Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Arts




Dr. Bernd Steinbock


Drawing on John Keegan’s Face of Battle approach, this MA thesis reconstructs the soldiers’ experience during the final phase of the Athenians’ Sicilian Expedition (415-413 BC).

By integrating a thorough analysis of the extant historiographical sources (Thucydides, Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch’s Life of Nicias) with the intrinsic aspects of ancient Greek naval and land warfare, the topography around Syracuse, and the Athenian soldiers’ psychological condition, I seek to improve our understanding of how and why the Athenians and their allies lost the decisive naval engagement in the Great Harbour and failed to escape the Syracusans during their final retreat overland.

I make the case that the Athenian defeat is largely caused by factors outside of their control such as access to resources, geography, and Syracusan preparedness. However, the Athenians also suffered due to their own inaction caused by demoralization.