Battle of Eurymedon, 470/469 ή 462 BC

1. Introduction

The battle of Eurymedon, an event during the war of Athens and her allies against the Persians in an effort to defend their dominions in the Aegean, ended with the crushing defeat of the Persians, similar to the outcome of the battle of Plataea. The battle took place on the coast of Pamphylia, at the estuary of Eurymedon River between 470/469 and 462 BC.1

An epigram preserved in the Palatine Anthology2 was inscribed on the monument for those died in battle which was erected at the Demosion Sema in Ceramicus, as described by Pausanias.3

2. The events

The first testimony of the battle is recorded by Thucydides, who writes some decades after the events. He reports that both an infantry and a naval battle took place at Eurymedon River between the Persians and the Athenians and their allies on the same day. The Greeks destroyed 200 Phoenician triremes and captured a considerable number of ships.4 The two battles are described in great detail by Diodorus Siculus, who writes in the late 1st cent. BC. However, he has probably adopted the description of Ephorus, historian of the 4th cent. BC from Athens. A second version of the events was written by Plutarch in the 2nd cent. BC, who also cites accounts from the 4th cent. BC, as those of Ephorus, Phanodemus of Athens and Callisthenes of Olynthus.

According to Thucydides account of the battle, after Cimon’s first operations in the Eastern Aegean, the Persians began to assemble infantry and fleet in Pamphylia. Pherendates, Xerxes' nephew, was appointed commander of the infantry, whereas Tethraphstes, the illegitimate son of the Persian king, commanded the navy, which comprised ships from Phoenicia, Cyprus and Cilicia. As soon as Cimon was informed that the hostile navy sailed in the open sea of Cyprus, he headed against it. Despite the numerical supremacy of the Persians (350 to 250), the Athenians and their allies destroyed a great number of their enemy’s ships and captured a hundred of them. Those who escaped, fled to Cyprus, where the crews were abandoned, and consequently they were also captured by the Greeks.

Then Cimon manned the Persian ships with his most capable men, dressed in Persian costume and tiaras. Taking advantage of the oncoming darkness, the Greeks reached the banks of Eurymedon River without being noticed by the Persian infantry who had camped there. Thus, when the Greeks attacked, the Persians were so panicked and frustrated that they believed they were being attacked by the residents of nearby Pisidia, who were hostile to them. Consequently, they ran to the ships to save themselves, only to be slaughtered by Cimon’s army. It is delivered that Cimon managed to bring the soldiers back to the ships running around the camp with a torch in his hands, as the men had already begun to plunder the Persian tents. A total of 340 ships were captured by the Greeks and 20,000 Persians were killed or taken prisoners in land and sea. Pherendates died as well. The victors set up a trophy and sailed to Cyprus.

Plutarch quotes the evidence provided by Ephorus concerning the two commanders of the Persian army, but he adds that Callisthenes mentions a certain Ariomandes, son of Gombryus, as the head of the army.

When Cimon was informed about the concentration of the Persian troops in Pamphylia, he directed 200 ships there from Cnidus and Triopio, in an attempt to prevent the Persians from sailing to the west of the Chelidonian Islands, which were probably located somewhere in Pamphylia. When he arrived at the Greek city of Phaselis, the residents did not accept the Greek ships, since they did not wish to defect from the Persian king. Cimon plundered the country and besieged the city, but, after the intervention of the Chians, who participated in the Greek army and were in friendly terms with Phaselis, he accepted to resolve the siege under the conditions that they would join the Greek army and they would offer 10 talents in tribute.

When Cimon reached Eurymedon and heard that 80 Phoenician ships were sailing from Cyprus to reinforce the Persians, he tried unsuccessfully to challenge the enemy to fight a battle in the open sea prior to their arrival. Only when they saw Cimon heading towards the estuary of the river did they sailed against him with 600 ships, according to Phanodemus, or 350 according to Ephorus. Nevertheless, Cimon had improved the ships by having them made wider and constructed platforms on the deck, where heavily armed men could stand. Hence, he increased the effectiveness of the triremes which Themistocles had built for the naval battle of Salamis (480 BC) and they successfully destroyed several hostile ships, while they captured 200 vessels. The surviving Persian crews fled to land and joined the infantry.

Cimon considered it risky to lead his exhausted troops against the rested and bigger Persian army. However, when he realised that his soldiers, feeling vigorous and proud of their victory at sea, were eager to fight man to man, he disembarked them and they plunged into the battle. The Persians resisted and fought hard. Many brave Athenians died in battle, prominent men of high ranks, but after hours of fighting, they finally predominated. They killed the Persians and took prisoners, whereas they looted their camp and plundered money and other valuable objects.

Nevertheless, Cimon did not rely on his laurels. When he heard that the 80 Phoenician ships lay anchored at Ydros,5 he commanded his crew to sail at full speed and rammed the hostile fleet, who were ignorant of the fate of their main force. The panic-stricken Phoenicians could not resist and as a result they lost all their ships with most men.

Plutarch’s description of the battle appears to be more accurate due to the fact that the Athenians could not have been engaged in a naval battle off Cyprus and then reach the coast of Pamphylia in the evening of the same day. In as much as the naval battle in Cyprus must have had a considerable duration on account of the numerical disproportion of the two fleets.

Diodorus, copying Ephorus, correlated a later in date naval operation in Cyprus with the battles at Eurymedon. This is attested in an epigram quoted in Diodorus’ text, referring to the one-tenth of loot (tithe) dedicated by the Athenians to gods after the operations in Cyprus, since Cyprus is mentioned in the text.6

3. Votive offerings-the importance of the battle

The tithe (dekate) possibly provided the funds for the gold or golden-plated statue of Pallas Athena, which was set up on a bronze palm-tree, as an offering to Apollo at the sanctuary in Delphi. Pausanias specifies that it was dedicated after the battle of Eurymedon, while Plutarch states generally after the victories against the Persians.7

Apart from this offering, finds from the Acropolis of Athens are associated with the battle of Eurymedon as well. On a fragment from a red figure clay votive shield, a female figure in a Doric peplos holds aphlasta (sterns) decorated with anthropomorphised chenisci in a head dressing of eastern type.8 In addition, on a red figure skyphos, a man is offering similar sterns to a woman who is putting a wreath on his head. The figures on the skyphos have hypothetically been identified with Theseus or Cimon and Athena. This victory might also be represented symbolically on an Attic red figure amphora in the British Museum, attributed to Nikon painter: Athena, holding two aphlasta, chases a female figure, who might symbolise Asia.9 Besides, Nike with an aphlaston on a lekythos in the Museum of Berlin, as well as Athena on another one in the Metropolitan Museum of New York,10 may be related with the naval battle of Artemision or Salamis, since they are dated to 480-460 BC.

Moreover, offerings were dedicated in the other Greek cities which participated in the battle with the Athenians. Hence, the statue of Maiandrios, who excelled in that battle, was dedicated in the Heraion of Samos. The statue was holding the effigy or the stern itself of the Persian ship captured by the Samian, whereas one shield of every ship or their effigies adorned his monument, as testified by an epigram inscribed below the list of the Samians who died in the battle of Eurymedon.11

Repair works or restoration of the Maiandrios monument in the 3rd cent. BC reveals that this victory was commemorated much later. The impact of the battle is implicitly revealed in a comical scene on a red figure oenochoe: a naked Greek man, holding his erection, reaches forward to the naked buttocks of a Persian archer, whereas an inscription says “I am Eurymedon and I stand bend forward”.

Some historians believe that the victory at Eurymedon led to the first peace treaty between the Greeks and the Persians, which was followed by the Peace of Callias. Regardless the accuracy of this idea, the Persian troops eliminated by Cimon at Eurymedon, were definitely the last Persian force to attack the Greeks. From now on, the Persians become defensive, since any attempt to transfer troops to Greece would be doomed due to the fact that the Greek fleet controlled the shores of Asia Minor from Bosporus to Pamphylia. The Aegean had become a Greek, or rather, an Athenian Sea.

1. Lombardo, C., Cimone (Roma 1934), pp. 79-81 (470/469 BC); Costanzi, V., “L’Anno Attico Della Battaglia presso L’Eurimedonte”, RFC 31 (1903), pp. 258-260 (469/468 BC); Kolbe, W., “Diodors Wert für die Geschichte der Pentekontaetie”, Hermes 72 (1937),p. 253 (469 BC); Meritt, B.D. – Wade-Gery, H.T. – McGregor, M.F., The Athenian Tribute Lists III (Princeton 1950), p. 175 (469 BC); CAH² V, p. 45 ( J.K. Davis); Sordi, M., “La svolta del 465/4 e la data della battaglia dell’ Eurimedonte”, Gerion 12 (1994), p. 68 (Autumn 465 BC); Schreider, J.H., Hellanikos, Thukydides and the Era of Kimon (Aarhus 1997), pp. 38-49. For the problems in the chronology of the period, see CAH² V, pp. 1-14 (D.M. Lewis), and Unz, R.K., “The Chronology of the Pentekontaetia”, CQ n.s. 36 (1986), pp. 68-85 (p. 73 on the battle of Eurymedon, 466/465 BC).

2. Cf. Appendix 1. Wade-Gery, H.T., “Classical Epigrams and Epitaphs”, JHS 53 (1933), pp. 79-81.

3. Paus. 1.29.14-15.

4. Thuc. 1.100.1.

5. Perhaps this is the city Idyro, 60 Km N to Phaselis, according to Beloch, K.J., Griechische Geschichte 2,2 (Strassburg 1916), pp. 161-162, or the city Syedra, on the borders between Pamphylia and Cilicia, 100 Km East to Phaselis.  

6. D. S. 11.62; Schreider, J.H., Hellanikos, Thukydides and the Era of Kimon (Aarhus 1997), pp. 50-59, for both for and against views, p. 115, n. 12.

7. Paus. 10.15.4; Plut., Nic. 13.3. It has been supported that the palm tree is a Persian symbol, and the composition of the votive monument is an allegory of the predominance of the Athenians over the Persians. Cf. Stähler, K., “Die Palme der Herrschaft. Eurymedon-Votiv und persiches  Repräsentationszeichen”, in Başgelen,  N. – Lugal, M. (eds), Festschrift für Jale Inan Armağanı (Istanbul 1989), pp. 308-317.

8. The aphlaston is the high upcurving stern with its ornaments. One of these ornaments is the cheniscus, resembling the curved neck of a goose; cf. Luc., VH II.41. The odd head-dresses are an attempt by the painter to imitate the elephant heads or the faces on the sterns of the Phoenician ships, Hausmann, U., “Akropolisscherben und Eurymedonkämpfe”, in Schauenburg, K. (ed.), Charites. Studien zur Altertumwissenschaft, Festschrift E. Langlotz (Bonn 1957), pp. 145-147, pl. XX.1-2. They are attributed to Boreas painter, ARV2, 539, no. 48.

9. Hausmann, U., “Akropolisscherben und Eurymedonkampfe”, in Schauenburg, K. (ed.), Charites. Studien zur Altertumwissenschaft, Festschrift E. Langlotz (Bonn 1957), pp. 144-151, tab. XX.1-2.  

10. ARV², 384, no. 211 and 423, no. 125; Lonis, R., Guerre et Religion en Grece a l’ epoque classique. Recherches sur les rites des dieux, l’ ideologie et   la victoire (Centre de Recherches d’ Histoire Ancienne 33, Paris 1979), pp. 161, 251b4, fig. 18.

11. Cf. Appendix 2. The epigram is fragmentary and various completions have been proposed which were combined in the translated text. Klaffenbach, G., “Samische Inschriften”, AM 51 (1926), pp. 26-28; Buschor, E., “Maiandrios”, Philologus 86 (1931), p. 424-426; Wade-Gery, H.T., “Classical Epigrams and Epitaphs”, JHS 53 (1933), pp. 97-101; Peek, W., “Die Kämpfe am Eurymedon”, in Athenian Studies Presented in W.S. Ferguson, Supplement Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 1 (Harvard 1940), pp. 116-120.