Charles William Chadwick Oman.

A history of Greece from the earliest times to the death of Alexander the Great online

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were equally deficient. Tlieir officers were unaccustomed to the
management of a large fleet ; their crews, except the Corinthians,
had no recent experience of naval war. Moreover, the Athenian
navy had developed in the last forty years a new system of tactics
and manoeuvres, while their enemies were still employing the same
methods which had served at Salamis. The old school of seamen
had heen accustomed to lay their vessels alongside of the enemy,
and then to allow the hoplites and light troops on board to fight
the matter out. The Athenians had altogether abandoned these
tactics; they had cut down the number of marines whom a vessel
carried, and trusted almost entirely to ramming. Their system
Its weakness ^^^ ^^ secure by rapid and skilful manoeuvring a
at sea. favourable moment to drive their galley's beak into
the enemy's side, or to crash into and disable his long projecting
line of oars. The Peloponnesian had no conception of any other
way of conquering his enemy than by grappling with him, while
the Athenian loved a running fight, avoided close grips, and
trusted to a rapid and unexpected charge. With these tactics the
old-fashioned seamen of Corinth or Megava were at first utterly
unable to cope. They knew their inferiority, and refused to engage
unless they found themselves in largely superior force.

Next to its acknowledged inferiority at sea, the greatest weak-
ness of the Spartan confederacy lay in its financial poverty. Sparta
herself possessed no monetary resources, and among her allies
Corinth and Thebes alone had any accumulated wealth. The rest
were " ready enough with their persons, but not at all ready with
their purses." ^ So obvious was the financial difficulty of maintain-
ing the war, that, even before hostilities had begun, proposals were
made that the league should borrow money from the temple-
treasures of Olympia and Delphi — a course which those who made
it would have been the first to denounce as sacrilege, had it been
brought forward on any other occasion. Thus it came to pass that
Sparta could summon a very large army into the field for five or
six weeks, but could not keep permanently on foot more than a few
thousand men, for sheer want of money to pay them. She and her
allies were invincible for a single battle or a frontier raid, but com-
paratively helpless in carrying on a prolonged campaign,
1 Thuc. i. Ul.

431 B.C.J The Resources at Athens.


The position of Atliens was very dift'erent. On land slie had
few allies ; her trusty neighbours at Plataen, her dependents the
Messenians of Naupactus, and the Acarnanians, who ^^^ resources
joined her because of their perpetual feuds with their of Athena.
Corinthian neighbours of Leucas and Ambracia, were the only
friends on whom she could thoroughly rely. Corcyra, of course,
•was enlisted on her side, but proved of little assistance. Some of
the Thessalian cities also had concluded alliances with her, but
their forces never took the field in her favour, and they practically
remained neutral in the war. Her own military resources were very
considerable, amounting to twelve hundred horsemen and thirteen
thousand hoplites fit to take the field, beside sixteen thousand more
— men past the prime of life or resident aliens — who were available
only for garrison duty at home.

The Athenian fleet ready for sea amounted to not less than three
hundred galleys in the highest state of efficiencj'', and the well-
stored arsenal of Peiraeus was able to equip a yet larger number-
The two Asiatic islands which still maintained a war navy — Lesbos
and Chios— could reinforce their suzerain with a considerable
squadron. With this exception the Confederacy of Delos con-
tributed no naval or military assistance. The states which com-
posed it had long ceased to maintain a fleet, while it would seem
that Athens accounted their hoplites as too wanting in spirit or
loyalty to make it worth her while to call them out in large
numbers. At any rate, Ionian troops were scarcely ever brought
across the Aegean to reinforce the Athenian army for a campaign
in Europe.

The finances of Atliens were in the most flourishing condition.
She was enjoying an average annual revenue of about a thousand
talents, of which six hundred consisted of the tribute of the con-
federacy of Delos, while the rest was obtained from various forms
of domestic taxation. [Moreover, she possessed a large accumula-
tion of hoarded wealth. Of the surplus of the tribute-money six
thousand talents were lying in the Acropolis ready for instant use.
This great treasure had a few years before amounted to as much
as nine thousand seven hundred talents, but the lavish expenditure
of Pericles for the adornment of Athens, together with the cost of
the siege of Potidaca, had decreased it by more than a third.

2 9^ Early Years of tJie Pelopo7incsimi War. (431 e.c.

In considering the relative strength of Sparta and Athens, there

was another element, not less important than their military and

financial resources, to be taken into account. This

Feellnersof , . ,. , ,. .,. /. ^i ■ .•

the allies on was the feeling and disposition of their respective
each side. ^^^^^ jjere Sparta had the advantage ; the greater
l^art of the members of her alliance had an active dislike and fear
of Athens, and looked upon the war against her as a crusade in
favour of that " autonomy " which every Greek valued so highly.
Among the subjects of Athens no such feeling against Sparta
existed. The members of the Confederacy of Delos had long ceased
to look upon their connection with Athens as an advantage. It
was only the fear of sharing the fate of Thasos or Samos that kept
them quiet ; if that fear could be removed, they were for the most
part ready to secede. The victory of Athens over Sparta could
bring them no advantage, while the continuance of the war might
very possibly cause a diminution of trade and an increase of
taxation. Of active hatred for specific acts of misgovernment on
the part of Athens there was little ; but, on the other hand, the
yearning after autonomy was always present, to make them long
for the break-up of the empire of their suzerain. The allies of
Athens, therefore, were at the best passive supporters, and might
easily be turned into rebels if the hardships of war bore heavily
upon them, or if a fair chance of recovering their freedom was
presented to them. The chief guarantee for fidelity was merely
the fact that they were cut oS' from Sparta by an expanse of sea,
and that while the Athenian fleet was undisputedly supreme they
could not hope to obtain aid for a rebellion.

The first blood shed in the struggle was spilt in Boeotia. Before

the final declaration of war had taken place, while men were still

The surprise awaiting it, the Thebans made a treacherous attempt

°March^^' **' ^^^^^ Plataea. That town, like every Greek state,

431 B.C. owned a discontented faction within its wall-^. The

majority being attached to Athens, the minority were partisans of

the Boeotian League. They entered into correspondence with the

Theban Government, and undertook to betray their city by opening

one of its gates on the evening of a festival. On a night of wind

and rain in March, three hundred Theban hoplites stole beneath

the walls of Plataea, while the whole force uf the city followed them

431B.C.1 The Thehans attempt to surprise Plataea, 297

some miles behind The traitors admitted the advanced guard,
who marched into the market-place and drew themselves up there,
sounding their trumpets and bidding their herald proclaim that all
true Boeotians should take arms and join them. But the oligarchic
part}' in Plataea was not numerous, and the Thebans, instead of
seizing the prominent men of the city, remained quietly waiting for
their reinforcements to come up. Unluckily the showers of the
night had caused the river AsGpus to rise, and the main Theban
army was detained beyond it, vainly seeking for a ford. The Pla-
taeans, who had awoke at midnight to find their city betrayed,
were at first in desjiair ; but after a time they perceived that their
enemies were but a handful, and plucked up courage. They mus-
tered in the side lanes, clapped to the gates, and barricaded the
issues from the market-place. In the dusk of the dawn a desperate
street-fight took place, when the Thebans perceived that they were
entrapped, and strove to cut their way out. A few escaped by a
postern gate, many were slain, but the majority Avere driven into
a large granary, whence there was no exit, and forced to lay down
their arms. Some hours afterwards, when all their countrymen
were taken or slain, the 'J'heban army appeared before the walls.

Finding that they were too late, the Theban generals at once
laid hands on all the inhabitants of the country-side, and held them
as securities for the lives of their captured friends. The Plataeans
then sent out a herald to upbraid their neighbours for their
treacherous attack, and threatened to put their prisoners to death
if the hostages were not given up and the Plataean territory
evacuated. Accordingly the Thebans released the persons they
had seized, and returned home across the border. The Plataeans
drove off their cattle into Attica, brought all their movable
property into the city, and then, with a cruel and deliberate
breach of faith, slew their prisoners, to the number of nearly two
hundred. Thus with treachery, perjury, and deliberate massacre,
in which it is difficult to blame one party more than the other,
commenced the Peloponnesian war.

When the first news of the attack on Plataea reached Athens,
the strategi had sent off at once to beg their allies to keep their
prisoners safe, as a means of bringing pressure to bear on Thebes.
The news of the massacre caused much discontent, but nothing

298 Ea7-}y Years of the Peloponnesian War. [431 B.C.

could be done to repair the crime. War was now actually begun ;
accordingly the frontier forts were put in a state of defence, the
flocks and herds of Attica placed in safety across the water, in
Salamis or Euboea, and the inhabitants received warning that they
would soon have to take refuge within the walls of the city. From
Plataea the women and children were removed, and only a small
garrison of four hundred citizens and eighty Athenians remained
behind to man its ramparts.

The impending storm soon broke over Attica. A few weeks

after the attempt on Plataea, the whole armed force of Peloponnesus

mustered at the Isthmus, and set out on its march

Invasion of i -r. i • t /■ •

Attica, June, northward. Every state had sent two-thirds of its
^^^ ■ hoplitcs, and the whole amounted to some seventy
or eighty thousand men. Archidamus, king of Sparta, though
originally an opponent of the war, had been place 1 in command.
After being joined by the contingents of Boeotia, lie halted on the
Attic frontier, and sent forward an anibas?a'ior named Melesippus
to offer the Athenians one final chance of submission before war
was let loose upon them. But on the motion of Pericles, the
Ecclesia refused the envoy a hearing, and sent him back under guard
to the frontier. "When he was dismissed by his escort, the Spartan
took leave of them with the solemn words, " This day will be the
beginning of great evils for Greece," and returned to the camp ot

The Spartan king had calculated that the approach of an irresist-
ible iirmy would humble the spirit of the Athenians, and that when
they saw that the ravaging of Attica was about to begin, they would
offer terms of peace. He was so far right that there was a large
party which looked with dismay on the prospect of an invasion^
and the ruin to their country-side which must follow. But the
landed interest at Athens was much less powerful than the com-
mercial, and Pericles had succeeded in persuading the merchants
capitalists and shipmasters of Athens that the war would bring
them no great loss. He had from the first foreseen that, in the
case of invasion, the open country of Attica must be evacuated, and
abandoned to the enemy. He had familiarized his followers with
the idea, and when the invasion took place, the terror on which
Archidamus reckoned had long been discounted. Some days before

431 B.C.] Archidamtis rava^res Attica.


the Spartan army arrived, the Athenian proprietors had retired
within the walls of the city, taking with them their families, their
slaves, and all their household goods. There was nothing left but
empty farmsteads for the enemy to destroy.

After making an ineffectual attempt to storm the frontier fort
of Oenoe, Archidamus descended from the spurs of Cithaeron into
the plain of Eleusis, and began to burn and harry the Attica
land in the most systematic manner. It was now ravaged,
early June, and crops and fruits were well advanced towards
maturity. The Peloponnesians spread over the face of the country,
beat down the corn, felled the orchards and olive groves, and burnt
the deserted farms and villas. Working steadily south, they
crossed Mount Aegialeus, entered the plain of Athens, and encamped
hard by Acharnae, the richest and most populous of the Attic
demes. "When the smoke of the burning town was blown towards
the walls of Athens, and the bands of plunderers were seen scattered
like locusts over the plain, there was great excitement in the city.
Forgetful of their inferior numbers, the Athenians longed to leave
the shelter of the city and to fall on the invaders. The hoplites of
Acharnae and its neighbourhood, who numbered three thousand
ppears, demanded a sortie. Groups of armed men mustered at
the gates, and it required all the personal influence of Pericles to
prevent the excited multitude from rushing out to court a certain
defeat. It was the firm resolve of the great statesman to avoid all
fighting in the open field, but he found a vent for the feelings of his
fellow-citizens by planning two naval expeditions. Naval
One consisting of thirty triremes sailed up the Eurijous, expeditions,
and made predatory descents on the coasts of Boeotia and Locris.
The other, mustering not less than a hundred shijis, and carrying
a thousand hoplites for land service, coasted round Peloponnesus,
and did all the harm possible to the seaboard of Laconia, Messenia,
and Elis. Then it was joined by fifty Corcyrean galleys, and
passed up the coast of Acarnania, harrying the Corinthian colonies
in that quarter. The presence of this powerful fleet in Western
waters drew over to the Athenian alliance the four cities of Cephal-
lenia, which had hitherto remained neutral.

After remaining forty days in Attica, Archidamus drew off his
army from the wasted land, and returned to Peloponnesus. The

300 Early Years of the Peloponnesian War. wsib.c-

moment that he was gone, Pericles sallied out from Athens with
thirteen thousand men, marched into the Megarid, and paid off
on the villages and farms of the Megarians all the ravages that
Attica had been suffering during the last six weeks. This destruc-
tive visit was regularly repeated every autumn during the first
eleven years of the war : sometimes the Athenians even supple-
mented it by an additional raid in the spring.

The events of the first year of the war made plain to every one

what had hitherto been suspected by few — the fact that under

Character of existing Conditions the struggle must be prolonged

the war. indefinitely, for neither party had shown the power
to strike an effective blow against its enemy. If the Athenians
refused to meet the Peloponnesian army in the open field, and
acquiesced in the abandonment of their home territory, there was
no means of bringing pressure on them. The Spartans could not
dream of besieging the vast circuit of the city and its maritime
suburbs ; the walls were too strong for the siege artillery of those
days, and the sea was always open for the supply of new resources.
On the other hand, the Athenians had almost as little power to
coerce the Peloponnesians ; no amount of ravagings of the Megarid
or hasty descents on the coast of Laconia would appreciably effect
the policy of an inland state like Sparta. Acute misery might be
inflicted on the mercantile classes io Corinth or the farmers of the
Eleian seaboard, but their sufferings would not disturb the stolid
Lacedaemoniaa. Unless one side or the other found some more
effective way of harming its enemy, the war might go on for ever.
Pericles had long foreseen that Sparta's ability to harm Athens was
confined to the power of wasting Attica, and had made up his mind
that after some years of ineffectual effort the enemy would be
reduced to sue for peace. But he calculated that the struggle would
be long, and as a measure of precaution induced the Ecclesia to vote
that a thousand talents out of the treasures in the Parthenon
should be put aside as a reserve fund, only to he used in the event
of an attack on Athens by sea. With a similar object, a hundred
triremes fully manned were always to be kept in home waters.
The Spartans had not been so prescient as Pericles, and the utter
failure of their first attack in bringing pressure to bear on Athens
caused much discontent. It was obvious that some new method

430 B.C.I The Plague of Athens. 301

of coercing the enemy must be found, unless the war was to last
for ever.

Among the other events of the first year of the war was the
expulsion from their native island of the Aeginetans. Aegina had
been an unwilling member of the Confederacy of Delos

. _ ^ , , 1 . ,. Expulsion 01

Since ner conquest in 456 b.c, but her chief men were the Aegine-
known to be in correspondence with Sparta, and ^^^^'
Pericles dreaded the possible results of having a city ripe for revolt
at the very gates of Athens. As long as Aegina was held by dis-
aflfected. allies, it remained. " the eyesore of Peiraeus," and the
Athenians now took the cruel and high-handed stejD of deporting
its whole population. As Aegina had not justified this arbitrary
action by any open revolt, much indignation was felt throughout
Greece at seeing an ancient and famous city destroyed, merely to
ease the suspicions of a jealous suzerain. The Spartans granted
to the expelled inhabitants the land of Thyreatis on their northern
border, close to the frontiers of Argolis.

At the end of the campaigning season of 431 B.C., the Athenians
held a solemn funeral celebration in honour of those citizens who
had fallen in the numerous, if unimportant, skirmishes of the year.
The oration in honour ot the departed was spoken by Pericles ; it
was accounted the highest flight of his eloquence, and contained,
besides its ostensible purport, a lofty panegyric on the social and
political life of Athens.

When the spring of 430 B.C. arrived, the Pelopounesian confede-
rates prepared to repeat their incursion into Attica. The second
year of the war might have been as uneventful as the „

'' ° .11. Second inva-

first, if a great national calamity had not intervened sion of Attica,

430 £ C

to make it memorable. The army of Arch idamus had
hardly crossed the frontier, and the hosts of fugitive country-folk
had only just taken refuge within the walls of Athens, when the
plague broke out in the city. There ensued a fearful outbreak of
pestilence, comparable in the fierceness of its ravages, though not
in their extent, to the Black Death of 1348 or the London Plague
of 1665, and far more dreadful than any of the visitations of
cholera which our own century has known. The infection is said
to have originated in Egyiit, and to have been brought westward
by merchants from inner Asia, where pestilence is almost always

302 Early Years of the Feloponnesian War. [43ob.c.

raging. It might, however, have passed Athens by, if everything
there had not been prepared to make a disastrous outbreak easy.
The city was crowded with refugees living in the most wretched
and unsanitary condition. They had quartered themselves as best
they could in the towers of the fortifications ; the space between
the Long Walls was crowded with them ; every open square was
crammed, and even such temples as were not kept locked up.
They dwelt in booths and tents, even (we are told) in tubs, without
any possible provision for cleanliness or comfort, and depending
on a scanty and polluted water-supply In the heat of a stifling
June, the filth and overcrowding had prepared the way for the
pestilence. The moment that the infection was introduced it
spread like wildfire. Thucydides has given a detailed account of
the symptoms of this plague, which show it to have been a kind
of eruptive typhoid fever. After seven or nine days of suffering,
the victims, covered with pustules and racked with continual
The plague vomiting and unquenchable thirst, sank into their
of Athens, graves. Kecoveries, though not infrequent (Thucy-
dides himself survived an attack), were few in comparison to the
deaths. Hence the earliest symptoms of the disease brought on
a state of reckless despair which led to much unnecessary loss
of life. The physicians had nearly all fallen victims, and when
all human skill was found unavailing, a selfish panic set in.
Many refused to pay the least attention to the sufferings of their
nearest relatives, and left them to perish untended. Moreover,
under the moral and physical strain of the epidemic, the restraints
of social order broke down, and men abandoned themselves to all
manner of excess and debauchery. Crime and riot ran wild through
the streets, while unburied corpses lay in every corner and cross-
way. The cemeteries were ghastly sights ; funeral trains might be
seen fighting with each other for the possession of a pyre, and
when a burning had begun the attendants fled, leaving the body
half-charred to pollute the neighbouring air.

At least a quarter of the population of Athens perished in this
horrible calamity, nor were its ravages confined to the city alone.
The plague dogged the steps of two considerable expeditions which,
Pericles sent out to relieve the overcrowded citj'. A force of four
thousand men, despatched on shipboard to ravage the coasts of

430 B.C.] Unpopularity of Pericles, 303

Troezen and Epidaurus, suffered heavily. The army lying before
Potidaea — which was still holding out, though now in the twenty-
fifth month of its siege — caught the infection from reinforcements
which arrived from Athens, and fifteen hundred hoplites died in
the camp. It was not till the approach of winter that the death-
rate began to diminish.

By an unreasoning but not unnatural impulse, many of the
Athenians looked on Pericles, the author of the war, as responsible
for the calamities of his country. In expression of unpopiuarity
the feeling of the mob, the demagogue Cleon actually of Pericles,
brought a charge of peculation against the great minister, and, to
mark their anger, thedicastery found him guilty of the preposterous
charge. A vote of the Ecclesia even ordered the despatch of envoys
to Sparta, to sue for peace. This was, of course, refused by the
enemy, and the Athenians gradually came round again to their
old policy, and again elected Pericles as strategus. The plague
had left the rest of Greece almost untouched; nowhere were the
conditions so favourable for its spread as at Athens, and the
mortality in the few places in which it appeared was therefore small.
The Peloponnesians were able to harry Attica in June and July
without catching the infection, and carried their incursions into
every nook and corner of the land that had been left unvisited in
the previous year.

In the autumn of 430 B.C., after the Athenian fleets had gone home,
a considerable Peloponnesian squadron collected at Corinth, and
ventured out into the Ionian Sea ; but, though muster- xhe fate of
ing a hundred ships, it did no more than execute a -Ansteus.
hasty descent on Zacynthus, and then returned into the gulf. A
more efficient method of harming Athens than such a timid excursion
was devised in the same year by the Peloponnesians ; they deter-
mined to endeavour to make an alliance with the Great King, and
to obtain from him Persian gold to supplement their own slender
resources. Aristeus the Corinthian and five others set out, to
make the long land-journey to Asia which the preponderance of
Athens at sea rendered necessary. On their way the envoys passed
through Thrace, Avhere reigned Sitalkes, a firm ally of Athens.
Apprised of their arrival in his dominions, the barbarian king laid
hands on them, and made them over to the Athenian envoy at his

304 Early Years of the Feloponnesian War. [430 b.o.

Online LibraryCharles William Chadwick OmanA history of Greece from the earliest times to the death of Alexander the Great → online text (page 28 of 53)