In 427BC Athens sent a ship to Mytilene which had instructions to kill all adult men in the city-state. The next day, Athenians voted to change their decision – a second ship was dispatched. Racing through the night, it reached Mytilene just in time to prevent the massacre from happening.

Mytilenean Debate

Allies in the Peloponnesian War.

The Mytilenean Debate (also spelled “Mytilenaean Debate”) is the Athenian Assembly concerning reprisals against the city-state of Mytilene, which had attempted unsuccessfully to shake off Athenian hegemony during the Peloponnesian War. The Debate occurred in 427 B.C.; Thucydides reports it in book three of his History of the Peloponnesian War, and uses the events and the speeches as a major opportunity to reflect and to offer his views on the political and ideological impact of the war on the parties involved.

Causes for the Revolt

Mytilene was one of the last non-tributary members of the Delian League which chose to man their own warships and send subjects to fight alongside the Athenian fleet. … Continue Reading (7 minute read)

11 thoughts on “In 427BC Athens sent a ship to Mytilene which had instructions to kill all adult men in the city-state. The next day, Athenians voted to change their decision – a second ship was dispatched. Racing through the night, it reached Mytilene just in time to prevent the massacre from happening.”

  1. x-raygoggles

    Pop history likes to imagine that Athenians were all intellectual and democratic and Spartans were brutal killers. In reality, everyone was pretty brutal- as most people are throughout history. The Melian Dialogue is still taught in school.

  2. Bug1031

    What was Mytilene’s offence if Athens was initially set to destroy them, but after sleeping on it thought it was too severe a punishment?

  3. NedRed77

    Stopping this happening was a mission in AC Odyssey.

    I was never sure which bits in the game were fiction, TIL.

  4. twiggez-vous

    Omitted due to the character limit – the original instructions were to kill all adult men and enslave all women and children.

    As described by Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War, the crew of the second ship (double the size of the first ship) took turns to row through the night, and ate their meals with oars in hand, in order to reach Lesbos in record-time. Thucydides goes on to describe how their dramatic arrival interrupted the initial army leader in the middle of his proclamation for mass slaughter.

  5. kaidashogun

    I bet that was pretty awkward

  6. eaglewatch1945

    Athenians forgot to finish the message with /Σ

  7. BillTowne

    They just sold them into slavery.

    Their crime had been independence.

  8. biopilot17

    everyone was a tyrant back then so not too surprising. what’s more surprising is they changed their minds.

  9. je97

    I’d like to think that when they initially gave the order, they were roaring drunk and did it for a bet, and when they woke up they had the worst ‘What did I do last night?’ moment in history. This probably didn’t happen though sadly.

  10. purpleheadedwarrior

    > …..arrived at Lesbos just in time to prevent the previous orders from being carried out……. the Athenians razed the city walls and divided most of the Lesbian land

    12 year old me laughed

  11. demodan

    IIRC this is cited as an example of how Bronze Age professional boat crews would have appeared superhuman even in comparison to modern day Olympians. The distance, weight of vessel etc either make the story impossible, or we’re obliged to accept they were capable of physical feats we’ve never seen since.

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