Thucydides history of the Peloponnesian war



IN the second year of the war, Athens suffered from a fearful visitation of the plague, which, however, made no way in the Peloponnese. It broke out also among the reinforcements dispatched to Potidaea; and it required all the skill of Pericles to reconcile the Athenians to the continuation of the war, after seeing their territories over-run for the second time for six weeks. By dint of dwelling on the supreme importance of their decisive command of the sea, and on the vast financial resources which secured their staying power, he maintained his ascendancy until his death in the following year, though he had to submit to a fine.

The events which followed his death only confirmed the profundity of his political judgement, and the accuracy with which he had gauged the capacities of the state. In that winter Potidaea was forced to capitulate to the Athenians.

In the summer of the third year, the Lace-daemonians called on the Plataeans to desert the Athenian alliance. On their refusal, Plataea was besieged by the allied forces of the Peloponnesians. With splendid resolution, the Plataeans defeated the attempt of the allies to force an entry till they were able to complete and withdraw behind a second and more easily tenable line of defence, when the Peloponnesians settled down to a regular investment. The same year was marked by the brilliant operations of the Athenian admiral Phormio near Naupactus.

On the other hand, a Peloponnesian squadron threatened the Piraeus, caused some temporary panic and awakened the Athenians to the necessity of maintaining a look-out, but otherwise effected little. The year is further noted for the invasion of Macedonia by the Thracian or Scythian king Sitalces, who was, however, induced to retire.

In the next year, Lesbos revolted against the Athenian supremacy. As a result, an Athenian squadron blockaded Mitylene. The Lacedaemonians were well pleased to accept alliance with a sea power which claimed to have struck against Athens, not as being subject to her, but in anticipation of attempted subjugation. The prompt equipment, however, of another Athenian fleet chilled the naval enthusiasm of Sparta.

DURING this winter the Plataeans began to feel in straits from shortage of supplies, and it was resolved that a party of them should break through the siege lines and escape to Athens, a feat of arms which was brilliantly and successfully accomplished.

In the next-the fifth-summer, Mitylene capitulated; the fate of the inhabitants was to be referred to Athens. Here Cleon had now become the popular leader, and he persuaded the Athenians to order the whole of the adult males to be put to death. The opposition, however, succeeded in getting this bloodthirsty resolution rescinded. The second dispatch, racing desperately after the first, did not succeed in overtaking it, but was just in time to prevent the order for the massacre from being carried out. Lesbos was divided among Athenian citizens, who left the Lesbians in occupation as before, but drew a large rental from them.

In the same summer the remaining garrison of Plataea surrendered to the Lacedaemonians, on terms to be decided by Lacedaemonian commissioners. Before them the Plataeans justified their resistance, but the commissioners ignored the defence and, on the pretext that the only question was whether they had suffered any 'wrong' at the hands of the Plataeans, and that the answer to that was obvious, put the Plataeans to death and razed the city to the ground.

Meanwhile, at Corcyra, the popular and the oligarchical parties, who favoured the Athenians and Peloponnesians respectively, had reached the stage of murderous hostility to each other. The oligarchs captured the government and were then in turn attacked by the popular party; and there was savage faction fighting. An attempt was made by the commander of the Athenian squadron at Naupactus to act as moderator; the appearance of a Peloponnesian squadron and a confused sea fight, somewhat in favour of the latter, brought the popular party to the verge of a compromise. But the Peloponnesians retired on the reported approach of a fresh Athenian fleet, and a democractic reign of terror followed.

The father slew the son, and the supplicants were torn from the temples and slain near them.' And thus was initiated the peculiar horror of this war-the desperate civil strife in one city after another, oligarchs hoping to triumph by Lacedaemonian, and democrats by Athenian, support, and either party when uppermost, ruling by terror. It was at this time also that the Ionian and Dorian cities of Sicily, headed by Leontini and Syracuse respectively, went to war with each other, and an Athenian squadron was first induced to participate in the struggle.





Return to Outline of Great Books Volume I