides arrived at the nearby port of Eion on the same day the city surrendered, and defended it with help from those who had left Amphipolis.5 Meanwhile Brasidas began to ally with more Thracian towns, as well as Perdiccas II of Macedon, and he attacked other towns in the area, such as Torone. The Athenians were afraid that their other allies would quickly capitulate, as the Amphipolitans had, if Brasidas offered them favourable terms of peace.
Thucydides, who recounted the capture of Amphipolis in his History of the Peloponnesian War, is often considered to be partially or entirely responsible for the fall of Amphipolis. Some have seen his actions as "gross negligence," although he claimed he was unable to arrive in time to save the city. He was recalled to Athens where he was tried and exiled.6
Armistice of 423 BC
In response to the fall of the city, Athens and Sparta signed an armistice
. Athens hoped they could fortify more towns in preparation for future attacks from Brasidas, and the Spartans hoped Athens would finally return the prisoners taken at the Battle of Sphacteria
earlier in 424. According to the terms of the truce, "It is proposed that each side should remain in its own territory, holding what it now holds...The armistice is to last for one year." (Thuc. 4.118) While the negotiations were going on, Brasidas captured Scione
and refused to give it back when news of the treaty arrived. The Athenian leader Cleon
sent a force to take it back, despite the treaty.
Battle of Amphipolis, 422 BC
When the armistice ended in 422, Cleon arrived in Thrace with a force of 30 ships, 1,200 hoplites
, and 300 cavalry
, along with many other troops from Athens' allies. He recaptured Torone and Scione; at Scione, the Spartan commander Pasitelidas was killed. He then took up position at Eion, while Brasidas took his position at Cerdylium
. Brasidas had about 2,000 hoplites and 300 cavalry, plus some other troops in Amphipolis, but he did not feel that he could defeat Cleon in a pitched battle. Brasidas then moved his forces back into Amphipolis, and Cleon moved towards the city in preparation for battle. When Brasidas did not come out, Cleon assumed there would be no attack, and he began to move his troops back to Eion.
At this point, Brasidas moved out from Amphipolis and charged the disorganized Athenian troops. In the rout that followed, Brasidas was mortally injured, although the Athenians did not realize it. Cleon was also killed when he was attacked by the Spartan commander Clearidas. The entire Athenian army fled back to Eion, although about 600 of them were killed before they reached the port. Only seven other Spartans were killed.
Brasidas lived long enough to learn of his victory, and was buried in Amphipolis. The Amphipolitans began to regard him as the founder of the city. After the battle, neither the Athenians or the Spartans wanted to continue the war, and the Peace of Nicias
was signed in 421 BC. This treaty was also eventually broken. Thucydides was exiled for his failure to protect Amphipolis, thus ending the period of the war that he observed firsthand.
- Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War. London, J. M. Dent; New York, E. P. Dutton. 1910.
- 1 Thucydides 4.102.1
- 2 Thucydides 4.104.4-5
- 3 Thucydides 4.105.1-2
- 4 Thucydides 4.106.1-2
- 5 Thucydides 4.106.3-4.107.1 ,
- 6 Thucydides 5.26.5