Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Peloponnesian War: a revolting development

Map of ancient Greece
Picture source

This post looks at Chapters 1 through 29 of Book Eight, covering the activities immediately after the defeat of Athens in Sicily at the end of summer 413 BC into the winter of 412/1 BC. The focus of the war and Thucydides' history turns to the Aegean Sea and Ionia as many Athenian allies revolt. Oh, and there’s the part where Persia becomes a participant in the war, too, even if it is mostly monetary support to Sparta at this point. All quotes (and spellings) come from the Thomas Hobbes translation. This post isn't much more than a simple recap of the activity in these chapters, although this sections highlights the beginning of the impact of the loss in Sicily for Athens.

The news of the defeat in Sicily shocked Athens. People blamed anyone that “furthered the voyage: as if they themselves had never decreed it.” The Athenian tendency to distance responsibility from decisions the assembly made has been a recurring theme in Thucydides. After the shock wears off, the Athenians are determined to continue the war, voting to rebuild the navy, insure the support of allies, and add a board of elders to consult on the business of the city. Unfortunately for the Athenians, the loss in Sicily gives heart to others in the Greek world wishing to distance themselves from their oversight. Cities that had been neutral to this point wanted to side with Sparta. Allies of Athens “were ready, even beyond their ability, to revolt”. It seems that all the talk about pre-emption (on both sides) had some basis in fact. Sparta took heart from the naval victory of Syracuse and levied taxes and charged their allies to build a fleet of one hundred ships.

Meanwhile the number of Athenian subjects wanting to revolt or enemies willing to attack line up at the Spartan door. Euboea, Lesbos, and Chios all ask for assistance in their revolts, the Chians bringing Tissaphernes, the Persian satrap (governor) of the Ionian region (in which Sardis is the capital) offering assistance. Never underestimate the importance of finances in this war. Tissaphernes was having trouble paying his tribute to the Persian king and hoped to subject and receive money from Athenian cities in his district. Pharnabazus, the satrap of the Hellespont area (north of Tissaphernes) sends envoys as well, requesting assistance for Athenian cities to revolt in his region for the same reasons.

The death of Athenian naval strength apparently was greatly exaggerated since Athens’ ships were able to intercept various Peloponnesian vessels around Greece. Alcibiades, the Athenian traitor, reassures the Spartans he is currently allied with and sails with Chalcideus to Chios and Erythrae to assist and trigger revolts in the area, including Miletus. The Spartans now enter upon an agreement with Tissaphernes and Persia that completely overturns their stated ideal of liberating Greece. The first article states “Whatsoever territory or cities the kin possesseth, and his ancestors have possessed, the same are to remain the king’s.” In theory this revokes everything achieved in the wars with Persia, turning cities that achieved their independence back over to Persian rule. The agreement also contracts to split the money usually sent to Athens from the cities that revolted and any cities that join them. Also, the agreement calls on both sides to jointly attack the Athenians and their interests.

There are many skirmishes throughout this region as the Chians incite many cities to revolt from Athens while Athenian ships arrive in the area. The Athenians focus on Lesbos and Chios, winning several battles. The Chians and other cities revolting against Athens realize they misjudged Athenian strength and the impact of the loss in Sicily. The Athenians move on to Miletus and, after winning a battle in front of the city, begin a siege of the town. The Peloponnesians arrive with fifty-five ships (including several from Syracuse) and the Athenian general Phrynichus decides not to stake everything on a naval battle at this time, relocating the fleet and army to Samos. The Argive soldiers allied with the Athenians leave for home at this point because of their embarrassing performance against the Milesians. Tissaphernes makes a side-trip to secure Iasus and capture Amorges, a rebel to the Persian king, highlighting the personal/regional nature of many activities under cover of the larger war.

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