Stories Poetry.com - Download the EBook Famous StoriesInformational Site Network Informational
Privacy
Home - Ancient States



Most Viewed

Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David


Least Viewed

Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David





The Peloponnesian War








The great and disastrous war between the two leading States of
Greece broke out about two years and a half before the death of Pericles,
but the causes of the war can be traced to a period shortly after the
Persians were driven out of the Ionian cities. It arose primarily from the
rapid growth and power of Athens, when, as the leader of the maritime
States, it excited the envy of Sparta and other republics. A thirty years'
truce was made between Athens and Sparta, B.C. 445, after the revolution
in Boeotia, when the ascendency of Pericles was undisputed, which forced
his rival, Thucydides, a kinsman of Cimon, to go into temporary exile. The
continuance of the truce is identical with the palmy days of Athens, and
the glory of Pericles, during which the vast improvements to the city were
made, and art and literature flourished to a degree unprecedented in the
history of the ancient world.

After the conquest of Samos the jealousy of Sparta reached a point
which made it obvious that the truce could not much longer be maintained,
though both powers shrunk from open hostilities, foreseeing the calamities
which would result. The storm burst out in an unexpected quarter. The city
of Epidamnus had been founded by colonists from Corcyra, on the eastern
side of the Adriatic. It was, however, the prey of domestic factions, and
in a domestic revolution a part of the inhabitants became exiles. These
appealed to the neighboring barbarians, who invested the city by sea and
land. The city, in distress, invoked the aid of Corcyra, the parent State,
which aid being disregarded, the city transferred its allegiance to
Corinth. The Corinthians, indulging a hatred of Corcyra, took the
distressed city under their protection. This led to a war between Corcyra
and Corinth, in which the Corinthians were defeated. But Corinth, burning
to revenge the disaster, fitted out a still larger force against Corcyra.
The Corcyraeans, in alarm, then sent envoys to Athens to come to their
assistance. The Corinthians also sent ambassadors to frustrate their
proposal. Two assemblies were held in Athens in reference to the subject.
The delegates of Corcyra argued that peace could not long be maintained
with Sparta, and that in the coming contest the Corcyraeans would prove
useful allies. The envoys of Corinth, on the other hand, maintained that
Athens could not lend aid to Corcyra without violating the treaty with
Corinth. The Athenians decided to assist Corcyra, and ten ships were sent,
under the command of Lacedaemonieus, the son of Cimon. This was considered
a breach of faith by the Corinthians, and a war resulted between Corinth
and Athens. The Corinthians then invited the Lacedaemonians to join them
and make common cause against an aggressive and powerful enemy, that aimed
at the supremacy of Greece. In spite of the influence of Athenian envoys
in Sparta, who attempted to justify the course their countrymen had taken,
the feeling against Athens was bitter and universally hostile. Instant
hostilities were demanded in defense of the allies of Sparta, and war was
decided upon.

Thus commenced the Peloponnesian war, which led to such disastrous
consequences, and which was thus brought about by the Corinthians, B.C.
433, sixteen years before the conclusion of the truce.

To Athens the coming war was any thing but agreeable. It had no
hopes of gain, and the certainty of prodigious loss. But the Spartans were
not then prepared for the contest, and hostilities did not immediately
commence. They contented themselves, at first, with sending envoys to
Athens to multiply demands and enlarge the grounds of quarrel. The
offensive was plainly with Sparta. The first requisition which Sparta made
was the expulsion of the Alcmaeonidae from Athens, to which family Pericles
belonged--a mere political manoeuvre to get rid of so commanding a
statesman. The enemies of Pericles, especially the comic actors at Athens,
seized this occasion to make public attacks upon him, and it was then that
the persecution of Aspasia took place, as well as that against Anaxagoras,
the philosopher, the teacher, and friend of Pericles. He was also accused
of peculation in complicity with Phidias. But he was acquitted of the
various charges made by his enemies. Nor could his services be well
dispensed with in the great crisis of public affairs, even had he been
guilty, as was exceedingly doubtful.

The reluctance on the part of the Athenians to go to war was very
great, but Pericles strenuously urged his countrymen to resent the
outrageous demands of Sparta, which were nothing less than the virtual
extinction of the Athenian empire. He showed that the Spartans, though
all-powerful on the Peloponnesus, had no means of carrying on an
aggressive war at a distance, neither leaders nor money, nor habits of
concert with allies; while Athens was mistress of the sea, and was
impregnable in defense; that great calamities would indeed happen in
Attica, but even if overrun by Spartan armies, there were other
territories and islands from which a support could be derived. "Mourn not
for the loss of land," said the orator, "but reserve your mourning for the
men that acquire land." His eloquence and patriotism prevailed with a
majority of the assembly, and answer was made to Sparta that the Athenians
were prepared to discuss all grounds of complaint pursuant to the truce,
by arbitration, but that they would yield nothing to authoritative
command. This closed the negotiations, which Pericles foresaw would be
vain and useless, since the Spartans were obstinately bent on war. The
first imperious blow was struck by the Thebans--allies of Sparta. They
surprised Plataea in the night. The gates were opened by the oligarchal
party; a party of Thebans were admitted into the agora; but the people
rallied, and the party was overwhelmed. Meanwhile another detachment of
Thebans arrived in the morning, and, discovering what had happened, they
laid waste the Plataean territory without the walls. The Plataeans
retaliated by slaughtering their prisoners. Messengers left the city, on
the entrance of the Thebans, to carry the news to Athens, and the
Athenians issued orders to seize all the Boeotians who could be found in
Attica, and sent re-enforcements to Plataea. This aggression of the Thebans
silenced the opponents of Pericles, who now saw that the war had actually
begun, and that active preparations should be made. Athens immediately
sent messengers to her allies, tributary as well as free, and
contributions flowed in from all parts of the Athenian empire. Athens had
soon three hundred triremes fit for service, twelve hundred horsemen,
sixteen hundred bowmen, and twenty-nine thousand hoplites. The Acropolis
was filled with the treasure which had long been accumulating, not less
than six thousand talents--about $7,000,000 of our money--an immense sum at
that time, when gold and silver were worth twenty or thirty times as much
as at present. Moreover, the various temples were rich in votive
offerings, in deposits, plate, and sacred vessels, while the great statue
of the goddess, lately set up in the Parthenon by Phidias, composed of
gold and ivory, was itself valued at four hundred talents. The
contributions of allies swelled the resources of Athens to one thousand
talents, or over $11,000,000.

Sparta, on the other hand, had but few ships, no funds, and no
powers of combination, and it would seem that success would be on the side
of Athens, with her unrivaled maritime skill, and the unanimity of the
citizens. Pericles did not promise successful engagements on the land, but
a successful resistance, and the maintenance of the empire. His policy was
purely defensive. But if Sparta was weak in money and ships, she was rich
in allies. The entire strength of the Peloponnesus was brought out,
assisted by Megarians, Boeotians, Phocians, Locrians, and other States.
Corinth, Megara, Sicyon, Elis, and other maritime cities furnished ships
while Boeotians, Phocians, and Locrians furnished cavalry. Not even to
resist the Persian hosts was so large a land force collected, as was now
assembled to destroy the supremacy of Athens. And this great force was
animated with savage hopes, while the Athenians were not without
desponding anticipations, for there was little hope of resisting the
Spartans and their allies on the field. The Spartans, moreover, resolved,
by means of their allies, to send a fleet able to cope with that of
Athens, and even were so transported with enmity and jealousy as to lay
schemes for invoking the aid of Persia.

The invasion of Attica was the primary object of Sparta and her
allies; and at the appointed time the Lacedaemonian forces were mustered on
the Isthmus of Corinth, under the command of Archidamus. Envoys were sent
to Athens to summon a surrender, but Pericles would not receive them, nor
allow them to enter the city, upon which the Lacedaemonian army commenced
its march to Attica. It required all the eloquence and tact of Pericles to
induce the proprietors of Attica to submit to the devastation of their
cultivated territory, and fly with their families and movable property to
Athens or the neighboring islands, without making an effort to resist the
invaders. But this was the policy of Pericles. He knew he could not
contend with superior forces on the land. It was hard for the people to
submit to the cruel necessity of seeing their farms devastated without
opposition. But they made the sacrifice, and intrenched themselves behind
the fortifications of Athens. Then was seen the wisdom of the long walls
which connected Athens with the Piraeus.

Meanwhile the Spartan forces--sixty thousand hoplites, advanced
through Attica, burning and plundering every thing on their way, and
reached Acharnae, within seven miles of Athens. The Athenians, pent up
behind their walls, and seeing the destruction of their property, were
eager to go forth and fight, but were dissuaded by Pericles. Then came to
him the trying hour. He was denounced as the cause of the existing
sufferings, and was reviled as a coward. But nothing disturbed his
equanimity, and he refused even to convene the assembly. As one of the ten
generals he had this power; but it was a remarkable thing that the people
should have respected the democratic constitution so far as to submit,
when their assembly would have been justified by the exigency of the
crisis. But while the Athenians remained inactive behind their walls, the
cavalry was sent out on skirmishing expeditions, and a large fleet was
sent to the Peloponnesus with orders to devastate the country in
retaliation. The Spartans, after having spent thirty or forty days in
Attica, retired for want of provisions. AEgina was also invaded, and the
inhabitants were expelled and sent to the Peloponnesus. Megara was soon
after invaded by an army under Pericles himself, and its territory was
devastated--a retribution well deserved, for both Megara and AEgina had been
zealous in kindling the war.

Expecting a prolonged struggle, the Athenians now made arrangements
for putting Attica in permanent defense, both by sea and land, and set
apart one thousand talents, out of the treasure of the Acropolis, which
was not to be used except in certain dangers previously prescribed, and a
law was passed making it a capital offense for any citizen to propose its
use for any other purpose.

The first year of the war closed without decisive successes on
either side. The Athenians made a more powerful resistance than was
anticipated. It was supposed they could not hold out against the superior
forces of their enemies more than a year. They had the misfortune to see
their territory wasted, and their treasures spent in a war which they
would gladly have avoided. But, on the other hand, they inflicted nearly
equal damages upon the Peloponnesus, and still remained masters of the
sea. Pericles pronounced a funeral oration on those who had fallen and
stimulated his countrymen to continued resistance, and excited their
patriotic sentiments. Thus far the anticipations of the statesman and
orator had been more than realized.

The second year of the war opened with another invasion of Attica
by the Spartans and their allies. They inflicted even more injury than in
the preceding year, but they found the territory deserted, all the
population having retired within the defenses of Athens.

But a new and unforeseen calamity now fell upon the Athenians, and
against which they could not guard. A great pestilence broke out in the
city, which had already overrun Western Asia. Its progress was rapid and
destructive, and the overcrowded city was but too favorable for its
ravages. Thucydides has left a graphic and mournful account of this
pestilence, analogous to the plague of modern times. The victims generally
perished on the seventh or ninth day, and no treatment was efficacious.
The sufferings and miseries of the people were intense, and the calamity
by many was regarded as resulting from the anger of the gods. The
pestilence demoralized the population, who lost courage and fortitude. The
sick were left to take care of themselves. The utmost lawlessness
prevailed. The bonds of law and morality were relaxed, and the thoughtless
people abandoned themselves to every species of folly and excess, seeking,
in their despair, to seize some brief moments of joy before the hand of
destiny should fall upon them. For three years did this calamity desolate
Athens, and the loss of life was deplorable, both in the army and among
private citizens. Pericles lost both his children and his sister; four
thousand four hundred hoplites died, and a greater part of the horsemen.

And yet, amid the devastation which the pestilence inflicted,
Pericles led another expedition against the coasts of the Peloponnesus.
But the soldiers carried infection with them, and a greater part of them
died of the disease at the siege or blockade of Potidaea. The Athenians
were nearly distracted by the double ravages of pestilence and war, and
became incensed against Pericles, and sent messengers to Sparta to
negotiate peace. But the Spartans turned a deaf ear, which added to the
bitterness against their heroic leader, whose fortitude and firmness were
never more effectively manifested. He was accused, and condemned to pay a
fine, and excluded from re-election. Though he was restored to power and
confidence, his affliction bore heavily upon his exalted nature, and he
died, B.C. 430, in the early period of the war. He had, indeed, many
enemies, and was hunted down by the comic writers, whose trade it was to
deride all political characters, yet his wisdom, patriotism, eloquence,
and great services are indisputable, and he died, leaving on the whole,
the greatest name which had ever ennobled the Athenians.

The war, of course, languished during the prevalence of the
epidemic, and much injury was done to Athenian commerce by Peloponnesian
privateers, who put to death all their prisoners. It was then that Sparta
sent envoys to Persia to solicit money and troops against Athens, which
shows that no warfare is so bitter as civil strife, and that no expedients
are too disgraceful not to be made use of, in order to gratify malignant
passions. But the envoys were seized in Thrace by the allies of Athens,
and delivered up to the Athenians, and by them were put to death.

In January, B.C. 429, Potidaea surrendered to the Athenian generals,
upon favorable terms, after enduring all the miseries of famine. The fall
of this city cost Athens two thousand talents. The Lacedaemonians, after
two years, had accomplished nothing. They had not even relieved Potidaea.

On the third year, the Lacedaemonians, instead of ravaging Attica,
marched to the attack of Plataea. The inhabitants resolved to withstand the
whole force of the enemies. Archidemus, the Lacedaemonian general,
commenced the siege, defended only by four hundred native citizens and
eighty Athenians. So unskilled were the Greeks in the attack of fortified
cities, that the besiegers made no progress, and were obliged to resort to
blockade. A wall of circumvallation was built around the city, which was
now left to the operations of famine.

At the same time the siege was pressed, an Athenian armament was
sent to Thrace, which was defeated; but in the western part of Greece the
Athenian arms were more successful. The Spartans and their allies suffered
a repulse at Stratus, and their fleet was defeated by Phormio, the
Athenian admiral. Nothing could exceed the rage of the Lacedaemonians at
these two disasters. They collected a still larger fleet, and were again
defeated with severe loss near Naupactus, by inferior forces. But the
defeated Lacedaemonians, under the persuasion of the Megarians, undertook
the bold enterprise of surprising the Piraeus, during the absence of the
Athenian fleet; but the courage of the assailants failed at the critical
hour, and the port of Athens was saved. The Athenians then had the
precaution to extend a chain across the mouth of the harbor, to guard
against such surprises in the future.

Athens, during the summer, had secured the alliance of the
Odrysians, a barbarous but powerful nation in Thrace. Their king,
Sitalces, with an army of fifteen thousand men, attacked Perdiccas, the
king of Macedonia, and overran his country, and only retired from the
severity of the season and the want of Athenian co-operation. Such were
the chief enterprises and events of the third campaign, and Athens was
still powerful and unhumbled.

The fourth year of the war was marked by a renewed invasion of
Attica, without any other results than such as had happened before. But it
was a more serious calamity to the Athenians to learn that Mitylene and
most of Lesbos had revolted--one of the most powerful of the Athenian
allies. Nothing was left to Athens but to subjugate the city. A large
force was sent for this purpose, but the inhabitants of Mitylene appealed
to the Spartans for aid, and prepared for a vigorous resistance. But the
treasures of Athens were now nearly consumed, and the Athenians were
obliged to resort to contributions to force the siege, which they did with
vigor. The Lacedaemonians promised succor, and the Mitylenaeans held out
till their provisions were exhausted, when they surrendered to the
Athenians. The Lacedaemonians advanced to relieve their allies, but were
too late. The Athenian admiral pursued them, and they returned to the
Peloponnesus without having done any thing. Paches, the Athenian general,
sent home one thousand Mitylenaean prisoners, while it was decreed to
slaughter the whole remaining population--about six thousand--able to carry
arms, and makes slaves of the women and children. This severe measure was
prompted by Cleon. But the Athenians repented, and a second decree of the
assembly, through the influence of Diodotus, prevented the barbarous
revenge; but the Athenians put to death the prisoners which Paches had
sent, razed the fortifications of Mitylene, took possession of all her
ships of war, and confiscated all the land of the island except that which
belonged to one town that had been faithful. So severe was ancient
warfare, even among the most civilized of the Greeks.

The surrender of Plataea to the Lacedaemonians took place not long
after; but not until one-half of the garrison had sallied from the city,
scaled the wall of circumvallation, and escaped safely to Athens. The
Plataeans were sentenced to death by the Spartan judges, and barbarously
slain. The captured women were sold as slaves, and the town and territory
were handed over to the Thebans.

Scenes not less bloody took place in the western part of Greece, in
the island of Corcyra, before which a naval battle was fought between the
Lacedaemonians and the Athenians. The island had been governed by
oligarchies, under the protection of Sparta, but the retirement of the
Lacedaemonian fleet enabled the Athenian general to wreak his vengeance on
the party which had held supremacy, which was exterminated in the most
cruel manner, which produced a profound sensation, and furnished
Thucydides a theme for the most profound reflections on the acerbity and
ferocity of the political parties, which, it seems, then divided Greece,
and were among the exciting causes of the war itself--the struggle between
the advocates of democratic and aristocratic institutions.

A new character now appears upon the stage at Athens--Nicias--one of
the ten generals who, in rank and wealth, was the equal of Pericles. He
belonged to the oligarchal party, and succeeded Cimon and Thucydides in
the control of it. But he was moderate in his conduct, and so won the
esteem of his countrymen, that he retained power until his death, although
opposed to the party which had the ascendency. He was incorruptible as to
pecuniary gains, and adopted the conservative views of Pericles, avoiding
new acquisitions at a distance, or creating new enemies. He surrounded
himself, not as Pericles did, with philosophers, but religions men,
avoided all scandals, and employed his large fortune in securing
popularity. Pericles disdained to win the people by such means, cultivated
art, and patronized the wits who surrounded Aspasia. Nicias was zealous in
the worship of the gods, was careful to make no enemies, and conciliated
the poor by presents. Yet he increased his private fortune, so far as he
could, by honorable means, and united thrift and sagacity with honesty and
piety. He was not a man of commanding genius, but his character was above
reproach, and was never assailed by the comic writers. He was the great
opponent of Alcibiades, the oracle of the democracy--one of those memorable
demagogues who made use of the people to forward his ambitious projects.
He was also the opponent of Cleon, whose office it was to supervise
official men for the public conduct--a man of great eloquence, but
fault-finding and denunciatory.

The fifth year of the war was not signalized by the usual invasion
of Attica, which gave the Athenians leisure to send an expedition under
Nicias against the island of Melos, inhabited by ancient colonists from
Sparta. Demosthenes, another general, was sent around the Peloponnesus to
attack Acarnania, and he ravaged the whole territory of Leueas. He also
attacked AEtolia, but was completely beaten, and obliged to retire with
loss; but this defeat was counterbalanced by a great victory, the next
year, over the enemy at Olpae, when the Lacedaemonian general was slain. He
returned in triumph to Athens with considerable spoil. The attention of
the Athenians was now directed to Delos, the island sacred to Apollo, and
a complete purification of the island was made, and the old Delian
festivals renewed with peculiar splendor.

The war had now lasted six years, without any grand or decisive
results on either side. The expeditions of both parties were of the nature
of raids--destructive, cruel, irritating, but without bringing any grand
triumphs. Though the seventh year was marked by the usual enterprise on
the part of the Lacedaemonians--the invasion of Attica--Corcyra promised to
be the principal scene of military operations. Both an Athenian and
Spartan fleet was sent thither. But an unforeseen incident gave a new
character to the war. In the course of the voyage to Corcyra, Demosthenes,
the Athenian general, stopped at Pylus, with the intention of erecting a
fort on the uninhabited promontory, since it protected the spacious basin
now known as the bay of Navarino, and was itself easily defended.
Eurymedon, the admiral, insisted on going directly to Corcyra, but the
fleet was driven by a storm into the very harbor which Demosthenes
proposed to defend. The place was accordingly fortified by Demosthenes,
where he himself remained with a garrison, while the fleet proceeded to
Corcyra. Intelligence of this insult to Sparta--the attempt to plant a
hostile fort on its territory--induced the Lacedaemonians to send their
fleet to Pylus, instead of Corcyra. Forty-three triremes, under
Thrasymelidas, and a powerful land force, advanced to attack Demosthenes,
intrenched with his small army on the rocky promontory. When the news of
this new diversion reached the Athenian fleet at Corcyra, it returned to
Pylus, to succor Demosthenes. Here a naval battle took place, in which the
Lacedaemonians were defeated. This defeat jeopardized the situation of the
Spartan army which had occupied the island of Shacteria, cut off from
supplies from the main land, as well as the existence of the fleet. So
great was this exigency, that the ephors came from Sparta to consult on
operations. They took a desponding view, and sent a herald to the Athenian
generals to propose an armistice, in order to allow time for envoys to go
to Athens and treat for peace. But Athens demanded now her own terms,
elated by the success. Cleon, the organ of the popular mind, excited and
sanguine, gave utterance to the feelings of the people, and insisted on
the restoration of all the territory they had lost during the war. The
Lacedaemonian envoys, unable to resist a vehement speaker like Cleon, which
required qualities they did not possess, and which could only be acquired
from skill in managing popular assemblies, to which they were unused,
returned to Pylus. And it was the object of Cleon to prevent a hearing of
the envoys by a select committee (what they desired) for fear that Nicias
and other conservative politicians would accede to their proposals. Thus
the best opportunity that could be presented for making an honorable peace
and reuniting Greece was lost by the arts of a demagogue, who inflamed and
shared the popular passions. Had Pericles been alive, the treaty would
probably have been made, but Nicias had not sufficient influence to secure
it.

War therefore recommenced, with fresh irritation. The Athenian
fleet blockaded the island where the Spartan hoplites were posted, and
found in the attempt, which they thought so easy, unexpected obstacles.
Provisions clandestinely continually reached the besieged. Week after week
passed without the expected surrender. Demosthenes, baffled for want of
provisions and water for his own fleet, sent urgently to Athens for
re-enforcements, which caused infinite mortification. The people now began
to regret that they had listened to Cleon, and not to the voice of wisdom.
Cleon himself was sent with the re-enforcements demanded, against his
will, although he was not one of the ten generals. The island of
Sphacteria now contained the bravest of the Lacedaemonian troops--from the
first families of Sparta--a prey which Cleon and Demosthenes were eager to
grasp. They attacked the island with a force double of that of the
defenders, altogether ten thousand men, eight hundred of whom were
hoplites. The besieged could not resist this overwhelming force, and
retreated to their last redoubt, but were surrounded and taken prisoners.
This surrender caused astonishment throughout Greece, since it was
supposed the Spartan hoplites would die, as they did at Thermopylae, rather
than allow themselves to be taken alive, and this calamity diminished
greatly the lustre of the Spartan arms. A modern army, surrounded with an
overwhelming force, against which all resistance was madness, would have
done the same as the Spartans. But it was a sad blow to them. Cleon,
within twenty days of his departure, arrived at Athens with his three
hundred Lacedaemonian prisoners, amid universal shouts of joy, for it was
the most triumphant success which the Athenians had yet obtained. The war
was prosecuted with renewed vigor, and the Lacedaemonians again made
advances for peace, but without effect. The flushed victors would hear of
no terms but what were disgraceful to the Spartans. The chances were now
most favorable to Athens. Nicias invaded the Corinthian territory with
eighty triremes, two thousand hoplites, and two hundred horsemen, to say
nothing of the large number which supported these, and committed the same
ravages that the Spartans and their allies had inflicted upon Attica.

Among other events, the Athenians this year captured the Persian
ambassador, Artaphernes, on his way to Sparta. He was brought to Athens,
and his dispatches were translated and made public. He was sent back to
Ephesus, with Athenian envoys, to the great king, to counteract the
influence of the Spartans, but Artaerxes had died when they reached Susa.

The capture of Sphacteria, and the surrender of the whole
Lacedaemonian fleet, not only placed Athens, on the opening of the eighth
year of the war, in a situation more commanding than she had previously
enjoyed, but stimulated her to renewed operations on a grander scale, not
merely against Sparta, but to recover the ascendency in Boeotia, which was
held before the thirty years' truce. The Lacedaemonians, in concert with
the revolted Chalcidic allies of Athens in Thrace, and Perdiccas, king of
Macedonia, also made great preparations for more decisive measures. The
war had dragged out seven years, and nothing was accomplished which
seriously weakened either of the contending parties.

The first movement was made by the Athenians on the Laconian coast.
The island of Cythera was captured by an expedition led by Nicias, of
sixty triremes and two thousand hoplites, beside other forces, and the
coast was ravaged. Then Thyrea, an AEginetan settlement, between Laconia
and Argolis, fell into the hands of the Athenians, and all the AEginetans
were either killed in the assault, or put to death as prisoners. These
successive disasters alarmed the Lacedaemonians, and they now began to fear
repeated assaults on their own territory, with a discontented population
of Helots. This fear prompted an act of cruelty and treachery which had no
parallel in the history of the war. Two thousand of the bravest Helots
were entrapped, as if especial honors were to be bestowed upon them, and
barbarously slain. None but the five ephors knew the bloody details. There
was even no public examination of this savage inhumanity, which shows that
Sparta was governed, as Venice was in the Middle Ages, by a small but
exceedingly powerful oligarchy.

After this cruelty was consummated, envoys came from Perdiccas and the
Chalcidians of Thrace, invoking aid against Athens. It was joyfully
granted, and Brasidas, at the request of Perdiccas and the Chalcidians,
was sent with a large force of Peloponnesian hoplites.

Meanwhile the Athenians formed plans to attack Megara, whose
inhabitants had stimulated the war, and had been the greatest sufferers by
it. A force was sent under Hippocrates and Demosthenes to surprise the
place, and also Nisaea. The long walls of Megara, similar to those of
Athens, were taken by surprise, and the Athenians found themselves at the
gates of the city, which came near falling into their hands by treachery.
Baffled for the moment, the Athenians attacked Clisaea, which lay behind
it, and succeeded.

But Brasidas, the Lacedaemonian general, learning that the long
walls had fallen into the hands of the Athenians, got together a large
force of six thousand hoplites and six hundred cavalry, and relieved
Megara, and the Athenians were obliged to retire. Ultimately the Megarians
regained possession of the long walls, and instituted an oligarchal
government.

The Athenians, disappointed in getting possession of Megara, which
failed by one of those accidents ever recurring in war, organized a large
force for the attack of Boeotia, on three sides, under Hippocrates and
Demosthenes. The attack was first made at Siphae, by Demosthenes, on the
Corinthian Gulf, but failed. In spite of this failure by sea, Hippocrates
marched with a land force to Delium, with seven thousand hoplites, and
twenty-five thousand other troops, and occupied the place, which was a
temple consecrated to Apollo, and strongly fortified it. When the work of
fortification was completed, the army prepared to return to Athens.

Forces from all parts of Boeotia rallied, and met the Athenians.
Among the forces of the Boeotians was the famous Theban band of three
hundred select warriors, accustomed to fight in pairs, each man attached
to his companion by peculiar ties of friendship. At Delium was fought the
great battle of the war, in which the Athenians were routed, and the
general, Hippocrates, with a thousand hoplites, were slain. The victors
refused the Athenians the sacred right of burying their dead, unless they
retired altogether from Delium--the post they had fortified on Boeotian
territory. To this the Athenians refused to submit, the consequence of
which was the siege and capture of Delium.

Among the hoplites who fought in this unfortunate battle, which was a
great discouragement to the Athenian cause, was the philosopher Socrates.
The famous Alcibiades also served in the cavalry, and helped to protect
Socrates in his retreat, after having bravely fought.

The disasters of the Athenians in Thrace were yet more
considerable. Brasidas, with a large force, including seventeen hundred
hoplites, rapidly marched through Thrace and Thessaly, and arrived in
Macedonia safely, and attacked Acanthus, an ally of Athens. It fell into
his hands, as well as Stageirus, and he was thus enabled to lay plans for
the acquisition of Amphipolis, which was founded by Athenian colonists. He
soon became master of the surrounding territory. He then offered favorable
terms of capitulation to the citizens of the town, which were accepted,
and the city surrendered--the most important of all the foreign possessions
of Athens. The bridge over the Strymon was also opened, by which all the
eastern allies of Athena were approachable by land. This great reverse
sent dismay into the hearts of the Athenians, greater than had before been
felt. The bloody victory at Delium, and the conquests of Brasidas, more
than balanced the capture of Sphacteria. Sparta, under the victorious
banner of Brasidas, a general of great probity, good faith, and
moderation, now proclaimed herself liberator of Greece. Athens,
discouraged and baffled, lost all the prestige she had gained.

But Amphipolis was lost by the negligence of the Athenian
commanders. Encles and Thucydides, the historian, to whom the defense of
the place was intrusted, had means ample to prevent the capture had they
employed ordinary precaution. The Athenians, indignant, banished
Thucydides for twenty years, and probably Eucles also--a just sentence,
since they did not keep the bridge over the Strymon properly guarded, nor
retained the Athenian squadron at Eion. The banishment of Thucydides gave
him leisure to write the history on which his great fame rests--the most
able and philosophical of all the historical works of antiquity.

Brasidas, after the fall of Amphipolis, extended his military
operations with success. He took Torone, Lecythus, and other places, and
then went into winter quarters. The campaign had been disastrous to the
Athenians, and a truce of one year was agreed upon by the belligerent
parties--Athens of the one party, and Sparta, Corinth, Sicyon, Epidaurus,
and Megara, of the other.

The conditions of this truce stipulated that Delphi might be
visited by all Greeks, without distinction; that all violations of the
property of the Delphian god should be promptly punished; that the
Athenian garrisons at Pylus, Cythera, Nisaea, and Methana, should remain
unmolested; that the Lacedaemonians should be free to use the sea for
trading purposes; and that neither side should receive deserters from the
other--important to both parties, since Athens feared the revolt of subject
allies, and Sparta the desertion of Helots.

But two days had elapsed after the treaty was made before Scione in Thrace
revolted to Brasidas--a great cause of exasperation to the Athenians,
although the revolt took place before the treaty was known. Mendes, a
neighboring town, also revolted. Brasidas sent the inhabitants a garrison
to protect themselves, and departed with his forces for an expedition into
the interior of Macedonia, but was soon compelled to retreat before the
Illyrians.

An Athenian force, under Nicias and Nicostratus, however, proceeded
to Thrace to recover the revolted cities. Everywhere else the truce was
observed. It was intended to give terms for more complete negotiations.
This was the policy of Nicias. But Cleon and his party, the democracy, was
opposed to peace, and wished to prosecute the war vigorously in Thrace.
Brasidas, on his part, was equally in favor of continued hostilities. And
this was the great question of the day in Greece.

The war party triumphed, and Cleon, by no means an able general,
was sent with an expedition to recover Amphipolis, B.C. 422. He succeeded
in taking Torone, but Amphipolis, built on a hill in the peninsula formed
by the river Strymon, as it passes from the Strymonic Gulf to Lake
Kerkernilis, was a strongly fortified place in which Brasidas intrenched.
He was obliged to remain inactive at Eion, at the mouth of the river,
three miles distant from Amphipolis, which excited great discontent in his
army, but which was the wiser course, until his auxiliaries arrived. But
the murmur of the hoplites compelled him to some sort of action, and while
he was reconnoitering, he was attacked by Brasidas. Cleon was killed, and
his army totally defeated. Brasidas, the ablest general of the day,
however, was also mortally wounded, and carried from the field. This
unsuccessful battle compelled the Athenians to return home, deeply
disgusted with their generals. But they embarked in the enterprise
reluctantly, and with no faith in their leader, and this was one cause of
their defeat. The death of Brasidas, however, converted the defeat into a
substantial victory, since there remained no Spartan with sufficient
ability to secure the confidence of the allies. Brasidas, when he died,
was the first man in Greece, and universally admired for his valor,
intelligence, probity, and magnanimity.

The battle of Amphipolis was decisive; it led to a peace between
the contending parties. It is called the peace of Nicias, made in March,
B.C. 421. By the provisions of this treaty of peace, which was made for
fifty years, Amphipolis was restored to the Athenians, all persons had
full liberty to visit the public temples of Greece, the Athenians restored
the captive Spartans, and the various towns taken during the war were
restored on both sides. This peace was concluded after a ten years' war,
when the resources of both parties were exhausted. It was a war of
ambition and jealousy, without sufficient reasons, and its consequences
were disastrous to the general welfare of Greece. In some respects it must
be considered, not merely as a war between Sparta and Athens to gain
supremacy, but a war between the partisans of aristocratic and democratic
institutions throughout the various States.

The peace made by Nicias between Athens and Sparta for fifty years
was not of long continuance. It was a truce rather than a treaty, since
neither party was overthrown--but merely crippled--like Rome and Carthage
after the first Punic war. The same causes which provoked the contest
still remained--an unextinguishable jealousy between States nearly equal in
power, and the desire of ascendency at any cost. But we do not perceive in
either party that persistent and self-sacrificing spirit which marked the
Romans in their conquest of Italy. The Romans abandoned every thing which
interfered with their aggressive policy: the Grecian States were diverted
from political aggrandizement by other objects of pursuit--pleasure, art,
wealth.

There was needed only a commanding demagogue, popular, brilliant,
and unprincipled, to embroil Greece once more in war, and such a man was
Alcibiades, who appeared upon the stage at the death of Cleon. And
hostilities were easily kindled, since the allies on both sides were
averse to the treaty which had been made, and the conditions of the peace
were not fulfilled. Athens returned the captive Spartans she had held
since the battle of Sphacteria, but Amphipolis was not restored, from the
continued enmity of the Thracian cities. Both parties were full of
intrigues, and new combinations were constantly being formed. Argos became
the centre of a new Peloponnesian alliance. A change of ephors at Sparta
favored hostile measures, and an alliance was made between the Boeotians
and Lacedaemonians. The Athenians, on their side, captured Scione, and put
to death the prisoners.

It was in this unsettled state of things, when all the late
contending States were insincere and vacillating, that Alcibiades stood
forth as a party leader. He was thirty-one years of age, belonged to an
ancient and powerful family, possessed vast wealth, had great personal
beauty and attractive manners, but above all, was unboundedly ambitious,
and grossly immoral--the most insolent, unprincipled, licentious, and
selfish man that had thus far scandalized and adorned Athenian society.
The only redeeming feature in his character was his friendship for
Socrates, who, it seems, fascinated him by his talk, and sought to improve
his morals. He had those brilliant qualities, and luxurious habits, and
ostentatious prodigality, which so often dazzle superficial people,
especially young men of fashion and wealth, but more even than they, the
idolatrous rabble. So great was his popularity and social prestige, that
no injured person ever dared to bring him to trial, and he even rescued
his own wife from the hands of the law when she sought to procure a
divorce--a proof that even in democratic Athens all bowed down to the
insolence of wealth and high social position.

Alcibiades, though luxurious and profligate, saw that a severe
intellectual training was necessary to him if he would take rank as a
politician, for a politician who can not make a speech stands a poor
chance of popular favor. So he sought the instructions of Socrates,
Prodicus, Protagoras, and others--not for love of learning, but as means of
success, although it may be supposed that the intellectual excitement,
which the discourse, cross-examination, and ironical sallies of Socrates
produced, was not without its force on so bright a mind.

Alcibiades commenced his public life with a sullied reputation, and
with numerous enemies created by his unbearable insolence, but with a
flexibility of character which enabled him to adapt himself to whatever
habits circumstances required. He inspired no confidence, and his
extravagant mode of life was sure to end in ruin, unless he reimbursed
himself out of the public funds; and yet he fascinated the people who
mistrusted and hated him. The great comic poet, Aristophanes, said of him
to the Athenians: "You ought not to keep a lion's whelp in your city at
all, but if you choose to keep him, you must submit to his behavior."

Alcibiades, in commencing his political life, departed from his
family traditions; for he was a relative of Pericles, and became a
partisan of the oligarchal party. But he soon changed his polities, on
receiving a repulse from the Spartans, who despised him, and he became a
violent democrat. His first memorable effort was to bring Argos, then in
league with Sparta, into alliance with Athens, in which he was successful.
He then cheated the Lacedaemonian envoys who were sent to protest against
the alliance and make other terms, and put them in a false position, and
made them appear deceitful, and thus arrayed against them the wrath of the
Athenians. As Alcibiades had prevailed upon these envoys, by false
promises and advice, to act a part different from what they were sent to
perform, Nicias was sent to Sparta to clear up embarrassments, but failed
in his object, upon which Athens concluded an alliance with Argos, Elis,
and Mantinea, which only tended to complicate existing difficulties.

Shortly after this alliance was concluded, the Olympic games were
celebrated with unusual interest, from which the Athenians had been
excluded during the war. Here Alcibiades appeared with seven chariots,
each with four horses, when the richest Greeks had hitherto possessed but
one, and gained two prizes. He celebrated his success by a magnificent
banquet more stately and expensive than those given by kings. But while
the Athenians thus appeared at the ninetieth Olympiad, the Lacedaemonians
were excluded by the Eleians, who controlled the festival, from an alleged
violation of the Olympic truce, but really from the intrigues of
Alcibiades.

The subsequent attack of Argos and Athens on Epidaurus proved that
the peace between Athens and Sparta existed only in name. It was

distinctly violated by the attack of Argos by the Lacedaemonians, Boeotians,
and Corinthians, and the battle of Mantinea opened again the war. This was
decided in favor of the Lacedaemonians, with a great loss to the Athenians
and their allies, including both their generals, Laches and Nicostratus.

The moral effect of the battle of Mantinea, B.C. 418, was
overwhelming throughout Greece, and re-established the military prestige
of Sparta. It was lost by the withdrawal of three thousand Eleians before
the battle, illustrating the remark of Pericles that numerous and equal
allies could never be kept in harmonious co-operation. One effect of the
battle was a renewed alliance between Sparta and Argos, and the
re-establishment of an oligarchal government in the latter city. Mantinea
submitted to Sparta, and the Achaian towns were obliged to submit to a
remodeling of their political institutions, according to the views of
Sparta. The people of Argos, however, took the first occasion which was
presented for regaining their power, assisted by an Athenian force under
Alcibiades, and Argos once again became an ally of Athens.

The next important operation of the war was the siege and conquest
of Melos, a Dorian island, by the Athenians, B.C. 416. The inhabitants
were killed, and the women and children were sold as slaves, and an
Athenian colony was settled on the island. But this massacre, exceeding
even the customary cruelty of war in those times, raised a general
indignation among the allies of Sparta.

But an expedition of far greater importance was now undertaken by
the Athenians--the most gigantic effort which they ever made, but which
terminated disastrously, and led to the ruin and subjugation of their
proud and warlike city, as a political power. This was the invasion of
Sicily and siege of Syracuse.

Before we present this unfortunate expedition, some brief notice is
necessary of the Grecian colonies in Sicily.

In the eighth century before Christ Sicily was inhabited by two
distinct races of barbarians--the Sikels and Sikans--besides Phoenician
colonies, for purposes of trade. The Sikans were an Iberian tribe, and
were immigrants of an earlier date than the Sikels, by whom they were
invaded. The earliest Grecian colony was (B.C. 735) at Naxos, on the
eastern coast of the island, between the Straits of Messina and Mount
AEtna, founded by Theocles, a Chalcidian mariner, who was cast by storms
upon the coast, and built a fort on a hill called Taurus, to defend
himself against the Sikels, who were in possession of the larger half of
the island. Other colonists followed, chiefly from the Peloponnesus. In
the year following that Naxos was founded, a body of settlers from Corinth
landed on the islet Ortygia, expelled the Sikel inhabitants, and laid the
foundation of Syracuse. Successive settlements were made forty-five years
after at Gela, in the southwestern part of the island. Other settlements
continued to be made, not only from Greece, but from the colonies
themselves; so that the old inhabitants were gradually Hellenized and
merged with Greek colonists, while the Greeks, in their turn, adopted many
of the habits and customs of the Sikels and Sikans. The various races
lived on terms of amity, for the native population was not numerous enough
to become formidable to the Grecian colonists.

Five hundred years before Christ the most powerful Grecian cities
in Sicily were Agrigentum and Gela, on the south side of the island. The
former, within a few years of its foundation, B.C. 570, fell under the
dominion of one of its rich citizens, Phalasaris, who proved a cruel
despot, but after a reign of sixteen years he was killed in an
insurrection, and an oligarchal government was established, such as then
existed in most of the Grecian cities. Syracuse was governed in this way
by the descendants of the original settlers. Gela was, on the other hand,
ruled by a despot called Gelo, the most powerful man on the island. He got
possession of Syracuse, B.C. 485, and transferred the seat of his power to
this city, by bringing thither the leading people and making slaves of the
rest. Under Gelo Syracuse became the first city on the island, to which
other towns were tributary. When the Greeks confederated against Xerxes,
they sent to solicit his aid as the imperial leader of Sicily, and he
could command, according to Herodotus, twenty thousand hoplites, two
hundred triremes, two thousand cavalry, two thousand archers, and two
thousand light-armed horse. So great was then the power of this despot,
who now sought to expel the Carthaginians and unite all the Hellenic
colonies in Sicily under his sway. But the aid was not given, probably on
account of a Carthaginian invasion simultaneous with the expedition of the
Persian king. The Carthaginians, according to the historian, arrived at
Panormus B.C. 480, with a fleet of three thousand ships and a land force
of three hundred thousand men, besides chariots and horses, under
Hamilcar--a mercenary army, composed of various African nations. Gelo
marched against him with fifty thousand foot and five thousand horse, and
gained a complete victory, so that one hundred and fifty thousand, on the
side of the Carthaginians, were slain, together with their general. The
number of the combatants is doubtless exaggerated, but we may believe that
the force was very great. Gelo was now supreme in Sicily, and the victory
of Himera, which he had gained, enabled him to distribute a large body of
prisoners, as slaves, in all the Grecian colonies. It appears that he was
much respected, but he died shortly after his victory, leaving an infant
son to the guardianship of two of his brothers, Polyzelus and Hiero, who
became the supreme governors of the island. A victory gained by Hiero over
the tyrant of Agrigentum gave him the same supremacy which Gelo had
enjoyed. On his death, B.C. 467, the succession was disputed between his
brother, Thrasybulus, and his nephew, the son of Gelo; but Thrasybulus
contrived to make away with his nephew, and reigned alone, cruelly and
despotically, until a revolution took place, which resulted in his
expulsion and the fall of the Gelonian dynasty. Popular governments were
now established in all the Sicilian cities, but these were distracted by
disputes and confusions. Syracuse became isolated from the other cities,
and a government whose powers were limited by the city. The expulsion of
the Gelonian dynasty left the Grecian cities to reorganize free and
constitutional governments; but Syracuse maintained a proud pre-eminence,
and her power was increased from time to time by conquests in the interior
over the old population. Agrigentum was next in power, and scarcely
inferior in wealth. The temple of Zeus, in this city, was one of the most
magnificent in the world. The population was large, and many were the rich
men who kept chariots and competed at the Olympic games. In these Sicilian
cities the intellectual improvement kept pace with the material, and the
little town of Elea supported the two greatest speculative philosophers of
Greece--Parmenides and Zeno. Empedocles, of Agrigentum, was scarcely less
famous.

Such was the state of the Sicilian cities on the outbreak of the
Peloponnesian war. Being generally of Dorian origin, they sympathized with
Sparta, and great expectations were formed by the Lacedaemonians of
assistance from their Sicilian allies. The cities of Sicily could not
behold the contest between Athens and Sparta without being drawn into the
quarrel, and the result was that the Dorian cities made war on the Ionian
cities, which, of course, sympathized with Athens. As these cities were
weaker than the Dorian, they solicited aid from Athens, and an expedition
was sent to Sicily under Laches, B.C. 426. Another one, under Polydorus,
followed, but without decisive results. The next year still another and
larger expedition, under Eurymedon and Sophocles, arrived in Sicily, while
Athens was jubilant by the possession of the Spartan prisoners, and the
possession of Pylus and Cythera. The Sicilian cities now fearing that
their domestic strife would endanger their independence and make them
subject to Athens, the most ambitious and powerful State in Greece, made a
common league with each other. Eurymedon acceded to the peace and returned
to Athens, much to the displeasure of the war party, which embraced most
of the people, and he and his colleague were banished.

But wars between the Sicilian cities again led to the intervention
of Athens. Egesta especially sent envoys for help in her struggle against
Selinus, which was assisted by Syracuse. Alcibiades warmly seconded these
envoys, and inflamed the people with his ambitious projects. He, more than
any other man, was the cause of the great Sicilian expedition which proved
the ruin of his country. He was opposed by Nicias, who foretold all the
miserable consequences of so distant an expedition, when so little could
be gained and so much would be jeopardized, and when, on the first
reverse, the enemies of Athens would rally against her. He particularly
cautioned his countrymen not only against the expedition, but against
intrusting the command of it to an unprincipled and selfish man who
squandered his own patrimony in chariot races and other extravagances, and
would be wasteful of the public property--a man without the experience
which became a leader in so great an enterprise. Alcibiades, in reply,
justified his extravagance at the Olympic games, where he contested with
seven chariots, as a means to impress Sparta with the wealth and power of
Athens, after a ten years' war. He inflamed the ambition of the assembly,
held out specious hopes of a glorious conquest which would add to Athenian
power, and make her not merely pre-eminent, but dominant in Greece. The
assembly, eager for war and glory, sided with the youthful and magnificent
demagogue, and disregarded the counsels of the old patriot, whose wisdom
and experience were second to none in the city.

Consequently the expedition was fitted out for the attack of
Syracuse--the largest and most powerful which Athens ever sent against an
enemy; for all classes, maddened by military glory, or tempted by love of
gain, eagerly embarked in the enterprise. Nicias, finding he could not
prevent the expedition, demanded more than he thought the people would be
willing to grant. He proposed a gigantic force. But in proposing this
force, he hoped he might thus discourage the Athenians altogether by the
very greatness of the armament which he deemed necessary. But so popular
was the enterprise, that the large force he suggested was voted.
Alcibiades had flattered the people that their city was mistress of the
sea, and entitled to dominion over all the islands, and could easily
prevail over any naval enemy.

Three years had now elapsed since the peace of Nicias, and Athens
had ample means. The treasury was full, and triremes had accumulated in
the harbor. The confidence of the Athenians was as unbounded as was that
of Xerxes when he crossed the Hellespont, and hence there had been great
zeal and forwardness in preparation.

When the expedition was at last ready, an event occurred which
filled the city with gloom and anxious forebodings. The half statues of
the god Hermes were distributed in great numbers in Athens in the most
conspicuous situations, beside the doors of private houses and temples,
and in the agora, so that the people were accustomed to regard the god as
domiciled among them for their protection. In one night, at the end of
May, B.C. 415, these statues were nearly all mutilated. The heads, necks,
and busts were all destroyed, leaving the lower part of them--mere
quadrangular pillars, without arms, or legs, or body--alone standing. The
sacrilege sent universal dismay into the city, and was regarded as a most
depressing omen, and was done, doubtless, with a view of ruining
Alcibiades and frustrating the expedition. But all efforts were vain to
discover the guilty parties.

And this was not the only means adopted to break down the power of
a man whom the more discerning perceived was the evil genius of Athens.
Alcibiades was publicly accused of having profaned and divulged the
Eleusinian mysteries. The charge was denied by Alcibiades, who demanded an
immediate trial. It was eluded by his enemies, who preferred to have the
charge hanging over his head, in case of the failure of the enterprise
which he had projected.

So the fleet sailed from Piraeus amid mingled sentiments of anxiety
and popular enthusiasm. It consisted of one hundred triremes, with a large
body of hoplites. It made straight for Corcyra, where the contingents of
the allies were assembled, which nearly doubled its force. The Syracusans
were well informed as to its destination, and made great exertions to meet
this great armament, under Nicias, Alcibiades, and Lamachus. The latter
commander recommended an immediate attack of Syracuse, as unprepared and
dismayed.

Alcibiades wished first to open negotiations with the Sikels, of
the interior, to detach them from the aid of Syracuse. His plan was
followed, but before he could carry it into operation he was summoned home
to take his trial. Fearing the result of the accusations against him, for,
in his absence, the popular feeling had changed respecting him--fear and
reason had triumphed over the power of his personal fascination--Alcibiades
made his escape to the Peloponnesus.

The master spirit of the expedition was now removed, and its
operations were languid and undecided, for Nicias had no heart in it. The
delays which occurred gave the Syracusans time to prepare, and more
confidence in their means of defense. So that when the forces of the
Athenians were landed in the great harbor, they found a powerful army
ready to resist them. In spite of a victory which Nicias gained near
Olympeion, the Syracusans were not dejected, and the Athenian fleet was
obliged to seek winter quarters at Catana, and also send for additional
re-enforcements. Nicias unwisely delayed, but his inexcusable apathy
afforded the enemy leisure to enlarge their fortifications. The Syracusans
constructed an entirely new wall around the inner and outer city, and
which also extended across the whole space from the outer sea to the great
harbor, so that it would be difficult for the Athenians, in the coming
siege, to draw lines of circumvallation around the city. Syracuse also
sent envoys to Corinth and Sparta for aid, while Alcibiades, filled now
with intense hatred of Athens, encouraged the Lacedaemonians to send a
force to the Sicilian capital. He admitted that it was the design of
Athens first to conquer the Sicilian Greeks, and then the Italian Greeks;
then to make an attempt on Carthage, and then, if that was successful, to
bring together all the forces of the subjected States and attack the
Peloponnesus itself, and create a great empire, of which Athens was to be
the capital. Such an avowal was doubtless the aim of the ambitious
Alcibiades when he first stimulated the enterprise, which, if successful,
would have made him the most powerful man in Greece; but he was thwarted
by his enemies at home, and so he turned all his energies against his
native State. His address made a powerful effect on the Lacedaemonians,
who, impelled by hatred and jealousy, now resolved to make use of the
services of the traitor, and send an auxiliary force to Syracuse.

That city then consisted of two parts--an inner and an outer city.
The outer city was defended on two sides by the sea, and a sea wall. On
the land side a long wall extended from the sea to the fortified high land
of Achradina, so that the city could only be taken by a wall of
circumvallation, so as to cut off supplies by land; at the same time it
was blockaded by sea. But the delay of Nicias had enabled the Syracusans
to construct a new wall, covering both the outer and inner city, and
extending from the great port to the high land near the bay of Magnesi, so
that any attack, except from a single point, was difficult, unless the
wall of circumvallation was made much larger than was originally intended.
Amid incredible difficulties the Athenians constructed their works, and in
an assault from the cliff of Epipolae, where they were intrenched, their
general, Lamachus, was slain. But the Athenians had gained an advantage,
and the siege was being successfully prosecuted. It was then that the
Lacedaemonians arrived under Gylippus, who was unable to render succor. But
Nicias, despising him, allowed him to land at Himera, from whence he
marched across Sicily to Syracuse. A Corinthian fleet, under Gorgylus,
arrived only just in time to prevent the city from capitulating, and
Gylippus entered Syracuse unopposed. The inaction of Nicias, who could
have prevented this, is unaccountable. But the arrival of Gylippus turned
the scale, and he immediately prosecuted vigorous and aggressive measures.
He surprised an Athenian fort, and began to construct a third counter-wall
on the north side of the Athenian circle. The Athenians, now shut up
within their lines, were obliged to accept battle, and were defeated, and
even forced to seek shelter within their fortified lines. Under this
discouragement, Nicias sent to Athens for another armament, and the
Athenians responded to his call. But Sparta also resolved to send
re-enforcements, and invade Attica besides. Sicilian forces also marched
in aid of Syracuse. The result of all these gathering forces, in which the
whole strength of Greece was employed, was the total defeat of the
Athenian fleet in the Great Harbor, in spite of the powerful fleet which
had sailed from Athens under Demosthenes. The Syracusans pursued their
advantage by blocking up the harbor, and inclosing the whole Athenian
fleet. The Athenians resolved then to force their way out, which led to
another general engagement, in which the Athenians were totally defeated.
Nicias once again attempted to force his way out, with the remainder of
his defeated fleet, but the armament was too much discouraged to obey, and
the Athenians sought to retreat by land. But all the roads were blockaded.
The miserable army, nevertheless, began its hopeless march completely
demoralized, and compelled to abandon the sick and wounded. The retreating
army was harassed on every side, no progress could be made, and the
discouraged army sought in the night to retreat by a different route. The
rear division, under Demosthenes, was overtaken and forced to surrender,
and were carried captives to Syracuse--some six thousand in number. The
next day, the first division, under Nicias, also was overtaken and made
prisoners. No less than forty thousand who had started from the Athenian
camp, six days before, were either killed or made prisoners, with the two
generals who commanded them. The prisoners at first were subjected to the
most cruel and inhuman treatment, and then sold as slaves. Both Nicias and
Demosthenes were put to death, B.C. 413.

Such was the disastrous close of the Sicilian expedition. Our
limits prevent an extended notice. We can only give the barren outline.
But never in Grecian history had so large a force been arrayed against a
foreign power, and never was ruin more complete. The enterprise was
started at the instance of Alcibiades. It was he who brought this disaster
on his country. But it would have been better to have left the expedition
to his management. Nicias was a lofty and religious man, but was no
general. He grossly mismanaged from first to last. The confidence of the
Athenians was misplaced; and he, after having spent his life in
inculcating a conservative policy, which was the wiser, yet became the
unwilling instrument of untold and unparalleled calamities. His fault was
over-confidence. He was personally brave, religious, incorruptible





Next: March Of Cyrus And Retreat Of The Ten Thousand Greeks

Previous: The Age Of Pericles



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 2700