Alcibiades: The Shrewd Athenian Opportunist Of The Peloponnesian War

Alcibiades: The Shrewd Athenian Opportunist Of The Peloponnesian War


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The famous city states of ancient Greece were filled with capable leaders, statesmen, generals, and heroes. And it could never have reached that position without great men at its helm. Alcibiades was one such man, a famous orator, a general and a strategist who became one of the most important figures of the Peloponnesian War. This war itself became an event that shook the Greek world of that era, shaping the future of this nation for centuries to come, and sealing the fate of Athens. Alcibiades was one of the most skilled Athenian leaders, but he made many enemies along the way, switching sides frequently. Could it be that the fate of Athens rested only on his shoulders? Would Athenian history be different if he had led Athens’ armies? Time to find out.

Alcibiades And His Rise To Power

Alcibiades was born around 450 BC into the Alcmaeonids family, a powerful aristocratic family of Athens. He was a member of this family on his mother's side. However, the Alcmeonids were already largely impoverished by that point. His father Cleinias was also a prominent man during that era, distinguishing himself in the Persian Wars even before his son’s birth. It was his mother however, who came from a more prominent background, as the Alcmaeonids were a very old and noble family. Thus, he was, even from his youth, destined to greatness and prominence, like his forebears.

Even so, much of his youth remains clouded and unknown to history. Plutarch, the famous ancient Greek philosopher and essayist, writes that Alcibiades was tutored by several influential figures, the most important of these being Socrates. During his childhood, it is probable that he was taught the art of rhetoric, which could have benefited his oratorical and stately skills in later life.

Socrates looking for Alcibiades and finding him at the House of Aspasia. (Jean-Léon Gérôme / )

The relations between Socrates and Alcibiades are mentioned in several contemporary writings, indicating that the latter was surely a “well off” person to receive the former’s tutelage. However, these writings mention that Alcibiades was of an “unruly” nature and had difficulty conforming to rules of society. Whether a youthful “rebel spirit” or simply a natural born leader, Alcibiades could not be properly swayed, and as Xenophon of Athens claimed, Socrates failed to teach him the importance of morality.

As a young man he is reported to have taken part in some of the battles that were precursors to the Peloponnesian War. In 432 BC, it is written that he took part in the Battle of Potidaea, against the Corinthians. Plato, in his Symposium, wrote that during this battle Socrates saved Alcibiades’ life. In the following year he was present at the Battle of Delium where apparently he returned the favor, saving Socrates from demise.

Alcibiades Rise Based On Learning From The Greek Greats

It is interesting to mention here the complex relationship between Alcibiades and Socrates. The latter was one of the most important ancient Greek philosophers, often considered to be the founder of Western philosophy. On numerous occasions, especially in Plato’s writings, it is stated that Alcibiades and Socrates had a close relationship. Alcibiades revered and respected his teacher, perhaps even more so after he saved his life at Potidaea. However interestingly enough, both Plutarch and Plato state that Alcibiades was Socrates’ beloved! Plutarch goes as far as to write of how Alcibiades “feared and reverenced Socrates alone, and despised the rest of his lovers.” The accuracy of these claims and the true nature of their relationship was never fully understood by scholars, even though pederasty was a known phenomenon in ancient and classical Greece, as a socially accepted romantic relationship between an older man and a younger one.

An overview of the Peloponnesian War with the orange areas showing the empire and allies of Athens and the green the Spartan Confederacy. (U.S. Army Cartographer, as amended by uploader to correct spelling mistake / )

The Peloponnesian War was a very important event for Greece in this era. However, it was quite a lengthy conflict, and is usually split into several distinct phases. And after the first phase was over, Alcibiades began his steady rise and established a solid political career.

The Peace of Nicias was a treaty signed in 421 BC, somewhat uneasily, between Athens and Sparta. It brought an unstable peace and the end of the first phase of the war. However, it was Alcibiades that rose as a staunch advocate for Athens’ continuation of aggressive action.

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It is clear that Alcibiades possessed great diplomatic skills and even charisma. After the signing of the Nicias treaty, and the resulting instability, Alcibiades received several Spartan ambassadors with the goal of settling these disputes. However, he arranged with them a secret meeting, urging the Spartan ambassadors to “renounce their diplomatic authority and allow him to assist them through his influence in the politics of Athens.” It seems that he managed to impress the Spartans and take them under his sway, thereby working against the Peace of Nicias treaty terms.

Using Trickery And Influence, Alcibiades’ Star Rises

This was all, in fact, a very clever ploy by Alcibiades, and an attempt to gain a quick rise to power. In the official meeting between the Spartan and Athenian ambassadors, the former changed their story, as agreed upon in their secret meeting with Alcibiades. As they appeared to contradict themselves and the aims of Sparta, Alcibiades quickly acted by denouncing their credibility, and raising suspicions about their aims. Through this ploy he emerged a shrewd and protective statesman, while Nicias, the man behind the hasty original treaty was embarrassed.

Following this example, Alcibiades quickly became a general and rose to prominence. Almost immediately afterwards, he relied on his newly acquired power to further the position of Athens and challenge Spartan power once more. To do this, he created an alliance between the smaller Peloponnese city states—Elis, Mantinea, Argos and others—which thus challenged Spartan domination.

Arnold Wycombe Gomme, an influential British historian, perfectly summed up the magnitude of this ploy of Alcibiades, and just how shrewdly it was orchestrated to secure Athenian domination. He writes that "it was a grandiose scheme for an Athenian general at the head of a mainly Peloponnesian army to march through the Peloponnese cocking a snook at Sparta when her reputation was at its lowest.” But, alas, no matter how shrewd the plan was, it failed. In 418 BC, at the First Battle of Mantinea, the Spartans crushed the allied city states headed by Athens.

The Sicilian Campaign that Alcibiades orchestrated was a huge and embarrassing defeat for Athens and this image shows their retreat from Syracuse. (English School / )

One of the major events of Alcibiades’ life is certainly the disastrous Sicilian Expedition . Trusting in his exceptional skills as an orator he managed to convince the populace of Athens that their fleet could conquer the wealthy city of Syracuse, the crown jewel of Sicily. He knew that it was extremely wealthy and that plundering it could further the influence of Athens as well as its wealth, not to mention his own. His plan soon turned into a full-scale campaign against Syracuse, and an enormous fleet and army were assembled to attack it. It is argued that Alcibiades never wanted the attack to be so massive, but it was, nevertheless.

However, all of this took place in the midst of intense political conflict in Athens and Alcibiades had many opponents. The night before the expedition to Sicily was to set sail, many religious figures in Athens were desecrated and Alcibiades was falsely accused by his opponents. When he departed Athens to lead Athens’ armies, more ridiculous claims were made, slandering his reputation.

As the campaign unfolded and the Athenian fleet reached Catania, Alcibiades was met with a delegation sent to escort him back to Athens for trial. However, he proceeded to escape with his associates, and soon after defected to the Spartan realm. In exchange for protection and “sanctuary”, Alcibiades promised his ex-enemies that he would "render them aid and service greater than all the harm he had previously done them as an enemy." Sparta accepted him and, in turn, the Athenians tried him in absentia , sentenced him to death, and confiscated all of his possessions and great wealth. In an odd turn of fate, one of Athens’ leading statesmen was now on the side of its enemy, Sparta.

And from his very first contributions to the Spartan cause, Alcibiades employed his persuasive orations, and worked to defeat Athens, the home he was estranged from.

Enemies, Allies, Or Simple Opportunities?

During the time he spent with the Spartans, Alcibiades proved to be a great boon to them as well. Serving mostly as a military adviser, his shrewd knowledge of his previous home helped Sparta achieve several major successes. Strategically, Alcibiades instigated the creation of a fort at Decelea, which was located within view of Athens. This shrewd move helped to cut Athens off from some of its silver mines at Sunium, which added to their diminishing power. However, time proved to be against Alcibiades, and his good relations with Sparta soon declined. With the political situation shifting, and his supporters in Sparta gone, Alcibiades’ life was soon threatened. But before his opponents could assassinate him, he fled and deflected to Tissaphernes, a Persian satrap state.

A coin showing Tissaphernes the satrap whom Alcibiades also advised. (Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

During his time in Tissaphernes, Alcibiades once more showcased his ability to think in advance, and to shape the situation he found himself in relation to the future he wanted for himself. He quickly gained the trust of the powerful Persian satrap, who was already financing the Peloponnesian War for his own gain. Alcibiades gave him valuable advice, suggesting that the Persians wear the warring states down, and then take the “easy pickings.”

However, Alcibiades was merely using his influence with the Persians to get his power reinstated back home in Athens. This he gradually achieved, winning over the Athenian oligarchs and ensuring support for his reinstatement in exchange for bringing over massive Persian wealth and naval power. Thus, through winning over the powerful Persian satrap and his wealth, he also won back support for his ideas in Athens.

So, after exchanging sides a few times, each time shining through with his skills in convincing those around him towards the course of action best suited for his needs, Alcibiades was once more a strategos in his native Athens. However, returning to Athens was no easy task, and involved a great deal of scheming.

Alcibiades actually got involved with the Athenian Coup of 411 BC in which the ancient and venerable democratic government that was at the head of Athens for so long was replaced with the (short lived) oligarchy known as the “Four Hundred.”

Soon after, Alcibiades found himself reinstated as a general of the Athenian forces, mostly through the support of the oligarchs whom he had won over. His influence over Persian military and financial support against the Spartans was the main reason for this. Many risks were taken by Alcibiades during this time, as he never fully won over the Persian satrap Tissaphernes. Moreover, he believed that the Persians would never send a full fleet to aid the Athenian forces.

The system of the oligarchs, the Four Hundred, was soon after overthrown, and replaced by a broader oligarchic system, the so-called “Five Thousand.” That system would, later on, give way to democracy once again.

As a general, Alcibiades was present at some important battles of the Peloponnesian War. At the naval battles of Abydos and Cyzicus, he displayed great skill as a naval commander, utilizing a daring “lure” strategy to trap and defeat Spartan fleets.

Alcibiades’ triumphant return to Athens surrounded by his countless fans. (Walter Crane / )

Around 407 BC, Alcibiades at last decided to return to Athens following a string of victories in the war, many of which were achieved under his leadership. For him, it was a risky move: he was unsure of how he would be received and was fearful. Nevertheless, his fame preceded him. When he sailed into Athens, he was hailed as a hero by the gathered masses.

Alas, the fruits of glory are sweet but rarely filling. The very next year, Alcibiades encountered bad luck. Contrary to the previous year, he now faced a string of defeats, many of them costly for the Athenian fleet.

And then, after suffering a crushing defeat at the Battle of Notium at the hands of the Spartans, Alcibiades knew that his glory was at an end. The enemies that he still had aplenty in Athens would surely use this loss against him.

The assassination of Alcibiades at Phrygia by the Persians in 404 BC. (Michaël Martin (photographer). Philippe Chéry (18th century) / )

The Final Defeat Of Alcibiades

The blame for the defeat fell entirely upon Alcibiades, and he was soon relieved of his command and condemned by his enemies in Athens. Seeing all was lost, Alcibiades went into exile, fleeing to Hellespontine Phrygia, another Persian satrap, where he sought refuge.

It is this final part of his life that is most clouded by the passing of time and few historical details about this period in his life are known. Without a doubt, he fled to Phrygia to secure the support of the Persians, but it was not to be. With many enemies in both Athens and Sparta, and the loss of support from the Persians, Alcibiades was assassinated in 404 BC. Most historical accounts argue that Sparta was behind his murder.

Above all, Alcibiades was a great opportunist. His thirst for fame, power, and wealth was the driving force behind his efforts related to the Peloponnesian War, which, in the end, largely contributed to the defeat and weakening of Athens. But even so, his skill at oration, his ability to influence his foes and allies, are, above all, great history lessons from which a lot can be learned.


Alcibiades the younger

Alcibiades was born in Athens. Upon arriving on shore he was greeted with a hero's welcome. for Deserting the Ranks (ii.) [74], Despite these events, Pisander and the other envoys of the conspirators arrived at Athens and made a speech before the people. Translated by John Dryden. Alcibiades had been forced to flee from Sestos to Cardia to protect his small fleet from the rebuilt Peloponnesian navy, but as soon as the Athenian fleet was reunited there its commanders led it to Cyzicus, where the Athenians had intelligence indicating that Pharnabazus and Mindarus, the Peloponnesian fleet commander, were together plotting their next move. When he reached the age of 30, however, he abandoned the philosophies of Socrates and his ego began to take over. Socrates initially presents himself to Alcibiades in the role of one of these admirers. [158] Vlachos asserts that Alcibiades had already conceived a broader plan: the conquest of the whole West. [53], Alcibiades served as a military adviser to Sparta and helped the Spartans secure several crucial successes. Language Label Description Also known as English: Alcibiades the Younger. Translated from the French by J C Rawnsley. [38] For his part, Angelos Vlachos, a Greek Academician, underlines the constant interest of Athens for Sicily from the beginning of the war. [135] Sharon Press of Brown University points out that Xenophon emphasizes Alcibiades's service to the state, rather than the harm he was charged with causing it. [135][138] According to Fotiadis, Alcibiades was an invincible general and, wherever he went, victory followed him had he led the army in Sicily, the Athenians would have avoided disaster and, had his countrymen followed his advice at Aegospotami, Lysander would have lost and Athens would have ruled Greece. The implications of the defeat were severe for Athens. [171] He has been the main character in historical novels of authors like Anna Bowman Dodd, Gertrude Atherton, Rosemary Sutcliff, Daniel Chavarria, Steven Pressfield and Peter Green. [113] His property was restored and the ecclesia elected him supreme commander of land and sea (strategos autokrator). [81] Plutarch claims that the army sent for Alcibiades so as to use his help in putting down the tyrants in Athens. History, for Aristotle, dealt with Alcibiades and his younger brother Cleinias went to live particulars, such as “what Alcibiades actually did, or in Pericles’ household, where Aspasia will have been the what was done to him” (Po. [8] After the death of Cleinias at the Battle of Coronea (447 BC), Pericles and Ariphron became his guardians. [114] These were likely the most capable commanders Athens had at the time, and their removal would help lead to the Athenian surrender only two years later, after their complete defeat at Aegospotami.[120]. Nicias and Alcibiades – the tale is a tragi-comedy. Concealed by storm and darkness, the combined Athenian force reached the vicinity without being spotted by the Peloponnesians. [82] Kagan argues that this reinstatement was a disappointment to Alcibiades, who had hoped for a glorious return to Athens itself but found himself only restored to the rebellious fleet, where the immunity from prosecution he had been granted "protected him for the time being but not from a reckoning in the future" furthermore, the recall, which Alcibiades had hoped to bring about through his own prestige and perceived influence, was achieved through the patronage of Thrasybulus. A portion of the citizens of the city, demoralized and hungry, decided to surrender the city to Alcibiades for similar terms as the Selymbrians had received. Miltiades the Younger, (born c. 554 bc, Athens [Greece]—died probably 489 bc, Athens), Athenian general who led Athenian forces to victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490.. Alcibiades responded by attacking Nicias for trying to divide the old from the young. [d] Alcibiades had a particularly close relationship with Socrates, whom he admired and respected. [6] Alcibiades thereby, through his mother, belonged to the powerful and controversial family of the Alcmaeonidae the renowned Pericles and his brother Ariphron were Deinomache's cousins, as her father and their mother were siblings. It is not, perhaps, material to say anything of the beauty of Alcibiades, only that it bloomed with him at all stages of his life, in his infancy, in his youth, and in his manhood and, in the peculiar character belonging to each of these periods, gave him in everyone of them, a grace and charm. [103] Epigraphical evidence indicates the Selymbrians surrendered hostages until the treaty was ratified in Athens. This ploy increased Alcibiades's standing while embarrassing Nicias, and Alcibiades was subsequently appointed General. Seeing Athens thus beleaguered on a second front, members of the Delian League began to contemplate revolt. Tissaphernes would not make an agreement on any terms, wanting to follow his policy of neutrality. As for. [118], Responsibility for the defeat ultimately fell on Alcibiades, and his enemies used the opportunity to attack him and have him removed from command, although some modern scholars believe that Alcibiades was unfairly blamed for Antiochus's mistake. [58] Leotychides, the son born by Agis's wife Timaea, Queen of Sparta, shortly after this, was believed by many to be Alcibiades's son. [25]:185 She lived with him until her death, which came soon after, and gave birth to two children, a son named Alcibiades the Younger and a daughter. Dinomache, his mother, was the daughter of Megacles. Even in the wake of his recent victories, Alcibiades was exceedingly careful in his return, mindful of the changes in government, the charges still technically hanging over him, and the great injury he had done to Athens. [43], One night during preparations for the expedition, the hermai, heads of the god Hermes on a plinth with a phallus, were mutilated throughout Athens. This new revenue started to attract Athenian deserters to the Spartan navy. [54] This was part of Alcibiades's plan to renew the war with Athens in Attica. It was said of himthat he could talk, but was no speaker. [102] Afterwards they concluded a temporary alliance with Pharnabazus which secured some much needed immediate cash for the army, but despite this Alcibiades was still forced to depart in search for more booty to pay the soldiers and oarsmen of the fleet. Alcibiade (latină: Alcibiades Cleiniou Scambonides, greacă: Αλκιβιάδης Κλεινίου Σκαμβωνίδης) (n. 450 î.Hr. One may wonder, however, why the speech was ever attributed to Andocides. Alcibiades was able to assert his piety and to raise Athenian morale by leading the solemn procession to Eleusis (for the celebration of the Eleusinian Mysteries) by land for the first time since the Spartans had occupied Decelea. The Spartans and Persians, overwhelmed by the arrival of multiple forces from several directions, were defeated and driven off, and the Athenians captured all the Spartan ships which were not destroyed. [51][52] In the debate at Sparta over whether to send a force to relieve Syracuse, Alcibiades spoke and instilled fear of Athenian ambition into the Spartan ephors by informing them that the Athenians hoped to conquer Sicily, Italy, and even Carthage. [149] Kagan acknowledges his rhetorical power, whilst Thomas Habinek, professor of Classics at the University of Southern California, believes that the orator Alcibiades seemed to be whatever his audience needed on any given occasion. Historians Arnold W. Gomme and Raphael Sealey believe, and Thucydides reports,[26] that Alcibiades was offended that the Spartans had negotiated that treaty through Nicias and Laches, overlooking him on account of his youth. [75], At this point, Alcibiades's scheme encountered a great obstacle. [58] Even more critically, Athanasios G. Platias and Constantinos Koliopoulos, professors of strategic studies and international politics, state that Alcibiades's own arguments "should be sufficient to do away with the notion that Alcibiades was a great statesman, as some people still believe". A young Athenian aristocrat, he came to prominence during the Peloponnesian War (429-404 BC) between Sparta and Athens. [170], Alcibiades has been depicted regularly in art, both in Medieval and Renaissance works, and in several significant works of modern literature as well. [172], Timeline of Alcibiades' life (c. 450–404 BC), Defection to Achaemenid Empire in Asia Minor. In a series of dialogues, Socrates attempts to convince the younger man to abandon his political ambition and choose the philisophical life. [155] In agreement with Paparrigopoulos, Platias and Koliopoulos underscore the fact that the Sicilian expedition was a strategic blunder of the first magnitude, resulting from a "frivolous attitude and an unbelievable underestimation of the enemy". When the Athenians at Aegospotami (405) facing the Spartans in the Hellespont grew increasingly careless, he warned them of their danger. [46] According to Thucydides, the Athenians were always in fear and took everything suspiciously. against Alcibiades the younger are preserved) or to the Socratic Aeschines (who wrote a famous dialogue dealing with Alcibiades) may have encouraged the assumption that it is the work of an other-wise unknown pupil of a sophist. Text on page 257, image on the following page. [129] According to Aristotle, the site of Alcibiades's death was Elaphus, a mountain in Phrygia. son of Alcibiades. He said their anchorage was a bad one the place had no harbor and no city, but they had to get their supplies from Sestos". When Alcibiades entered public life, he had two rivalsone was Nicias, a man advanced in years, and one of thebest generals of his day, the other Phæax, a youth justbeginning to make his way. Thus Alcibiades, instead of going straight home, first went to Samos to pick up 20 ships and proceeded with them to the Ceramic Gulf where he collected 100 talents. [87] Plutarch tells us that, although his recall had already been passed on motion of Critias, a political ally of his, Alcibiades was resolved to come back with glory. His father was Cleinias,[3] who had distinguished himself in the Persian War both as a fighter himself and by personally subsidizing the cost of a trireme. After the Battle of Aegospotami, Alcibiades crossed the Hellespont and took refuge in Hellespontine Phrygia, with the object of securing the aid of the Achaemenid King Artaxerxes against Sparta. Alcibiades is not held responsible by Thucydides for the destruction of Athens, since "his habits gave offence to every one, and caused the Athenians to commit affairs to other hands, and thus before long to ruin the city". [67] Alcibiades set about winning over the most influential military officers, and achieved his goal by offering them a threefold plan: the Athenian constitution was to be changed, the recall of Alcibiades was to be voted, and Alcibiades was to win over Tissaphernes and the King of Persia to the Athenian side. Since the speaker Astyochus went up to Alcibiades and Tissaphernes at Magnesia and communicated to them Phrynichus's letter. The aim of this policy was to win away Persian support from the Spartans, as it was still believed that Alcibiades had great influence with Tissaphernes. He thus was capable of important errors and serious miscalculations. Alcibiades responded in kind, sending to the authorities at Samos a letter against Phrynichus, stating what he had done, and requiring that he should be put to death. In Sparta too, however, Alcibiades soon made powerful enemies and felt forced to defect to Persia. Nor can you look at inaction from the same point of view as others, unless you are prepared to change your habits and make them like theirs. The men are starving. [42] Against his wishes Nicias was appointed General along with Alcibiades and Lamachus, all three of whom were given full powers to do whatever was in the best interests of Athens while in Sicily. Perhaps the most gifted Athenian of his generation, Alcibiades possessed great charm and brilliant political and military abilities but was absolutely unscrupulous. [65] According to Thucydides (Thuc.8.47), Alcibiades also advised the Achaemenid king (Darius II), and therefore he may also have traveled to Susa or Babylonia to encounter him. [g][96], The Spartan fleet suffered losses in the flight and reached the shore with the Athenians in close pursuit. Who was this Alcibiades fellow? “Stuttard’s new life of Alcibiades is a lively, fast-paced and eminently readable attempt to bring the insolent young monster back to life.”―Peter Thonemann, Literary Review “[A] robust new biography of Alcibiades.”―Thomas W. Hodgkinson, Spectator When a boy did finally give in, he was not expected to have any active involvement in sexual intercourse, but merely to be a passive recipient (anal and intercrural 2 intercourse). [4], Alcibiades first rose to prominence when he began advocating aggressive Athenian action after the signing of the Peace of Nicias. Seeing no chance of escape he rushed out on his assassins, dagger in hand, and was killed by a shower of arrows. Alcibiades, (born c. 450 bc, Athens [Greece]—died 404, Phrygia [now in Turkey]), brilliant but unscrupulous Athenian politician and military commander who provoked the sharp political antagonisms at Athens that were the main causes of Athens’ defeat by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War (431–404 bc). [159] He intended to conquer Carthage and Libya, then to attack Italy and, after winning these, to seize Italy and Peloponnesus. Later his opponents, chief among them being Androcles and Thessalus, Cimon's son, enlisted orators to argue that Alcibiades should set sail as planned and stand trial on his return from the campaign. When Alcibiades first gets to know Socrates, he says this of his inner nature: “it struck me as utterly godlike and golden and beautiful and wonderful” (Plato, Symposium 216). [82] Shortly after Alcibiades's reinstatement as an Athenian general, the government of the Four Hundred was overthrown and replaced by a broader oligarchy, which would eventually give way to democracy. … Alcibi… Well-born and wealthy, Alcibiades was only a small boy when his father—who was in command of the Athenian army—was killed in 447 or 446 bc, at Coronea, Boeotia. [98][99] A letter dispatched to Sparta by Hippocrates, vice-admiral under Mindarus, was intercepted and taken to Athens it ran as follows: "The ships are lost. [38] In spite of Alcibiades's enthusiastic advocacy for the plan, it was Nicias, not he, who turned a modest undertaking into a massive campaign and made the conquest of Sicily seem possible and safe. He also confirmed his reputation with women (which the rich Athenian whom he had married appreciated only too well) by seducing the wife of the Spartan king Agis II, who was at Decelea with his army. For Malcolm F. McGregor, former head of the Department of Classics in the University of British Columbia, Alcibiades was rather a shrewd gambler than a mere opportunist. [8] K. Paparrigopoulos, a major modern Greek historian, underlines his "spiritual virtues" and compares him with Themistocles, but he then asserts that all these gifts created a "traitor, an audacious and impious man". In fact, he roused them so much that they proposed to sail at once for Piraeus and attack the oligarchs in Athens. [82] Thucydides is in agreement with Plutarch that the Persian fleet was at Aspendus and that Alcibiades told the troops he would bring the fleet to their side or prevent it from coming at all, but Thucydides further speculates that the real reason was to flaunt his new position to Tissaphernes and try to gain some real influence over him. The family of Cleinias had old connections with the Spartan aristocracy through a relationship of xenia, and the name "Alcibiades" was of Spartan origin. [98] Never again returning to Athens, he sailed north to the castles in the Thracian Chersonese, which he had secured during his time in the Hellespont. [36] This request was denied, and the fleet set sail soon after, with the charges unresolved.[44]. Translated in English by Arthur H. Clough (New York: Collier Press, 1909). Since the beginning of the war, the Athenians had already initiated two expeditions and sent a delegation to Sicily. Corrections? Nicias opposed the campaign to Sicily, yet led it Alcibiades propounded it and was recalled. [154], Despite his critical comments, Thucydides admits in a short digression that "publicly his conduct of the war was as good as could be desired". [83], At his first speech to the assembled troops, Alcibiades complained bitterly about the circumstances of his exile, but the largest part of the speech consisted of boasting about his influence with Tissaphernes. [24], Alcibiades was married to Hipparete, the daughter of Hipponicus, a wealthy Athenian. Plutarch revealed that Alcibiades studied under several exceptional teachers, including Socrates. Plutarch and Plato agree that Alcibiades "served as a soldier in the campaign of Potidaea and had Socrates for his tentmate and comrade in action" and "when Alcibiades fell wounded, it was Socrates who stood over him and defended him". [63], Although Alcibiades's advice benefited the Persians, it was merely a means to an end Thucydides tells us that his real motive was to use his alleged influence with the Persians to effect his restoration to Athens. These successes encouraged him to return in 407 to Athens, where he was welcomed with enthusiasm and given supreme control of the conduct of the war. , Frigia , Turcia ) a fost un general și politician atenian, șef al grupării democratice. The younger male was expected to follow a code of behavior that is taught to girls these days, i.e., not to be sexually aggressive, to resist sexual advances, and not to give in too easily. In the preface Alcibiades is described as an ambitious young man who is eager to enter public life. [50] The Spartans granted this request and received him among them. Shortly after reaching Sicily, he was recalled but on the journey home he escaped and, learning that he had been condemned in absentia to death, went to Sparta. for Refusal of Military Service Introduction. Alcibiades had remained behind at Samos with a small force while Thrasybulus and Thrasyllus led the greater part of the fleet to the Hellespont. He advised them to build a permanent fort at Decelea, just over ten miles (16 km) from Athens and within sight of the city. [27][28], Disputes over the interpretation of the treaty led the Spartans to dispatch ambassadors to Athens with full powers to arrange all unsettled matters. [80], After a time, Thrasybulus persuaded the assembled troops to vote Alcibiades's recall, a policy that he had supported since before the coup. [14] Alcibiades was famed throughout his life for his physical attractiveness, of which he was inordinately vain. [i], In 404 BC, as he was about to set out for the Persian court, his residence was surrounded and set on fire. He did their city no injury whatsoever, but merely took a sum of money from it, set a garrison in it and left. He seized her in court and carried her home again through the crowded Agora. Alcibiades, who is described as a very young man, is about to enter on public life, having an inordinate opinion of himself, and an extravagant ambition. Kagan asserts that Alcibiades had not yet acquired his "legendary" reputation, and the Spartans saw him as "a defeated and hunted man" whose policies "produced strategic failures" and brought "no decisive result". [c] It was believed that Socrates took Alcibiades as a student because he believed he could change Alcibiades from his vain ways. Alcibiades the Younger, who is prosecuted in these two speeches, was probably born in 416 b.c., a year before his father’s disgrace and banishment from Athens.At the time of this trial (395 b.c. [112] The procession had been replaced by a journey by sea, but this year Alcibiades used a detachment of soldiers to escort the traditional procession. When some Athenian officers in the fleet began to plan an oligarchic coup, he held out hopes that if the democracy was overthrown he could secure financial support from Persia. The move was devastating to Athens and forced the citizens to live within the long walls of the city year round, making them entirely dependent on their seaborne trade for food. [47] Alcibiades told the heralds that he would follow them back to Athens in his ship, but in Thurii he escaped with his crew in Athens he was convicted in absentia and condemned to death. [77] Alcibiades realized this and, by presenting the Athenians with stiffer and stiffer demands on Tissaphernes's behalf, attempted to convince them that he had persuaded Tissaphernes to support them, but that they had not conceded enough to him. Articles from Britannica Encyclopedias for elementary and high school students. [62] Alcibiades next advised Tissaphernes to bribe the Generals of the cities to gain valuable intelligence on their activities. [88] While this was certainly his goal, it was again a means to an end, that end being to avoid prosecution upon his return to Athens. Dinomache, his mother, was the daughter of Megacles. And we cannot fix the exact point at which our empire shall stop we have reached a position in which we must not be content with retaining but must scheme to extend it, for, if we cease to rule others, we are in danger of being ruled ourselves.


Contents

Alcibiades was born in Athens. His father was Cleinias, [3] who had distinguished himself in the Persian War both as a fighter himself and by personally subsidizing the cost of a trireme. The family of Cleinias had old connections with the Spartan aristocracy through a relationship of xenia, and the name "Alcibiades" was of Spartan origin. [4] [5] Alcibiades' mother was Deinomache, the daughter of Megacles, head of the powerful Alcmaeonid family, and could trace her family back to Eurysaces and the Telamonian Ajax. [6] Alcibiades thereby, through his mother, belonged to the powerful and controversial family of the Alcmaeonidae the renowned Pericles and his brother Ariphron were Deinomache's cousins, as her father and their mother were siblings. [7] His maternal grandfather, also named Alcibiades, was a friend of Cleisthenes, the famous constitutional reformer of the late 6th century BC. [8] After the death of Cleinias at the Battle of Coronea (447 BC), Pericles and Ariphron became his guardians. [9]

According to Plutarch, Alcibiades had several famous teachers, including Socrates, and was well trained in the art of rhetoric. [b] He was noted, however, for his unruly behavior, which was mentioned by ancient Greek and Latin writers on several occasions. [c] It was believed that Socrates took Alcibiades as a student because he believed he could change Alcibiades from his vain ways. Xenophon attempted to clear Socrates's name at trial by relaying information that Alcibiades was always corrupt and that Socrates merely failed in attempting to teach him morality. [17]

Alcibiades took part in the Battle of Potidaea in 432 BC, where Socrates was said to have saved his life [18] and again at the Battle of Delium in 424 BC. [d] Alcibiades had a particularly close relationship with Socrates, whom he admired and respected. [21] [22] Plutarch and Plato [23] describe Alcibiades as Socrates's beloved, the former stating that Alcibiades "feared and reverenced Socrates alone, and despised the rest of his lovers". [24]

Alcibiades was married to Hipparete, the daughter of Hipponicus, a wealthy Athenian. His bride brought with her a large dowry, which significantly increased Alcibiades' already substantial family fortune. [4] According to Plutarch, Hipparete loved her husband, but she attempted to divorce him because he consorted with courtesans but prevented her from appearing at court. He seized her in court and carried her home again through the crowded Agora. [25] : 185 She lived with him until her death, which came soon after, and gave birth to two children, a son named Alcibiades the Younger and a daughter. [14] Alcibiades was famed throughout his life for his physical attractiveness, of which he was inordinately vain. [4]

Rise to prominence Edit

Alcibiades first rose to prominence when he began advocating aggressive Athenian action after the signing of the Peace of Nicias. That treaty, an uneasy truce between Sparta and Athens signed midway through the Peloponnesian War, came at the end of seven years of fighting during which neither side had gained a decisive advantage. Historians Arnold W. Gomme and Raphael Sealey believe, and Thucydides reports, [26] that Alcibiades was offended that the Spartans had negotiated that treaty through Nicias and Laches, overlooking him on account of his youth. [27] [28]

Disputes over the interpretation of the treaty led the Spartans to dispatch ambassadors to Athens with full powers to arrange all unsettled matters. The Athenians initially received these ambassadors well, but Alcibiades met with them in secret before they were to speak to the ecclesia (the Athenian Assembly) and told them that the Assembly was haughty and had great ambitions. [29] He urged them to renounce their diplomatic authority to represent Sparta, and instead allow him to assist them through his influence in Athenian politics. [30] The representatives agreed and, impressed with Alcibiades, they alienated themselves from Nicias, who genuinely wanted to reach an agreement with the Spartans. [29] The next day, during the Assembly, Alcibiades asked them what powers Sparta had granted them to negotiate and they replied, as agreed, that they had not come with full and independent powers. This was in direct contradiction to what they had said the day before, and Alcibiades seized on this opportunity to denounce their character, cast suspicion on their aims, and destroy their credibility. This ploy increased Alcibiades's standing while embarrassing Nicias, and Alcibiades was subsequently appointed General. He took advantage of his increasing power to orchestrate the creation of an alliance between Argos, Mantinea, Elis, and other states in the Peloponnese, threatening Sparta's dominance in the region. According to Gomme, "it was a grandiose scheme for an Athenian general at the head of a mainly Peloponnesian army to march through the Peloponnese cocking a snook at Sparta when her reputation was at its lowest". [31] This alliance, however, would ultimately be defeated at the Battle of Mantinea. [32]

Somewhere in the years 416–415 BC, a complex struggle took place between Hyperbolos on one side and Nicias and Alcibiades on the other. Hyperbolos tried to bring about the ostracism of one of this pair, but Nicias and Alcibiades combined their influence to induce the people to expel Hyperbolos instead. [33] This incident reveals that Nicias and Alcibiades each commanded a personal following, whose votes were determined by the wishes of the leaders. [28]

Alcibiades was not one of the Generals involved in the capture of Melos in 416–415 BC, but Plutarch describes him as a supporter of the decree by which the grown men of Melos were killed and the women and children enslaved. [34] An oration urging Alcibiades' ostracism, "Against Alcibiades" (historically attributed to the orator Andocides but not in fact by him), alleges that Alcibiades had a child by one of these enslaved women. [35]

Sicilian Expedition Edit

In 415 BC, delegates from the Sicilian city of Segesta (Greek: Egesta ) arrived at Athens to plead for the support of the Athenians in their war against Selinus. During the debates on the undertaking, Nicias was vehemently opposed to Athenian intervention, explaining that the campaign would be very costly and attacking the character and motives of Alcibiades, who had emerged as a major supporter of the expedition. [37] On the other hand, Alcibiades argued that a campaign in this new theatre would bring riches to the city and expand the empire, just as the Persian Wars had. In his speech Alcibiades predicted (over-optimistically, in the opinion of most historians) that the Athenians would be able to recruit allies in the region and impose their rule on Syracuse, the most powerful city of Sicily. [38] In spite of Alcibiades's enthusiastic advocacy for the plan, it was Nicias, not he, who turned a modest undertaking into a massive campaign and made the conquest of Sicily seem possible and safe. [39] It was at his suggestion that the size of the fleet was significantly increased from 60 ships [40] to "140 galleys, 5,100 men at arms, and about 1300 archers, slingers, and light armed men". [41] Philosopher Leo Strauss underscores that the Sicilian expedition surpassed everything undertaken by Pericles. Almost certainly Nicias's intention was to shock the assembly with his high estimate of the forces required, but, instead of dissuading his fellow citizens, his analysis made them all the more eager. [42] Against his wishes Nicias was appointed General along with Alcibiades and Lamachus, all three of whom were given full powers to do whatever was in the best interests of Athens while in Sicily. [43]

One night during preparations for the expedition, the hermai, heads of the god Hermes on a plinth with a phallus, were mutilated throughout Athens. This was a religious scandal, resulted in a charge of asebeia (impiety) against Alcibiades, and was seen as a bad omen for the mission. Plutarch explains that Androcles, a political leader, used false witnesses who accused Alcibiades and his friends of mutilating the statues, and of profaning the Eleusinian Mysteries. Later his opponents, chief among them being Androcles and Thessalus, Cimon's son, enlisted orators to argue that Alcibiades should set sail as planned and stand trial on his return from the campaign. Alcibiades was suspicious of their intentions, and asked to be allowed to stand trial immediately, under penalty of death, in order to clear his name. [36] This request was denied, and the fleet set sail soon after, with the charges unresolved. [44]

"Men do not rest content with parrying the attacks of a superior, but often strike the first blow to prevent the attack being made. And we cannot fix the exact point at which our empire shall stop we have reached a position in which we must not be content with retaining but must scheme to extend it, for, if we cease to rule others, we are in danger of being ruled ourselves. Nor can you look at inaction from the same point of view as others, unless you are prepared to change your habits and make them like theirs."
Alcibiades' Oration before the Sicilian expedition, as recorded by Thucydides (VI, 18) Thucydides disclaims verbal accuracy [e]

As Alcibiades had suspected, his absence emboldened his enemies, and they began to accuse him of other sacrilegious actions and comments and even alleged that these actions were connected with a plot against the democracy. [46] According to Thucydides, the Athenians were always in fear and took everything suspiciously. [47] When the fleet arrived in Catania, it found the state trireme Salaminia waiting to bring Alcibiades and the others indicted for mutilating the hermai or profaning the Eleusinian Mysteries back to Athens to stand trial. [47] Alcibiades told the heralds that he would follow them back to Athens in his ship, but in Thurii he escaped with his crew in Athens he was convicted in absentia and condemned to death. His property was confiscated and a reward of one talent was promised to whoever succeeded in killing any who had fled. [48] Meanwhile, the Athenian force in Sicily, after a few early victories, moved against Messina, where the Generals expected their secret allies within the city to betray it to them. Alcibiades, however, foreseeing that he would be outlawed, gave information to the friends of the Syracusans in Messina, who succeeded in preventing the admission of the Athenians. [49] With the death of Lamachus in battle some time later, command of the Sicilian Expedition fell into the hands of Nicias, admired by Thucydides (however a modern scholar has judged him to be an inadequate military leader [1] ).

Defection to Sparta Edit

After his disappearance at Thurii, Alcibiades quickly contacted the Spartans, "promising to render them aid and service greater than all the harm he had previously done them as an enemy" if they would offer him sanctuary. [50] The Spartans granted this request and received him among them. Because of this defection, the Athenians condemned him to death in absentia and confiscated his property. [51] [52] In the debate at Sparta over whether to send a force to relieve Syracuse, Alcibiades spoke and instilled fear of Athenian ambition into the Spartan ephors by informing them that the Athenians hoped to conquer Sicily, Italy, and even Carthage. [53] Yale historian Donald Kagan believes that Alcibiades knowingly exaggerated the plans of the Athenians to convince the Spartans of the benefit they stood to gain from his help. Kagan asserts that Alcibiades had not yet acquired his "legendary" reputation, and the Spartans saw him as "a defeated and hunted man" whose policies "produced strategic failures" and brought "no decisive result". If accurate, this assessment underscores one of Alcibiades's greatest talents, his highly persuasive oratory. [54] After making the threat seem imminent, Alcibiades advised the Spartans to send troops and most importantly, a Spartan commander to discipline and aid the Syracusans. [53]

"Our party was that of the whole people, our creed being to do our part in preserving the form of government under which the city enjoyed the utmost greatness and freedom, and which we had found existing. As for democracy, the men of sense among us knew what it was, and I perhaps as well as any, as I have the more cause to complain of it but there is nothing new to be said of a patent absurdity—meanwhile we did not think it safe to alter it under the pressure of your hostility."
Alcibiades' Speech to the Spartans, as recorded by Thucydides (VI, 89) Thucydides disclaims verbal accuracy

Alcibiades served as a military adviser to Sparta and helped the Spartans secure several crucial successes. He advised them to build a permanent fort at Decelea, just over ten miles (16 km) from Athens and within sight of the city. [55] By doing this, the Spartans cut the Athenians off entirely from their homes and crops and the silver mines of Sunium. [54] This was part of Alcibiades's plan to renew the war with Athens in Attica. The move was devastating to Athens and forced the citizens to live within the long walls of the city year round, making them entirely dependent on their seaborne trade for food. Seeing Athens thus beleaguered on a second front, members of the Delian League began to contemplate revolt. In the wake of Athens's disastrous defeat in Sicily, Alcibiades sailed to Ionia with a Spartan fleet and succeeded in persuading several critical cities to revolt. [56] [57]

In spite of these valuable contributions to the Spartan cause, Alcibiades fell out of favor with the Spartan government at around this time, ruled by Agis II. [58] Leotychides, the son born by Agis's wife Timaea, Queen of Sparta, shortly after this, was believed by many to be Alcibiades's son. [59] [60] An alternate account asserts that Alcibiades took advantage of King Agis' absence with the Spartan Army in Attica and seduced his wife, Timonassa. [25] : 207

Alcibiades's influence was further reduced after the retirement of Endius, the ephor who was on good terms with him. [61] It is alleged that Astyochus, a Spartan Admiral, was sent orders to kill him, but Alcibiades received warning of this order and defected to the Persian satrap Tissaphernes, who had been supporting the Peloponnesian forces financially in 412 BC. [62]

Defection to Achaemenid Empire in Asia Minor Edit

On his arrival in the local Persian court, Alcibiades won the trust of the powerful satrap and made several policy suggestions which were well received. According to Thucydides, Alcibiades immediately began to do all he could with Tissaphernes to injure the Peloponnesian cause. At his urging, the satrap reduced the payments he was making to the Peloponnesian fleet and began delivering them irregularly. [62] Alcibiades next advised Tissaphernes to bribe the Generals of the cities to gain valuable intelligence on their activities. Lastly, and most importantly, he told the satrap to be in no hurry to bring the Persian fleet into the conflict, as the longer the war dragged out the more exhausted the combatants would become. This would allow the Persians to more easily conquer the region in the aftermath of the fighting. Alcibiades tried to convince the satrap that it was in Persia's interest to wear both Athens and Sparta out at first, "and after docking the Athenian power as much as he could, forthwith to rid the country of the Peloponnesians". [63]

Although Alcibiades's advice benefited the Persians, it was merely a means to an end Thucydides tells us that his real motive was to use his alleged influence with the Persians to effect his restoration to Athens. [64] Alcibiades was one of several Greek aristocrats who took refuge in the Achaemenid Empire following reversals at home, other famous ones being Themistocles, Demaratos or Gongylos. [65] According to Thucydides (Thuc.8.47), Alcibiades also advised the Achaemenid king (Darius II), and therefore he may also have traveled to Susa or Babylonia to encounter him. [65] [64]

Negotiations with the Athenian oligarchs Edit

Alcibiades seemed to assume that the "radical democracy" would never agree to his recall to Athens. [66] Therefore, he exchanged messages with the Athenian leaders at Samos and suggested that if they could install an oligarchy friendly to him he would return to Athens and bring with him Persian money and possibly the Persian fleet of 147 triremes. [67] Alcibiades set about winning over the most influential military officers, and achieved his goal by offering them a threefold plan: the Athenian constitution was to be changed, the recall of Alcibiades was to be voted, and Alcibiades was to win over Tissaphernes and the King of Persia to the Athenian side. Most of the officers in the Athenian fleet accepted the plan and welcomed the prospect of a narrower constitution, which would allow them a greater share in determining policy. According to Thucydides, only one of the Athenian Generals at Samos, Phrynichus, opposed the plan and argued that Alcibiades cared no more for the proposed oligarchy than for the traditional democracy. [68] The involvement in the plot of another General, Thrasybulus, remains unclear. [f]

These officers of the Athenian fleet formed a group of conspirators, but were met with opposition from the majority of the soldiers and sailors these were eventually calmed down "by the advantageous prospect of the pay from the king". [71] The members of the group assembled and prepared to send Pisander, one of their number, on an embassy to Athens to treat for the restoration of Alcibiades and the abolition of democracy in the city, and thus to make Tissaphernes the friend of the Athenians. [72]

Phrynichus, fearing that Alcibiades if restored would avenge himself upon him for his opposition, sent a secret letter to the Spartan Admiral, Astyochus, to tell him that Alcibiades was ruining their cause by making Tissaphernes the friend of the Athenians, and containing an express revelation of the rest of the intrigue. Astyochus went up to Alcibiades and Tissaphernes at Magnesia and communicated to them Phrynichus's letter. Alcibiades responded in kind, sending to the authorities at Samos a letter against Phrynichus, stating what he had done, and requiring that he should be put to death. [73] Phrynichus in desperation wrote again to Astyochus, offering him a chance to destroy the Athenian fleet at Samos. This also Astyochus revealed to Alcibiades who informed the officers at Samos that they had been betrayed by Phrynichus. Alcibiades however gained no credit, because Phrynichus had anticipated Alcibiades's letter and, before the accusations could arrive, told the army that he had received information of an enemy plan to attack the camp and that they should fortify Samos as quickly as possible. [74]

Despite these events, Pisander and the other envoys of the conspirators arrived at Athens and made a speech before the people. Pisander won the argument, putting Alcibiades and his promises at the center. The Ecclesia deposed Phrynichus and elected Pisander and ten other envoys to negotiate with Tissaphernes and Alcibiades. [75]

At this point, Alcibiades's scheme encountered a great obstacle. Tissaphernes would not make an agreement on any terms, wanting to follow his policy of neutrality. [76] As Kagan points out, Tissaphernes was a prudent leader and had recognized the advantages of wearing each side out without direct Persian involvement. [77] Alcibiades realized this and, by presenting the Athenians with stiffer and stiffer demands on Tissaphernes's behalf, attempted to convince them that he had persuaded Tissaphernes to support them, but that they had not conceded enough to him. Although the envoys were angered at the audacity of the Persian demands, they nevertheless departed with the impression that Alcibiades could have brought about an agreement among the powers if he had chosen to do so. [78] This fiasco at the court of Tissaphernes, however, put an end to the negotiations between the conspirators and Alcibiades. [76] The group was convinced that Alcibiades could not deliver his side of the bargain without demanding exorbitantly high concessions of them and they accordingly abandoned their plans to restore him to Athens. [78]

Reinstatement as an Athenian General Edit

In spite of the failure of the negotiations, the conspirators succeeded in overthrowing the democracy and imposing the oligarchic government of the Four Hundred, among the leaders of which were Phrynichus and Pisander. At Samos, however, a similar coup instigated by the conspirators did not go forward so smoothly. Samian democrats learned of the conspiracy and notified four prominent Athenians: the generals Leon and Diomedon, the trierarch Thrasybulus, and Thrasyllus, at that time a hoplite in the ranks. With the support of these men and the Athenian soldiers in general, the Samian democrats were able to defeat the 300 Samian oligarchs who attempted to seize power there. [79] Further, the Athenian troops at Samos formed themselves into a political assembly, deposed their generals, and elected new ones, including Thrasybulus and Thrasyllus. The army, stating that they had not revolted from the city but that the city had revolted from them, resolved to stand by the democracy while continuing to prosecute the war against Sparta. [80]

After a time, Thrasybulus persuaded the assembled troops to vote Alcibiades's recall, a policy that he had supported since before the coup. Then he sailed to retrieve Alcibiades and returned with him to Samos. The aim of this policy was to win away Persian support from the Spartans, as it was still believed that Alcibiades had great influence with Tissaphernes. [81] Plutarch claims that the army sent for Alcibiades so as to use his help in putting down the tyrants in Athens. [82] Kagan argues that this reinstatement was a disappointment to Alcibiades, who had hoped for a glorious return to Athens itself but found himself only restored to the rebellious fleet, where the immunity from prosecution he had been granted "protected him for the time being but not from a reckoning in the future" furthermore, the recall, which Alcibiades had hoped to bring about through his own prestige and perceived influence, was achieved through the patronage of Thrasybulus. [83]

At his first speech to the assembled troops, Alcibiades complained bitterly about the circumstances of his exile, but the largest part of the speech consisted of boasting about his influence with Tissaphernes. The primary motives of his speech were to make the oligarchs at Athens afraid of him and to increase his credit with the army at Samos. Upon hearing his speech the troops immediately elected him General alongside Thrasybulus and the others. In fact, he roused them so much that they proposed to sail at once for Piraeus and attack the oligarchs in Athens. [84] It was primarily Alcibiades, along with Thrasybulus, who calmed the people and showed them the folly of this proposal, which would have sparked civil war and led to the immediate defeat of Athens. [82] Shortly after Alcibiades's reinstatement as an Athenian general, the government of the Four Hundred was overthrown and replaced by a broader oligarchy, which would eventually give way to democracy. [85]

Presently Alcibiades sailed to Tissaphernes with a detachment of ships. According to Plutarch, the supposed purpose of this mission was to stop the Persian fleet from coming to the aid of the Peloponnesians. [82] Thucydides is in agreement with Plutarch that the Persian fleet was at Aspendus and that Alcibiades told the troops he would bring the fleet to their side or prevent it from coming at all, but Thucydides further speculates that the real reason was to flaunt his new position to Tissaphernes and try to gain some real influence over him. [84] According to the historian, Alcibiades had long known that Tissaphernes never meant to bring the fleet at all. [86]

Battles of Abydos and Cyzicus Edit

Alcibiades was recalled by the "intermediate regime" of The Five Thousand, the government which succeeded the Four Hundred in 411, but it is most likely that he waited until 407 BC to actually return to the city. [87] Plutarch tells us that, although his recall had already been passed on motion of Critias, a political ally of his, Alcibiades was resolved to come back with glory. [88] While this was certainly his goal, it was again a means to an end, that end being to avoid prosecution upon his return to Athens.

The next significant part he would play in the war would occur at the Battle of Abydos. Alcibiades had remained behind at Samos with a small force while Thrasybulus and Thrasyllus led the greater part of the fleet to the Hellespont. During this period, Alcibiades succeeded in raising money from Caria and the neighboring area, with which he was able to pay the rowers and gain their favor. [89] After the Athenian victory at Cynossema, both fleets summoned all their ships from around the Aegean to join them for what might be a decisive next engagement. While Alcibiades was still en route, the two fleets clashed at Abydos, where the Peloponnesians had set up their main naval base. The battle was evenly matched, and raged for a long time, but the balance tipped towards the Athenians when Alcibiades sailed into the Hellespont with eighteen triremes. [88] [90] The Persian satrap Pharnabazus, who had replaced Tissaphernes as the sponsor of the Peloponnesian fleet, moved his land army to the shore to defend the ships and sailors who had beached their ships. Only the support of the Persian land army and the coming of night saved the Peloponnesian fleet from complete destruction. [91]

Shortly after the battle, Tissaphernes had arrived in the Hellespont and Alcibiades left the fleet at Sestos to meet him, bringing gifts and hoping once again to try to win over the Persian governor. Evidently Alcibiades had gravely misjudged his standing with the satrap, and he was arrested on arrival. [88] Within a month he would escape and resume command. [92] It was now obvious, however, that he had no influence with the Persians from now on his authority would depend on what he actually could accomplish rather than on what he promised to do. [93]

After an interlude of several months in which the Peloponnesians constructed new ships and the Athenians besieged cities and raised money throughout the Aegean, the next major sea battle took place the spring of 410 BC at Cyzicus. Alcibiades had been forced to flee from Sestos to Cardia to protect his small fleet from the rebuilt Peloponnesian navy, but as soon as the Athenian fleet was reunited there its commanders led it to Cyzicus, where the Athenians had intelligence indicating that Pharnabazus and Mindarus, the Peloponnesian fleet commander, were together plotting their next move. Concealed by storm and darkness, the combined Athenian force reached the vicinity without being spotted by the Peloponnesians. [92] Here the Athenians devised a plot to draw the enemy into battle. According to Diodorus Siculus, Alcibiades advanced with a small squadron in order to draw the Spartans out to battle, and, after he successfully deceived Mindarus with this ploy, the squadrons of Thrasybulus and Theramenes came to join him, cutting off the Spartans' retreat. [g] [96]

The Spartan fleet suffered losses in the flight and reached the shore with the Athenians in close pursuit. Alcibiades's troops, leading the Athenian pursuit, landed and attempted to pull the Spartan ships back out to sea. The Peloponnesians fought to prevent their ships from being towed away, and Pharnabazus's troops came up to support them. [97] Thrasybulus landed his own force to temporarily relieve pressure on Alcibiades, and meanwhile ordered Theramenes to join up with Athenian land forces nearby and bring them to reinforce the sailors and marines on the beach. The Spartans and Persians, overwhelmed by the arrival of multiple forces from several directions, were defeated and driven off, and the Athenians captured all the Spartan ships which were not destroyed. [98] [99] A letter dispatched to Sparta by Hippocrates, vice-admiral under Mindarus, was intercepted and taken to Athens it ran as follows: "The ships are lost. Mindarus is dead. The men are starving. We know not what to do". [97] A short time later Sparta petitioned for peace, but their appeals were ultimately rejected by the Athenians. [100]

Further military successes Edit

After their victory, Alcibiades and Thrasybulus began the siege of Chalcedon in 409 BC with about 190 ships. [101] Although unable to attain a decisive victory or induce the city to surrender, Alcibiades was able to win a small tactical land battle outside of the city gates and Theramenes concluded an agreement with the Chalcedonians. [102] Afterwards they concluded a temporary alliance with Pharnabazus which secured some much needed immediate cash for the army, but despite this Alcibiades was still forced to depart in search for more booty to pay the soldiers and oarsmen of the fleet.

In pursuit of these funds he traveled to the Thracian Chersonese and attacked Selymbria. He plotted with a pro-Athenian party within the city and offered the Selymbrians reasonable terms and imposed strict discipline to see that they were observed. He did their city no injury whatsoever, but merely took a sum of money from it, set a garrison in it and left. [103] Epigraphical evidence indicates the Selymbrians surrendered hostages until the treaty was ratified in Athens. [2] His performance is judged as skillful by historians, since it saved time, resources, and lives and still fully achieved his goal. [2] [104]

From here Alcibiades joined in the siege of Byzantium along with Theramenes and Thrasyllus. A portion of the citizens of the city, demoralized and hungry, decided to surrender the city to Alcibiades for similar terms as the Selymbrians had received. On the designated night the defenders left their posts, and the Athenians attacked the Peloponnesian garrison in the city and their boats in the harbor. The portion of the citizenry that remained loyal to the Peloponnesians fought so savagely that Alcibiades issued a statement in the midst of the fighting which guaranteed their safety and this persuaded the remaining citizens to turn against the Peloponnesian garrison, which was nearly totally destroyed. [102]

Return to Athens Edit

It was in the aftermath of these successes that Alcibiades resolved to finally return to Athens in the spring of 407 BC. Even in the wake of his recent victories, Alcibiades was exceedingly careful in his return, mindful of the changes in government, the charges still technically hanging over him, and the great injury he had done to Athens. Thus Alcibiades, instead of going straight home, first went to Samos to pick up 20 ships and proceeded with them to the Ceramic Gulf where he collected 100 talents. He finally sailed to Gytheion to make inquiries, partly about the reported preparations of the Spartans there, and partly about the feelings in Athens about his return. [106] His inquiries assured him that the city was kindly disposed towards him and that his closest friends urged him to return. [107]

Therefore, he finally sailed into Piraeus where the crowd had gathered, desiring to see the famous Alcibiades. [108] He entered the harbor full of fear until he saw his cousin and others of his friends and acquaintance, who invited him to land. Upon arriving on shore he was greeted with a hero's welcome. [109] Nevertheless, some saw an evil omen in the fact that he had returned to Athens on the very day when the ceremony of the Plynteria (the feast where the old statue of Athena would get cleansed) was being celebrated. [110] This was regarded as the unluckiest day of the year to undertake anything of importance. His enemies took note of this and kept it in mind for a future occasion. [111]

All the criminal proceedings against him were canceled and the charges of blasphemy were officially withdrawn. Alcibiades was able to assert his piety and to raise Athenian morale by leading the solemn procession to Eleusis (for the celebration of the Eleusinian Mysteries) by land for the first time since the Spartans had occupied Decelea. [112] The procession had been replaced by a journey by sea, but this year Alcibiades used a detachment of soldiers to escort the traditional procession. [113] His property was restored and the ecclesia elected him supreme commander of land and sea (strategos autokrator). [114]

Defeat at Notium Edit

In 406 BC Alcibiades set out from Athens with 1,500 hoplites and a hundred ships. He failed to take Andros and then he went on to Samos. Later he moved to Notium, closer to the enemy at Ephesus. [115] In the meanwhile Tissaphernes had been replaced by Cyrus the Younger (son of Darius II of Persia) who decided to financially support the Peloponnesians. This new revenue started to attract Athenian deserters to the Spartan navy. Additionally the Spartans had replaced Mindarus with Lysander, a very capable admiral. These factors caused the rapid growth of the Peloponnesian fleet at the expense of the Athenian. In search of funds and needing to force another decisive battle, Alcibiades left Notium and sailed to help Thrasybulus in the siege of Phocaea. [116] Alcibiades was aware the Spartan fleet was nearby, so he left nearly eighty ships to watch them under the command of his personal helmsman Antiochus, who was given express orders not to attack. Antiochus disobeyed this single order and endeavored to draw Lysander into a fight by imitating the tactics used at Cyzicus. The situation at Notium, however, was radically different from that at Cyzicus the Athenians possessed no element of surprise, and Lysander had been well informed about their fleet by deserters. [117] Antiochus's ship was sunk, and he was killed by a sudden Spartan attack the remaining ships of the decoy force were then chased headlong back toward Notium, where the main Athenian force was caught unprepared by the sudden arrival of the whole Spartan fleet. In the ensuing fighting, Lysander gained an entire victory. Alcibiades soon returned and desperately tried to undo the defeat at Notium by scoring another victory, but Lysander could not be compelled to attack the fleet again. [118]

Responsibility for the defeat ultimately fell on Alcibiades, and his enemies used the opportunity to attack him and have him removed from command, although some modern scholars believe that Alcibiades was unfairly blamed for Antiochus's mistake. [119] Diodorus reports that, in addition to his mistake at Notium, Alcibiades was discharged on account of false accusations brought against him by his enemies. [98] According to Anthony Andrewes, professor of ancient history, the extravagant hopes that his successes of the previous summer had created were a decisive element in his downfall. [115] Consequently, Alcibiades condemned himself to exile. [98] Never again returning to Athens, he sailed north to the castles in the Thracian Chersonese, which he had secured during his time in the Hellespont. The implications of the defeat were severe for Athens. Although the defeat had been minor, it occasioned the removal of not only Alcibiades but also his allies like Thrasybulus, Theramenes and Critias. [114] These were likely the most capable commanders Athens had at the time, and their removal would help lead to the Athenian surrender only two years later, after their complete defeat at Aegospotami. [120]

Death Edit

With one exception, Alcibiades's role in the war ended with his command. Prior to the Battle of Aegospotami, in the last attested fact of his career, [121] Alcibiades recognized that the Athenians were anchored in a tactically disadvantageous spot and advised them to move to Sestus where they could benefit from a harbor and a city. [122] Diodorus, however, does not mention this advice, arguing instead that Alcibiades offered the Generals Thracian aid in exchange for a share in the command. [h] In any case, the Generals of the Athenians, "considering that in case of defeat the blame would attach to them and that in case of success all men would attribute it to Alcibiades", asked him to leave and not come near the camp ever again. [122] [125] Days later the fleet would be annihilated by Lysander.

After the Battle of Aegospotami, Alcibiades crossed the Hellespont and took refuge in Hellespontine Phrygia, with the object of securing the aid of the Achaemenid King Artaxerxes against Sparta. [127] Alcibiades was one of several Greek aristocrats who took refuge in the Achaemenid Empire following reversals at home, other famous ones being Themistocles, Hippias, Demaratos and Gongylos. [65] In general, those were generously welcomed by the Achaemenid kings, and received land grants to support them, and ruled in various cities of Asia Minor. [65]

Much about Alcibiades's death is now uncertain, as there are conflicting accounts. According to the oldest of these, the Spartans and specifically Lysander were responsible. [128] Though many of his details cannot be independently corroborated, Plutarch's version is this: Lysander sent an envoy to Pharnabazus who then dispatched his brother to Phrygia where Alcibiades was living with his mistress, Timandra. [i]

In 404 BC, as he was about to set out for the Persian court, his residence was surrounded and set on fire. Seeing no chance of escape he rushed out on his assassins, dagger in hand, and was killed by a shower of arrows. [129] According to Aristotle, the site of Alcibiades's death was Elaphus, a mountain in Phrygia. [132]

Political career Edit

In ancient Greece, Alcibiades was a polarizing figure. According to Thucydides, Alcibiades, being "exceedingly ambitious", proposed the expedition in Sicily in order "to gain in wealth and reputation by means of his successes". Alcibiades is not held responsible by Thucydides for the destruction of Athens, since "his habits gave offence to every one, and caused the Athenians to commit affairs to other hands, and thus before long to ruin the city". [133] Plutarch regards him as "the least scrupulous and most entirely careless of human beings". [134] On the other hand, Diodorus argues that he was "in spirit brilliant and intent upon great enterprises". [135] Sharon Press of Brown University points out that Xenophon emphasizes Alcibiades's service to the state, rather than the harm he was charged with causing it. [136] [137] Demosthenes defends Alcibiades's achievements, saying that he had taken arms in the cause of democracy, displaying his patriotism, not by gifts of money or by speeches, but by personal service. [138] For Demosthenes and other orators, Alcibiades epitomized the figure of the great man during the glorious days of the Athenian democracy and became a rhetorical symbol. [139] One of Isocrates' speeches, delivered by Alcibiades the Younger, argues that the statesman deserved the Athenians' gratitude for the service he had given them. [140] Lysias, on the other hand, argued in one of his orations that the Athenians should regard Alcibiades as an enemy because of the general tenor of his life, as "he repays with injury the open assistance of any of his friends". [141] [142] In the Constitution of the Athenians, Aristotle does not include Alcibiades in the list of the best Athenian politicians, but in Posterior Analytics he argues that traits of a proud man like Alcibiades are "equanimity amid the vicissitudes of life and impatience of dishonor". [143] [144] Alcibiades excited in his contemporaries a fear for the safety of the political order. [145] Therefore, Andocides said of him that "instead of holding that he ought himself to conform with the laws of the state, he expects you to conform with his own way of life". [146] Central to the depiction of the Athenian statesman is Cornelius Nepos' famous phrase that Alcibiades "surpassed all the Athenians in grandeur and magnificence of living". [147]

Even today, Alcibiades divides scholars. For Malcolm F. McGregor, former head of the Department of Classics in the University of British Columbia, Alcibiades was rather a shrewd gambler than a mere opportunist. [148] Evangelos P. Fotiadis, a prominent Greek philologist, asserts that Alcibiades was "a first class diplomat" and had "huge skills". Nevertheless, his spiritual powers were not counterbalanced with his magnificent mind and he had the hard luck to lead a people susceptible to demagoguery. [8] K. Paparrigopoulos, a major modern Greek historian, underlines his "spiritual virtues" and compares him with Themistocles, but he then asserts that all these gifts created a "traitor, an audacious and impious man". [149] Walter Ellis believes that his actions were outrageous, but they were performed with panache. [150] For his part, David Gribble argues that Alcibiades's actions against his city were misunderstood and believes that "the tension which led to Alcibiades's split with the city was between purely personal and civic values". [151] Russell Meiggs, a British ancient historian, asserts that the Athenian statesman was absolutely unscrupulous despite his great charm and brilliant abilities. According to Meiggs his actions were dictated by selfish motives and his feud with Cleon and his successors undermined Athens. The same scholar underscores the fact that "his example of restless and undisciplined ambition strengthened the charge brought against Socrates". [58] Even more critically, Athanasios G. Platias and Constantinos Koliopoulos, professors of strategic studies and international politics, state that Alcibiades's own arguments "should be sufficient to do away with the notion that Alcibiades was a great statesman, as some people still believe". [152] Writing from a different perspective, psychologist Anna C. Salter cites Alcibiades as exhibiting "all the classic features of psychopathy." [153] A similar assessment is made by Hervey Cleckley at the end of chapter 5 in his The Mask of Sanity. [154]

Military achievements Edit

Despite his critical comments, Thucydides admits in a short digression that "publicly his conduct of the war was as good as could be desired". [133] Diodorus and Demosthenes regard him as a great general. [135] [138] According to Fotiadis, Alcibiades was an invincible general and, wherever he went, victory followed him had he led the army in Sicily, the Athenians would have avoided disaster and, had his countrymen followed his advice at Aegospotami, Lysander would have lost and Athens would have ruled Greece. [8] On the other hand, Paparrigopoulos believes that the Sicilian Expedition, prompted by Alcibiades, was a strategic mistake. [155] In agreement with Paparrigopoulos, Platias and Koliopoulos underscore the fact that the Sicilian expedition was a strategic blunder of the first magnitude, resulting from a "frivolous attitude and an unbelievable underestimation of the enemy". [38] For his part, Angelos Vlachos, a Greek Academician, underlines the constant interest of Athens for Sicily from the beginning of the war. [j] According to Vlachos, the expedition had nothing of the extravagant or adventurous and constituted a rational strategic decision based on traditional Athenian aspirations. [158] Vlachos asserts that Alcibiades had already conceived a broader plan: the conquest of the whole West. [159] He intended to conquer Carthage and Libya, then to attack Italy and, after winning these, to seize Italy and Peloponnesus. [157] The initial decision of the ecclesia provided however for a reasonable military force, which later became unreasonably large and costly because of Nicias's demands. [159] Kagan criticizes Alcibiades for failing to recognize that the large size of the Athenian expedition undermined the diplomatic scheme on which his strategy rested. [160]

Kagan believes that while Alcibiades was a commander of considerable ability, he was no military genius, and his confidence and ambitions went far beyond his skills. He thus was capable of important errors and serious miscalculations. Kagan argues that at Notium, Alcibiades committed a serious error in leaving the fleet in the hands of an inexperienced officer, and that most of the credit for the brilliant victory at Cyzicus must be assigned to Thrasybulus. [160] In this judgement, Kagan agrees with Cornelius Nepos, who said that the Athenians' extravagant opinion of Alcibiades's abilities and valor was his chief misfortune. [161]

Press argues that "though Alcibiades can be considered a good General on the basis of his performance in the Hellespont, he would not be considered so on the basis of his performance in Sicily", but "the strengths of Alcibiades's performance as a General outweigh his faults". [136]

Skill in oratory Edit

Plutarch asserts that "Alcibiades was a most able speaker in addition to his other gifts", while Theophrastus argues that Alcibiades was the most capable of discovering and understanding what was required in a given case. Nevertheless, he would often stumble in the midst of his speech, but then he would resume and proceed with all the caution in the world. [162] Even the lisp he had, which was noticed by Aristophanes, made his talk persuasive and full of charm. [163] [164] Eupolis says that he was "prince of talkers, but in speaking most incapable" [33] which is to say, more eloquent in his private discourses than when orating before the ecclesia. For his part, Demosthenes underscores the fact that Alcibiades was regarded as "the ablest speaker of the day". [138] Paparrigopoulos does not accept Demosthenes's opinion, but acknowledges that the Athenian statesman could sufficiently support his case. [149] Kagan acknowledges his rhetorical power, whilst Thomas Habinek, professor of Classics at the University of Southern California, believes that the orator Alcibiades seemed to be whatever his audience needed on any given occasion. [165] [166] According to Habinek, in the field of oratory, the people responded to Alcibiades's affection with affection of their own. Therefore, the orator was "the institution of the city talking to—and loving—itself". [166] According to Aristophanes, Athens "yearns for him, and hates him too, but wants him back". [167]

Alcibiades has not been spared by ancient comedy and stories attest to an epic confrontation between Alcibiades and Eupolis resembling that between Aristophanes and Cleon. [139] He also appears as a character in several Socratic dialogues (Symposium, Protagoras, Alcibiades I and II, as well as the eponymous dialogues by Aeschines Socraticus and Antisthenes). Purportedly based on his own personal experience, Antisthenes described Alcibiades's extraordinary physical strength, courage, and beauty, saying, "If Achilles did not look like this, he was not really handsome." [168] In his trial, Socrates must rebut the attempt to hold him guilty for the crimes of his former students, including Alcibiades. [169] Hence, he declares in Apology: "I have never been anyone's teacher". [170]

Alcibiades has been depicted regularly in art, both in Medieval and Renaissance works, and in several significant works of modern literature as well. [171] He has been the main character in historical novels of authors like Anna Bowman Dodd, Gertrude Atherton, Rosemary Sutcliff, Daniel Chavarria, Steven Pressfield and Peter Green. [172]


Political Career until 412 BCE

Rise to Prominence

Alcibiades first rose to prominence when he began advocating aggressive Athenian action after the signing of the Peace of Nicias. That treaty, an uneasy truce between Sparta and Athens signed midway through the Peloponnesian War, came at the end of seven years of fighting in which neither side had gained a decisive advantage. Historians Arnold W. Gomme and Raphael Sealey believe, and Thucydides reports, [12] that Alcibiades was offended that the Spartans had negotiated that treaty through Nicias and Laches, overlooking him on account of his youth. [13][14]

Disputes over the interpretation of the treaty led the Spartans to dispatch ambassadors to Athens with full powers to arrange all unsettled matters. The Athenians initially received these ambassadors well, but Alcibiades met with them in secret before they were to speak to the ecclesia (the Athenian Assembly) and told them that the Assembly was haughty and had great ambitions. [15] He urged them to renounce their diplomatic authority to represent Sparta, and instead allow him to assist them through his influence in Athenian politics. [16] The representatives agreed and, impressed with Alcibiades’ foresight, they alienated themselves from Nicias, who sincerely wanted to reach an agreement with the Spartans. [15] The next day, during the Assembly, Alcibiades asked them what powers Sparta had granted them to negotiate and they replied, as agreed, that they had not come with full and independent powers. This was in direct contradiction to what they had said the day before, and Alcibiades seized on this opportunity to denounce their character, cast suspicion on their aims, and destroy their credibility. This ploy increased Alcibiades’ standing while embarrassing Nicias, and Alcibiades was subsequently appointed General. He took advantage of his increasing power to orchestrate the creation of an alliance between Argos, Mantinea, Elis, and other states in the Peloponnese, threatening Sparta’s dominance in the region. According to Gomme, “it was a grandiose scheme for an Athenian general at the head of a mainly Peloponnesian army to march through the Peloponnese cocking a snook at Sparta when her reputation was at its lowest.” [17] This alliance, however, would ultimately be defeated at the Battle of Mantinea (418 B.C.E.). [18]

Somewhere in the years 416–415 B.C.E., a complex struggle took place between Hyperbolos on one side and Nicias and Alcibiades on the other. Hyperbolos tried to bring about the ostracism of one of this pair, but Nicias and Alcibiades combined their influence to induce the people to expel Hyperbolos instead. [19] This incident reveals that Nicias and Alcibiades each commanded a personal following, whose votes were determined by the wishes of the leaders. [14]

Alcibiades was not one of the Generals involved in the capture of Melos in 416–415 B.C.E., but Plutarch describes him as a supporter of the decree by which the grown men of Melos were killed and the women and children enslaved. [20] The orator Andocides alleges that Alcibiades had a child by one of these enslaved women. [21]

Sicilian Expedition

In 415 B.C.E., delegates from the Sicilian city of Segesta (Greek: Egesta) arrived at Athens to plead for the support of the Athenians in their war against Selinus. During the debates on the undertaking, Nicias was vehemently opposed to Athenian intervention, explaining that the campaign would be very costly and attacking the character and motives of Alcibiades, who had emerged as the supporter of the expedition. On the other hand, Alcibiades argued that a campaign in this new theater would bring riches to the city and expand the empire, just as the Persian Wars had. In his speech Alcibiades predicted (over-optimistically, in the opinion of most historians) that the Athenians would be able to recruit allies in the region and impose their rule on Syracuse, the most powerful city of Sicily. [22] In spite of Alcibiades’ enthusiastic advocacy for the plan, it was Nicias, not he, who turned a modest undertaking into a massive campaign and made the conquest of Sicily seem possible and safe. [23] It was at his suggestion that the size of the fleet was significantly increased from 60 ships to � galleys, 5,100 men at arms, and about 1300 archers, slingers, and light armed men”. [24] Philosopher Leo Strauss underscores that the Sicilian expedition surpassed everything undertaken by Pericles. Almost certainly Nicias’ intention was to shock the assembly with his high estimate of the forces required, but, instead of dissuading his fellow citizens, his analysis made them all the more eager. [25] Against his wishes Nicias was appointed General along with Alcibiades and Lamachus, all three of whom were given full powers to do whatever was in the best interests of Athens while in Sicily. [26]

One night during preparations for the expedition, the hermai, heads of the god Hermes on a plinth with a phallus, were mutilated throughout Athens. This was a religious scandal and was seen as a bad omen for the mission. Plutarch explains that Androcles, a political leader, used false witnesses who accused Alcibiades and his friends of mutilating the statues, and of profaning the Eleusinian Mysteries. Later his opponents, chief among them being Androcles and Thessalus, Cimon’s son, enlisted orators to argue that Alcibiades should set sail as planned and stand trial on his return from the campaign. Alcibiades was suspicious of their intentions, and asked to be allowed to stand trial immediately, under penalty of death, in order to clear his name. [27] This request was denied, and the fleet set sail soon after, with the charges unresolved. [28]

“Men do not rest content with parrying the attacks of a superior, but often strike the first blow to prevent the attack being made. And we cannot fix the exact point at which our empire shall stop we have reached a position in which we must not be content with retaining but must scheme to extend it, for, if we cease to rule others, we are in danger of being ruled ourselves. Nor can you look at inaction from the same point of view as others, unless you are prepared to change your habits and make them like theirs.”

Alcibiades’ Oration before the Sicilian expedition as recorded by Thucydides, (VI, 18]) Thucydides disclaims verbal accuracy].

As Alcibiades had suspected, his absence emboldened his enemies, and they began to accuse him of other sacrilegious actions and comments and even alleged that these actions were connected with a plot against the democracy. [29] According to Thucydides, the Athenians were always in fear and took everything suspiciously. [30] When the fleet arrived in Catana, it found the state trireme Salaminia waiting to bring Alcibiades and the others indicted for mutilating the hermai or profaning the Eleusinian Mysteries back to Athens to stand trial. [30] Alcibiades told the heralds that he would follow them back to Athens in his ship, but in Thurii he escaped with his crew in Athens he was convicted in absentia and condemned to death. His property was confiscated and a reward of one talent was promised to whoever succeeded in killing any who had fled. [31] Meanwhile the Athenian force in Sicily, after a few early victories, moved against Messina, where the Generals expected their secret allies within the city to betray it to them. Alcibiades, however, foreseeing that he would be outlawed, gave information to the friends of the Syracusans in Messina, who succeeded in preventing the admission of the Athenians. [32] With the death of Lamachus in battle some time later, command of the Sicilian Expedition fell into the hands of Nicias, whom modern scholars have judged to be an inadequate military leader. [1]

Defection to Sparta

After his disappearance at Thurii, Alcibiades quickly contacted the Spartans, “promising to render them aid and service greater than all the harm he had previously done them as an enemy” if they would offer him sanctuary. [33] The Spartans granted this request and received him among them. In the debate at Sparta over whether to send a force to relieve Syracuse, Alcibiades spoke and instilled fear of Athenian ambition into the Spartan ephors by informing them that the Athenians hoped to conquer Sicily, Italy, and even Carthage. [34] Yale historian Donald Kagan believes that Alcibiades knowingly exaggerated the plans of the Athenians to convince the Spartans of the benefit they stood to gain from his help. Kagan asserts that Alcibiades had not yet acquired his “legendary” reputation, and the Spartans saw him as “a defeated and hunted man” whose policies “produced strategic failures” and brought “no decisive result.” If accurate, this assessment underscores one of Alcibiades greatest talents, his highly persuasive oratory. [35] After making the threat seem imminent, Alcibiades advised the Spartans to send troops and most importantly, a Spartan commander to discipline and aid the Syracusans. [34]

“Our party was that of the whole people, our creed being to do our part in preserving the form of government under which the city enjoyed the utmost greatness and freedom, and which we had found existing. As for democracy, the men of sense among us knew what it was, and I perhaps as well as any, as I have the more cause to complain of it but there is nothing new to be said of a patent absurdity—meanwhile we did not think it safe to alter it under the pressure of your hostility.”

Alcibiades’ Speech to the Spartans as recorded by Thucydides, (VI, 89]) Thucydides disclaims verbal accuracy.

Alcibiades served as a military advisor to Sparta and helped the Spartans secure several crucial successes. He advised them to build a permanent fort at Decelea, just over ten miles from Athens and within sight of the city. [36] By doing this, the Spartans cut the Athenians off entirely from their homes and crops and the silver mines of Sunium. [35] This was part of Alcibiades’s plan to renew the war with Athens in Attica. The move was devastating to Athens and forced the citizens to live within the long walls of the city year round, making them entirely dependent on their seaborne trade for food. Seeing Athens thus beleaguered on a second front, members of the Delian League began to contemplate revolt. In the wake of Athens’ disastrous defeat in Sicily, Alcibiades sailed to Ionia with a Spartan fleet and succeeded in persuading several critical cities to revolt. [37][38] In spite of these valuable contributions to the Spartan cause, Alcibiades fell out of favor with the Spartan government at around this time, when it was discovered that he was having an affair with the wife of the Spartan king, Agis II. [39] Leotychides, the son born by Agis’ wife Timaia shortly after this, was believed by many to be Alcibiades’ son. [40][41] Alcibiades’s influence was further reduced after the retirement of Endius, the ephor who was most friendly to him. [42] It is alleged that Astiochus, a Spartan Admiral, was sent orders to kill him, but Alcibiades received warning of this order and defected to the Persian satrap Tissaphernes, who had been supporting the Peloponnesian forces financially in 412 B.C.E. [43]

In Asia Minor

Jean-Baptiste Regnault (1754–1829): Socrates dragging Alcibiades from the Embrace of Sensual Pleasure, 1791 / Louvre Museum, Wikimedia Commons

On his arrival in the Persian court, Alcibiades won the trust of the powerful satrap and made several policy suggestions which were well received. According to Thucydides, Alcibiades immediately began to do all he could with Tissaphernes to injure the Peloponnesian cause. At his urging, the satrap reduced the payments he was making to the Peloponnesian fleet and began delivering them irregularly. [43] Alcibiades next advised Tissaphernes to bribe the Generals of the cities to gain valuable intelligence on their activities. Lastly, and most importantly, he told the satrap to be in no hurry to bring the Persian fleet into the conflict, as the longer the war dragged out the more exhausted the combatants would become. This would allow the Persians to more easily conquer the region in the aftermath of the fighting. Alcibiades tried to convince the satrap that it was in Persia’s interest to wear both Athens and Sparta out at first, “and after docking the Athenian power as much as he could, forthwith to rid the country of the Peloponnesians.” [44] Although Alcibiades’ advice benefited the Persians, it was merely a means to an end Thucydides tells us that his real motive was to use his alleged influence with the Persians to effect his restoration to Athens. [45]


Recall to Athens

Negotiations with the Athenian oligarchs

Alcibiades seemed to assume that the "radical democracy" would never agree to his recall to Athens. [48] Therefore, he exchanged messages with the Athenian leaders at Samos and suggested that if they could install an oligarchy friendly to him he would return to Athens and bring with him Persian money and possibly the Persian fleet of 147 triremes. [49] Alcibiades set about winning over the most influential military officers, and achieved his goal by offering them a threefold plan: the Athenian constitution was to be changed, the recall of Alcibiades was to be voted, and Alcibiades was to win over Tissaphernes and the King of Persia to the Athenian side. Most of the officers in the Athenian fleet accepted the plan and welcomed the prospect of a narrower constitution, which would allow them a greater share in determining policy. According to Thucydides, only one of the Athenian Generals at Samos, Phrynichus, opposed the plan and argued that Alcibiades cared no more for the proposed oligarchy than for the traditional democracy. [50] The involvement in the plot of another General, Thrasybulus, remains unclear. e[›]

These officers of the Athenian fleet formed a group of conspirators, but were met with opposition from the majority of the soldiers and sailors these were eventually calmed down "by the advantageous prospect of the pay from the king". [51] The members of the group assembled and prepared to send Pisander, one of their number, on an embassy to Athens to treat for the restoration of Alcibiades and the abolition of the democracy in the city, and thus to make Tissaphernes the friend of the Athenians. [52]

Phrynichus, fearing that Alcibiades if restored would avenge himself upon him for his opposition, sent a secret letter to the Spartan Admiral, Astyochus, to tell him that Alcibiades was ruining their cause by making Tissaphernes the friend of the Athenians, and containing an express revelation of the rest of the intrigue. Astyochus went up to Alcibiades and Tissaphernes at Magnesia and communicated to them Phrynichus's letter. Alcibiades responded in kind, sending to the authorities at Samos a letter against Phrynichus, stating what he had done, and requiring that he should be put to death. [53] Phrynichus in desperation wrote again to Astyochus, offering him a chance to destroy the Athenian fleet at Samos. This also Astyochus revealed to Alcibiades who informed the officers at Samos that they had been betrayed by Phrynichus. Alcibiades however gained no credit, because Phrynichus had anticipated Alcibiades's letter and, before the accusations could arrive, told the army that he had received information of an enemy plan to attack the camp and that they should fortify Samos as quickly as possible. [54]

Despite these events, Pisander and the other envoys of the conspirators arrived at Athens and made a speech before the people. Pisander won the argument, putting Alcibiades and his promises at the center. The Ecclesia deposed Phrynichus and elected Pisander and ten other envoys to negotiate with Tissaphernes and Alcibiades. [55]

At this point, Alcibiades's scheme encountered a great obstacle. Tissaphernes would not make an agreement on any terms, wanting to follow his policy of neutrality. [56] As Kagan points out, Tissaphernes was a prudent leader and had recognized the advantages of wearing each side out without direct Persian involvement. [57] Alcibiades realized this and, by presenting the Athenians with stiffer and stiffer demands on Tissaphernes's behalf, attempted to convince them that he had persuaded Tissaphernes to support them, but that they had not conceded enough to him. Although the envoys were angered at the audacity of the Persian demands, they nevertheless departed with the impression that Alcibiades could have brought about an agreement among the powers if he had chosen to do so. [58] This fiasco at the court of Tissaphernes, however, put an end to the negotiations between the conspirators and Alcibiades. [56] The group was convinced that Alcibiades could not deliver his side of the bargain without demanding exorbitantly high concessions of them and they accordingly abandoned their plans to restore him to Athens. [58]

Reinstatement as an Athenian General

In spite of the failure of the negotiations, the conspirators succeeded in overthrowing the democracy and imposing the oligarchic government of the Four Hundred, among the leaders of which were Phrynichus and Pisander. At Samos, however, a similar coup instigated by the conspirators did not go forward so smoothly. Samian democrats learned of the conspiracy and notified four prominent Athenians: the generals Leon and Diomedon, the trierarch Thrasybulus, and Thrasyllus, at that time a hoplite in the ranks. With the support of these men and the Athenian soldiers in general, the Samian democrats were able to defeat the 300 Samian oligarchs who attempted to seize power there. [59] Further, the Athenian troops at Samos formed themselves into a political assembly, deposed their generals, and elected new ones, including Thrasybulus and Thrasyllus. The army, stating that they had not revolted from the city but that the city had revolted from them, resolved to stand by the democracy while continuing to prosecute the war against Sparta. [60]

After a time, Thrasybulus persuaded the assembled troops to vote Alcibiades's recall, a policy that he had supported since before the coup. Then he sailed to retrieve Alcibiades and returned with him to Samos. The aim of this policy was to win away Persian support from the Spartans, as it was still believed that Alcibiades had great influence with Tissaphernes. [61] Plutarch claims that the army sent for Alcibiades so as to use his help in putting down the tyrants in Athens. [62] Kagan argues that this reinstatement was a disappointment to Alcibiades, who had hoped for a glorious return to Athens itself but found himself only restored to the rebellious fleet, where the immunity from prosecution he had been granted "protected him for the time being but not from a reckoning in the future" furthermore, the recall, which Alcibiades had hoped to bring about through his own prestige and perceived influence, was achieved through the patronage of Thrasybulus. [63]

At his first speech to the assembled troops, Alcibiades complained bitterly about the circumstances of his exile, but the greatest part of the speech consisted of boasting about his influence with Tissaphernes. The primary motives of his speech were to make the oligarchs at Athens afraid of him and to increase his credit with the army at Samos. Upon hearing his speech the troops immediately elected him General alongside Thrasybulus and the others. In fact, he roused them so much that they proposed to sail at once for Piraeus and attack the oligarchs in Athens. [64] It was primarily Alcibiades, along with Thrasybulus, who calmed the people and showed them the folly of this proposal, which would have sparked civil war and led to the immediate defeat of Athens. [62] Shortly after Alcibiades's reinstatement as an Athenian general, the government of the Four Hundred was overthrown and replaced by a broader oligarchy, which would eventually give way to democracy. [65]

Presently Alcibiades sailed to Tissaphernes with a detachment of ships. According to Plutarch, the supposed purpose of this mission was to stop the Persian fleet from coming to the aid of the Peloponnesians. [62] Thucydides is in agreement with Plutarch that the Persian fleet was at Aspendus and that Alcibiades told the troops he would bring the fleet to their side or prevent it from coming at all, but Thucydides further speculates that the real reason was to flaunt his new position to Tissaphernes and try to gain some real influence over him. [64] According to the historian, Alcibiades had long known that Tissaphernes never meant to bring the fleet at all. [66]

Battles of Abydos and Cyzicus

Alcibiades was recalled by the "intermediate regime" of The Five Thousand, the government which succeeded the Four Hundred in 411, but it is most likely that he waited until 407 BC to actually return to the city. [67] Plutarch tells us that, although his recall had already been passed on motion of Critias, a political ally of his, Alcibiades was resolved to come back with glory. [68] While this was certainly his goal, it was again a means to an end, that end being avoiding prosecution upon his return to Athens.

The next significant part he would play in the war would occur at the Battle of Abydos. Alcibiades had remained behind at Samos with a small force while Thrasybulus and Thrasyllus led the greater part of the fleet to the Hellespont. During this period, Alcibiades succeeded in raising money from Caria and the neighboring area, with which he was able to pay the rowers and gain their favor. [69] After the Athenian victory at Cynossema, both fleets summoned all their ships from around the Aegean to join them for what might be a decisive next engagement. While Alcibiades was still en route, the two fleets clashed at Abydos, where the Peloponnesians had set up their main naval base. The battle was evenly matched, and raged for a long time, but the balance tipped towards the Athenians when Alcibiades sailed into the Hellespont with eighteen triremes. [68] [70] The Persian satrap Pharnabazus, who had replaced Tissaphernes as the sponsor of the Peloponnesian fleet, moved his land army to the shore to defend the ships and sailors who had beached their ships. Only the support of the Persian land army and the coming of night saved the Peloponnesian fleet from complete destruction. [71]

Shortly after the battle, Tissaphernes had arrived in the Hellespont and Alcibiades left the fleet at Sestos to meet him, bringing gifts and hoping to once again try to win over the Persian governor. Evidently Alcibiades had gravely misjudged his standing with the satrap, and he was arrested on arrival. [68] Within a month he would escape and resume command. [72] It was now obvious, however, that he had no influence with the Persians from now on his authority would depend on what he actually could accomplish rather than on what he promised to do. [73]

After an interlude of several months in which the Peloponnesians constructed new ships and the Athenians besieged cities and raised money throughout the Aegean, the next major sea battle took place the spring of 410 BC at Cyzicus. Alcibiades had been forced to flee from Sestos to Cardia to protect his small fleet from the rebuilt Peloponnesian navy, but as soon as the Athenian fleet was reunited there its commanders led it to Cyzicus, where the Athenians had intelligence indicating that Pharnabazus and Mindarus, the Peloponnesian fleet commander, were together plotting their next move. Concealed by storm and darkness, the combined Athenian force reached the vicinity without being spotted by the Peloponnesians. [72] Here the Athenians devised a plot to draw the enemy into battle. According to Diodorus Siculus, Alcibiades advanced with a small squadron in order to draw the Spartans out to battle, and, after he successfully deceived Mindarus with this ploy, the squadrons of Thrasybulus and Theramenes came to join him, cutting off the Spartans' retreat. f[›] [74]

The Spartan fleet suffered losses in the flight and reached the shore with the Athenians in close pursuit. Alcibiades's troops, leading the Athenian pursuit, landed and attempted to pull the Spartan ships back out to sea. The Peloponnesians fought to prevent their ships from being towed away, and Pharnabazus's troops came up to support them. [75] Thrasybulus landed his own force to temporarily relieve pressure on Alcibiades, and meanwhile ordered Theramenes to join up with Athenian land forces nearby and bring them to reinforce the sailors and marines on the beach. The Spartans and Persians, overwhelmed by the arrival of multiple forces from several directions, were defeated and driven off, and the Athenians captured all the Spartan ships which were not destroyed. [74] [76] A letter dispatched to Sparta by Hippocrates, vice-admiral under Mindarus, was intercepted and taken to Athens it ran as follows: "The ships are lost. Mindarus is dead. The men are starving. We know not what to do". [75] A short time later Sparta petitioned for peace, but their appeals were ultimately rejected by the Athenians. [77]

Further military successes

After their victory, Alcibiades and Thrasybulus began the siege of Chalcedon in 409 BC with about 190 ships. [78] Although unable to attain a decisive victory or induce the city to surrender, Alcibiades was able to win a small tactical land battle outside of the city gates and Theramenes concluded an agreement with the Chalcedonians. [79] Afterwards they concluded a temporary alliance with Pharnabazus which secured some much needed immediate cash for the army, but despite this Alcibiades was still forced to depart in search for more booty to pay the soldiers and oarsmen of the fleet.

In pursuit of these funds he traveled to the Thracian Chersonese and attacked Selymbria. He plotted with a pro-Athenian party within the city and offered the Selymbrians reasonable terms and imposed strict discipline to see that they were observed. He did their city no injury whatsoever, but merely took a sum of money from it, set a garrison in it and left. [80] Epigraphical evidence indicates the Selymbrians surrendered hostages until the treaty was ratified in Athens. [3] His performance is judged as skillful by historians, since it saved time, resources, and lives and still fully achieved his goal. [3] [81]

From here Alcibiades joined in the siege of Byzantium along with Theramenes and Thrasyllus. A portion of the citizens of the city, demoralized and hungry, decided to surrender the city to Alcibiades for similar terms as the Selymbrians had received. On the designated night the defenders left their posts, and the Athenians attacked the Peloponnesian garrison in the city and their boats in the harbor. The portion of the citizenry that remained loyal to the Peloponnesians fought so savagely that Alcibiades issued a statement in the midst of the fighting which guaranteed their safety and this persuaded the remaining citizens to turn against the Peloponnesian garrison, which was nearly totally destroyed. [79]


Contents

No ancient biographies of Theramenes are known, but his life and actions are relatively well documented, due to the extensive treatment given him in several surviving works. The Attic orator Lysias deals with him at length in several of his speeches, albeit in a very hostile manner. [1] [2] Theramenes also appears in several ancient narrative histories: Thucydides' account includes the beginnings of Theramenes' career, and Xenophon, picking up where Thucydides left off, gives a detailed account of several episodes from Theramenes career including a sympathetic and vivid description of his last actions and words [3] Diodorus Siculus, probably drawing his account from Ephorus at most points, provides another account that varies widely from Xenophon's at several points. [4] Theramenes also appears in several other sources, which, although they do not provide as many narrative details, have been used to illuminate the political disputes which surrounded Theramenes' life and memory.

Only the barest outlines of Theramenes' life outside the public sphere have been preserved in the historical record. His father, Hagnon had played a significant role in Athenian public life in the decades before Theramenes' appearance on the scene. He had commanded the group of Greek colonists who founded Amphipolis in 437–6 BC, [5] had served as a general on several occasions before and during the Peloponnesian War, [6] and was one of the signers of the Peace of Nicias. [7] Hagnon's career overlapped with his son's when he served as one of the ten commissioners appointed by the government of the 400 to draft a new constitution in 411 BC. [8]

Overthrow of the democracy Edit

Theramenes' first appearance in the historical record comes with his involvement in the oligarchic coup of 411 BC. In the wake of the Athenian defeat in Sicily, revolts began to break out among Athens' subject states in the Aegean Sea and the Peace of Nicias fell apart the Peloponnesian War resumed in full by 412 BC. In this context, a number of Athenian aristocrats, led by Peisander and with Theramenes prominent among their ranks, began to conspire to overthrow the city's democratic government. This intrigue was initiated by the exiled nobleman Alcibiades, who was at that time acting as an assistant to the Persian satrap Tissaphernes. Claiming that he had great influence with Tissaphernes, Alcibiades promised to return to Athens, bringing Persian support with him, if the democracy that had exiled him were replaced with an oligarchy. [9] Accordingly, a number of trierarchs and other leaders of the Athenian army at Samos began planning the overthrow of the democracy. They eventually dispatched Peisander to Athens, where, by promising that the return of Alcibiades and an alliance with Persia would follow if the Athenians would replace their democracy with an oligarchy, he persuaded the Athenian ecclesia to send him as an emissary to Alcibiades, authorized to make whatever arrangements were necessary. [10]

Alcibiades, however, did not succeed in persuading the satrap to ally with the Athenians, and, to hide this fact, demanded (claiming to be speaking for Tissaphernes) greater and greater concessions of them until they finally refused to comply. Disenchanted with Alcibiades but still determined to overthrow the democracy, Peisander and his companions returned to Samos, [11] where the conspirators worked to secure their control over the army and encouraged a group of native Samian oligarchs to begin planning the overthrow of their own city's democracy. [12] In Athens, meanwhile, a party of young oligarchic revolutionaries succeeded in gaining de facto control of the government through assassination and intimidation. [13]

After making arrangements to their satisfaction at Samos the leaders of the conspiracy set sail for Athens. Among them was Theramenes Thucydides refers to him as "one of the leaders of the party that put down the democracy—an able speaker and a man with ideas." [14] Calling the assembly together, the conspirators proposed a series of measures by which the democracy was formally replaced with a government of 400 chosen men, who were to select and convene a larger body of 5,000 as time went on. [15] Shortly afterwards, the conspirators went, under arms, to the council chamber, where they ordered the democratic council to disperse after collecting their pay the council did as ordered, and from this point forward the mechanism of government was fully under the control of the oligarchic conspirators they quickly changed the laws to reflect the new form of government they had imposed. [16]

Conflict within the movement Edit

At this point, several conflicts began to develop that threatened the future of the new government at Athens. First, the planned coup at Samos was thwarted by the efforts of Samian democrats and a group of Athenians who they entrusted with helping them. [17] When the army at Samos heard the news of the coup at Athens, which arrived along with exaggerated reports of outrages being perpetrated by the new government, they declared their loyalty to democracy and hostility to the new government. [18] At Athens, meanwhile, a split developed between the moderate and radical oligarchs, with Theramenes emerging alongside one Aristocrates son of Scelias as the leader of the moderate faction. The extremist faction, led by Phrynicus, containing such prominent leaders of the coup as Peisander and Antiphon, and dominant within the 400, opposed broadening the base of the oligarchy, and were willing to seek peace with Sparta on almost any terms. [19] The moderates, on the other hand, although willing to seek peace with Sparta on terms that would preserve Athens' power, were not willing to sacrifice the empire and the fleet, and wanted to broaden the oligarchy to include the putative 5,000, presumably including all men of hoplite status or higher. [20]

Shortly after taking power, the extremist leaders of the revolution had begun constructing fortifications on Eetioneia, a dominant point in the entrance to the harbor of Piraeus, ostensibly to protect the harbor against an attack from the fleet at Samos. With internal dissent increasing, they joined these new fortifications to existing walls to form a redoubt defensible against attacks from land or sea, which contained a large warehouse into which the extremists moved most of the city's grain supply. [21] Theramenes protested strongly against the building of this fortification, arguing that its purpose was not to keep the democrats out, but to be handed over to the Spartans Thucydides testifies that his charges were not without substance, as the extremists were actually contemplating such an action. [22] Initially cautious (as enemies of the regime had been executed before), Theramenes and his party were emboldened and galvanized into action by several events. First, a Peloponnesian fleet, ostensibly dispatched to assist anti-Athenian forces on Euboea, was moving slowly up the coast of the Peloponnese Theramenes charged that this fleet was planning to seize the fortifications on Eetioneia, in collaboration with the extremists. [23] Second, an Athenian militiaman, apparently acting on orders from conspirators higher in the ranks of the government, assassinated Phrynichus, the leader of the extremist faction. He escaped, but his accomplice, an Argive, was captured the prisoner, under torture, refused to state the name of his employer. With the extremists unable to take effective action in this case, and with the Peloponnesian fleet overrunning Aegina (a logical stopping point on the approach to Piraeus), Theramenes and his party decided to act.

Aristocrates, who was commanding a regiment of hoplites in Piraeus, arrested the extremist general Alexicles enraged, the extremist leaders of the 400 demanded action, and made a number of threats against Theramenes and his party. To their surprise, Theramenes volunteered to lead a force to rescue Alexicles the leaders of the extremists acquiesced, and Theramenes set out to Piraeus, sharing his command with one other moderate and one extremist, Aristarchus. When Theramenes and his force arrived at Piraeus, Aristarchus, in a rage, exhorted the men to attack the hoplites who had seized Alexicles. Theramenes feigned rage as well, but when asked by the hoplites whether he thought that the fortification on Eetioneia was a good idea, he responded that if they wanted to pull it down, he thought that would be good. Calling out that everyone who wanted the 5,000 to govern instead of the 400, the hoplites set to work. [24] Donald Kagan has suggested that this call was probably instigated by Theramenes' party, who wanted the 5,000 to govern the hoplites tearing down the fortification might well have preferred a return to the democracy. [25] Several days later, the Peloponnesian fleet approached Piraeus, but, finding the fortifications destroyed and the port well defended, they sailed on to Euboea. [26] Several days later, the 400 were formally deposed and replaced by a government of the 5,000 the most extreme of the oligarchs fled the city. [27]

Under the government of the 5,000 and under the democracy that replaced it in 410 BC, Theramenes served as a general for several years, commanding fleets in the Aegean Sea and the Hellespont. Shortly after the rise of the government of the 5,000, Theramenes set sail to the Hellespont to join Thrasybulus and the generals elected by the army at Samos. [28] After the Athenian victory at Abydos, he took thirty triremes to attack the rebels on Euboea, who were building a causeway to Boeotia to provide land access to their island. Unable to stop the construction, he plundered the territory of several rebellious cities, [29] then travelled around the Aegean suppressing oligarchies and raising funds from various cities of the Athenian Empire. [30] He then took his fleet to Macedon, where he assisted the Macedonian king Archelaus in his siege of Pydna, but, with that siege dragging on, he sailed on to join Thrasybulus in Thrace. [31] The fleet soon moved on from there to challenge Mindarus' fleet, which had seized the city of Cyzicus. Theramenes commanded one wing of the Athenian fleet in the resulting Battle of Cyzicus, a decisive Athenian victory. In that battle, Alcibiades (who had been recalled from exile by the fleet at Samos shortly after the coup) led a decoy force that drew the Spartan fleet out into open water, while Thrasybulus and Theramenes, each commanding an independent squadron, cut off the Spartans' retreat. Mindarus was forced to flee to a nearby beach, and vicious fighting ensued on land as the Athenians attempted to drag off the Spartan ships. Thrasybulus and Alcibiades kept the Spartans occupied while Theramenes joined up with the nearby Athenian land forces and then hurried to the rescue his arrival precipitated a total Athenian victory, in which all the Spartan ships were captured. [32] In the wake of this victory, the Athenians captured Cyzicus and constructed a fort at Chrysopolis, from which they extracted a customs duty of one tenth on all ships passing through the Bosporus. Theramenes and another general remained at this fort with a garrison of thirty ships to oversee the collection of the duty. [33] At Athens, meanwhile, the government of the 5,000 was replaced by a restored democracy within a few months of this battle Donald Kagan has suggested that the absence of Theramenes, "the best spokesman for the moderates", paved the way for this restoration. [34]

According to Diodorus [35] and Plutarch, [36] Theramenes participated under the command of Alcibiades to the siege of Byzantium (408 BC), winning the battle against the Peloponnesian army that was appointed to defend that city: Alcibiades was in command of the right wing, while Theramenes was in charge of the left one.

Theramenes remained a general through 407 BC, but, in that year, when the Athenian defeat at Notium led to the downfall of Alcibiades and his political allies, Theramenes was not reelected. [37] In the next year, however, he did sail as a trierarch in the scratch Athenian relief fleet sent out to relieve Conon, who had been blockaded with 40 triremes at Mytilene by Callicratidas. That relief force won a surprising victory over the more experienced Spartan force in the Battle of Arginusae, but in the wake of that battle Theramenes found himself in the middle of a massive controversy. At the end of the battle, the generals in command of the fleet had conferred to decide on their next steps. Several pressing concerns presented themselves 50 Peloponnesian ships under Eteonicus remained at Mytilene, blockading Conon, and decisive action by the Athenians could lead to the destruction of that force as well, but, at the same time, ships needed to be dispatched to recover the sailors of the twenty five Athenian triremes sunk or disabled in the battle. Accordingly, all eight generals, with the larger part of the fleet, set out for Mytilene, while a rescue force under Thrasybulus and Theramenes, both of whom were trierarchs in this battle but had served as generals in prior campaigns, remained behind to pick up the survivors and retrieve corpses for burial. [38] At this point, however, a severe storm blew up, and both of these forces were driven back to shore. Eteonicus escaped, and a great number of Athenian sailors—estimates as to the precise figure have ranged from near 1,000 to as many as 5,000—drowned. [39]

Soon after the news of this public tragedy reached Athens, a massive controversy erupted over the apportionment of blame for the botched rescue. The public was furious over the loss of so many sailors, and over the failure to recover the bodies of the dead for burial, and the generals suspected that Thrasybulus and Theramenes, who had already returned to Athens, might have been responsible for stirring up the assembly against them, and wrote letters to the people denouncing the two trierarchs as responsible for the failed rescue. [40] Thrasybulus and Theramenes were called before the assembly to defend their behavior in their defense, Theramenes produced a letter from the generals in which they blamed only the storm for the mishap [41] the trierarchs were exonerated, and public anger now turned against the generals. [42] All eight were deposed from office, and summoned back to Athens to stand trial. Two fled, but six returned as commanded to face the charges against them. [43]

Diodorus notes that the generals committed a critical error by attempting to shift the blame onto Theramenes. "For," he states, "although they could have had the help of Theramenes and his associates in the trial, men who both were able orators and had many friends and, most important of all, had been participants in the events relative to the battle, they had them, on the contrary, as adversaries and bitter accusers." [44] When the trial came, Theramenes' numerous political allies were among the leaders of the faction seeking the generals' conviction. [45] A bitter series of debates and legal maneuvers ensued as the assembly fought over what to do with the generals. At first, it appeared that they might be treated leniently, but in the end, public displays of bereavement by the families of the deceased and aggressive prosecution by a politician named Callixenus swung the opinion of the assembly the six generals were tried as a group and executed. [46] The Athenian public, as the grief and anger prompted by the disaster cooled, came to regret their action, and for thousands of years historians and commentators have pointed to the incident as perhaps the greatest miscarriage of justice the city's government ever perpetrated. [47]

In 405 BC, the Athenian navy was defeated and destroyed by the Peloponnesian fleet under Lysander at the Battle of Aegospotami in the Hellespont. Without sufficient funds to build another fleet, the Athenians could only wait as Lysander sailed westward across the Aegean towards their city. Blockaded by land and sea, with their food supplies running low, the Athenians sent ambassadors to the Spartan king Agis, whose army was camped outside their walls, offering to join the Spartan alliance if they were allowed to keep their walls and port Agis, claiming that he had no power to negotiate, sent the ambassadors on to Sparta, but there they were told that, if they really wanted peace, they should bring the Spartans better proposals. [48] The Athenians were initially intransigent, going so far as to imprison a man who suggested that a stretch of the long walls be torn down as the Spartans had insisted, [49] but the reality of their situation soon compelled them to consider compromises. In this situation, Theramenes, in a speech to the assembly, requested that he be sent as an ambassador to Lysander (who was at this time besieging Samos) to determine the Spartans' intentions towards Athens he also stated that he had discovered something that might improve the Athenians' situation, although he declined to share it with the citizenry. [50] His request was granted, and Theramenes sailed to Samos to meet with Lysander from there, he was sent to Sparta, perhaps stopping at Athens on the way. [51] At Sparta, with representatives of all of Sparta's allies present, Theramenes and his colleagues negotiated the terms of the peace that ended the Peloponnesian War the long walls and the walls of Piraeus were pulled down, the size of the Athenian fleet was sharply limited, and Athenian foreign policy was subordinated to that of Sparta [52] the treaty also stipulated that the Athenians were to use "the constitution of their ancestors". [53] Theramenes returned to Athens and presented the results of the negotiations to the assembly although some still favored holding out, the majority voted to accept the terms the Peloponnesian War, after 28 years, was at an end. [54]

In the wake of Athens' surrender, the long walls were torn down and the troops besieging the city returned to their various homes a Spartan garrison probably remained in Athens to supervise the dismantling of the walls Lysander sailed off to Samos to complete the siege of that city. [55] Another clause of the treaty that had ended the war had allowed all exiles to return to Athens, and these men, many of them oligarchic agitators who had been cast out by the democracy, were hard at work in the months after the treaty. [55] Five "overseers" were appointed by the members of the oligarchic social clubs to plan the transition to an oligarchy. [56] In July 404 BC, they summoned Lysander back to Athens, where he supervised the change of government an oligarchic politician, Dracontides, proposed in the council to place the government in the hands of thirty chosen men Theramenes supported this motion, [57] and, with Lysander threatening to punish the Athenians for failing to dismantle the walls quickly enough unless they assented, it passed the assembly. [58] Thirty men were selected: ten appointed by the "overseers", ten chosen by Theramenes (including himself), and ten picked by Lysander. [59]

This government, which soon came to be known as the "Thirty Tyrants" for its excesses and atrocities, rapidly set about establishing its control over the city. The oligarchs, led by Critias, one of the "overseers" and a former exile, summoned a Spartan garrison to ensure their safety and then initiated a reign of terror, executing any men who they thought might possess sufficient initiative or a large enough following to effectively challenge them. [60] It was this campaign that first drove a wedge between Theramenes and the leaders of the Thirty initially a supporter of Critias, Theramenes now argued that it was unnecessary to execute men who had shown no sign of wishing the oligarchy harm just because they had been popular under the democracy. [61] This protest, however, failed to slow the pace of the executions, so Theramenes next argued that, if the oligarchy was to govern by force, it must at least expand its base [62] fearful that Theramenes might lead a popular movement against them, Critias and the leaders of the Thirty issued a list of 3,000 men who would be associates in the new government. When Theramenes again objected that this number was still too small, the leaders arranged for a military review to be staged after which the citizens were ordered to pile their arms with the help of the Spartan garrison, the oligarchs then confiscated all arms except those belonging to the 3,000. [63] This, in turn, marked the beginning of even greater excesses to pay the Spartan garrison's wages, Critias and the leaders ordered each of the Thirty to arrest and execute a metic, or resident alien, and confiscate his property. Theramenes, protesting that this action was worse than the worst excesses of the democracy, refused to follow the order. [64]

Critias and his compatriots, in the light of these events, decided that Theramenes had become an intolerable threat to their rule accordingly, speaking before the assembly of the 3,000, Critias denounced Theramenes as a born traitor, always ready to shift his political allegiances with the expediencies of the moment. [65] Famously, he branded him with the nickname "cothurnus", the name of a boot worn on the stage that could fit either foot Theramenes, he proclaimed, was ready to serve either the democratic or oligarchic cause, seeking only to further his own personal interest. In an impassioned response, Theramenes denied that his politics had ever been inconsistent. [66] He had always, he insisted, favored a moderate policy, neither extreme democracy nor extreme oligarchy, and held true to the ideal of a government composed of men of hoplite status or higher, who would be able to effectively serve the state. This speech had a substantial effect on the audience, and Critias saw that, if the case were brought to a vote, Theramenes would be acquitted. [67] Accordingly, after conferring with the Thirty, Critias ordered men with daggers to line the stage in front of the audience and then struck Theramenes' name from the roster of the 3,000, denying him his right to a trial. [68] Theramenes, springing to a nearby altar for sanctuary, admonished the assemblage not to permit his murder, but to no avail the Eleven, keepers of the prison, entered, dragged him away, and forced him to drink a cup of hemlock. Theramenes, imitating a popular drinking game in which the drinker toasted a loved one as he finished his cup, downed the poison and then flung the dregs to the floor, exclaiming "Here's to the health of my beloved Critias!" [69]

Theramenes lived a controversial life, and his death did not end the struggle over how to interpret his actions. In the years after his death, his reputation became an item of contention as former associates of his defended themselves against prosecutors under the restored democracy. (The regime of the Thirty lasted only until 403 BC.) It would appear that, as they defended themselves before democratic-sympathizing Athenian jurymen, Theramenes' former comrades in the oligarchy attempted to exculpate themselves by associating their actions with those of Theramenes and portraying him as a steadfast defender of the Athenian democracy examples of such accounts can be found in the Histories of Diodorus Siculus and in the "Theramenes papyrus", a fragmentary work discovered in the 1960s. [70] An example of the sort of attack this portrayal was intended to defend against can be found in two orations of Lysias, Against Eratosthenes and Against Agoratus there, Theramenes is portrayed as treasonous and self-interested, doing tremendous harm to the Athenian cause through his machinations. [71] Xenophon adopts a similarly hostile attitude in the early parts of his work, but apparently had a change of heart during the chronological break in composition that divides the second book of the Hellenica his portrayal of Theramenes during the reign of the Thirty Tyrants is altogether more favorable than that of his earlier years. [72] A final portrayal is offered by Aristotle, who, in his Constitution of the Athenians, portrays Theramenes as a moderate and a model citizen [73] historians have disputed the origin of this account, with some treating it as a product of 4th-century BC propaganda by a moderate "Theramenean" party, while others, such as Phillip Harding, see no evidence for such a tradition and argue that Aristotle's treatment of Theramenes is entirely a product of his own reassessment of the man. [74] Diodorus Siculus, a historian active in the time of Caesar, presents a generally favorable account of Theramenes, which appears to be drawn from the noted historian Ephorus, who studied in Athens under Isocrates who was taught by Theramenes.

Theramenes' reputation has undergone a dramatic shift since the 19th century, when Xenophon's and Lysias' unfavorable accounts were widely accepted, and Theramenes was execrated as a turncoat and blamed for instigating the execution of the generals after Arginusae. [75] [76] The discovery of Aristotle's Constitution of the Athenians in 1890 reversed this trend for the broad assessment of Theramenes' character, [77] and Diodorus' account of the Arginusae trial has been preferred by scholars since Antony Andrewes undermined Xenophon's account in the 1970s Diodorus' more melodramatic passages, such as his elaborate presentation of Theramenes' last moments, are still discounted, [78] but he is now preferred on a number of issues, and on the Arginusae trial in particular. [79] Aristophanes, in The Frogs, pokes fun at Theramenes' ability to extricate himself from tight spots, but delivers none of the scathing rebukes one would expect for a politician whose role in the shocking events after Arginusae had been regarded as particularly blameworthy, and modern scholars have seen in this a more accurate depiction of how Theramenes was perceived in his time Lysias, meanwhile, who mercilessly attacks Theramenes on many counts, has nothing negative to say about the aftermath of Arginusae. [80]

Recent works have generally accepted the image of Theramenes as a moderate, committed to the ideal of a hoplite-based broad oligarchy. Donald Kagan has said of him that ". his entire career reveals him to be a patriot and a true moderate, sincerely committed to a constitution granting power to the hoplite class, whether in the form of a limited democracy or a broadly based oligarchy", [81] while John Fine has noted that "like many a person following a middle course, he was hated by both political extremes." [82] The constitution of the 5,000 is recognized as his political masterpiece [83] his attempt to bring about a similar shift towards moderatism in 404 led directly to his death. That death, meanwhile, has become famous for its drama, and the story of Theramenes' final moments has been repeated over and over throughout classical historiography. "Because he met his death defying a tyrant," John Fine notes, "it is easy to idealize Theramenes." [82] In the millennia since his death, Theramenes has been both idealized and reviled his brief seven-year career in the spotlight, touching as it did on all the major points of controversy in the last years of the Peloponnesian War, has been subject to myriad different interpretations. From the polemical contemporary works which describe his career have emerged the outlines of a complex figure, charting a dangerous course through the chaos of the late 5th-century Athenian political scene although historians from ancient times to the present have offered far more specific portraits, of one form or another, it may be that nothing more than that outline will ever be known with certainty.


Stories About Lars Porsena From Ancient Roman Sources

Although Lars Porsena is commonly referred to as a king, it is quite unlikely that he was one. This is because Porsena is supposed to be derived from the Etruscan word “purthne,” which translates as “supreme magistrate.” Apart from that, we are completely reliant on the writings of later Roman writers for our information about this ancient figure.

In addition to the temporal distance separating these writers from the events at the end of the 6 th century BC, these writers do not provide any details whatsoever regarding Lar Porsena’s life before the arrival of Tarquin. Moreover, the ancient authors do not exactly agree with each other regarding the events that occur after Tarquin’s arrival in Clusium.

In Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita , which translates as From the Founding of the City (more commonly known as the History of Rome ), Lars Porsena is portrayed as a king, and Tarquin tries to influence him by “entreaty mixed with warnings.” For example, on one occasion, Tarquin “entreated him not to allow men of Etruscan race, of the same blood as himself, to wander as penniless exiles,” whilst on another, he warned him “not to let the new fashion of expelling kings go unpunished.” Livy states that eventually, Lars Porsena marched his army against Rome as he “considered that the presence of an Etruscan upon the Roman throne would be an honor to his nation.”

When news of Lars Porsena’s imminent attack arrived in Rome, the Senate was extremely alarmed, due to the power of Clusium, and Lars Porsena’s reputation. Moreover, they were worried that the plebs “overcome by their fears, should admit the Tarquins into the City, and accept peace even though it meant slavery.”

To keep the plebs on their side, the Senate made many concessions to them. Once the internal threat was taken care of, the Romans prepared to face the external one. Livy recounts that Rome might have fallen on Lars Porsena’s first assault had it not been for a man called Horatius Cocles .

Lars Porsena watches as Gaius Mucius Scaevola puts his hand into fire, which fooled Porsena into striking a peace deal with Rome. (Peter Paul Rubens / Public domain )

The Clusians had attempted to force their way into the city via the Sublician Bridge. They had taken the Janiculum in a sudden attack and were rushing down from it to the river. The Romans who were guarding the bridge fled in terror, except for Horatius Cocles. Although he was unable to convince his compatriots to stand and fight, he managed to persuade them to destroy the bridge, so that the Clusians would not be able to access the city so easily.

Horatius Cocles himself, along with two other warriors, advanced to the head of the bridge to block the enemy’s path. This was meant to buy the other soldiers enough time to destroy the bridge. As a consequence of Horatius Cocles’ bravery, Lars Porsena’s first assault on Rome was foiled.

Lars Porsena then changed his strategy and ordered his men to prepare for a siege. As they tried to starve the Romans into submission, the Clusians raided the countryside. According to Livy, the Romans allowed their enemies to plunder with impunity not out of fear, but as part of their strategy. By separating the Clusians into smaller raiding parties, the Romans were able to ambush and destroy some of them. Consequently, Lars Porsena stopped the raids, but the siege was maintained.

As the siege continued, a young noble by the name of Gaius Mucius Scaevola went before the Senate, and volunteered to infiltrate the Clusian camp, with the aim of assassinating Lars Porsena. The Senate gave its approval, and Gaius Mucius went to the Clusian camp, with a sword hidden under his robe. It so happened that on that day, the Clusian soldiers were being paid, so a secretary, who was dressed almost exactly like Lars Porsena, was seated next to the Etruscan ruler.

Gaius Mucius was afraid to ask the Clusians which of the two men was Lars Porsena, as his ignorance would expose his identity. Therefore, he made a wild guess, and ended up killing the secretary, rather than Lars Porsena.

Although Gaius Mucius tried to escape, he was seized by the Clusians, and brought before Lars Porsena in the royal tribunal. Livy praises Gaius Mucius’ courage and ingenuity, writing “Here, alone and helpless, and in the utmost peril, he was still able to inspire more fear than he felt.”

Gaius Mucius claimed that there were many other Roman youths who swore to kill Lars Porsena. Therefore, his death would mean nothing, as others will continue to make attempts on the Etruscan ruler’s life. Lars Porsena, both furious and terrified at the same time, demanded Gaius Mucius reveal the Romans’ plot, and threatened to roast him alive if he refused. In response, the youth “plunged his right hand into a fire burning on the altar,” and left it there to roast to show that he was not afraid of the threat.

Box with scene depicting Roman hero Gaius Mucius Scaevola before the Etruscan king Lars Porsena (Metropolitan Museum of Art/ CC0)

Lars Porsena was astonished by Gaius Mucius’ action and ordered his guards to release the youth. Gaius Mucius then “revealed” that that there were 300 Roman youths who were prepared to try their luck in assassinating Lars Porsena, and it so happened that he was the first of the 300. This ruse worked, as Lars Porsena was so unnerved that he decided to make peace with the Romans.

Thus, Gaius Mucius saved Rome, and was subsequently rewarded accordingly. Although Lars Porsena tried to have Tarquin restored to the Roman throne through negotiation, this did not succeed, and the former Roman king left Clusium for Tusculum, where his son-in-law, Mamilius Octavius was.

A slightly different version of the story is mentioned briefly by another Roman author, Tacitus, in his Histories. In recounting the destruction of Rome by Vespsian’s troops in 69 AD, Tacitus lamented as follows:

“This was the saddest and most shameful crime that the Roman state had ever suffered since its foundation. Rome had no foreign foe the gods were ready to be propitious if our characters had allowed and yet the home of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, founded after due auspices by our ancestors as a pledge of empire, which neither Porsenna, when the city gave itself up to him, nor the Gauls when they captured it, could violate — this was the shrine that the mad fury of emperors destroyed!”

This brief reference to Lars Porsena implies that the Etruscan ruler did manage to occupy Rome, as opposed to the account by Livy. This reference, however, does not mention anything else, so we do not know, for instance, whether Tarquin contributed to Lars Porsena’s decision to attack Rome, or if the Etruscan ruler had promised to restore him to his throne.

This Etruscan-Roman reservoir in Chiusi ( Clusium), Tuscany, Italy is supposedly the location of the legendary Tomb of Lars Porsena. (Mathiasrex, Maciej Szczepańczyk / CC BY-SA 4.0 )


FOQNEs

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, a cyberpunk dystopian novel in which Franchise Owned Quasi-National Entities (FOQNEs) have replaced the nation-state as provider of public goods. Now Microsoft is open sourcing its SolarWinds hunt tool for anybody to use. I applaud Microsoft and am grateful for their efforts, but isn’t it odd to rely on monopolies instead of governments?

The CodeQL project, owned by Microsoft, is part of their Github acquisition. Github itself is adjacent to a public good. A code versioning and repository business’ compliment is code, so it’s not very surprising that they want to commoditize code. An operating system’s compliment are applications, which is why Microsoft loves “developers, developers, developers.” Still, open source cybersecurity tools are a classic example of a nonrival, nonexcludable good, so why is the government failing to provide this public good?

In other FOQNEs news, the bitcoin barge was scrapped. After libertarian cryptocurrency enthusiast purchased a cruise ship, during the cruise industry’s nadir last spring, they found out that owning the boat was not enough to make it the fiat free utopia they had hoped. It turns out the insurance industry requires payment in legal tender and the owners could not get the policy required under maritime law. If bitcoin keeps going up and rates keep going down, insurers are going to feel pretty silly for not taking premium that invests itself, but as it turns out, insurance companies still have to pay investors, employees and taxes in government money.


References

Primary sources

  • Andocides, Against Alcibiades. See original text in Perseus program
  • Aristophanes.  The Frogs. Wikisource.  
  • Aristophanes, Wasps. See original text in Perseus program
  • Aristotle.  Athenian Constitution. Trans. Frederic George Kenyon. Wikisource.   , History of Animals (translated in English by Wentworth Thompson)
  • Aristotle.  Posterior Analytics. Trans. Edmund Spenser Bouchier. Wikisource.  
      by G. R. G. Mure
    • Translated in English by John Dryden
    • Translated in English by Arthur H. Clough (New York: Collier Press, 1909), Aubrey Stewart-George Long and John Dryden.
    • Translated into English by Aubrey Stewart-George Long and John Dryden.