Images de page

B. C. 428.

The fourth year of the war was marked by the revolt of Mytilene, capital of Lesbos. Envoys were sent to Sparta to implore assistance, which was willingly granted, and the Mytilenians were received into the Peloponnesian League.

169. In the spring of 427, the Spartan fleet advanced to Mytilene, but it arrived only to find the town in the possession of the Athenians. Nearly reduced by famine, the governor, by the advice of a Spartan envoy, had armed all the men of the lower classes for a last desperate sortie. The result was contrary to his expectations. The mass of the Mytilenian people preferred the Athenian supremacy to that of their own oligarchic government. Emboldened by their arms, they declared that they would treat directly with the Athenians, unless all their demands were granted. The governor had no choice but to open negotiations himself. The city was surrendered, and the fate of its inhabitants was left to be decided by the popular assembly in Athens, whither the ring-leaders of the revolt

were sent.

170. A thousand Athenians assembled in the Agora to decide the fate of their prisoners. Salæ'thus, the Spartan envoy, was instantly put to death. With regard to the rest, a spirited debate ensued. Cleon the tanner, the former opponent of Pericles, took a prominent part; and in spite of more humane and moderate counsels, actually succeeded in carrying his brutal proposition, to put to the sword all the men of Mytilene, and sell the women and children into slavery. Iniquitous as such an order would be in any case, it was the more so in this, because the greater number of the Mytilenians were friendly to Athens, while the revolt had been the act of the oligarchy, who were enemies of the people. So strong had been the opposition, that Cleon feared a reversal of the sentence, and therefore had a galley instantly dispatched to Lesbos, with orders for its immediate execution.

His apprehensions were well founded. A single night's reflection filled the better sort of Athenians with horror at the inhuman decision into which they had been hurried. They demanded a new assembly to reconsider the question; and though this was contrary to law, the strategi consented and convened the citizens. In the second day's debate the atrocious decree was rescinded. Every nerve was now strained to enable the mercy-bearing barque to overtake the messengers of death, who were a whole day's journey in advance. The strongest oarsmen were selected, and urged to their greatest exertion by the promise of large rewards if they should arrive in time. Their food was given them while they plied the oar, and sleep was allowed them only in short intervals, and by turns. The weather proved favorable, and they arrived just as Paches, who had received the first dispatch, was preparing for its execution. The Mytilenians were saved, but the walls of their city were leveled,

B. C. 427.

and its fleet surrendered to the Athenians. The island of Lesbos, with the exception of Methym'na, which had refused all share in the revolt, was divided into 3,000 parts, of which 300 were devoted to the gods, and the rest assigned by lot to Athenian settlers. The prisoners at Athens were tried for their share in the conspiracy, and put to death. 171. The Corcyrean prisoners who had been carried to Corinth in 432, were now sent home, in the hope that their account of the generous treatment they had received would induce their countrymen to withdraw from the Athenian alliance. They joined with the oligarchical faction to effect a revolution in Corcyra, killed the chiefs of the popular party, gained possession of the harbor, the arsenal, and the market-place, and thus, by overawing the people, obtained a vote in the assembly to maintain in future a strict neutrality. The people, however, fortified themselves in the higher parts of the town, and called to their aid the serfs from the interior of the island, to whom they promised freedom.

The oligarchists set fire to the town, but while it was burning a small Athenian squadron arrived from Naupactus, and its commander attempted, with great wisdom, to make peace between the contending parties. He had to all appearance effected this design, when a Peloponnesian fleet, more than four times as numerous as his own, appeared, under the command of Alci'das. The Athenians withdrew without loss, and Alcidas had Corcyra for the moment in his power; but with his usual want of promptness, he spent a day in ravaging the island, and, at night, beacon fires on Leucas announced the approach of an Athenian fleet outnumbering his own. Alcidas drew off before daybreak, leaving the oligarchists in the city to their fate. The next seven days were a reign of terror in Corcyra. The popular party, protected by the presence of the Athenians, abandoned itself to revenge. Civil hatred was stronger than natural affection. A father slew his own son; brothers had no pity for brothers. The aristocratic party was nearly exterminated; but five hundred escaped, and fortified themselves on Mount Isto'ne, near the capital.

B. C. 426.

172. The sixth year of the war opened with floods and earthquakes, which seemed an echo in nature of the moral convulsions of Greece. The plague was raging again at Athens. To appease the wrath of Apollo, a solemn purification of the isle of Delos, his birth-place, was performed in the autumn. All bodies that had been buried there were removed to a neighboring island, and the Delian festival was revived with increased magnificence. The usual Spartan invasion of Attica had been prevented this year, either by awe of the supposed wrath of the gods, or by fear of the plague; but in the seventh year of the war (B. C. 425), their king, Agis, again crossed the borders and ravaged the country. He was recalled, after fifteen days, by the news that

the Athenians had established a military station on the coast of Messenia.

173. A fleet bound for Sicily, under Eurymedon and Sophocles, had been delayed for a time by a storm, near the harbor of Pylos. The commanders selected this place for a settlement of Messenians from Naupactus, who would thus be able to communicate with their Helot kinsmen, and harass the Spartans. Demosthenes was left with five ships and two hundred soldiers, who were increased, by a reinforcement of Messenians, to a thousand men. The wrath of the Spartans was only equaled by their alarm at this infringement of their territory. Their fleet was instantly ordered from Corcyra, while Agis, with his army, marched from Attica. The long and narrow island of Sphacte'ria, which covered the entrance to the Bay of Pylos, was occupied by Thrasymel'idas, the Spartan, while his ships were sheltered in the basin which it inclosed. Demosthenes, while awaiting reinforcements, had to meet a vastly superior number with his handful of men. The attack from the sea was led by Bras'idas, one of the greatest captains whom Sparta ever produced. He fought on the prow of the foremost vessel, urging his men forward by looks and words; but he was severely wounded, and the battle ended with no advantage to the Spartans. It was renewed the second day with no better success, and the Athenians erected a trophy, which they ornamented with the shield of Brasidas.

B. C. 425.

The arrival of the Athenian fleet was followed by a severe and still more decisive battle. The victorious Athenians proceeded to blockade Sphacteria, which contained the choicest Peloponnesian troops. So serious was the crisis, that the ephors saw no escape except to sue for peace. An armistice was agreed upon, and the better spirits on both sides began to hope for a termination of the war. But the foolish vanity of Cleon and his party demanded the most extravagant terms, and the voice of reason was drowned. Hostilities re-commenced, with equal vexation to both parties. Demosthenes, fearing that the storms of winter would interrupt his blockade, resolved to make an attack upon the island, and sent to Athens explaining his position and demanding reinforcements. The report was disheartening to the Assembly, which now began to accuse Cleon for having persuaded it to let slip the occasion for an honorable peace. Cleon retorted by accusing the officers of cowardice and incapacity, and declared that, if he were general, he would take Sphacteria at once! At this boast of the tanner, the whole assembly broke out into laughter, and cries, "Why don't you go, then?" were heard on all sides. The lively spirits of the Athenians recovered with a bound from their unusual depression, and the mere joke soon grew into a purpose. Cleon tried to draw back, but the Assembly insisted. At last he engaged, with a certain number of auxiliaries added to the troops al

ready at Pylos, to take the island in twenty days, and either kill all the Spartans upon it, or bring them in chains to Athens.

174. Singular as were the circumstances of Cleon's commission, his success was equally remarkable. Demosthenes had made all ready for the attack; and to his prudence, aided by the accidental burning of the woods on Sphacteria, rather than to the generalship of Cleon, the victory was due. The Athenians, landing before daybreak, overpowered the guard at the southern end of the island, and then drew up in order of battle, sending out parties of skirmishers to provoke the enemy to a combat. The Spartan general, blinded by the light ashes raised by the march of his men, advanced, with some difficulty, over the half-burnt stumps of the trees. He was greatly outnumbered by his assailants, who harassed him from a distance with arrows, and forced him at length to retire to the extremity of the island. Here the Spartans fought again with their accustomed bravery; but a party of Messenians, who had clambered over some crags usually deemed inaccessible, appeared upon the heights above, and decided the fate of the battle. All the surviving Spartans surrendered, and Cleon and Demosthenes, setting out immediately after the battle, arrived at Athens with their prisoners within the twenty days. This victory was one of the most important that the Athenians had gained. The harbor of Pylos was strongly fortified and garrisoned with Messenian troops, for a base of operations against Laconia.

B. C. 424.

175. At the beginning of the eighth year the Athenians were everywhere triumphant, and the Spartans, humbled and distressed, had repeatedly asked for peace. Nicias, in the early part of the year, conquered the island of Cythera, and placed garrisons in its two chief towns, which were a continual defiance of the Lacedæmonians. He then ravaged the coasts of Laconia, and captured, among other places, the town of Thyr'ea, where the Æginetans, after their expulsion from their own island, had been permitted to settle: Those of the original exiles who survived were carried to Athens and put to death. The brutalizing influences of war were more apparent every year, and these cold-blooded massacres had become almost of common occurrence.

The Spartans, about the same time, alarmed by the nearness of the Messenian garrisons of Pylos and Cythera, gave notice that those Helots who had distinguished themselves by their faithful services during the war, should be set at liberty. A large number of the bravest and ablest appeared to claim the promise. Two thousand of these were selected as worthy of emancipation, crowned with garlands, and dignified with high religious honors. But in a few days they had all disappeared, by means known only to the Spartan ephors-men unmoved, either by honor or pity, from their narrow regard to the supposed interest of the state.

176. The success of the Athenians did not entirely desert them in their

B. C. 424.

Megarian expedition, but their attempt upon Boeotia resulted only in disaster. The chief movement was executed by Hippoc'rates, who led an army of more than 32,000 soldiers across the Baotian frontier to Delium, a place strongly situated near Tanagra, among the cliffs of the eastern coast. Here he fortified the temple of Apollo, and placing a garrison in the works, set out for home. The Boeotians had collected a large army at Tanagra, which now moved to intercept the Athenians upon the heights of Delium. The battle commenced late in the day. The Athenian right was at first successful, but their left was borne down by the Theban phalanx. In their ranks were Socrates, the philosopher, and his pupils, Alcibiades and Xenophon, all destined to the highest fame in Grecian history. At length the Boeotian cavalry appeared, and decided the fortunes of the day. The Athenians fled in all directions, and only the fall of night prevented their complete destruction. Delium was taken by siege after seventeen days.

177. Soon after these disasters, the Athenians lost all their dominion in Thrace. Brasidas had led a small but well chosen army to the aid of Perdiccas and the Chalcidian towns. The bravery and integrity of this great general led many of the allies of Athens to forsake her party, and when he suddenly appeared before Amphipolis, that city surrendered with scarcely an attempt at resistance. Thucydides, the historian, was general in that region. The Athenian party in Amphipolis sent to him for aid, but he arrived too late. For this failure, whether proceeding from necessity or carelessness, the general was sentenced to banishment, and spent his next twenty years in exile, during which he contributed more by his literary work to the glory of Greece, than he would probably have done in military command. Brasidas proceeded to the easternmost of the three Chalcidian peninsulas, and received the submission of nearly all the towns.

The Athenians were now so disheartened by their losses, that they, in turn, began to propose peace; and the Spartans, anxious for the return of their noble youths who were prisoners in Athens, were equally desirous of a treaty. To this end a year's truce was agreed upon, in 423, to afford time for permanent negotiations. Unhappily, two days after the beginning of the truce, Scio'ne revolted from the Athenians, who demanded its restitution. The Spartans refused, and the whole year was suffered to pass away without any further efforts toward peace. At its expiration, Cleon advanced into Thrace with a fleet and army. He took the towns of Toro'ne and Galepsus, and was proceeding against Amphipolis, when a battle ensued which ended at once his life and his assumption of power. Brasidas, too, was mortally wounded, but he lived long enough to know that he was victorious.

See note. p. 157,

« PrécédentContinuer »