|Ruin of Greek Theatre, Taormina, Sicily
Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller
History of the Peloponnesian War
Planning not only to invade the island, but to help their Greek-Sicilian kinsman, the Athenians use pleas from Egestaean envoys as an excuse to help stop the domination of Syracuse, the kingdom on the island who is a possible supporter of Sparta. When Athenian envoys return from Egesta, they report riches beyond their wildest imaginations and the Athenian people are wild to start the expedition. Three generals are chosen to lead it, Alcibiades, Nicias and Lamachus, but of the three, Nicias is against its implementation. He argues that Sicily is too far away to maintain control of, that affairs at home are still precarious; they should be using this time to recover from plague and war, and that Athens is respected by the Sicilians because they are unfamiliar with them, but by showing their hand, they risk later conflict. A persuasive argument but Alcibiades counters, defending himself and his ostentatious and elaborate private life, claims that the Sicilians are politically weak, they will find assistance in other areas, and that they must strike now and expand their empire or risk losing their domination. Nicias tries to counter his arguments but only succeeds in fuelling the people’s determination for the expedition.
|Alcibiades being taught by Socrates (1775)
Françoise André Vincent
source Wikimedia Commons
While the preparations for the expedition commence, the stone Hermae, figures in the doorways of private houses are mysteriously defaced and Alcibiades is accused of plotting to place himself in power. When he demands a trial to clear his name, it is postponed, his enemies planning to use it as an excuse to recall him at a later date. The occurrence, though, is seen as a bad portent for the expedition.
|Cape Zafferano, Sicily
The Athenians and allied forces assemble at Corcyra. The fleet consists of one hundred thirty-four triremes, the largest force seen since that of Pericles’ attack of Potidaea. As the fleet sails down the coast of Italy, no city is happy to see them and even at the tip of Rhegium, the people who were supposed to be their allies, refuse to take sides. The Athenian force also learns of Egesta’s trickery in appearing to have a massive treasury when, in fact, they have little. Alcibiades and Lamachus are stunned and Nicias suggests engaging with the Selinuntines (which was their main objective to bring peace with Egesta). They sail past other cities to show their force, and then return home and in that, prevent risking any resources of the Athenian state or their allies. Alcibiades wants to send heralds to each city to gain alliances and then attack everyone who refuses, and Lamachus wants to attack Syracuse immediately, but he will defer to Alcibiades. Attempts to solicit support mostly fail and then a delegation arrives to summon Alcibiades to answer for the Hermae affair as Athens is terrified of oligarchic and monarchical conspiracy stemming from their fear of the tyranny of Pisistratus and his sons; however Thucydides claims that the Athenians do not know their own history and it was Hippias, not Hipparchus, who was the true dictator. He proceeds to give an account of a love triangle including Hipparchus, and of Hippias’ tyranny, how he was sent into exile in Persia and returned twenty years later at the Battle of Marathon (see Herodotus Book V). Alcibiades sets sail for Athens, but with prejudice against him and blame for other happenings; he escapes and eventually surfaces in the Peloponnese. Athens condemns him to death in his absence.
|Syracuse, Anapo River (1904)
Meanwhile the Sicilian expedition is still sailing and sailing without accomplishing much. They have not been paid by Egesta and by their inaction, are losing the respect of the Syracusans. The Syracusans march to Catana to engage the Athenians, only to find they have left for Syracuse and have to hurry back. The inexperienced Syracusan army is routed but manage to regroup, a truce is made and the expedition breaks off for the winter, while the Syracusans reform their army and send for aid from Corinth and Sparta. While the Athenian, Euphemus, tries to convince the Camarinaean populace of Athenian goodwill, the Spartans, who at first refused to aid the Syracusans, are persuaded by the argument of crafty Alcibiades, who has an answer for everything, including his treachery to his own country. The Athenians build a wall around Syracuse, whereupon the Syracusans build their own but are dissatisfied with their eighteen generals, replace them and begin to consider surrender. The Spartan, Gylippus, leaves for Syracuse, ignored by Nicias because of his small force, and Sparta invades Argos. Athens comes to their aid, giving Sparta a pretext for ignoring the treaty and recommencing hostility towards Athens.
|Mount Etna from Taormina