Korkyra (Greek: Κόρκυρα) was an ancient Greek city on the island of Corfu in the Ionian sea, adjacent to Epirus. It was a colony of Corinth, founded in the archaic period. According to Thucydides, the earliest recorded naval battle took place between Korkyra and Corinth, roughly 260 years before he was writing - and thus in the middle of the seventh century BC. He also writes that Korkyra was one of the three great naval powers in fifth century BC Greece, along with Athens and Corinth.
The antagonism between Korkyra and its mother city Corinth appears to have been an old one. Quite apart from the naval battle Thucydides talks of, Herodotus records a myth involving the tyrant of Corinth, Periander. Periander was estranged from his younger son, Lycophron, who believed that his father had killed his mother Milissa. After failing to reconcile with Lycophron, he sent him to Korkyra, then within Corinth's goverance. In his old age, Periander sent for his son to come and rule over Corinth, suggesting that they would trade places and he would rule Korkyra while his son came to rule Corinth. To prevent this, the Korkyraeans killed Lycophron. In punishment, Periander captured 300 young men of Korkyra with the intention of castrating them. This is more likely to be a myth explaining the animosity between Corinth and Korkyra (and justifying the use of the word tyrant for Periander's rule) than an actual historical event.
The Persian War
In the Persian War of 480BC, Greek envoys were sent to Korkyra requesting aid. Korkyra enthusiastically promised ships, and fitted out sixty of them, but they failed to arrive in time for the battle of Salamis. Herodotus credits this as a desire among the Korkyraeans to remain neutral and thus not support the losing side. The excuse given for failing to join the battle was unfavourable winds, whereas Herodotus says that, had the Persians been victorious, the Korkyraeans would have claimed to have deliberately avoided the battle and, thereby, gain favour from the invading Persians.
The Peloponnesian War
Writing between 431 and 411 BC, Thucydides credited Korkyra's conflict with Corinth over their joint daughter-city Epidamnus as a significant cause of the Peloponnesian War. Korkyra, otherwise neutral as far as the two major powers, the Delian League and the Peloponnesian League, were concerned, appealed to Athens, head of the Delian League, for assistance against Corinth, who belonged to the Peloponnesian League.
In 427BC, during the Peloponnesian War, there was a civil war in Korkyra between the democrats, who wished to remain in an alliance with Athens, and the aristocrats, who claimed that they were being enslaved to Athens and wished to form an alliance with Corinth. The democrats won with help from Athenian ships, and subsequently slaughtered anyone they suspected of being an enemy.
The fourth and third centuries BC
Around 375BC, a Peloponnesian fleet, under the command of Mnesippus, attacked Korkyra. Following the siege, the resident Korkyraeans, suffering from hunger, deserted, were sold as slaves or, later, put to death by Mnesippus.
- An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis: An Investigation Conducted by The Copenhagen Polis Centre for the Danish National Research Foundation by Mogens Herman Hansen, 2005, page 361
- Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 1.13
- Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 1.36.3
- Herodotus, The Histories 3.48-52.
- Osborne, R. 1996. Greece in the Making 1200-479BC. Routledge.
- Herodotus, The Histories 7.168
- Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 1.24-45.
- Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 3.69-85.
- Xenophon, A History of My Times 6.2.4-23.
- Guide to Greece 1.11.6.