Battle of Embata, 356 BC

The battle of Embata (356 BC) was a minor naval defeat for Athens during the Social War, but in the aftermath two of her best commanders were put on trial, and the remaining commander soon provoked the Persians.  

We have several accounts of this campaign, all of which agree in the key elements (names of commanders, Athenian defeat and trial of the commanders), but disagree in other details.

In Diodorus the Athenians raised a new fleet and gave Iphicrates and Timotheus join command of the combined fleet (with Chares). The combined Athenian fleet headed for Byzantium, perhaps the most important of the rebel powers, as she could intercept the grain convoys from the Black Sea. The rebels lifted the siege of Samos, and moved north. The two fleets met in the Hellespont. They were both preparing for a battle, when a storm began. Iphicrates and Timotheus decided not to attack because of the weather, but Chares was determined to fight. Afterwards he wrote to the people of Athens accusing his co-commanders of refusing to fight deliberately. Both Iphicrates and Timotheus were put on trial, fined and lost their commands.

Cornelius Nepos gives us a different account. This time command of the new fleet was given to Menestheus, son of Iphicrates and son-in-law of Timotheus. The two older men were sent along as advisors. The new fleet headed for Samos, as did Chares, who didn’t want to miss any chance of winning credit. As the two fleets approached Samos a storm arose. Iphicrates and Timotheus decided to anchor and ride out the storm. Chares continued on to Samos, where he suffered a defeat and lost several of his ships. After this defeat he complained to Athens, and the other generals were recalled. Timotheus was found guilty, fined 100 talents, and went into exile at Chalcis. Iphicrates and Menestheus were found not guilty.

The battle probably took place at Embata (or Embatum), in the straits between Chios and the mainland of Asia Minor. As only part of the Athenian fleet took part, it can't have been an especially costly clash. However the aftermath probably cost Athens the war. Chares, the only remaining Athenian commander in the field, was short of supplies and money. He solved this problem by fighting for Artabazus, satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia, then involved in the Satrap's Revolt against Artaxerxes III. Chares won at least one victory for Artabazus, but this provided Artaxerxes into sending a letter of complaint to Athens. He was also known to be preparing a sizable fleet. This scared the almost bankrupt Athenians, and they were forced to make peace, accepting the independence of the rebels.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 May 2017), Battle of Embata, 356 BC , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_embata.html

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