Athenian Expedition to Sicily!
Affairs of Segesta and Selinus:
In 416 B.C. the Athenian attention was turned to Sicily where the Dorian city of Selinus and Athenian ally Segesta had fallen out.
It became an unequal fight when Syracuse joined the side of Selinus, on promise of payment of the expenses of the expedition. Hard pressed both by land and sea, Segesta was forced to look for outside help.
Appeal to Acargas and Carthage having being rejected, the Segestans approached the Athenians with whom they were bound by an alliance.
The Athenians felt, out of their own interest, to intervene. The Segestan envoys who came to Athens to request for Athenian help promised to pay the entire expense of the expedition. But the question was whether Segesta was really capable of paying for the expedition.
This monetary consideration apart, the argument which carried the greatest weight was that if Syracuse was permitted to become the Mistress of Sicily some day she would come out with her vast armament to assist the Peloponnese against Athens.
This point the Segestan envoys drove home into the minds of the Athenians. Yet the Athenians behaved with circumspection and despatched commissioners to Segesta to make an on-the-spot enquiry as to the financial ability of the Segestans. At the same time a spirit of adventure had seized them and greed and hopes of aggrandisement in the west burned in them.
One of the main objects of the Athenian intervention was to keep alive the local opposition to the imperialistic expansion of Syracuse and to show that Athens was still a factor in the west, as also to create more favourable conditions for the trade of Piraeus and Athens. In the spring of 415 B.C. the Athenian commissioners returned from Segesta with glowing accounts of the riches of city and with sixty talents in hands as an earnest of the Segestans’ ability to pay for the expedition. But in reality the Athenian commissioners were tricked, Segesta did not possess enough riches to meet the cost of the Athenian expedition.
The Athenian voted to send to Sicily a fleet of sixty ships and instead of appointing one commander with full powers, appointed three, Nicias, Alcibiades and Lamachus. Nicias was vehemently against sending the expedition, while Alcibiades was in its favour. In fact, Nicias was voted to the command much against his will.
In a second Assembly held for drawing up the details, Nicias, even contrary to convention and law reopened the question of advisability of sending the expedition decided by the first Assembly. Nicias tried, without success, to dissuade the people by enlarging upon the magnitude of armaments needed for the success.
He also dwelt upon the un-wisdom of leading an expedition to Sicily leaving the powerful enemies near home planning for falling upon Athens if not at the moment when Athenian forces are divided, certainly at in the event of a defeat.
Further, Athenian subjects both old and hew were still in revolt. Should Athens succeed in conquering Sicily, it would be difficult to hold it in subjection. The rebuttal of Nicias’ arguments came from Alcibiades. He pleaded the necessity of forging ahead, and preserving Athens’ superiority by practising and making every call for help an occasion for expansion.
Alcibiades held out prospect of conquest of Sicily, Greek Italy, Carthage and the Carthigian empire. The achievement of the scheme would indubitably make Athens the unquestioned Mistress of the whole of the Hellas. Nicias was worsted and the commanders were given carte blanche to make the expedition of any size they thought fit.
One hundred triremes, and five thousand hoplites were also given, as per the estimates of Nicias for the successful prosecution of the expedition. Three thousand talents were set apart for the expedition to be appropriated according to need.
Enthusiasm ran not among the Athenians who soon became busy in putting their triremes in good trim and mobilising the naval and the land-forces required of their allies, mustering heavy-armed troops from their own citizens. Supply and commissariat were ensured. For about four months following the decision to send the expedition Athens was full of the bustle of preparation.
On a night in May, shortly before the expedition was to sail, the stone busts of God Hermes which were carved on pillars at the doorways of temples, and of private houses were all but one, defaced and mutiliated. This manifestation of irreverence for sacred things outraged the religious susceptibilities of the Athenians and made them extremely excited. It was naturally regarded as a bad omen for the expedition.
The enemies of Alcibiades implicated him in charges of having burlesqued in a private house the sacred Mysteries of Eleusis and denounced him by name for the impiety of defacement of the busts of Hermes. This was explained by them as a conspiracy to upset democracy.
Alcibiades demanded an immediate trial in order that the campaign of calumny might not be more vigorously conducted by his enemies in his absence. But his enemies most active of whom were demagogues Peisander and Androcles, prevented it. For they knew that there was little chance of securing Alcibiades’ condemnation while he was at Athens and wanted to strike at him at a more convenient moment. The expedition was allowed to sail with this grave charge hanging over his head and Alcibiades pledged to return for trial within a certain number of days.
As the Armada put out to sea, and never as Thucydides says “had a greater expedition been sent from the homeland”, never was there an enterprise such as this so furnished as to warrant the greatest hopes for the future, rumours of its coming reached Syracuse. Hermocrates, the Syracusan, suggested that their own fleet should sail to Tarentum and there lie in wait. This might as he suggested scare away the Athenians, for Nicias, as he pointed out, would seize at the first excuse to abandon the whole enterprise. This suggestion was opposed by Athenagoras. All this revealed the truth that Syracusans had not yet realised the extent of the impending peril.
The Armada in the mean time mustered at Corcyra and thence crossed to Rhegium. Its size now reached as large as 136 triremes, 6,400 troops. From Corcyra three ships were despatched to explore the situation in the island of Segesta. They returned to Rhegium with the gloomy news that Segesta was not in a position to pay for the expedition. The three admirals held a Council to review the situation. But their opinions were at wide variance.
Nicias proposed that they should sail to Selinus to settle the Segesta-Selinus quarrel. If Segesta would pay the cost the Council should deliberate on the next step. If, however, Segesta could not pay, the Armada should circumnavigate Sicily and make a demonstration of the Athenian strength to all Sicilian cities and its encouragement to the allies of Athens, and sail home again.
This was nothing but politics and not war. Both Alcibiades and Lamachus meant war but their strategies differed. Lamachus pleaded instant attack on Syracuse. But Alcibiades was for delay until they had collected some allies from among the Sicilian cities, taken Messena and sent ultimatum to Syracuse and Sellnus. These two admirals also differed as to the base of operation.
When there was such a divided counsel, Lamachus voted for Alcibiades thinking his plan was at least second best. Alcibiades’ plan was therefore accepted and he sailed across of Messena to try and win over the city. Sixty ships sailed to Sicilian Naxos and were admitted to the city. The rest of the armada stayed at Rhegium.
Modem opinion has almost unanimously approved of the plan of Lamachus and condemned those of Nicias and Alcibiades. Nicias’ plan of an impressive, naval parade was indeed no plan. It was old politics, no war strategy. Alcibiades’ plan to wait till as many allies could be made from among the Sicilian cities through negotiations was born of his passion for diplomacy, as Holm puts it.
Curtius’ suggestion that Alcibiades did not desire a speedy victory has been regarded as ridiculous by Henderson. Grote, Freemen and others agree that ‘the Council of War was one of the turning points of fate, and that, had Lamachus been allowed his way the whole course of Greek history might have been changed. For Syracuse would have fallen then and there’. Henderson, however, doubts if it would be so easy, despite the fact that Syracuse was unprepared and absurdly over confident.
The Syracusans were at least forewarned of the coming attack and naturally could not have been taken by surprise and surprise was the essential condition of success of Lamachus’ plan. Henderson considers Alcibiades as the best of the three admirals as strategist and his plan was rightly based on the fact that Sicily was a house divided against itself.
Messana did not agree to admit Athenians within their city but allowed them to stay in a market outside the wall. Catana also shut them out. The Athenian fleet now went round Syracuse and by a surprise attack occupied Catana and made it a base of attack. This was followed by a skirmish with the Syracusan cavalry. It was at this time, in the midst of operations that a trireme arrived with orders for Alcibiades to return at once to Athens to stand his trial.
With justifiable anger, an anger which was to be most disastrous in its consequences, Alcibiades defied the orders for return and disappeared. In a small coasting ship he reached Peloponnese as an exile condemned to death. He went to Argos where he was pursued by the Athenians.
He then fled to Sparta. At Sparta he, Socrates pupil, invented a new theory of patriotism. His master’s subtle dialectic was not wasted. “He is the true patriot he declared to the bewildered Spartans, not who, when unjustly exiled, refrains from attacking his country, but who in the warmth of his longing for her seeks to recover her without regard to the means. The country which I am now attacking is not my country. It is only my country when I have recovered her” (Thucydides).
Nicias and Lamachus now remained to conduct the campaign. The recall of Alcibiades enabled Nicias to carry on with the campaign more on his own lines. He embarked on an expedition to the west of Sicily and in the course of which he visited Segesta and extracted 30 talents from its melancholy citizens.
In the winter of 415 there was a battle at Dascon on the shore of the Great Harbour of Syracuse. Nicias won the day killed 260 of the enemies and lost only 50 of his own men. But” it was not a considerable battle and the Athenians did not make use of their victory. Perhaps, as an Oxford editor of Thucydides remarks, Nicias discovered that the position secured by the victory was not suitable at all.
In the following year a contingent of 250 horsemen came from Athens to be horsed on the spot, and 300 talents. Now followed the investment of the city of Syracuse.
Siege of the City of Syracuse:
The city of Syracuse was surrounded by wall and was impregnable. The enemies were masters of the sea. Naturally, so long as supplies could arrive into the city there was no question of its surrender. They had no other thought now than to make resistance successful. After their defeat at Dascon, they naturally anticipated a siege of their city.
They built an advance wall to secure all passages between the heights above and the plains. Apart from preparations from the military point of view the Syracusans tried diplomacy. They sent emissaries to Corinth and Sparta to persuade the Lacedaemonian to renew war with Athens and if possible to get military assistance. Corinth readily agreed to help the Syracusans.
The Spartans were, however, hesitant. But they realised that they must do something to help Syracuse. Alcibiades, who was then at Sparta, disclosed the plans, expectations and fears of the Athenians. Once Syracuse was starved to submission all Sicily and Italy would be mobilised for a grand attack by sea and land on the Peloponnese.
The Spartans therefore saw the need of sending help to Syracuse, if not by despatching troops at least by sending a general, so that Athens might not dare to send all her forces to Sicily in fear of possible attack by Sparta on Athens.
In the mean time the Athenians routed the Syracusans who came to resist and retired to their city leaving half their number and the commander dead. The Athenians made good the ground they had seized, built a fort at Labdalon on the northern edge of the plateau. They then proceeded to invest Syracuse completely.
Their plan was to construct a wall from Trogilus on the northern coast to the Great Harbour. For this purpose they occupied a place called Syce and built a kuklos, i.e. a circular fort, after routing some Syracusan cavalry that came to stop the work. The wall once built would place the city at the mercy of the Athenian navy and the only course open to the Syracusans was to build a cross wall to prevent completion of the Athenian wall. But after building a cross wall beyond the line of the Athenian wall, the Syracusans left a guard and went home.
The Athenians attacked the guard which fled and the cross wall was destroyed. A second attempt was made to stop the Athenians by building another cross wall. A palisade was raised by them and strong guard marched out to defend it. Lamachus also proceeded with troops to attack the Syracusan guards. In the battle that followed Lamachus was slain.
The routed Syracusans now took heart and proceeded against the circular fort itself. Nicias was sick. He had no troops with him in the fort. Under his orders fire was set to all available timber outside the fort the flames of which prevented the Syracusans to proceed near the fort and it was saved.
In the battle fought in the open the Syracusans were defeated. The Athenian fleet entered the Great Harbour at the sight of which every Syracusan hastened within the city for shelter. The Syracusan cross wall was broken like the first. Nothing could now enter the beleagured city by sea or land except through a small part of the Athenian wall yet remaining unfinished.
Alcibiades at Sparta urged upon the Spartans to save Syracuse by sending reinforcement if not a Spartan army at least a Spartan general immediately. Gylippus was appointed and he sailed at once with a small squadron of four ships and reached Tarentum. Nicias had ample time to intercept Gylippus. But given to lethargy and procrastination he despatched his ships to block the straits when it was too late.
Gylippus entered the city through the portion of the unfinished Athenian wall and arrived just in time to save Syracuse. The enthusiasm that was created on his arrival became a decisive factor in the whole episode. There were two battles, in the first Gylippus was routed but in the second one the Athenians were completely defeated.
Winter came and Nicias clung to the shore entrenchment to be buffeted by the chill weather and to watch the confident Syracusans practising their men on ships, preparing for naval battle. Nicias’ idle ships began rotting in water and in sickness and despondency one thought that was uppermost in his mind was a safe return home.
He was virtually besieged than a besieger. Nicias in his letter to his countrymen, a letter both pathetic and informative, referred to his grievous illness, hostility of all Sicily to the Athenians, requested for either reinforcement or recall, and plenty of money.
The Athenians at home decided to despatch a second expedition. Eurymedon was at once sent with a small squadron of ships as an advance party to be followed by the rest of the expeditionary force under Demosthenes. Nicias was neither recalled nor superseded. In the mean time Gylippus returned to Syracuse with further reinforcements and a joint attack by land and sea upon the Athenians was undertaken.
The Athenian forts were carried by storm and the Athenians were now confined more strictly than ever to the beach. The naval enterprise of the Syracusans, however, miscarried and the Athenian navy was again victorious. But despite this victory the Athenians were not sufficiently strong to guarantee safe entry of convoys into the Great Harbour.
The Syracusans again planned an attack both by land and sea and won the day against the Athenians. The Athenians retreated behind the palisades. Many of their ships were damaged and seven ships were sunk. For the first time were the Athenians completely defeated in a naval battle in the war.
As the Syracusans were preparing to renew the battle and bring the war to a conclusion Eurymedon and Demosthenes sailed into the Great Harbour with 73 ships and 5,000 hoplites. Demosthenes decided to strike at once and roll up enemy’s line from west to east. Demosthenes took Euryelus fort of the Syracusans at night.
Gylippus came hastening to save the situation and despite hugeness of Athenian numbers confusion prevailed and in the baffling moonlight friend killed friend. Demosthenes’ great attack failed miserably and all was lost on land. Syracuse proved impregnable. Demosthenes now suggested sailing back to Athens. But Nicias stubborn and selfish refused to agree. He allowed himself to be deluded by the thought.that treachery would eventually deliver up the city of Syracuse to the Athenians.
Demosthenes and Eurymedon next suggested withdrawal of the Athenian fleet from the Great Harbour and to shift their base to-Catana or Thapsus. But this was not acceptable to Nicias, after all, as Thucydides points out, he dared not return home and face the people. Weeks after weeks the Athenian clung to their inconvenient stations under Plemmyrion hill, sickness ravaged their lines and the obstinate stubbornness of an ailing fool kept them upon that’ hostile shore.
In the mean time Gylippus again went inland and returned with reinforcements. Nicias, at last belatedly agreed to withdraw the expedition and secret orders for departure was issued. When all was made ready for departure an eclipse of the moon took place and superstition would not permit Nicias and his men to stir before a full-moon. They had to wait for twenty- seven days more before there was full-moon.
The time was used by the Syracusans to their advantage and their fleet sailed out again against the Athenians who put out Eurymedon with 86 ships only to be defeated and slain. Eighteen Athenian ships were lost. The Syracusans began to close the mouth of the Great Harbour.
Nicias moved from ship to ship exhorting his men to fight for their fatherland. Nicias took command of the army stretched along the shore and Demosthenes took out the last fleet. The Athenians were completely defeated and with sunset the dark waves of the sea were strewn with the wreckage of the Athenian ships. The living were too weary to look after the burial of the dead. Athens’ sun was set.
Demosthenes suggested forcing their way at daybreak. Nicias agreed, but sailors would not face the passage once again. They burnt some of their ships and the rest were towed away by the Syracusans. No single Athenian ship now rode upon the waters of that harbour into which Athens’ fleet. Queen of the Western Seas, had sailed so proudly.
Retreat of the Athenians:
The Athenians allies, soldiers, sailors and non-combatants now made for a retreat by land. The Syracusan general Hermocrates ordered sealing off of the passage of retreat. But given to drinking and merry-making for the victory the Syracusans would not listen to orders. Hermocrates devised a stratagem. He sent a few horsemen who approaching near the Athenian camp posed as friends of the Athenian general and warned against stirring that night from the camp.
Nicias and Demosthenes informed of it by the sentries believed in it and kept their men in the camp. They remained there on the day following. On the third morning when they began to move on retreat, Gylippus and his Syracusans .lay crouched in waiting amid the hills. After several days’ desperate attempt the Athenians found the hilly track impossible of being followed and they made for the sea.
The vanguard was commanded by Nicias and” the rear by Demosthenes. The rear was hotly pursued by the Syracusans, and Demosthenes and his men surrendered to Gylippus on an offer of bare life. On receiving information of Demosthenes surrender, Nicias suggested terms to Gylippus but these were rejected. His attempt to begin march at night stealthily was detected and he had to fight every step of his retreat till he reached the deep Channel of Assinarus. Wound, hunger and thirst had maddened his followers.
In their eagerness to quench thirst many were trampled underfoot, many more carried away by current of the channel while the pitiless Syracusans rained misseles on them. Many lost their lives. To stop massacre of his men Nicias surrendered to Gylippus. The Spartans general now ordered stopping of the massacre.
The surviving Athenians were escorted to Syracuse city. Of the forty thousand men that had begun the retreat, only with a few exception, all were killed or captured. Nicias and Demosthenes were at once put to sword despite Gylippus’ attempt to save their lives. The captives were made slaves of the individual captors.
About 7,000 were put into stone quarries at Syracuse to live the life of beasts of burden. The dead were heaped together to rot where these lay. Every kind of misery which could befall man in such a place befell them. Torture and bestial treatment explained the Syracusan vengeance. Many years later some of these men returned home to narrate the story of the massacre and inhuman treatment received at Syracuse.
Responsibility for Sicilian Catastrophe:
It is nearly impossible to fix the responsibility for the Sicilian disaster on any individual unilaterally, for there are degrees of responsibility for it. It will be fair to consider the question as a whole and apportion responsibility in reference to the contributions each one made to the disaster.
No fault can perhaps be seen in the Athenian people’s being convinced by the arguments of Segesta for sending help, for in it they saw a practical opportunity of interference in the West. But in appointing Nicias, Alcibiades and Lamachus as leaders of the expedition they committed the mistake of dividing the command.
Appointment of Nicias to the command against his will and even after his tireless effort in the Second Athenian Assembly to dissuade the people from sending the expedition by enlarging upon the magnitude of the armament for success of expedition, was indeed a folly.
The Athenian Assembly gave Nicias and his fellow commanders a carte blanche to make the expedition of any size. No notice was taken of Nicias’ offer to resign his own command. Here was the initial blunder committed by the Athenian people. But the Western policy of Alcibiades which held out the prospects of conquest of Greek Italy, Sicily, Carthage and the Carthaginian empire which would have made Athens the real Mistress of the Hellas, although seemed alluring, the Athenian people wanted to provide the expeditionary force with a brake.
Nicias whom they trusted and whose cautious policy they knew well, was sent to work as the brake. Division of command might as well have been the result of such a psychology. Yet, for the success of an expedition unity of command was essential and the extent to which the
Athenian people failed to realise it, they were responsible for the catastrophe. For the evils of a divided command showed itself at Rhegium where the three commanders put forth three different plans and although that of Lamachus was the very best, it could not be followed which led to the acceptance of the second best plan given by Alcibiades.
The enemies of Alcibiades played their part in the disaster. They openly held Alcibiades responsible for the mutilation of the busts of Hermes and charged him for profanation of the Mystery of Eleusis. Despite Alcibiades’ demand for immediate trial, nothing was done and the expedition was allowed to sail with the charge of profanation hanging on Alcibiades’ head.
The enemies of Alcibiades knew well that they had no hope of success when Alcibiades was in Athens, hence allowed the matter to wait for the moment which would be most convenient to them for trying Alcibiades. They actually succeeded in their plan and recalled Alcibiades in the midst of operations which justifiably angered him and he left for the enemy camp. It was his enmity towards his countrymen that led him to divulge the Athenian plan in Sicily and it was on his insistence that the Spartans agreed to send Gylippus to the assistance of the Syracusans.
As to the question whether the expedition would succeed had Alcibiades been left undisturbed, writers like Henderson returns an affirmative answer. Recall of Alcibiades had taken away much of the strength of the expedition and the enemies profited by his divulging of the Athenian plan, hopes and expectations as also their fear.
The expedition was also dogged by an evil star. Lamachus, the most capable and tried of the three generals fell fighting almost at the initial stage of the war. This removed the effectiveness of the expeditionary force.
Death of Lamachus and disappearance of Alcibiades left Nicias absolutely free to follow his own line of action. The building of the wall from Trogilus on the northern coast to the Great Harbour was his responsibility, but he did not try to complete it with the expedition it demanded and a small portion remained unfinished through which the Spartan commander Gylippus entered into the city.
Further, although he had information of Gylippus’ reaching Tarentum, he did not take steps to intercept him despite the time and strength he had at his command. He woke to the danger of the situation too late. It was due to Nicias’ folly that reinforcement reached Syracuse just in time to save the city from surrender.
In the winter when the inactive war-ships of Athens were rotting and crews were steadily losing heart, Nicias was himself sick and despondent, he appealed to the Athenians at home to send reinforcement or order recall of the expedition. The Athenians decided to send a second armada under Eurymedon and Demosthenes.
Writers, particularly Freeman, have questioned the wisdom of the Athenians to send reinforcement even after knowing from Nicias that all Sicily was hostile to the Athenians. But Meyer thinks that Athenians acted rightly since retreat at this stage would have been nothing better than proclamation of bankruptcy.
Henderson while approving of the Athenian decision to have one last try, holds Athenians responsible for the folly of keeping Nicias still in command. He thinks it to be not only a folly but sheer madness. Nicias’ failures, his manifest incompetence, his piety, his sickness, his old age, his despair should have, according to Henderson dictated a recall of Nicias. After all, his local knowledge and his engineering skill was not indispensable.
While the Athenians cannot be exonerated from the responsibility for the Sicilian disaster, Nicias, the man on the spot must have to bear even greater share in it.
Apart from his sickness which might have added to his despondency, he failed miserably to perform his most essential duty as a general, namely to look to the safety of his men. Even when Demosthenes’ great attack had failed and all was lost on land, and Syracuse proved impregnable on land, Nicias refused to sail for home despite Demosthenes’ suggestion for withdrawal. But Nicias, stubborn and selfish, refused to agree.
Deceived or self-deceiving, he professed to believe that treachery in Syracuse might still deliver up the triumphant city into the hands of her routed enemy (Henderson). He also did not agree to Demosthenes’ second suggestion to leave the Great Harbour and to shift their station to Catana or Thapsus. Neither Demosthenes nor Eurymedon dared to override Nicias’ decision, for they must have thought that the general had good reasons not to accept their suggestions. But Nicias was perhaps unwilling to accept their suggestion for no better reason than avoiding to face the wrath of his fellow citizens. This is what Thucydides ascribes to Nicias’ refusal to sail for home.
After weeks of idle stay in the harbour when at Midas’ last after ravaging sickness in the Athenian lines, Nicias belatedly and grudgingly bowed to the logic of fact, and consented to withdraw. On the night before the day of sailing for home there was an eclipse of the moon.
Nicias, a man somewhat over much inclined to divination decided, on the interpretation of the omen by the camp soothsayers to wait “thrice nine days”, i.e. till there was again a full-moon. The result was total disaster. Nicias’ piety or superstition led to the massacre of his men and miserable end to himself and loathsome end of many in Syracusan quarries.
Needless to emphasise that the Athenians must share the major responsibility for the Sicilian disaster for appointing Nicias against his will, dividing the command between three generals, recalling Alcibiades at a crucial stage of the expedition and by not recalling the expedition. Prof. Bury considers that the madness of Athenian people was manifest not in their sending the expedition but in committing the same to Nicias instead of Demosthenes and then in recalling Alcibiades.
All this was possible because of the peculiar nature of the Athenian Constitution and its working. An expedition of the kind sent to Sicily, if it were to depend for its execution on the popular assembly which might interfere with it for any purpose or any time, the expedition was bound to be mismanaged. Thucydides considers that the primary mistakes were political, not military.
Yet Nicias, the man on the spot must be held not to a small extent responsible for the debacle. His half-heartedness in his plans, his dilatoriness in completing the wall thereby leaving it open for Gylippus to reach Syracusans, his incompetence in realising and deciding upon the need for withdrawal, his superstition and all that made him primarily responsible for the disaster. His piety and virtue did not, in fact could not, save him from the miserable end that he had met with.
Consequences of Sicilian Disaster:
Sicilian expedition was yet another step in the aggressive policy of Athens which had cost her the good will of the Greeks of every part. In the rash enterprise they lost their army, their fleet, flourishing vigour of their manly youth and the prudence of their experienced generals a loss not only irreparable, but one that had disabled the Athenians to resist the confederacy of Peloponnesus and shook to the foundation the fabric of their empire. The neutrals bestirred themselves, islanders planned insurrection, the Lacedaemonian were jubilant, Persia was interested and the Athenians depressed.
In the year following the Athenian debacle in Sicily, the Spartans prepared a fleet of hundred sails. This was meant to encourage and support the revolt of the Asiatic Greek subjects of Athens. The Athenian allies, rather subjects, scattered over so many coasts and islands, prepared to assert their independence.
The islands of Chios, Lesbos, and the city of Erythrae solicited Spartan naval support iii their revolt against Athens. Their request was enforced by Tissaphernes who promised to pay the sailors and victual the ships. At the same time ambassador from Cyzicus requested Spartan support for expelling the Athenian garrisons which they were compelled to admit. Persian Pharnabazus seconded their proposal and offered the same conditions as Tissaphernes.
Athens in the mean time, hard pressed for want of money was forced to use the reserve of 1,000 talents laid aside in more prosperous times. She fitted out a fleet which blockaded the Corinthian fleet which was proceeding towards Chios. Athens also laid waste Chios, blockaded the town, won back Lesbos and gained some success in Miletus. But in the mean time Cnidus rebelled and the Peloponnesians won a naval victory at Syme which was followed by the revolt of Rhodes.
By the Spring of 411 Athens retained on the western coast of Asia, only Cos, Samos, Lesbos and Halicarnassus. What was worse, she was confronted by a strong Peloponnesian fleet strengthened all the more by the support given by Persia and Sicily. The Sicilian disaster thus not only removed the idea of Athenian naval invincibility and imperial strength, but introduced her old enemy Persia into the picture against her. Athenian navy was now equalled in strength by that of the enemy side.
The terror of such a formidable combination naturally reduced Athens to despair. Their disaster and disgrace in Sicily destroyed at once the real and ideal supports of their power. The loss of one-third of their citizens made it impossible to supply the depleted strength of garrisons with fresh recruits. Their multiplied defeats before the walls of Syracuse had converted into contempt that admiration in which Athens had long been held by Greeks and barbarians.
After the disaster, the Athenian slaves at Laurion escaped to Decelea which became an asylum for deserting slaves. Seizure of Decelea by Lacedaemonians Stopped one of the most important sources of revenue from the mines of Laurion and Athens had to sustain her coinage system by using the gold dedicated to gods as also by issuing copper coins thinly plated with silver. A very important change in the relationship of Athens and her tributaries was effected. Tribute was temporarily abolished and a tariff of 5 per cent, was levied on all imports and exports.
Situation appeared dismal and it was generally felt that the Council of Five Hundred was no longer competent to conduct the city through such a crisis. A smaller body would be better suited to direct the affairs of the state. A Council of Ten called Probuli was entrusted with the chief direction of the affairs of the state. For the time being the Council of Five Hundred was superseded by the Probuli.
The Athenian democracy found itself threatened from more sides than one. The Probuli was but a stop-gap and could do little to restore confidence in the administration although it included leaders like Sophocles and Hagnon. There were discontent and secret plotting. The moderates and the oligarchs, although with different ideas, were trying for the overthrow of democracy.
The Oligarchic Revolution in Athens:
The Sicilian debacle convinced the Athenians that they had gambled away their safety in Sicily. Distress, fear and discontent that followed, as well as the pressure felt by the people have been set forth by Aristophanes in his comedy of Lysistrate. The Athenians in anger and desperation withdrew their support from those demagogues who advised the despatch of the expedition to Sicily.
They were not only critical of their leaders but also of their institutions. In order that irresponsible advisers trying to out-beat one another might no longer sway the Council or the Assembly, they shifted the direction of the affairs of the state to a responsible commission of ten elderly men called Probuli It was originally mooted as a war measure and a means to recall Alcibiades.
The latter was anxious to get the sentence of condemnation upon him revoked and return to Athens. But this could not happen so long as Athens continued to remain a democracy, Alcibiades proposed through the captains of the Athenian ships at Samos, who were friendly to him, that he might use his good offices in winning over Persia to Athens’ cause, detach her from Spartan friendship and secure Persian gold for Athens on condition that Athens must change her democratic constitution since the Persian King would have no dealings with villainous democracy.
This was the lever Alcibiades sought to use for his recall. Peisander at his suggestion came to Athens to plead for the return of Alcibiades who was condemned of profanation of holy mysteries. He met the arguments of the scruples of the pious men as well as the democrats by counter argument of the real chance of Persian aid and the safety that a man like Alcibiades could bring to the Athenians. Willy nilly the people agreed and Peisander was sent to clinch the bargain with the Persian satrap Tissaphernes.
Before sailing Peisander bade the oligarchic clubs in Athens to work for the subversion of democracy. But Tissaphernes was not ready for an abrupt change of sides. Alcibiades’ plan, insofar as it related to Persian assistance thus failed.
In the mean time, however, the extremists in Athens had carried out their plan far too advance for any withdrawal. To save their skin they must carry through the oligarchic revolution. The youthful conspirators had in the mean time assassinated Androcles, enemy of Alcibiades.
A few others who were thought to be inconvenient to them were also done away with. The moderates led by Theramenes though opposed to oligarchy desired a change in the constitution. They felt that the foreign- policy under democracy and men of education and knowledge, had no sufficient influence on the conduct of affairs.
They therefore wanted a moderate polity which would be neither a democracy nor an oligarchy. Thus a change in the constitution was the goal both of the moderates and extremists, though with different ideas.
The extremist leaders Antiphon, Peisander and Phrynicus found it desirable to enlist the support of the .moderates. A special Assembly of the people was summoned to meet at the temple of Poseidon at Colonus outside the city walls. The Assembly abolished the existing magistracies and Council of Five Hundred and a new Council of Four Hundred with authority to summon another Five Thousand representatives whenever they pleased.
The bigger body of Five Thousand was a sop to Theramenes and his moderates. The Four Hundred, oligarchs mostly, whose names were kept secret, now with the support of lusty band of young adherents entered the Council chamber of the Five Hundred and compelled the members of the Council of Five Hundred to retire.
The Oligarchic Revolution was thus an accomplished fact and the Oligarchy of Four Hundred began to rule Athens. Even the oligarchs would not like the return of Alcibiades and they did not allow any of the oligarchs to return. Their high-handed rule only continued for three months when they were overthrown. The cause was that they did not count the democratic sentiments of the sailors stationed with the Athenian fleet at Samos.
In Samos, however, the new Constitution was not acceptable to the sailors of the Athenian fleet. They rose in their wrath, deposed all officers and voted their trusted democrats to the vacant offices, the most prominent of whom were Thasybulus and Thrasylus. There was talk about the revolt in Samos, but factually true Athens, democratic Athens, existed only in Samos. They recalled Alcibiades to Samos and but for his restraint the fleet would have sailed against Athens. This would have been, disastrous, for the enemies of Athens would have certainly seized this opportunity to humble Athens.
Peace overtures were made by the oligarchs to soften the feelings of the sailors at Samos but it was rejected with contempt. On Alcibiades’ suggestion a counter offer was made demanding dismissal of the Council of Four Hundred and restoration of the old Council of Five Hundred although the Assembly of Five Thousand might be allowed to remain. But the extremists in Athens held power at the top and they began to construct a fort at Eetoneia ostensibly for conducting attack against the democratic fleet in Samos but in reality as a part of the conspiracy to deliver up the city to the Spartans in order that oligarchy might become permanent in Athens.
Theramenes grew more and more impatient daily. Ultimately he and his associate Aristocrats stood up against oligarchy. Phrynicus an oligarch was struck down in the street in open daylight. This worked as a signal for a general rising against oligarchy. The Eetoneia fort was demolished and all moderates and democrats made a common cause against the oligarchs.
An Assembly was immediately called on the demand of Theramenes and others. But as the Assembly was on the point of meeting, a Spartan fleet appeared in Athenian waters but left towards Euboea. The Athenians despatched a fleet of 36 ships under Thymo- chares to pursue the Spartan fleet. But the Athenian fleet was routed off Eretria.
The Spartans could now blockade Piraeus if they had shown a little enterprise and compel the Athenian fleet at Samos to return home for saving the city and the entire Athenian empire would have fallen into the enemy hands. But they did not pursue their victory off Eretria.
All this gave Theramenes to press for a change in the constitution. The people met, deposed the Council of Four Hundred and the Constitution of the Five Thousand was set up in its place. Two important principles, namely Hoplite franchise and no pay for office were adopted. The extremist leaders Antiphon and others were executed, the rest fled to Decelea.
The government of the Five Thousand says Thucydides in its early days was the best which the Athenians ever enjoyed within my memory. Oligarchy and Democracy were duly blended. Athens after the miserable state into which she had fallen, was able once again to raise her head. Now at last Theramenes succeeded in getting a vote passed to bring back Alcibiades from exile. But he had left Samos avowing his intention to meet Tissaphernes.
Son of Niceratus, Nicias was a conservative, wealthy slave-owner with interests in the Laurion silver mine. Bitterly opposed to demagogues like Cleon, Nicias was out of sympathy with political and intellectual progress of Athens. At the time when Cleon was swaying the Athenian people, Nicias enjoyed their love and confidence.
Nicias’ incorruptibility, high respectability and his knowledge of military affairs gave him an abiding influence over the Athenians. Yet his abilities were those of a mediocrity and never equal to those of a leader or a statesman. He was a believer in peace policy and was in favour of a soft policy towards Sparta for which he was regarded as a follower of Cimon. Given to superstition and too much divination, he proved sometimes a serious block to quick action.
His correct place was in conducting of religious ceremonies and he spared no expense in the religious service of the state. His pacific nature was manifest in his relinquishing of command in favour of Achievements Cleon as leader of the expedition to Pylos. Cleon’s success put Nicias’ reputation at stake to retrieve which he led an army into Corinthian- territories and gained partial victory at Solygea and occupied and garrisoned Methone. Next year he occupied Cythera. Methone and Cythera were most important Athenian possessions, besides Pylos, in the Peloponnesus.
In the Battle of Mantinea, the Argives, despite imploringly begging for Athenian help, Nicias did not render any. This has been rightly criticised specially by Busolt as one of Nicias’ gravest political sins.
Nicias had to save his ostracism for this, by allying His folly himself with his political opponent Alcibiades, and Hyperbolus became the scape-goat. Nicias’ policy of preserving the official peace with Sparta cost two hundred Athenian lives and as if the Battle of Mantinea had not broken it officially.
The rapprochement between pious and punctilious Nicias and profane and unstable Alcibiades looked rather unusual. Yet, there were positive signs that Nicias was roused from his inactivity and he undertook an expedition against Chalcidice. He, however, failed in his attempt on Amphipolis but succeeded in conquering Melos which was colonised by the Athenians.
Nicias came to the fullest view in the affairs of the Sicilian expedition. He was opposed to the sending of the expedition to Sicily and argued his point of view setting forth the enormous cost and largeness of the size of the expedition to ensure success. The discreet counsels of Nicias, whose caution was wisdom did not impress the Athenian people who elated by success at Melos voted not only for sending the expedition to Sicily but also Nicias as one of the commanders.
To Nicias’ regret he and his colleagues were given a carte blanche to make the expedition of any size they thought fit. It was criminal on the part of Nicias to have made the Athenians commit an unusually large amount and armament to be sent to Sicily, the loss of which had been disastrous to Athens and her empire.
Nicias must have thought that the people would be dissuaded by hearing the large cost involved. But while it did not have the desired effect on the Athenian people, proved disastrous in the end. The appointment of Nicias as one of the three commanders was indeed some respect shown to him, but it was no policy. Henderson observes, Nicias was sent to act as a check on all rashness that was very much likely from” Alcibiades. The Athenians thought that their expeditionary machine needed a brake. But Henderson humourously also remarks that “He was in fact a most excellent drag on the wheel and sent the whole machine in due course into the ditch”. After all, the fact remains that Nicias, although capable of following Periclean strategy which Athens had so long been following, his ability and temperament were wholly unsuited for the conduct of an enterprise of conquest demanding bolder and greater operations.
In the War Council held at Rhegium, counsel was divided, and Nicias true to his opposition to the sending of the expedition suggested giving up of the enterprise or following a course which involved risking and doing as little as possible to sail about, making some demonstrations, securing anything that could be secured without trouble, and giving any help that could be done without danger. Of the three plans suggested by the three commanders, Nicias’ was the worst and that of Lamachus the best. Nicias’ plan was “politics, not war”. Eventually, however, the plan of Alcibiades was accepted.
When the recall of Alcibiades and death of Lamachus left Nicias in sole charge of the expedition, his incapacity to deal with the situation became very clear. His dilatoriness to complete the wall up to the northern shore, which would have cut off Syracuse from outside contacts and place her at the mercy of the Athenian navy, let in Gylippus whose presence brought a new confidence in the Syracusans.
The two rival armies competed in completing wall and the cross wall but the Syracusans prevailed and the Athenian wall did not reach the northern coast. The Syracusans built their cross wall to reach Euryalus and four forts were built on the western part of the hill thereby hindered any help from reaching the Athenians.
The Athenians succeeded in occupying Plemmyrion and established three stations for their ships. But with the setting of winter the Athenians were buffeted by rough sea-wind in inhospitable shores where they established their stations. The Athenians who were besiegers be Such was the result of gross neglect of Nicias.
Nicias appealed to the home government for reinforcement or failing that to recall the expedition. The letter in which he made such appeals made a pathetic reading. The situation was made worse by the sickness of Nicias himself. The Athenian people sent a second expedition under Eurymedon and Demosthenes, but committed the folly of not superseding Nicias in command.
In the mean time, as the news of the second expedition reached Syracuse, the Syracusans saw their chance in attacking the Athenian wall by land and their naval stations by sea. It was a divided success, the Syracusan attack on the wall was beaten off while on the sea they won a complete victory over the Athenians. The reinforcements under Eurymedon and Demosthenes reached too late in the same day after the battles were over.
A fruitless attempt was made by Demosthenes on the Syracusan cross wall and seeing no profit in lingering in the Syracusan shores, he suggested immediate withdrawal. But Nicias stubborn and selfish, refused to agree. Deceived or self-deceiving he professed to believe that treachery in Syracuse might still deliver up the city into the hands of the routed enemy. This was no sign of wisdom on the part of Nicias.
Even Eurymedon and Demosthenes’ second suggestion of leaving the Great Harbour for Catana or Thapsus was not agreed to by Nicias. No sound reason could be found for Nicias’ stubborn refusal to leave the inhospitable shores when all hopes were lost. Thucydides has ascribed one motive in Nicias’ unwillingness to listen to sane advice. Home he dared not return, to face the wrath of fellow citizens.
After lingering for weeks when sickness began ravaging the Athenian stations the obstinate selfishness of an ailing stubborn fool kept upon that hostile share what still was a great fleet and a great army, which had they returned, would yet have saved their city against her bitterest foes.
In the mean time Gylippus collected more reinforcements. And when Nicias grudgingly and belatedly yielded to the logic of facts and consented to withdraw the expedition, a lunar eclipse upset the whole programme. Relying on the divination of the soothsayers Nicias no less superstitious than his men postponed departure till full-moon. Another twenty-seven days they were to stay. Here he failed to discharge the elementary duty of a general. Safety of his men should have been his prime consideration.
The Syracusans used the time, fully and sailed out with 76 ships and the Athenian with 86 ships and Eurymedon in command put out against them only to be defeated and Eurymedon himself killed in action. Nicias now exhorted his men to fight for the fatherland. He took command of the army himself on the shore and Demosthenes took out the last fleet. But the struggle ended with Athenian defeat. Nicias now consented to retreat by sea, since retreat by land was hopeless. But the sailors would not face the enemy ships for a retreat. The Athenian burnt some of their boats and the Syracusan towed the rest away.
The retreat began with Nicias in the van, to be killed in enemy hands. Nicias’ death is bound to draw our pity but perhaps no sympathy. Even holding the Athenian people primarily responsible for the Sicilian debacle, it is difficult to exonerate Nicias from the responsibility for the disaster. True to his conscience and conviction, he should have declined the appointment as one of the three commanders of the expedition, as he actually had one when expedition against Pylos was sent.
Further, by over-emphasising the need for large armaments for the success of the expedition he had caused the ruin of the Athenian navy. Lastly, his inexplicable unwillingness to accept Demosthenes’ advice to abandon the expedition was certainly to avoid the danger of facing the Athenian people, hence was his policy of procrastination. For all this Nicias, the man on the -spot, must share a major portion of the responsibility for the debacle.
Son of Cleinias, Alcibiades was brilliant in his intellect, unrivalled in his political foresight and was endowed by nature with extraordinary beauty and talents, and by fortune with wealth and high birth. He was the most perplexing, and the most mishandled of all Athenian statesmen. He was naturally a man of strong passions but his ruling passion was an ambition to contend and overcome.
His ambition was to rule, and not in Athens alone. He had been brought up under the supervision of his relative Pericles but this did not prevent him from leading the dissolute life of a spoiled young man of fashion. He had closest intimacy with Socrates, for he could with his penetrative intellect evaluate, the genius of Socrates and attached himself to him rejecting the rich and great who sued for his favour. He was famed for his breed of horses and in Olympic games he sent seven chariots and won three prizes including the first and second. This brought honour not only to him but for his city as well in whole of Greece.
Prof. Bury remarks that Alcibiades had not in him the stuff of which true statesmen are made; he had not the purpose, the perseverance and self-control. An extremely able and dexterous politician he certainly was, but he wanted the balance which a politician, whether scrupulous or unscrupulous must have in order to be a great statesman. His family connections brought him .into the democratic war party, but he was no true democrat. He had no real sympathy with advanced democracy and democratic party whose cause he championed.
It was in very young age that Alcibiades first applied himself to the services of the Athenian republic and yet immediately he proved his superiority to others,” specially in oratory. He dazzled the imagination of his fellow-citizens and delighted their eyes by his personal charm. As a military talent he was unrivalled. Alcibiades was chosen strategos in 420 B.C. which was very much welcome to the radical party for he had the military training to perform the duties of strategos.
He had already come into the front, fought in the trenches outside Potidaea. At Deluim he served in the cavalry. But it was at the time of the Peace of Nicias that he came to the front as a politician. He did not believe that the peace would endure long. He mistrusted the peace and looked on Sparta with deadly hatred. It was his clear-sightedness that gave him superiority to Nicias who always shut his eyes to facts.
Upon his choice as the strategos in preference to Nicias, a change in Athenian policy began. Athens entered into an alliance with Argos. In his Argive policy, Alcibiades was following Cleon’s idea. Alcibiades saw that with the Argive army waiting on the flank, Spartan army would not dare cross the isthmus of Corinth into Attica. With Athens standing firmly behind the Argives, the latter might become more than a match for the Spartans in the field.
Thereby while Sparta would be compelled to fight for the existence of her home, Attica would remain untouched. Alliance with Argos was Athens’ great new hope. If war was bound to come again, Alcibiades’ Argive policy was a masterpiece alike of statesmanship and of strategy, remarks Henderson.
The way in which Alcibiades secured the alliance with Argos, has been a matter of criticism and denounced as a discreditable trick. Yet it must be said to the credit of Alcibiades that in the face of Nicias’ pro-Spartan contentions in the Assembly and Sparta’s increasing unfriendliness the alliance with Argos, Elis and Mantinea was an imperative necessity, and some writers consider it a brilliant example of Alcibiades’ political talent.
In the Epidaurian War that followed Athens sided with Argos against Epidaurus (419 B.C.). Sparta declared for and assisted Epidaurus. But in 418 B.C. Nicias was elected strategos for the people had refused to re-elect adventurous Alcibiades. This had its inevitable effect on the Athenian policy and although alliance with Argos, Elis and Mantinea was not broken off, there was a change in the policy towards Sparta.
In the Battle of Mantinea Athens under Nicias failed to do its duty towards Argos. Athens sent only 1,000 to the battle and another 1,000 arrived when the battle was lost. This criminal negligence can be ascribed to one man, and it was Nicias, whose heart was not in the campaign, who hated Alcibiades and his Argive policy.
Alcibiades’ Argive policy received its burial on the battlefield of Mantinea. Argos joined Spartan alliance and Mantinea, Elis and Achaean towns went over to the victor. Had Alcibiades’ policy of assisting Argos against Sparta been followed, the fate of the Battle of Mantinea would have been otherwise.
In the next year (418-17 B.C.) a vote of Ostracism was proposed by Hyperbolus, to remove Nicias for not effectively supporting Argos. But Alcibiades also had his enemies. Alcibiades and Nicias—two opponents, therefore, came to a compromise and all the followers of Nicias and Alcibiades wrote the name of Hyperbolus who was exiled for the ten years.
Baffled in his first strategy of offence against Sparta through alliance with Argos, Alcibiades had still another to propose. Appeals from Athenian allies at Sicily against tyrant city of Syracuse offered him the opportunity of turning his thoughts westwards, to Italy, to Sicily, and to Carthage and to making Athens the real Mistress of the Hellas.
In the mean time the number of Alcibiades’ adherents increased in Athens and when the question of rendering assistance to Segesta was broached in the Athenian Assembly youthful enthusiasts supported the war policy of Alcibiades in preference to Nicias’ policy of peace and caution.
Sicilian expedition was decided on but Nicias, the man of peace was appointed as one of the three commanders to work as a brake in the wheel of Alcibiades. But Alcibiades’ enemies chose the moment of the departure of the expedition as most suited to blame him for profanation of Mysteries as also for the mutiliation of the busts of Hermes. Alcibiades’ demand for his immediate trial went unheeded and he had to sail with the charge hanging upon him.
In the War Council held at Rhegium on receipt of the intelligence that Segesta was incapable of paying the cost of the expedition, Alcibiades got his plan of waiting for enlisting as many Sicilian cities into Athenian alliance, carried. This was due to his persuasive eloquence. Naxos and Catana were won over.
The Athenian fleet made a naval demonstration in the Great Harbour of Syracuse and captured a ship. When Alcibiades was in the midst of operations, his enemies succeeded in inducing the Assembly to recall him to stand his trial for profanation. Alcibiades anticipating sure condemnation, disappeared and arrived at Sparta where he threw his energy into the ruining of the expedition as he did for organising it. It was on his suggestion that a Spartan general Gylippus was sent to Syracuse.
The secrets of the Athenian plan were divulged by him and this had contributed to a large extent to the failure of the expedition. At Sparta Alcibiades invented a new theory of patriotism by remarking that “He is the true patriot, not who, when exiled, refrains from attacking his country, but who in the warmth of his longing for her seeks to recover her without regard to the means. The country which I am now attacking is not my country. It is only my country when I have recovered her.”
When after the Sicilian debacle there was distress, fear and discontent, the oligarchs began secret plotting for the overthrow of democracy. The moderates also wanted a change some sort of a new polity based on restricted franchise. Alcibiades who wished to return to Athens opened negotiations with Athenian officers at Samos promising to secure an alliance with Tissaphernes but demanding abolition of democracy as a pre-condition. For, the Persians would not agree to any alliance with abhorrent democracy.
Alcibiades, however, failed to keep his promise which was more than he could perform. But in the mean time there was constitutional change in Athens. But the Athenian leaders would not like the return of Alcibiades, then a fugitive at the court of Tissaphernes from Sparta due to King Agis’ wrath because of Alcibiades’ illicit relation with his wife.
Here in Tissaphernes’ court Alcibiades rendered incalculable service to his own country. As Athens and Sparta were face to face for a final show down, 147 Phoenician ships under Tissaphernes’ disposal lay in waiting in the Mediterranean. As Thucydides points out, if Tissaphernes, ally and paymaster of Sparta wanted to finish the war between Athens and Sparta, he could have done so by giving the Spartans the victory with the help of his fleet. But Alcibiades had gained Tissaphernes’ favour both by his personal charm and intelligence, and advised the satrap not to help any side and so let the Greeks wear out one another and thereby make it easy for Persia to conquer an exhausted Greece.
Thus was Athens saved. When the rival fleet fell out, the victory was with Athens. The Oligarchic Revolution served Athens well. It had recalled Alcibiades who joined Theramenes, Thrasybulus and Thrasylus at the eleventh hour to win the day for Athens. Party bitterness reared its ugly head not long after and dashed the cup of victory from her (Athens’) lips for ever.
That Alcibiades was a man more sinned against than sinning goes without saying. His ambition was unbounded no doubt, but in ability and intellect, in generalship and statesmanship he was unrivalled. He anticipated matters which came to be realised later in time. He was an Alexander in the wrong, place as Athens was premature Macedonia.
Henderson and other writers of his opinion feel that if Alcibiades had been left in his command the expedition to Sicily, he would have indubitably captured Syracuse. As to the question whether the Sicilian expedition was justified from Athenian interests, it must be said that it was a policy of Alcibipdes’ willful ambitions. It had no shadow of moral justification. After all, Alcibiades sought to rule more than Athens.
But to the question whether he was treacherous, we feel like returning a negative answer. For, no sane man would have courted voluntary arrest and was sure to escape to safety as Alcibiades had done. His conduct in divulging the secrets of Athenian plans and positions was more vindictive than treacherous. This was required by him later when he dissuaded Tissaphernes from siding with the Spartans.
Despite all his faults, it must be said that no Greek statesman had been so rudely treated as was Alcibiades. Despite his reckless ways and his sins against his state, Alcibiades did service to his city equalled by no other man since the death of Pericles and would yet have brought her victorious out of the furnace of the war had he been permitted by his political enemies. His service was but ill requited. The whole career of Alcibiades is its explanation.
End of the War:
The newly established Polity or Moderate Democracy at Athens gave a fairly tempered government to the people. In the mean time the Spartan admiral Astyochus had been superseded by Mindarus and the Peloponnesian fleet, invited by Pharnabazus, the Persian satrap sailed for the Hellespont, where cities were already in revolt against Athens (411 B.C.).
Abydos and Lampsachus were won over by the enemy side and Athenians under Strombichides recovered Lampsachus but Abydos remained in Spartan and Persian hands. The Athenian fleet of seventy-six ships under Thrasybulus and Thrasylus followed and forced the Lacedaemonian fleet to fight in the strait.
The result was hard fighting and repulse of the Peloponnesians near the cape of Cynossema This victory heartened the Athenians who immediately recovered Cyzicus which had revolted. Mindarus sent for the Lacedaemonian squadron that lay in Euboean waters, but buffeted by storm and rude-sea only a few reached him, others were lost. All this was followed by another Athenian success at Abydos. The Arthenian success was looked upon with great dissatisfaction by Tissaphernes and when soon after, Alcibiades paid him a visit he was arrested. But Alcibiades made good his escape.
Pharnabazus came forward with vigorous support for the Peloponnesians and when in the spring of 410 B.C. Mindarus laid siege of Cyzicus, Pharnabazus supported him with army. In the Battle of Cyzicus, fought both by land and sea the Athenians were victorious and Mindarus was slain in action, about sixty of their ships were sunk. Sparta was compelled, in the circumstances to sue for peace on the basis of status quo ante.
The peace overtures were rejected by the Athenians for it did not include restoration of Athenian power in the Aegean and Asia Minor. The victory of Cyzicus enthused them and there was confidence that Athens would surely succeed in recovering the Aegean and Asia Minor notwithstanding the support to the enemy given by Pharnabazus.
The Athenian victory at Cyzicus restored confidence in democracy, for it was won by the democratic navy. The polity of Theramenes was upset and democracy was restored on the basis of universal franchise and Council of Five Hundred of Cleisthenic Constitution. The most prominent leader of the change was Cleophon, a man of the same class as Hyperbolus and Cleon and endowed with same order of talent.
Payment for office which was one of the most characteristic parts of the Athenian democracy was resumed as a matter of course. A new payment of two obols was instituted by Cleophon, the nature of which was not very clear. It is supposed by some that, it was a disbursement intended to relieve the economic pressure on the poor citizens due to protracted war.
To give work to the poor, public works was another form of relief Cleophon arranged for. A new temple for Athena, though less magnificent than the Parthenon, which was the true centre of the goddess’ worship, was built.
New enthusiasm in Athens was manifest in Athenian operations in the Black sea area and its neighbourhood. Under the able leadership of Alcibiades Athens began to regain her lost ground. Thasos and Selymbria were won back, Chrysopolis was occupied, Colophon was recovered and Byzantium was starved into submission. Bosphorus was again commanded by Athens, but she lost Pylus to Sparta and Nisaea to the Megarians.
Persia’s Part in the Peloponnesian War:
Downfall of Athens: The last eight years, 412 to 405 B.C. saw the most unexpected combination of Persia, the common enemy of Greece with Sparta, the victor of Plataea against Athens the victor of Satamis. Lovers of Panhellenic ideals saw the sight with shock and disarray; it was in the nature of suicide for the Hellas.
Sicilian catastrophe roused Persia from her many years’ slumber with regard to Greece. Persia now staged a comeback into the sphere of politics of Hellas. Satrap Tissaphernes of Sardis and Pharnabazus, satrap of Phrygia felt that time had come for wresting from Athens her Asiatic dominions. Persian interference began with her backing Chios with support in her planned revolt against Athens.
The Persian satraps thought that the best way to drive Athens out of her Asiatic dominion was to stir up revolt in close alliance with Athens’ sworn enemy Sparta. Both the satraps vied with each other to draw Sparta into such a profitable alliance and sent emissaries to Sparta, Pharnabazus urging action in Hellespont and Tissaphernes backing appeal of Chios. Alcibiades who had been then at Sparta advocated Chian cause and carried the day.
In 412 B.C. rebellion against Athens actively began with the arrival of few Spartan ships in support of Chios. Combined fleet of Sparta and Chios, excited revolt in Teos, Miletus and Lebedbs. Mytilene and Methymna, Cyme and Phocaea followed suit.
The Chian people, according to Thucydides knew moderation in prosperity but their action in revolt, though may seem as imprudence, was undertaken only when many brave allies agreed to share the peril with them and after the Athenians themselves had confessed that affairs in Athens were hopelessly bad. Whatever error of judgment they had made, it was due to a common belief that the Athenian power would be easily and speedily overthrown.
Anti-Athenian revolt succeeded well and by the treaty of Miletus between Sparta and Persia on the one hand and Miletus on the other Sparta, sold to the barbarian the freedom of her fellow Greeks of Asia. Persia demanded arrears of tributes from these Greek cities for well-nigh seventy years.
On simple payment of the wages of Spartan sailors and victualling them so long as war with Athens continued, Sparta recognised by the treaty the right of Persia to all dominions which belonged to the Great Kings for generations. It has been suggested by Prof. Bury that Sparta then needed money and had no intention of faithfully carrying out the terms of the treaty and hoped to rescue the Asiatic Greek cities in the end. But what remained a mournful, dishonourable fact was that the treaty of Miletus opened up a new path in Greek politics, which was to lead the Persian King to the position of arbiter of Hellas.
Alcibiades who had in the mean time lost the sympathy of the Spartan King Agis for illicit relation with -Agis’ wife was compelled to leave Sparta with his life and took asylum in the court of Persian satrap Tissaphernes where he began to plan for his return to Athens. While at .the court of Tissaphemes, Alcibiades set himself to dissolve the Perso-Spartan alliance for which he had done much. In his machinations for Staging a return to Athens he suggested change of the democratic constitution in order to ensure Persian gold and friendship as against Sparta.
Difference arose between Persia and Sparta and Lichas the Spartan commissioner denounced the clause of the Treaty of Miletus, which gave Persia all the countries that had been held by her before. This would mean restoration of Persian dominion over Thessaly and other parts of Northern Greece.
Lichas pressed for a new treaty. This was eventually agreed to by Tissaphernes and Persian claim was limited to Asiatic dominions. Even at the moment of near rupture between Sparta and Persia, Alcibiades could not persuade Tissaphernes to enter into any treaty with Athens. The war went on between Athens and Sparta in the mean time, and Athens won resounding victories in the battle of Cynossema.
Satrap Tissaphernes was supremely discontented at Athenian success. Pharnabazus who was vying with Tissaphernes for recovery of the Asiatic Greek dominions, now started giving massive support to the Peloponnesians against Athens. The venue of war was chiefly Hellespont. But Sparta’s able general Mindarus was defeated in a hard fought battle both by land and sea at Cyzicus despite Pharnabazus’ financial support. With great enthusiasm and renewed vigour Athens began recovering Thasos, Colophon and occupying Chrysopolis.
Athens was again in Command of the Bosphorus. Pharnabazus, realised that Athens was not an exhausted power as she was commonly believed to have been. King Darius knew well of the jealousy between the two satraps Tissaphernes and Pharnabazus and thought that it was hindering .the pursuance of any effective policy in the west. He put his son Cyrus at the place of Tissaphernes, with jurisdiction over Phrygia (Pharnabazus’ satrapy), Cappadocia and Lydia. With the coming of Cyrus the course of the war took a new turn.
Cyrus took up his task in right earnest and began intervening in the war actively. But payment of gold and victualling the Peloponnesian sailors would have failed his purpose had not Lysander, an really able commander been appointed as admiral. Lysander by his inordinate ambition and unrivalled ability soon gained the love and confidence of his men.
His care for his men while ensured faithful obedience to his orders, his incorruptibility and absolute immunity against temptation made him respected by Cyrus, upon whom his influence soon became great. Despite his incorruptibility Lysander was most unscrupulous in the pursuit of his aims. To him end justified the means, and he was not only an able general but a skilful diplomatist as well.
In the mean time Alcibiades had returned to Athens after about eight years of exile and was put in sole charge of the war as strategos. Soon after in the Battle of Notion Lysander defeated and captured fifteen Athenian ships. This led to Alcibiades’ unpopularity, for the Athenians in appointing him in supreme command expected victory in every engagement, whether he was present in it or not. Conon was appointed in supreme command of the navy to replace Alcibiades (406 B.C.).
In the same year 140 strong Peloponnesian navy under Callicratidas who replaced Lysander as admiral, began to carry everything before it. The situation soon turned desperate, and Athens melted her gold in temples to meet the cost of new armament. Freedom was promised to slaves, citizenship to resident aliens, for their services in the emergency. A great naval battle was fought near the islets of Argunusae (406 B.C.) in which despite largeness of the Peloponnesian fleet, the Athenians won the day, with seventy Spartan ships sunk.
Athens also lost twenty- five ships with their crews, many of whom who were floating on the wreckage of the ships might have been saved. For this neglect on the part of the commanders the eight generals who were present in the battle were condemned to death and their property was confiscated. Thrasyllus and Pericles, son of the great statesman, along with four others were executed, but two of the condemned generals kept away from Athens and saved themselves.
Defeated and weakened, Spartans made peace overtures once again as they did four years back. But in the flush of victory Athens rejected the peace overtures. Nothing was left to the Spartans but to reorganise their fleet. Peloponnesian defeat had the effect of drying up the source of supply of money from Persia and it was felt by the Spartans that in order to pursue the war more effectively and thereby receive Persian support, Lysander must be restored to the command. But law did not permit this and to obviate the difficulty Lysander was put under a nominal admiral, although real powers were left with him.
Lysander visited Cyrus and reviving his old influence brought the money subsidy as required. News arrived of Darius’ illness and death was expected to come shortly. Cyrus left his satrapy and the tribute from the Asiatic dominions in charge of Lysander with whom a friendship had been developed and went for his father’s bedside. All this was god send. Lysander at once used the resources to prove his ability.
He avoided a naval engagement with Conon, held counsel with King Agis and began operations in the Hellespont where he laid siege of Lampsacus. The Athenian fleet, 180 strong followed Lysander to Lampsacus but was too late. But the Athenians proceeded to Aegospotami where they endeavoured to lure Lysander to a battle.
Alcibiades who noticed the dangerous position of the Athenians from his castle nearby where he was putting up, counselled the generals to move to Sestos, but his advice was cold-shouldered. On the fifth day of their waiting when the Athenians spread themselves on the shore for meals, the entire Peloponnesian squadron numbering 200 ships swooped upon them. There was practically no battle at Aegospotami. 160 Athenian ships were captured by the Peloponnesians, twenty ships, escaped.
All the Athenians were taken prisoners, three thousand of whom were put to death. It is generally believed that Adeimantus, one of the Athenian generals who were taken prisoners and spared, had been bribed by Lysander and treachery led to such a catastrophe. Never was a decisive victory gained with such small sacrifice as that which Lysander gained at Aegospotami.
The situation at Athens naturally became desperate, the Athenians now could see that the prospect of sustaining themselves in a very probable siege by the Peloponnesian navy, now that by a sudden stroke Athenian sea power had been completely annihilated. But Lysander’s plan was not to attack Athens but to starve her to surrender. He drove all the Athenian cleruchs, i.e. colonists, whom he found in the islands to Athens and thereby swelled the number of the starving Athenians.
After subjugating the Athenian empire in the Hellespont and Thrace, Lysander entered the Saronic Gulf with 150 ships, occupied Aegina and laid siege of Piraeus. Simultaneously Spartan kings (there were two kings simultaneously according to Spartan constitution) Agis and Pausanias entered Attica, but finding the walls too strong to attack and winter setting in, they withdrew. But the siege of Piraeus continued. Athens offered to be ally of Lacedaemon and relinquish her empire as terms of peace. But the Spartans demanded demolition of the Long Walls, in addition. But Athenians did not see the need for accepting the condition and avoiding the eventuality of an unconditional surrender.
Theramenes, in order to gain time visited Lysander, ostensibly to obtain more favourable terms for peace. But when he returned after about three months he found the Athenians ready to accept any terms for peace. People were dying of starvation and their wrath fell on Cleophon who was condemned to death for avoiding military service. Theramenes was sent to Sparta, with full powers to negotiate for peace.
In the Assembly of the Peloponnesian allies at Sparta, the general sentiment was to utterly destroy Athens. But Sparta, despite all her faults, could on occasions rise to nobler heights. She rejected the proposal of the confederates and would not agree to blot out the city that had played a noble part in times of peril of the whole of Greece. The saviour of Greece against Persia was not to be destroyed. Athens was thus saved by her past services to the Hellas.
The peace imposed on her the following terms; The Long Walls and fortifications of Piraeus were to be demolished; Athenian empire was lost and Athens remained independent and limited to the confines of Attica and Salamis; all exiles were to be allowed to return; Athens was to become an ally of Sparta and accept her leadership; Athenian fleet except 12 ships was forfeited.
The peace was ratified and Lysander went to Piraeus to see the demolition of the Long Walls and fortifications done (404 B.C.). The only place that still remained to be conquered by Lysander was Samos which clung desperately to Athens. Lysander sailed off from Piraeus to occupy Samos.
Grievances of the Subject Allies of Athens:
On the evidence of Herodotus and Thucydides, we know that Athenian authority was resented by her empire and she was unpopular. It goes without saying that “empire was tyranny” and it entailed loss of autonomy on the part of the subject allies, and this was against Greek political instinct.
The conversion of the confederacy of Delos into an empire had its consequential results in the transfer of the treasury of the League of Athens, abolition of the Synod and the transformation of the Board of Hellenotamiae into an Athenian magistracy.
Further, the jurisdiction of the Athenian law courts had been extended to the whole of the empire in respect of criminal and commercial suits. Chios, Lesbos and Samos were the only three of the allies who were allowed to retain their autonomy. These apart, Athens imposed democratic constitution in all the allied states as she would not tolerate any other form of government. Besides, the subject allies had more special grievances to complain of.
The jurisdiction of the Athenian courts in commercial suits was no doubt favourable for the allies, for it made it possible to enforce a claim against the citizen of another state. But this was no substitute for their own legal system and law courts. The Greek conception of autonomy included independent jurisdiction.
Further, occasions were not rare when the Athenian law courts acted as an engine of political oppression. At the instance of local party leaders aristocrats in the subject states were brought to Athens to stand trial on some fictitious charge and convicted.
The spending of the money realised from the subject allies at the sweet-will of Athens was strongly resented. Periclean argument that so long as Athens kept the Persians at bay, she was under no obligation to render any account for the moneys contributed by them. He even began spending such moneys for beautification of Athens. Thucydides had protested against this, but in vain.
Despite the fact that assessment of tribute was not excessive, the grievance was on the ground that it was assessed by Athens, and Athens might use the power of assessment inequitably, discreminating against states like Thasos and Aegina which were hostile to Athens.
The Athenian policy of planting cleruchies, i.e. colonies of the Athenian people, in subject states was as old as Cleisthenes. But under Pericles these became instruments of Athenian imperialism. The cleruchies served two purposes, an economic and a military. It provided outlet for the excess of population who would otherwise have no employment within the country. It also served as important strategical positions within the Empire.
The cleruchy was on occasions planted in the subject allies’ country as a punishment for revolt, so that the Athenians in the cleruchy might look after the interests of Athens. The expulsion of the sons of the soil to accommodate the Athenian colonies engendered bitter feeling which was not diminished by the reduction of the amount of tribute as compensation.
The fact that the cleruchies were not required to pay any tribute naturally gave rise to resentment. The Athenian currency was enforced on the subject allies. But the subject allies saw in it an invasion or their right to have their own currency. These grievances made the subject allies inimically disposed and they were naturally looking forward for breaking away from the Athenian tutelage.
Yet it must not be thought that the allies had not derived any advantage from Athens. These were quite numerous. First, the allies had not only been released from the Persian yoke but were being defended against any possible attempt by Persia to reconquer them. This was certainly the greatest argument on the side of Athens to claim obedience and tribute from the subject allies.
Secondly, the jurisdiction of the Athenian court particularly in commercial suits was of great help to the subject allies. For, it was the best method to enforce claims on citizens of other states. The number of such commercial suits was not small either.
Thirdly, the Greek idea of rights and of individual freedom could best be exercised in a democracy. Athens, in substituting other forms of government in the subject states by democracy certainly helped, in one way, to subserve the Greek political instinct.
Fourthly, the Athenian coins were the only coins which were not debased. While in every state there had been debased coins in circulation and merchandise crossing borders of different countries had to be revalued in terms of the value of the currency of the country into which it went, the Athenian coins were acceptable to every one without question. Enforcement of Athenian currer.cy all throughout the Empire was therefore a positive advantage.
Fifthly, Athenian imperialism engendered a sense of unity among the Greeks of the allied states. This spirit of unity taught lessons to the Greeks which were never lost. This unity was all the more supplemented by the commercial intercourse which during the course of the long war the Athenians did not abandon. The Mediterranean coasts formed a big, single market the advantage of which was derived by the subject allies as well. The commercial centre at Piraeus was also frequented by the merchants of the subject-states.
Sixthly, Athens rendered the great service of suppression of piracy which was spreading terror in the Aegean. During the period of Athenian Empire the Aegean was free from the evils of piracy which before and after the days of the Athenian Empire became a public nuisance.
Lastly, the greatest service that Athens rendered to the subject allies was to keep Persia at bay. Had the Athenian Empire disappeared, she (Persia) would have certainly been able to make good her claims on the Greeks on the fringe of the Asia Minor.
Causes of Athenian Downfall:
The fall of Athens was related to many factors which began to manifest themselves as soon as the myth of Athens’ naval invincibility was exploded as a result of the Sicilian debacle. Sicilian catastrophe had consequences more than what met our eyes immediately.
It had by a single stroke annihilated her navy, but what was worse, the Athenians themselves confessed that affairs in Athens were hopelessly bad. Two consequences naturally followed the subject allies took it as the right moment to break off from the Athenian empire. The Persians were roused to a feeling of wresting the dominions lost to Athens in Asia Minor and the coast some seventy years ago.
The Athenians were themselves to be largely blamed for their love of novelty that had led them to undertake more than they could accomplish. Expedition to Sicily was one such enterprise. The demoralisation that began with the news of Sicilian catastrophe reaching Athens showed itself in the condemnation of the generals after the victory at the Battle of Arginusae.
Athens could certainly have prevented the war to become an Annihilation War had they made peace at the right moment. Had it not been for the Spartans, Athens would have been destroyed as desired by the Peloponnesian confederates.
Another cause that helped Athenian downfall was the combination of resources of Persia with the extraordinary ability of Lysander.
Of the more deeply seated causes one was the tendency of the Athenian character and Athenian policy as compared with that of Sparta. While strict discipline prevailed in Sparta, the individual being accustomed to render unreflecting obedience to the commands of his superiors, in Athens, the principle of Laissez-faire generated a certain weakness in the individual.
Even this would not have been so serious, a more important fault on the part of the Athenians and which was more decisive factor, was that while Athens treated her own citizens with indulgence, represented the principle of despotism to outsiders. This ran counter to the Greek ideas and feelings.
Athenian League being irksome to its members, survival of the empire depended on Athens having good generals and whenever Athens became incapable of using her good generals, she was bound to fall.
Athenian downfall was also due to the fact that she followed a new movement in the fifth century, of new philosophy, new spirit of enquiry and intellectual pursuit which made emancipation from every kind of authority extremely forceful.
It was also suspected that the oligarchs had been for many years past deliberately planning to place the city at the mercy of the enemy for the purpose of destroying democracy. The attempt of the government of Four Hundred to come to terms with Sparta lends support to this view.
Lastly, the conduct of the Athenian generals in fixing their station at Aegospotami despite Alcibiades’ sane advice to withdraw to Sestos, and delivering the sailors to the foe like sheep led to the altar seems to be such a measure of folly that suspicion of treachery becomes confirmed. The battle was won practically without a fight.
It may be concluded that the Athenian empire went down not because her enemies had any greater strength compared to her, but because there had been a systematic bad management of the empire, imperial administration as also of the military and naval forces. as particularly seen in Aegospotami.
Son of Aristocritus, Lysander was born and bred in poverty, but nobody conformed to the Spartan discipline more than he. He had a firm heart and was above temptation of all kinds. He imbibed in his education the love of fame, and jealousy of honour which were characteristic of the Spartans. Lysander bore his poverty well throughout his life.
He filled Sparta with gold but himself remained poor. His incorruptibility, the attention he paid to the great were rather unusual in the Spartans. Yet in prosecuting his own aim he was absolutely unscrupulous and expediency was the principle of action with him; it was the end that concerned him, not the means. He was a soldier to the finger-tips.
After the Athenian overthrow in Sicily when the Athenians found themselves driven out of the sea and themselves on the verge of ruin, Alcibiades who was allowed to return, was given the sole command as strategos. Soon such changes were effected that Athens again became equal in naval conflicts with Sparta.
The Spartans were rather afraid, and resolved to prosecute the war with double diligence and as it required an able general they gave Lysander the command at sea. Lysander was the best choice in the circumstances, for he was an able general and skilful diplomatist.
Persian help that Sparta had been receiving for some years past also demanded the appointment of a capable admiral for its continuance. Lysander visited Cyrus at Sardis, impressed him by his regard for the Great King’s son and more by his wisdom, ability and incorruptibility.
Between Lysander a man in the very vigour of age, and Persian King Cyrus sprang up the warmest of affections. The whole of Cyrus’ wealth was placed at the service of Sparta. He returned with sufficient Persian gold for increasing the number of ships and payment to his sailors at a higher rate, and the presents which Cyrus gave him were also distributed by him among them.
By paying higher than usual rate of wage to the sailors he enticed away many sailors from Athenian ships. His care of his men and for their interest made Lysander intensely popular with them. A new enthusiasm, diligence and discipline marked their preparation for war with Athens.
Lysander’s other objective was to seduce the Athenian allies to his side. To this end he declared granting of liberty to the Asiatic Greek cities as also of the Aegean from the imperial yoke of Athens. Anti- Athenian clubs were organised by him in those areas and promised them favour after the fall of Athens.
In the battle that followed, in Spring of 406 B.C. at Notion, Lysander won a victory over the Athenian fleet and captured fifteen of the Athenian ships. The new year saw a change of admirals on the Spartan side, as required by their law, and Lysander was replaced by Callicratidas who was given a fleet of 140 ships to command.
Athens counted the cost beforehand and made use of the dedicatory gold in temples and fitted out a fleet of 150 ships. Spartan admiral in the mean time had added to his number of ships and it stood at 170 now. Callicratidas blockaded Mytilene. The Athenian fleet under Conon proceeded to relieve the blockade.
A great battle was fought near the islets of Arginusae and the Athenians were victorious. Sparta was obliged to make peace overtures to Athens, which were rejected. In the mean time, the Persian gold was also not flowing in, for unless money was combined with ability of generals, there was no use for sending it.
To secure Persian co-operation, it was generally felt that Lysander must be restored to command. Cyrus desired as much. Lysander was given the real command under a nominal admiral to save law. Lysander visited Cyrus at Sardis at a moment which was doubly favourable.
Persian assistance was restored and Cyrus’ confidence in Lysander, which had developed into friendship made him to leave the charge of his satrapy with Lysander in order to attend his father Darius’ bedside who was dying.
In addition to the money granted to Lysander for prosecuting war, the entire revenue derived from tribute was placed at his disposal for use in the war. The plan was to avoid any straight fight with Athens but to attack the Athenian empire. This received Cyrus’ endorsement.
With Persian money and with the willingness of the Athenian allies, Lysander naturally became extremely powerful as no Spartan general had been ever before. Avoiding direct battle with the Athenians Lysander carried on certain diversionary raids in the Aegean, moved to the Hellespont and besieged Lampsacus which was a strategic point both from military and economic points of view. It stood on the route to Athens from the Pontus and its occupation by the enemy hindered passage of the Athenian grain ships.
The Athenians sent a fleet of 180 triremes to follow Lysander in Lampsacus and anchored at Aegospotami. Lampsacus was taken before the Athenian fleet could reach Sestos. The Athenian attempt to lure Lysander to a battle did not succeed and the Athenians moving up and down the seas would relax themselves on the shores of Aegospotami. Four successive days they did so.
On the fifth day when the Athenian sailors were on the shore for meals and unmindful of their defence, Lysander swooped down on the Athenian ships which then were crewless. There was no battle, no resistance. Twenty of the Athenian ships (12 according to Plutarch) could escape and the remainder (160) were captured by Lysander.
Whether there was treachery among the Athenian generals or not, the result was disastrous. All the Athenians were taken prisoners of whom three to four thousand had been slain. The Battle of Aegospotami dealt the final blow to the Athenian empire. Never, perhaps was a victory more complete and overwhelming in consequence and never was a defeat so disgraceful and so disastrous.
Lysander’s next move was to compel the city of Athens to surrender. This he planned to do by starving the city. Grain supply to Athens had already been cut down, now to increase the distress of the Athenians, Lysander drove all the Athenian cleruchs, i.e., colonists to Athens. Influx of the colonists made the already starving city incapable of sustaining itself any longer. It capitulated. By the peace treaty that followed, Lysander obtained the demolition of the Long Walls and the fortresses at Piraeus.
The entire empire of Athens became free amidst general rejoicing. This was followed by the capture of Samos, a faithful and loyal subject ally of Athens and the establishment of an oligarchy there after the overthrow of democracy. Athens had to join the Peloponnesian League and accept Lacedaemonian leadership.
Lysander had now attained greater power than any Grecian before him, yet the loftiness of his heart far exceeded it. According to Duris, he was the first Grecian to whom altars were erected by several cities and sacrifices offered as to gods. Cyrus sent his congratulatory present of a galley made of gold and ivory. But his power and position soon excited the jealousy and apprehension among the Spartans themselves.
At Samos, Lysander almost behaved like a King and held a court. He was recalled and obeying the summons he came back to Sparta carrying a letter from the Persian satrap Pharnabazus to justify him. But the letter, on opening, was found to contain indictment of Lysander.
Ridicule and jeering made Lysander uncomfortable in Sparta and remembering his past services, he was allowed to depart on a mission to the temple of Zeus Ammon in Libya. Yet his influence and importance were not all gone. He conceived a plan to effect a revolution in Sparta and make kingship elective and to make himself second only to the king and command the army for life. But the method he chose was religious influence.
He sought oracular support to his plan but it failed. He next supported Agesilaus to the throne of Sparta in preference to Aegis’ son Leotychidas. But Agesilaus was clever enough not to be a tool in the hands of the king-maker. With the outbreak of war between Sparta and her old ally Boeotia he was sent out. In the investment of Haliastus he and Pausanias were to work conjointly but on his arrival earlier than Pausanias, he attacked the city but was routed and killed (395 B.C.).
Despite his faults his unscrupulousness in diplomacy and cruelty in dealing with his enemies, Lysander stands supreme in his service to his state. Poverty added lusture to his virtue. Absolutely incorruptible and extraordinarily able as a general, Lysander had commissioned the Spartan support in dealing a final blow to Athens and her empire.
He was preceded in this by Brasidas and Gylippus, the three Spartans who brought Athens to her knees. It was Lysander’s part to bring the Peloponnesian War to a close. But the last part of his career was marked by attempts at self-aggrandisement and high ambition, but to no purpose. If the last part of his career had blurred the lusture of his earlier exploits to some extent, yet he goes down in history as an able general and skillful diplomat who administered the final mortal blow to Athens.