Aftermath of the Battle of Sybota

A mock memorandum directed towards Corinth's political leaders following the battle of Sybota.

Learn more about the Battle of Sybota

Attention! This memorandum was originally written in Portuguese. The current translation to English may be inadequate, as my principal concern right now is exporting it to Markdown, the format used for generating this website.

The current situation

  • The Athenian intervention in the naval battle around Sybota constitutes the most recent escalation towards war in Hellas. Athen’s interests in favouring Corcyra in its resistance against ourselves hopes to guarantee absolute naval dominance by gaining access to the Corcyran navy, and to maintain a commercial entrepôt that allows a safe flow of goods to Athens coming from Sicily, Italy, and other Western sources.

  • Pericles and the Athenians, facing the Corcyran appeal, have confirmed their aspirations to turn Athens into the sole Hellenic hegemon, given Sparta’s indifference towards the maintenance of its own sphere. Athens already holds a near-absolute control over the Aegean Sea and the states which there lie – with the exception of our own colony of Potidaea – and may strangle the Peloponnese if it extends this naval dominance to the Ionian Sea through Corcyra.

  • Regarding the results of the naval battle that took place around Sybota, we are right to celebrate a tactical victory over the Corcyran fleet. However, having won the engagement – our forces have inflicted a severe blow to the Corcyran fleet in exchange of fairly low casualties among ourselves and our allies – we were unable to land on Corcyra proper and exercise our own terms upon the island due to the Attican fleet’s intervention. Our victory is, therefore, solely a symbolic one.

From these events we ascertain three fundamental considerations: 1) that Lacedaemonius’ – the Athenian general that commanded the intervening fleet and who sympathises with Sparta – intervention during the battle signifies that Pericles was able to generate a united front in Athens, under which jingoists and pacifists seem to have fallen in line with the current escalation; 2) that Athens now holds a forward base of operations in the Ionian Sea from which it may raid our naval lines of communication and Western-sourced trade, perhaps even redirecting it to its own ports; 3) and that Athens has no intention to hold the expansion of its sphere, interfering in the issues of third party states and disrespecting international law while expecting it to guarantee its right to a sphere of her own.

Immediate consequences

The balance of power

Our forces have suffered few casualties in Sybota, compared to Corcyra’s own losses. Among ourselves and our allies we now possess one hundred and twenty (120) ships in operational conditions, having lost only a fifth of our original force – the brunt of these losses having been felt primarily by our allies, as opposed to our own ships – which we must begin to rebuild immediately. We are still the individual main naval player with a permanent foot in the region, but Athens access to Corcyra now threatens our dominance. In turn, Corcyra now holds forty (40) ships of its own which have survived the battle. We managed to capture some fifteen hundred prisoners of war, among which eight hundred were slaves – which we have now sold – and and two hundred and fifty rank high among the Corcyrans. However, now that Athens has committed itself to defend Corcyra from foreign incursions, our situation has become more complex. Our tactical victory over Corcyra must not blind us to the fact that Athens, now its protector, owns forces which we believe to currently excede four hundred (400) ships.

Table: Ship numbers in the theatre of operations before and after the battle

  Corcyra Athens Corinth Our allies*
Pre-engagement 110 10 90 60
Post-engagement 40 30 120**  

* Spread around Elis, Megara, Leucas, Ambracia, and Anactorium.

** Total number of ships available among ourselves and our allies after the battle.

Our commercial situation

Today our geographical realities impose themselves upon ourselves more so than ever. The Gulf of Corinth is our sole access route to open waters, and if hostilities with Corcyra and Athens continue, the Athenian fleet will attempt to blockade the entry to the gulf to our fleet and both incoming and outbound trade which fuels our economy and supplies our food requirements. If such a blockade occurs we will be dependent on supplies brought in by land from the remaining states of the Peloponnese, which would not be enough to satisfy our needs. As such we should prepare ourselves for long periods of food rationing while Athens continues to hold the upper hand at sea. To this end it is essential to begin storing as much grain as possible in a responsible manner.

The political situation in Athens

Pericles has succeeded in navigating the internal Athenian politics. There appears to be an understanding amongst the two wings of the regime regarding foreign policy, where both appear to agree that a major war with Sparta is only a matter of time. Initial signs indicated that the Athenian intervention in our conflict with Corcyra would be limited, and that being the case we would have had the means to invade Corcyra. Athens, however, has reinforced its local contingent at just the right time, and as such we were forced to abort this operation. These reinforcements are proof that the political apparatus of Athens is willing to defend Corcyra, and that after heavy debate they realised that the initial forces they had made available to the region would not deter us from escalation. Nonetheless, Pericles’ rhetoric still holds that the Athenian intervention is founded solely on international law and the protection of is sphere and allies, which signals that they do not intend to escalate the conflict with Sparta. This may also signal an Athenian unwillingness to fight an all-out war, but we should still take into consideration that Athens will certainly react against whatever they perceive as opposed to their vital interests – particularly the security of its sphere in the Aegean and the maintenance of a naval force to dwarf Sparta and the rest of the Peloponnese as a form of deterrence.

Our alliance with Sparta

The Spartan king Archidamus has remained silent regarding our recent quarrels over the past couple of years. If Sparta should not interfere in our favour in a future escalation between ourselves and Athens our independence will be put in question. Sparta has failed us in the past when we fought Megara, and there are no signs that its neglectful attitude has changed. That will certainly cause issue among the members of the Peloponnesian League. The Spartans believe they may yet avoid a war with Athens, hoping that their advantage in land warfare alone should dissuade Athens from battle, and as such they see no reason to intervene in the quarrels between its own allies and the Athenians. However, any conflict between us and Athens requires Sparta in order to succeed, and we must strive to reach out to the many Spartans which hold fast to their old glories and codes of honour to lobby in our favour if the situation escalates.

Potidaea and opportunities in the Aegean Sea

Having been unable to reign in the Corcyreans, and failing to have annexed Epidamnus, Potidaea has gained a new importance. This colony of ours is de jure an Athenian ally, but de facto its loyalty lies with us, their founders. The city lies in an ideal location to wreak havoc to Athens’ naval lines of communication in the Aegean if it is to reject their formal overlord’s rule and revolt. Nonetheless, Athens will not tolerate such a revolt, and this will be the target of a swift response, to which it may be in our interest to counter. It should also be noted that Potidaea lies next to Macedonia, which is currently in turmoil and where Athens is supporting a claimant to the throne, which may divide their attentions in their efforts to quell a rebellion.

Next steps

Our independence is at stake. The integrity of our natural sphere of influence, to which international law gives us the right to hold, has been challenged by Athens, which prevented us from accepting the free request of a neutral party – Epidamnus – to be come our ally. Likewise, it has prevented us from disciplining Corcyra – a territory which is our colony and to which by virtue of history and cultural kin we hold a right to exert demands from. Given these events, we must expect growing interference from Athens in our issues. It would be unwise to believe that the Athenians – a revolutionary power with an imperative to expand – will remain still if we do not protect our interests.

However, these developments may end up benefiting us. If Sparta commits to support us – a goal which we must strive for – and there is military escalation, we may yet ruin Athens’ chances at becoming the sole hegemon of Hellas, perhaps bringing down its empire. This would, in turn, satisfy a more natural order in the relations among the cities of Greece, and mitigate the revolutionary radicalism of Athenian democracy. We must therefore act rationally and recognise that we are fighting in disadvantageous conditions, much like a David against Goliath. Our maxim must therefore be to divide and conquer, if the conflict escalates, and any initiative on our part should be surgical and take into consideration the severe material disadvantage we are faced with.

Knowing these considerations, our strategy should then follow three central goals as follows: (1) to establish ourselves as the dominant naval power in the Ionian Sea — thus guaranteeing the safe passage of ships in our terms between the Corinthian Gulf and the open sea towards Western shores; (2) to damage the integrity of Athens’ sphere of influence – forcing it to spread itself thin along several regions simultaneously in order to combat its absolute material advantage; (3) and to recruit Spartan support – a fundamental step to ensure survival in a prolongued war against Athens.

Establishing ourselves as a naval power

  • The naval battle in Sybota, though it did not go entirely as planned, nonetheless ruined Corcyra’s fleet. This pressures Athens into diverting its own resources to assert control over the Ionian Sea – something it expected the Corcyrean fleet to be delegated with when forming this alliance. While there is no further escalation in hostilities, it is fundamental to expand our own naval arsenal, in order to benefit from Athenian overextension in the region. The expansion of our own fleet should primarily serve the purpose of defending our naval lines of communication, and trade — namely along the Ionian Sea and beyond, to the West – is our principal source of military financing, and economic wellbeing.

  • Besides this, we are likewise dependent on the food that comes from our naval lines of communication. Our reserves of grain and other long shelf-life foodstuffs, as full as they may currently be, have a limit which Athens can and will outpace. If we allow Athens to blockade the entry to the Gulf while she herself maintains its own supply chain, it is a matter of time until hunger brings us to submission. We must therefore expand our storage capacity, limit consumption, and secure access to alternative sources of foodstuffs.

Damage the Athenian sphere

  • We must resort to the Corcyrean POWs we currently hold hostage and work to ensure their future loyalties. These Corcyreans of high position, if we manage to reign them into our cause, may in the future depose the pro-Athens faction in their homeland, and impose a regime favourable to our own. Though the majority of them might still hold resentment towards Corinth, if treated fairly until their return we may at least ensure their neutrality, some tribute, and impose some limit on their own power through security guarantees of our choice, which would nonetheless still damage Athenian power projection.

  • The status of Potidaea must be used to our advantage, and therefore we ought to encourage this colony into rebellion against Athens. While the conflict between Athens and Sparta does not escalate, our support for such a revolt should at all times remain under the auspices of plausible deniability — the initiative of private, self-financed citizens and volunteers. A successful rebellion at this stage will produce a base to which we may resort to in the Aegean, and a prolonged siege may further affect Athens’ availability to respond to further crises which require her attention. Besides, this revolt may encourage further rebellions in other corners of the Athenian empire, as many of its vassals resent their overlord’s control and revolutionary ideals.

Recruit Spartan support

  • It is fundamental to recruit Spartan support to combat Athenian expansionism and interference. This support is only possible if the mood for war is favourable enough in Sparta, and as such we should support and strengthen the pro-war party among the Spartans, headed by Sthenelaidas, appealing to their emotional responses and presenting our own cause as a matter of honour (both ours, and theirs).

  • We should send clear signals to the Spartans that our alliance should be in danger if they do not provide us with support next time we find ourselves threatened by Athens, and show that we would be willing to abandon the Peloponnesian League if the alliance fails to protect its members. Other members of the alliance have their own grievances with the lack of Spartan support, and in doing this we could spearhead them into presenting their complaints en masse, supporting our own cause at the same time.