Colonization, for which the genius and inclination of the Athenians had always been suited, was another method adopted by Pericles for extending the influence and empire of Athens. The settlements made under his auspices were of two kinds CLERUCHIES, and regular colonies. The former mode was exclusively Athenian. It consisted in the allotment of land in conquered or subject countries to certain bodies of Athenians who continued to retain all their original rights of citizenship. This circumstance, as well as the convenience of entering upon land already in a state of cultivation instead of having to reclaim it from the rude condition of nature, seems to have rendered such a mode of settlement much preferred by the Athenians. The earliest instance which we find of it is in the year B.C. 506, when four thousand Athenians entered upon the domains of the Chalcidian knights (see Ch.5). But it was under Pericles that this system was most extensively adopted. During his administration 1000 Athenian citizens were settled in the Thracian Chersonese, 500 in Naxos, and 250 in Andros. The islands of Lemnos, Imbros, and Scyros, as well as a large tract in the north of Euboea, were also completely occupied by Athenian proprietors.
The most important colonies settled by Pericles were those of Thurii and Amphipolis. Since the destruction of Sybaris by the Crotoniates, in B.C. 509, the former inhabitants had lived dispersed in the adjoining territory along the gulf of Tarentum, In B.C. 443 Pericles sent out a colony to found Thurii, near the site of the ancient Sybaris. The colony of Amphipolis was founded some years later (B.C. 437), under the conduct of Agnon.
But Pericles, notwithstanding his influence and power, had still many bitter and active enemies, who assailed him through his private connections, and even endeavoured to wound his honour by a charge of peculation. Pericles, after divorcing a wife with whom he had lived unhappily, took his mistress Aspasia to his house, and dwelt with her till his death on terms of the greatest affection. She was distinguished not only for her beauty, but also for her learning and accomplishments. Her intimacy with Anaxagoras, the celebrated Ionic philosopher, was made a handle for wounding Pericles in his tenderest relations. Paganism, notwithstanding its licence, was capable of producing bigots: and even at Athens the man who ventured to dispute the existence of a hundred gods with morals and passions somewhat worse than those of ordinary human nature, did so at the risk of his life. Anaxagoras was indicted for impiety. Aspasia was included in the same charge, and dragged before the courts of justice. Anaxagoras prudently fled from Athens, and thus probably avoided a fate which in consequence of a similar accusation afterwards overtook Socrates. Pericles himself pleaded the cause of Aspasia. He was indeed indirectly implicated in the indictment; but he felt no concern except for his beloved Aspasia, and on this occasion the cold and somewhat haughty statesman, whom the most violent storms of the assembly could not deprive of his self-possession, was for once seen to weep. His appeal to the jury was successful, but another trial still awaited him. An indictment was preferred against his friend, the great sculptor Phidias, for embezzlement of the gold intended to adorn the celebrated ivory statue of Athena; and according to some, Pericles himself was included in the charge of peculation. Whether Pericles was ever actually tried on this accusation is uncertain; but at all events, if he was, there can be no doubt that he was honourably acquitted. The gold employed in the statue had been fixed in such a manner that it could be detached and weighed, and Pericles challenged his accusers to the proof. But Phidias did not escape so fortunately. There were other circumstances which rendered him unpopular, and amongst them the fact that he had introduced portraits both of himself and Pericles in the sculptures which adorned the frieze of the Parthenon. Phidias died in prison before the day of trial.
The Athenian empire, since the conclusion of the Thirty Years' Truce, had again become exclusively maritime. Yet even among the subjects and allies united with Athens by the Confederacy of Delos, her sway was borne with growing discontent. One of the chief causes of this dissatisfaction was the amount of the tribute exacted by the Athenians, as well as their misapplication of the proceeds. In the time of Aristides and Cimon, when an active war was carrying on against the Persians, the sum annually collected amounted to 460 talents. In the time of Pericles, although that war had been brought to a close, the tribute had nevertheless increased to the annual sum of 600 talents. Another grievance was the transference to Athens of all lawsuits, at least of all public suits; for on this subject we are unable to draw the line distinctly. In criminal cases, at all events, the allies seem to have been deprived of the power to inflict capital punishment. Besides all these causes of complaint, the allies had often to endure the oppressions and exactions of Athenian officers, both military and naval, as well us of the rich and powerful Athenian citizens settled among them.
In B.C. 440 Samos, one of the free independent allies already mentioned, revolted from Athens; but even this island was no match for the Athenian power. Pericles, who sailed against the Samians in person, defeated their fleet in several engagements, and forced the city to capitulate. The Samians were compelled to raze their fortifications, to surrender their fleet, to give hostages for their future conduct, and to pay the expenses of the war.
The triumphs and the power of Athens were regarded with fear and jealousy by her rivals; and the quarrel between Corinth and Corcyra lighted the spark which was to produce the conflagration. On the coast of Illyria near the site of the modern Durazzo, the Corcyraeans had founded the city of Epidamnus. Corcyra (now Corfu) was itself a colony of Corinth; and though long at enmity with its mother country, was forced, according to the time-hallowed custom of the Greeks in such matters, to select the founder of Epidamnus from the Corinthians. Accordingly Corinth became the metropolis of Epidamnus as well as of Corcyra. At the time of which we speak, the Epidamnians, being hard pressed by the Illyrians, led by some oligarchical exiles of their own city, applied to Corcyra for assistance, which the Corcyraeans, being connected with the Epidamnian oligarchy, refused. The Epidamnians then sought help from the Corinthians, who undertook to assist them. The Corcyraeans, highly resenting this interference, attacked the Corinthian fleet off Cape Actium, and gained a signal victory (B.C. 435).
Deeply humbled by this defeat, the Corinthians spent the two following years in active preparations for retrieving it. The Corcyraeans, who had not enrolled themselves either in the Lacedaemonian or Athenian alliance, and therefore stood alone, were greatly alarmed at these preparations. They now resolved to remedy this deficiency; and as Corinth belonged to the Lacedaemonian alliance, the Corcyraeans had no option, and were obliged to apply to Athens. The majority of the Athenians were ready to comply with their request; but in order to avoid an open infringement of the Thirty Years' Truce, it was resolved to conclude only a defensive alliance with Corcyra: that is, to defend the Corcyraeans in case their territories were actually invaded by the Corinthians, but beyond that not to lend them any active assistance. A small Athenian squadron of only 10 triremes was despatched to the assistance of the Corcyraeans. Soon after their arrival a battle ensued off the coast of Epirus, between the Corinthian and Corcyraean fleets. After a hard-fought day, victory finally declared in favour of the Corinthians. The Athenians now abandoned their neutrality, and did all in their power to save the dying Corcyraeans from their pursuers. This action took place early in the morning; and the Corinthians prepared to renew the attack in the afternoon, when they saw in the distance 20 Athenian vessels, which they believed to be the advanced guard of a still larger fleet. They accordingly sailed away to the coast of Epirus; but finding that the Athenians did not mean to undertake offensive operations against them, they departed homewards with their whole fleet. These events took place in the year B.C. 432.
The Corinthians were naturally incensed at the conduct of Athens; and it is not surprising that they should have watched for an opportunity of revenge. This was soon afforded them by the enmity of the Macedonian prince Perdiccas towards the Athenians. He incited her tributaries upon the coast of Macedonia to revolt, including Potidaea, a town seated on the isthmus of Pallene. Potidaea, though now a tributary of Athens, was originally a colony of the Corinthians, and received from them certain annual magistrates. Being urged as well by the Corinthians as by Perdiccas, the Potidaeans openly raised the standard of revolt (B.C. 432). A powerful Athenian armament was despatched to the coast of Macedonia and laid siege to Potidaea.
Meanwhile the Lacedaemonians, urged on all sides by the complaints of their allies against Athens, summoned a general meeting of the Peloponnesian confederacy at Sparta. The Corinthians took the most prominent part in the debate; but other members of the confederacy had also heavy grievances to allege against Athens. Foremost among these were the Megarians, who complained that their commerce had been ruined by a recent decree of the Athenians which excluded them from every port within the Athenian jurisdiction. It was generally felt that the time had now arrived for checking the power of Athens. Influenced by these feelings, the Lacedaemonians decided upon war; and the congress passed a resolution to the same effect, thus binding the whole Peloponnesian confederacy to the same policy. This important resolution was adopted towards the close of B.C. 432, or early in the following year. Before any actual declaration of war, hostilities were begun in the spring of B.C. 431 by a treacherous attack of the Thebans upon Plataea. Though Boeotians by descent, the Plataeans did not belong to the Boeotian league, but had long been in close alliance with the Athenians. Hence they were regarded with hatred and jealousy by the Thebans, which sentiments were also shared by a small oligarchical faction in Plataea itself. The Plataean oligarchs secretly admitted a body of 300 Thebans into the town at night; but the attempt proved a failure; the citizens flew to arms, and in the morning all the Thebans were either slain or taken prisoner.
ATHENS IN THE TIME OF PERICLES.
[Note: The figures referred to in a few places in this chapter have had to be omitted from the etext.]
At the commencement of the Peloponnesian war Athens was at the height of its glory under the brilliant administration of Pericles. We may therefore here pause to take a brief survey of the city and of its most important buildings. Athens is situated about three miles from the sea-coast, in the central plain of Attica. In this plain rise several eminences. Of these the most prominent is a lofty insulated mountain, with a conical peaked summit, now called the Hill of St. George, and which bore in ancient times the name of LYCABETTUS. This mountain, which was not included within the ancient walls, lies to the north-east of Athens, and forms the most striking feature in the environs of the city. It is to Athens what Vesuvius is to Naples, or Arthur's Seat to Edinburgh. South-west of Lycabettus there are four hills of moderate height, all of which formed part of the city. Of these the nearest to Lycabettus and at the distance of a mile from the latter, was the ACROPOLIS, or citadel of Athens, a square craggy rock rising abruptly about 150 feet, with a flat summit of about 1000 feet long from east to west, by 500 feet broad from north to south. Immediately west of the Acropolis is a second hill of irregular form, the AREOPAGUS. To the south-west there rises a third hill, the PNYX, on which the assemblies of the citizens were held; and to the south of the latter is a fourth hill, known as the MUSEUM. On the eastern and western sides of the city there run two small streams, which are nearly exhausted before they reach the sea, by the heats of summer and by the channels for artificial irrigation. That on the east is the Ilissus, which flowed through the southern quarter of the city: that on the west is the Cephissus. South of the city was seen the Saronic gulf, with the harbours of Athens.
Athens is said to have derived its name from the prominence given to the worship of Athena by its king Erechtheus. The inhabitants were previously called Cranai and Cecropidae, from Cecrops, who according to tradition, was the original founder of the city. This at first occupied only the hill or rock which afterwards became the ACROPOLIS; but gradually the buildings began to spread over the ground at the southern foot of this hill. It was not till the time of Pisistratus and his sons (B.C. 560-514) that the city began to assume any degree of splendour. The most remarkable building of these despots was the gigantic temple of the Olympian Zeus, which, however, was not finished till many centuries later. In B.C. 500 the theatre of Dionysus was commenced on the south-eastern slope of the Acropolis, but was not completed till B.C. 340; though it must have been used for the representation of plays long before that period.
Xerxes reduced the ancient city almost to a heap of ashes. After the departure of the Persians, its reconstruction on a much larger scale was commenced under the superintendence of Themistocles, whose first care was to provide for its safety by the erection of walls. The Acropolis now formed the centre of the city, round which the new walls described an irregular circle of about 60 stadia or 7 1/2 miles in circumference. The space thus enclosed formed the ASTY, or city, properly so called. But the views of Themistocles were not confined to the mere defence of Athens: he contemplated making her a great naval power, and for this purpose adequate docks and arsenals were required. Previously the Athenians had used as their only harbour the open roadstead of PHALERUM on the eastern side of the Phaleric bay, where the sea-shore is nearest to Athens. But Themistocles transferred the naval station of the Athenians to the peninsula of Piraeus, which is distant about 4 1/2 miles from Athens, and contains three natural harbours,—a large one on the western side, called simply Piraeus or The Harbour, and two smaller ones an the eastern side, called respectively ZEA and MUNYCHIA, the latter being nearest to the city. It was not till the administration of Pericles that the walls were built which connected Athens with her ports. These were at first the outer or northern Long Wall, which ran from Athens to Piraeus, and the Phaleric wall connecting the city with Phalerum. These were commenced in B.C. 457, and finished in the following year. It was soon found, however, that the space thus enclosed was too vast to be easily defended; and as the port of Phalerum was small and insignificant in comparison with the Piraeus, and soon ceased to be used by the Athenian ships of war, its wall was abandoned and probably allowed to fall into decay. Its place was supplied by another Long wall, which was built parallel to the first at a distance of only 550 feet, thus rendering both capable of being defended by the same body of men. Their height in all probability was not less than 60 feet. In process of time the space between the two Long Walls was occupied on each side by houses.
It will be seen from the preceding description that Athens, in its larger acceptation, and including its port, consisted of two circular cities, the Asty and Piraeus, each of about 7 1/2 miles in circumference, and joined together by a broad street of between four and five miles long.
Such was the outward and material form of that city, which during the period between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars reached the highest pitch of military, artistic, and literary glory. The latter portion of this period, or that comprised under the ascendency of Pericles, exhibits Athenian art in its highest state of perfection, and is therefore by way of excellence commonly designated as the age of Pericles. The great sculptor of this period—perhaps the greatest the world has ever seen—was Phidias, to whom Pericles intrusted the superintendence of all the works executed in his administration.
The first public monuments that arose after the Persian wars were erected under the auspices of Cimon, who was, like Pericles, a lover and patron of the arts. The principal of these were the small Ionic temple of Nike Apteros (Wingless Victory), and the Theseum, or temple of Theseus. The temple of Nike Apteros was only 27 feet in length by 18 in breadth, and was erected on the Acropolis in commemoration of Cimon's victory at the Eurymedon. A view of it is given at the beginning of this chapter, and its position on the Acropolis, on one side of the Propylaea, is seen in the drawings on p. 91, as well as on the Frontispiece of the work.
The Theseum is situated on a height to the north of the Areopagus, and was built to receive the bones of Theseus, which Cimon brought from Scyros in B.C. 469. It was probably finished about 465, and is the best preserved of all the monuments of ancient Athens. It was at once a tomb and temple, and possessed the privileges of an asylum. It is of the Doric order, 164 feet in length by 45 feet broad, and surrounded with columns.
But it was the Acropolis which was the chief centre of the architectural splendour of Athens. After the Persian wars the Acropolis had ceased to be inhabited, and was appropriated to the worship of Athena and to the other guardian deities of the city. It was covered with the temples of gods and heroes; and thus its platform presented not only a sanctuary, but a museum, containing the finest productions of the architect and the sculptor, in which the whiteness of the marble was relieved by brilliant colours, and rendered still more dazzling by the transparent clearness of the Athenian atmosphere. It was surrounded with walls, and the surface seems to have been divided into terraces communicating with one another by steps. The only approach to it was from the Agora on its western side at the top of a magnificent flight of marble steps, 70 feet broad, stood the Propylaea, constructed under the auspices of Pericles, and which served as a suitable entrance to the exquisite works within. The Propylaea were themselves one of the masterpieces of Athenian art. They were entirely of Pentelic marble, and covered the whole of the western end of the Acropolis, having a breadth of 168 feet. The central portion of them consisted of two porticoes, of which the western one faced the city, and the eastern one the interior of the Acropolis, each consisting of a front of six fluted Doric columns. This central part of the building was 58 feet in breadth, but the remaining breadth of the rock at this point was covered by two wings, which projected 26 feet in front of the western portico. Each of these wings was in the form of a Doric temple. The northern one, or that on the left of a person ascending the Acropolis, was called the PINACOTHECA, from its walls being covered with paintings. The southern wing consisted only of a porch or open gallery. Immediately before its western front stood the little temple of Nike Apteros already mentioned.
On passing through the Propylaea all the glories of the Acropolis became visible. The chief building was the Parthenon (I.E. House of the Virgin), the most perfect production of Grecian architecture. It derived its name from its being the temple of Athena Parthenos, or Athena the Virgin, the invincible goddess of war. It was also called HECATOMPEDON, from its breadth of 100 feet. It was built under the administration of Pericles, and was completed in B.C. 438. The Parthenon stood on the highest part of the Acropolis near its centre, and probably occupied the site of an earlier temple destroyed by the Persians. It was entirely of Pentelic marble, on a rustic basement of ordinary limestone, and its architecture, which was of the Doric order, was of the purest kind. Its dimensions were about 228 feet in length, 101 feet in breadth, and 66 feet in height to the top of the pediment. It consisted of a cella, surrounded by a peristyle. The cella was divided into two chambers of unequal size, the eastern one of which was about 98 feet long, and the western one about 43 feet. The ceiling of both these chambers was supported by rows of columns. The whole building was adorned with the most exquisite sculptures, executed by various artists under the direction of Phidias. These consisted of, 1. The sculptures in the tympana of the pediments (I.E. the inner portion of the triangular gable ends of the roof above the two porticoes), each of which was filled with about 24 colossal figures. The group in the eastern or principal front represented the birth of Athena from the head of Zeus, and the western the contest between Athena and Poseidon (Neptune) for the land of Attica. 2. The metopes between the triglyphs in the frieze of the entablature (I.E. the upper of the two portions into which the space between the columns and the roof is divided) were filled with sculptures in high relief, representing a variety of subjects relating to Athena herself, or to the indigenous heroes of Attica. Each tablet was 4 feet 3 inches square. Those on the south side related to the battle of the Athenians with the Centaurs. One of the metopes is figured below. 3. The frieze which ran along outside the wall of the cella, and within the external columns which surround the building, at the same height and parallel with the metopes, was sculptured with a representation of the Panathenaic festival in very low relief. This frieze was 3 feet 4 inches in height, and 520 feet in length. A small portion of the frieze is also figured below. A large number of the slabs of the frieze, together with sixteen metopes from the south side, and several of the statues of the pediments, were brought to England by Lord Elgin, of whom they were purchased by the nation and deposited in the British Museum.
But the chief wonder of the Parthenon was the colossal statue of the Virgin Goddess executed by Phidias himself, which stood in the eastern or principal chamber of the cella. It was of the sort called CHRYSELEPHANTINE, a kind of work said to have been invented by Phidias in which ivory was substituted for marble in those parts which were uncovered, while the place of the real drapery was supplied with robes and other ornaments of solid gold. Its height, including the base, was nearly 40 feet. It represented the goddess standing, clothed with a tunic reaching to the ankles, with a spear in her left hand, and an image of Victory in her right.
The Acropolis was adorned with another colossal figure of Athena, in bronze, also the work of Phidias. It stood in the open air, nearly opposite the Propylaea, and was one of the first objects seen after passing through the gates of the latter. With its pedestal it must have stood about 70 feet high, and consequently towered above the roof of the Parthenon, so that the point of its spear and the crest of its helmet were visible off the promontory of Sunium to ships approaching Athens. It was called the "Athena Promachus," because it represented the goddess armed, and in the very attitude of battle.
The only other monument on the summit of the Acropolis which it is necessary to describe is the Erechtheum, or temple of Erechtheus. The traditions respecting Erechtheus vary, but according to one set of them he was identical with the god Poseidon. He was worshipped in his temple under the name of Poseidon Erechtheus, and from the earliest times was associated with Athena as one of the two protecting deities of Athens. The original Erechtheum was burnt by the Persians, but the new temple was erected on the ancient site. This could not have been otherwise; for on this spot was the sacred olive-tree which Athena evoked from the earth in her contest with Poseidon, and also the well of salt-water which Poseidon produced by a stroke of his trident, the impression of which was seen upon the rock. The building was also called the temple of Athena Polias, because it contained a separate sanctuary of the goddess, as well as her most ancient statue. The building of the new Erechtheum was not commenced till the Parthenon and Propylaea were finished, and probably not before the year preceding the breaking out of the Peloponnesian war. Its progress was no doubt delayed by that event, and it was probably not completed before 393 B.C. When finished it presented one of the finest models of the Ionic order, as the Parthenon was of the Doric, It stood to the north of the latter building and close to the northern wall of the Acropolis. The form of the Erechtheum differed from every known example of a Grecian temple. Usually a Grecian temple was an oblong figure with a portico at each extremity. The Erechtheum, on the contrary, though oblong in shape and having a portico at the eastern or principal front, had none at its western end, where, however, a portico projected north and south from either side, thus forming a kind of transept. This irregularity seems to have been chiefly owing to the necessity of preserving the different sanctuaries and religious objects belonging to the ancient temple. A view of it is given opposite. The roof of the southern portico, as shown in the view, was supported by six Caryatides.
Such were the principal objects which adorned the Acropolis at the time of which we are now speaking. Their general appearance will be best gathered from the engraving on the Frontispiece.
Before quitting the city of Athens, there are two or three other objects of interest which must be briefly described. First, the Dionysiac theatre, which occupied the slope at the south-eastern extremity of the Acropolis. The middle of it was excavated out of the rock, and the rows of seats ascended in curves one above another, the diameter increasing with the height. It was no doubt sufficiently large to accommodate the whole body of Athenian citizens, as well as the strangers who flocked to Athens during the Dionysiac festival, but its dimensions cannot now be accurately ascertained. It had no roof, but the spectators were probably protected from the sun by an awning, and from their elevated seats they had a distinct view of the sea, and of the peaked hills of Salamis in the horizon. Above them rose the Parthenon and the other buildings of the Acropolis, so that they sat under the shadow of the ancestral gods of the country.
The Areopagus, or Hill of Ares (Mars), was a rocky height opposite the western end of the Acropolis, from which it was separated only by some hollow ground. It derived its name from the tradition that Ares (Mars) was brought to trial here before the assembled gods, by Poseidon (Neptune), for murdering Halirrhothius the son of the latter. It was here that the Council of Areopagus met, frequently called the Upper Council, to distinguish it from the Council of Five Hundred, which assembled in the valley below. The Areopagites sat as judges in the open air, and two blocks of stone are still to be seen, probably those which were occupied respectively by the accuser and the accused. The Areopagus was the spot where the Apostle Paul preached to the men of Athens.
The Pnyx, or place for holding the public assemblies of the Athenians, stood on the side of a low rocky hill, at the distance of about a quarter of a mile from the Areopagus. Projecting from the hill and hewn out of it, still stands a solid rectangular block, called the Bema or pulpit, from whence the orators addressed the multitude in the area before them. The position of the Bema commanded a view of the Propylaea and the other magnificent edifices of the Acropolis, while beneath it was the city itself studded with monuments of Athenian glory. The Athenian orators frequently roused the national feelings of their audience by pointing to the Propylaea and to the other splendid buildings before them. Between the Pnyx on the west, the Areopagus on the north, and the Acropolis on the east, and closely adjoining the base of these hills, stood the Agora (or market-place). In a direction from north-west to south-east a street called the Ceramicus ran diagonally through the Agora, entering it through the valley between the Pnyx and the Areopagus. The street was named after a district of the city, which was divided into two parts, the Inner and Outer Ceramicus. The former lay within the city walls, and included the Agora. The Outer Ceramicus, which formed a handsome suburb on the north-west of the city, was the burial-place of all persons honoured with a public funeral. Through it ran the road to the gymnasium and gardens of the Academy which were situated about a mile from the walls. The Academy was the place where Plato and his disciples taught. On each side of this road were monuments to illustrious Athenians, especially those who had fallen in battle.
East of the city, and outside the walls, was the Lyceum, a gymnasium dedicated to Apollo Lyceus, and celebrated as the place in which Aristotle taught.
THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR.—FIRST PERIOD, FROM THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE WAR TO THE PEACE OF NICIAS, B.C. 431-421.
War was now fairly kindled. All Greece looked on in suspense as its two leading cities were about to engage in a strife of which no man could forsee the end; but the youth, with which both Athens and Peloponnesus then abounded, having had no experience of the bitter calamities of war, rushed into it with ardour. It was a war of principles and races. Athens was a champion of democracy, Sparta of aristocracy; Athens represented the Ionic tribes, Sparta the Dorian; the former were fond of novelty, the latter were conservative and stationary; Athens had the command of the sea, Sparta was stronger upon land. On the side of Sparta was ranged the whole of Peloponnesus, except Argos and Achaia, together with the Megarians, Boeotians, Phocians, Opuntian Locrians, Ambraciots, Leucadians, and Anactorians. The allies of Athens, with the exception of the Thessalians, Acarnanians, Messenians at Naupactus, and Plataeans, were all insular, and consisted of the Chians, Lesbians, Corcyraeans, and Zacynthians, and shortly afterwards of the Cephallenians, To these must be added her tributary towns on the coast of Thrace and Asia Minor, together with all the islands north of Crete, except Melos and Thera.
The Peloponnesians commenced the war by an invasion of Attica, with a large army, under the command of the Spartan King Archidamus (B.C. 431). Pericles had instructed the inhabitants of Attica to secure themselves and their property within the walls of Athens. They obeyed his injunctions with reluctance, for the Attic population had from the earliest times been strongly attached to a rural life. But the circumstances admitted of no alternative. Archidamus advanced as far as Acharnae, a flourishing Attic borough situated only about seven miles from Athens. Here he encamped on a rising ground within sight of the metropolis, and began to lay waste the country around, expecting probably by that means to provoke the Athenians to battle. But in this he was disappointed. Notwithstanding the murmurs and clamours of the citizens Pericles remained firm, and steadily refused to venture an engagement in the open held. The Peloponnesians retired from Attica after still further ravaging the country; and the Athenians retaliated by making descents upon various parts of the coasts of Peloponnesus, and ravaging the territory of Megara.
Such were the results of the first campaign. From the method in which the war was conducted it had become pretty evident that it would prove of long duration; and the Athenians now proceeded to provide for this contingency. It was agreed that a reserve fund of 1000 talents should be set apart, which was not to be touched in any other case than an attack upon Athens by sea. Any citizen who proposed to make a different use of the fund incurred thereby the punishment of death. With the same view it was resolved to reserve every year 100 of their best triremes, fully manned and equipped.
Towards the winter Pericles delivered, from a lofty platform erected in the Ceramicus, the funeral oration of those who had fallen in the war. This speech, or at all events the substance of it, has been preserved by Thucydides, who may possibly have heard it pronounced. It is a valuable monument of eloquence and patriotism, and particularly interesting for the sketch which it contains of Athenian manners as well as of the Athenian constitution.
In the following year (B.C. 430) the Peloponnesians, under Archidamus, renewed their invasion of Attica. At the same time the Athenians were attacked by a more insidious and a more formidable enemy. The plague broke out in the crowded city. This terrible disorder, which was supposed to have originated in AEthiopia, had already desolated Asia and many of the countries around the Mediterranean. A great proportion of those who were seized perished in from seven to nine days. It frequently attacked the mental faculties, and left even those who recovered from it so entirely deprived of memory that they could recognise neither themselves nor others. The disorder being new, the physicians could find no remedy in the resources of their art. Despair now began to take possession of the Athenians. Some suspected that the Peloponnesians had poisoned the wells; others attributed the pestilence to the anger of Apollo. A dreadful state of moral dissolution followed. The sick were seized with unconquerable despondency; whilst a great part of the population who had hitherto escaped the disorder, expecting soon to be attacked in turn, abandoned themselves to all manner of excess, debauchery, and crime. The numbers carried off by the pestilence can hardly be estimated at less than a fourth of the whole population.
Oppressed at once by war and pestilence, their lands desolated, their homes filled with mourning, it is not surprising that the Athenians were seized with rage and despair, or that they vented their anger on Pericles, whom they deemed the author of their misfortunes. But that statesman still adhered to his plans with unshaken firmness. Though the Lacedaemonians were in Attica, though the plague had already seized on Athens, he was vigorously pushing his schemes of offensive operations. A foreign expedition might not only divert the popular mind but would prove beneficial by relieving the crowded city of part of its population; and accordingly a fleet was fitted out, of which Pericles himself took the command, and which committed devastations upon various parts of the Peloponnesian coast. But, upon returning from this expedition, Pericles found the public feeling more exasperated than before. Envoys had even been despatched to Sparta to sue for peace, but had been dismissed without a hearing; a disappointment which had rendered the populace still more furious. Pericles now found it necessary to call a public assembly in order to vindicate his conduct, and to encourage the desponding citizens to persevere. But though he succeeded in persuading them to prosecute the war with vigour; they still continued to nourish their feelings of hatred against the great statesman. His political enemies, of whom Cleon was the chief, took advantage of this state of the public mind to bring against him a charge of peculation. The main object of this accusation was to incapacitate him for the office of Strategus, or general. [The Strategi, or Generals, were ten in number, elected annually, and were intrusted not only with the command on military expeditions, but with the superintendence of all warlike preparations, and with the regulation of all matters in any way connected with the war department of the state.] He was brought before the dicastery on this charge, and sentenced to pay a considerable fine; but eventually a strong reaction occurred in his favour. He was re-elected general, and apparently regained all the influence he had ever possessed.
But he was not destined long to enjoy this return of popularity. His life was now closing in, and its end was clouded by a long train of domestic misfortunes. The epidemic deprived him not only of many personal and political friends, but also of several near relations, amongst whom were his sister and his two legitimate sons Xanthippus and Paralus. The death of the latter was a severe blow to him. During the funeral ceremonies, as he placed a garland on the body of this his favourite son, he was completely overpowered by his feelings and wept aloud. His ancient house was now left without an heir. By Aspasia, however, he had an illegitimate son who bore his own name, and whom the Athenians now legitimised and thus alleviated, as far as lay in their power, the misfortunes of their great leader.
After this period it was with difficulty that Pericles was persuaded by his friends to take any active part in public affairs; nor did he survive more than a twelvemonth. An attack of the prevailing epidemic was succeeded by a low and lingering fever, which undermined both his strength of body and vigour of intellect. As Pericles lay apparently unconscious on his death-bed, the friends who stood around it were engaged in recalling his exploits. The dying man interrupted them by remarking: "What you praise in me is partly the result of good fortune, and at all events common to me with many other commanders. What I chiefly pride myself upon you have not noticed—no Athenian ever wore mourning through me."
The enormous influence which Pericles exercised for so long a period over an ingenious but fickle people like the Athenians, is an unquestionable proof of his intellectual superiority. This hold on the public affection is to be attributed to a great extent to his extraordinary eloquence. Cicero regards him as the first example of an almost perfect orator, at once delighting the Athenians with his copiousness and grace, and overawing them by the force and cogency of his diction and arguments. He seems, indeed, to have singularly combined the power of persuasion with that more rapid and abrupt style of oratory which takes an audience by storm and defies all resistance. As the accomplished man of genius and the liberal patron of literature and art, Pericles is worthy of the highest admiration. By these qualities he has justly given name to the most brilliant intellectual epoch that the world has ever seen. But on this point we have already touched, and shall have occasion to refer hereafter in the sketch of Grecian literature.
In the third year of the war (B.C. 429) Archidamus directed his whole force against the ill-fated town of Plataea. The siege that ensued is one of the most memorable in the annals of Grecian warfare. Plataea was but a small city, and its garrison consisted of only 400 citizens and 80 Athenians, together with 110 women to manage their household affairs. Yet this small force set at defiance the whole army of the Peloponnesians. The latter, being repulsed in all their attempts to take the place by storm, resolved to turn the siege into a blockade, and reduce the city by famine. The Plataeans endured a blockade of two years, during which the Athenians attempted nothing for their relief. In the second year, however, about half the garrison effected their escape; but the rest were obliged to surrender shortly afterwards (B.C. 427). The whole garrison, consisting of 200 Plataeans and 25 Athenians, were now arraigned before five judges sent from Sparta. Their indictment was framed in a way which precluded the possibility of escape. They were simply asked "Whether, during the present war, they had rendered any assistance to the Lacedaemonians and their allies?" Each man was called up separately before the judgment-seat, and the same question having been put to him and of course answered in the negative, he was immediately led away to execution. The town of Plataea was transferred to the Thebans, who a few months afterwards levelled all the private buildings to the ground. Thus was Plataea blotted out from the map of Greece (B.C. 427). In recording the fall of Plataea we have anticipated the order of chronology.
The most important event in the fourth year of the war (B.C. 428) was the revolt of Mytilene; the capital of Lesbos, and of the greater part of that island. The Athenians sent out a fleet which blockaded Mytilene both by sea and land, The Peloponnesians promised their assistance; but from various causes their fleet was unable to reach the place. Meanwhile the provisions of the town were exhausted, and it was therefore resolved, as a last desperate expedient, to make a sally, and endeavour to raise the blockade. With this view even the men of the lower classes were armed with the full armour of the hoplites. But this step produced a very different result from what had been expected or intended. The great mass of the Mytileneans regarded their own oligarchical government with suspicion and now threatened that, unless their demands were complied with, they would surrender the city to the Athenians. In this desperate emergency the Mytilenean government perceived that their only chance of safety lay in anticipating the people in this step. They accordingly opened a negotiation with Paches, the Athenian commander, and a capitulation was agreed upon by which the city was to be surrendered and the fate of its inhabitants to be decided by the Athenian Assembly.
At Athens the disposal of the prisoners caused great debate. It was on this occasion that the leather-seller Cleon first comes prominently forward in Athenian affairs. If we may trust the picture drawn by the comic poet Aristophanes, Cleon was a perfect model of a low-born demagogue; a noisy brawler, insolent in his gestures, corrupt and venal in his principles. Much allowance must no doubt be made for comic licence and exaggeration in this portrait, but even a caricature must have some grounds of truth for its basis. It was this man who took the lead in the debate respecting the disposal of the Mytileneans, and made the savage and horrible proposal to put to death the whole male population of Mytilene of military age, and to sell the women and children into slavery. This motion he succeeded in carrying and a trireme was immediately despatched to Mytilene, conveying orders to Paches to carry the bloody decree into execution. This barbarous decree made no discrimination between the innocent and the guilty; and on the morrow so general a feeling prevailed of the horrible injustice that had been committed, that the magistrates acceded to the prayer of the Mytilenean envoys and called a fresh assembly. Notwithstanding the violent opposition of Creon, the majority of the assembly reversed their former decree and resolved that the Mytileneans already in custody should be put upon their trial, but that the remainder of the population should be spared. A second trireme was immediately despatched to Mytilene, with orders to Paches to arrest the execution. The utmost diligence was needful. The former trireme had a start of four-and-twenty hours, and nothing but exertions almost superhuman would enable the second to reach Mytilene early enough to avert the tragical catastrophe, The oarsmen were allowed by turns only short intervals of rest, and took their food, consisting of barley-meal steeped in wine and oil, as they sat at the oar. Happily the weather proved favourable; and the crew, who had been promised large rewards in case they arrived in time, exerted themselves to deliver the reprieve, whilst the crew of the preceding vessel had conveyed the order for execution with slowness and reluctance. Yet even so the countermand came only just in time. The mandate was already in the hands of Paches, who was taking measures for its execution. The fortifications of Mytilene were razed, and her fleet delivered up to the Athenians.
The fate of the Plataeans and Mytileneans affords a fearful illustration of the manners of the age; but these horrors soon found a parallel in Corcyra. A fearful struggle took place in this island between the aristocratical and democratical parties. The people at length obtained the mastery, and the vengeance which they took on their opponents was fearful. The most sacred sanctuaries afforded no protection; the nearest ties of blood and kindred were sacrificed to civil hatred. In one case a father slew even his own son. These scenes of horror lasted for seven days, during which death in every conceivable form was busily at work.
The seventh year of the war (B.C. 425) was marked by an important event. An Athenian fleet was detained by bad weather at Pylus in Messenia, on the modern bay of Navarino. Demosthenes, an active Athenian officer, who was on board the fleet, thought it an eligible spot on which to establish some of the Messenians from Naupactus, since it was a strong position, from which they might annoy the Lacedaemonians, and excite revolt among their Helot kinsmen. As the bad weather continued for some time, the soldiers on board amused themselves, under the directions of Demosthenes, in constructing a sort of rude fortification. The nature of the ground was favourable for the work, and in five or six days a wall was throws up sufficient for the purposes of defence. Demosthenes undertook to garrison the place; and five ships and 200 hoplites were left behind with him.
This insult to the Lacedaemonian territory caused great alarm and indignation at Sparta. The Peloponnesian fleet was ordered to Pylus; and the Lacedaemonian commander, on arriving with the fleet, immediately occupied the small uninhabited and densely wooded island of Sphacteria, which, with the exception of two narrow channels on the north and south, almost blocked up the entrance of the bay. Between the island and the mainland was a spacious basin, in which the fleet took up its station. The Lacedaemonians lost no time in attacking the fortress; but notwithstanding their repeated attempts they were unable to effect a landing.
Whilst they were preparing for another assault, they were surprised by the appearance of the Athenian fleet. They had strangely neglected to secure the entrances into the bay: and, when the Athenian ships came sailing through both the undefended channels, many of their triremes were still moored, and part of their crews ashore. The battle which ensued was desperate. Both sides fought with extraordinary valour; but victory at length declared for the Athenians. Five Peloponnesian ships were captured; the rest were saved only by running them ashore, where they were protected by the Lacedaemonian army.
The Athenians, thus masters of the sea, were enabled to blockade the island of Sphacteria, in which the flower of the Lacedaemonian army was shut up, many of them native Spartans of the highest families. In so grave an emergency messengers were sent to Sparta for advice. The Ephors themselves immediately repaired to the spot; and so desponding was their view of the matter, that they saw no issue from it but a peace. They therefore proposed and obtained an armistice for the purpose of opening negotiations at Athens. But the Athenians, at the instigation of Cleon, insisted upon the most extravagant demands, and hostilities were accordingly resumed. They were not however attended with any decisive result. The blockade of Sphacteria began to grow tedious and harassing. The force upon it continually received supplies of provisions either from swimmers, who towed skins filled with linseed and poppy-seed mixed with honey, or from Helots, who, induced by the promise of large rewards, eluded the blockading squadron during dark and stormy nights, and landed cargoes on the back of the island. The summer, moreover, was fast wearing away, and the storms of winter might probably necessitate the raising of the blockade altogether. Under these circumstances, Demosthenes began to contemplate a descent upon the island; with which view he sent a message to Athens to explain the unfavourable state of the blockade, and to request further assistance.
These tidings were very distasteful to the Athenians, who had looked upon Sphacteria as their certain prey. They began to regret having let slip the favourable opportunity for making a peace, and to vent their displeasure upon Cleon, the director of their conduct on that occasion. But Cleon put on a face of brass. He abused the Strategi. His political opponent, Nicias, was then one of those officers, a man of quiet disposition and moderate abilities, but thoroughly honest and incorruptible. Him Cleon now singled out for his vituperation, and, pointing at him with his finger, exclaimed—"It would be easy enough to take the island if our generals were MEN. If I were General, I would do it at once!" This burst of the tanner made the assembly laugh. He was saluted with cries of "Why don't you go, then?" and Nicias, thinking probably to catch his opponent in his own trap, seconded the voice of the assembly by offering to place at his disposal whatever force he might deem necessary for the enterprise. Cleon at first endeavoured to avoid the dangerous honour thus thrust upon him. But the more he drew back the louder were the assembly in calling upon him to accept the office; and as Nicias seriously repeated his proposition, he adopted with a good grace what there was no longer any possibility of evading, and asserted that he would take Sphacteria within twenty days, and either kill all the Lacedaemonians upon it, or bring them prisoners to Athens.
Never did general set out upon an enterprise under circumstances more singular; but, what was still more extraordinary, fortune enabled him to make his promise good. In fact, as we have seen, Demosthenes had already resolved on attacking the island; and when Cleon arrived at Pylus he found everything prepared for the assault. Accident favoured the enterprise. A fire kindled by some Athenian sailors, who had landed for the purpose of cooking their dinner, caught and destroyed the woods with which the island was overgrown, and thus deprived the Lacedaemonians of one of their principal defences. Nevertheless such was the awe inspired by the reputation of the Spartan army that Demosthenes considered it necessary to land about 10,000 soldiers of different descriptions, although the Lacedaemonian force consisted of only about 420 men. But this small force for a long while kept their assailants at bay; till some Messenians, stealing round by the sea-shore, over crags and cliffs which the Lacedaemonians had deemed impracticable, suddenly appeared on the high ground which overhung their rear. They now began to give way, and would soon have been all slain; but Cleon and Demosthenes, being anxious to carry them prisoners to Athens, sent a herald to summon them to surrender. The latter, in token of compliance, dropped their shields, and waved their hands above their heads. They requested, however, permission to communicate with their countrymen on the mainland; who, after two or three communications, sent them a final message—"to take counsel for themselves, but to do nothing disgraceful." The survivors then surrendered. They were 292 in number, 120 of whom were native Spartans belonging to the first families. By this surrender the prestige of the Spartan arms was in a great degree destroyed. The Spartans were not, indeed, deemed invincible; but their previous feats, especially at Thermopylae, had inspired the notion that they would rather die than yield; an opinion which could now no longer be entertained.
Cleon had thus performed his promise. On the day after the victory he and Demosthenes started with the prisoners for Athens, where they arrived within 20 days from the time of Cleon's departure. Altogether, this affair was one of the most favourable for the Athenians that had occurred during the war. The prisoners would serve not only for a guarantee against future invasions, which might be averted by threatening to put them to death, but also as a means for extorting advantageous conditions whenever a peace should be concluded. Nay, the victory itself was of considerable importance, since it enabled the Athenians to place Pylus in a better posture of defence, and, by garrisoning it with Messenians from Naupactus, to create a stronghold whence Laconia might be overrun and ravaged at pleasure. The Lacedaemonians themselves were so sensible of these things, that they sent repeated messages to Athens to propose a peace, but which the Athenians altogether disregarded.
The eighth year of the war (B.C. 424) opened with brilliant prospects for the Athenians. Elate with their continued good fortune, they aimed at nothing less than the recovery of all the possessions which they had held before the Thirty Years' Truce. For this purpose they planned an expedition against Boeotia. But their good fortune had now reached its culminatiug point. They were defeated by the Boeotians with great loss at the battle of Delium, which was the greatest and most decisive engagement fought during the first period of the war an interesting feature of the battle is that both Socrates and his pupil Alcibiades were engaged in it, the former among the hoplites, the latter in the cavalry. Socrates distinguished himself by his bravery, and was one of those who, instead of throwing down their arms, kept together in a compact body, and repulsed the attacks of the pursuing horse. His retreat was also protected by Alcibiades.
This disastrous battle was speedily followed by the overthrow of the Athenian empire in Thrace. At the request of Perdiccas, King of Macedonia, and of the Chalcidian towns, who had sued for help against the Athenians, Brasidas was sent by the Lacedaemonian government into Macedonia, at the head of a small body of troops. On his arrival in Macedonia he proclaimed that he was come to deliver the Grecian cities from the tyrannous yoke of Athens. His bravery, his kind and conciliating demeanour, his probity, moderation, and good faith, soon gained him the respect and love of the allies of Athens in that quarter. Acanthus and Stagirus hastened to open their gates to him; and early in the ensuing winter, by means of forced marches, he suddenly and unexpectedly appeared before the important Athenian colony of Amphipolis on the Strymon. In that town the Athenian party sent a message for assistance to Thucydides, the historian, who was then general in those parts. Thucydides hastened with seven ships from Thasos, and succeeded in securing Eion at the mouth of the Strymon; but Amphipolis, which lay a little higher up the river, allured by the favourable terms offered, had already surrendered to Brasidas. For his want of vigilance on this occasion, Thucydides was, on the motion of Cleon, sentenced to banishment, and spent the following twenty years of his life in exile. Torone, Scione, and other towns also revolted from Athens.
In the following year (B.C. 422) Cleon was sent to Macedonia to recover the Athenian dependencies, and especially Amphipolis. He encamped on a rising ground on the eastern side of the town. Having deserted the peaceful art of dressing hides for the more hazardous trade of war, in which he was almost totally inexperienced, and having now no Demosthenes to direct his movements, Cleon was thrown completely off his guard by a very ordinary stratagem on the part of Brasidas, who contrived to give the town quite a deserted and peaceful appearance. Cleon suffered his troops to fall into disorder, till he was suddenly surprised by the astounding news that Brasidas was preparing for a sally. Cleon at once resolved to retreat. But his skill was equal to his valour. He conducted his retreat in the most disorderly manner. His left wing had already filed off and his centre with straggling ranks was in the act of following, when Brasidas ordered the gates of the town to be flung open, and, rushing out at the head of only 150 chosen soldiers, charged the retreating columns in flank. They were immediately routed; but Brasidas received a mortal wound and was carried off the field. Though his men were forming on the hill, Cleon fled as fast as he could on the approach of the enemy, but was pursued and slain by a Thracian peltast. In spite, however, of the disgraceful flight of their general, the right wing maintained their ground for a considerable time, till some cavalry and peltasts issuing from Amphipolis attacked them in flank and rear, and compelled them to fly. On assembling again at Eion it was found that half the Athenian hoplites had been slain. Brasidas was carried into Amphipolis, and lived long enough to receive the tidings of his victory. He was interred within the walls with great military pomp in the centre of what thenceforth became the chief agora; he was proclaimed oecist, or founder of the town; and was worshipped as a hero with annual games and sacrifices.
By the death of Brasidas and Cleon the two chief obstacles to a peace were removed; for the former loved war for the sake of its glory, the latter for the handle which it afforded for agitation and for attacking his political opponents. The Athenian Nicias, and the Spartan king Pleistoanax, zealously forwarded the negotiations, and in the spring of the year B.C. 421 a peace for 50 years, commonly called the PEACE OF NICIAS, was concluded on the basis of a mutual restitution of prisoners and places captured during the war.
THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR.—SECOND PERIOD, FROM THE PEACE OF NICIAS TO THE DEFEAT OF THE ATHENIANS IN SICILY, B.C. 421-413.
Several of the allies of Sparta were dissatisfied with the peace which she had concluded; and soon afterwards some of them determined to revive the ancient pretensions of Argos, and to make her the head of a new confederacy, which should include all Greece, with the exception of Sparta and Athens. The movement was begun by the Corinthians, and the league was soon joined by the Eleans, the Mantineans, and the Chalcidians.
Between Sparta and Athens themselves matters were far from being on a satisfactory footing. Sparta confessed her inability to compel the Boeotians and Corinthians to accede to the peace, or even to restore the town of Amphipolis. Athens consequently refused to evacuate Pylus, though she removed the Helots and Messenians from it. In the negotiations which ensued respecting the surrender of Pylus, Alcibiades took a prominent part. This extraordinary man had already obtained immense influence at Athens. Young, rich, handsome, profligate, and clever, Alcibiades was the very model of an Athenian man of fashion. In lineage he was a striking contrast to the plebeian orators of the day. He traced his paternal descent from Ajax, whilst on his mother's side he claimed relationship with the Alcmaeonidae and consequently with Pericles. On the death of his father Clinias Pericles had become his guardian. From early youth the conduct of Alcibiades was marked by violence, recklessness, and vanity. He delighted in astonishing the more sober portion of the citizens by his capricious and extravagant feats. He was utterly destitute of morality, whether public or private. But his vices were partly redeemed by some brilliant qualities. He possessed both boldness of design and vigour of action; and, though scarcely more than thirty at the time of which we are now speaking, he had already on several occasions distinguished himself by his bravery. His more serious studies were made subservient to the purposes of his ambition, for which some skill as an orator was necessary. In order to attain it he frequented the schools of the sophists, and exercised himself in the dialectics of Prodicus, Protagoras, and above all of Socrates.
Such was the man who now opposed the application of the Lacedaemonian ambassadors. Their reception had been so favourable, that Alcibiades alarmed at the prospect of their success, resorted to a trick in order to defeat it. He called upon the Lacedaemonian envoys, one of whom happened to be his personal friend; and he advised them not to tell the Assembly that they were furnished with full powers, as in that case the people would bully them into extravagant concessions, but rather to say that they were merely come to discuss and report. He promised, if they did so, to speak in their favour, and induce the Assembly to grant the restitution of Pylus, to which he himself had hitherto been the chief obstacle. Accordingly on the next day, when the ambassadors were introduced into the Assembly, Alcibiades, assuming his blandest tone and most winning smile, asked them on what footing they came and what were their powers. In reply to these questions, the ambassadors, who only a day or two before had told Nicias and the Senate that they were come as plenipotentiaries, now publicly declared, in the face of the Assembly, that they were not authorized to conclude, but only to negotiate and discuss. At this announcement, those who had heard their previous declaration could scarcely believe their ears. A universal burst of indignation broke forth at this exhibition of Spartan duplicity; whilst, to wind up the scene, Alcibiades, affecting to be more surprised than any, distinguished himself by being the loudest and bitterest in his invectives against the perfidy of the Lacedaemonians.
Shortly afterwards Alcibiades procured the completion of a treaty of alliance for 100 years with Argos, Elis, and Mantinea (B.C. 420). Thus were the Grecian states involved in a complicity of separate and often apparently opposite alliances. It was evident that allies so heterogeneous could not long hold together; nevertheless, nominally at least, peace was at first observed.
In the July which followed the treaty with Argos, the Olympic games, which recurred every fourth year, were to be celebrated. The Athenians had been shut out by the war from the two previous celebrations; and curiosity was excited throughout Greece to see what figure Athens would make at this great Pan-Hellenic festival. War, it was surmised, must have exhausted her resources, and would thus prevent her from appearing with becoming splendour. But from this reproach she was rescued by the wealth and vanity, if not by the patriotism, of Alcibiades. By his care, the Athenian deputies exhibited the richest display of golden ewers, censers, and other plate to be used in the public sacrifice and procession; whilst for the games he entered in his own name no fewer than the unheard-of number of seven four-horsed chariots, of which one gained the first, and another the second prize. Alcibiades was consequently twice crowned with the olive, and twice proclaimed victor by the herald.
The growing ambition and success of Alcibiades prompted him to carry his schemes against Sparta into the very heart of Peloponnesus, without, however, openly violating the peace.
The Lacedaemonians now found it necessary to act with more vigour; and accordingly in B.C. 418 they assembled a very large army, under the command of the Spartan king, Agis. A decisive battle was fought near Mantinea, in which Agis gained a brilliant victory over the Argives and their allies. This battle and that of Delium were the two most important engagements that had yet been fought in the Peloponnesian war. Although the Athenians had fought on the side of the Argives at Mantinea, the peace between Sparta and Athens continued to be nominally observed.
In B.C. 416 the Athenians attacked and conquered Melos, which island and Thera were the only islands in the AEgean not subject to the Athenian supremacy. The Melians having rejected all the Athenian overtures for a voluntary submission, their capital was blockaded by sea and land, and after a siege of some months surrendered. On the proposal, as it appears, of Alcibiades, all the adult males were put to death, the women and children sold into slavery, and the island colonized afresh by 500 Athenians. This horrible proceeding was the more indefensible, as the Athenians, having attacked the Melians in full peace, could not pretend that they were justified by the custom of war in slaying the prisoners. It was the crowning act of insolence and cruelty displayed during their empire, which from this period began rapidly to decline.
The event destined to produce that catastrophe—the intervention of the Athenians in the affairs of Sicily—was already in progress. A quarrel had broken out between Egesta and Selinus, both which cities were seated near the western extremity of Sicily; and Selinus, having obtained the aid of Syracuse, was pressing very hard upon the Egestaeans. The latter appealed to the interests of the Athenians rather than to their sympathies. They represented how great a blow it would be to Athens if the Dorians became predominant in Sicily, and joined the Peloponnesian confederacy; and they undertook, if the Athenians would send an armament to their assistance, to provide the necessary funds for the prosecution of the war. Their most powerful advocate was Alcibiades, whose ambitious views are said to have extended even to the conquest of Carthage. The quieter and more prudent Nicias and his party threw their weight into the opposite scale. But the Athenian assembly, dazzled by the idea of so splendid an enterprise, decided on despatching a large fleet under Nicias, Alcibiades, and Lamachus, with the design of assisting Egesta, and of establishing the influence of Athens throughout Sicily, by whatever means might be found practicable.
For the next three months the preparations for the undertaking were pressed on with the greatest ardour. Young and old, rich and poor, all vied with one another to obtain a share in the expedition. Five years of comparative peace had accumulated a fresh supply both of men and money; and the merchants of Athens embarked in the enterprise as in a trading expedition. It was only a few of the wisest heads that escaped the general fever of excitement, The expedition was on the point of sailing, when a sudden and mysterious event converted all these exulting feelings into gloomy foreboding.
At every door in Athens, at the corners of streets, in the market place, before temples, gymnasia, and other public places, stood Hermae, or statues of the god Hermes, consisting of a bust of that deity surmounting a quadrangular pillar of marble about the height of the human figure. When the Athenians rose one morning towards the end of May, 415 B.C., it was found that all these figures had been mutilated during the night, and reduced by unknown hands to a shapeless mass. The act inspired political, as well as religious, alarm. It seemed to indicate a widespread conspiracy, for so sudden and general a mutilation must have been the work of many hands. The sacrilege might only be a preliminary attempt of some powerful citizen to seize the despotisn, and suspicion pointed its finger at Alcibiades. Active measures were taken and large rewards offered for the discovery of the perpetrators. A public board was appointed to examine witnesses, which did not, indeed, succeed in eliciting any facts bearing on the actual subject of inquiry, but which obtained evidence respecting similar acts of impiety committed at previous times in drunken frolics. In these Alcibiades himself was implicated; and though the fleet was on the very eve of departure, a citizen rose in the assembly and accused Alcibiades of having profaned the Eleusinian mysteries by giving a representation of them in a private house, producing in evidence the testimony of a slave. Alcibiades denied the accusation, and implored the people to have it investigated at once. His enemies, however, had sufficient influence to get the inquiry postponed till his return; thus keeping the charge hanging over his head, and gaining time to poison the public mind against him.
The Athenian fleet, consisting of 100 triremes, and having on board 1500 chosen Athenian hoplites, as well as auxiliaries, at length set sail, and proceeded to Corcyra, where it was joined by the other allies in the month of July, 415 B.C. Upon arriving at Rhegium the generals received the discouraging news that Egesta was unable to contribute more than thirty talents. A council of war was now held; and it was finally resolved to gain as many allies as they could among the Greek cities in Sicily, and, having thus ascertained what assistance they could rely upon, to attack Syracuse and Selinus.
Naxos joined the Athenians, and shortly afterwards they obtained possession by surprise of the important city of Catana, which was now made the head-quarters of the armament. Here an unwelcome message greeted Alcibiades. After his departure from Athens, Thessalus, the son of Cimon, preferred an indictment against him in consequence of his profanation of the Eleusinian mysteries. The Salaminian, or state, trireme was despatched to Sicily, carrying the decree of the assembly for Alcibiades to come home and take his trial. The commander of the Salaminia was, however, instructed not to seize his person, but to allow him to sail in his own trireme. Alcibiades availed himself of this privilege to effect his escape. When the ships arrived at Thurii in Italy, he absconded, and contrived to elude the search that was made after him, Nevertheless, though absent, he was arraigned at Athens, and condemned to death; his property was confiscated; and the Eumolpidae, who presided ever the celebration of the Eleusinian mysteries, pronounced upon him the curses of the gods. On hearing of his sentence Alcibiades is said to have exclaimed, "I will show them that I am still alive."
Three months had now been frittered away in Sicily, during which the Athenians had done little or nothing, if we except the acquisition of Naxos and Catana. Nicias now resolved to make an attempt upon Syracuse. By a false message that the Catanaeans were ready to assist in expelling the Athenians, he induced the Syracusans to proceed thither in great force, and he availed himself of their absence to sail with his whole fleet into the Great Harbour of Syracuse, where he landed near the mouth of the Anapus. The Syracusans, when they found that they had been deceived at Catana, marched back and offered Nicias battle in his new position. The latter accepted it, and gained the victory; after which he retired to Catana, and subsequently to Naxos into winter quarters.
The Syracusans employed the winter in preparations for defence. They also despatched envoys to Corinth and Sparta to solicit assistance, in the latter of which towns they found an unexpected advocate. Alcibiades, having crossed from Thurii to Cyllene in Peloponnesus, received a special invitation to proceed to Sparta. Here he revealed all the plans of Athens, and exhorted the Lacedaemonians to frustrate them. For this purpose he advised them to send an army into Sicily, under the command of a Spartan general, and, by way of causing a diversion, to establish a fortified post at Decelea in the Attic territory. The Spartans fell in with these views, and resolved to send a force to the assistance of Syracuse in the spring, under the command of Gylippus.
Nicias, having received reinforcements from Athens, recommenced hostilities as soon as the season allowed of it, and resolved on besieging Syracuse. That town consisted of two parts—the inner and the outer city. The former of these—the original settlement was comprised in the island of Ortygia; the latter afterwards known by the name of Achradina, covered the high ground of the peninsula north of Ortygia, and was completely separate from the inner city. The island of Ortygia, to which the modern city is now confined, is of an oblong shape, about two miles in circumference, lying between the Great Harbour on the west, and the Little Harbour on the east, and separated from the mainland by a narrow channel. The Great Harbour is a splendid bay, about five miles in circumference, and the Little Harbour was spacious enough to receive a large fleet of ships of war. The outer city was surrounded on the north and east by the sea and by sea-walls which rendered an assault on that side almost impracticable. On the land side it was defended by a wall, and partly also by the nature of the ground, which in some part was very steep. West and north-west of the wall of the outer city stood two unfortified suburbs, which were at a later time included within the walls of Syracuse under the names of Tyche and Neapolis. Between these two suburbs the ground rose in a gentle acclivity to the summit of the ranges of hills called Epipolae.
It was from the high ground of Epipolae that Syracuse was most exposed to attack. Nicias landed at Leon, a place upon the bay of Thapsus, at the distance of only six or seven stadia from Epipolae, took possession of Epipolae, and erected on the summit a fort called Labdalum. Then coming farther down the hill towards Syracuse, he built another fort of a circular form and of considerable size at a place called Syke. From the latter point he commenced his line of circumvallation, one wall extending southwards from Syke to the Great Harbour, and the other wall running northwards to the outer sea. The Athenians succeeded in completing the circumvallation towards the south, but in one of their many engagements with the Syracusans they lost the gallant Lamachus. At the same time, the Athenian fleet entered the Great Harbour, where it was henceforth permanently established. The northern wall was never completed, and through the passage thus left open the besieged continued to obtain provisions. Nicias, who, by the death of Lamachus, had become sole commander, seemed now on the point of succeeding. The Syracusans were so sensible of their inferiority in the field that they no longer ventured to show themselves outside the walls. They began to contemplate surrender, and even sent messages to Nicias to treat of the terms. This caused the Athenian commander to indulge in a false confidence of success, and consequent apathy; and the army having lost the active and energetic Lamachus, operations were no longer carried on with the requisite activity.
It was in this state of affairs that the Spartan commander, Gylippus, passed over into Italy with a little squadron of four ships, with the view merely of preserving the Greek cities in that country, supposing that Syracuse, and, with her, the other Greek cities in Sicily, were irretrievably lost. At Tarentum he learned to his great surprise and satisfaction that the Athenian wall of circumvallation at Syracuse had not yet been completed on the northern side. He now sailed through the straits of Messana, which were left completely unguarded, and arrived safely at Himera on the north coast of Sicily. Here he announced himself as the forerunner of larger succours, and began to levy an army which the magic of the Spartan name soon enabled him to effect; and in a few days he was in a condition to march towards Syracuse with about 3000 men. The Syracusans now dismissed all thoughts of surrender, and went out boldly to meet Gylippus, who marched into Syracuse over the heights of Epipolae, which the supineness of Nicias had left unguarded. Upon arriving in the city, Gylippus sent a message to the Athenians allowing them a five days' truce to collect their effects and evacuate the island. Nicias returned no answer to this insulting proposal; but the operations of Gylippus soon showed that the tide of affairs was really turned. His first exploit was to capture the Athenian fort at Labdalum, which made him master of Epipolae. He next commenced constructing a counter-wall to intersect the Athenian lines on the northern side. This turn of affairs induced those Sicilian cities which had hitherto hesitated to embrace the side of Syracuse. Gylippus was also reinforced by the arrival of thirty triremes from Corinth, Leucas, and Ambracia. Nicias now felt that the attempt to blockade Syracuse with his present force was hopeless. He therefore resolved to occupy the headland of Plemmyrium, the southernmost point of the entrance to the Great Harbour, which would be a convenient station for watching the enemy, as well as for facilitating the introduction of supplies. Here he accordingly erected three forts and formed a naval station. Some slight affairs occurred in which the balance of advantage was in favour of the Syracusans. By their change of station the Athenians were now a besieged rather than a besieging force. Their triremes were becoming leaky, and their soldiers and sailors were constantly deserting. Nicias himself had fallen into a bad state of health; and in this discouraging posture of affairs he wrote to Athens requesting to be recalled, and insisting strongly on the necessity of sending reinforcements.
The Athenians refused to recall Nicias, but they determined on sending a large reinforcement to Sicily, under the joint command of Demosthenes and Eurymedon. The news of these fresh and extensive preparations incited the Lacedaemonians to more vigorous action. The peace, if such it can be called, was now openly broken; and in the spring of 413 B.C. the Lacedaemonians, under King Agis, invaded Attica itself, and, following the advice of Alcibiades, established themselves permanently at Decelia, a place situated on the ridge of Mount Parnes about 14 miles north of Athens, and commanding the Athenian plain. The city was thus placed in a state of siege. Scarcity began to be felt within the walls; the revenues were falling off, whilst on the other hand expenses were increasing.
Meanwhile in Sicily the Syracusans had gained such confidence that they even ventured on a naval engagement with the Athenians. In the first battle the Athenians were victorious, but the second battle, which lasted two days, ended in their defeat. They were now obliged to haul up their ships in the innermost part of the Great Harbour, under the lines of their fortified camp. A still more serious disaster than the loss of the battle was the loss of their naval reputation. It was evident that the Athenians had ceased to be invincible on the sea; and the Syracusans no longer despaired of overcoming them on their own element.
Such was the state of affairs when, to the astonishment of the Syracusans, a fresh Athenian fleet of 75 triremes, under Demosthenes and Eurymedon, entered the Great Harbour with all the pomp and circumstance of war. It had on board a force of 5000 hoplites, of whom about a quarter were Athenians, and a great number of light-armed troops. The active and enterprising character of Demosthenes led him to adopt more vigorous measures than those which had been hitherto pursued. He saw at once that whilst Epipolae remained in the possession of the Syracusans there was no hope of taking their city, and he therefore directed all his efforts to the recapture of that position. But his attempts were unavailing. He was defeated not only in an open assault upon the Syracusan wall, but in a nocturnal attempt to carry it by surprise. These reverses were aggravated by the breaking out of sickness among the troops. Demosthenes now proposed to return home and assist in expelling the Lacedaemonians from Attica, instead of pursuing an enterprise which seemed to be hopeless. But Nicias, who feared to return to Athens with the stigma of failure, refused to give his consent to this step. Demosthenes then urged Nicias at least to sail immediately out of the Great Harbour, and take up their position either at Thapsus or Catana, where they could obtain abundant supplies of provisions, and would have an open sea for the manoeuvres of their fleet. But even to this proposal Nicias would not consent; and the army and navy remained in their former position. Soon afterwards, however, Gylippus received such large reinforcements, that Nicias found it necessary to adopt the advice of his colleague. Preparations were secretly made for their departure, the enemy appear to have had no suspicion of their intention and they were on the point of quitting their ill-fated quarters on the following morning, when on the very night before (27 Aug. 413 B.C.) an eclipse of the moon took place. The soothsayers who were consulted said that the army must wait thrice nine days, a full circle of the moon, before it could quit its present position; and the devout and superstitious Nicias forthwith resolved to abide by this decision.
Meanwhile the intention of the Athenians became known to the Syracusans, who determined to strike a blow before their enemy escaped. They accordingly attacked the Athenian station both by sea and land. On land the attack of Gylippus was repulsed; but at sea the Athenian fleet was completely defeated, and Eurymedon, who commanded the right division, was slain The spirits of the Symcusans rose with their victories; and though they would formerly have been content with the mere retreat of the Athenians, they now resolved on effecting their utter destruction. With this view they blocked up the entrance of the Great Harbour with a line of vessels moored across it. All hope seemed now to be cut off from the Athenians, unless they could succeed in forcing this line and thus effecting their escape. The Athenian fleet still numbered 110 triremes, which Nicias furnished with grappling-irons, in order to bring the enemy to close quarters, and then caused a large proportion of his land-force to embark.
Never perhaps was a battle fought under circumstances of such intense interest, or witnessed by so many spectators vitally concerned in the result. The basin of the Great Harbour, about 5 miles in circumference, in which nearly 200 ships, each with crews of more than 200 men, were about to engage, was lined with spectators. The Syracusan fleet was the first to leave the shore. A considerable portion was detached to guard the barrier at the mouth of the harbour. Hither the first and most impetuous attack of the Athenians was directed, who sought to break through the narrow opening which had been left for the passage of merchant vessels. Their onset was repulsed, and the battle then became general. The shouts of the combatants, and the crash of the iron heads of the vessels as they were driven together, resounded over the water, and were answered on shore by the cheers or wailings of the spectators as their friends were victorious or vanquished. For a long time the battle was maintained with heroic courage and dubious result. At length, as the Athenian vessels began to yield and make back towards the shore, a universal shriek of horror and despair arose from the Athenian army, whilst shouts of joy and victory were raised from the pursuing vessels, and were echoed back from the Syracusans on land. As the Athenian vessels neared the shore their crews leaped out, and made for the camp, whilst the boldest of the land army rushed forward to protect the ships from being seized by the enemy. The Athenians succeeded in saving only 60 ships, or about half their fleet. The Syracusan fleet, however, had been reduced to 50 ships; and on the same afternoon, Nicias and Demosthenes, as a last hope of escape, exhorted their men to make another attempt to break the enemy's line, and force their way out of the harbour. But the courage of the crews was so completely damped that they positively refused to re-embark.
The Athenian army still numbered 40,000 men; and as all chance of escape by sea was now hopeless, it was resolved to retreat by land to some friendly city, and there defend themselves against the attacks of the Syracusans. As the soldiers turned to quit that fatal encampment, the sense of their own woes was for a moment suspended by the sight of their unburied comrades, who seemed to reproach them with the neglect of a sacred duty; but still more by the wailings and entreaties of the wounded, who clung around their knees, and implored not to be abandoned to certain destruction. Amid this scene of universal woe and dejection, a fresh and unwonted spirit of energy and heroism seemed to be infused into Nicias. Though suffering under an incurable complaint, he was everywhere seen marshalling his troops and encouraging them by his exhortations. The march was directed towards the territory of the Sicels in the interior of the island. The army was formed into a hollow square with the baggage in the middle; Nicias leading the van, and Demosthenes bringing up the rear. The road ascended by a sort of ravine over a steep hill called the Acraean cliff on which the Syracusans had fortified themselves. After spending two days in vain attempts to force this position, Nicias and Demosthenes resolved during the night to strike off to the left towards the sea. But they were overtaken, surrounded by superior forces, and compelled to surrender at discretion. Out of the 40,000 who started from the camp only 10,000 at the utmost were left at the end of the sixth day's march, the rest had either deserted or been slain. The prisoners were sent to work in the stone-quarries of Achradina and Epipolae. Here they were crowded together without any shelter, and with scarcely provisions enough to sustain life. The numerous bodies of those who died were left to putrify where they had fallen, till at length the place became such an intolerable centre of stench and infection that, at the end of seventy days, the Syracusans, for their own comfort and safety, were obliged to remove the survivors, who were sold as slaves. Nicias and Demosthenes were condemned to death in spite of all the efforts of Gylippus and Hermocrates to save them.
Such was the end of two of the largest and best appointed armaments that had ever gone forth from Athens. Nicias, as we have seen, was from the first opposed to the expedition in which they were employed, as pregnant with the most dangerous consequences to Athens; and, though it must be admitted that in this respect his views were sound, it cannot at the same time be concealed that his own want of energy, and his incompetence as a general, were the chief causes of the failure of the undertaking. His mistakes involved the fall of Demosthenes, an officer of far greater resolution and ability than himself, and who, had his counsels been followed, would in all probability have conducted the enterprise to a safe termination, though there was no longer room to hope for success.
THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR.—THIRD PERIOD, FROM THE SICILIAN EXPEDITION TO THE END OF THE WAR, B.C. 413-404.