The Fall of the Athenian Empire

The Fall of the Athenian Empire

Copyright Date: 1987
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 480
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  • Book Info
    The Fall of the Athenian Empire
    Book Description:

    In the fourth and final volume of his magisterial history of the Peloponnesian War, Donald Kagan examines the period from the destruction of Athens' Sicilian expedition in September of 413 B.C. to the Athenian surrender to Sparta in the spring of 404 B.C. Through his study of this last decade of the war, Kagan evaluates the performance of the Athenian democracy as it faced its most serious challenge. At the same time, Kagan assesses Thucydides' interpretation of the reasons for Athens' defeat and the destruction of the Athenian Empire.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6727-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-xii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  3. Maps
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  4. Abbreviations and Short Titles
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. 1. After the Sicilian Disaster
    (pp. 1-23)

    The Athenian attack on Sicily, launched with such great expectations, ended in total failure. Nicias surrendered the pitiful remnants of his army to the Syracusans in mid-September of 413, so news of the defeat could not have reached Athens much before the end of the month.¹ An ancient story says that the first report came from a foreigner who arrived at a barber shop in the Piraeus. Assuming that the Athenians had already heard of the disaster, he began talking about the details. The barber ran to Athens with the news, but no one would believe him. He was thought...

  6. 2. The War in the Aegean
    (pp. 24-50)

    The last phase of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides tells us, started with both sides making preparations for it as if it were just beginning.¹ Once again the initiative lay with Sparta while Athens stayed on the defensive, guarded her treasury, and watched over her allies. This time, however, there was no offensive element, not even a measured and limited one. After Sicily, the Athens of the probouloi had to be even more cautious than Pericles had been.

    Sparta, on the other hand, needed to be more aggressive and inventive, and under the leadership of Agis the Spartans were ready to...

  7. 3. Athens Responds
    (pp. 51-68)

    News of the Chian rebellion moved the Athenians to quick action, for they recognized the greatness of the da’nger threatening them: “the remaining allies would not want to remain quiet when the greatest state was in rebellion.”¹ In this emergency they took the serious step of turning to the reserve fund that they had put aside at the beginning of the war. One thousand talents had been placed on the Acropolis, not to be used unless an enemy fleet was attacking by sea, and the death penalty threatened any man proposing to use the fund for any other purpose.² In...

  8. 4. Sparta’s Riposte
    (pp. 69-105)

    The withdrawal of Athens’ fleet from Miletus presented the Spartans and their allies with the chance to revive the rebellion in the Athenian Empire that had been almost extinguished and to extend it to new regions that were as yet untroubled. It might seem that they should have moved swiftly, using their temporary numerical advantage at sea to rescue Chios, which was the first state to rebel, an important source of support to the rebellion of others, and a key base for spreading the naval war to the vital area of the Hellespont, but a formidable set of problems prevented...

  9. 5. The Revolutionary Movement
    (pp. 106-130)

    In 411 the Athenians entered the hundredth year since the expulsion of tyranny and the establishment of their freedom. For almost that entire period, since the reforms of Cleisthenes in 508/7, they had enjoyed a democratic constitution, moderate at first and more complete since the changes introduced by Ephialtes and Pericles toward the middle of the century. The passage of time and the growth of Athenian power and prosperity under the democracy had dampened almost all interest in trying to destroy it and replace it with oligarchy, the most common form of government among the Greeks. From time to time...

  10. 6. The Coup
    (pp. 131-157)

    While Phrynichus, Astyochus, and Alcibiades were exchanging betrayals in Samos and Magnesia, the Athenian antidemocratic movement went forward. The ambassadors from the movement at Samos, led by Peisander, arrived in Athens late in December and probably stayed there during the period in which the correspondence passed between Samos and Magnesia and for some time afterwards.¹ It is important to remember that the members of the embassy knew nothing of the events that raised new suspicions about Alcibiades and alienated the movement from him. Peisander and his colleagues would make their argument keeping Alcibiades and his promises at the center. This...

  11. 7. The Four Hundred in Power
    (pp. 158-186)

    The coup was a complete success. The councillors took their money and left without trouble. The other citizens remained quiet and made no move to interfere. The Four Hundred appointed their presiding officers by lot, as in the old democratic council. They seem to have allowed the archon and the treasurers elected by the democracy to remain in office.¹ Every effort was made to preserve a sense of continuity, normality, and legality. No doubt this was meant to calm the people, to make the transition smoother, and to reduce the chance of violent resistance, but also it must have reflected...

  12. 8. The Establishment of the Five Thousand
    (pp. 187-210)

    Alcibiades’ message did not reach Athens in its original form. The ambassadors returning from Samos must have reported first to the oligarchic leaders who sent them, and those leaders must have edited their report, for their account differed significantly from what Alcibiades had said.¹ They told of his urging the men in Athens to hold out in the war and to make no concessions to the Spartans and of his hopes of reconciliation and victory, but they said nothing about his friendliness to the idea of the Five Thousand, his hostility to the rule of the Four Hundred, and his...

  13. 9. The War in the Hellespont
    (pp. 211-246)

    The moderate regime had moved to defend its position in Athens from betrayal by oligarchic extremists and from suspicions that its leaders were too closely associated with them. Before long, however, it faced a new external challenge to Athens’ control of the Hellespont, its grain supply, and the very survival of the city. In August of 411, a small but effective Peloponnesian fleet had made its way to Byzantium and caused a rebellion there and in some neighboring towns.¹ The Spartans were unable to exploit the opportunity fully because of quarrels within the Peloponnesian forces and the hopes some of...

  14. 10. The Restoration
    (pp. 247-273)

    The great victory at Cyzicus took place in March or April of 410, and the news of it filled the Athenians with elation.¹ The entire population came together in solemn assembly to offer sacrifices in gratitude to the gods.² The news of the Spartan disaster had the opposite effect on its population. In spite of unprecedented efforts at sea, reliable and consistent support from Pharnabazus, and an enemy distracted by lack of funds, they had experienced nothing but defeat since the scene of battle had shifted to the Hellespont. They had lost an astonishing number of ships, between 135 and...

  15. 11. The Return of Alcibiades
    (pp. 274-292)

    The battle of Cyzicus took place in April or May of 410. In the next month or two, the generals in the Straits exploited their victory, chiefly by establishing a customs-house at Chrysopolis (see Map 9).¹ For about eighteen months thereafter they appear to have done little of note. With the Spartans swept from the sea, future tasks of importance would require more hoplites than they had and cavalry to protect them against the able horsemen of Pharnabazus.² They could, therefore, do little until reinforcements arrived. The Spartans used the lull in action as best they could. Over the winter...

  16. 12. Cyrus, Lysander, and the Fall of Alcibiades
    (pp. 293-324)

    The great procession to Eleusis took place in September, but Alcibiades had been in Athens since June without undertaking any serious military action. The delay was understandable; his ships needed attention and repair, and even more, their crews needed rest and recreation after years at sea. Alcibiades himself needed time to restore his political base before moving on, but the time had come to fulfill the high hopes the Athenians had for him. Not long after the triumphant return from Eleusis, the assembly had voted to place a force of 1,500 hoplites, 150 cavalrymen, and 100 triremes under his command....

  17. 13. The Battle of Arginusae
    (pp. 325-353)

    The new board of generals elected in March of 406 excluded both Thrasybulus and Theramenes as well as any other close associates of Alcibiades. Its members were Conon, Diomedon, Leon, Pericles, Erasinides, Aristocrates, Archestratus, Protomachus, Thrasyllus, and Aristogenes.¹ It has been common to analyze these elections in regard to the competition between political factions. The generals are said to belong to “the moderate democracy.”² In other words, they belong to “that democratic middle party that once saw its leader in Nicias and was as far removed from oligarchic aspirations as from the demagogy of the gutter.”³ These descriptions, however, are...

  18. 14. The Trial of the Generals
    (pp. 354-375)

    The victory at Arginusae ought to have brought relief, joy, and unity to the Athenians. Instead, it became the source of acrimony, division, and a public outrage that may have been the most shameful in Athenian history. Soon after their great triumph, six of the generals who commanded at Arginusae were condemned and executed by the Athenian people for whom they had fought so successfully; the other two escaped only because they had rejected the summons ordering them to return to Athens for scrutiny, going into voluntary exile instead. The charge against them was failing to rescue survivors of the...

  19. 15. The Fall of Athens
    (pp. 376-412)

    The Athenian victory at Arginusae did not annihilate the Spartan fleet, but the more than ninety ships that survived it and gathered at Chios were in a bad way. All of the money supplied by Cyrus was gone, and none had arrived from home. The soldiers and sailors were reduced to working as hired laborers on the island as long as summer provided them with work and food. When the cold weather came, however, they found themselves without food, clothing, or shoes. Some of them became so desperate that they planned a mutiny and an attack on the main city...

  20. 16. Conclusions
    (pp. 413-426)

    The irony of Xenophon’s words would have been evident to many who observed Athens’ surrender. Many Greek cities in Asia Minor were back in the hands of the Persians, soon to become pawns in the conflict for power between Tissaphernes and Cyrus.¹ Others were already under Lysander’s domination. Not long after the Athenian surrender, the Spartan government established a naval empire in the Aegean, imposing narrow oligarchies, Spartan garrisons and governors, and tribute on the former subjects of the Athenian Empire.² So ended Sparta’s crusade to bring freedom and autonomy to the Greeks.

    There were other ironies as well. The...

  21. Bibliography
    (pp. 427-432)
  22. General Index
    (pp. 433-444)
  23. Index of Ancient Authors and Inscriptions
    (pp. 445-452)
  24. Index of Modern Authors
    (pp. 453-455)