Sunday, 23 July 2017

The History of the Peloponnesian War - Book VII


A Dream of Ancient Athens
Sydney Herbert
source ArtUK


History of the Peloponnesian War


Athenian navy, Sicily
source Wikimedia Commons
Book VII:  Gylippus has great success in Syracuse, turning the tide of the war in favour of the Sicilians, capturing outposts and generally making a great nuisance of himself.  Nicias is ill with a kidney condition and writes to Athens to send more armaments, as Alcibiades has turned traitor, Lamachus is dead and he is the only general left.  They immediately send Eurymedon with ten ships which is hardly encouraging, and Demosthenes sets to gather more reinforcements to leave in the spring.  Meanwhile Gylippus prods the Syracusans to engage the Athenians in a sea battle and although they lose, he is able to capture three forts with loads of supplies and this feat is labeled “the first and foremost cause of the ruin of the Athenian army”.  Athenians ships fail to stop other Spartan ships from leaving Peloponnese and an Athenian supply vessel is destroyed, further damaging the Athenian cause, and with a Spartan invasion at Decclea, a second war front springs up for the beleaguered Athenians.  Thucydides relates complete disbelief that, in spite of all they had suffered and the emerging war on the home front, they still stubbornly clung to their Sicilian expedition. 


Destruction of the Athenian army
at Syracuse
source Wikimedia Commons
Demosthenes and Eurymedon arrive and Demosthenes pushes for immediate attack, feeling that Nicias missed his chance for victory with procrastination at the outset.  His attack fails and he counsels for immediate withdrawal as the troops with have more use at Athens.  Nicias disagrees with his counterpart.  NOW, in spite of never being in favour of the expedition, he wants to remain, citing information that the Syracusans are running out of money and his confidence in his fleet.  The two argue but when Gylippus returns, they all agree to leave, however an eclipse of the moon stays their departure and Nicias “who was somewhat over-addicted to divination and practices of that kind,” refuses to depart.  It is an unwise decision as Eurymedon is killed in battle and the Syracusans surround the whole Athenian fleet in the Great Harbour.  The Athenians with their whole fleet attempt to fight their way out, but are routed.  They retire and both Demosthenes and Nicias wish to try again the next day but the soldiers are demoralized and refuse to man the ships so they plan their escape route overland.  Exhausted, the army encounters opposition wherever they go and eventually are killed or captured, with very few escaping.  Both Demosthenes and Nicias surrender and are chopped to bits; Thucydides stresses that Nicias did not deserve this fate.  The losses for Athens are the most catastrophic imaginable.

Destruction of the Athenian army in Sicily
source Wikimedia Commons

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