Monday, January 24, 2011

The Peloponnesian War: Amphipolis II, a peaceless peace, Mantinea (5:1-83)

This post looks at Chapters 1 through 83 of Book Five, covering the end of the one-year truce, the second battle of Amphipolis, and the beginning of the “false peace”. All quotes come from the Thomas Hobbes translation. As usual with Thucydides, he has packed a lot of information into a short passage. I will focus on just a few events that hopefully provide a flavor of this section.

After the one-year truce expires, Cleon convinces the Athenians to send him on an expedition to Thrace. He visits Scione (still under siege) then goes to Torone, which the Athenians take. The Boeotians take Panactum, a fortress on the Athenian border. Meanwhile, Athens sends a general to Sicily to gather allies against Syracuse and attempt to rescue exiles from Leontini—he was unsuccessful in both tasks.

Amphipolis (Part II)
The first battle of Amphipolis led to Sparta taking the city and Thucydides’ exile from Athens. The second battle saw another Spartan victory but both the Athenian Cleon and the Spartan Brasidas were killed. Thucydides says that both sides now desired peace, going into detail on the reasons (as he saw them; Chapters 14 & 15):
Presently after the battle of Amphipolis and return of Rhamphias out of Thessaly, it fell out that neither side did any act of war, but were inclined rather to a peace: the Athenians for the blow they had received at Delium, and this other a little after at Amphipolis; and because they had no longer that confident hope in their strength, on which they relied when formerly they refused the peace, as having conceived upon their present success that they should have had the upper hand; also they stood in fear of their own confederates, lest emboldened by these losses of theirs they should more and more revolt; and repented that they made not the peace after their happy success at Pylus, when occasion was offered to have done it honourably: and the Lacedæmonians on the other side did desire peace, because the war had not proceeded as they expected; for they had thought they should in a few years have warred down the power of Athens, by wasting their territory; and because they were fallen into that calamity in the island, the like whereof had never happened unto Sparta before; because also their country was continually ravaged by those of Pylus and Cythera, and their Helotes continually fled to the enemy; and because they feared lest those which remained, trusting in them that were run away, should in this estate of theirs raise some innovation, as at other times before they had done. Withal it happened, that the thirty years’ peace with the Argives was now upon the point of expiring; and the Argives would not renew it without restitution made them of Cynuria: so that to war against the Argives and the Athenians, both at once, seemed impossible. They suspected also that some of the cities of Peloponnesus would revolt to the Argives: as indeed it came afterwards to pass.

These things considered, it was by both parts thought good to conclude a peace; but especially by the Lacedæmonians, for the desire they had to recover their men taken in the island. For the Spartans that were amongst them, were both of the prime men of the city, and their kinsmen. And therefore they began to treat presently after they were taken: but the Athenians, by reason of their prosperity, would not lay down the war at that time on equal terms. But after their defeat at Delium, the Lacedæmonians, knowing they would be apter now to accept it, made that truce for a year, during which they were to meet and consult about a longer time.

Thucydides makes it clear he doesn’t like Cleon, describing his death in less than honorable terms. While his description of Brasidas had always been admiring, Thucydides paints these opposing generals as the principal opponents of peace, Brasidas because of the honors he received in war. Thucydides claims Cleon thought “his evil actions would more appear and his calumniations be the less believed” during a peaceful interlude. King Pleistoanax in Sparta and Nicias in Athens are more prominent now, both desiring peace. Athens needed the threat of Spartan building a fortification in Attica (a bluff? real?) to push them to conclude negotiations.

What’s so funny about war, hate and disharmony?
The peace, such that it was, lasted about eight years (422 – 414 BC). The treaty between Sparta and Athens that Thucydides details had serious flaws. Athens had lost cities to forces not necessarily friendly with Sparta so their restoration could not be guaranteed. Sparta sold out several of their allies and acquisitions, making a mockery of their war claim of freedom for the Greeks. In addition, the peace would depend on the cooperation of third parties not exploiting divisions between Athens and Sparta. Disagreements within each city would exacerbate tensions as well. The machinations of the Athenian leader Alcibiades helped ensure an alliance between Athens and Argos. Other cities helped humiliate Sparta, such as during the 420 BC Olympic games when the Eleans accused Sparta of breaking the sacred truce of the festival. Thucydides argues that this false peace was simply an interlude in one, long war:

And for six years and ten months they abstained from entering into each other’s territories with their arms: but the peace being weak, they did each other abroad what harm they could; and in the end were forced to dissolve the peace made after those ten years, and fell again into open war.

In this section (Chapters 25 & 26) Thucydides provides an introduction to the “weak peace”, explaining (finally) that he had been exiled after the first battle of Amphipolis. The Athenian Alcibiades made the most of the alliance with Argos, using them to invade Epidaurus as an Athenian proxy. Alcibiades took advantage of the overwhelming desire for peace to plot, scheme and push the envelope on what could be done yet avoid open hostilities. Athens’ actions did not technically violate the peace treaty but it was clear they were playing fast and loose with the intent. In addition, the city’s alliances worked to isolate Sparta and their allies.

A battle between the Spartan king Agis’ troops and the Argive army was about to take place when a last-second truce, proposed by the Argives, was accepted by Agis. While the last-second cease-fire was surprising, the armies on both sides were furious—they wanted the battle to take place. Upon Alcibiades’ late arrival, he scolds the Argives for proposing a truce without Athenian approval and gets them to join an attack against a Spartan ally in Arcadia. Orchomenus falls and the Spartans’ anger at Agis boils over. It seems many people wanted a fight and the punishment of the few principled men that had held the peace insured that wish would be fulfilled. In addition, Spartan prestige reaches a new low as they are seen as weak in spirit and resolve while running away from conflicts. The rumor of Tegea going over to the Argive coalition raised the stakes for Sparta and guaranteed that Agis would lead troops north another time, this time with conflict necessary for Agis and Sparta to retain any credibility.

Battle of Mantinea
Thucydides spells out the details of a hoplite battle in theory, then in practice during this major land battle. Agis tried to force his Argive opponents into conflict by destroying crops in the area but the harvest is mostly over. The Argive forces have taken a strategic position on the mountains and Agis recklessly drives the Spartans up the hills. One of the “ancient [wise] men” advises Agis to halt. Agis’ desperate situation inspires a plan of drawing his opponents onto the plains by threatening damage from the diversion of local waterways.

Agis waffles between being an adept commander on the field and an inept one. Each army promises to outflank their opponents’ right side. Agis orders his captains to reposition themselves, but they fail to follow his orders (later earning an exile). Because of Argive miscalculations, the Spartans still carry the day but pull their strength at the last moment—there’s a surreal moment where Spartan and Athenian troops were facing each other and Agis, possibly realizing the damage such a direct conflict could entail, allows the Athenian troops to escape. Agis, whether through design or accident, has set the stage for a successful alignment of Argos with Sparta and a major blow to Athens. With the victory at Mantinea, Sparta has regained prestige in the Greek world. The struggle between democratic and oligarchic factions in several cities threatens to bring Athens or Sparta (or both) into their conflicts. Even Argos' alliance, which Sparta had been able to win with the victory at Mantinea, would vacillate between Athens and Sparta depending on which faction was in power.

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