Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Failures of Democracy: Argos

So, as we last left Athens, Alcibiades had persuaded his countrymen to ally with Argos against Sparta.   The Argives had been anticipating the war for some time and apparently* prepared for it by training 1,000 men as an elite force of full-time, professional soldiers, to be equal to the Spartans.

Argos soon started a war with its next-door neighbor.  Sparta intervened on behalf of the neighbor and Athens sent a thousand men to the aid of Argos.  For some time the war was uneventful because the Spartans were very religious, to the point of letting it interfere with military efficacy.  They would not fight during a festival or cross a border if sacrifices were unfavorable so as a result not much happened for quite a while.

Eventually, though (circa 419-418 B.C.), the armies did meet up.  The Argive army came face-to-face with the Spartans and appeared to have them at the advantage.  However, in fact the Argives were outflanked, with allies of Sparta on both sides and would assuredly have met with disaster.  The troops as a whole did not recognized the danger, but their generals did an proposed a truce.  The Spartan king unaccountably accepted, formed a four-month truce, and both armies retreated to face the anger of their respective cities for not achieving victory when they had the advantage.  The Spartan king was assessed an immense fine, which he escaped by promising to make up for his action with some important victory.  Instead, the Spartans tore down his house and and attached ten officers to him with the power to override him.  The Argive generals escaped stoning only by fleeing to sanctuary, and their property was confiscated.

After the truce had expired, the armies marched out again, the Argives this time with Athenian  reinforcements.  The precise military details need not concern us.  The important point is that the Spartans were taken by surprise, but assumed a fighting posture with remarkable speed.  One wing of the Spartan allies were defeated by the Mantineans and the 1,000 elite Argive troops, but the Spartan wing and the center routed the non-elite Argives and their allies, including the Athenians.  They allowed the defeated forces to escape and turned their attention to the victorious Mantineans and elite Argive forces.  Many of the Mantineans were killed, but most of the 1,000 Argives escaped.  This battle was known at the Battle of Mantinea and it restored the reputation of Sparta, which had suffered since their forces surrendered at Pylos.

Army formation at the Battle of Mantinea
Diodorus Siculus gives another account not included in Thucydides.  He says that the Spartans had the elite Argive force surrounded and they escaped only because ten officers overrode the king and ordered them to be allowed to escape, saying that such an elite force, fighting with the courage of despair, would inflict unacceptable casualties.  Given later events, this would seem to imply a certain collusion between them.

This defeat weakened that anti-Spartan democratic party in Argos and strengthened its pro-Spartan oligarchic party, as well as the prestige of the elite 1,000.  The pro-Spartan party therefore persuaded the Argives to reach a peace and alliance with Sparta on what, on the surface, appeared to be very reasonable terms.  Argos was to return its gains during the war and restore any hostages captured, and to join the Peloponnesian League.  Its autonomy and government were to be respected. Soon after, the parties formed an alliance.  But the reasonable terms soon proved to be so much window dressing.  The Spartans soon compelled the Argives to send a thousand men (presumably their elite force) to join a thousands Spartans to march on Sicyon (see above) and impose a more oligarchic government.  The two armies then joined forces in deposing the Argive democracy and installing an oligarchy.

As with Megara, Thucydides gives maddeningly few details, except to say that when the Spartans were next away celebrating a festival, the democrats rose up, fought a battle, and overthrew the oligarchs, killing some and exiling others.  The Spartans refused to leave the festival to intervene until too late, but the Argive democrats, knowing that they would eventually return, resumed their alliance with Athens.  Diodorus Siculus does not mention a Spartan role in the coup, but gives a few more domestic details.  He attributed the coup specifically to the thousand, a detail Thucydides hints at but does not say outright.  He rather contradictorily says both that their prominence and status as military heroes gave them much support and that they seized power by executing the democratic leaders and frightening the people into submission.  The oligarchy endured eight months before the people overthrew and executed the oligarchs.  We get one more hint about Argos' domestic matters from Pausanias, a second century A.D. traveler who cataloged the landmarks in Greece with some historical background information.  He says that the commander of the 1,000 was named Bryas and was "violent" toward the common man.  The catalyst for the revolution occurred when Bryas carried off a bride on her way to her wedding and raped her.  He then made the mistake of keeping her for the night, so she put out his eyes when he was asleep and fled to take refuge among the common people.  War broke out when the people refused to return her for punishment.  The democratic forces won out and slaughtered the oligarchy to the man.**

This account was given nearly 600 years later, as an explanation why the Argives built a certain statue to their god, so it is hard to tell how much of it to believe.  One thing is certain: there were survivors of the oligarchic party (who may or may not have been members of the elite 1,000 man regiment).  Their exiles are described as taking refuge in Phlius and as going to Sparta to seek intervention.  Indeed, there must have been survivors who did not go into exile because when the Spartans marched against Argos, they were counting on the assistance of oligarchs within the city. The Athenians had come to Argos' aid and set out to build walls linking Argos to the sea so that in case of a siege they could receive food from the sea.  Due to the urgency of the situation, women and slaves joined in the building.  The ultimate outcome was mixed.  The assistance from oligarchs failed to materialize, so the Spartans were unable to capture Argos.  But they did destroy the long walls, and they captures the minor town of Hysia, killing all the free men who fell into their hands.  (No further details given).  Alcibiades arrested some 300 Argives suspected of being pro-Spartan and took them to Athens as hostages.  Later, when another plot to overthrow the Argive democracy was suspected, the Athenians returned the hostages to Argos, where they were executed.  Sporadic warfare continued for a long time between Sparta and Argos, with Spartans laying waste to the Argive countryside and Argives taking out their anger on Phlius.

______________________________________________________ *Thucydides does not expressly mention Argos preparing such a force, but he does refer to it at the Battle of Mantinea, which would imply that Diodorus Siculus' account of its formation is essentially true.
**This is an example of the usefulness of a professional historian in pointing out this obscure source.

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