Alfred John Church.

Callias. A tale of the fall of Athens online

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by far the ablest man that the Spartans have got; he is quite
unscrupulous; he is a bitter enemy of ours; and what is worst of all, he
can do anything that he pleases with Cyrus. You have not been
campaigning for two or three years without finding out that the Persian
money bags are the real weights that make the scales of fate go up and
down. Last year Callicratidas was crippled because Cyrus, at this very
Lysander's request, kept his purse strings tight. Now everything will be
straight and easy, and before two months are over the Spartans will have
as good a fleet as money can make." The year wore slowly on. The long
Thracian winter, which Callias, though not unused to cold weather in
Athens found exceedingly severe, yielded at last to spring, and spring
in its turn to summer. All the while the news which reached Bisanthe
continued to have a gloomy complexion. At Miletus, as well as in other
of the mainland towns, thorough-going partisans of Lysander were
installed in power. Cyrus had been called away to Upper Asia, where the
old king, his father, was lying sick to death, and had left all his
treasuries at the disposal of the Spartan admiral. With this supply of
money the pay of the sailors had been increased, and new ships had been
laid down on the stocks. In March the Athenian fleet sailed for the seat
of war. It was larger than any that had been sent forth by the city in
recent years, for it numbered no less than one hundred and eighty ships;
but private letters gave an unfavorable account of the way in which it
was equipped, and officered. This adverse opinion continued to be borne
out by the news that arrived from time to time of its doings. It seemed
to be moving about aimlessly and fruitlesly, always behind, always in
the wrong place. It offered battle to Lysander, who lay in harbor near
Ephesus, but in vain. The wary Spartan had no mind to fight but at his
own time, and the Athenian admirals had no way of compelling him. Then
the ships were scattered in plundering expeditions along the mainland
coasts and among the islands which had accepted the Spartan alliance.
The gain was small, for the booty was insignificant, but the
demoralization and relaxation of discipline were great. About midsummer
followed a bold maneuver on the part of Lysander. He sailed across the
Ægean to the coast of Attica, where his sudden appearance caused no
little consternation. The Athenian commanders were as usual behind hand.
If they had heard of this movement as soon as they ought, and had been
ready to follow immediately, it is quite possible that they might have
inflicted a damaging blow on their adversaries. As it was, the news was
long in reaching them, and when it came, found them with their fleet
scattered and unprepared. Accordingly they missed their chance of
forcing Lysander to an engagement off an hostile shore, an engagement,
too, which he would hardly have been able to decline. Lysander crossed
and recrossed the Ægean without molestation, and shortly afterward
sailed northward.

Alcibiades, whose intelligence department was, as has been said,
admirably organized, received information that this movement was
intended, and in consequence took up his quarters at a little fort which
he possessed at the extremity of the Chersonesus. He and his guest had
not been there more than a day when the Spartan fleet came in sight. He
watched it pass at a distance of two or three miles, with eager

"They have a very formidable appearance," he said to Callias when he had
scanned with his practical eye every detail of their equipment. "I
shall be agreeably surprised if our ships have anything as good to
show." On the following day the Athenian fleet appeared, showing only
too plainly how just had been Alcibiades' forebodings. The effects of
wind and weather - the ships had now been nearly six months at sea - were
plainly visible; the sails, which, as there was a slight breeze from the
west, they used to assist their progress, were dirty and ragged; the
rowers were deplorably out of time.

"Things," he said to his companion, "are even worse than I expected;
that fleet will be no match for its enemy, except under far more
skillful management than it is likely to have. Still let us hope for the
best; and it may be possible to give our friends some good advice, if
they will take it." This, unfortunately, was the last thing that the
Athenian admirals, certainly incompetent, and probably traitorous, were
willing to do. The progress of events, briefly described, was this:

Lysander possessed himself, by a sudden attack, of the town of
Lampsacus, which was in alliance with Athens. This conquest put him in
possession of abundant supplies, and of what was more valuable, a safe
and convenient base of operations. While securing these material
advantages, he also, with a generosity which he could always assume on
occasion, allowed the Lampsacenes to go unharmed. He gained thus not
only a strong position but a friendly population. On the other hand the
position occupied by the Athenians was by no means so favorable. They
moved their fleet to the mouth of a little stream known by the name of
Ægos Potami, or the Goat's River. This spot was directly opposite
Lampsacus - the Hellespont here is somewhat less than two miles
broad - but it had no conveniences for the purpose for which it was
chosen. There was no harbor, the anchorage was indifferent, there were
no houses in the neighborhood, and the nearest point from which supplies
could be obtained was the town of Sestos, nearly two miles distant.

The opportunity for offering advice which Alcibiades had foreseen had
now occurred, and he promptly took advantage of it. The morning after
the arrival of the fleet, he rode, with Callias in his company, to the
spot where the Athenian generals had pitched their headquarters, and
requested an interview. He was introduced into the tent which they used
for purposes of consultation, and saw the two officers, Menander and
Tydeus by name, who happened to be detailed that day for duty on shore.

They received him with a coldness and hauteur which augured ill for the
success of his mission.

"Allow me, gentlemen," he said, "to offer you a piece of advice which,
from my knowledge of the country, I feel sure will be useful. Transfer
your fleet from this position, which, you must allow me to say, has
nothing to recommend it, to Sestos. You must go to Sestos for your
supplies; why not stay there altogether. The harbor is good and you will
be able to do what you please, fight, or not fight, as it may seem best.
Here, if it comes on a blow from the south and - you will remember that
the equinox is near - you will be in a very awkward predicament; and,
anyhow, I do not see how you are to keep your men together when they
have to forage in this manner for supplies."

"We are obliged to you for the trouble you have taken in coming," said
Menander, "but you must allow us to remind you that it is we, and not
you whom the Athenian people have appointed to the command of this

"The gods prosper you in it," replied Alcibiades with unruffled
coolness. "And now, farewell."

"I have done all that I could," observed Alcibiades to his companion,
who had been expecting his return outside the tent. "Now we can only
await the event. As for these men, I would say of them that the gods
strike with madness those whom they are determined to destroy, but for
one thing. There may be a method in their madness. They may _mean_ to
bring about a disaster. In a word they may have sold their country. It
is a hard thing to say of any man, but could any admiral, not being a
madman or a traitor, keep his fleet in such a place as this? And yet I
do not know. I have seen honest men act with a folly so outrageous that
one could not help suspecting something more. Let us go home, and
prepare for the worst. But stay - there is yet a chance. There is Conon.
He must know better than this. Will you see him? I cannot, for there is
too deadly a feud between us. Do you know him?"

"Yes," said Callias, "I was with him last year when he was shut up in
Mitylene, and he sent me with despatches to Athens."

"And will you go to him?"

"Certainly, if it would not seem too presumptuous."

"You can give your authority; he will understand why I did not come
myself; and he is too sensible not to listen to good advice from
whomsoever it may come."

Conon was on board his ship in which he was practicing some maneuvers
about half a mile from the shore. The young Athenian was rowed out to
see him, and returned in about an hour. The report which he brought back
was this:

"Conon was very reserved, but courteous. He wished me to thank you for
your message, and to say he was sure you wished well to Athens. He would
do what he could, but he was only one out of many, and he might be
out-voted. Anyhow, he would keep his own men from straggling."

"Then," said Alcibiades, "we have shot our last bolt, let us go back."

For some days the two companions waited for news in a suspense that they
often felt to be almost beyond bearing. One night - it was the night of
the fifteenth of September - they had watched through the hours of
darkness till the day began to show itself in the eastern sky. Both had
felt the presentiment that their waiting was about to end, though
neither had acknowledged it to the other.

"Is it never coming?" said the elder man, as he rose from his seat, and
looked from the window across the sea, just beginning to glitter with
the morning light. In a moment his attitude of weariness changed to one
of eager attention.

"Look!" he cried to Callias. "What is that?" and he pointed to a boat
that had just rounded the nearest point to the westward. It was a
fishing boat, manned, apparently, by seven or eight men, and making all
the speed it could with both oars and sails. The two men hurried down to
the castle pier, and awaited the arrival of what they were sure was the
long expected message.

The boat was still about two hundred yards away when Alcibiades
recognized the steersman.

"Ah!" he cried, "it is old Hipparchus." And he waved his hand with a
friendly gesture.

"It is a bad news he brings," he said again after a quiet pause, "he
makes no reply."

A few more strokes brought the boat alongside of the pier. Alcibiades
reached his hand to the steersman, and helped him to disembark. That his
errand was bad was only too evident from his look. He was deadly pale,
and in his eyes was the expression of one who had lately seen some
terrible sight.

"It is all over," he said, "Athens is lost."

For a few minutes the three men stood silent. Perhaps it was then that
Alcibiades felt the keenest remorse of his life. After all, it was he
who, more than any living man, had brought this ruin to his country. He
had led her into an enterprise which overmatched her strength; and he
had suggested to her enemies, the too successful policy that had ended
in her overthrow. If Athens was indeed lost it was his doing - and yet he
loved her. Much of this the younger man could guess at, for he had not
been at Bisanthe for now nearly a year without learning something of his
host's inner thoughts. He turned away his face unwilling to witness the
emotion which he felt could be seen in the other's countenance. The
messenger from the scene of the disaster stood with downcast eyes,
absorbed in the dismal recollections of what he had lately witnessed.

"Tell us how it happened," said Alcibiades.

"For five days," so he began, "we manned our ships every morning about
the third hour, formed them in line of battle, and moved across the
strait to the harbor of Lampsacus. The Spartan fleet was ranged in line
outside the harbor with their army drawn up upon the shore on either
side. Our admirals did not venture to attack; and so we sailed back. I
noticed that a few quick-sailing galleys followed us at about half a
mile distance. When we got back to our station, our men used to scatter
in search of provisions for their noonday meal - our commissariat, you
must know, was very ill-supplied. Some went up the country, but most
made their way to Sestos. None of our admirals, except Conon, seemed to
have a notion that this was dangerous, though some of us old sailors
could have warned them if we had dared. Conon always kept his men
together. Well, on the fifth day - our men, you must understand, had been
growing more and more careless - about an hour after we got back, a
shield was run up to the masthead of one of the Spartan swift-sailing
galleys. I saw it flash in the sunshine; and a few moments afterwards
the whole Spartan fleet rowed from their anchorage and made their way
across the strait. They caught us entirely unprepared. There was no
battle; scarcely a blow was struck. I can easily believe that they did
not lose a single man. Some of our ships they found absolutely deserted.
None of them had more than two-thirds of their complement. No, I should
not say none; twelve were ready, Conon's eight and four others, one of
which was the Parelus.[51] I was on board Menander's own ship, of which
I was steersman. There were eight others with me. We hurried as fast as
we could to Sestos. There, the next day, I was able to hire this boat,
and thought the best thing that I could do was to come here."

"You say that twelve ships escaped," said Alcibiades, "how many then
were taken?"

"About a hundred and seventy," answered the man.

"And how many prisoners?"

"I cannot say, but certainly several thousand. Before we came away, a
boat from Lampsacus brought an awful story of what had been done there.
All the Athenian prisoners were put to death, between three and four
thousand. Only the admiral Adeimantus was spared."

"Ah! I see," cried Alcibiades, "he was the traitor."


[51] The Parelus was one of the two consecrated ships, (the other being
the Salanimia) which were used for such purposes as the conveyance of
ambassadors, the carrying of offerings to shrines, and, in case of need,
the conveyance of important tidings. They were always manned with picked



There was little sleep that night for the inhabitants of the castle of
Bisanthe. Every one felt that the situation was full of peril. If it had
not been for the confidence which every one brought into contact with
Alcibiades felt in his capacities of leadership there would have been
something like a panic. As it was, the garrison awaited with calmness,
though not without intense anxiety, the course of action which their
commander would take for himself, and recommend to them. They were not
kept long in suspense.

Shortly after dawn the notes of a trumpet were heard through the castle
giving the well known signal by which a general assembly of the garrison
was called. A few minutes sufficed to collect the men. The meeting was
held in the central court of the castle, and Alcibiades, taking his
stand on the topmost step of an outside staircase which led up to one of
the chambers, addressed them.

"Comrades," he said, "you have heard of the disaster by which Athens has
lost its last fleet. I will blame no man for what happened or inquire
whether it might not have been averted - "

The speaker was interrupted by loud cries of "Long live Alcibiades, the

A flush of pleasure passed over the speaker's face, but he made a
gesture imperative of silence, and continued.

"The only thing that remains for us is to consider what it is most
expedient to do. Here, my friends, we cannot stay. Bisanthe indeed,
protected by its situation, its walls, and stout hands and tried valor,
it would not be easy to take. But, with both sea and land hostile, with
all the country and cities from which we have drawn our supplies in the
hands of the Spartans, we cannot long continue to hold it. What then
shall we do? You, my friends, I can only advise, for from this day I of
necessity cease to command. Go, then, I would say, to King Seuthes, and
offer yourselves to him. He will receive you kindly. Brave men - and your
valor has been shown times without number - are always valued and honored
by him, and now that, for a time at least, the Spartans and their allies
have became supreme in these parts, he will want men more than ever. If
you require it, you shall have my good word; but your reputation will
speak for you more effectually than I can. My gratitude to you, who have
served me so well, I can never express. Yet such return as I can make
shall not be left undone. The paymaster will pay you all arrears of pay,
with a donation of thrice as much again."

A loud burst of applause followed this announcement.

The speaker continued: "This gift would be many times greater, if my
means were equal to my sense of your courage and your services. From
some of you I have a favor to ask. It is not expedient publicly to
declare my plans; but I may say that I shall need a few associates in
them. For these I shall not ask you, not because I am doubtful of
raising them, but because I know that you would all offer yourselves - "

A roar of assent went up from the whole assembly.

"I have already exercised the choice which in any case I should have
been compelled afterwards to make. Twelve companions - more I am
forbidden by circumstances to take - will go with me. To the rest I say,
'Farewell.' The gods grant that at some happier time we may again render
our service to Athens and to Greece. Till then, Farewell!"

A loud answering cry of farewell went up from the men, which was renewed
again and again as the speaker entered the room at the head of the
staircase. Here the twelve chosen associates were assembled, Callias and
Hipparchus, the messenger from the scene of the late conflict, making up
the number to fourteen. Alcibiades addressed them:

"I have long since anticipated and prepared myself for this misfortune
which has now overtaken us, though the blow has fallen more suddenly and
more heavily than I had feared. To you, my chosen friends, I reveal the
counsels which it would not have been expedient to publish to a
multitude. Briefly they are these: Lysander has conquered by the help of
the Persians, for had it not been for the gold of Cyrus, his fleet could
never have been kept together. We also must go to the Persians for help.
It is an evil necessity, I confess, that makes free-born Greeks court
the favor of their slaves; but a necessity it is. And the time favors us
for using it. Cyrus covets the throne of Persia which he claims against
his elder brother Artaxerxes as having been born after his father's
accession whereas Artaxerxes was born before it. As Lysander, then, has
used Cyrus against us, so we must use Artaxerxes against Cyrus. 'How,'
you will ask, 'is Artaxerxes to be approached?' Through Pharnabazus, the
Satrap, with whom I have a warm friendship of now some years' standing.
To Pharnabazus, therefore, I now purpose to go. I shall demand of him
that which he will himself be most willing to grant - for he is no friend
to Cyrus - that he send me up to Susa. This Themistocles did before me;
but he, at least in word, went as the enemy of his country, though
indeed he was unwilling to harm it. I shall go, both in word and in
deed, as its friend. And now for other things. For my most valuable
possessions I have prepared hiding-places. Much I shall leave to King
Seuthes, to whom I sent a message concerning my immediate departure.
This morning, my friends, I would ask you to receive at my hands a
year's pay. Do not hesitate to receive it; I can give it now, I may not
be able so to do a year hence. We will start this day at sunset. There
is no time to be lost. To-morrow, I doubt not, or the next day at the
latest, Lysander will be here."

With Callias, after the rest had departed to make preparations for their
departure, Alcibiades had some private conversation as to the subject of
ways and means.

"You must let me be your banker," he began by saying.

Callias thanked him heartily, but declined to receive anything more than
would suffice for immediate needs.

"You may as well take it," returned his host, "there is a good deal more
here than I can take with me; and why should you not? For myself, I
carry most of my possessions about with me in this fashion," - and he
showed a leather purse filled with pearls and precious stones. "Gold is
too cumbrous to carry in any quantity. This no man will take as long as
I am alive. Besides this, my worthy friend Hippocles, who, as you know,
is as trustworthy as the treasury of Delphi, has most of my property in
his hands. And, if we once get safely to Pharnabazus, we need not
trouble any more about this matter. I must do the Persians the justice
to say that they are always open-handed. And they can afford to be. It
is not too much to say that for one talent of gold that we have in
Greece they have at least a hundred. Any one who should have the
ransacking of one of their great treasure cities - and they have others
besides Susa; Babylon, for instance, and Persepolis and Pasargadæ - would
see something that would astonish them. And" - he added, with a profound
sigh - "if only things had gone straight, I might have been the man."

The journey along the northern shore of the Propontis was accomplished
in safety. No Spartan ship had as yet made its way so far eastward. At a
little town on the Asiatic shore Alcibiades provided his party with
horses for riding and serviceable mules for the conveyance of their
baggage and of such a selection of his own possessions as he had thought
it well to take with him. The old sailor Hipparchus here wanted to leave
them, and to make his way to Byzantium, where he had relatives. The
remainder Alcibiades addressed before setting out, to the following

"We have to make our way to Gordium in Phrygia, for it is there that, if
he keeps to his usual habits, we shall find the Satrap Pharnabazus. He
is accustomed to winter there. But we shall not find it easy to get
there. These Bithynians are not effeminate Asiatics, a hundred of whom
will fly before five stout Greeks. They are Thracians from the other
side of the sea, and we all know how hard are their heads, and how
strong their arms. We cannot force our way through them; we must elude
them if we can."

The route which the party followed lay for some time within sight of the
sea. This was commonly followed by travellers, as the mountaineers
seldom ventured within the border of the maritime plain. When they had
reached the head of the Gulf of Olbia they struck inland. The road
usually followed would have taken them by the valley of Sangarius, a
river which divides the great chain of the Mysian Olympus. Their guide
strongly dissuaded them from taking it. It was constantly watched, he
said, by the mountaineers. No one could hope to escape them, and only a
very strong party could force its way through. The safest plan would be
by certain paths which he knew, and by which they might hope to cross
Olympus unmolested. Only hunters and shepherds know them, or a chance
traveller on foot for whom it would not be worth the robbers' while to
wait. It was a toilsome and even dangerous journey. The first snows of
Autumn had began to fall, and even the practical eye of the guide found
it difficult to discover the path, while the sufferings of the
travellers, who had to bivouac for several nights in the open air, with
but scanty fire to warm them, were exceedingly severe. Still, but for
one unlucky incident, it would have been accomplished in safety. The
party was now half-way down the southern slopes of Olympus when they
halted for the night at a roadside inn, or rather caravansary. They
found the large reception chamber - it contained two only - already
occupied by a party of the vagrant priests of Cybele. While Alcibiades
and Callias found accommodation, such as it was, in the smaller room,
the rest of the party were thrown upon the hospitality of the priests,
unless indeed, they chose to bivouac outside. Unluckily, the priests
were only too hospitable. They invited the new comers to an
entertainment which was prolonged into a revel. During the passage of
the mountains the allowances of food had been small, and for drink the
party had had perforce to be satisfied with the wayside springs or even
with melted snow. When they found themselves under shelter, in a room
which was at least weather-tight, and warmed with a blazing fire, the
sense of contrast tended to relax their powers of self-restraint. The
priests had roasted a couple of sheep, and broached a cask of the heady

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Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchCallias. A tale of the fall of Athens → online text (page 10 of 22)