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Story of Greece - Mary Macgregor

Brasidas Loses His Shield

In 425 B.C., the seventh year of the war, an Athenian fleet of about forty ships, under an admiral named Eurymedon, was forced by stormy weather to seek shelter on the promontory of Pylos in Messenia. Pylos stood on the Bay of Pylos, which you now know as the Bay of Navarino.

To give the men something to do until the storm allowed them to sail, Demosthenes, an officer on board one of the ships, bade them begin to build a fort. But it was not only to employ the men that he did this, but because he believed that Pylos would make a good fortress from which to attack the western shore of Peloponnesus.

At first the men took little interest in the work, for they expected each day to leave Pylos. But as the storm continued, they began to work with a will, and soon a fortress that looked fit to defy an enemy was finished.

It had not been easy work, for the men had no iron tools. They could not cut stones, but were forced to pick out those that fitted into each other.

When mortar was needed they had to carry it on their backs, bending forward that it might not fall, and clasping their hands behind to help to keep it in place.

At length the storm was over and the fleet sailed away, leaving Demosthenes with five ships to hold the new fortress. Now the entrance to the Bay of Pylos was almost blocked by a narrow, thickly wooded island called Sphacteria.

The Spartans soon heard that the Athenians had taken possession of Pylos, which was on their territory. They determined to expel them, and an army under Epitadas was at once sent out and took possession of the wooded island of Sphacteria, while a Spartan fleet sailed into the Bay of Pylos. On board one of the ships was a famous Spartan named Brasidas.

Demosthenes had just time to send to Eurymedon to beg him to return with his forty ships, when the Spartans sailed up to the promontory, meaning to attack and capture the fort.

But it proved impossible to land. Again and again the Spartan admiral made the attempt, but each time he was forced to withdraw, lest his ships should be dashed upon the rocks.

Brasidas refused to give in, and he bade his men wreck their vessels rather than be beaten back. 'Be not sparing of timber,' he cried, 'for the enemy has built a fortress in your country. Perish the ships and force a landing.'

Spurred on by his words, the men drove their ship upon the beach, while Brasidas stood fearlessly on the gangway ready to leap upon the shore. But the Athenians saw the bold figure too well, and he became a target for every arrow.

He became a target for every arrow

As he fell back wounded, his left arm hung helpless over the side of the vessel and his shield slipped off and fell into the water. The waves washed it toward the shore, whereupon the enemy dashed down to the edge of the water and drew it in triumph up to the beach.

After a desperate struggle the Spartans were forced to withdraw, and the Athenians celebrated their victory by erecting a trophy of their spoils, placing, where every eye could see it, the shield of Brasidas.

For two days the Spartans still fought to gain the fortress but in vain. On the third day, Eurymedon returned with the Athenian fleet, and as the Spartan ships did not come to meet him he sailed in at the two entrances to the bay of Pylos: for the openings had not been secured by the enemy.

A desperate battle took place. Many of the Spartan ships were empty, as their crews were on shore. The Athenians tried to drag away these empty vessels, so that the enemy would have no way of escaping from Sphacteria.

But the Spartans knew that they must save their vessels at all costs, so they fought with redoubled fury and succeeded in rescuing most of the deserted ships. Yet their efforts proved of little use in the end, for though only five ships were captured, the rest of the fleet was so damaged that the Athenians were left in possession of the bay. They at once began to blockade Epitadas and his army in Sphacteria.


Front Matter

The Great God Pan
The Six Pomegranate Seeds
The Birth of Athene
The Two Weavers
The Purple Flowers
Danae and Her Little Son
The Quest of Perseus
Andromeda and Sea-Monster
Acrisius Killed by Perseus
Achilles and Briseis
Menelaus and Paris Do Battle
Hector and Andromache
The Horses of Achilles
The Death of Hector
Polyphemus the Giant
Odysseus Escapes from Cave
Odysseus Returns to Ithaca
Argus the Hound Dies
The Bow of Odysseus
The Land of Hellas
Lycurgus and His Nephew
Lycurgus Returns to Sparta
Training of the Spartans
The Helots
Aristomenes and the Fox
The Olympian Games
The Last King of Athens
Cylon Fails to be Tyrant
Solon Frees the Slaves
Athenians Take Salamis
Pisistratus Becomes Tyrant
Harmodius and Aristogiton
The Law of Ostracism
The Bridge of Boats
Darius Rewards Histiaeus
Histiaeus Shaves His Slave
Sardis Is Destroyed
Sandal Sewn by Histiaeus
Earth and Water
Battle of Marathon
Miltiades Sails to Paros
Aristides is Ostracised
The Dream of Xerxes
Xerxes Scourges the Hellespont
Bravest Men of All Hellas
Battle of Thermopylae
Battle of Artemisium
Themistocles at Salamis
Themistocles Tricks Admirals
Battle of Salamis
Battle of Plataea
Delian League
Themistocles Deceives Spartans
Themistocles is Ostracised
Eloquence of Pericles
Pericles and Elpinice
The City of Athens
Great Men of Athens
Thebans Attack Plataeans
Attica Invaded by Spartans
Last Words of Pericles
Siege of Plataea
The Sentence of Death
Brasidas Loses His Shield
The Spartans Surrender
Brasidas the Spartan
Amphipolus Surrenders
Alcibiades the Favourite
Socrates the Philosopher
Alcibiades Praises Socrates
Images of Hermes Destroyed
Alcibiades Escapes to Sparta
The Siege of Syracuse
Athenian Army is Destroyed
Alcibiades Returns to Athens
Antiochus Disobeys Alcibiades
Walls of Athens Destroyed
March of the Ten Thousand
Pelopidas and Epaminondas
Seven Conspirators
Battle of Leuctra
Death of Epaminondas
The Two Brothers
Timoleon exiles Dionysius
Icetes Attacks Timoleon
Battle of Crimisus
Demosthenes' Wish
Greatest Orator of Athens
The Sacred War
Alexander and Bucephalus
Alexander and Diogenes
Battle of Granicus
The Gordian Knot
Darius Gallops from Battle
Tyre Stormed by Alexander
Battle of Gaugamela
Alexander Burns Persepolis
Alexander Slays Foster-Brother
Porus and His Elephant
Alexander Is Wounded
The Death of Alexander
Demosthenes in the Temple