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Pylos and Sphacteria 425 BC: Sparta's island of disaster (Campaign) Paperback – December 24, 2013

4.8 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

William Shepherd studied classics at Clare College, Cambridge, in the 1960s and then embarked on a career in publishing, which finally brought him to Osprey, retiring from the position of chief executive in 2007. He is author of The Persian War (Cambridge, 1982), translated from Herodotus. He has also written reading books for children and articles in the Osprey Military Journal, of which he was joint editor, and makes regular contributions to the Osprey blog. He lives in the Cherwell Valley, north of Oxford. The author lives in Cherwell Valley, UK.
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Product Details

  • Series: Campaign (Book 261)
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Osprey Publishing; First Edition edition (December 24, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1782002715
  • ISBN-13: 978-1782002710
  • Product Dimensions: 7.2 x 0.3 x 9.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #900,112 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Another outstanding title from Osprey covering a little known episode of the Peloponnesian War - the twin battles of Pylos (a naval battle) and Sphacteria (a largely land battle on an island) fought between Athens and Sparta in what is now Navarino Bay in western Greece. Both ended in a humiliating Spartan defeat and - in the second one - a shocking and unthinkable surrender. The book opens with a rather long introduction on the origins of the conflict which can be hard to follow if you're not familiar with the war and/or the geography.

The book highlights the tactics used by the Athenian light infantry and missile troops that completely befuddled the fearsome Spartans (or Spartiates - if you want to be more specific) - the best heavy infantry in the world at that time, perhaps of all time. Greek naval and amphibious operations which were critical to the Athenian victory are also featured. The failed negotiations between battles and the preceeding Pylos naval battle is also covered very well. On other sources, Pylos is frequently glossed over due to the more dramatic ending of the Sphacteria battle.

The maps are more than adequate and the art (by the prolific Peter Dennis) is great - there are four (4) color plates in this one, most Osprey Campaign titles only have 2 or 3 on average.
Nice purchase and very recommended - obviously fighting to the death has its limits, even for the Spartans.
Also, makes you wonder if they would have surrendered if the opponent was non-Greek...
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Any review of this book would have to start by mentioning that it is part of the Osprey "Campaign" series and what this implies in terms of analysis. The length of books in this series is relatively short. They are only 96 pages, about a third of which consists of one type or another of illustration. Hence they are, usually, only good when they attempt to capture battles or campaigns that are relatively short and/or straight forward. As this battle is such the book, not surprisingly, succeeds.

Following the standard format of the Campaign series, the book starts off with an introduction to the overall strategic picture. This is, basically, how the how the war was progressing for both sides. At this the book does an excellent job. It shows that both sides were at a stalemate albeit suffering significant losses. The book, in this section, also does a good job at showing how tactics were changing from being based almost entirely on heavy infantry and the phalanx, to making more and more use of "light" and skirmishing infantry (i.e., peltests, etc.). This was so for a number of reasons. One was that the expansion of troops could not keep up with the ability to supply them armour and another that this expansion could not permit use of heavy infantry tactics as these were based on serious training and discipline.

Then the book goes on to discuss opposing commanders and armies. Here we learn that both side's leaders were very experienced and quite good at their craft. The reader also learns that, as stated previously, light infantry tactics were starting to come on their own. However, they were doing so in a very asymmetric manner.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This slender volume, an addition to the Osprey Campaigns series, does an excellent job of describing a major battle in the later years of the war lasting from 431 to 421 B. C. (see the Chronology on pages 21 and 22 to place this battle into the larger historical context of the wars between Sparta (and her allies) and Athens (and her allies).

First, the volume covers key points in continuing warfare between the two city states, from 479 through 425 B. C. This time frame included events that precipitated the wars (pages 5-20). From my perspective, this is one of the best background discussions across the Campaigns series. Sometimes, in this series, the background to a battle ends up being a bit too brief or fuzzily described to allow a sense of the context. Surely, not so here.

Second, the work explores the campaign in its entirety, showing how Athenian and Spartan forces (and allies) maneuvered and developed their positions at Pylos and Sphacteria. Spartans' dispositions were flawed at a number of points, including naval forces and positions of land forces. The Spartans also were dilatory in preparing for the oncoming (and superior) Athenian naval forces, being very tardy in responding to the advancing fleet of the Athenians.

Third, the book discussed political elements during the entire time frame of the war and also at the time of the conclusion of this battle.

Fourth, as with other Osprey works in the series, one gets an introduction to the leaders of the battle, the opposing forces, and the plans of battle for each side.

In the end, this is a very strong entry in the Campaigns series.
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Format: Paperback
While the stand of the Spartans (and other lesser mortals) at Thermopylae is well known, the embarrassing Spartan defeat on Sphacteria in 425 BC during the Peloponnesian War is virtually unknown unless you have read Thucydides’ history. Yet reading Thucydides, as I have, it is difficult to really understand the disaster at Sphacteria based merely upon literary descriptions. It is the nature of the terrain, which decided the battle, which is missing. William Shepherd deftly solves that problem with his new volume in Osprey’s Campaign series, entitled Pylos and Sphacteria 425 BC. In addition to six 2-D maps and 1 3-D BEV map, Shepherd provides 30 modern color photographs of the island of Sphacteria and the adjoining harbor at Pylos. With these photos and maps, readers can fully grasp the difficult place that the Spartans had placed themselves and why they were defeated – that’s a good deliverable for any piece of military history. Adding to this, the brilliant artwork of Peter Dennis in four battle scenes really brings this campaign to life. Overall, a very good work, with some caveats.

That said, the author gets off to a shaky start, with a tedious and overblown 16-page introduction that goes all the war back to 479 BC, in order to provide a blow-by-blow description of what was going on in Greece five decades before the campaign began. I suggest that anyone who has already read Thucydides skip this introduction and go straight to the battle section. The section on opposing forces is good, but the plans and commanders section are basic. The campaign proper begins on page 35. In a nutshell, Athens decided on coastal raiding to distract Sparta, not expecting the Spartans to commit much forces against raiders.
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