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and Athenians were nominally at peace, the garrison of Pylos was still committing depredations in Laconia, and Spartan privateers were seriously injuring Athenian commerce.
181. About this time, an embassy from Sicily besought the aid of the Athenians for the city of Egesta. It was involved in a contest with its neighbor, Selinus, which had obtained help from Syracuse. The " war of races" had, indeed, broken out twelve years before in Sicily, and the Athenians had more than once sent aid to the Ionian cities, Leonti'ni and Camarina, against their Dorian neighbors, who had joined the Peloponnesian League. Alcibiades threw his whole influence into the cause of Egesta, hoping at once to improve his wasted fortunes with Sicilian spoils, and gratify his ambition with the glory of conquest. He even hoped, beside making Athens supreme over all the Hellenic colonies, to conquer the empire of Carthage, in the western Mediterranean.
Nicias and all the moderate party opposed the enterprise. They only prevailed in having an embassy sent to Egesta, to ascertain if its people were really able to fulfill their promise of furnishing funds for the war. The envoys were completely outwitted. In the temple of Aphrodite they saw a magnificent display of vessels which appeared to be solid gold, but were really silver-gilt. They were feasted at the houses of citizens, and were surprised by the profusion of gold and silver plate which adorned their sideboards, not suspecting that the same articles were passing from house to house, and doing repeated service in their entertainment. Sixty talents of silver were paid as a first installment, and the commissioners went home with glowing accounts of Egestan wealth.
182. All doubt disappeared from most minds in Athens, and Nicias, Alcibiades, and Lamachus were appointed to lead an expedition to Sicily. The zeal of the Athenians knew no bounds. Young and old, rich and poor, alike demanded a share in the great expedition. The generals had difficulty in selecting from the throng of volunteers. The
B. C. 415.
fleet was on the point of sailing, when a mysterious event threw the excited multitude into consternation. The Herma, which stood before every door in Athens, before every temple or gymnasium, and in every public square, were found one morning reduced to shapeless masses of stone. Not one escaped. The people, in an agony of superstitious horror, demanded the detection and punishment of the criminal. Suspicion fell upon Alcibiades, because he was known to have burlesqued the Eleusinian mysteries in a drunken frolic, and was supposed to be capable of any sacrilege. He indignantly denied his guilt, and demanded an immediate examination. But his enemies contrived to have it postponed until his return, thus sending him out under the burden of an unproved charge, which might be revived for his condemnation in case of disaster.
183. On the day appointed for the sailing of the armament, nearly the whole population of Athens accompanied the soldiers on their march at day-break to Piræus. When all were on board, the trumpet commanded silence, and the voice of the herald, in unison with that of the people, was heard in prayer. The pæan was then sung, while the officer at the prow of each vessel poured a libation from a golden goblet into the sea. At a given signal, the entire fleet slipped its cables and started at the utmost speed, each crew striving to be first at Ægina.
184. The whole armament of Athenians and allies mustered at Corcyra in July, 415. It numbered 136 vessels of war and 500 transports, carrying 6,300 soldiers, beside artisans and a large provision of food and arms. When the fleet approached the coast of Italy, three fast-sailing triremes were sent to notify the Egestæans of its arrival, and to learn their present condition. These rejoined the fleet at Rhegium, with the unwelcome report that the wealth of Egesta was wholly fictitious, and that thirty talents more were the extent of the aid to be expected. The three admirals were now divided in opinion. Nicias was for sailing at once to Selinus, making the best terms possible, and then returning home. Alcibiades proposed to seek new allies among the Greek cities, and with their aid to attack both Selinus and Syracuse. Lamachus urged an immediate attack upon the latter city, the greatest and wealthiest on the island. This counsel was at once the boldest and the safest, for the Syracusans were unprepared for defense, and their surrender would have decided the fate of the island; but, unhappily, Lamachus was neither rich nor influential. His plan was disregarded, and that of Alcibiades adopted.
185. The fleet, sailing southward, reconnoitered the defenses of Syracuse, and took possession of Catana, which became its headquarters. At this point, Alcibiades received from Athens a decree of the Assembly, requiring his return for trial. A judicial inquiry had acquitted him of the mutilation of the Hermæ, but he was still charged with profaning the Eleusinian Mysteries, by representing them at his own house for the entertainment of his friends. This was an unpardonable crime, and those noble families which had derived from their heroic or divine ancestors an especial right to officiate in the ceremonies, felt themselves grossly insulted. The public trireme which brought the summons to Alcibiades, was under special orders not to arrest him, but to suffer him to return in his own vessel. The wily general availed himself of this courtesy to effect his escape. Landing at Thurii, he eluded his pursuers, and the messengers returned to Athens without him. Here in his absence he was condemned to death, his property confiscated, and the Eumolpida solemnly pronounced him "accursed."
186. The Athenians had spent three months in Sicily with so little effect, that the Syracusans began to regard them with contempt. Nicias,
thus shamed into attempting something, spread a report that the Catanæans were inclined to expel the Athenians from their city, and thus drew a large army from Syracuse to their aid. During its absence from home, the whole Athenian fleet sailed into the Great Harbor of Syracuse, and landed a force which intrenched itself near the mouth of the Anapus. A battle followed on the return of the Syracusans, and Nicias was successful. Instead of following up this advantage, he retired into winter-quarters at Catana, and afterward at Naxos, while he sent to Athens for a supply of money, and to his Sicilian allies for a re-enforcement of men.
The Syracusans spent the winter in active preparation. They built a new wall across the peninsula, between the Bay of Thapsus and the Great Port, covering their city on the west and north-west. They sent, at the same time, to Corinth and Sparta for help, and found in the latter city an unexpected ally. Alcibiades had crossed from Italy to Greece, and had received a special invitation to Sparta. Here he indulged his spite against his countrymen by revealing all their plans, and urging the Spartans to send an army into Sicily to disconcert their movements.
187. With the opening of spring, Nicias commenced the siege by fortifying the heights of Epipolæ, which commanded the city. He built, also, a fort at Sy'ke, and dislodged the Syracusans from the counter-walls which they were constructing. The Athenian fleet was stationed in the Great Harbor, and the Syracusans, despairing of effectual resistance, sent messengers to arrange terms of surrender. But the brave Lamachus had been slain, and Nicias, now sole commander, was too inactive to seize the victory just within his grasp.
188. At this point, Gylip'pus, the Spartan, arrived with only four ships on the Italian coast, and supposing that Syracuse and all Sicily were irrecoverably lost, sought only to preserve the cities on the peninsula. To his delight, he learned that the Athenians had not even completed their northern line of works around Syracuse. He hastened through the Straits of Messina, which he found unguarded, and, landing at Him'era, began to raise an army from the Dorian cities of Sicily. With these he marched to Syracuse directly over the heights of Epipolæ, which Nicias had neglected to hold. Entering the city, he sent orders to the Athenian general to leave the island within five days. Nicias disregarded the message, but the acts which followed proved that the Spartan was master of the situation. He captured the Athenian fort at Labalum, built another upon the heights of Epipolæ, and connected it with the city by a strong wall.
The Sicilian towns which had hesitated now joined the winning side. Re-enforcements arrived from Corinth, Leucas, and Ambracia; and Nicias, unable to continue the siege with his present force, withdrew to the headland of Plemmyr'ium, south of the Great Port. His ships were out
B. C. 414.
of repair, his men disheartened and inclined to desert, and his own health declining. He wrote to Athens, begging that the army might be instantly re-enforced and he himself recalled. Athens was in a state of siege, for the Spartan king, Agis, was encamped at Decele'a, fourteen miles north of the city, in a position to command the whole Athenian plain. The public funds were nearly exhausted, hunger began to be felt, and the diminished number of citizens were worn out with the labor of defending the walls day and night. It was resolved, however, to re-enforce Nicias, and, at the same time, harass Sparta on her own territory. For this purpose, Char'icles was sent to plant a military station on the south coast of Laconia, similar to that of Pylos in Messenia; while Demosthenes and Eurymedon conducted a fleet and army to Sicily. The first enterprise was successful; the second was too late.
B. C. 413.
189. The Syracusans had been defeated in one naval battle, but in a second, lasting two days, they were completely victorious, and the Athenian ships were locked up in the extremity of the harbor. Demosthenes' arrival with his fresh forces had some effect in checking the enemy and raising the spirits of his countrymen. Perceiving at once that Epipolæ was the vital point, he directed all his efforts to its re-capture, but without success. Seeing, now, that the siege was hopeless, he urged Nicias to return home and drive the Spartans out of Attica. But, remembering the lively hopes and the magnificent ceremonies with which the armament had set forth, Nicias could not consent to return to Athens covered with the disgrace of failure. Neither would he withdraw to Thapsus or Catana, where Demosthenes urged the advantages of an open sea and constant supplies of provisions. But, large re-enforcements arriving for Syracuse, this retreat became necessary, and the plans were so well laid that it might easily have been effected without the knowledge of the enemy.
Unhappily, an eclipse of the moon occurred on the very eve of the intended movement. The imperfect astronomy of those days Aug. 27, 413. had not foretold the event, and the soothsayers could only conclude that Artemis, the especial guardian of Syracuse, was showing her anger against its assailants. They declared that the army must remain three times nine days in its present position. During this delay, the disconcerted plan became known to the Syracusans, who resolved to strike a blow while the enemy was within their reach. A battle by land and sea was the result. In the former, the Athenians beat off their assailants; but, in the latter, their fleet was utterly defeated and Eurymedon slain.
190. The Syracusans now resolved upon the total destruction of their enemy. They blocked up the Great Harbor by a line of vessels moored across its entrance. The only hope for the Athenians, perhaps for Athens itself, was to break this line, and to this end Nicias again prepared for battle. The amphitheater of hills which surround the harbor was crowded
with spectators of either party, watching with anxious eyes the conflict upon which their fates depended. The water was covered with the yachts of wealthy Syracusans, ready to offer their services whenever they might be demanded. The first attack of the Athenians was upon the barrier of ships at the entrance of the harbor. It failed, and the Syracusan fleet of 76 triremes then engaged the 110 of the Athenians. The crash of the iron prows, the shouts of the combatants, and the answering groans or cheers of their friends upon the shore, filled the air with a perpetual clamor. For a long time the issue was doubtful, but, at last, the fleet of Nicias began to retreat toward the shore. A cry of despair arose from the Athenian army, answered by shouts of triumph from the pursuing vessels and the citizens on the walls.
The Athenian fleet was now reduced to sixty vessels, and the Syracusan to fifty. Nicias and Demosthenes besought their men to renew the effort to force their way out of the harbor, but their spirits were so far broken that they refused any further combat by sea. The army still numbered 40,000 men, and it was resolved to retreat by land to some friendly city, where they could defend themselves until transports should arrive. If this design had been instantly put in execution, it might have been successful; for the Syracusans had given themselves up to drunken revelries, occasioned equally by the rejoicings over their victory and by the festival of Hercules, and had no thoughts to spare for their fugitive foe. But Hermoc ́rates, the most prudent of their number, resolved to prevent what he foresaw would be the Athenian movement. He sent messengers to the wall, who pretended to come from spies of Nicias within the city, and warned the generals not to move that night, as all the roads were strongly guarded. Nicias fell into the snare, and sacrificed his last hope of escape.
191. On the second day after the battle, the army began its march toward the interior, leaving the deserted fleet in the harbor, the dead unburied, and the wounded to the vengeance of the foe. On the third day of the march, the road lay over a steep cliff, which was guarded by a Syracusan force. Two days' assaults upon this position were unsuccessful, and the generals took counsel during the night to turn toward the sea. Nicias, with the van, succeeded in reaching the coast; but Demosthenes lost his way, was overtaken by the enemy, and surrounded in a narrow pass, where he surrendered the shattered remnants of his army, numbering six thousand men. Nicias was now pursued, and overtaken at the river Asina'rus. Multitudes perished in the attempt to cross. Pressed closely by the army of Gylippus, the rear rushed forward upon the spears of their comrades, or were hurled down the steep banks and carried away by the current. All order was lost, and Nicias surrendered at discretion. The generals were condemned to death. The common soldiers, imprisoned in the stonequarries, without food or shelter, suffered greater miseries than all that