The hostages gave the Athenians a bargaining chip. After these battles, the Spartan general Brasidas raised an army of allies and helots and marched the length of Greece to the Athenian colony of Amphipolis in Thrace, which controlled several nearby silver mines; their product supplied much of the Athenian war fund. Thucydides was dispatched with a force which arrived too late to stop Brasidas capturing Amphipolis; Thucydides was exiled for this, and, as a result, had the conversations with both sides of the war which inspired him to record its history.
The Spartans and Athenians agreed to exchange the hostages for the towns captured by Brasidas, and signed a truce. With the death of Cleon and Brasidas , zealous war hawks for both nations, the Peace of Nicias was able to last for some six years. However, it was a time of constant skirmishing in and around the Peloponnese. While the Spartans refrained from action themselves, some of their allies began to talk of revolt.
They were supported in this by Argos , a powerful state within the Peloponnese that had remained independent of Lacedaemon.
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With the support of the Athenians, the Argives succeeded in forging a coalition of democratic states within the Peloponnese, including the powerful states of Mantinea and Elis. Early Spartan attempts to break up the coalition failed, and the leadership of the Spartan king Agis was called into question. Emboldened, the Argives and their allies, with the support of a small Athenian force under Alcibiades , moved to seize the city of Tegea , near Sparta. The Battle of Mantinea was the largest land battle fought within Greece during the Peloponnesian War.
The Lacedaemonians, with their neighbors the Tegeans, faced the combined armies of Argos, Athens, Mantinea, and Arcadia. In the battle, the allied coalition scored early successes, but failed to capitalize on them, which allowed the Spartan elite forces to defeat the forces opposite them. The result was a complete victory for the Spartans, which rescued their city from the brink of strategic defeat.
The democratic alliance was broken up, and most of its members were reincorporated into the Peloponnesian League. With its victory at Mantinea, Sparta pulled itself back from the brink of utter defeat, and re-established its hegemony throughout the Peloponnese. In the 17th year of the war, word came to Athens that one of their distant allies in Sicily was under attack from Syracuse. The people of Syracuse were ethnically Dorian as were the Spartans , while the Athenians, and their ally in Sicilia, were Ionian. The Athenians felt obliged to assist their ally. The Athenians did not act solely from altruism: rallied on by Alcibiades, the leader of the expedition, they held visions of conquering all of Sicily.
Syracuse, the principal city of Sicily, was not much smaller than Athens, and conquering all of Sicily would have brought Athens an immense amount of resources.
In the final stages of the preparations for departure, the hermai religious statues of Athens were mutilated by unknown persons, and Alcibiades was charged with religious crimes. Alcibiades demanded that he be put on trial at once, so that he might defend himself before the expedition. The Athenians however allowed Alcibiades to go on the expedition without being tried many believed in order to better plot against him.
After arriving in Sicily, Alcibiades was recalled to Athens for trial. Fearing that he would be unjustly condemned, Alcibiades defected to Sparta and Nicias was placed in charge of the mission. After his defection, Alcibiades claimed to the Spartans that the Athenians planned to use Sicily as a springboard for the conquest of all of Italy and Carthage , and to use the resources and soldiers from these new conquests to conquer the Peloponnese.
The Athenian force consisted of over ships and some 5, infantry and light-armored troops.
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Cavalry was limited to about 30 horses, which proved to be no match for the large and highly trained Syracusan cavalry. Upon landing in Sicily, several cities immediately joined the Athenian cause.
History of Athens - Past and present of Athens
Instead of attacking at once, Nicias procrastinated and the campaigning season of BC ended with Syracuse scarcely damaged. With winter approaching, the Athenians were then forced to withdraw into their quarters, and they spent the winter gathering allies and preparing to destroy Syracuse. The delay allowed the Syracusans to send for help from Sparta, who sent their general Gylippus to Sicily with reinforcements. Upon arriving, he raised up a force from several Sicilian cities, and went to the relief of Syracuse.
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He took command of the Syracusan troops, and in a series of battles defeated the Athenian forces, and prevented them from invading the city. Nicias then sent word to Athens asking for reinforcements. Demosthenes was chosen and led another fleet to Sicily, joining his forces with those of Nicias. More battles ensued and again, the Syracusans and their allies defeated the Athenians. Demosthenes argued for a retreat to Athens, but Nicias at first refused. After additional setbacks, Nicias seemed to agree to a retreat until a bad omen, in the form of a lunar eclipse , delayed any withdrawal.
The War Begins
The delay was costly and forced the Athenians into a major sea battle in the Great Harbor of Syracuse. The Athenians were thoroughly defeated. Nicias and Demosthenes marched their remaining forces inland in search of friendly allies. The Syracusan cavalry rode them down mercilessly, eventually killing or enslaving all who were left of the mighty Athenian fleet. The Lacedaemonians were not content with simply sending aid to Sicily; they also resolved to take the war to the Athenians. On the advice of Alcibiades, they fortified Decelea , near Athens, and prevented the Athenians from making use of their land year round.
The fortification of Decelea prevented the shipment of supplies overland to Athens, and forced all supplies to be brought in by sea at increased expense. Perhaps worst of all, the nearby silver mines were totally disrupted, with as many as 20, Athenian slaves freed by the Spartan hoplites at Decelea. With the treasury and emergency reserve fund of 1, talents dwindling away, the Athenians were forced to demand even more tribute from her subject allies, further increasing tensions and the threat of further rebellion within the Empire.
The Corinthians, the Spartans, and others in the Peloponnesian League sent more reinforcements to Syracuse, in the hopes of driving off the Athenians; but instead of withdrawing, the Athenians sent another hundred ships and another 5, troops to Sicily. Under Gylippus, the Syracusans and their allies were able to decisively defeat the Athenians on land; and Gylippus encouraged the Syracusans to build a navy, which was able to defeat the Athenian fleet when they attempted to withdraw.
The Athenian army, attempting to withdraw overland to other, more friendly Sicilian cities, was divided and defeated; the entire Athenian fleet was destroyed, and virtually the entire Athenian army was sold off into slavery. Following the defeat of the Athenians in Sicily, it was widely believed that the end of the Athenian Empire was at hand. Their treasury was nearly empty, its docks were depleted, and many of the Athenian youth were dead or imprisoned in a foreign land. Following the destruction of the Sicilian Expedition, Lacedaemon encouraged the revolt of Athens's tributary allies, and indeed, much of Ionia rose in revolt against Athens.
The Syracusans sent their fleet to the Peloponnesians, and the Persians decided to support the Spartans with money and ships.
Revolt and faction threatened in Athens itself. The Athenians managed to survive for several reasons. First, their foes were lacking in initiative. Corinth and Syracuse were slow to bring their fleets into the Aegean, and Sparta's other allies were also slow to furnish troops or ships. The Ionian states that rebelled expected protection, and many rejoined the Athenian side.
The Persians were slow to furnish promised funds and ships, frustrating battle plans. At the start of the war, the Athenians had prudently put aside some money and ships that were to be used only as a last resort. These ships were then released, and served as the core of the Athenians' fleet throughout the rest of the war. An oligarchical revolution occurred in Athens, in which a group of seized power. A peace with Sparta might have been possible, but the Athenian fleet, now based on the island of Samos , refused to accept the change.
The fleet appointed Alcibiades their leader, and continued the war in Athens's name. Their opposition led to the reinstitution of a democratic government in Athens within two years.
The Peloponnesian War: Intrigues and Conquests in Ancient Greece
Alcibiades, while condemned as a traitor, still carried weight in Athens. He prevented the Athenian fleet from attacking Athens; instead, he helped restore democracy by more subtle pressure. He also persuaded the Athenian fleet to attack the Spartans at the battle of Cyzicus in In the battle, the Athenians obliterated the Spartan fleet, and succeeded in re-establishing the financial basis of the Athenian Empire. Between and , Athens won a continuous string of victories, and eventually recovered large portions of its empire.
All of this was due, in no small part, to Alcibiades. In him, Cyrus found a man who was willing to help him become king, just as Lysander himself hoped to become absolute ruler of Greece by the aid of the Persian prince. Thus, Cyrus put all his means at the disposal of Lysander in the Peloponnesian War. When Cyrus was recalled to Susa by his dying father Darius , he gave Lysander the revenues from all of his cities of Asia Minor. Cyrus the Younger would later obtain the support of the Spartans in return, after having asked them "to show themselves as good friend to him, as he had been to them during their war against Athens", when he led his own expedition to Susa in BC in order to topple his brother, Artaxerxes II.
The faction hostile to Alcibiades triumphed in Athens following a minor Spartan victory by their skillful general Lysander at the naval battle of Notium in BC.