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Battle of Delium 424 BC


Rickard, J (21 June 2011), Battle of Delium, 424 B.C. , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_delium.html


The battle of Delium in 424 BC was a costly Athenian defeat that came during an unsuccessful attempt to seize control of Boeotia (Great Peloponnesian War). In the summer before the battle the Athenian general Demosthenes had been in contact with some potential Boeotian rebels who were opposed to the policy of the Boeotian League (led by Thebes). The plan was for the rebels to seize Siphae, on the southern coast of Boeotian (the northern shore of the Corinthian Gulf) and Chaeronea, in the west of the area, and hand them over to the Athenians. At the same time the Athenians were to capture Delium, on the eastern edge of Boeotian (and the site of a temple to Apollo). The rebels hoped that this would trigger democratic revolts across Boeotia, and that the newly democratic cities would then support Athens. The plan went wrong almost from the start. The Spartans discovered the plot and informed the Boeotians, so the element of surprise was lost. The Athenians then failed to properly synchronise their attacks. Demosthenes moved first, but when his fleet reached Siphae he found the place occupied by a strong Boeotian army. The Athenians were unable to make any progress, and the rebels decided not to act. Demosthenes was forced to retire without achieving anything. The Athenian army, under the command of Hippocrates, only appeared on the scene after Demosthenes had retired. The temple at Delium was captured, and the Athenians began to work on fortifying the site. The short distances involved in some Greek warfare is well demonstrated here - the Athenians reached Delium on the third day after leaving Athens. They then spent the third and fourth days and most of the fifth day building the fortifications, before Hippocrates made a rather odd decision. The fortification work was completed by the afternoon of the fifth day. Instead of staying in the fortifications overnight, Hippocrates decided to begin the march back to Athens. His army consisted of 7,000 Athenian hoplites, some cavalry and a large force of light troops, mainly made up of resident foreigners and poorly equipped Athenian citizens. After marching for just over one mile the hoplites decided to pause and rest, but the light troops continued onwards. The Athenians would soon be forced to fight without them. The failure of Demosthenes's naval expedition meant that the Boeotians had been able to concentrate on Hippocrates. By the fifth day of the expedition the Boeotians had gathered at Tanagra, close to Delium. They also had 7,000 hoplites, supported by 1,000 cavalry, 500 peltasts and 10,000 light troops. At this date the Boeotian army was commanded by eleven generals, two from Thebes and nine from the other major members of the League. When they discovered that the Athenians were heading home ten of generals wanted to avoid battle, but the eleventh, Pagondas, son of Aeolidas, one of the two Theban generals, convinced his colleagues to offer battle. The Boeotian army then advanced towards the Athenians, before forming up on the far side of a hill. The Boeotians deployed in a somewhat unusual formation. Their basic formation was conventional, with the hoplites in the centre and the cavalry and light troops on the wings, but the Theban contingent, on the right of the line of hoplites, took up an unusually deep formation - twenty five men deep. The Athenian deployment was more conventional. Once again their hoplites were in the centre and their cavalry on the wings, but their line was eight ranks deep. The main part of the battle only involved the hoplites, as the light troops and cavalry were initially held up by watercourse. The Boeotians began to advance while Hippocrates was still moving along the Athenian line giving his pre-battle speech. He was forced to abandon his efforts when he was only half way along the line. Both sides then advanced towards each other at the run, and a stubborn clash between the two lines of hoplites began. At first the Athenians were victorious on their right and in the centre, inflicting heavy casualties on some of the Boeotian contingents, and in particular on the Thespians. Pagondas responded to the crisis on his left by sending some of his cavalry from his right to his left, around the back of a hill just behind the battlefield. On the Boeotian right the deep Theban formation was having more success, pushing the Athenians slowly back. Meanwhile, the cavalry had made its way round to the left, and now appeared on the Athenian's right flank. Believing that the cavalry was the first part of a fresh army the Athenian right panicked and fled. The panic spread along the line and the Athenian left also broke. The Athenian army scattered, with some men making for Delium, while others fled towards the mountains or the coast. The Boeotians mounted a pursuit, but the battle had been fought late in the day, and nightfall saved the Athenians from a worse disaster. The battle was followed by some unusually drawn out negotiations between the two sides. In most cases a truce was quickly agreed to allow both armies to retrieve their dead, but in this case the two sides argued over the rights and wrongs of the Athenian invasion and of their occupation of Delium. Only after the temple had been recaptured (using an early flame thrower) did the Boeotians agree to let the Athenians recover the dead. The battle had been a costly affair. The Athenians had lost nearly 1,000 men, most of them citizen hoplites, and amongst them Hippocrates. The Boeotians lost around 500 men. The Athenian casualties were amongst the highest suffered in any hoplite battle.




This is an extract from the Wikipedia entry


The Battle of Delium (or Delion, a city in Boeotia) took place in 424, during the Peloponnesian War. It was fought between the Athenians and the Boeotians, who were allies of the Spartans, and ended with the siege of Delium in the following weeks.

Opponents: Athens versus Boeotia
Commanders and leaders:
Athens - Hippocrates
Boeotia -Pagondas
Athens - 15,000 total
Boeotia - 18,500 total 7,000 hoplites 1,000 cavalry 500 peltasts 10,000 light troops
Casualties and losses:
Athens - About 1,200
Boeotia - About 500

In 424, the Athenian generals Demosthenes and Hippocrates planned to invade Boeotia. Demosthenes mistakenly sailed too early and landed at Siphae, where his plans were betrayed by a Phocian named Nicomachus. As Hippocrates had not yet arrived, Demosthenes could not attack and was forced to withdraw. Hippocrates eventually arrived in Boeotia with an Athenian army and began to fortify the temple at Delium. After five days, the fortifications were complete, and Hippocrates set up a garrison and sent the rest of his army back to Athens.
At the same time, the Boeotians gathered their army to challenge Hippocrates, but when they saw that the Athenians were leaving, many of them thought that it was pointless to attack. Pagondas of Thebes, the commander of the Boeotian forces, urged them to attack anyway because he knew that the Athenians would eventually return and use Delium as a base for further invasions.

Troop movements during the battle Pagondas moved his army into position near the Athenians although both armies were hidden from each other by a hill. The Boeotians had 7,000 hoplites, 1,000 cavalry, 500 peltasts and 10,000 light troops. The right wing was formed by troops from Thebes, and the Thebans drew themselves up to a depth of 25 men, rather than the usual 8; the centre by men from Haliartus, Coronea, and Copiae; and the left wing by troops from Thespiae, Tanagra, and Orchomenus. They were later joined by the Locrians. When Hippocrates learned of the Boeotian army, he joined the main Athenian force, leaving 300 cavalry behind at Delium. The Athenians had about the same numbers of hoplites and cavalry, but had fewer lightly armed troops, mostly from their allied cities. They lined up at the usual depth. Because of the asymmetry in deployment, the Theban right wing would almost certainly be victorious but also because of their deployment the Athenian hoplite line was longer and would outflank the Boetian left line. That unique deployment by the Theban general Pagondas explains the subsequent unfolding and progress of the battle. The Boeotians charged unexpectedly while Hippocrates was giving a speech to his men. The centre lines saw the heaviest fighting. As Thucydides reports, the Boeotian left wing was surrounded and close to defeat, and only the Thespian contingent stood its ground. The victorious Athenian line got into confusion as it circled round the Thespian contingent and surrounded it. Some of the Athenian hoplites fought and killed one another when they met at the other end, mistaking their countrymen for the enemy.

That was history's first documented incident of "friendly fire" (Geoffrey Regan, Back Fire, Robson Books Ltd., London, 1995).

It is thought the incident occurred in part because no "state" shield devices were in use, which did not seem to have become general until the Second Battle of Mantinea, fought in 362 BC between the Thebans and the Spartans (and each side's allies). In any case, Pagondas sent his cavalry to support the Boeotian left wing and the Athenians were defeated in turn. Meanwhile, the Boeotian right wing was also victorious, and the Athenians fighting there fled;. When the Athenian centre saw that its two wings had been defeated, it also fled. About 500 Boeotians and 1,000 Athenians had been killed, including Hippocrates.

One of the Athenian hoplites in the battle was the philosopher Socrates. Plato has Alcibiades give the following account of the retreat of the Athenians at Delium, and Socrates' own actions then:
Furthermore, men, it was worthwhile to behold Socrates when the army retreated in flight from Delium; for I happened to be there on horseback and he was a hoplite. The soldiers were then in rout, and while he and Laches were retreating together, I came upon them by chance. And as soon as I saw them, I at once urged the two of them to take heart, and I said I would not leave them behind. I had an even finer opportunity to observe Socrates there than I had had at Potidaea, for I was less in fear because I was on horseback. First of all, how much more sensible he was than Laches; and secondly, it was my opinion, Aristophanes (and this point is yours); that walking there just as he does here in Athens, 'stalking like a pelican, his eyes darting from side to side,' quietly on the lookout for friends and foes, he made it plain to everyone even at a great distance that if one touches this real man, he will defend himself vigorously. Consequently, he went away safely, both he and his comrade; for when you behave in war as he did, then they just about do not even touch you; instead they pursue those who turn in headlong flight.
The Boeotians chased the Athenians until nightfall. Most of the Athenians returned to the fort at Delium, where a Boeotian herald announced that they were offending land that was sacred to the Boeotians and must leave. The Athenians replied that the land was now theirs and was now sacred to them and that they held it in self-defense from the Boeotians.

For two weeks, there was no action, but the Boeotians were joined by 2,000 hoplites from Corinth, as well as other troops from their various allies. The Boeotians constructed a strange device, which, according to the description in Thucydides (4.100), seems to have been a kind of flamethrower and used the weapon to set fire to Delium and chase away the Athenians. Only about 200 Athenians were killed; the rest were allowed to escape. After Delium had been recaptured, Demosthenes and his forces finally arrived, but the lack of communication between him and Hippocrates meant that his arrival was essentially useless. He landed near Sicyon but was quickly defeated.

In addition to showing an innovative use of a new technology, Pagondas made use of planned tactical warfare for one of the first times in recorded history. In the previous centuries, battles between Greek city-states had been relatively simple encounters between massed formations of hoplites. Cavalry played no important role, and all depended on the unity and force of the massed ranks of the infantry, straining against the opponent. At Delium, Pagondas made use of deeper ranks, reserves, cavalry interventions, light-armed skirmishers (peltasts) and gradual changes in tactics during the battle.


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