The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition

The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition

Copyright Date: 1981
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition
    Book Description:

    Why did the Peace of Nicias fail to reconcile Athens and Sparta? In the third volume of his landmark four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War, Donald Kagan examines the years between the signing of the peace treaty and the destruction of the Athenian expedition to Sicily in 413 B.C. The principal figure in the narrative is the Athenian politician and general Nicias, whose policies shaped the treaty and whose military strategies played a major role in the attack against Sicily.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6725-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-8)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 9-12)
  3. Abbreviations and Short Titles
    (pp. 13-16)
  4. Part One. The Unraveling of the Peace

    • [Part One. Introduction]
      (pp. 17-18)

      In March of 421, after ten years of devastating, disruptive, and burdensome war, the Athenians and the Spartans made peace on behalf of themselves and those of their allies for whom they could speak. Weariness, the desire for peace, the desire of the Athenians to restore their financial resources, the Spartans’ wish to recover their men taken prisoner at Sphacteria in 425 and to restore order and security to the Peloponnesus, the removal by death in battle of the leading advocate of war in each city—all helped to produce a treaty that most Greeks hoped would bring a true...

    • 1. A Troubled Peace
      (pp. 19-32)

      No amount of relief and rejoicing by the Spartan and Athenian signers of the Peace of Nicias could conceal its deficiencies. The very ratification of the peace revealed its tenuous and unsatisfactory character, for the Boeotians, Eleans, and Megarians rejected the treaty and refused to swear the oaths.¹ Nor did Sparta’s recently acquired allies in Amphipolis and the rest of the Thraceward region accept the peace, which required them once again to submit to the unwelcome rule of Athens.² The Spartans and Athenians drew lots to see who should take the first step in carrying out the treaty, and the...

    • 2. The Separate League
      (pp. 33-59)

      After the Spartan-Athenian alliance was concluded, the ambassadors from the Peloponnesian states that the Spartans had been unable to persuade to join in the Peace of Nicias left for home. The Corinthians were an exception. They went instead to Argos, where they held conversations with some of the Argive magistrates.¹ The Corinthians argued that the alliance between Athens and Sparta could have no good purpose, that it must be aimed at the “enslavement of the Peloponnesus,” and that the Argives must take the lead in a new alliance to save the Peloponnesians from such a fate.² Corinth seemed to be...

    • 3. The Alliance of Athens and Argos
      (pp. 60-77)

      While waiting for the Argive negotiators, the Spartans sent envoys to take charge of Panactum and the Athenian prisoners in Boeotian hands so that they could restore both to the Athenians. They found that the Boeotians had destroyed the fort, but they received the prisoners and proceeded to Athens to make the best case they could for the restoration of Pylos. They handed over the prisoners and argued that Panactum was properly restored, even though demolished, for it could no longer harbor hostile forces.¹ This bit of sophistry did not impress the Athenians. They insisted that Panactum should have been...

    • 4. The Challenge of the Separate League
      (pp. 78-106)

      Athenian goals in making an alliance with the Peloponnesian democracies were far from clear. Different Athenians, in fact, may have supported the compact for different reasons. Some may have seen it as chiefly defensive, as a check to prevent any Spartan activity outside the Peloponnesus. Others may have hoped that by committing only small numbers of Athenian men and ships they might support a movement that would destroy the Peloponnesian League at little or no risk to Athens. Bolder Athenians may have hoped to bring on a single battle in favorable circumstances that would destroy Sparta’s power. Thucydides does not...

    • 5. The Battle of Mantinea
      (pp. 107-137)

      Late in August of 418 Sparta learned of the threat to Tegea.¹ The Spartans responded with unprecedented swiftness,² sending word to their remaining Arcadian allies to assemble and meet them at Tegea. At the same time they sent messengers to their northern allies in Corinth, Boeotia, Phocis, and Locris to come to Mantinea as quickly as possible. The Arcadians could be counted on, but the northerners were a less reliable element. The most obvious difficulty was that since the fall of Orchomenus the obvious and easily passable routes from the north to Mantinea lay in hostile hands. The northern allies...

    • 6. After Mantinea: Politics and Policy at Sparta and Athens
      (pp. 138-156)

      In the summer of 417, probably in August, the Argive democrats broke out in rebellion against the ruling oligarchs.¹ Preparations for the revolt had been going on for some time, for the rule of the Argive oligarchs seems to have been hard to bear. As Grote pointed out, “an oligarchy erected by force upon the ruins of a democracy was rarely of long duration.”² Once the lower classes of any Greek state became accustomed to the democratic way of life, they could not peacefully accept the restoration of oligarchic rule. The oligarchs, for their part, after long exclusion from power,...

  5. Part Two. The Sicilian Expedition

    • [Part Two. Introduction]
      (pp. 157-158)

      Early in June of 415 a large and magnificent Athenian force sailed out of the Piraeus bound for Sicily.¹ Some two years later this and a second, reinforcing armament were wiped out; almost all the men were killed, and a great fleet was lost. Athens was never able fully to replace the losses, material and human, or to recover the prestige and confidence that she had enjoyed before the disaster. Thucydides names this defeat alone among “the many blunders” the Athenians committed after the death of Pericles which helped bring on Athens’ final defeat, giving it special significance in this...

    • 7. The Decision to Attack Sicily
      (pp. 159-191)

      The great Athenian expedition against Sicily, like so many pivotal actions in the history of warfare, came about in response to an unforeseen opportunity. In the winter of 416/15 ambassadors representing the Sicilian city of Segesta (also Egesta) and a faction of Leontines asked the Athenians to help them in a war against the neighboring city of Selinus and its protector, Syracuse.¹ Segesta seems to have become an Athenian ally in the mid-fifth century;² Leontini may have joined with Athens at about the same time, but certainly made a treaty of alliance with her in 433/32.³ The Athenians, of course,...

    • 8. Sacrilege and Departure
      (pp. 192-209)

      Preparations for the Athenian expedition to Sicily went forward with enthusiasm. Allied contingents were summoned, and at Athens there was money in the treasury and a fresh crop of soldiers who had grown to manhood in time of peace.¹ But not everyone looked forward to the expedition with hopeful anticipation, and in the two months or so between the decision to sail and the departure for Sicily several kinds of opposition appeared.² Plutarch tells us that “the priests” were opposed to the expedition without saying what priests he means or how many they were. In any case, Alcibiades readily supplied...

    • 9. Athenian Strategy and the Summer Campaign of 415
      (pp. 210-227)

      During these upheavals in Athens the great armada was bound for Sicily. The Athenian contingent joined the allies at Corcyra, and the commanders mustered their forces for a final review. The navy consisted of 134 ships, 100 from Attica and the others from Chios and other allied states. Sixty of the Athenian ships were fighting triremes, the remaining 40 being troop carriers.¹ The main land force was the corps of 5,100 hoplites. There were 1,500 Athenians from the regular list, and 700 thetes serving as marines. The Argives sent 500 hoplites and there were 250 mercenaries, some of them from...

    • 10. The First Attack on Syracuse
      (pp. 228-259)

      The only strategy left to the Athenians was that of Lamachus, but though its author was present, the real leader of the army was Nicias. Thucydides makes clear how much the delay in putting Lamachus’ plan into operation had already cost the Athenians. The longer they delayed the attack on Syracuse, the more Syracusan courage revived. News that the Athenians had sailed away from Syracuse to the western end of the island and then failed to conquer it roused the Syracusans to contempt, and the excited mob demanded that their generals lead them in an attack against the Athenians at...

    • 11. The Siege of Syracuse
      (pp. 260-287)

      By the spring of 414 the time had come for the Athenians to attack Syracuse. During the winter the generals had sent to Athens to ask for cavalry and money, and the Athenians quickly voted what was requested.¹ The battle at the Anapus proved the superiority of the Athenian phalanx over the inexperienced and ill-organized Syracusan hoplites. The arrival of cavalry would allow the Athenians to invest the city on the land side, and their fleet could close it off by sea. There was little reason to expect any help for Syracuse from the Peloponnesus, and if assistance were sent,...

    • 12. Athens on the Defensive
      (pp. 288-307)

      News of the Athenians’ decision to reinforce their army and navy in Sicily reached Sparta late in the winter, perhaps in February of 413. Thucydides tells us that the Spartans were already preparing for the invasion of Attica that would formally renew the war. In addition to the usual preparations, they sent round to their allies to gather tools and iron for clamps with which they meant to build a permanent fort in Attica. The Corinthians, the Syracusans, and Alcibiades had been urging this course on them for some time, and Thucydides tells us that after Alcibiades’ speech the previous...

    • 13. Defeat on Land and Sea
      (pp. 308-328)

      Even as the Syracusans rejoiced in their victory and planned to exploit it further, the Athenian reinforcements under Demosthenes and Eurymedon arrived. After the fall of Plemmyrium, at about the time of the ambush of the Sicilian reinforcements by the Sicels, Demosthenes and Eurymedon had sailed from Corcyra to Italy. In lapygia they enlisted 150 javelin throwers, and at Metapontum 300 more, as well as 2 triremes. From there they moved on to Thurii, where the anti-Athenian faction had recently been driven out, making it easy to recruit 700 hoplites and 300 javelin throwers who might be expected to fight...

    • 14. Retreat and Destruction
      (pp. 329-353)

      Just as the Syracusan naval victory in the Great Harbor turned Athenian thoughts from victory to escape, so it led the Syracusans to think no longer of saving their city but of destroying the Athenian force. They believed that a total defeat of the Athenians in Sicily would end the war in the rest of Greece, bringing down the Athenian Empire and giving freedom to the Greeks. They thought that they would receive the credit for these achievements, gain honor and fame, and achieve the status of a hegemonal power, along with Sparta and Corinth.¹ Determined to cut off the...

  6. Conclusions
    (pp. 354-372)

    The Peace of Nicias was a failure in its own terms. It had promised peace for fifty years but was formally broken in the eighth year of its existence; in fact it had already become little more than a formality by the summer of 420, when Athens joined the Argive League. It failed in the modest aim of bringing an end to the Peloponnesian War and in the more ambitious one of establishing the basis for a new relationship of peaceful tolerance, if not friendship, between Athens and Sparta. This failure is not surprising, for from the start the peace...

  7. Bibliography
    (pp. 373-378)
  8. General Index
    (pp. 379-386)
  9. Index of Modern Authors
    (pp. 387-388)
  10. Index of Ancient Authors and Inscriptions
    (pp. 389-394)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 395-395)