The Periklean Age
After the Persian army left Greece, the people of the
Greek cities returned home. The Athenians, who were at Troezen,
Aegina and Salamis after the battle of Plataea returned and found their
city in total ruin and the countryside desolated. They soon started
rebuilding the city and began raising walls (478 BC). The Aeginitians
immediately informed Sparta, which with the pretext, that the
fortifications would help the Persians in another expedition, proposed to
the Athenians to demolish them. Of course Sparta only feared the rising
power of Athens.
then devised a stratagem and as ambassador, together with Aristeides and
Abronychos, went to Sparta, having left orders to the Athenians to build
the walls during his absence, as fast as they could. At Sparta, he used
all the power of his diplomacy to gain time and when the Athenians who
were working at the walls day and night, men and women, informed him that
the work was almost finished, he announced it to the Spartans, who were
compelled to accept it. Though the walls were raised half the projected
height (raised about sixty feet), they secured the city and Themistokles
started his long pursued project, to turn Athens the greatest maritime and
commercial power of Greece. His plan was to build twenty triremes every
year, but his work was left unfinished.
466 - 449 BC
party and their leaders, Alkmaeon, Kimon and Xanthippos,
under the influence of Sparta succeeded to ostracize Themistokles, at 461
BC. In Athens, the new leaders Aristeides and Kimon continued the plans of
the genius Themistokles. Aristeides was responsible for the regulation of
the Greek islands, that had agreed to place themselves under the command
of Athens. The confederacy of Delos, which started in 477 BC, was not only
confided to the Ionians, but it was joined by all the Aegean islands. The
treasury of the league was in the sacred island of Delos. Aristeides
decided that some of the allies ought to keep a number of ships at sea and
the islands who could not afford it, to pay a contribution to the
treasury, starting thus the foundation for the naval dominion of
The war with Persia was still continuing and Kimon with a big fleet sailed
to Thrace and laid siege to Eion, on the Strymon river (476 BC). The
besieged, a Persian governor with his garrison, after a hard struggle,
rather than surrender, threw the gold and the silver of the city in the
river. He then raised a pile of wood and burned his wife, children and
slaves, throwing himself after that in the flames. All the other Greek
cities except Doriskos, that had Persian garrisons, were subdued. Kimon
later sailed against Skyros (476 BC) and as executor of the Amphictionic
league, he expelled the Dolopian pirates and brought Athenians to colonize
the island. With him, he brought the bones of the hero Theseus, who had
been assassinated in this island eight hundred years before. When the
island of Naxos in 466 BC, a confederate, refused to contribute in the
league, Kimon sailed with a large fleet and after forcing the Naxians to
submit, he enslaved them.
From Naxos, Kimon sailed to Asia and after assembling a fleet of two
hundred triremes, laid siege to the Greek city of Phaselis, and as soon as
the city was submitted, he sailed to the river Eurymedon in 466 BC, to
attack the Persian fleet. After a complete victory, in which two hundred
ships were captured, Kimon pursued the Persians, who had fled meanwhile to
the land and defeated them. When he received information, that eighty
Phoenician ships were at Hydros, in Cyprus, he sailed as fast as he could,
defeating and destroying the lot of them. This was the third victory in
one day, of the glorious general Kimon, lifting Athens to the highest
point of her power.
was the influence of Kimon at the decisions of Athens greater. From his
vast fortune, he build at his own expense, the south wall of the
Acropolis. He also started building the walls, which would connect the
city of Athens with her ports (Piraeus, Phaleron). He planted the garden
of the Academy, as well the market with plane trees. When the island of
Thasos asked for rights to the ports and goldmines of the coast of Thrace,
which the Athenians possessed, Kimon with a big
fleet sailed to the island and defeated the Thasians, first at sea and
then at land, ravaging the place and laying siege to the city of Thasos,
which finally was submitted after three years (463 BC). The Athenians
pulled down the walls, took their ships and made them pay a large sum of
money. At the same time, Kimon brought ten thousand Athenians to colonize
the place, called the "Nine roads" (renamed afterwards Amphipolis),
opposite to Thasos. In the meantime the Thasians, asked the help of
Sparta, which was ready to help them by sending an army to invade Attica,
but they were stopped, after a destructive earthquake destroyed the whole
city of Sparta (464 BC).
That was the opportunity the Messenians were seeking to revolt (3rd
Messenian War 464 BC). Sparta with the help of the Peloponnesians unable
to reduce the stronghold of the Messenians, Ithome, asked the help of the
Athenians. The democratic party led by Perikles, refused to help Sparta,
but Kimon persuaded them and leading an army reached Ithome. After a
failed assault on Ithome, in which Athenians took also part, Sparta
dismissed them. After this event, the insulted Athenians led by Perikles,
succeeded to ostracize Kimon.
Megara, offended with the Spartans, who were permitting the Corinthians to
harass them, made alliance with Athens (459 BC). As a result of this
action, a war opened between Athens and Corinth. A small Athenian army,
which landed at Halieis (459-458 BC), on the Akte, was defeated by the
Corinthians, but in a naval battle, between Athens and Corinth, that took
place near the little island Cekryphalea, in the Saronic gulf lying
between Aegina and the Argive shore, the Athenians defeated the
Corinthians. The Athenians defeated also the Aeginitians and their allies,
in a great naval battle near Aegina, destroying and capturing seventy
ships. After the battle, the Athenians landed on Aegina and laid siege to
the city, which was taken after two years (457-456 BC). Aegina was forced
to join the confederacy, as the richest subject state.
When Corinthians and their allies
invaded Megaris at 458 BC, knowing that the Athenian forces were engaged
at Aegina, the great Athenian general Myronides, formed an army
consisted from boys and old men and marched to help the Megarians. In an
indecisive battle against the Corinthians, when the later left, the
Athenians raised a trophy. Reproached by the people of Corinth, the
Corinthian army returned after twelve days and started erecting a trophy.
When the Athenians took notice, they came out of the walls of Megara and
killed them, as well other forces, that came to their aid.
During the period Athens was winning these miraculous battles, a part of
her naval power was at Egypt, where 200 Athenian
and confederate ships were operating at the coast of Cyprus and Phoenicia.
There, they were invited by the Lybian prince Inaros, son of
Psammetichos, who had revolted against Persia. The Athenian fleet
sailed up to the Nile, only to find that Inaros had gained a victory over
the Persian army. The fleet then sailed to Memphis, where they expelled
the Persian forces, but failed to take the fortified citadel (459 BC). The
siege of the fortress lasted for some years, when Artaxerxes
prepared a large army and a Phoenician fleet under the command of
Megabyzos. The Athenians were compelled to retreat to the island
Prosopites, in the Nile, where they resisted gallantly, until Megabyzos
with his fleet diverted one of the channels, which formed the island and
attacked them by land. The Athenians, who had burned their ships, were
forced to capitulate. The Persians killed them all, except a few soldiers,
who escaped to Kyrene. Without knowledge of the events, fifty Athenian
ships which came for help, they were defeated and almost all were
Sparta jealous for the success of Athens, under the pretext of assisting
the Dorians, whose territory had been invaded by the Phokians, sent
fifteen hundred hoplites and together with ten thousand allies marched
into Doreis, compelling the Phokians to withdraw. From Phokis, the
Spartans marched to Boeotia according to their plan, where they restored
the fortification of Thebes and reduced the other Boeotian cities to the
obedience of Thebes. It was there, that the Spartans received a
proposition by the oligarchic party of Athens, promising to assist them to
overthrow the democracy. When the Lakedaemonians took up position at
Tanagra, on the borders of Attica, the Athenians quickly assembled an
army of 14,000 strong, including
1000 Argives and a Thessalian cavalry and marched to engage them.
the battle, the ostracized Kimon, requested to fight in the battle as a
mere hoplite. The Athenians, suspecting that he had taken part in the
oligarchic treachery, refused. Kimon then left his armor to friends,
telling them to fight for his honor. One hundred of the friends of Kimon
fell in the battle, after fighting with heroism.
The bloody and indecisive battle took place in 457 BC. The Lakedaemonians
gained the advantage, when the Thessalian cavalry treacherously deserted
the Athenians. The Spartans though won the battle, they were in no
condition to invade Attica and after ravaging territories of Megara,
withdrew. The ostracized Kimon, after a proposal by Perikles, returned
At the beginning of the year 456 BC and two months after the battle of
Tanagra, the Athenians invaded Boeotia. The Boeotians assembled a big army
and came to Oenophyta, where a battle took place, in which the
brilliant Athenian general Myronides won a complete and decisive victory.
The Athenians after taking the Boeotian towns, banished the Lakedaemonian
collaborators and established a democratic form of government.
One year after the battle of Oenophyta, Athens finished the long walls.
General Tolmedes with a fleet sailed to Peloponnesos and burned the ports
of the Lakedaemonians, Methone and Gytheion, capturing also Naupaktos in
Lokris, establishing there the Messenians and Helots.
In 452 BC, Athens and Sparta made a truce through the instigation of Kimon,
for a five years period. After the truce Kimon found the opportunity to
continue the war against the Persians. He sailed to Cyprus with two
hundred triremes of the confederacy. From there, he sent sixty ships to
Egypt to help the prince Amyrtaeos, who was fighting the Persians
at the Delta. Kimon with the remaining ships laid siege to Citium at
Cyprus. During the siege Kimon died and the command of the fleet was
given to Anaxicrates, who left Citium to engage the Phoenician and
Sicilian fleet at Salamis of Cyprus. The Greek fleet gained a complete
victory on sea and land and rejoining with the sixty ships in Egypt,
sailed to Athens.
At the year 448 BC, Athens had reached the greatest height of her power,
at sea and land. During the previous years, Athens had acquired the
alliance of Megara, Boeotia, Phokis, Lokris, Troezen and Achaia and had
also conquered the island of Aegina. The islands belonging to the
confederacy of Delos had become passive tributaries and the treasury of
Delos was transferred to Athens. But after 448 BC, a progressive decline
of Athens occurred.
In 447 BC, a revolution in Boeotia took place and an Athenian body of one
thousand hoplitae, mainly youthful aristocratic volunteers, under the
command of general Tolmedes, marched to Boeotia, against the advice
of Perikles, who told them to be patient and wait until they collected a
stronger force. Tolmedes and his men retook Chaeronia, but when they were
leaving, after a surprise attack by the exiles of Orchomenos and others,
they were defeated. Many Athenians killed, including general Tolmedes, all
the rest were taken prisoners. To recover the prisoners, Athens was
compelled to agree to restore the exiles and permit the establishment of
aristocracy in the cities. The decline of Athens continued with the
expulsion of friends of Athens, from the government of Phokis and Lokris.
Things went worst, when Megara and Euboea revolted and the young king of
Sparta Pleistoanax invaded Attica, reaching as close as Eleusis.
Pleistoanax, who was probably bribed by Perikles, evacuated Attica and
later, he was found guilty of corruption and banished. Perikles, who at
the time of the invasion of Pleistoanax was at expedition at Euboea
returned to Athens. When the enemy withdrew, he went back to Euboea, with
five thousand hoplite and fifty triremes. After a short time the island of
Euboea surrendered, the landowners were expelled and their properties were
taken by Athenian colonists. Though the land power of Athens was
diminished, at sea she remained strong and in 445 BC signed a treaty with
Sparta, for thirty years.
444 - 429 BC
While Perikles was pursuing his plan to make Athens an
empire, the oligarchs led by Thoukydides (not the historian) were
accusing him, that Athens had not right to spent the contribution of her
allies to build temples, support campaigns, etc. Thoukydides was banished
in 442 BC, and Perikles became the undisputed leader of Athens, until his
death, in 429 BC. Perikles, in a period of twenty years, changed the
appearance of Athens, building in Acropolis the masterpiece Parthenon.
He did not only beautify Athens, but also her port Piraeus, which
had grown, since it had been fortified by Themistokles. He appointed the
architect Ippodamos, who rebuild Piraeus, using a rectangular
system where the main streets run parallel to the streets at right angles.
This was the first city to be build in such way in Europe and its plan has
been adopted by most of our modern cities.
Among the measures to strengthen the Athenian empire were the Klerouchies.
The most important establishment of Klerouchoi took place at the Thracian
chersonese under his personal supervision. Other settlements in Naxos,
Andros, helped the unemployed Athenian citizens, to whom were allotted
Athens was prospering, her trade had been increased mainly due to the
decline of the merchant cities of Ionia and the diminished Phoenician
trade after the victory of Greece over Persia. Athenian ships were
bringing from Karthage corn, cheese and from Sicily pork, from Tuscany
metal works, carpets and cushions, from Pontos corn, fish and wood. Athens
at west had no colonies, like the competitor Corinth. Themistokles had
tried to persuade the Athenians to make a settlement, but Athens had to
wait until Perikles to execute his idea. When the exiles from Sybaris
asked the help of Athens to return to their city, Perikles took the
opportunity to lay the foundation of the new city of Sybaris, from exiles
In 443 BC, under the guidance of the seer Lampon, a close friend of
Perikles, the colony of Thurii was founded not far from Sybaris.
The new city was designed by Ippodamos, the architect of Piraeus.
In Thrace a new city was founded at the chersonese and named Amphipolis.
It was soon flourished and played an important role in the Athenian trade.
Perikles was a successful military leader also. At 440 BC, Samos revolted
and Perikles with forty four triremes sailed to Samos and overthrew the
aristocracy. When the Athenian fleet left, the nobles returned and took
possession of the city. Immediately Perikles sailed back to Samos with two
hundred triremes, blockaded the island and forced them to surrender after
nine months. The terms of submission were to surrender their ships, pull
down their walls and pay the amount of one thousand five hundred talents.
Intellectually Athens at this time was at its highest, many philosophers
of Greece visited Athens.
The Peloponnesian war
431 - 421 BC
The unavoidable clash between Sparta and Athens came
with an incident at the friendly to Athens city of Plataea, on March of
431 BC. On a dark moonless night, a small Theban force of three hundred
men entered Plataea, with the help of a small party of oligarchs. They
went to agora, where they made a proclamation to Plataeans, to join the
Boeotian league. Due to the darkness, the Plataeans, who did not know the
number of Thebans, accepted, but when morning broke out and saw the small
number of them, they attacked and caught many of them. When the Athenians
learned about the episode, they sent a herald with instructions not to
injure the prisoners, but it was too late, the prisoners 180 in
number, had been executed. The Athenians understanding the consequences of
this episode, a clear violation of the thirty years peace, they evacuated
from Plataea the women, children and old men and sent a large amount of
provisions with an Athenian garrison of 80 men.
Archidamos invaded Attica in the spring of 431 BC without
opposition, since Athens had taken the decision not to engage to a land
battle with Sparta and thus the Peloponnesian war started, lasting for 28
years. The first ten years of the war (431- 421 BC) were named "Archidamios
war" from the name of the able king of Sparta Archidamos.
On the side of Lakedaemonians were all the Peloponnesian states with the
exception of Argos and Achaea which entered the war joining Sparta later.
They were also the Boeotians, Megarians, Lokrians, Phokaeans, Leukadians,
Ambrakiotes and Anaktorians. The coast states supplied ships, the
Boeotians, Locrians and Phokians with cavalry.
On the side of Athens were the Plataeans, Chians, Lesbians, Messenians,
Corkyraeans, Zakynthians, Akarnanians as well as the towns of the coast of
Asia and Thrace and all the isles of Aegean, except Melos and Thera. The
Athenian troops were 29,000 hoplites, 1200 horsemen and 1600 archers and
her navy was 300 triremes without counting those of her allies. The Chians,
Corkyraeans and Lesbians supplied shipping.
Archidamos forces which entered Attica consisted from about 60,000 to
100,000 men and at the beginning he tried unsuccessful attacks upon the
fortress of Oenoe, on mount Kithairon, failing to take it. He then marched
towards Eleusis, where he arrived at the middle of June 431 BC.
After ravaging the Thracian plain, he encamped at Acharnae, seven miles
In the meantime the Athenians had collected the population within the
walls and had sent all the animals to Euboea. Their fleet of 100 triremes
and 50 from Corkyra, attacked the town of Methone on the coast of
Messene. It was thanks to the heroic young Spartan Brasidas, who
with 100 hoplites broke through the Athenian troops and saved the city.
After this, the Athenians left for the coast of Ellis, which they ravaged.
The Athenians also took revenge on the Aeginitians, who regarded them as
the chief cause of the war. They expelled the population and brought
Athenian colonists in the island. Archidamos evacuated Attica at the end
of July and his army was dismantled immediately. Upon his departure, the
Athenians under Perikles at the end of September, attacked Megara, which
they ravaged totally.
The Athenians, after their successful expeditions, took the remains of the
fallen soldiers during the expeditions and buried them with full honors,
at the cemetery of Kerameikos,
the walls. An empty bed covered with a sheet represented the soldiers
whose bodies had not been found. After the burial, Perikles made his
famous speach, Epitaphios, on the hill of Pnyx, opposite to
At the spring of 430 BC, Archidamos again invaded Attica, but in the
meantime the plague (λοιμός) had
broken out in Athens. Thoukydides, who caught the plague himself, gives a
vivid description of the sickness and a detailed account of the effects of
the pestilence, that had on the Athenians, both physical and moral. The
plague appeared first at the port of Athens Piraeus and soon reached the
city and left countless dead, who were left unburied. All the temples were
full of corpses and the public services were not working. The epidemic
decimated the one third of the Attic population and the Athenians in vain
asked from the Spartans to make truce.
In the meantime, the Athenian fleet under Perikles, with 100 triremes and
50 from Chios and Lesbos, ravaged the coast of Epidauros, Troezen and
Hermione, destroying the city of Prasiae, on the coast of Laconia. But the
strong force that was aboard the ships, 4000 hoplites and 300 cavalry
failed to capture the target of the expedition, Epidauros. Despite the
plague, Athens had successes. Potidaea, which had been seized, fell in the
winter of 430 BC and cost to the Athenian state the incredible amount of
The Lakedaemonians with greater force ravaged all the neighborhood
of Athens marching as far as the mines of Laurium, but stayed in Attica
only for 40 days, because of the fear for the plague. In their turn
Athenians, with 100 triremes under the command of Knemos devastated the
island of Zakynthos. When Perikles returned, the Spartan forces had
At the third year of the war (429 BC), Perikles died in the autumn, from
the plague and the political power of Athens now fell on demagogues, who
often been unable to persuade the middle class and the aristocrats of
Athens, they used cheap politics to stir up the population with disastrous
results. Archidamos marched towards the city of Plataea and demanded
to hand him over the city and their land properties, promising that after
the war, everything would be restored to them. The majority of Plataeans
were in favor of the proposal, but Athenians exhorted them to hold out,
promising them assistance. After their refusal, Archidamos surrounded the
small city of Plataea and the famous siege started. For three months
Spartans tried everything to conquer the city, but without success. They
then decided to blockade and starve the population.
For this, they
surrounded Plataea with a double wall, but even this measure had no
success. After two years, when the provisions of Plataea started to run
short, 212 men escaped in a stormy December night. The rest of the
population surrendered in 427 BC. They were put in trial before five
Spartan judges and executed. The town of Plataea was transferred to
Thebes, who after a few months destroyed all the private houses to the
In 429 BC, the Athenian fleet under the command of General Phormio had
successes. Phormio with 27 only ships, using excellent strategy, defeated
47 ships of the Peloponnesian fleet. The same year, Phormio had another
naval victory, which took place in Naupaktos.
When Archidamos left Attica from his third invasion, Mytilene and
the whole island of Lesbos, except Methymna, revolted (428 BC). The
Athenians blockaded the two harbors, Mytilene and Pachaes and after one
year, Mytilene surrendered (427 BC). It was decided then by the Athenians
and a trireme was sent to Pachaes with the order, that all males of
Mytilene ought to put to death and the women and children to be enslaved.
It was thanks to the speech of the Athenian Diodotos, who
persuaded the Athenians, that an inhuman foreign policy was not in their
interest, that the Mytilians were spared.
The speech changed the mind of the people and another trireme was sent,
which the Mytilenian envoys supplied with crew promising big rewards, if
they were arrived before the trireme, which had been sent the previous
day. Fortunately for the Mytilenians, the ship arrived on time and the
population was saved.
In the fourth and fifth year of the war Spartans again invaded
Attica. In the sixth year of the war (426 BC) the Spartans did not invade
Attica. A series of severe earthquakes and floods occurred in various
parts of Greece. At Athens the plaque reappeared.
During the seventh year of the war the Lakedaemonian army under the
command of Agis invaded Attica, but only for the sort time of
fifteen days. Agis was recalled and marched towards Pylos, because the
Athenians had established a military post at Pylos in Messenia.
The Peloponnesian fleet that was in Corkyra under the command of
Thrasymelidas, was also ordered to sail to Pylos. Thrasymelidas, on
his arrival at Pylos with his fleet, occupied the small but densely wooded
island of Sfacteria with four hundred and twenty hoplites and their
helots. Part of these men, 292, among them many belonging to chief
families, were later captured by the Athenian Kleon and brought to Athens
in chains, the rest had been killed after a severe conflict on the islet.
This event surprised the Hellenic world who knew that Spartans never
surrendered. Sparta was now in a bad position. The Messenians from Pylos
together with the runaway helots were able to plunder the country, also
Sparta could not invade Attica, knowing that the captured men would put
immediately to death.
The eighth year of the war (424 BC) was disastrous for Athens. They
defeated at the battle of Delium, by the Thebans. They also lost Thrace.
After all these Athenians seriously considered the proposals for peace by
In the ninth year of the war (423 BC) a truce was signed for a year, in
which a permanent peace would be prepared. But the negotiations were
interrupted two days after the signing of the truce, when Athenians
learned that Scione had revolted and was under the command of Brasidas. In
August, an Athenian force by the command of Kleon was sent to Scione. At
the battle that followed, both Kleon and Brasidas were killed and thus the
obstacles for permanent peace seized to exist.
The Spartan king Pleistoanax and general Nikias of Athens, in the spring
of 421 BC, signed a peace treaty for fifty years, the so-called peace
of Nikias. The Spartan prisoners were returned and Athens was allowed
to keep the cities of Anactorium, Sollium and the port of Megara,
Nisae. Not everybody was satisfied with the peace and the allies of
Sparta, Corinth, Thebes, Megara and Eleans refused to ratify it.
During the truce between Sparta and Athens, matters were far from being
satisfactory. Her allies, Boeotians and Corinthians never accepted the
peace and Athens refused to evacuate Pylos. Alkibiades of Athens persuaded
both Achaea and Patrae to ally with Athens and helped Argos in the attack
upon Epidauros, which they ravaged. Spartans could not accept all these
and assembling a large army in which her allies were participating,
invaded Argos and surrounded the Argive army. A battle was ready to start
when two Argive oligarch leaders came to king Agis of Sparta and persuaded
him to sign a truce for four months. A little later Alkibiades leading a
force of one thousand hoplites and four hundred cavalry came to assist
Argives and persuaded them to attack the city of Orchomenos in Arcadia.
After they conquered Orchomenos they marched against Tegea. In the
meantime king Agis, who had being blamed for the truce with the Argives,
marched with a large force in the territory of Mantinea and positioned
himself near the temple of Hercules. The Argives and their allies left the
city of Mantinea and in a well chosen ground offered battle. King
Agis was ready to attack them at this advantageous for the Argives ground,
but when the Spartans came close, an old Spartan warrior told him, that
with his act was trying "to heal one mischief by another". These
words made him to withdraw his men. After this, the Argives took
position in the plain and tried to attack them by surprise. The right
section of the Argive army, which was consisted from the flower of
aristocracy, a permanent body of one thousand chosen soldiers drilled and
maintained by the city of Argos, were successful to route the
Lakedaemonians, but Agis with the rest of his army which was more
successful, he managed to win the battle (June 418 BC). Athenians lost two
hundred hoplites included the generals Laches and Nikostratos, the Argives
and their allies lost another nine hundred men. From the Lakedaemonian
army only three hundred men lost. Even after all these, the peace of
Nikias typically was still in existence.
In the year of 416 BC, the Athenians with 32 triremes and
under the influence of Alkibiades attacked without any provocation
the island of Melos, which did not belong to the confederacy of Delos. The
Athenians, at first tried to persuade the people of Melos to surrender,
using the arguments of the "law of nature", that the stronger
should rule over the weaker. But when they were rejected, they blockaded
the island, which after few months surrendered. All men of military age
were put to death. The women and children were sold as slaves and Melos
was colonized by Athenians.
The Peloponnesian war
415 - 404 BC
At the end of 416 BC, ambassadors from the city of
Egesta in Sicily came to Athens, to ask for help against the Dorian
city of Selinos, which was assisted from the city of Syracuse. General
Nikias refused to accept such a dangerous and costly expedition, but the
Athenian people led by Alkibiades took the decision to help them, since
the city of Egesta proposed to undertake the expenses. At the beginning,
it was voted to send 60 triremes under the leadership of Nikias, with
Alkibiades and Lamachos, as generals. Nikias, who knew exactly how
difficult was such an expedition, urged the Athenians to send a bigger
fleet or cancel the project. Pressed by the Athenians, he proposed
instead, a fleet consisting from 100 Athenian triremes, plus allied ships
and a very large force of soldiers.
In the spring of 415 BC, the fleet was ready to depart, carrying about
1500 Athenians and 3500 allied hoplites, and about 1300 archers and
slingers. The were ready to sail, but an unexpected event delayed it. One
morning in May, the Athenians found out that the Herms, which stood
at the entrance of temples and private houses, were broken. The event
horrified the people and the name of Alkibiades was mentioned, but his
enemies decided to bring charges in his absence.
In the morning of departure, the whole Athens came to the port of Piraeus
to see the big armada and give them farewell. The fleet sailed at Corkyra
first, where they were joined by their allies, bringing the total number
of the ships to 134 triremes and two Rodian penteconters. The ships had on
board 5000 hoplites, 480 bowmen, 700 Rodian slingers. The big armada was
accompanied with at least 500 transport ships, which carried provisions.
On their arrival in Sicily, general Lamachos wanted an immediate attack
against the city of Syracuse, but Alkibiades and Nikias refused.
Alkibiades proposed a diplomatic campaign, which would bring them allies
and thus the whole summer was wasted. In the meantime, Alkibiades was
recalled to Athens to answer charges, particularly the profanation of the
Eleusinian mysteries. During his return trip to Athens, Alkibiades escaped
and later went to Sparta. Next year (414 BC) in the spring Nikias, who had
exhausted all excuses for delay, prepared his army to attack Syracuse.
After forcing the Syracusan army within the walls, he started constructing
a double wall from sea to sea, preparing a blockade. The hero general
Lamachos was killed during a battle, after trying to destroy the Syracusan
Meanwhile, Alkibiades at Sparta did not waste time and advised them to
renew the war with Athens, take hold of the strategic fort of Dekeleia and
send a general to the city of Syracuse. The Spartans send general Gylippos
with four ships. Though his force was small, he helped greatly Syracuse to
win the war. He firstly captured the Athenian fort at Labdalum. This
action made him master of the high ground Epipolae. He then constructed a
counter wall to intersect the Athenian lines at the north side and so the
Atenians from besiegers became besieged. This small participation of
Sparta in the war was of the outmost importance.
Nikias in the hopeless position asked help from Athens, who send a big
force consisting from 73 triremes and 5000 soldiers, under the able
general Demosthenes. Upon his arrival Demosthenes and during the night
tried to regain the high ground, but the operation failed. After this
Demosthenes pressed Nikias to withdraw, but the general refused. Nikias
was persuaded to withdraw, only when Syracuse was further reinforced, and
his forces had deteriorated. But an eclipse of the moon, which occurred on
August 27th, delayed the withdrawal and when the soothsayers were
consulted, they told them to wait at least three days and others, for the
next full moon. The delay gave time to the Syracusans, who upon learning
that the Athenians were ready to retreat, lined up their fleet of 76 ships
in the Great harbor, ready for battle. On September 3rd, 86 Athenian
trieremes moved out to meet them. After hard battle the Athenians, who
were at disadvantage, having no room for maneuvering their ships, lost the
battle and their general Eurymedon was killed.
When the Syracusans blockaded the entrance of the bay with old ships
(September 6th-8th), the Athenians tried once more to free themselves. On
September 9th, general Nikias took the decision to attack the Syracusans
once more and did everything possible to encourage the army visiting
every trireme. The Athenians lined up their ships and attacked, but after
a long and wavering battle, they were forced to the shore. General
Demosthenes proposed to make another attempt to pass the barrier, but the
soldiers refused to embark. The Athenians with many wounded people between
them, abandoned their ships and tried to retreat into the interior. Their
aim was to escape by land and reach the city of Katane. During their march
the Athenians encountered the Syracusans many times, but at the end
general Nikias surrendered the army to Gylippos, hoping to be treated
fairly. General Nikias and Demosthenes were killed and the Athenian army
were herded into the stone quarries of Syracuse. In terrible conditions,
after eight months most of them died and the few that survived became
The disaster of the Sicilian expedition, it was a terrible blow, but
Athens did not collapse. To make things worst, Dekeleia had been occupied
by the Spartans, the silver mines at Laurio had been closed and nearly all
the food was imported. In this situation, a peaceful revolution took place
in Athens (411 BC), after one hundred years of democracy. The Council of
Four hundred became the new administrative body, after the Athenian people
were promised, that the change of the constitution was temporary, for the
duration of the war. When the Lakedaemonian fleet defeated the Athenians
near Eretria, in a small naval battle, the whole Euboea revolted and
Athens lost the main supplier of food. After this incident, an assembly at
the Pnyx, deposed the Four hundred and voted for a new government of five
thousand leading citizens, who tried to make peace with Sparta, but
without result. When the Athenian fleet and army based at Samos pressed
for democracy, the oligarchs came in disagreement and within two years
from the revolution, the democracy was restored.
In August of 411 BC, the Peloponnesian fleet commanded by Mindaros lost
the naval battle at Kynossema. The Athenian fleet though smaller in force,
in the straits of Sestos and Abydos, gained a complete victory.
In 410 BC, Alkibiades managed to capture the whole Peloponnesian fleet at
Kyzikos. Mindaros was killed and the second in command Spartan sent a
letter to the Ephors, in Laconic form: "Ships gone; Mindaros dead; men
starving; no idea what to do."
Spartans were so discouraged, that they sent the Ephor Endius to
Athens for a peace agreement but the Athenians, who were influenced by the
demagogue Kleophon, rejected the offer. The victory at Kyzikos gave new
hope to the Athenians, who restored their fleet and cut gold and copper
coins. To give employment to the many skilled workers, the Athenians
started building a new temple on the Acropolis, the Athena Polias,
the so-called Erechtheion.
Spartans now appointed a new navarchos, the able man Lysander. When his
turn of command expired, he was succeeded by Kallicratidas, who increased
the number of ships of the Spartan fleet. There was a naval battle at the
harbor of Mytelene with the Athenian fleet under Konon. The Athenians, who
were outnumbered, lost the battle and thirty ships. Another forty ships
were saved by bringing them ashore, near the walls of the town.
Kallicratidas then blockaded the island. When the news arrived at Athens
they sent a fleet of one hundred and ten triremes and they were reinforced
with another forty later. The number of ships of Kallicratidas were one
hundred and twenty. At the small island of Arginusae, the Athenian
fleet met the Spartan and after a hard struggle defeated them (406 BC).
The Lakedaemonians lost seventy seven ships and the rest were retreated at
Chios and Phocaea. Kallicratidas was thrown overboard, when his ship was
hit by another and perished. The Athenians lost only twenty five ships.
Though it was illegal for an admiral to have a second term, Lysander, with
the title of Epistoleus (bearer of letters), took the command of
the Spartan fleet. He immediately obtained large sums of money from Kyros,
king of Persia, to rebuild the fleet and made siege on Lampsakos.
The Athenians, who came to help, arrived too late to save the city and
took post at Aegospotamoi (Goat's river) close to the city of Lampsacus.
Lysander who systematically avoided a naval battle, since his ships were
outnumbered, he managed to capture the Athenian fleet after treachery or
negligence of the Athenian generals. All 4000 Athenian prisoners were put
to death. This event substantially marked the end of Athens.