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Athens, the golden years

 

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.
City walls near the Sacred gate. Repairs above the main block were made by Konon and Demosthenes in 4th century BC, the lowest part is from the original wall of Themistokles (478 BC).Themistokles 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.

Kimon
466 - 449 BC

Kimon, statesman and generalThe aristocratic 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 Athens.   
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.
Democracy is crowning Demos. Athenians, in 336 BC, passed the "Law against Tyranny". (Should anyone, in an attempt at absolute power, rise up against the people or try to overthrow the democracy of Athens, whoever kills him shall be blameless).Never 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.
Athenian hoplite greets farewell to his father and wife, attic vase 450 BC. 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 destroyed. 
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. At the foot of Philopappos hill, there is the so-called, Tomb of KimonBefore 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 from exile.
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.

Perikles
444 - 429 BC

Perikles of Xanthippou, copy of a portrait by Cresilas of Cydonia from Crete. London Museum

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 farms.
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 and Athenians.
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.  

Horsemen from the Parthenon frieze, 430 BC, British Museum.

The Peloponnesian war I
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 from Athens.
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, Perikles is delivering Epitaphios in the hill of Pnyx.just outside 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 Acropolis.
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 2000 talents.
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 already left.  
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. The double walls of Plataea build by the SpartansFor 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 ground.  
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 Sparta.
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.

Preparations before the battle

The Peloponnesian war II
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 fortifications.
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 slaves.
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. 

Greeks are fighting each other, from a vase

 

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