Μετάβαση στο περιεχόμενο

The geostrategic problem of the Aegean Sea from antiquity to today

The Greeks consider the Aegean Sea as the cradle of their culture and most likely they are not wrong. Thanks to the marine element, the contacts of the tribes which would later create the Greek civilization were made possible. The development of trade, however, also gave birth to piracy. According to Thucydides, in order to protect the coasts of Crete, king Minos fought the pirates and brought the central and southern Aegean under his control. It was perhaps the first time that such a large area of ​the archipelago had come under the control of our great power. Probably only the mythical Mynιans were powerful enough to control the northern part of the Aegean.

The partial control of the sea exercised by the Cretans gave the opportunity to the Mycenaeans (successors of the Mynians) to occupy their island after the explosion of the Thera (Santorini) volcano in 1450 BC. The Mycenaeans were the first to bring the entire island archipelago under their control. They probably realized that only partial control of the Aegean created political and military issues. In order to maintain their monopoly of maritime trade, they practiced piracy on the ships of the Powers of the Asian hinterland and Egypt.

Although trade and diplomatic relations are attested with Egypt – with the Asian kingdoms relations had ups and downs. The Hittites who started from Anatolia in Asia Minor when they reached the shores of the Aegean began to have problems. Initially, they captured Cyprus from the Minoans, but the Mycenaeans managed to recapture it and make it a base for pirate raids in Syria. Letters have been preserved in which the Hittite subject kings complain about the pirates and ask for the protection of their overlords.

Having established bases on the Aegean islands, the Mycenaeans launched devastating raids on the Asia Minor coastal zone. The agility of their amphibious forces gave him the initiative and the advantage of surprise while limiting the Hittites’ ability to react. Diplomatic letters of the Hittite king trying to solve the problem diplomatically are preserved. By a strange twist of fate, the letters also refer to the control regime of the islands near the Asia Minor coast reminding us of contemporary political issues.

The decline of the palatial societies of the Bronze Age left the coasts at the mercy of piracy which in the Geometric age was not considered reprehensible. From this period the islanders and coastal Greeks started colonization but no city-state had absolute control over the archipelago. Typical is the problem faced by the Dodecanese islanders from the Carian and Cilician pirates.

The first unfavorable development for Hellenism was when the Persians occupied the coasts of Asia Minor, neutralizing the Lydians and demanding submission from the Greek vassals of the latter. The clumsy policy of the Persian kings between the Greeks and the Phoenicians caused the Ionian revolution. The intervention of the mainland Greeks prompted King Darius to decide to expand westwards in order to secure the coasts of Asia Minor.
The end of the Persian Wars found the Greeks in control of the Aegean through the Delian League but the clumsy policies of the Athenians and the bribes of the Persians succeeded in bringing the Persian troops back to the Asia Minor coast. Persian money was a factor of instability by financing the civil conflicts among the Greek city states thus preventing possible unification and expansion eastwards.

The Macedonian king Philip had realized the problem and built a bridgehead on the Asia Minor coast, but only the successes of his son Alexander the Great brought the Aegean back under Greek sovereignty and under the control of one Power. The division Alexander;’s state by his Successors made again the Aegean a field of confrontation. When the Romans subjugated the mainland of Greece, they faced the interventions of the Seleucids who controlled the coasts of Asia Minor and also the resurfacing piracy problem from Cretans and Cilicians. They solved the issue by subduing their opponents and the archipelago was once again under the control of one Power.

Their Byzantine successors were in serious danger when the Muslim Arabs came to the shores of Asia Minor. The biggest problem was the capture of Crete, which became a den of pirates. Its recapture by Nikephoros Phokas secured the Aegean from Islamic piracy but the problem returned when the Seljuk Turks reached the Asia Minor coast under Comnenan dynasty. The overthrow of the Byzantine Empire by the Crusaders in 1204 created a series of interdependent states and also brought competition from the Italian mercantile cities into the region.

In the 15th century, the coasts of Asia Minor and the straits of the Dardanelles came under the possession of the Ottomans, who, however, faced raids by Christian forces (Venetians, Knights Hospitalers) established in the Aegean islands. Despite the occupation of the Aegean islands and mainland Greece, the Ottomans secured their coasts only after the occupation of Cyprus and Crete.

The creation of the Hellenic Kingdom after the revolution of 1821 rekindled the interest of the Great Powers in the region. The evolution of the «Cretan Question» and the Greek attempts to intervene on the island showed the Ottomans what it meant to have even partial control of the Aegean by another Power even a small one.

The inability of the Ottomans to overthrow the Greek state in 1897 due to the intervention of Britain and France (Naval Powers) caused even worse issues due to the neutralization of the Ottoman fleet by the Greeks during the Balkan Wars. In WW I, the Ottomans were attacked at the Dardanelles by the Entente forces which had established bases on the Greek islands.

The failure of the Central Empires to control Greece allowed the Entente to retain control of the Aegean and confine the Ottoman fleet into the Dardanelles. The defeat of the Ottomans in World War I allowed Greece to try to control the opposite coast of Asia Minor as well, but the bad Greek policies led to the defeat of 1922. The interwar Aegean was then divided between Greece, Italy (Dodecanese) and Turkey.

The poorly executed Italian attack on Greece in 1940 eventually led to German involvement in 1941. Despite their victory, the Germans, were absorbed by the war in Russia and did not use the Aegean, especially Crete, to put pressure on the Allies. The Allied attempt to capture the Dodecanese islands also failed due to a lack of resources.

After World War II, the admittance of Greece and Turkey into NATO closed the Aegean to the Soviet Union, which in turn tried to take advantage of the Greek-Turkish rivalry in the Cyprus issue from 1950 and ease its access to the Mediterranean. Theoretically, the influence of the USA keeps the Greek-Turkish competition under control and the archipelago under its own «high control». However, Turkey’s revisionist policy puts this control at risk.

In recent years, Turkish revisionist policy has brought under consideration a number of parameters that raised questions about the non-direct control of the archipelago by a single Power. The chances of Turkey choosing an armed conflict with Greece could weaken NATO. The US and various European countries appear to have no immediate interest in a Turkish ascendancy. But do they have an interest in a Greek dominance? If the parameter of a possible Turkish decision to join the Russian-Chinese axis is examined things become more complex. Would the West like to allow this axis access to the Mediterranean? The only thing that is certain is that the geostrategic question of the Aegean remains an issue for very capable problem solvers.


Homer The Iliad Loeb Classical Library 1914

Thucidides “History” Loeb Classical Library 1914

Xenophon “Hellenica” Loeb Classical Library 1914

Strabo “Geography” Loeb Classical Library 1920

William Stearns Davis,Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols, (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-1913), Vol. I: Greece and the East.https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/ww1/where-australians-served/gallipoli/dardanelles-strategy


Weinberg, Gerhard (2005). A World at Arms A Global History of World War Two. Cambridge University Press.


A new French Ancient Hoplite experimental archaeology project.

An excellent living history project took place in France and you can see it here:

French re-enactors from South of France in collaboration with a web channel specializing in martial arts took an interesting approach to ancient Greek hoplite combat.

For starters the setting was impressive as there were 32 re-enactors that participated,

The French brothers in arms demonstrated phalanx movement.  The next step was demonstration of phalanx maneuvers. 

A superb show of the formation turning left with locked shields and pivoting on the left most hoplite was shown. As said on camera this could happen when one phalanx outflanked the other for various reasons.  Most demonstration of turning formation that I am aware of, were done in open order so this interpretation in a tight group and with locked shields was a very interesting approach.

Their interpretation of the Spartan maneuver in Thermopylae to trick the Persians in the narrow path offers a good insight into this part of Herodotus work that is debated by scholars.

The most important part in my opinion was the demonstration of two formations colliding and performing the othismos (push over). The most remarkable part was that hoplites stationed behind the second line of combatants could also be targeted. So men in the 3rd or 4th rank could not afford to have a false sense of security. They could also be stabbed by their enemies, even if they were not very well seen by them.

 Their solution for avoiding problems with the butt spikes of the spears is also worth further study.  I also noted that they point their spears at the enemy after they close ranks. Personally I object to that. Based on experience and many trials I believe that the best option is to go on guard and level the spears in open order and then tighten the formation. This better done when the successive ranks also have distance from one another and after the ranks close a second command for compacting the phalanx is given.

I also suggest it might be well to consider taking a better defensive stance by lowering the waist and advancing towards the enemy using the “gathering step”. (moving the rear foot first and then  move the front foot to recover your stability)

Well done lads. You set a mile stone for further study.

Homeric  era naval commands


Let’s tow the vessel to the sea (put the boat to the water) Odyssy 8, 34


Man your positions  Odyssey  15,  218 – 219


Lift the anchors


Cut (untie) the ropes     Odyssey 11, 637


Set the mast  Odyssey 1, 480


Sit on your benches Odyssey 11, 638


Pick up your oars Odyssey 11, 639


Put the oars in the water Odyssey 10, 28


Strike (the water) with your oars Odyssey 9, 472 9, 564


Row faster Odyssey 10, 194


Row harder Odyssey 12, 121


Throw anchor in the water  Odyssey 15, 498


Tie the ropes Odyssey 15, 498


Secure the oars to the benches  Odyssey 8. 37

Odysseus, also called Ulysses, pictured lashed to mast of a similar ship on an ancient Greek vase. Image: British Museum

A voting ostrakon from the Kerameikos Museum.

In the Kerameikos Museum in the center of Athens is exhibited a pottery fragment like those that were used in voting persons in to temporary exile if they were considered a threat to the democratic institutions of ancient Athens. They were known as ostraka (plural) to the ancients and the procedure was called ostrakismos (ostracism).The individual was given 10 days to manage his affairs and was banished for a period of 10 years.

The individual that was to be banished is Kallias son of Kratias. The ostrakon would be no different from the many others used in similar cases except for the fact that it has an archer engraved on the opposite side of the inscription. The archer is dressed in Scythian garb and he seems to be ready to advance after he has loosened an arrow.

This raises some issues. In general voting procedures are considered secret. So why the individual casting the vote wanted to mark it so that it would be known who cast it? Was the voter an illiterate who had been bribed to vote and put the engraved figure as proof that he had actually done it? (A case of electoral fraud here?) Did he bare a serious personal grudge against Kallias and he wanted him to know who voted against him? Was the engraved archer a threat to Kallias from a criminal whose grudge would not be resolved by the defendant’s banishment? If so was it a warning like: “watch your back”? Another interesting question would be: was a Scythian slave or mercenary involved in the case made against Kallias? After all Peseistratus had established tyranny with the employment of 50 club armed slaves. Was Kallias an officer of the horsearcher corps of Athens accused of dereliction of duty? Whatever the case this pottery fragment seems to hold its mystery.

My New Book is on circulation


You can purchase it  from HERE

Questioning the origins of the Bireme.

The bireme was an ancient oared warship that had two decks of oars. It was the first attempt to increase the speed of the ships of the period which had one deck with 15 to 25 oars to each side. Except the increased speed and the larger crew the increased height of the bireme was an additional advantage in naval combat.  A school of thought considers these ships a Phoenician invention of the seventh century BC simply based on the plaque of Sennacherib (WA 124772 British Museum) that depicts a ship with two decks and a ram. If we trust Archaic pottery biremes appear in Greek art 100 years later. But is this so?

Homer in the Iliad at rhapsody two, that lists the Greek forces, uses the term “glafyra” for the ships of the Beoteans. (verses: 496-516) This term translates as “ventricle” in Hysichios lexicon. He also mentions that the ships of the Orchomenians have 120 men as crew. Both terms are thought to be characteristic of the two decked ship when compared to their contemporary vessels without decks.

Yet Mycaenenan pottery dated in the 13th century BC depicts vessels that seem to have a deck.

A fresco from Orhomenos dated also in the 13th century BC depicts a vessel with two decks

Even if we assume that the poems depict life of the 8th century BC they are still earlier than the plaque of Sennacherib. It is even more interesting that in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens exist fragments of pottery depicting double decked ships and they are dated around the 8th century BC.

Ancient Greek War Chants & Battle cries

Herodotus says that the  Perinthians used the “Paean ” as their victory cry

(Histories,  5.1)

Xenophon  says the  Greek mercenaries chanted “Zeus, Soter, Nke“ at Cunaxa

(Anabasis 1.8.16)

and  “Zeus, Soter, Heracles Agetor (= leader)” against the Bithynians

(Anabasis 6.5.25)

Paysanias says  that the Thessalians chanted “Itonia Athena” while the Phocians chanted “Phocus” their deified ancestral spirit

 (Description of Greece, 10.10)

Demosthenes in his speech against Leocrates he preserves the oath of the Athenian youth. There he mentions (Leoc, 101) the god Ares with his epithet Enyalios. It is interesting to think that the Athenian hoplites entered into battle chanting it rhythmically

He also says that the Spartans worshiped Artemis Agrotera (“Hellenica” 4. 2. 20) so it is quite likely that they chanted her name rhythmically when they fought without allies

Hoplite trumpeter, Altesmuseum Berlin. (Wikimedia Commons)

For more details on hoplite maneuvers you can check my book here


Ancient Greek iron-shod foot-ware.

While most people have the notion that all ancient Greek warriors wore sandals, ancient art depicts a vast variety of boots and other closed foot-ware for usage in hunting or war. A sample of studded soles in the Athens Ceramicus Museum testifies to the usage of hobnails. Yet another item in the Nafplion Museum proves that metal reinforcements similar to the metal pieces reinforcing the soles of the 17th to 18th century military boots were also in use. Ancient sources call them «Kapymata».

Phalanx drill commands in Greek

The Hellenistic common dialect of ancient Greek literature Corpus is used.

Pronunciation has taken into account the syneresis of the vowels.

Listen to the sounds in Greek here

The underlined vowel signifies the tone
























Listen again to the sounds in Greek here

Detailed description of the  commands execution in my book


Anti-theban propaganda on Ancient Attic Amphora

In Ancient Greece where paper was unknown but Art needed to propagate cultural and political messages. Athens and Thebes were at odds from the Geometric Era. Attic theater through the “Theban circle» collection of plays was a constant reminder of this enmity. But if the visual arts had to sent their message to wider audience the pottery iconography was the best means to reach a large number of people.

A good example is a red-figured Amphora with «Two Amazons», related to The Charmides Painter workshop and it is dated between 480 and 460 BC. (Beazley ARV² 653-654; Boardman ARFH1 195)

At that time Greece was in grave danger facing invasion by large Persian Army and the Thebans, who were viewed with suspicion, after Thermopylae promptly sided with the invaders according to Herodotus. Even worse the fought valiantly, although unsuccessfully against the Greek Coalition troops in Platea in 479 BC.

Amazons on British Museum

Image courtesy Michael Svetbird (c) MSP”

The amphora depicts two young warriors: one in typical hoplite equipment and the other in Persian or Scythian garb and armed with bow and axe. The fact that they appear beardless makes scholars to designate them as “Amazons» This may be true for the person with the Asiatic gear as most contemporary Iranic people sported beards but can be called into question for the hoplite who might just be a beardless young man.

From Xenophon we learn that the club of Hercules was the emblem of Thebans and from that we can designate the hoplite warrior as a Theban because of this shield device. The legends of Theseus present the Amazons as enemies of the Athenians who finally defeated them. If we accept them both as Amazons the hint is obvious. The good for nothing, effeminate Thebans with their equally useless foreign allies who fight from a distance they are not to be taken seriously and the will never be able to stand up to Athenian might.

My thanks to Michael Svetbird  for bring the item to my attention.

Αρέσει σε %d bloggers: