First Syracuse War

398 BCE


392 BCE


Sicily and Boeotia


Athenian Victory; Athenian Gains overseas; Anti-Delian Cities Political Victory


Delian League:



(outside Delian-League) Corinth




Sicilian Allies

(Later) Thebes


Conon the Great (KIA)




Dionysius I of Syracuse



Pagondas the Reformer (KIA)




Casualties and Losses



The First Syracusan War was a military conflict that occurred in the Late Classical period of Ancient Greece, between the Athenian Empire and her allies and the city-state of Syracuse and her allies. The First Syracusan War is usually divided amongst Historians into five sections, Advance of Syracuse (398 BCE-397 BCE), Athenian Reconquest (397 BCE-396 BCE), Stalemate (396 BCE-393 BCE), and Wars of Hamener (393 BCE-392 BCE). The Syracusan War was the most destructive conflict in the world since the Peloponnesian War, and historians usually argue that had the war dragged on, it would have continued to surpass the casualty rate of its predecessor.

Despite the Athenian Victory in the end, Syracuse effectively kept Athens at bay for several years, defeating them on several occasions. It is universally accepted that the war exploited the weakness in the Athenian Empire, a factor that would later throw Athens to the brink of destruction.


Athenian General and Historian, Thucydides, often remarked "The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Syracuse, made war inevitable." Indeed, the Athenian victories in the Peloponnesian War had drastically disrupted the balance of power in Greece. Sparta, the former super giant of Greece, had been reduced to a mere puppet of Athens, while the other notably cities, Corinth and Thebes, found themselves at the whims of Athenian aggressiveness. Both cities had defied Athens during the war, and both had paid the consequence in war reparations and a resignation of colonial territory. However, Corinth and Thebes chose different paths towards reconstruction, hoping their methods would restore their cities to "former glory". Corinth, in 403 BCE, appealed to Athens for help. In return for large sums of gold that would be paid annually to Corinth, the Peloponnesian City would publicly support Athenian interests outside of Greece, and come to its aid in the event that another major power intervened.

The Thebans proposed a different strategy. The city at the time was led by a zealous Theban General, Pagonda, who successfully defeated Athenian Forces at the Battle of Delium. The population of the Boetian City had grown increasingly resentful of Athens, and had pledged to watch Athens burn as revenge for their defeat. Pagonda created a vicious conscription system, in an effort to create a quick force that could potentially threaten Athens. However, it was clear to Thebes that Athenian Power was positioned not in numbers, but rather a disciplined army and an effective navy. He instituted a series of reforms, that embraced Spartan like societal values, forcing boys of 15 to join the army. The effect was drastic, yet in only a few years, the Theban Army was as strong as ever, and led a force that was prepared to threaten Athens existence.

Athenian Legacy 1

Blue: Athenian Empire/Delian League Light Blue: Athenian Allies outside of DL Red: Thenes Pink: Syracuse Light Pink: Syracusan Allies

The Athenian Assembly, and its 40,000 citizens, had acknowledged the rising tensions between Boetia and Attica, and began to look for ways to secure a current flow of supplies and income from the colonies. Both the Popular Assembly and the Council of the ten Prytaneis agreed on taking action over-seas. Athenian Officers in Sicily, (who had remained their since the end of the war), struck a deal with the local government of Segesta a few days following the Corinthian-Athenian Alliance was declared. Segesta feared the nearby city-state of Syracuse, and agreed to be a sub-state of Athens in return for protection.

Segesta was annexed by a Athenian Expedition Force in 401 BCE, led by an Athenian Statesmen, Caligren. Initially, Syracuse and its neighbors were frightened by the sudden Athenian expansion, and called upon a alliance of surrounding territories to deny Athens power to grow. 

The Athenians were able to respond to the Syracusan "sanctions", and forged an alliance with the North Sicilian city of Himera. Syracuse was forced to take it a step further to match the Athenian bond with Himera, and in protest of the Athenian "occupation", signed a treaty with Thebes. The treaty took the form of an "alliance" that only took effect if the Athenians invaded Syracuse, which was an attempt by Athens enemies to make her appear as the perpetator.

However, Syracuse was eventually thrust into a undesirable conflict when they Tyrant, Dionysius I, ordered pre-emptive action be taken against the Athenian colony. 

Advance of Syracuse

In 398 BCE, Tyrant Dionysius I, fearful of Athenian Expansion, ordered the Hoplites of Syracuse to attack the Athenian ally of Himera. Himera was a large Greek City State, and had secured a large amount of settlements to the south of the Northern Coast. Himera's Nobles, declared the Oligarchy in a state of war, and raised its own army. Paenus, a Noble of the Oligarchic Aristocracy in Himera, was assigned to the position of Strategos, and commanded the Himerian Army that consisted of roughly 7,000 soldiers. Yenerth, a messenger from the Northern city, was ordered to ride east to the Athenian Colonies, and call for aid against Syracuse.

However, by the time the Athenians had answered the call and mobilized its forces, Syracuse won a decisive victory against Paenus at the Battle of Capilium. The Syracusan victory allows Alextrus's armies to begin burning the country side in a attempt to starve out Himera. Then, in late winter, after months of campaigning around the city, Alextrus besieged Himera with 10,000 soldiers.The Siege of Himera, was the following engagement, in which Syracuse reached its pinnacle, defeating the defenders of Himera, as well as 1,000 sleeping Athenians.

The slaughter of the 1,000 Athenian soldiers brought the conflict to serious attention in Athens. After a series of trials and testimonies (few of which were accurate), the Athenian General in Sicily was replaced with the famous Conon the Great who was getting older by the day. Conon's take over of the Athenian Colonial Force marks the end of the Advance of Syracuse, and begins a short period of Athenian success.

Athenian Reconquest

With the replacement of the Athenian General, Tisinyus, by Conon, a series of new military tactics were brought into action. Modern Military thinkers believe that Conon's success in the second phase of the war was purely due to timing, and that Tisinysus made little progress due to the winter colds. Conon took command of the army in early spring, already able tp place his army into a mobilized position.

Conon won his first victory in the war against the Syracusan Second Force, which composed of 5000 men. Conon, who outnumbered the enemy by about 4:1, is best known in the battle for maintaining a extremely low casualty rate during the battle. The Syracusan Second Force was so badly beaten, that its survivors ran four straight days to Himera in fear of the Athenian Army. When the news reached the Assembly in Athens of Conon's victory, the Popular Assembly proudly gave Conon the ability to march on Himera. However, with communication still very poor in these early days, the Syracusan Army was able to make a defensive position a few miles south of Himera, on the eastern bank of the Salso.

Conon wasted very little time, and rushed to engage the Syracuse army and counter their advance. He met the Syracusan Army at the Battle of Mura Pregne . The engagement was the second largest in the war, with 30,000 troops involved in total, and resulting in over 10,000 casualties. The Battle was a decisive victory for Athens, and forced Syracuse to retreat to the northern border of Syracusan territory. 

By Summer, the Athenians were in pursuit of the Syracusan Army, and had nearly crossed the territorial line border into enemy territory. Dionysius I of Syracuse rode out to join Alextrus, and took total command of his armed forces. However, the Tyrant had prepared a special strategy that would endanger the existence of Athens herself, and gave up Alextrus's "Fabian strategy". Instead, he retreated directly into the heartland of Syracusan territory, and on the 12th of October, Athenian troops followed him close behind. To Dionysius, the crossing of the border was the effective "invasion" of Syracusan territory, triggering a system of alliances that forced Thebes, led by a Hegemonic Democracy under Pagondas, into the war against Athens.

When word reached Conon that he had effectively ignited a war with Athens, he rushed back home to Athens, leaving his army under the command of Hamener. At home, the Athenian Assembly mobilized its forces, and prepared for a defense against the Theban invasion. In early spring of 396 BCE, defensive lines were drawn, and a stalemate in Sicily followed.


With Conon gone and nearly half of the expeditionary forces with him, Strategos Hamener was left in a troubling situation. Following a minor engagement at the Battle of Leontinoi, Syracuse swung the momentum, but were unable to follow up their victory. The Athenians' defeat, though minor, forced the army to come to a complete stop and construct a large system of defensive fortifications. For the next three years, a series of Syracusan efforts to destroy the fortifications were defeated, and left Sicily in a state of complete stalemate.

To make matters worse for Athens, The Pagondas Reforms were apparently working, and with tremendous consequences. Political infighting in Athens over military action forced the Athenians to constantly re-draw their strategy allowing Pagondas's army to march towards Athens unopposed. By early 395, Pagondas had captured Eleutherai and entered Attica proper, ensuing panic in the streets of Athens. In the hour of desperation, Conon marched out with his army without orders from the Assembly. He desired to meet Pagondas head on, and end the petty conflict.

The Assembly acted immediately, and demanded Conon return to Athens or be declared a enemy of the state. Left with a choice, he returned home four days before he was to confront Pagondas's army a few miles north. The action's of the assembly had dire consquences and allowed Pagondas to defeat three smaller Athenian Armies over the course of a single week. First, Eleusis, Archarnae, Decelea, Aphidnae, and Rhamnus fell to the Theban armies, and then the famed field of Marathon.

Pagondas marched south from Marathon to Cephisia, bringing him within a few days of Athens. Out of desperation, the Assembly gave Conon the right to march upon Pagondas, who denied him the right. Knowing that Conon's military tactics and soldiers were superior, Pagondas adopted a scorched earth policy, and burned every town and village he could, excluding a few supply bases he required to maintain his army. By the end of 395 BCE, Athens was starving and Attica was burning. Even Syracuse had taken advantage of the misfortune, and ignited a series of attacks on the Athenian defenses in Sicily (though they still failed).

Finally, in the downpour of snow in December, Conon and Pagondas met on the field of battle one final time. At the city of Eleusis, 1000 Athenian allies managed to halt Pagondas's continuous retreat, giving Conon enough time to catch up to the Theban army. The Battle of Eleusis was the most famous and largest of the war, in what is sometimes called, the "miracle of Athens." On the verge of defeat, and with Conon slain on the battlefield, Corinthian re-inforcements under Periclas, arrived to rout the remaining Thebans. The result, though enormously devastating, forced Thebes to surrender, and make enormous concessions to the Athenian Army.

Throughout the final months of the year, the Athenians reorganized themselves, and prepared to end the war in Sicily, though the war in Greece had seemed to have been the real victory.

Wars of Hamener

The victory of Eleusis granted the Athenian-Corinthian alliance dominance over the mainland of Greece. Despite victory, Athens manpower had been drastically reduced and the chance of reinforcing Hamener became a unlikely possibility. Instead, the Athenian Navy sailed west to Sicily, and defeated the Syracusan navy with ease. The victory forced Syracuse into a state of blockade, with their "entrapment" by Hamener's defenses holding them back from a decisive move. Instead, Hamener maintained his defensive position, for the first time which seemed to be driving the Syracusan Army to defeat. 

The Syracusan Tyrant prepared his army to strike the defenses, but refused to do it alone. He called upon his allies, Kamarina and Akragas, both who had been stalled in the war by a large famine. The army was mustered together under a Kamarinian General, Golas, who had served as a mercenary general during the Athenian-Spartan wars. His attempt at storming the Athenian defenses failed terribly, despite attacking with a larger force. The defeat gave Hamener the initiative, and pursued the fleeing army to Syracuse, where the Tyrant himself conceded defeat ot the Athenian Army. Though this is one of the most interesting sections of the war, most of the specifics of the history have been lost in time. 

The specifics of the ending treaty are unknown as well, but what is generally accepted is the following:

Himera and Northern Syracuse is annexed to Athens, Akragas is occupied and eventually annexed.

Thebes cedes its northern territories as colonies to Athens, loses Great power status.

Athenian enemies in Sparta gain momentum, a secret coalition against the Delian League is formed.

Italian states join the anti-Delian League Coalition, titled, the Samus League. 

Independent states join Samus League, Athenians are forced to bribe Cretan cities to join Delian League, who side with the Samus coalition nonetheless. 

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.