This was the beginning of the Athenian banker; but from being a mere exchanger he has often passed far beyond, to become a real master of credit and capital. There are several of these highly important gentlemen who now have a business and fortune equal to that of the famous Pasion, who died in 370 B.C. While the firm of Pasion and Company was at its height, the proprietor derived a net income of at least 100 mine (over $1,800  or $30,248.07 ) per year from his banking; and more than half as much extra from a shield factory.[*]
[*]These sums seem absurdly small for a great money magnate, but the very high purchasing power of money in Athens must be borne in mind. We know a good deal about Pasion and his business from the speeches which Deosthenes composed in the litigation which arose over his estate.
81. A Large Banking Establishment.—Enter now the "tables" of Nicanor. The owner is a metic; perhaps he claims to come from Rhodes, but the shrewd cast of his eyes and the dark hue of his skin gives a suggestion of the Syrian about him. In his open office a dozen young half-naked clerks are seated on low chairs—each with his tablet spread out upon his knees laboriously computing long sums.[*] The proprietor himself acts as the cashier. He has not neglected the exchange of foreign moneys; but that is a mere incidental. His first visitor this morning presents a kind of letter of credit from a correspondent in Syracuse calling for one hundred drachme. "Your voucher?" asks Nicanor. The stranger produces the half of a coin broken in two across the middle. The proprietor draws a similar half coin from a chest. The parts match exactly, and the money is paid on the spot. the next comer is an old acquaintance, a man of wealth and reputation; he is followed by two slaves bearing a heavy talent of coined silver which he wishes the banker to place for him on an advantageous loan, against a due commission. The third visitor is a well-born but fast and idle young man who is squandering his patrimony on flute girls and chariot horses. He wishes an advance of ten mine, and it is given him—against the mortgage of a house, at the ruinous interest of 36 per cent, for such prodigals are perfectly fair play. Another visitor is a careful and competent ship merchant who is fitting for a voyage to Crete, and who requires a loan to buy his return cargo. Ordinary interest, well secured, is 18 per cent, but a sea voyage, even at the calmest season, is counted extra hazardous. The skipper must pay 24 per cent at least. A poor tradesman also appears to raise a trifle by pawning two silver cups; and an unlucky farmer, who cannot meet his loan, persuades the banker to extend the time "just until the next moon"[+]—of course at an unmerciful compounding of interest.
[*]Without the Arabic system of numerals, elaborate bookkeeping surely presented a sober face to the Greeks. Their method of numeration was very much like that with the so-called Roman numerals.
[+]"Watching the moon," i.e. the end of the month when the debts became due, appears to have been the melancholy recreation of many Athenian debtors. See Aristophanes's "Clouds," I. 18.
82. Drawbacks to the Banking Business.—Nicanor has no paper money to handle, no stocks, no bonds,—and the line between legitimate interest and scandalous usury is by no means clearly drawn. There is at least one good excuse for demanding high interest. It is notoriously hard to collect bad debts. Many and many a clever debtor has persuaded an Athenian jury that ALL taking of interest is somewhat immoral, and the banker has lost at least his interest, sometimes too his principal. So long as this is the case, a banker's career has its drawbacks; and Demosthenes in a recent speech has commended the choice by Pasion's son of a factory worth 60 mine per year, instead of his father's banking business worth nominally 100. The former was so much more secure than an income depending on "other people's money!"
Finally it must be said that while Nicanor and Pasion have been honorable and justly esteemed men, many of their colleagues have been rogues. Many a "table" has been closed very suddenly, when its owner absconded, or collapsed in bankruptcy, and the unlucky depositors and creditors have been left penniless, during the "rearrangement of the tables," as the euphemism goes.
83. The Potter of Athens.—There is one other form of economic activity in Athens which deserves our especial notice, different as it is from the bankers' tables,—the manufacture of earthen vases. A long time might be spent investigating the subject; here there is room only for a hasty glance. For more than two hundred years Attica has been supplying the world with a pottery which is in some respects superior to any that has gone before, and also (all things considered) to any that will follow, through night two and a half millenniums. The articles are primarily tall vases and urns, some for mere ornament or for religious purposes,—some for very humble household utility; however, besides the regular vases there is a great variety of dishes, plates, pitchers, bowls, and cups all of the same general pattern,—a smooth, black glaze[*] covered with figures in the delicate red of the unglazed clay. At first the figures had been in black and the background in red, but by about 500 B.C. the superiority of the black backgrounds had been fully realized and the process perfected. For a long time Athens had a monopoly of this beautiful earthenware, but now in 360 B.C. there are creditable manufactories in other cities, and especially in the Greek towns of Southern Italy. The Athenian industry is, however, still considerable; in fifty places up and down the city, but particularly in the busy quarter of the Ceramicus, the potters' wheels are whirling, and the glazers are adding the elegant patterns.
[*]Sometimes this glaze tended to a rich olive green or deep brown.
84. Athenian Pottery an Expression of the Greek Sense of Beauty.—Athens is proud of her traditions of naval and military glory; of the commerce of the Peireus; of her free laws and constitution; of her sculptured temples, her poets, her rhetoricians and philosophers. Almost equally well might she be proud of her vases. They are not made—let us bear clearly in mind—by avowed artists, servants of the Muses and of the Beautiful; they are the regular commercial products of work-a-day craftsmen. But what craftsmen! In the first place, they have given to every vase and dish a marvelous individuality. There seems to be absolutely no duplication of patterns.[*] Again, since these vases are made for Greeks, they must—no matter how humble and commonplace their use—be made beautiful—elegantly shaped, well glazed, and well painted: otherwise, no matter how cheap, they will never find a market.
[*]It is asserted that of the many thousands of extant Greek vases that crowd the shelves of modern museums, there are nowhere two patterns exactly alike.
The process of manufacture is simple, yet it needs a masterly touch. After the potter has finished his work at the wheel and while the clay is still soft, the decorator makes his rough design with a blunt-pointed stylus. A line of black glaze is painted around each figure. Then the black background is freely filled in, and the details within the figure are added. A surprisingly small number of deft lines are needed to bring out the whole picture.[*] Sometimes the glaze is thinned out to a pale brown, to help in the drawing of the interior contours. When the design is completed, we have an amount of life and expression which with the best potters is little short of startling. The subjects treated are infinite, as many as are the possible phases of Greek life. Scenes in the home and on the farm; the boys and their masters at school; the warriors, the merchants, the priests sacrificing, the young gallants serenading a sweet-heart; all the tales, in short of poet-lore and mythology,—time would fail to list one tenth of them. Fairly we can assert that were all the books and formal inscriptions about the Athenians to be blotted out, these vase paintings almost photographs one might say, of Athenian daily life, would give us back a very wide knowledge of the habits of the men in the city of Athena.
[*]In this respect the Greek vase paintings can compete with the best work in the Japanese prints.
The potters are justly proud of their work; often they do not hesitate to add their signatures, and in this way later ages can name the "craftsmen" who have transmitted to them these objects of abiding beauty. The designers also are accommodating enough to add descriptive legends of the scenes which they depict,—Achilles, Hercules, Theseus, and all the other heroes are carefully named, usually with the words written above or beside them.
The pottery of Athens, then, is truly Athenian; that is to say, it is genuinely elegant, ornamental, simple, and distinctive. The best of these great vases and mixing bowls are works of art no less than the sculptures of Phidias upon the Parthenon.
Chapter XIII. The Armed Forces of Athens.
85. Military Life at Athens.—Hitherto we have seen almost nothing save the peaceful civic side of Athenian life, but it is a cardinal error to suppose that art, philosophy, farming, manufacturing, commerce, and bloodless home politics sum up the whole of the activities of Attica. Athens is no longer the great imperial state she was in the days of Pericles, but she is still one of the greatest military powers in Greece,[*] and on her present armed strength rests a large share of her prestige and prosperity. Her fleet, which is still her particular boast, must of course be seen at the Peireus; but as we go about the streets of the main city we notice many men, who apparently had recently entered their house doors as plain, harmless citizens, now emerging, clad in all the warrior's bravery, and hastening towards one of the gates. Evidently a review is to be held of part of the citizen army of Athens. If we wish, we can follow and learn much of the Greek system of warfare in general and of the Athenian army in particular.
[*]Of course the greatest military power of Greece had been Sparta until 371 B.C., when the battle of Leuctra made Thebes temporarily "the first land power."
Even at the present day, when there is plenty of complaint that Athenians are not willing to imitate the sturdy campaigning of their fathers, the citizens seem always at war, or getting ready for it. Every citizen, physically fit, is liable to military service from his eighteenth to his sixtieth year. To make efficient soldiers is really the main end of the constant physical exercise. If a young man takes pride in his hard and fit body, if he flings spears at the stadium, and learns to race in full armor, if he goes on long marches in the hot sun, if he sleeps on the open hillside, or lies on a bed of rushes watching the moon rise over the sea,—it is all to prepare himself for a worthy part in the "big day" when Athens will confront some old or new enemy on the battlefield. A great deal of the conversation among the younger men is surely not about Platonic ideals, Demosthenes's last political speech, nor the best fighting cocks; it is about spears, shield-straps, camping ground, rations, ambuscades, or the problems of naval warfare.
It is alleged with some show of justice that by this time Athenians are so enamored with the pleasures of peaceful life that they prefer to pay money for mercenary troops rather than serve themselves on distant expeditions; and certain it is that there are plenty of Arcadians, Thracians, and others, from the nations which supply the bulk of the mercenaries, always in Athenian pay in the outlying garrisons. Still the old military tradition and organization for the citizens is kept up, and half a generation later, when the freedom of Athens is blasted before Philip the Macedonian at Cheroneia, it will be shown that if the Athenian militia does not know how to conquer, it at least knows how to die. So we gladly follow to the review, and gather our information.
86. The Organization of the Athenian Army.—After a young "ephebus" has finished his two years of service in the garrisons he returns home subject to call at the hour of need. When there is necessity to make up an army, enough men are summoned to meet the required number and no more. Thus for a small force only the eligibles between say twenty and twenty-four years of age would be summoned; but in a crisis all the citizens are levied up to the very graybeards. The levy is conducted by the ten "Strategi" (at once 'generals,' 'admirals,' and 'war ministers') who control the whole armed power of Athens. The recruits summoned have to come with three days' rations to the rendezvous, usually to the Lyceum wrestling ground just outside the city. In case of a general levy the old men are expected to form merely a home guard for the walls; the young men must be ready for hard service over seas.
The organization of the Athenian army is very simple; each of the ten Attic tribes sends its own special battalion or "taxis," which is large or small according to the total size of the levy.[*] These "taxeis" are subdivided into companies or "lochoi," of about an average of 100 men each. The "taxeis" are each under a tribal-colonel ("taxiarch"), and each company under its captain ("locharch"). The ten strategi theoretically command the whole army together, but since bitter experience teaches that ten generals are usually nine too many, a special decree of the people often entrusts the supreme command of a force to one commander, or at most to not over three. The other strategi must conduct other expeditions, or busy themselves with their multifarious home duties.
[*]Thus if 3000 men were called out, the average "taxis" would be 300 strong, but if 6000, then 600.
87. The Hoplites and the Light Troops.—The unit of the Athenian citizen army, like practically all Greek armies, is the heavy armed infantry soldier, the HOPLITE. An army of "three thousand men" is often an army of so many hoplites, unless there is specific statement to the contrary. But really it is of six thousand men, to be entirely accurate: for along with every hoplite goes an attendant, a "light-armed man," either a poor citizen who cannot afford a regular suit of armor,[*] or possibly a trusted slave. These "light-armed men" carry the hoplites' shields until the battle, and most of the baggage. They have javelins, and sometimes slings and bows. They act as skirmishers before the actual battle: and while the hoplites are in the real death-grip they harass the foe as they can, and guard the camp. When the fight is done they do their best to cover the retreat, or slaughter the flying foe if their own hoplites are victorious.
[*]The hoplite's panoply (see description later) was sufficiently expensive to imply that its owner was at least a man in tolerable circumstances.
88. The Cavalry and the Peltasts.—There are certain divisions of the army besides the hoplites and this somewhat ineffective light infantry. There is a cavalry corps of 1000. Wealthy young Athenians are proud to volunteer therein; it is a sign of wealth to be able to provide your war horse. The cavalry too is given the place of honor in the great religious processions; and there is plenty of chance for exciting scouting service on the campaign. Again, the cavalry service has something to commend it in that it is accounted MUCH SAFER than the infantry![*] The cavalry is, however, a rather feeble fighting instrument. Greek riders have no saddles and no stirrups. They are merely mounted on thin horse pads, and it is very hard to grip the horse with the knees tightly enough to keep from being upset ignominiously while wielding the spear. The best use for the cavalry perhaps is for the riders to take a sheaf of javelins, ride up and discharge them at the foe as skirmishers, then fall back behind the hoplites; though after the battle the horsemen will have plenty to do in the retreat or the pursuit.
[*]Greeks could seldom have been brought to imitate the reckless medieval cavaliers. The example of Leonidas at Thermopyle was more commended than imitated. Outside of Sparta at least, few Greeks would have hesitated to flee from a battlefield, when the day (despite their proper exertions) had been wholly lost.
The Athenians have of course the Scythian police archers to send into any battle near Athens; they can also hire mercenary archers from Crete, but the Greek bows are relatively feeble, only three or four feet long—by no means equal to the terrible yew bows which will win glory for England in the Middle Ages. There has also come into vogue, especially since the Peloponnesian war, an improved kind of light-javelin-men,—the "Peltasts,"—with small shields, and light armor, but with extra long lances. In recent warfare this type of soldier, carefully trained and agile, has been known to defeat bodies of the old-style over-encumbered hoplites.[*] Nevertheless, most veteran soldiers still believe that the heavy infantryman is everything, and the backbone of nearly every Greek army is still surely the hoplite. He will continue to be the regular fighting unit until the improved "phalanx," and the "Companion Cavalry" of Philip and Alexander of Macedon teach the captains of the world new lessons.
[*]Especially the Athenian general Iphicrates was able to cut to pieces a "mora" (brigade) of Spartan hoplites, in 392 B.C., by skillful use of a force of peltasts.
89. The Panoply of the Hoplite.—We have passed out one of the gates and are very likely in a convenient open space south and east of the city stretching away toward the ever visible slopes of gray Hymettus. Here is a suitable parade ground. The citizen soldiers are slipping on their helmets and tightening up their cuirasses. Trumpets blow from time to time to give orders to "fall in" among the respective "lochoi" and "taxeis." There is plenty of time to study the arms and armor of the hoplites during these preliminaries.
A very brief glance at the average infantryman's defensive weapons tells us that to be able to march, maneuver, and fight efficiently in this armor implies that the Athenian soldier is a well-trained athlete. The whole panoply weighs many pounds.[*] The prime parts in the armor are the helmet, the cuirass, the greaves, and the shield. Every able-bodied citizen of moderate means has this outfit hanging in his andronitis, and can don it at brief notice. The HELMET is normally of bronze; it is cut away enough in front to leave the face visible, but sometimes a cautious individual will insist on having movable plates (which can be turned up and down) to protect the cheeks.[+] Across the top there runs a firm metal ridge to catch any hard down-right blow, and set into the ridge is a tall nodding crest either of horsehair or of bright feathers—in either case the joy and glory of the wearer.
[*]Possibly fifty or more—we have no correct means for an exact estimate. [A note from Brett: Looking at web sites where reconstruction of the armor has been done and estimates made (ca. 1999) there seems to be a consistent top end of 70 pounds. Scholarly circles (e.g. Rudolph Storch of the University of Maryland) seem to lock the estimate more tightly, with the consensus saying that a fully armored Hoplite carried between 60 and 70 pounds. Most of this weight seems to be in the cuirass, which in some cases was linen and weighed only 10-15 pounds (the actual thickness is unknown, so the broad range of weight estimate covers the minimum to maximum reasonable thickness). For reference, a modern (2000) soldier is generally limited to 50 pounds of gear when fighting and 70 pounds when marching.]
[+]The "Corinthian" type of helmets came more closely over the face, and the cheek protectors were not movable; these helmets were much like the closed helms of the medieval knights. The Spartans, in their contempt for danger, wore plain pointed steel caps which gave relatively little protection.
Buckled around the soldier's body is the CUIRASS. It comprises a breastplate and a back piece of bronze, joined by thongs, or by straps with a buckle. The metal comes down to the hips. Below it hangs a thick fringe of stout strips of leather strengthened with bright metallic studs, and reaching halfway to the knees. From this point to the knees the legs are bare, but next come the GREAVES, thin pliable plates of bronze fitted to the shape of the leg, and opening at the back. They have to be slipped on, and then are fastened at the knees and ankle with leathern straps.
But the warrior's main protection is his SHIELD. With a strong, large shield you can fight passing well without any regular body armor; while with the best outfit of the latter you are highly vulnerable without your shield. To know how to swing your shield so as to catch every possible blow, to know how to push and lunge with it against an enemy, to know how to knock a man down with it, if needs be, THAT is a good part of the soldier's education. The shield is sometimes round, but more often oval. It is about four feet by the longest diameter. It is made of several layers of heavy bull's hide, firmly corded and riveted together, and has a good metal rim and metal boss in the center. On the inside are two handles so that it can be conveniently wielded on the left arm.[*] These shields are brilliantly painted, and although the Greeks have no heraldic devices, there are all manner of badges and distinguishing marks in vogue. Thus all Theban shields are blazoned with a club; Sicyonian shields are marked with the initial "Sigma" (S), and we note that the Athenian shields are all marked Alpha (A).[+]
[*]Earlier Greek shields seem to have been very large and correspondingly heavy. These had only a single handle; and to aid in shifting them they were swung on straps passed over the left shoulder.
[+]This last is a matter of safe inference rather than of positive information.
90. The Weapons of a Hoplite.—The hoplites have donned their armor. Now they assume their offensive weapons. Every man has a lance and a sword. The LANCE is a stout weapon with a solid wooden butt, about six feet long in all. It is really too heavy to use as a javelin. It is most effective as a pike thrust fairly into a foeman's face, or past his shield into a weak spot in his cuirass. The sword is usually kept as a reserve weapon in case the lance gets broken. It is not over 25 inches in length, making rather a huge double-edged vicious knife than a saber; but it is terrible for cut and thrust work at very close quarters. Simple as these weapons are, they are fearful instruments of slaughter in well-trained hands, and the average Greek has spent a considerable part of his life in being taught how to use them.
91. Infantry Maneuvers.—The final trumpets have blown, and the troops fall into their places. Each tribal "taxis" lines up its "lochoi." The Greeks have no flags nor standards. There is a great deal of shouting by the subaltern officers, and running up and down the ranks. Presently everything is in formal array. The hoplites stand in close order, each man about two feet from the next,[*] leaving no gaps between each division from end to end of the lines. The men are set in eight long ranks. This is the normal "phalanx"[+] order. Only those in front can actually lunge and strike at the enemy. The men in the rear will add to the battering force of the charge, and crowding in closely, wedge themselves promptly to the front, when any of the first rank goes down.
[*]The object would be to give each man just enough distance to let him make fair use of his lance, and yet have his shield overlap that of his neighbor.
[+]The "phalanx" is sometimes spoken of as a Macedonian invention, but Philip and Alexander simply improved upon an old Greek military formation.
It is an imposing sight when the strategos in charge of the maneuvers, a stately man in a red chlamys, gives the final word "March!"
Loud pipes begin screaming. The long lines of red, blue, and orange plumes nod fiercely together. The sun strikes fire out of thousands of brandished lance tips. The phalanx goes swinging away over the dusty parade ground, the subalterns up and down the files muttering angrily to each inapt recruit to "Keep your distance:" or "Don't advance your shield." The commandant duly orders the "Half turn:" "Left" or "Right turn:" "Formation by squares," and finally the critical "Change front to rear." If this last maneuver is successfully accomplished, the strategos will compliment the drill sergeants; for it is notoriously difficult to turn a ponderous phalanx around and yet make it keep good order. The drilling goes on until the welcome order comes, "Ground arms!" and every perspiring soldier lets his heavy shield slip from his arm upon the ground.
92. The Preliminaries of a Greek Battle.—Later in the day, if these are happy times of peace, the whole phalanx, so bristling and formidable, will have resolved itself into its harmless units of honest citizens all streaming home for dinner.
Our curiosity of course asks how does this army act upon the campaign; what, in other words, is a typical Greek battle? This is not hard to describe. Greek battles, until lately, have been fought according to set formule in which there is little room for original generalship, though much for ordinary circumspection and personal valor. A battle consists in the charging together of two phalanxes of hoplites of about equal numbers. If one army greatly overmatches the other, the weaker side will probably retire without risking a contest. With a common purpose, therefore, the respective generals will select a broad stretch of level ground for the struggle, since stony, hilly, or uneven ground will never do for the maneuvering of hoplites. The two armies, after having duly come in sight of one another, and exchanged defiances by derisive shouts, catcalls, and trumpetings, will probably each pitch its camp (protected by simple fortifications) and perhaps wait over night, that the men may be well rested and have a good dinner and breakfast. The soldiers will be duly heartened up by being told of any lucky omens of late,—how three black crows were seen on the right, and a flash of lightning on the left; and the seers and diviners with the army will, at the general's orders, repeat any hopeful oracles they can remember or fabricate, e.g. predicting ruin for Thebes, or victory for Athens. In the morning the soldiers have breakfast, then the lines are carefully arrayed a little beyond bowshot from the enemy, who are preparing themselves in similar fashion. Every man has his arms in order, his spear point and sword just from the whetstone, and every buckle made fast. The general (probably in sight of all the men) will cause the seers to kill a chicken, and examine its entrails. "The omens are good; the color is favorable; the gods are with us!"[*] he announces; and then, since he is a Greek among Greeks, he delivers in loud voice an harangue to as many as can hear him, setting forth the patriotic issues at stake in the battle, the call of the fatherland to its sons, the glory of brave valor, the shame of cowardice, probably ending with some practical directions about "Never edging to the right!" and exhorting his men to raise as loud a war-cry as possible, both to encourage themselves and to demoralize the enemy.
[*]It may be suspected that it was very seldom the omens were ALLOWED to be unfavorable when the general was really resolved on battle.
93. Joining the Battle.—The troops answer with a cheer then join in full chorus in the "Pean—" a fierce rousing charging-song that makes every faint-heart's blood leap faster. Another pean bellowed from the hostile ranks indicates that similar preliminaries have been disposed of there. The moment the fierce chorus ends, the general (who probably is at the post of danger and honor—the right wing) nods to his corps of pipers. The shrill flutes cut the air. The whole phalanx starts forward like one man, and the enemy seem springing to meet it. The tossing color, the flashing arms and armor, make it a sight for men and gods. If the enemy has a powerful archery force, as had the Persians at Marathon, then the phalanx is allowed to advance on the run,—for at all costs one must get through the terrible zone of the arrow fire and come to grips; but if their bowmen are weak, the hoplites will be restrained,—it is better not to risk getting the phalanx disorganized. Running or marching the troops will emit a terrible roaring: either the slow deep "A! la! la! la!" or something quicker, "Eluleu!" "Eluleu!" and the flutes will blow all the while to give the time for the marching.
Closer at hand the two armies will fairly spring into unfriendly embrace. The generals have each measured his enemy's line and extended his own to match it.[*] With files of about equal depth, and well-trained men on both sides, the first stage of the death grapple is likely to be a most fearful yet indecisive pushing: the men of the front ranks pressing against each other, shield to shield, glaring out of their helmets like wild beasts against the foeman three feet away, and lunging with their lances at any opening between the hostile shields or above them. The comrades behind wedge in the front ranks closer and closer. Men are crushed to death, probably without a wound, just by this hellish impact. The shouts and yells emitted are deafening. There is an unearthly clashing of steel weapons on bronze armor. Every now and then a shrill, sharp cry tells where a soldier has been stabbed, and has gone down in the press, probably trampled to death instantly. In this way the two writhing, thrusting phalanxes continue to push on one another at sheer deadlock, until a cool observer might well wonder whether the battle would not end simply with mutual extermination.
[*]Any sudden attempt to extend your line BEYOND the foe's, so as to outflank him, would probably have produced so much confusion in your own phalanx as to promise certain disaster. Of course for an inferior force to accept battle by thinning its line, to be able by extending to meet the long lines of the enemy, would involve the greatest risk of being broken through at the center. The best remedy for inferior numbers was manifestly to decline a decisive battle.
94. The Climax and End of the Battle.—Boot look away now from the center, towards the two wings. What the generals of BOTH contending armies have feared and warned against has come to pass. Every hoplite is admirably covered by his great shield on his left side; but his right is unprotected. It is almost impossible to resist the impulse to take a step toward the right to get under the cover of a comrade's shield. And he in turn has been edging to the right likewise. The whole army ahs in fact done so, and likewise the whole phalanx of the enemy. So after a quarter of an hour of brisk fighting, the two hosts, which began by joining with lines exactly facing each other, have each edged along so much that each overlaps the other on the right wing, thus:
What will happen now is easy to predict with assurance up to a certain point. The overlapping right wings will EACH promptly turn the left flank of their enemies, and falling upon the foe front and rear catch them almost helpless. The hoplite is an admirable soldier when standing shoulder to shoulder with his comrades facing his foe; but once beset in the rear he is so wedged in by the press that it is next to impossible for him to turn and fight effectively. Either he will be massacred as he stands or the panic will spread betimes, and simultaneously both left wings will break formation and hurry off the field in little better than flight.
Now will come the real test of discipline and deliberate valor. Both centers are holding stoutly. Everything rests on the respective victorious right wings. Either they will foolishly forget that there is still fighting elsewhere on the field, and with ill-timed huzzaing pursue the men they have just routed, make for their camp to plunder it, or worse still, disperse to spoil the slain; or, if they can heed their general's entreaties, keep their ranks, and wheeling around come charging down on the rear of the enemy's center. If one right wing does this, while the hostile right wing has rushed off in heedless pursuit, the battle is infallibly won by the men who have kept their heads; but if both right wings turn back, then the real death grapple comes when these two sets of victors in the first phase of the contest clash together in a decisive grapple.
By this time the original phalanx formations, so orderly, and beautiful, have become utterly shattered. The field is covered by little squares or knots of striking, cursing, raging men—clashing furiously together. If there are any effective reserves, now is the time to fling them into the scale. The hitherto timorous light troops and armor bearers rush up to do what they can. Individual bravery and valor count now to the uttermost. Little by little the contest turns against one side or the other. The crucial moment comes. The losing party begins to fear itself about to be surrounded. Vain are the last exhortations of the officers to rally them. "Every man for himself!" rings the cry; and with one mad impulse the defeated hoplites rush off the field in a rout. Since they have been at close grip with their enemies, and now must turn their ill-protected backs to the pursuing spears, the massacre of the defeated side is sometimes great. Yet not so great as might be imagined. Once fairly beaten, you must strip off helmet and cuirass, cast away shield and spear, and run like a hare. You have lightened yourself now decidedly. But your foe must keep HIS ponderous arms, otherwise he cannot master you, if he overtakes you. Therefore the vanquished can soon distance the victors unless the latter have an unusually efficient cavalry and javelin force. However, the victors are likely to enter the camp of the vanquished, and to celebrate duly that night dividing the plunder.
95. The Burial Truce and the Trophy after the Battle.—A few hours after the battle, while the victors are getting breath and refreshing themselves, a shamefaced herald, bearing his sacred wand of office, presents himself. He is from the defeated army, and comes to ask a burial truce. This is the formal confession of defeat for which the victors have been waiting. It would be gross impiety to refuse the request; and perhaps the first watch of the nigh is spent by detachments of both sides in burying or burning the dead.
The fates of prisoners may be various. They may be sold as slaves. If the captors are pitiless and vindictive, it is not contrary to the laws of war to put the prisoners to death in cold blood; but by the fourth century B.C. Greeks are becoming relatively humane. Most prisoners will presently be released against a reasonable ransom paid by their relatives.
The final stage of the battle is the trophy: the visible sign on the battlefield that here such-and-such a side was victorious. The limbs are lopped off a tree, and some armor captured from the foe is hung upon it. After indecisive battles sometimes both sides set up trophies; in that case a second battle is likely to settle the question. Then when the victors have recovered from their own happy demoralization, they march into the enemy's country; by burning all the farmsteads, driving off the cattle, filling up the wells, girdling the olive and fruit trees, they reduce the defeated side (that has fled to its fortified town) to desperation. If they have any prisoners, they threaten to put them to death. The result, of course, is frequently a treaty of peace in favor of the victors.
96. The Siege of Fortified Towns.—If, however, one party cannot be induced to risk an open battle; or if, despite a defeat, it allows the enemy to ravage the fields, and yet persists in defending the walls of its town,—the war is likely to be tedious and indecisive. It is notorious that Greeks dislike hard sieges. The soldiers are the fellow townsmen of the generals. If the latter order an assault with scaling ladders and it is repulsed with bloody loss, the generals risk a prosecution when they get home for "casting away the lives of their fellow citizens."[*] In short, fifty men behind a stout wall and "able to throw anything" are in a position to defy an army.
[*]In siege warfare Oriental kings had a great advantage over Greek commanders. The former could sacrifice as many of their "slaves" as they pleased, in desperate assaults. The latter had always to bear in mind their accountability at home for any desperate and costly attack.
The one really sure means of taking a town is to build a counter wall around it and starve it out,—a slow and very expensive, thought not bloody process. Only when something very great is at stake will a Greek city-state attempt this.[*] There is always another chance, however. Almost every Greek town has a discontented faction within its walls, and many a time there will be a traitor who will betray a gate to the enemy; and then the siege will be suddenly ended in one murderous night.
[*]As in the siege of Potidea (432-429 B.C.), when if Athens had failed to take the place, her hold upon her whole empire would have been jeopardized.
97. The Introduction of New Tactics.—Greek battles are thus very simple things as a rule. It is the general who, accepting the typical conditions as he finds them, and avoiding any gross and obvious blunders, can put his men in a state of perfect fitness, physical and moral, that is likely to win the day. Of late there has come indeed a spirit of innovation. At Leuctra (371 B.C.) Epaminodas the Theban defeated the Spartans by the unheard-of device of massing a part of his hoplites fifty deep (instead of the orthodox eight or twelve) and crushing the Spartan right wing by the sheer weight of his charge, before the rest of the line came into action at all. If the experiment had not succeeded, Epaminondas would probably have been denounced by his own countrymen as a traitor, and by the enemy as a fool, for varying from the time-honored long, "even line" phalanx; and the average general will still prefer to keep to the old methods; then if anything happens, HE at least will not be blamed for any undue rashness. Only in Macedon, King Philip II (who is just about to come to the throne) will not hesitate to study the new battle tactics of Epaminondas, and to improve upon them.
The Athenians will tell us that their citizen hoplites are a match for any soldiers in Greece, except until lately the Spartans, and now (since Leuctra) possibly the Thebans. But Corinthians, Argives, Sicyonians, they can confront more readily. They will also add, quite properly, that the army of Athens is in the main for home defense. She does not claim to be a preeminently military state. The glory of Athens has been the mastery of the sea. Our next excursion must surely be to the Peireus.
Chapter XIV. The Peireus and the Shipping.
98. The "Long Walls" down to the Harbor Town.—It is some five miles from the city to the Peireus, and the most direct route this time lies down the long avenue laid between the Long Walls, and running almost directly southwest.[*] The ground is quite level. If we could catch glimpses beyond the walls, we would see fields, seared brown perhaps by the summer sun, and here and there a bright-kerchiefed woman gleaning among the wheat stubble. The two walls start from Athens close together and run parallel for some distance, then they gradually diverge so as to embrace within their open angle a large part of the circumference of the Peireus. This open space is built up with all kinds of shops, factories, and houses, usually of the less aristocratic kind. In fact, all the noxious sights and odors to be found in Athens seem tenfold multiplied as we approach the Peireus.
[*]These were the walls whereof a considerable section was thrown down by Lysander after the surrender of Athens [404 B.C.]. The demolition was done to the "music of flute girls," and was fondly thought by the victors to mean the permanent crippling of Athens, and therefore "the first day of the liberty of Greece." In 393 B.C., by one of the ironies of history, Conon, an Athenian admiral, but in the service of the king of Persia, who was then at war with Sparta, appeared in the Peireus, and WITH PERSIAN MEN AND MONEY rebuilt the walls amid the rejoicings of the Athenians.
The straight highroad is swarming with traffic: clumsy wagons are bringing down marble from the mountains; other wains are headed toward Athens with lumber and bales of foreign wares. Countless donkeys laden with panniers are being flogged along. A great deal of the carrying is done by half-naked sweating porters; for, after all, slave-flesh is almost as cheap as beast-flesh. So by degrees the two walls open away from us: before us now expands the humming port town; we catch the sniff of the salt brine, and see the tangle of spars of the multifarious shipping. Right ahead, however, dominating the whole scene, is a craggy height,—the hill of Munychia, crowned with strong fortifications, and with houses rising terrace above terrace upon its slopes. At the very summit glitters in its white marble and color work the temple of Artemis Munychia, the guardian goddess of the port town and its citadel.[*]
[*]This fortress of Munychia, rather than the Acropolis in Athens was the real citadel of Attica. It dominated the all-important harbors on which the very life of the state depended.
99. Munychia and the Havens of Athens.—Making our way up a steep lane upon the northwestern slope, we pass within the fortifications, the most formidable near Athens. A band of young ephebi of the garrison eye us as we enter; but we seem neither Spartans nor Thebans and are not molested. From a convenient crag near the temple, the whole scheme of the harbors of Athens is spread out before us, two hundred and eighty odd feet below. Behind us is the familiar plain of Athens with the city, the Acropolis, and the guardian mountains. Directly west lies the expanse of roof of the main harbor town, and then beyond is the smooth blue expanse of the "Port of the Peireus," the main mercantile harbor of Athens. Running straight down from Munychia, southwest, the land tapers off into a rocky promontory, entirely girt with strong fortifications. In this stretch of land are two deep round indentations. Cups of bright water they seem, communicating with the outer sea only by narrow entrances which are dominated by stout castles. "Zea" is the name of the more remote; the "haven" of "Munychia" is that which seems opening almost at our feet. These both are full of the naval shipping, whereof more hereafter. To the eastward, and stretching down the coast, is a long sandy beach whereon the blue ripples are crumbling between the black fishing boats drawn up upon the strand. This is Phaleron, the old harbor of Athens before Themistocles fortified the "Peireus"—merely an open roadstead in fact, but still very handy for small craft, which can be hauled up promptly to escape the tempest.
100. The Glorious View from the Hill of Munychia.—These are the chief points in the harbors; but the view from Munychia is most extensive. Almost everything in sight has its legend or its story in sober history. Ten miles away to the southward rise the red rocky hills of Aegina, Athens' old island enemy; and the tawny headlands of the Argolic coasts are visible yet farther across he horizon. Again as we follow the purplish ridge of Mount Aegaleos as it runs down the Attic coast to westward, we come to a headland then to a belt of azure water, about a mile wide, then the reddish hills of an irregular island. Every idler on the citadel can tell us all the story. On that headland on a certain fateful morning sat Xerxes, lord of the Persians, with his sword-hands and mighty men about him and his ships before him, to look down on the naval spectacle and see how his slaves would fight. The island beyond is "holy Salamis," and in this narrow strip of water has been the battle which saved the life of Hellas. Every position in the contest seems clearly in sight, even the insignificant islet of Psytteleia, where Aristeides had landed his men after the battle, and massacred the Persions stationed there "to cut off the Greeks who tried to escape."
The water is indescribably blue, matching the azure of the sky. Ships of all kinds under sails or oars are moving lightly over the havens and the open Saronic bay. It is matchless spectacle—albeit very peaceful. We now descend to the Peireus proper and examine the merchant shipping and wharves, leaving the navy yards and the fighting triremes till later.
101. The Town of Peireus.—The Peireus has all the life of the Athenian Agora many times multiplied. Everywhere there is work and bustle. Aristophanes has long since described the impression it makes on strangers,[*]—sailors clamoring for pay, rations being served out, figureheads being burnished, men trafficking for corn, for onions, for leeks, for figs,—"wreaths, anchovies, flute girls, blackened eyes, the hammering of oars from the dock yards, the fitting of rowlocks, boatswains' pipes, fifes, and whistling." There is such confusion one can hardly analyze one's surroundings. However, we soon discover the Peireus has certain advantages over Athens itself. The streets are much wider and are quite straight,[+] crossing at right angles, unlike the crooked alleys of old Athens which seem nothing but built-up cow trails. Down at the water front of the main harbor ("the Peireus" harbor to distinguish it from Zea and Munychia) we find about one third, nearest the entrance passage and called the Cantharus, reserved for the use of the war navy. This section is the famous "Emporium," which is such a repository of foreign wares that Isocrates boasts that here one can easily buy all those things which it is extremely hard to purchase anywhere else in Hellas. Along the shore run five great stoas or colonnades, all used by the traders for different purposes;—among them are the Long Stoa (Makra' Stoa'), the "Deigma" (see section 78) used as a sample house by the wholesalers, and the great Corn Exchange built by Pericles. Close down near the wharves stands also a handsome and frequented temple, that of Athena Euploia (Athena, Giver of good Voyages), to whom many a shipman offers prayer ere hoisting sail, and many another comes to pay grateful vows after surviving a storm.[&] Time fails us for mentioning all the considerable temples farther back in the town. The Peireus in short is a semi-independent community; with its shrines, its agoras, its theaters, its court rooms, and other public buildings. The population contains a very high percentage of metics, and downright Barbarians,—indeed, long-bearded Babylonians, clean bronze Egyptians, grinning Ethiopians, never awaken the least comment, they are so familiar.
[*]"Acharn." 54 ff.
[+]Pericles employed the famous architect Hippodamus to lay out the Peireus. It seems to have been arranged much like many of the newer American cities.
[&]There seems to have been still another precinct, sacred to "Zeus and Athena the Preservers," where it was very proper to offer thanksgivings after a safe voyage.
102. The Merchant Shipping.—We can now cast more particular eyes upon the shipping. Every possible type is represented. The fishing craft just now pulling in with loads of shining tunnies caught near Aegina are of course merely broad open boats, with only a single dirty orange sail swinging in the lagging breeze. Such vessels indeed depend most of the time upon their long oars. Also just now there goes across the glassy surface of the harbor a slim graceful rowing craft, pulling eight swiftly plying oars to a side. She is a "Lembus:" probably the private cutter of the commandant of the port. Generally speaking, however, we soon find that all the larger Greek ships are divided into two categories, the "long ships" and the "round ships." The former depend mainly on oars and are for war; the latter trust chiefly to sail power and are for cargo. The craft in the merchant haven are of course nearly all of this last description.
Greeks are clever sailors. They never feel really happy at a great distance from the sea which so penetrates their little country; nevertheless, they have not made all the progress in navigation which, considering the natural ingenuity of the race, might well be expected. The prime difficulty is that Greek ships very seldom have comfortable cabins. The men expect to sleep on shore every night possible. Only in a great emergency, or when crossing an exceptionally wide gulf or channel,[*] can a captain expect the average crew to forego the privilege of a warm supper and bivouac upon the strand. This means (since safe anchorages are by no means everywhere) the ships must be so shallow and light they can often be hauled up upon the beach. Even with a pretty large crew, therefore, the limit to a manageable ship is soon reached; and during the whole of the winter season all long-distance voyaging has to be suspended; while, even in summer, nine sailors out of ten hug close to the land, despite the fact that often the distance of a voyage is thereby doubled.
[*]For example, the trip from Crete to Cyrene—which would be demanded first, before coasting along to Egypt.
However, the ships at Peireus, if not large in size, are numerous enough. Some are simply big open boats with details elaborated. They have a small forecastle and poop built over, but the cargo in the hold is exposed to all wind and weather. The propulsion comes from a single unwieldy square sail swinging on a long yard the whole length of the vessel. Other ships are more completely decked, and depend on two square sails in the place of one. A few, however, are real "deep sea" vessels—completely decked, with two or even three masts; with cabins of tolerable size, and forward and aft curious projections, like turrets,—the use whereof is by no means obvious, but we soon gather that pirates still abound on the distant seas, and that these turrets are useful when it comes to repelling boarders. The very biggest of these craft run up to 250 gross tons (later day register),[*] although with these ponderous defense-works they seem considerably larger. The average of the ships, however, will reckon only 30 to 40 tons or even smaller. It is really a mistake, any garrulous sailor will tell us, to build merchant ships much bigger. It is impossible to make sailing vessels of the Greek model and rig sail very close to the wind; and in every contrary breeze or calm, recourse must be had to the huge oars pile up along the gunwales. Obviously it is weary work propelling a large ship with oars unless you have a huge and expensive crew,—far better then to keep to the smaller vessels.
[*]The Greeks reckoned their ships by their capacity in talents (= about 60 lbs.), e.g. a ship of 500 talents, of 2000, or (among the largest) 10,000.
103. The Three War Harbors and the Ship House.—Many other points about these "round ships" interest us; but such matters they share with the men-of-war, and our inspection has now brought us to the navy yard. There are strictly three separate navy yards, one at each of the harbors of Munychia, Zea, and Cantharus, for the naval strength of Athens is so great that it is impossible to concentrate the entire fleet at one harbor. Each of these establishments is protected by having two strong battlements or breakwaters built out, nearly closing the respective harbor entrances. At the end of each breakwater is a tower with parapets for archers, and capstans for dragging a huge chain across the harbor mouth, thus effectively sealing the entrance to any foe.[*] The Zea haven has really the greatest warship capacity, but the Cantharus is a good type for the three.[+] As we approach it from the merchant haven, we see the shelving shore closely lined with curious structures which do not easily explain themselves. There are a vast number of dirty, shelving roofs, slightly tilted upward towards the land side, and set at right angles to the water's edge. They are each about 150 feet long, some 25 feet wide, about 20 feet high, and are set up side by side with no passage between. On close inspection we discover these are ship houses. Under each of the roofs is accommodated the long slim hull of a trireme, kept safe from sea and weather until the time of need, when a few minutes' work at a tackle and capstan will send it down into harbor, ready to tow beside a wharf for outfitting.
[*]Ancient harbors were much harder to defend than modern ones, because there was no long-range artillery to prevent an enemy from thrusting into an open haven among defenseless shipping.
[+]Zea had accommodation for 196 triremes, Munychia, 82, and the Cantharus, 94.
104. The Great Naval Arsenal.—The ship houses are not the only large structures at the navy yard. Here is also the great naval arsenal, a huge roofed structure open at the sides and entirely exposed to public inspection. Here between the lines of supporting columns can be seen stacked up the staple requisites for the ships,—great ropes, sail boxes, anchors, oars, etc. Everybody in Athens is welcome to enter and assure himself that the fleet can be outfitted at a minute's notice[*]; and at all times crews of half-naked, weather-beaten sailors are rushing hither and yon, carrying or removing supplies to and from the wharves where their ships are lying.
[*]This arsenal was replaced a little later than the hypothetical time of this narrative by one designed by the famous architect, Philo. It was extremely elegant as well as commodious, with handsome columns, tiled roofs, etc. In 360 B.C., however, the arsenal seems to have been a strictly utilitarian structure.
105. An Athenian Triearch.—Among this unaristocratic crowd we observe a dignified old gentleman with an immaculate himation and a long polished cane. Obsequious clerks and sailing masters are hanging about him for his orders; it is easy to see that he is a TRIERARCH—one of the wealthiest citizens on whom it fell, in turn, at set intervals, to provide the less essential parts of a trireme's outfit, and at least part of the pay for the crew for one year, and to be generally responsible for the efficiency and upkeep of the vessel.[*] This is a year of peace, and the patriotic pressure to spend as much on your warship as possible is not so great as sometimes; still Eustatius, the magnate in question, knows that he will be bitterly criticized (nay, perhaps prosecuted in the courts) if he does not do "the generous thing." He is therefore ordering an extra handsome figurehead; promising a bonus to the rowing master if he can get his hands to row in better rhythm than the ordinary crew; and directing that wine of superior quality be sent aboard for the men.[+] It will be an anxious year in any case for Eustathius. He has ill wishers who will watch carefully to see if the vessel fails to make a creditable record for herself during the year, and whether she is returned to the ship house or to the next trierarch in a state of good repair. If the craft does not then appear seaworthy, her last outfitter may be called upon to rebuild her completely, a matter which will eat up something like a talent. Public service therefore does not provide beds of roses for the rich men of Athens.
[*]Just how much of the rigging and what fraction of the pay of the crew the government provided is by no means clear from our evidence. It is certain that a public-spirited and lavish trierarch could almost ruin himself (unless very wealthy) during the year he was responsible for the vessel.
[+]According to various passages in Demosthenes, the cost of a trierachy for a year varied between 40 mine (say $540 [1914 or $9,304.20 in 2000]) and a talent (about $1000 [1914 or $17,230 in 2000]), very large sums for Athenians. The question of the amount of time spent in active service in foreign waters would of course do much to determine the outlay.
Eustathius goes away towards one of the wharves, where his trireme, the "Invincible," is moored with her crew aboard her. Let us examine a typical Athenian warship.
106. The Evolution of the Trireme.—The genesis of the trireme was the old PENTECONTER ("fifty-oar ship") which, in its prime features, was simply a long, narrow, open hull, with slightly raised prow and stern cabins, pulling twenty-five oars to a side. There are a few penteconters still in existence, though the great naval powers have long since scorned them. It was a good while before the battle of salamis that the Greek sea warriors began to feel the need of larger warships. It was impossible to continue the simple scheme of the penteconter. To get more oars all on one tier you must make a longer boat, but you could not increase the beam, for, if you did, the whole craft would get so heavy that it would not row rapidly; and the penteconter was already so long in relation to its beam as to be somewhat unsafe. A device was needed to get more oars into the water without increasing the length over much. The result was the BIREME (two-banker) which was speedily replaced by the still more efficient TRIREME (three-banker), the standard battleship of all the Greek navies.[*]
[*]By the end of the fourth century B.C., vessels with four and five banks of oars (quadriremes and quinqueremes) had become the regular fighting ships, but they differed probably only in size, not in principle, from the trireme.
107. The Hull of a Trireme.—The "Invincible" has a hull of fir strengthened by a solid oak keel, very essential if she is to be hauled up frequently. Her hull is painted black, but there is abundance of scarlet, bright blue, and gilding upon her prow, stern, and upper works. The slim hull itself is about 140 feet long, 14 feet wide, and rides the harbor so lightly as to show it draws very little water; for the warship, even more perhaps than the merchantman, is built on the theory that her crew must drag her up upon the beach almost every night.
While we study the vessel we are soon told that, although triremes have been in general use since, say, 500 B.C., nevertheless the ships that fought at Salamis were decidedly simpler affairs than those of three generations later. In those old "aphract" vessels the upper tier of rowers had to sit exposed on their benches with no real protection from the enemy's darts; but in the new "cataphract" ships like the "Invincible" there is a stout solid bulwark built up to shield the oarsmen from hostile sight and missiles alike. All this makes the ships of Demosthene's day much handsomer, taller affairs than their predecessors which Themistocles commanded; nevertheless the old and the new triremes have most essentials in common. The day is far off when a battleship twenty years old will be called "hopelessly obsolete" by the naval critics.[*]
[*]There is some reason for believing that an Athenian trireme was kept in service for many years, with only incidental repairs, and then could still be counted as fit to take her place in the line of battle.
The upper deck of the trireme is about eleven feet above the harbor waves, but the lowest oar holes are raised barely three feet. Into the intervening space the whole complicated rowing apparatus has to be crammed with a good deal of ingenuity. Running along two thirds of the length of the hull nearly the whole interior of the vessel is filled with a series of seats and foot rests rising in sets of three. Each man has a bench and a kind of stool beneath him, and sits close to a porthole. The feet of the lowest rower are near the level of the water line; swinging two feet above him and only a little behind him is his comrade of the second tier; higher and behind in turn is he of the third.[*] Running down the center of the ship on either side of these complicated benches is a broad, central gangway, just under the upper deck. Here the supernumeraries will take refuge from the darts in battle, and here the regular rowers will have to do most of their eating, resting, and sleeping when they are not actually on the benches or on shore.
[*]The exact system by which these oar benches were arranged, the crew taught to swing together (despite the inequalities in the length of their oars), and several other like problems connected with the trireme, have received no satisfactory solution by modern investigators. [Note from Brett: Between 1985 and 1987 John Morrison and John Coates oversaw a reproduction of a trireme which has an excellent study of bench arrangements and several other problems connected with the trireme were likely solved.]
108. The Rowers' Benches of a Trireme.—With her full complement of rowers the benches of the "Invincible" fairly swarm with life. There are 62 rowers to the upper tier (thranites), 58 for the middle tier (zygites), and 54 for the lower (thalamites), each man with his own individual oar. The TRHANITES with the longest oars (full 13 feet 6 inches) have the hardest pull and the largest pay, but not one of the 174 oarsmen holds a sinecure. In ordinary cruising, to be sure, the trireme will make use of her sails, to help out a single bank of oars which must be kept going almost all the time. Even then it is weary work to break your back for a couple of hours taking your turn on the benches. But in battle the trireme almost never uses sails. She becomes a vast, many-footed monster, flying over the foam; and the pace of the three oar banks, swinging together, becomes maddening. Behind their bulwarks the rowers can see little of what is passing. Everything is dependent upon their rowing together in absolute rhythm come what may, and giving instant obedience to orders. The trireme is in one sense like a latter-day steamer in her methods of propulsion; but the driving force is 174 straining, panting humans, not insensate water vapor and steel.
109. The Cabins, Rigging, and Ram of a Trireme.—Forward and aft of the rowers' benches and the great central gangway are the fore and stern cabins. They furnish something akin to tolerable accommodations for the officers and a favored fraction of the crew. Above the forecastle rises a carved proudly curing prow, and just abaft it are high bulwarks to guard the javelin men when at close quarters with the foe. There is also on either side of the prow a huge red or orange "eye" painted around the hawse holes for the anchors. Above the stern cabin is the narrow deck reserved for the pilot, the "governor" of the ship, who will control the whole trireme with a touch now on one, now on the other, of the huge steering paddles which swing at the sides near the stern. Within the stern cabin itself is the little altar, sacred to the god or goddess to whom the vessel is dedicated, and on which incense will be burned before starting on a long cruise and before going into battle. Two masts rise above the deck, a tall mainmast nearly amidships, and a much smaller mast well forward. On each of these a square sail (red, orange, blue, or even, with gala ships, purple) will be swung from a long yard, while the vessel is cruising; but it is useless to set sails in battle. One could never turn the ship quickly enough to complete the maneuvers. The sails and yards will ordinarily be sent ashore as the first measure when the admiral signals "clear ship for action."
We have now examined all of the "Invincible" except for her main weapon,—her beak; for the trireme is really herself one tremendous missile to be flung by the well-trained rowers at the ill-starred foe. Projecting well in front of the prow and close to the water line are three heavy metal spurs serrated one above the other, somewhat thus[*]:
======= ==== ======== ===== /============= / / */
Let this fang once crush against a foeman's broadside, and his timbers are crushed in like eggshells.
[*]Probably at Salamis and in the earlier Athenian army the ram had been composed of a single long, tapering beak.
110. The Officers and Crew of a Trireme.—So much for the "Invincible" herself, but obviously she is a helpless thing without an efficient crew. The life of an oarsman is far from luxurious, but the pay seems to be enough to induce a goodly number of THETES (the poorest class of the Athenian citizens) to accept service, and the rest can be supplied by hired metics or any kind of foreign nondescript who can be brought into discipline. The rowers are of course the real heart and soul of the trireme; but they are useless without proper training. Indeed it was the superior discipline of the Athenian crews which in the days of Themistocles and Pericles gave Athens the supremacy of the seas. The nominal, and sometimes actual, commander of the trireme is her trierarch; but obviously a cultivated old gentleman like Eustathius is no man to manage the ship in a sea fight. He will name some deputy, perhaps a stout young friend or a son, for the real naval work. Even he may not possess great experience. The real commander of the "Invincible" is the "governor" (KYBERNATES), a gnarled old seaman, who has spent all his life upon the water. Nominally his main duty is to act as pilot, but actually he is in charge of the whole ship; and in battle the trierarch (if aboard) will be very glad to obey all his "suggestions." Next to the "governor" there is the PROIREUS, another experienced sailor who will have especial charge of the forecastle in battle. Next in turn are two "oar-masters" (TOIXARCHOI), who are each responsible for the discipline and working of one of the long rowers' benches; and following in grade, though highly important, are the KELEUSTES, and the TRIERAULES, who, by voice and by flute respectively, will give the time and if needs be encouragement to the rowers. These are all the regular officers, but naturally for handling the sails and anchors some common sailors are desirable. The "Invincible" carries 17 of these. She also has 10 marines (EPIBATi), men trained to fight in hoplite's armor and to repel boarders. The Persian ships at Salamis carried 30 such warriors, and often various Greek admirals have crowded their decks with these heavy marines; but the true Athenian sea warrior disdains them. Given a good helmsman and well-trained rowers, and you can sink your opponent with your ram, while he is clumsily trying to board you. Expert opinion considers the EPIBATi somewhat superfluous, and their use in most naval battles as disgracefully unscientific.
111. A Trireme at Sea.—A trireme, then is an heroic fighting instrument. She goes into battle prepared literally to do or die. If her side is once crushed, she fills with water instantly, and the enemy will be too busy and too inhumane to do anything but cheer lustily when they see the water covered with struggling wretches. But the trireme is also a most disagreeable craft before and after the battle. Her light draft sets her tossing on a very mild sea. In the hot southern climate, with very little ventilation beneath the upper deck, with nigh two hundred panting, naked human beings wedged in together below so closely that there is scarce room for one more, the heat, the smells, the drudgery, are dreadful. No wonder the crew demanded that the trierarch and governor "make shore for the night," or that they weary of the incessant grating of the heavy oars upon the thole-pins.
Thus the "Invincible" will seem to any squeamish voyager, but not so to the distant spectator. For him a trireme is a most marvelous and magnificent sight. A sister ship, the "Danae,"[*] is just entering the Peireus from Lemnos (an isle still under the Athenian sovereignty). Her upper works have been all brightened for the home-coming. Long, brilliant streams trail from her sail yards and poop. The flute player is blowing his loudest. The marines stand on the forecastle in glittering armor. A great column of foam is spouting from her bow.[+] Her oars, eighty-seven to the side, pumiced white and hurling out the spray, are leaping back and forth in perfect unison. The whole vessel seems a thing of springing, ardent life. It is, indeed, a sight to stir the blood. No later sailing ship in her panoply of canvas, no steam battleship with her grim turrets and smoking funnels can ever match the spectacle of a trireme moving in her rhythm and glory.
[*]The Greek ships seem to have been named either for mythological characters, or for desirable qualities and virtues.
[+]At her best a trireme seems to have been capable of making 8 to 9 knots per hour.
112. The Tactics of a Naval Battle.—Imagination can now picture a Greek naval battle, fifty, a hundred, two hundred, or more of these splendid battleships flying in two hostile lines to the charge.[*] Round and round they will sail, each pilot watching the moment when an unlucky maneuver by the foe will leave a chance for an attack; and then will come the sudden swinging of the helm, the frantic "Pull hard!" to the oarsmen, the rending crash and shock as the ram tears open the opponents side, to be followed by almost instant tragedy. If the direct attack on the foe's broadside fails, there is another maneuver. Run down upon your enemy as if striking bow to bow; the instant before contact let your aim swerve—a little. Then call to your men to draw in their oars like lightning while the enemy are still working theirs. If your oarsmen can do the trick in time, you can now ride down the whole of the foemen's exposed oar bank, while saving your own. He is left crippled and helpless, like a huge centipede with all the legs on one side stripped away. You can now back off deliberately, run out your oars, an in cold blood charge his exposed flank. If he does not now surrender, his people are dead men. Excellent to describe! Not always so excellent in performance. Everything depends on the perfect discipline and handiness of your crew.
[*]A more detailed picture of an ancient naval battle and its tactics can be found in the author's historical novel, "A Victor of Salamis" (Chap. XXIX).
113. The Naval Strength of Athens.—The strength of Athens is still upon the sea. Despite her defeats in the Peloponnesian War she has again the first navy in Hellas. All in all she can send out 400 triremes and since each trireme represents a crew of over 200 men, this means that Athens can dispose of over 80,000 souls in her navy, whereof, however, only a minor fraction are Athenian citizens. Athens is quite right in thus laying stress upon her sea power. Her long walls and the Peireus make her practically an island. Even after Cheroneia, Philip of Macedon will be obliged to give her honorable terms,—she has still her great navy. Only after the defeat of her fleet at Amorgos in 322 B.C. will she have to know all the pangs of vassalage to Macedon.
Chapter XV. An Athenian Court Trial.
114. The Frequency of Litigation in Athens.—The visit to the Peireus and the study of the shipping have not been too long to prevent a brief visit to one of the most characteristic scenes of Athenian life—a law court. Athens is notorious for the fondness which her citizens display for litigation. In fact it is a somewhat rare and exceptionally peaceable, harmless, and insignificant citizen who is not plaintiff or defendant in some kind of action every few years or so. Says Aristophanes, "The cicada [grasshopper] sings for only a month, but the people of Athens are buzzing with lawsuits and trials their whole life long." In the jury courts the contentious, tonguey man can spread himself and defame his enemies to his heart's content; and it must be admitted that in a city like Athens, where everybody seems to know everybody else's business almost every citizen is likely to have a number both of warm friends and of bitter enemies. Athenians do not have merely "cold acquaintances," or "business rivals," as will men of the twentieth century. They make no pretenses to "Christian charity." They freely call an obnoxious individual their "personal foe" (ECHTHROS), and if they can defeat, humiliate, and ruin him, they bless the gods. The usual outlet for such ill-feeling is a fierce and perhaps mutually destructive lawsuit.
Then too, despite Athenian notions of what constitutes a gentleman, many citizens are people of utterly penurious, niggardly habits. Frequently enough the fellow who can discuss all Socrates's theories with you is quarreling with his neighbor over the loan of salt or a lamp wick or some meal for sacrifice.[*] If one of the customary "club-dinners"[+] is held at his house, he will be caught secreting some of the vinegar, lamp oil, or lentils. If he has borrowed something, say some barley, take care; when he returns it, he will measure it out in a vessel with the bottom dented inward. A little ill feeling, a petty grievance carefully cultivated,—the end in due time will be a lawsuit, costly far out of proportion to the originating cause.
[*]Persons of this kidney are delineated to us as typical characters by Theophrastus.
[+]The nearest modern equivalent is a "basket lunch."
115. Prosecutions in Athens.—Athens does not draw a sharp line between public and private litigation. There is no "state" or "district attorney" to prosecute for the offenses against public order. Any full citizen can prosecute anybody else upon such a criminal charge as murder, no less than for a civil matter like breach of contract. All this leads to the growth of a mischievous clan—the SYCOPHANTS. These harpies are professional accusers who will prosecute almost any rich individual upon whom they think they can fasten some technical offense. Their gains are from two quarters. If they convict the defendant, about half of the fine or property taken will go to the informer. But very likely there will be no trial. The victim (either consciously guilty, or innocent but anxious to avoid the risk) will pay a huge blackmail at the first threat of prosecution, and the case is hushed up.
It is true there are very heavy penalties for trumped-up cases, for unwarranted threat of legal proceedings, for perjured evidence; still the abuse of the sycophants exists, and a great many of the lawsuits originate with this uncanny tribe.
116. The Preliminaries to a Trial.—There are official arbitrators to settle petty cases, but it is too often that one or both parties declare "the dicasts must settle it," and the lawsuit has to take its way. Athenian legal methods are simple. Theoretically there are no professional lawyers, and every man must look out for himself. The first business is to file your complaint with one of the magistrates (usually one of nine ARCHONS), and then with two witnesses give formal summons to your opponent, the defendant, to appear on a set day in court. If he has defaulted, the case is usually ended then in your favor. This hearing before the magistrate is in any event an important part of the trial. Here each side proffers the laws it cites to sustain its claims, and brings its witnesses, who can be more or less cross-examined. All the pertinent testimony is now written down, and the tablets sealed up by the magistrate. At the final trial this evidence will be merely READ to the jury, the witness in each instance standing up before the court and admitting when duly asked, "This is my testimony on the case."
Free men testify under oath, but a slave's oath is counted worthless. The slaves may be the only important witnesses to a given act, but under only one condition can they testify. With the consent of their master they may testify UNDER TORTURE. It is a critical moment at this hearing when a litigant who is confident of his case proudly announces, "I challenge my enemy to put my slaves under torture"; or the other, attacking first, cries out, "I demand that my enemy submit his slaves to torture." Theoretically the challenged party might refuse, practically a refusal is highly dangerous. "If his slaves didn't know something bad, why were they kept silent?" the jury will ask. So the rack is brought forth. The wretched menials are stretched upon it. One must hope that often the whole process involves more show of cruelty than actual brutality. What now the slaves gasp out between their twists and howls is duly taken down as "important evidence," and goes into the record.[*]
[*]Athenian opinion was on the whole in favor of receiving as valid testimony the evidence extorted thus from slaves by mere animal fear. Antiphon the orator speaks of how truth may be wrung from slaves by torture; "by which they are compelled to speak the truth though they must die for it afterward [at the hands of the master they have incriminated], for the present necessity is to each stronger than the future." This has been well called one of the few cases of extreme STUPIDITY on the part of the Athenians.
117. The Athenian Jury Courts.—A convenient interval has elapsed since one of these preliminary hearings. To-day has been set for the actual trial before a member of the archons in the "Green" court. Ariston, a wealthy olive farmer, is suing Lamachus, an exporter of the Peireus, for failing to account for the proceeds of a cargo of olives lately shipped to Naxos. To follow the trial in its entirety we should have been at the courthouse at first dawn. Then we would have seen the jurymen come grumbling in, some from the suburbs, attended by link boys. These jurors represent a large fraction of the whole Athenian people. There are about six thousand in all. Pretty nearly every citizen above thirty years of age can give in his name as desiring jury duty; but naturally it is the elderly and the indolent who must prefer the service. One thousand of the six act as mere substitutes; the rest serve as often as the working of a complicated system of drawing by lot assigns them to sit as jurors on a particular case. It is well there are five thousand always thus available, for Athenian juries are very large; 201, 401, 501, 1001 are numbers heard of, and sometimes even greater.[*] The more important the case, the larger the jury; but "Ariston v. Lamachus" is only a commonplace affair; 401 jurors are quite enough. Even with that "small court," the audience which the pleaders now have to address will seem huge to any latter-day lawyer who is accustomed to his "twelve men in a box"; and needless to say, quite different methods must be used in dealing with such a company.
[*]The odd unit was no doubt added to prevent a tie.
Each "dicast" (to use the proper name) has a boxwood tablet to show at the entrance as his voucher to the Scythian police-archers on duty; he has also a special staff of the color of the paint on the door of the court room.[*] The chamber itself is not especially elegant; a long line of hard benches rising in tiers for the dicasts, and facing these a kind of pulpit for the presiding magistrates, with a little platform for orators, a small alter for the preliminary sacrifice, and a few stools for attendants and witnesses complete the simple furnishings. There are open spaces for spectators, though no seats; but there will be no lack of an audience today, for the rumor has gone around, "Hypereides has written Ariston's argument." The chance to hear a speech prepared by that famous oration-monger is enough to bring every dicast out early, and to summon a swarm of loiterers up from the not distant Agora.
[*]Each court room had is distinguishing color. There were about ten regular court rooms, besides some for special tribunals; e.g. the Areopagus for the trial of homicides.
118. The Juryman's Oath.—The dicasts are assumed to approach their duty with all due solemnity. They have sworn to vote according to the laws of Athens, never to vote for a repudiation of debts, nor to restore political exiles, nor to receive bribes for their votes, nor take bribes in another's behalf, nor let anybody even tempt them with such proffers. They are to hear both sides impartially and vote strictly according to the merits of the case: and the oath winds up awfully—"Thus do I invoke Zeus, Poseidon, and Demeter to smite with destruction me and my house if I violate any of these obligations, but if I keep them I pray for many blessings."[*]
[*]We have not the exact text of all the dicasts' oath, but we can reproduce it fairly completely from Demosthenes's "Oration against Timocrates."
119. Opening the Trial. The Plaintiff's Speech.—The oath is admirable, but the dicasts are not in a wholly juridical state of mind. Just before the short sacrifice needful to commence proceedings, takes place, old Zenosthenes on the second row nudges his neighbor: "I don't like the looks of that Lamachus. I shall vote against him." "And I—my wife knows his wife, and—" The archon rises. The crier bids, "Silence!" The proceedings begin: but all through the hearing there is whispering and nudging along the jurors' benches. The litigants are quite aware of the situation and are trying their best to win some advantage therefrom.
Ariston is the first to speak. He has taken great pains with the folds of his himation and the trim of his beard this morning. He must be thoroughly genteel, but avoid all appearances of being a dandy. In theory every man has to plead his own case in Athens, but not every man is an equally good orator. If a litigant is very inept, he can simply say a few words, then step aside with "My friend so-and-so will continue my argument"; and a readier talker will take his place.[*] Ariston, however, is a fairly clever speaker. Having what he conceives a good case, he has obtained the indirect services of Hypereides, one of the first of the younger orators of Athens. Hyperedies has written a speech which he thinks is suitable to the occasion, Ariston has memorized it, and delivers it with considerable gusto. He has solid evidence, as is proved from time to time when he stops to call, "Let the clerk read the testimony of this or that." There often is a certain hum of approbation from the dicasts when he makes his points. He continues bravely, therefore, ever and anon casting an eye upon the CLEPSYDRA near at hand, a huge water-clock which, something like an hour glass, marks off the time allotted him. Some of his arguments seem to have nothing to do with the alleged embezzlement. He vilifies his opponent: calls Lamachus's mother coarse names, intimates that as a boy he had no decent schooling, charges him with cowardice in the recent Mantinea campaign in which he served, hints that he has quarreled with his relatives. On the other hand, Ariston grandiloquently praises HIMSELF as well born, well educated, an honorable soldier and citizen, a man any Athenian would be glad to consider a friend. It is very plain all these personalia delight the jury.[+] When Ariston's "water has run out" and he concludes his speech, there is a loud murmur of applause running along the benches of the dicasts.
[*]These "friends," however, were never regularly professional advocates; it would have been ruinous to let the jury get the impression that an orator was being directly hired to speak to them.
[+]For the depths of personal insult into which Greek litigants could descend there is no better instance than Demosthenes's (otherwise magnificent) "Oration on the Crown," wherein he castigates his foe Aeschines.
120. The Defendant's Speech. Demonstrations by the Jury.—It is now Lamachus's turn. He also has employed a professional speech-writer ("logographos") of fame, Iseus, to prepare his defense. But almost at the outset he is in difficulties. Very likely he has a bad case to begin with. He makes it worse by a shrill, unpleasant voice and ungainly gestures. Very soon many dicasts are tittering and whispering jibes to their companions. As his harangue proceeds, the presiding archon (who has really very little control of the dicasts) is obliged "to remind the gentlemen of the jury that the have taken solemn oath to hear both sides of the question."
Lamachus fights doggedly on. Having put in all his real arguments, he takes refuge also in blackguarding his opponent. Did Ariston get his wealth honestly? was not his father a rascally grain dealer who starved the people? Yet there is still more impatience among the dicasts. Lamachus now uses his last weapon. Upon the pleader's stand clamber his five young children clad in black mourning garments. They all weep together, and when not wiping their eyes, hold out their hands like religious suppliants, toward the dicasts.[*]
[*]For such an appeal to an Athenian dicastery, see Aristophanes's "Wasps." The pertinent passages are quoted in "Readings in Ancient History," vol. I, p. 238-40.
"Ah! Gentlemen of the jury," whines their father, "if you are moved by the voices of your lambs at home, pity these here. Acquit me for THEIR sakes. Do not find against me and plunge these innocent darlings into want and misery, by impoverishing their father."