The Great War Between Athens and Sparta

by Bernard W Henderson

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§ 1. Sparta .

This is from the 1927 edition and the pages are linkable - eg

SPARTA was bitterly jealous of Athens, and with reason.

Fifty years ago the two had fought gloriously side by side to drive the Persian invader away in rout from Greece. In that war for freedom Sparta's had been the leadership by land and by sea. The glory of the victory was shared between them. Their friendship had seemed built now for ever on the rock of a common peril faced, a common triumph won.

In the fifty years which followed the last great victories of Salamis, Plataea, and Mycale, Athens had become mistress of a maritime empire. She ruled a thousand cities, boasted her poet.[1 Aristophanes, Wasps, 707.] This was exaggeration. Yet over two hundred paid her annual tribute. She was Queen of the Grecian seas, and there were but few. islands or maritime cities outside of the Peloponnese which remained independent of her Empire. On land indeed north of Attica's mountain frontier, she had found her overvaulting ambition roughly checked by her dour Boeotian neighbours. In Egypt her armada had met with irreparable disaster. But where her fleets could reach she ruled her Ionian kinsmen sternly, ever since the middle of the century, as a despot rules unwilling subjects, granting them no voice in her counsels, suppressing revolts with harshness, champion of democracy in the subject cities whether this were to their taste or no. Less than ten years had passed since the proud island of Samos off the Asiatic coast had defied her. Pericles, greatest of Athens' Imperialist statesmen, had crushed the secession. In the strength of her navy, in the numbers of her merchant ships, in wealth, resources, and fame Athens was supreme. Her ambition seemed limitless. More and more the Athenians began to dream of a western as well as of an Aegean maritime Empire. Pericles for the time held such dreams in leash. On the western coasts of Greece, in lower Italy, in Sicily, other Greek cities would resent and dispute Athenian predominance. Here Corinth, Sparta's firm friend, the chief naval power of Sparta's Peloponnesian Confederacy, and Corinth's colony Syracuse, would not lightly brook Athenian intervention. Pericles sought no conquest in the west. But he was fully resolved to open the way for trade and commerce in Italian and Sicilian ,waters for his Athenian ships. He concluded treaties of alliance with Leontini, Syracuse's near neighbour and her foe, and with Rhegium to safeguard the passage for Athenian ships through Messina straits.[Cf. Hicks and Hill, Greek Historical Inscriptions, No. 51, 52.] A still greater affront to Corinth was his alliance with her erstwhile colony and bitter foe Corcyra.

Corcyra was necessary to Athens. In days before the invention of the mariner's compass ships dared not strike boldly across the open sea Westward Ho ! from the shelter of the Corinthian Gulf. The shortest sea passage was the safest, and traders for Italy and Sicily crept up the coast northwards to Corcyra . before venturing across to Italy. Just before the outbreak of the great war the constant bickering between Corcyra and Corinth had flamed out into open war, the pretext, the affairs of a miser- able little city Epidamnus on the western coast; the cause, the long-standing feud and commercial rivalry between the two powerful cities. Pericles concluded an alliance with Corcyra.[Thuc. i 44] It was "defensive", yet none the less it broke the spirit, if not the letter, of the "Thirty Years Peace", which in 445 B.C. had ended the first war between the Athenian Empire and the Peloponnesian Confederacy.[ Cf. Thuc. i. 35, 40, 53.] The alliance with Corcyra was quite clearly to Corinth's hurt. Yet the Athenian could not let one of the strongest navies in Greece, that of Corcyra, pass by absorption or defeat into the control of Athens' greatest trade rival, Corinth. The Corinthians manned their warships and fell upon the blundering Corcyreans. A small watching Athenian squadron saved the defeated Corcyreans at the battle of Sybota Islands, hard by the greater island, from irremediable disaster.[Thuc. 1. 45-55] The angry Corinthians retired baffled from their enterprise. Corinth appealed to Sparta to take up arms against the tyrant city of Greece.[ Thuc. 1. 68.] Sparta's proudest tradition was that of liberator of Hellas. She could not refuse the role.

For Corinth's vigorous appeal was reinforced by two other most unhappy Greek cities.

Megara, on the isthmus of Corinth, was a city of ancient renown. But since the Persian wars she had fallen upon evil days. Her ill luck it was to be equally important to both of the two rival powers in Greece. In alliance with Athens, she safeguarded the latter from all peril of invasion by land from the south. In alliance with Sparta, she opened the highway to the most powerful army in the land to march undisturbed into Attica and there join hands with the Boeotians, Athens' northern enemies, who, by themselves, dared not do more than make forays over the frontier, if they ventured even this. 'The strategical importance of Megara to both sides it is impossible to exaggerate. It was the friendship of Megara with Sparta that determined the plans of campaign of both sides at the outset of the great war.

If useful to Sparta, Megara was vital to Athens. She had two ports, Nisaea on the Saronic Gulf, almost in sight of Athens, Pagae on the Corinthian Gulf. Continuous walls linked Nisaea with Megara, as Peiraeus with Athens. No Peloponnesian army could mask the "linked- fortress" and brave the narrow passage of the Scironian Way between mountain and sea if Megara lay starkly hostile, threatening its communications with its base in the Peloponnese. Thirty years earlier the Athenians had won over Megara to their friendship. At that time Athens had been mistress of Achaea, the strip of coast land on the south of the Corinthian Gulf, of Naupactus, a lonely fort at the western entrance of that Gulf, and, using Pagae, her ships could range at will along the waters of the Gulf. Corinth Was then so hemmed in as to be all but blockaded. But Athens had lost Megara by revolt, and the Peace of 445 B.C. had recognised Megara's independence. The city had gladly (for Megara was Dorian by blood and instinct) joined the Peloponnesian League. Pericles had been forced to Write off the loss of Megara, bitterest of all the losses of the black live years before the Peace.

But the statesman, most certainly anticipating by many years the coming of the great War, set himself to compel Megara once again to join the Athenian Empire. Force of arms he could not employ. This would but precipitate the coming of the War, and the longer this could be postponed, the greater became those financial resources of Athens which accumulated under his careful provision every year While peace lasted. He fell back upon the Weapons of diplomacy, and declared a trade boycott of Megara. No Megarian goods could enter any port or city of the Athenian Empire. Megarian trade was ruined at a single blow. The city slowly starved when, after the outbreak of the War, its home lands were ravaged year by year by the Athenian troops in revenge for the plundering of Attica by the enemy.

Some years after the outbreak of the great War, in the spring of 425 B.C.,the Athenian playwright of comedies, Aristophanes, a convinced if humorous pacifist, produced upon the stage a play entitled the Acharnians. ln it he makes merry at the sufferings of the Megarians. The stout old Attic farmer holds his open market in defiance of laws and public opinion, of bellicose furious charcoal-burners and scoundrelly informers. To the market there comes furtively stealing an unhappy man of Megara, with " two little piglets " for sale. He comes upon the stage, speaking the broadest Doric, dragging his little daughters one by either hand.

" Guid day, Athanian market, Megara's luve!
By Frien'ly Zeus, I've miss't ye like my mither.
But ye, puir bairnies o' a waefu' father,
Speel up, ye'll aiblins fin' a barley-bannock.
Now listen, bairns, atten' wi' a' yere-painch ;
Which wad ye liefer, to be sellt or clemmed?"
" Liefer be sellt ! liefer be sellt !" the children cry.
" An' sae say I mysel'! " answers the father :
" But wha sae doited
As to gie aught for you, a sicker skaith ?
Aweel, I ken a pawkie Megara~trick;
I'se busk ye up, an' say I'm bringin' piggies.
Here, slip these wee bit clooties on yere nieves,
An' shaw yeresells a decent grumphie's weans.
For gin' I tak' ye hame unsellt, by Hairmes
Ye'll thole the warst extremities o' clemmin'.
Ne'est, pit this lang pig-snowties owre yere nebs,
An' stech yere bodies in this sackie. Sae.
An' min' ye grunt an' grane an' g-r-r awa',
An' mak' the skirls o' little Mystery piggies."

He offers them to the puzzled farmer :

" Mon! wad ye hear them skirlin'? Now, piggies, skirl awa'.
Ye winna? winna skirl, ye graceless hizzies ?
By Hairmes, then I'se tak' ye hame again."
" Wee! wee ! wee ! " the childdren squeak.
" She's no tail," the farmer grumbles.
" Aweel," the Megaran explains,
" The puir wee thing, she's owre young yet,
But when she's auld, she'll hae a gawcie tail."

And so the jolly fooling goes on for many lines
yet, till the Athenian buys one for " a tie o' garlic "
and the other for " half a peck o' saut ".

" Traffickin' Hairmes," cries the exultant father,
" Wad that I could swap
Baith Wife an' mither on sic terms as thae." [ Acharnians, 729-835 (Rogers's translation).]

Napoleon's continental system injured but failed to break the spirit of England. In like manner Pericles' boycott of Megarian traders provoked defiance, not submission. The "Megarian Decrees ", each harsher in tone than its predecessor,[Thuc. i. 67, 139 ; Plutarch, Perikles, 30.] failed of their object. Hungry and outraged, the proud little city appealed to Sparta to intervene by force of arms on her behalf. Let the Peloponnesian League of free and equal allies, of which Sparta was recognised head--yet all the cities had their rights of speech and vote in the great Common Council of the members---let the League take action to save one of its number from perishing. Let the Council of the League be summoned by Sparta- With Sparta rested this prerogative_and let the members vote their ultimatum to the foreign tyrant city.

From Within the Athenian Empire itself came secretly a reinforcing petition. Long years had passed since the chief island of the Saronic Gulf, Aegina, had been the greatest of all colonising and trading cities of the mainland. Before Athens or Corinth had taken to the sea, Aegina had queened it in the Aegean. Now she lay prostrate under Athens' heel. A reluctant member of the Athenian Empire, she found herself far more heavily taxed than any other city under Athens' rule. The annual tribute imposed on her in recent years by Pericles was crushing. Thasos in the north Aegean in the years just before the war paid thirty talents annually. But Thasos may have had compensation made her in the recovery of her mines and markets on the Thracian mainland opposite for this heavy annual payment. The like sum had been year after year demanded of Aegina. Then, a short while ago, Pericles, ever on the outlook for new sources of revenue for Athens, had (it seems all but certain) raised the sum of tribute demanded to fifty-three talents.[1] The Thirty Years Peace had guaranteed the island at least some measure of "autonomy", home rule. Pericles, the Aeginetans declared, had scorned the guarantee.[Thuc. i. 139, 140.] Taxed, oppressed, mocked, Aegina sent secretly imploring Sparta to intervene on her behalf.[Thuc. i. 67.] Spartan interference with the internal affairs and administration of an independent Power--what could this mean but war? The urgent appeals of Corinth, Aegina, Megara, fell at Sparta upon attentive and eager ears. Hardly a Spartan citizen could be found who was not fearful of the growth of the power of Athens. True, the rival city had suffered heavy losses within quite recent memory. But, for a decade, since the failure of Samos to cut loose, Pericles had been building up Athens' strength and her wealth anew. Only a score of months ago 'he had annexed the Corcyrean navy to Athens' side. Then, again, at the moment she was embarrassed by a new revolt. The strong city of Potidaea in Chalcidice, north of the Aegean, induced by Spartan promises of support, had just broken out in desperate revolt after many years of restlessness. Potidaea was in fact a colony in old days from Corinth, and her own chief magistrate was still sent to her from Corinth, though it was many years since she had been swept into the all- embracing net of the Athenian Empire. Pericles hurried troops by sea to invest the town. The city held out stubbornly, but her doom seemed certain.[ Thuc. i. 58-66.] This added fuel to Corinth's wrath with Athens. From the Spartan point of view it was more important that a large part of the available land army of Athens was fast engaged in the north, far away from the scene of war at home, if war there should now be. Were this force recalled, the friendly city would be saved. Meanwhile the Athenians were pouring out men and money in their efforts to take the fortress. A better opportunity for war could surely never be found. For the way of invasion by Megara still lay open to the southern army. Athens' very temporary difficulties in the far north offered a chance not to be missed, the chance of a lifetime. Had Sparta at this crisis been reluctant to engage in war there would have been no war. Corinth might bluster as she liked and threaten to secede from the Peloponnesian League if Sparta kept the peace.Thuc. i. 71. This was mere idle " bluff ". Alone and unsupported, Corinth dared not provoke the enmity of Athens. Her vigorous insistence it was that helped to goad the slow-thinking cautious Spartan into final action. But at the last it was Spartan eagerness as well which determined the outbreak of hostilities. A modern German writer, Adolf Holm, has denied this. Regarding commercial rivalry as the mainspring of political action, he declares that " Sparta was obliged to wage war simply because Corinth's interests demanded it ".[ History of Greece (Eng. trans), vol. ii. chap. 21, note 8.] No doubt, of the many " occasions " of the war, the " affairs " of Epidamnus, of Corcyra, of Potidaea, concerned Corinth more closely than any other of the allied cities of the League. But the " true cause " of the great war was not so superficial or so obvious. This cause those who pondered more deeply would find in Sparta, in Sparta's " fear of the growth of the power of Athens ". The historian, Thucydides, so chary of advertising his own judgments, speaks here with no uncertain voice.[Thuc. i. 23. 6.] The facts confirm it. The Spartan Assembly, debating in private by itself, voted by a huge majority that "Athens had broken the Peace ".[ Thuc. i. 87.] There was no reluctance here. Then Sparta summoned the general meeting of representatives from all the members of the League. The League by a majority voted for war.[Thuc. i. 125.] But to give themselves time for preparation and equipment, A negotiations, insincere enough, were opened with Athens. Finally, when Sparta felt herself ready, she despatched a vigorous ultimatum. To avert war, Athens must abandon the alliance with Corcyra, raise the siege of Potidaea, grant home rule to Aegina, rescind the " Megarian Decrees ".[Thuc. i. 139] The terms were impossible of acceptance and in fact insulting, and Sparta knew it. In just the same way, the terms of Austria?s ultimatum to Serbia in I9I4 were of set purpose made so severe as to ensure rejection. Athens, however, at some point offered to submit the questions at issue to arbitration.[Thuc, i, 78, 4] This has been regarded by the German as a mockery. When all Greece was divided into two hostile camps, Where, he asks, could an arbitrator be found?[Beloch, Griech. Gesch. i. p. 516.] But the terms of that very ? Peace ?, of 445 B.C. ?which Athens was declared to have broken had stipulated for arbitration in the case of any future disputes. Athens stuck fast by the treaty, as in honour bound. It was Sparta who now brushed the offer contemptuously aside. When, some years later, misfortunes sent as by Heaven fell upon, the Spartans, then, but not till then, conscience began to prick them. They had sinned, they subsequently confessed, in rejecting the arbitration and had suffered a righteous penalty for their sin. The admission, a significant one, was made only when they were able to point a finger of scorn at Athens when she too, at least in Spartan eyes, Wantonly outraged the terms of a later peace, and the vengeance of the gods for violated faith must now be transferred in the other side. So with a purified conscience arid high hopes the Spartans took up the burden of war fifteen years later once again.[Thuc. vii. 18. 2, 3.] But at the outbreak of the War no such moral considerations swayed the Spartans. Only punishment could arouse the sense of sin. It was in vain that the sagacious old Warrior, King Archidamus, a man over sixty years of age, warned his folk that the struggle would be long and desperate, that they would bequeath the war to their children.[Thuc. i. 81. 6.] The impetuous politician at home, himself no soldier, the ephor Sthenelaidas, hardly deigned seriously to answer any of the king's reasoned arguments. Sparta's honour was involved, he flamed in fierce contemptuous words. There was nothing else mattered.[Thuc. i. 86.] Later, when the whole Congress of the League discussed the question, the Corinthians made efforts to answer seriatim Archidamus' arguments against the War. They had no money? They would borrow it. They had no ships? They would build them. They lacked naval experience ? The longer the war went on, if the king's warning should prove true, the greater their experience would grow. The war itself would suggest other devices, blockade, forts, anything you please. What at least was beyond dispute was Sparta's heroic courage. Dorians aux armes! Vive la guerre ! [ Thuc. i. 120-124.]

Thucydides, in his " Speeches ", represents in a fashion as masterly as it is unique the temper of the times. The Corinthians' arguments fall little short of military lunacy. They carried weight because an excited meeting is not swayed by cold reason. In the same way it is the ephor's fiery speech which expresses the popular feeling at Sparta. All considerations making for delay or caution were hurled aside. The Spartans counted on speedy victory., They would be back home in triumph " before the autumn leaves had fallen ".[The Kaiser to his army (August 1914).] Sparta was eager for war, and so the war began. It is not the only time that the German has misunderstood or misrepresented the cause of a great war.

§ 2. Pericles .

On the Athenians' side there was more hesitation in accepting the gage of war so defiantly hurled at the city. Then Pericles came resolutely forward and bade them pick it up without delay. The enemy were sorely in need of time for mobilising army, navy, resources. With some subtlety, therefore, they sought to entice the Athenians into hesitation and delay. Their demands for concessions by Athens might seem en bloc excessive and extreme. Modern Writers have denied this. They have urged that the demands were moderate enough. The simple statement of their nature confutes this view. A Corcyrean navy lost and passing over to the other side? The whole of Athens' existence depended upon her undisputed command of the seas. She could not feed more than a fraction of her population with corn grown at home. Potidaea independent? This meant the loss of many another city in that the most disturbed of all four "districts " of the Empire, Chalcidice, and a shrinking of money revenues beyond repair. Aegina autonomous? Is there to be a hostile oligarchic local government at Athens' very gates, dictated and upheld by the foreigner? How could Athens in wisdom as well as in mere honour brook such interference from outside with her own " domestic " government of her own Empire?

There was an idea in the air that these demands by Sparta were not quite seriously meant, that they could be reduced, or even abandoned, if Athens were willing to make just one concession, namely if she would promptly rescind the " Megarian Decrees." This was the " irreducible minimum ". Modern writers have not invented the idea, but they have caught at it eagerly, and behind its barricade they have opened their heavy batteries upon the last shreds of Pericles' reputation for wisdom, honour, and patriotism.[Especially Beloch, Griech. Gesch. i. pp. 515 sq.] So small a concession to avert so great and terrible a war! Why did he urge his trusting citizens with an eloquence superb, irresistible, triumphant, not to yield one single inch? He disputed the honesty of the other side. One concession, he maintained, would be but the prelude to otheridemands. The Spartans were insincere, striving to delude the folk by false hopes all the while they were busily making ready for the war on which their hearts were stoutly bent. The "irreducible minimum" in itself, it is clear, was in Pericles' eyes impossible of acceptance. Athens must have security on her frontiers. Qnly a Megara within the Empire could give her this. Qnly by the decrees could he force Megara back within the fold. Was Attica always to be exposed helpless to invasion by the one great military and aggressive power of the continent, with the remembrance of an earlier war always rankling in her bosom ? For security Athens would even pay the price of war. Better a war to-day which he had good reason to hope she would happily survive than a life of constant fear and peril.[Cf. Thuc. i. 140, 141.]

The argument at Athens might well seem unanswerable, even if Athens could have bought a prolongation of the uneasy peace by the rescinding of the "Megarian Decrees". Not even this can be maintained, when such was the temper of the enemy; when the Spartan confidence in speedy victory was so widespread; when the whole of the grievances of Corinth would have remained without redress even were Megara satisfied. The idea of the " one concession to avert War " was in very truth but a sorry Spartan device to gain more time for mobilisation. The more ready Sparta grew for war, the more exorbitant her demands became. Pericles detected the fraud, and at his urging the Athenians stood firm. " The Olympian thundered and lightened", the poet Aristophanes wrote concerning the dead statesman,"and confounded Hellas".[ Acharnians, 531.] Pericles, for long years, had anticipated the coming of the great War and made provision for it. On the Athenian side he also was cause of its outbreak in 431 B.C. That he yielded reluctantly to pressure put upon him by a supposed " Trading- Party of the Peiraeus " there is no ounce of evidence to prove. This, one of the more unattractive of modern theories,[Cornford, Thucydides Mythistoricus, p. 30. G, Dickins, in the Classsical Quarterly for October 1911, suggests some sound criticisms of this curious book.] may at least be dismissed. But we are bound to pay more heed to Pericles' own country- man and contemporary, Aristophanes, concerning this matter.

The poet hated the war. Like so many of his fellow-countrymen he loved the country and country life and jollity. When war came, invading armies marched into Attica, driving the scared peasants and landowners to take refuge behind the city walls, living on the produce of the countryside, destroying the olive trees, cutting down the vines, plundering farm and country house, and carrying the spoils in triumph home. So the Boeotians on the north enriched themselves later at the expense of a superbly furnished land.[2] Pericles, author of the war, became a fair target for the onslaught of the " Comic Poets " one after another. Athenian Tragedy. left modern politics severely alone in its choice of subjects. The German, Holm, has deplored this in eloquent language. Tragedy, he writes, might better have fulfilled its noble mission of elevating and inspiring the people had it emphasised the national aspirations instead of confining itself to the legends of the mythical heroic age. Thus it left the treatment of the real heroic age to the Comic dramatists " who destroyed all the good done by their praise of the victors of Marathon by a onesided advocacy of a feeble Peace policy ".[ Holm, History of Greece, vol.ii. p. 305. ] Three tragedies at least, the Eumenides of Aeschylus, the Supplicants and the Troades of Euripides, were in fact inspired by, and intended to influence, the political circumstances of the Writer's own day. But with these rare exceptions the complaint is true. The Comic stage supplied the critics of Government policy and hurled abuse and innuendo unsparingly against every popular statesman. So common was this that it can have done the victims little hurt. The people came to laugh, and went away laughing. one could take the poet's diatribes seriously, and a Statesman would be foolishly sensitive to take much notice of even the most violent and grotesque attack. Twice Aristophanes sets out to explain the Cause of the great War. The more trivial and absurd his Story, the more laughter and applause it might hope to gain. Pericles must be shown, long after his death, to have been inspired by the meanest and the most personal of motives when he urged his city into war. The whole age-long struggle of East With West, of barbarian with Hellene, had its origin when a man carried off a damsel in a piratical raid, and, of course, the other side retaliated in precisely the same fashion. This was the beginning of Herodotus' history. Aristo- phanes saw the chance to parody the famous story, so seriously stated as a fact. Young revellers of Athens carried off a Megarian lady. The Megarians in their turn kidnapped two of Aspasia's Women. This roused Pericles, Whose Milesian Wife Aspasia was, to fury. Hence and hence alone came the " Megarian Decrees" ; hence the "clash of shields ".[Acharnians, 496-556] This comedy, the Acharnians, is just comic foolery and deceived no one at the time. The War dragged on. Four years later, in 421 B.C., the poet in the Peace handled the theme again. This time Pericles' friend, the sculptor Pheidias, takes Aspasia's place as the ultimate cause of the outbreak of the great war. The god Hermes delivers his exposition to the angry husbandmen :

O most worthy sapient farmers, listen now and understand,
If you fain would learn the reason why it was Peace left the land,
Pheiidias began teh mischief, having come to grief and shame;
Pericles was next in order, fearing he might share the blame,
Dreading much your hasty temper and your savage bulldog ways;
So before misfortune reached him, he contrived a flame to raise,
By his Megara-enactment setting all the world ablaze.
Such a bitter smoke ascended while the flames of war he blew,
That from every eye in Hellas everywhere the tears it drew.
Wailed the vine and rent its branches, when the evil news it heard ;
Butt on butt was dashed and shivered, by revenge and anger stirred;
There was nione to stay the tumult ; Peace in silence disappeared.

The stocky farmer stands amazed ;

" By Apollo ", he bursts out,
" I had never heard these simple facts narrated,
No, nor knew Peace was so closely to our Pheidias related."
The husbandmen in chorus echo his surprise :
" No, nor I, till just this moment : that is why Peace looks so fair.
Goodness me I how many things escape our notice, I declare."
[Peace, 603-648 (Rogers's translation.)]

For ten long Weary years of War Pericles' fear lest he should be involved in his friend Pheidias' disgrace unless he diverted attention by kindling the flames of War has " escaped notice ". Aristo- phanes' contribution to the discussion concerning Pericles' motives is quite humorous, if belated, jesting. Only a stupid old rustic would take it seriously. The quick-witted Athenian spectators held their sides and laughed consumedly. They were not quick to resent imputations cast upon a great statesman after his death. Pericles' reputation and honour towered too loftily on high to be harmed by the merrymaking gibes of a poet jester at a. season of high revel. The poet himself would have been the first to shout with laughter at any stupid fellow who proposed to take him au pied de la lettre.

And yet writers, both ancient and modern have hastened to adopt and amplify this suggestion Concerning the origin of the statesman's " militarism". It is an ungrateful business, this Whole story, His critics point out that in the years just before the outbreak of the war Pericles' political predominance was, after many years, for the first time threatened by a coalition of his opponents against him. Extremists of the left democratic' wing and jealous old Conservatives joined in the hunt. They dared not for the moment attack the man himself. His friends gave them a better opportunity. The Athenians were as pious and superstitious, despite all the " Periclean culture ", as any folk in Greece. In days to come their pietism was to cost them dear. Now the popular conscience was beginning to be troubled by the atheism of philosophers; the popular sense of decency was ready to be outraged by the rominence of a Salon Whose centre and life was- a Woman! " When a man marries ", writes the Athenian Xenophon, " he chooses for his bride her who has seen and heard as little as possible."[Oecon. iii. 13. 2 ] And any reaction after the Wedding seems to have been discouraged. Hence it came to pass that "Women " -a Cambridge historian pens the neat epigram- " played no part in the history of Athena's city ".[Bury, History of Greece, p. 359] Yet-Aspasia's Salon! Was not Pericles himself presently to cry in public: " That woman is most praiseworthy of whom men speak the least whether for praise or blame."[Thuc. II. 45. 2.] Who could help talking about the statesman's own Aspasia ?

Prosecutions followed. Pericles' trusted architect for his great buildings, Pheidias, the glory of Athenian sculpture for all time, was accused of stealing gold entrusted to him for his great golden and ivory statue of Athena on the Acropolis. "Through the golden age of Pericles , It has recently' been said," the gods were protected by the cloak of a superb art." The cloak did not protect the artist. He cleared himself triumphantly of the disgraceful charge. The assailants returned to the attack. They prosecuted him for atheism, He had carved his own likeness on the shield of the goddess. Florentine painters dared to put their own little selves worshipping with the Magi at the manger, or as onlookers at the Last Supper. The democracy of ancient Athens would have shuddered at any such impiety. Pheidias was condemned, thrown into prison, and in prison presently he died. The philosopher Anaxagoras, also Pericles' friend, was next a victim. He had declared the sun to he but a blazing stone. To escape the penalty for such impious scepticism Anaxagoras fled hastily overseas. The assailants with renewed vigour fell on Aspasia herself, prosecuting her for immorality and impiety. Only Pericles' personal entreaty in the law court saved her from her threatened doom. The reactionaries gathered courage. The elections for 433 B.C. gave Pericles a most unwelcome colleague upon the Board of Ten Generals, the chief executive of Athens, in the person of the son of his old rival and political opponent Cimon, the most renowned of Athenian admirals of the earlier generation. It was upon the ruins of Cimon's discredited policy of friendship with Sparta that thirty years ago Pericles as young politician had climbed to power. Now Cimon's own son, Lacedaemonius, was to be his colleague, The young man's very name showed how little likely he was to sympathise with the old Statesmarfs foreign policy. And the tradition of hatred between the two great rival families to which they belonged dated back for at least a century or more. The months passed by. Pericles seemed to be losing the control of the popular Assembly. The people rewarded the accusers in the recent trials. Over his own head there hung the threat of a veritable prosecution in his turn for embezzle- ment. Was there nothing he could do to regain his old unquestioned political supremacy at Athens? Was there no device by which he could save his own political position? Most writers assert that this was the reason why he kindled the flame of war, thinking that this would consume the accusations and abate the envy felt against him. For in grave times of peril the city could only entrust herself to him for guidance, so great was his prestige. So, five centuries later, writes Plutarch, in the finest of all his notable Lives of Illustrious Men.[Pericles, 32.] Craft or wisdom was justified of her son. The threat of accusation vanished as by magic. The whole people of Athens rallied to their great statesman's support. Extraordinary powers were conferred upon him. He was elected the recognised President of the College of Generals. The other nine were but his subordinates in repute, if not in some measure in actual power.[ This is implied in Thuc. ii. 13. 1.] His policy of " no compromise " was enthusiastically adopted. The outbreak of war had saved him.

That war was unnecessary and ill-timed. Postpone it for a few more years, and how much stronger would Athens have been! Argos then Would have been free to join her. No Spartan army would dare march to the Isthmus en route for Attica with a hostile Argos on the flank, threatening to sever its communications at any moment. At the time when war broke out Athens could not implore Argive aid, for Argos was bound to a thirty years' peace with Sparta, and that peace had yet a dozen years to run. Why could not Athens by a timely and a small concession postpone the evil day of war? Only Pericles withstood this delay. And only his own political safety dictated his successful opposition to the least hint of compromise. The German writer, Julius Beloch, is beyond question the most brilliant of all recent historians of ancient Greece. With stark Teutonic brutality, he attributes to Pericles just these personal motives and no others :

"I do not see ", he writes, "how Pericles' policy is intelligible on any other hypothesis. To suppose that he provoked the war simply to get possession of Megara reminds one rather too forcibly of the tale of the peasant who set fire to his house to get rid of the vermin. Only there is this difference. The peasant did at least get rid of the vermin. But Athens never recovered Megara. Devotees of the Pericles-cult, of course, bristle with in- dignation when they are asked to recognise the fact that the great Athenian statesman caused the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war for personal reasons. Thucydides has been less emotional. He holds it as a fact needing no explanation that a statesman is influenced by selfish motives." [Griech. Gesch. i. p. 517.]

Why then should we be sentimental or squeamish and try to defend the Athenian's patriotism or discover honourable motives for him ? The poet's jesting has become bitter earnest. It is exactly this kind of political " rascality ", scelleratezza, which theiold Florentine, Machiavelli, admired in the princes of his own day. Let us transfer it to Pericles and be prepared to admire it in him also.

This attack on Pericles is plausible. It is also to be rejected.

It is unnecessary to reiterate the arguments that the concessions required of Athens were one and all impossible, whether she had regard to her honour or to her security. This idea of a " way of escape " was a will of the wisp. If Sparta was bent on war, war there would be, and in the year 431 B.C., however tightly Argos' hands were tied. But in defence of Pericles just one more thought remains. The whole attack made upon his motives is based upon that famous method of conviction labelled the mi éono? argument. Who stood to gain? Let it then be granted that from the actual declaration of war Pericles did gain. But what of the war as it continued in the quite immediate future? It profited no man so little, it endangered no statesman more. It was waged upon his own plan of campaign, a plan which, as will next be shown, demanded amazing sacrifices from the citizens of Athens. Lands, crops, homesteads, were surrendered a freewill offering to the invader. Pericles demanded and exacted such sacrifices. This roused to fury the agricultural and landowning classes. No doubt it was among these, as a German writer remarks cynically, that the opponents of his policy were already especially numerous? But the poor folk in the city had also to pay the grievous price of war on Pericles' plan. In the city there was all the hopeless misery of overcrowding. In a short while disease raged through its streets. This alone he had had no reason to anticipate when he persuaded the Athenians to accept the war. There was a great reaction of feeling among the people. Their idol became an object of bitter hatred. It was not long before he was deposed from office, fined heavily, in no small danger of his life. " The man who had ruled the half of the Hellenic World with almost monarchical power stood within but a short distance of a condemnation to death," as Beloch himself writes : [Page 529]

The common way of the mob!

With every minute you do change a mind,
And call him noble that was now your hate,
Him vile that was your garland.

The Athenian people had stuck fast by Pericles for many a long year in weal and woe and do not, in his case, merit this bitter reproach hurled against the Roman mob. But now a far harder test of fidelity was by his own choice to be imposed on them. Could anypeople's temper stand the strain of such a war? Unless Pericles was curiously ignorant of his people's nature when he urged them to a war which brought such evils in its train, he Can scarcely have been guilty of a blind and foolish opportunism in the supposed interests of his own political position when he bade his folk stand firm and defy the enemy.


  1. ^The one missing numeral in the Quota List of B.C. 436 for Aegina's tribute is surely before the HHH. To supply one of the other alternatives H,, or X would make Aegina's _tribute 4, 8, or 13, respectively, whereas it has been 30 talents steadily up to this year. It is incredible that Pericles should have so lowered Aegina's tribute. This additional reason for Aegina's discontent is mentioned by no writer. The Quota List is in Hicks and Hill, Greek Historical Inscriptions, No. 48.
  2. ^ The new evidence of the Oxyrhyncus Papyrus (v. 1908, pp. 110 sq.), the fragment of the Hellenica, perhaps of Cratippus (but this is a famous controversy), gives a remarkable picture of the prosperity of the Attic side and its plunder by the Thebans in the War (chapter xii,)