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SESTUS (Σηστός: Eth. Σήστιος), the principal town of the Thracian Chersonesus, and opposite to Abydus, its distance from which is variously stated by ancient writers, probably because their measurements were made in different ways; some speaking of the mere breadth of the Hellespont where it is narrowest; others of the distance from one city to the other; which, again, might be reckoned either as an imaginary straight line, or as the space traversed by a vessel in crossing from either side to the other, and this, owing to the current, depended to some extent upon which shore was the starting point. Strabo (xiii. p.591) states that the strait is 7 stadia across near Abydus; but that from the harbour of Abydus to that of Sestus, the distance is 30 stadia.1 (On this point the following references may be consulted: Hdt. 7.34; Xen. Hell. 4.8. 5; Plb. 16.29; Scyl. p. 28; Plin. Nat. 4.11. s. 18. Ukert (3.2.137, note 41) has collected the various statements made by the moderns respecting this subject.)

Owing to its position, Sestus was for a long period the usual point of departure for those crossing over from Europe to Asia; but subsequently the Romans selected Callipolis as the harbour for that purpose, and thus, no doubt, hastened the decay of Sestus, which, though never a very large town, was in earlier times a place of great importance. According to Theopompus (ap. Strab. l.c.), it was a well-fortified town, and connected with its port by a wall 200 feet in length (σκέλει διπλέθρῳ). Dercyllidas, also, in a speech attributed to him by Xenophon (Xenoph. Hell. 4.8.5), describes it as extremely strong.

Sestus derives its chief celebrity from two circumstances,--the one poetical the other historical. The former is its connection with the romantic story of Hero and Leander, too well known to render it necessary to do more than merely refer to it in this place (Ov. Her. 18.127; Stat. Silv. 1.3. 27, &c.); the latter is the formation (B.C. 480) of the bridge of boats across the Hellespont, for the passage of the army of Xerxes into Europe; the western end of which bridge was a little to the south of Sestus (Hdt. 7.33). After the battle of Mycale, the Athenians seized the opportunity of recovering the Chersonesus, and with that object laid siege to Sestus, into which a great many Persians had hastily retired on their approach, and which was very insufficiently prepared for defence. Notwithstanding this, the garrison held out bravely during many months; and it was not till the spring of B.C. 478 that it was so much reduced by famine as to have become mutinous. The governor, Artayctes, and other Persians, then fled from the town in the night; and on this being discovered, the inhabitants opened their gates to the Athenians. (Hdt. 9.115, seq.; Thuc. 1.89.) It remained in their possession till after the battle of Aegospotami, and used to be called by them the corn-chest of the Piraeeus, from its giving them the command of the trade of the Euxine. (Arist. Rhet. 3.10.7.) At the close of the Peloponnesian War (B.C. 404), Sestus, with most of the other possessions of Athens in the same quarter, fell into the hands of the Lacedaemonians and their Persian allies. During the war which soon afterwards broke out between Sparta and Persia, Sestus adhered to the former, and refused to obey the command of Pharnabazus to expel the Lacedaemonian garrison; in consequence of which it was blockaded by Conon (B.C. 394), but without much result, as it appears. (Xen. Hell. 4.8. 6) Some time after this, probably in consequence of the peace of Antalcidas (B.C. 387), Sestus regained its independence, though only for a time, and perhaps in name merely; for on the next occasion when it is mentioned, it is as belonging to the Persian satrap, Ariobarzanes, from whom Cotys, a Thracian king, was endeavouring to take it by arms (B.C. 362?). He was, however, compelled to raise the siege, probably by the united forces of Timotheus and Agesilaus (Xen. Ages. 2.26; Nep. Timoth. 1); the latter authority states that Ariobarzanes, in return for the services of Timotheus in this war, gave Sestus and another town to the Athenians2, from whom it is said to have soon afterwards revolted, when it submitted to Cotys. But his successor, Cersobleptes, surrendered the whole Chersonesus, including Sestus, to the Athenians (B.C. 357), who, on the continued refusal of Sestus to yield to them, sent Chares, in B.C. 353, to reduce it to obedience. After a short resistance it was taken by assault, and all the male inhabitants capable of bearing arms were, by Chares' orders, barbarously massacred. (Diod. 16.34.)

After this time we have little information respecting Sestus. It appears to have fallen under the power of the Macedonians, and the army of Alexander the Great assembled there (B.C. 334), to be conveyed from its harbour in a Grecian fleet, from Europe to the shores of Asia. By the terms of the peace concluded (B.C. 197) between the Romans and Philip, the latter was required to withdraw his garrisons from many places both in Europe and in Asia; and on the demand of the Rhodians, actuated no doubt by a desire for free trade with the Euxine, Sestus was included in the number. (Liv. 32.33.) During the war with Antiochus, the Romans were about to lay siege to the town (B.C. 190); but it at once surrendered. (Liv. 37.9.) Strabo mentions Sestus as a place of some commercial importance in his time; but history is silent respecting its subsequent destinies. According to D'Anville its site is occupied by a ruined place called Zemenic; but more recent authorities name it Jalowa (Mannert, vii. p. 193). (Hdt. 4.143; Thuc. 8.62; Plb. 4.44; Diod. 11.37; Arrian, Arr. Anab. 1.11. § § 5, 6; Ptol. 3.12.4, 8.11.10; Steph. B. sub voce Scymn. 708; Lucan 2.674.)


1 Lord Byron, in a note referring to his feat of swimming across from Sestus to Abydus, says:--“The whole distance from the place whence we started to our landing on the other side, including the length we were carried by the current, was computed by those on board the frigate at upwards of 4 English miles, though the actual breadth is barely one.” This corresponds remarkably well with the measurements given by Strabo, as above.

2 There is much obscurity in this part of Grecian history, and the statement of Nepos has been considered inconsistent with several passages in Greek authorities, who are undoubtedly of incomparably greater weight than the unknown compiler of the biographical notices which pass under the name of Nepos. (See Dict. Biogr. Vol. III. p. 1146a.)

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