George Grote.

A history of Greece: from the earliest period to the close of the generation contemporary with Alexander the Great online

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the Syracusans from above poured upon the huddled mass
showers of missiles, while the Peloponnesian hoplites even
desoended into the river, came to dose quarters with them, and
slew considerable numbers. So violent, nevertheless, was the
thirst of the Athenians, that all other suffering was endured in
order to taste relief by drinking. And even when dead and
viconded were heaped in the river — when the water was tainted

1 Thncyd. viL 88.

* Platarch ^Nildas, o. S7) nys eiffht days, inaocarately.

S Tbocyd. TtL 85 ; see Dr. Arnold's note.

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and turbid with blood, as well as thick with the mud trodden
up — still the new-comers pushed their way in and swallowed it
with voracity.^

Wretched, helpless, and demoralized as the army now was,
Nikias could think no further of resistance. He accordingly
surrendered himself to Gylippus, to be dealt with at the
discretion of that general and of the Lacedaemonians,' earnestly
imploring that the slaughter of the defenceless soldiers might be
arrested. Accordingly, Gylippus gave orders that no more
should be killed, but that ike rest should be secured as captives.
Many were slain before this order was understood ; but of those
who remained almost all were made captive, very few escaping.
Nay, even the detachment of 300 who had broken out in the
night, having seemingly not known whither to go, were captured
and brought in by troops sent forth for the purpose.' The triumph
of the Syracusans was in every way complete : they hung the trees
on the banks of the Asinarus with Athenian panoplies as trophy,
and carried back their prisoners in joyous procession to the city.

The number of prisoners thus made is not positively specified
by Thucydid^ as in the case of the division of Demosthen^
whicb had capitulated and laid down their arms in a mass
within the walls of the olive-ground. Of the captives from the
division of Nikias, the larger proportion were seized by private
individuals, and fraudulently secreted for their own profit ; the
number obtained for the state being comparatively small, seem-
ingly not more than 1000.* The various Sicilian towns became
soon full ot these prisoners, sold as slaves for private account

Not less than 40,000 persons in the aggregate had started from
_^. the Athenian camp to commence the retreat six days

nnmben before. Of these probably many, either wounded or
captured. otherwise incompetent even when the march began,

1 Thacyd. vfl. 84. . l^aAAov without pretending to exact means of

wmBtr Tovs 'Athtraiovs, wlpoprat re knowledge, that the total number of

Toifs iroAAoi^f a^ijiivov^, xal iv captives brought to Syracuse under

Koik^ ovrt rf wordfuf iv a^Ctriv ovroif puDlic supervision, was not less than

rttpatrvoit.ivovs, 7000 — i\.ri^$rimv 6i ot ^fiwavrti, dxfttr

* ThttCyd. tU. 86, 80 ; Phillstus, /Sci^ iikv yaA«ir&v i^tirtiy, SfiMc tk oV

Fragm. M» ed. Didot ; Fftusanias, L iXaavov^ eirraxMrxtAfwi' (viL 87). As cht

20, 0. number taken with I>emosthen6% was

s Thucyd. rii 86 ; Plutarch, Nikias, 6000 (vii. 82X this leaves 1000 as liaving

c. 27. been obtamed from ^e di'/idon^

^Thuoydidte states, roughly and Nikias.

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Chap. lx. athxnian prisokbrs at byraoubb. 177

soon found themselves unable to keep np, and were left behind
to perish. Each of the six days was a day of hard fighting and
annoyance from an indefatigable crowd of light troops, with
little, and at last seemingly nothing, to eat. The number was
thus successively thinned by wounds, privations, and straggling ;
so that the 6000 taken with Demosthenes, and perhaps 3000 or
4000 captured with Nikias, formed the melancholy remnant Of
the stragglers during the march, however, we are glad to learn
that many contrived to escape the Syracusan cavalry and get to
Kataua, where, also, those who afterwards ran away from their
slavery undex private masters found a refuge.* These fugitive
Athenians served as auxiliaries to repel the attacks of the
Syracusans upon Eatana.'

It was in this manner, chiefly, that Athens came to receive
again within her bosom a few of those ill-fated sons Hardtreat-
whom she had drafted forth in two such splendid JJSpl^
divisions to Sicily. For of those who were carried of the
as prisoners to Syracuse, fewer yet could ever have ^israwn at
got home. They were placed, for safe custody, along 8y»5n««-
with the other prisoners, in the stone-quarries of Syracuse, of
which there are several, partly on the southern descent of the
outer city towards the Nekropolis, or from the higher level to
the lower level of Achradina, partly in the suburb afterwards
called Neapolis, under the southern cliff of Epipoke. Into these
quarries — deep hollows, of confined space, with precipitous sides,
and open at the top to the sky — ^the miserable prisoners were
plunged, lying huddled one upon another, without the smallest
protection or convenience. For subsistence they received each
day a ration of one pint of wheaten bread (half the daily ration
of a slave) with no more than half a pint of water, so that they
were not preserved from the pangs either of hunger or of thirst
Moreover, the heat of the midday sun, alternating with the chill
of the autumn nights, was alike afflicting and destructive ; while
the wants of life having all to be performed where they were,
without relief, the filth and stench presently became insupport-
able. Sick and wounded even at the moment of arrival, many

iTIm^jd. Til 86. »«AAol M Ifim during the retreat
i Si^^uYoi^ oi /tip Ktu vopcvrtko, oi
M Koi AovAev<rarrts <cal BtaiMpao^ovrMt


StfTffpov. The word wpmnUm, means ■■™* *'*~'"^ c o, p. uoo j*.

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of them speedily died ; and happiest was he who died the first,
leaving an unconscious corpse, which the Syracusans would not
take the trouble to remove, to distress and infect the survivors.
Under this condition and treatment they remained for seventy
days; probably serving as a spectacle for the triumphant
Syracnsan population, with their wives and children, to come
and look down upon, and to congratulate themselves on their
own narrow escape from sufferings similar in kind, at least, if
not in degree. After that time the novelty of the spectacle had
worn off, while the place must have become a den of abomination
and a nuisance intolerable even to the citizens tiiemselves.
Accordingly, they now removed all the surviving prisoners,
except the native Athenians and the few Italian or Sicilian
Greeks among them. All those so removed were sold for slave&^
The dead bodies were probably at the same time taken away,
and the prison rendered somewhat less loathsome. What be-
came of the remaining prisoners we are not told. It may be
presumed that those who could survive so great an extremity of
suffering might after a certain time be allowed to get back to
Athens on ransom. Perhaps some of them may have obtained
their release as was the case (we are told) with several of tiioee
who had been sold to private masters — by the elegance of their
accomplishments and the dignity of their demeanour. The
dramas of Euripidls were so peculiarly popular throughout all
Sicily, that those Athenian prisoners who knew by heart oon-
aiderable portions of them won the affections of their masters.
Some even of the stragglers from the army are affirmed to have
procured for themselves, by the same attraction, shelter and
hospitality during their flight. Euripid^ we are informed,
lived to receive the thanks of several among these unhappy
sufferers after their return to Athens.' I cannot refrain from

iTlMiQ7<i. vtt. 87. Diod6niB (:ti^ Ftom whom Diodftnu borrowed tldB,

10—82) gi?et two long onktions purport* I do not know ; bat bit whole aoooont

Ing to hare been held in the Synunuan of the matter appears to me ontnut-

aeaembly, in discussing how the pri- worthy,

•onen were to he dealt with. An old One may judgeof hlaaocoxai^ when

wiiile Qylippus ie introduced aa the being four timet at much aa the ko^yU

orator reoommeoding hanhnen and (Dtoddr. zUL 19>

nvwige. apiutaioh, NiUai, o. 29; Diodte.

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mentioning this story, though I fear its tmstworUiineflB as matter
of fact is much inferior to its pathos and interest.

Upon the treatment of Nikias and Demosthenes, not merely
the Syracnsans, but also the allies present, were xreatment
consulted, and much difference of opinion was found, of Nikias
To keep them in confinement simply, without putting £ento— **"
them to death, was apparently the opinion advocated ^^JJJJJ
by Hermokrat^^ But Gylippus, tiien in full as- amongtibe
cendency and an object of deep gratitude for his ^^"^P*"*"*
invaluable services, solicited as a reward to himself to be allowed
to conduct them back as prisoners to Sparta. To achieve this
would have earned for him signal honour in the eyes of his
countrymen ; for while Demosthends, from his success at Pylus,
was their hated enemy, Nikias had always shown himself their
friend, as far as an Athenian could do so. It was to him that
they owetl the release of their prisoners taken at Sphakteria ;
and he had calculated upon this obligation when he surrendered
himself prisoner to Gylippus, and not to the Syracusans.

In spite of all his influence, however, Qylippus could not carry
this point First, the Corinthians both strenuously TiiSm»w^
opposed him themselves, and prevailed on the other of the Co.
allies to do the same. Afraid that the wealth of efforts of
Nikias would always procure for him the means of bot?*^~
escaping from imprisonment, so as to do them further genaals
injury, they insisted on his being put to death. *"
Next, those Syracnsans, who had been in secret correspondence
with Nikias during the siege, were yet more anxious to get him
put out of the way ; being apprehensive that, if tortured by their
political oppcments, he might disclose their names and intrigues.
Such various influences prevailed, so that Nikias, as well as
Demosthenis, was ordered to be put to death by a decree of the
public assembly, much to the discontent of Gylippus. Hermo-
kratds vainly opposed the resolution ; but perceiving that it was
certain to be carried, he sent to them a private intimation before
the discussion dosed, and procured for them, through one of the
sentinel^ the means of dying by their own hands. Their bodies

mSL 88. The reader will tee how the DIoddr. iML 111.

OarthajiBiani treated the Grecian i Plataroh, NUdas, e. » ; Diodte.

prlaonOTB whon they took in Sicily, in liii. 10.

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Pabt IL

were publicly exposed before the city gates to the view of the
Syracnsan citizens ;^ while the day on which the final capture of
Nikias and his army was accomplished came to be celebrated as
an annual festival under the title of the Asinaria, on the
twenty-sixth day of the Dorian month Eameius.'

Such was the close of the expedition, or rather of the two
expeditions, undertaken by Athens against Syracuse. Never in
Qredan history had a force so large, so costly, so efficient, and
full of promise and confidence, been sent forth ; never in Qredan
history had ruin so complete and sweeping, or victory so glorious
and unexpected, been witnessed.* Its consequences were felt from
one end of the Grecian world to the other, as will appear in the
coming chaptera
The esteem and admiration felt at Athens towards Nikias had
been throughout lofty and unshaken : after his death
it was exchanged for disgrace. His name was omitted,
while that of his colleague Demosthente was engraved,
on the funeral pillar erected to commemorate tiie
fEdlen warriors, lliis difference Pausanias explains
by saying that Nikias was conceived to have disgraced
himself as a military man by his volimtary surrender,
which Demosthen^ had disdained.*

NiSas after
his death,
at Athens-
respect for
the memory
of Demos-

1 Thncyd. vii 86; Plataroh, Nikias,
c S8. The statement which Plutarch
hare dtes from Timaus respecting the
inter? ention of Hermokratls. is not in
any substantial oontradicnon with
Philistus and Thncydidte. The word
KMknfo^tyras seems decidedly preferable
to iearaXmc$4vTas, in the text of Plu-

* Plutarch, Nikias, c. 28. Though
Plutarch says that the month Kameius
is "that which the Athenians call
Metageitnion," yet it is not safe to
affirm that the day of the slaughter of
the Asinarus was the Idth of the Attic
month Metageitnion. We know that
the ciyil months of different cities
seldom or neTer exactly coincided. See
the remarks of Frans on this point in
his comment on the Taluable Inscrip-
tions of Tauromenium, Corp. Inscr.
Gr. No. 6040, part xxxii sect 3, p. 640.

The surrender of Nikias must hare
taken place, I think, not less than
twenty-four or twenty-fire days after
the eclipse (which occurred on the 27th
of Augnst>-that Is, about Sept. IL

Bir. Fynes Clinton (F. H. ad aim. 413
B.C.) seems to me to conipress too much
the interral between the edtose and
the retreat : consideiing that the Inter-
Tal included two great battles, with a
oertain space of time, before, between,
and after.

The furtfmtpor notloed by Thucyd.
viL 79, suits with Sept. 21 compare
Plutarch, Nikias, a 12.

• Thucyd-fOT.

4PaustuL i. 89, 9; PhiUst Fragm.
46, ed. Didot

Justin erroneously says that J)
thends actually didkfflldmself rather
than submit to surrendei^-before the
surrender of Nikias ; who (he says) did
not choose to f oUow the example :—

'* Demosthente, amiaso exerdto, &
eaptivitate gladio et ▼oluntarl4 morte
se Tindicat : moias antem, ne Demos-
thenis quidem exemplo, ut sibi con-
suleret, admonitus, oladem
auxit dedeoore

Philistus, whom
aounces himself as foUowing, is a»

oapttritatls'* (Jastin,

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The opinion of Thucydidls deserves special notice, in the face
of this judgment of his countrymen. While he eays
not a word about Demosthenes, beyond the fact of his ^^£d^
being put to death, he adds in reference to Nikias a ^^^
few words of marked sympathy and commendation.
** Such, or nearly such (he says), were the reasons why Nikias
was put to death ; though hs assuredly, among all Qreeks of my
time, least deserved to come to so extreme a pitch of ill-fortune,
considering his exact perforn^ance of established duties to the

If we were judging Nikias merely as a private man, and setting
his personal conduct in one scale against his personal suffering
on the other, the remark of Thucydidls would be natural and
intelligible. But the general of a great expedition, upon whose
conduct the lives of thousands of brave men as well as the most
momentous interests of his country, depend, cannot be tried by
any such standard. His private merit becomes a secondary pomt

exoeQent witness for the actual facts confomiable to tnith aboat Nikias.
in Sidly ; thoiuh not so good a wit- A man's good or bad fortune, de-

ness for the impression at Athens pending on the faTonrable or nnfaronr-

respecting those facts. able disposition of the gods towards

It seems certain, even from Thacy- him, was understood to be determined

didte, that Nikias, in surrendering more directly by his piety and religious

himself to Oylippus, thought that he observances, rather than by liis virtue

had considerable chance of saving (see passages in Isokzatds de Permata-

his life ; Plutarch too so interprets tion. Orat xv. sect. 801 : Lysias, oont

the proceeding, and condemns it as Nikomach. c. 5, p. 854), tiiou|p on-

dlsmcefnl (see his comparison of doubtedly the two ideas went to a

Nikias and Crassus, near the end), certain extent together. Men might

Bemosthento could not have thought differ about the virtue of Nikias, but

the same for himself: the fact of his his pietv was an incontestable fact;

attempted suicide iq>pears to me cer- and his ''good fortune" also (in times

tain, on the authority of Philistus, prior to the Sicilian expedition) was

thoiudi Thucydidds does not notice it recognized by men like Alkibudes,

1 Thucyd. viL 86. ml & ij^iv roiai^ who most probably had no very lofty

i on iyyvrara rovntv atrvf irc^mi. Opinion of nis virtue (Thucyd. vL 17X.

ftctvra 3% a^tof mv rwv yc cv* ifun/ The contrast between the remarkable

*JUAijiw h TovTo ZvarvxCat cE^tWo^ou, piety of Nikias, and that extremity of

iii.Thpp9Poiiiait.iiniv itTh0tlov ill-fortune which marked the close of

iwtrliStvatp. his life, was very likelv to shock Grecian

So stood the text of ThnOTdidte. ideas generally, ana was a natural

nntO various recent editors changed circumstance for the historian to note,

the last words, on the authority of Whereasif we read, in the passage, vo-

•ome MSS., to <ta riiv wavav ii o-avec^Lp«Ti)v.tlie panegyric upon Nikias

d^9r^v P9votii.9ii4vilv ivtrir beoomes both less special and more

Icvrftr. disproportionate, beyond what even

Tlioagh Dr. Arnold and some of the Thucydidte (as far as we can infer from

beet criaos prefer and adopt the latter other e.vpressions, see v. 16) would be

reading, I confess it seems to me that inclined to bestow upon him ; more, in

the former is more suitable to the fact, than he says in commendatton

Greek vein of thought, as vreU as more even of Perlklte.

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in the case, as compared with the discharge of his responsible
public duties, by which he must stand or fialL

Tried by this more appropriate standard, what are we to say of
^^ Nikias 9 We are compelled to say, that if his personal
that opinion suffering could possibly be regarded in the light of an
la joit atonement, or set in an equation against the mischief

brought by himself both on his army and his country, it would not
be greater than his deserts. I shall not here repeat the separate
points in his conduct which justify this view, and which have
been set forth as they occurred, in the preceding pages. Admitting
fully both the good intentions of Nikias and his personal bravery,
rising even into heroism during the last few days in Sicily, it is
not the less incontestable that, first, the failure of the enterprise
•nert, the destruction of the armament, is to be traced dis-
tinctly to his lamentable misjudgment. Sometimes petty trifling
— sometimes apathy and inaction — sometimes presumptuous
neglect— sometimes obstinate blindness even to urgent and
obvious necessities'—one or other of these his sad mental
defects will be found operative at every step whereby this
fated armament sinks down from exuberant efficiency into the
last depth of aggregate ruin and individual misery. His
improvidence and incapacity stand proclaimed, not merely in
tne narrative of the historian, but even in hib own letter to the
Athenians, and in his own speeches both before the expedition
and during its closing misfortunes, when contrasted with the
reality of his proceedings. The man whose flagrant incompetency
could bring such wholesale ruin upon two fine armaments en-
trusted to his command, upon the Athenian maritime empire,
and ultimately upon Athens herself, must appear on the tablets
of history inder the severest condemnation, even though his
personal virtues had been loftier thau those of Nikias.

And yet our great historian — after devoting two immortal
books to this expedition — aftei setting forth emphatically both
the glory of its dawn and the wretchedness of its dose, with a
dramatic genius parallel to the CEdipus Tyrannus of Sophokl^
— when he comes to recount the melancholy end of the two
commanders, has no words to spare for Demosthen^ (far the
abler officer of the two, who perished by no fiault of his own),
but reserves his flowers to strew on the grave of Nikias, the

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antihor of the whole calamity — ** What a pity ! Such a respectable
and religions man I "

Thncydid^ is here tihe more inBtrnctiye, becanse he exactly
represents the sentiment of the general Athenian
pnblic towards Nikias dnring his life-time. They ^Ath^
oonld not bear to condemn, to mistrust, to dismiss, or i^[^°*
to do withont so respectable and religious a citizen, their steady
The private qualities of Nikias were not only held to Sdence and
entitle him to the most indulgent construction of all oyjj««teem
his public short-comings, but also ensured to him arising from
credit for political and military competence altogether JSel^*^
disproportionate to his deserts. When we find Thucy- ''^fJjSL
didds, after narrating so much improvidence and
mismanagement on the grand scale, still keeping attention fixed
on the private morality and decorum of Nikias, as if it
constitute the main feature of his character, we can understand
how the Athenian people originaUy came both to over-estimate
this unfortunate leader, and continued over-estimating him with
tenacious fidelity even after glaring proof of his incapacity.
Never injthe political history of Athens did the people make so
fatal a mistake in placing their confidence.

In reviewing the causes of popular misjudgment, historians
are apt to enlarge prominently, if not exclusively, on demagogues
and die demagogic influences. Mankind being usually considered
in the light of governable material, or as instruments for exalting,
arming, and decorating their rulers, whatever renders them
more difficult to handle in this capacity ranks first in the cat^^ry
of vices. Nor can it be denied that this was a real and serious
cause. Clever criminative speakers often passed themselves off
for something above their real worth : though useful and indis-
pensable as a protection against worse, they sometimes deluded
the people into measures impolitic or unjust But even if we
grant, to the cause of misjudgment here indicated, a o^er-confl-
greater practical efficiency than history will fairly ?«?««*»»

x_- _A-ii 'J. • 1 ^1- • Nikias was

sanction, still it is only one among others more mis- uie greatest

chievous. Never did any man at Athens, by mere ^JJJj^
force of demagogic qualities, acquire a measure of wtdch the
esteem at once so exaggerated and so durable, combined pnbiio ever
with so much power of injuring his feUow-citizens, as «>""">***•*

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the anti-demagogic Nikias. The man who, ovei' and above his
shabby manoeuvre abont the expedition against Sphakteria, and
his improvident sacrifice of Athenian interests in the alliance with
Sparta, ended by bringing ruin on the greatest arm&ment ever
sent forth by Athens, as well as upon her maritime empire, was
not a leather-seller of impudent and abusive eloquence, but a man
of ancient feunily and hereditary wealth — munificent and affable,
having credit not merely for the largesses which he bestowed, but
also for all the insolences which as a rich man he might have com-
mitted, but did not commit — free from all pecuniary corruption —
a brave man, and above all an ultra-religious man, believed there-
fore to stand high in the favour of the gods and to be fortunate.
Such was the esteem which the Athenians felt for this union of good
qualities purely personal and negative, with eminent station, that
they presumed the higher aptitudes of command,^ and presumed
them unhappily after proof that they did not exist — after proof
that what they had supposed to be caution was only apathy and
mental weakness. No demagogic arts or eloquence would ever
have created in the people so deep-seated an illusion as the impos-
ing respectability of Nikias. Now it was against the overweening
ascendency of such decorous and pious incompetence, when aided
by wealth and family advantages, that the demagogic accusatory
eloquence ought to have served as a natural bar and corrective.
Performing the functions of a constitutional opposition, it afforded
the only chance of that tutelary exposure whereby blunders and
shortcomings might be arrested in time. How insufficient was
the check which it provided — even at Athens, where every one
denounces it as having prevailed in devouring excess — ^the history
of Nikias is an ever-living testimony.

1 A good many of the featares de- claritas natalium, et metus temporam,

picted by Tadtut (Hitt i 49) in Oalba obtentai fnit, at quod tegnitiafuU, «^

Online LibraryGeorge GroteA history of Greece: from the earliest period to the close of the generation contemporary with Alexander the Great → online text (page 22 of 62)