Siege of Sestus, 479-478 BC

The siege of Sestus (Autumn-winter 479-478 BC) was the last significant fighting during the campaign of 479, and saw an Athenian force besiege and capture the main Persian base in the Chersonese, on the European side of the Hellespont (Greco-Persian Wars)t.

In the aftermath of their victory at the battle of Mycale (479 BC) the Greeks decided to move north to the Hellespont, to dismantle the bridges of ships that the Persians had built to support their invasion of Greece in 480. When they arrived they discovered that the bridges had already been destroyed. The Peloponnesian contingent, led by King Leotychidas of Sparta, the overall Greek commander at Mycale, decided to go home for the winter. The Athenians, under Xanthippus decided to try and expel the Persians from the Chersonese (the Gallipoli peninsula) - command of the sea routes to the Black Sea was important to the Athenians, who got much of their grain from that area.

The strongest Persian position was at Sestus, about half way up the straits on the European side, opposite Abydos. The city was populated by Aeolian Greeks, but also had a sizable Persian population, and was now filled with refuges from the surrounding area. The defenders were commanded by Artayctes, the Persian governor of the Chersonese. Artayctes hadn't expected to be attacked, and so found himself trapped inside the city.

The siege lasted for some time. It began in the late summer of 479 BC. By the autumn the Athenian troops were getting rather unhappy with the situation and demanded to be allowed to go home. Their commanders refused to release them until either Sestus had fallen or the Athenian government recalled them, and managed to win them over. The siege continued on.

Inside the city supplies soon ran out. Eventually the defenders were reduced to boiling the leather straps used to support these beds. When this last supply of food ran out, the Persians escaped from Sestus by climbing down a remote and badly guarded part of the wall. On the next morning the inhabitants opened the gates to the Athenians. Part of the force occupied Sestus, while rest attempted to catch the fleeing Persians. Artayctes was caught near Aegospotami, taken back to Sestus and crucified on the shore, while his son was stoned to death in front of him. Earlier in his career Artayctes had violated a sanctuary of the hero Protesilaus at Elaeus. The Greeks then returned home, taking with them the cables that had been used to support the bridge.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (28 July 2015), Siege of Sestus, 479-478 BC , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_sestus.html

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