The decline begins in the second year of the Peloponnesian War, in 430 BC when the first cases of the plague that overruns Athens are recorded in Piraeus as well. During the War, a raid by Spartan leads the Athenians to better fortify Piraeus by rendering the entrances to the harbours smaller and adding towers and platforms for archers. This does not, however, deter Spartans from attacking Piraeus again and destroying parts of the Long Walls. Following Athens’ defeat in 404 BC, Piraeus never regains its former glory.
Demetrius the “Besieger”
Son of Antigonus I Monophthalmus Demetrius was a Macedonian nobleman, surnamed “Besieger” from his successful employment of military engines. Sent by his father to liberate first Athens and then the rest of Greece, leading a fleet of 200 ships, Demetrius stormed Piraeus in 307 BC and razzed the fortress of Munichia, thus ending Demetrius of Phalerum’s ten-year rule over his home city. The Athenians expressed their gratitude to the “Besieger” and his father by honoring them in a way that had never before been granted to mortals.
With the principles of Democracy once again restored, Piraeus’ citizens turned their attention to the refortification of its three harbors and the reconstruction of the Long Walls. Nevertheless, all efforts proved fruitless and Piraeus was never again the commercial and military centre it had once been. All financial activities were now shifting towards Alexandria, Italy and Europe. The urban population kept reducing and commercial life was relocated to the new trade centers of the time. Piraeus was the cornerstone of Mediterranean maritime transport no more.
In the years to come, a languid silence fell over a once vibrant city which waited for the deadliest enemy thus far: the Romans.
86 BC: Lucius Cornelius Sulla Invades and Levels Piraeus
Athens became a target for Roman aggressions in the 1st century BC, during Rome’s eastward expansion. The Athenian support to Pontus king Mithridates, raised the anger of Rome which decided to eliminate the problem sending to Athens Sulla, a brilliant, battle-hardened and unethical warrior-politician in Athens.
The assault on Athens and Piraeus, from the fall of 87 BC until the spring of 86 BC, was a demonstration of the Roman power. Athens should be given an exemplary punishment for befriending Mithridates. Upon arrival, Sulla besieged not only Athens but also the port of Piraeus. In fact, his first objective was Piraeus, as without it, Athens could not be re-supplied.
His first pursuit was to destroy the Long Walls, and so he did, most probably using siege engines to bring them down. Despite Archelaus’ – the Piraeus Forces Commander – several efforts to raise the siege, all counterattack attempts failed. Nevertheless, Archelaus would not give up defending the city and since he had no fleet to attack from the sea, Sulla’s attention was temporarily shifted towards Athens.
By that time, Athens had been starving. After Athens having been under siege for 5 months, a midnight sack of Athens began and Sulla was not in a mood to be magnanimous. Athens fell in a bloody mess.
Meanwhile, Archelaus abandoned the city of Piraeus to join the army sent by Mithridates. In order to prevent Archelaus’ escape, Sulla returned to Piraeus, but without a fleet, he was powerless to prevent Archelaus from joining the army. Sulla then advanced into Boeotia to take on Archelaus’ troops and remove his from Greece. Before leaving the area, in March of 86 BC, however, he burnt the city of Piraeus to the ground, out of sheer spite.