(Demosthenes the General)

d. 413 BC

Demosthenes the General was one of the most important military commanders of the Peloponnesian War. During the first few years of the war he fought several battles near the gulf of Corinth, including the invasion of Aetolia and the battle of Olpae. In 425 B.C.his fleet, which was on its way to Sicily, landed on Pylos, an Island off the Peloponnesian mainland. Sparta's fleet landed on nearby Sphacteria, and prepared to take the Athenian stronghold, but was repulsed. Meanwhile another fleet from Athens came and destroyed the Spartan fleet, leaving over 400 Spartans stranded on Sphacteria. Demosthenes, assisted by Cleon, was sent to capture them. The campaign was a success, the Spartans uncharacteristically surrendered, and were all sent to Athens to be hostages.

Demosthenes was in favor of Peace with Sparta, and helped negotiate the Peace of Nicias in 421. Unfortunately the peace did not last, and within a year, he was responsible for evacuating the Athenian army after their loss at Mantinea. Finally, in 414 B.C. he was sent with a large auxiliary force to Syracuse, to help Nicias take the city. The city was defended by a Spartan General, Gylippus, and had been strongly reinforced. Demosthenes decided on an immediate attack, but was defeated. At that point, he recommended a retreat, but Nicias refused, possibly because he feared returning to Athens after a defeat. They Syracusans blocked their exit to the harbor, forcing the fleet to attempt to flee by land. They were pursued, and the entire army was captured. Gylippus tried to spare Demonsthenes' life, but he was killed by the Syracusans.

Key events during the life of Demosthenes the General:

426 BC
Led a failed invasion into Aetolia. Later, defeated Spartans at the Battle of Olpae.
425 BC
At the Battle of Pylos-Sphacteria, captured Spartan hostages.
424 BC
Attempted to capture Megara but was repulsed by Brasidas.
421 BC
Signed the "Peace of Nicias", ending the first part of the Peloponnesian War.
417 BC
Evacuated Athenians from Epidaurus after they were defeated at the Battle of Mantinea.
414 BC
Sent to assist Nicias at Syracuse, but their fleet was defeated, and Demosthenes was captured and killed.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Fatal Expedition  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Help from Athens  in  Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition  by  Alfred J. Church
Brasidas Loses His Shield  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Siege of Syracuse  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Struggle Between Athens and Sparta  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan

Short Biography
Cleon War mongering politician, opposed Sparta's peace proposals.
Brasidas Eloquent Spartan general, turned tide of Peloponnesian War in Sparta's favor. Died at Amphipolis.
Nicias After death of Pericles, emerged as leader of peace party. Led disastrous Sicilian Expedition.
Gylippus Lead the resistance in Syracuse that defeated Athenian forces during Peloponnesian War.