A Smaller History of Greece
From The Earliest Times To The Roman Conquest
By William Smith D.C.L., LL.D.
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.