Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Athens Regroups: The Beginning of the Ionian War

With the destruction of the Sicilian expedition and the establishment of a Spartan outpost in Attica, all seemed lost for Athens.  In fact, it turned out to be simply the beginning of a new phase of the war, known to modern historians as the Ionian War.  The previous phases of the war had been a war between a land power and a naval power over an overseas empire.  This gave the naval power an immense advantage in mobility.  By its unprovoked attack on Syracuse, a naval power and colony of Corinth, another naval power, Athens had most enemies of the Greeks' other leading naval powers. The Ionian war was so-called because it took place mostly among the Ionian colonies of Asia Minor. It was a naval war, very rapid and very mobile.  And, interestingly enough, though the final phase of a long and brutal war, it actually appears to have been the least brutal phase, probably because the Ionians were not fighters themselves (and had often been disarmed by Athens) and cheerfully switched sides to whoever showed up with the largest navy.

My own advice to the Athenians upon the capture of Decelea would have been to forget about overseas conquests and to focus solely on retaking Decelea.  Since the chances of seizing it by storm were close to zero, I would recommend hitting the Spartans where it hurt most, i.e., in Pylos.  I would recommend that they stir up as much trouble in Pylos as possible until the Spartans were prepared to make a swap. And, in fact, the expedition sent to relieve the forces at Sicily established an outpost in Laconia, and a base to launch raids and for helots to desert, under the command of Charicles, son of Apollodorus,* presumably the same Charicles mentioned as being so zealous in pursuit of whoever vandalized the herms.  But they abandoned this fort after the Sicilian disaster forced them to cut back on all the but most essential expenditures.  Perhaps this was a mistake.

Diplomacy over the winter
Athens was spared, perhaps, because the the time disaster had struck, the fighting season was coming to an end and everyone was hunkering down for winter.  The Spartans spend the time raising a navy, extorting money and sometimes hostages from reluctant allies to finance it.  This should have been a definite clue that in turning the the Spartans as liberators, the small states were simply  changing one hegemon for another.  The Athenians focused on  rebuilding their navy.  The winter was also spent in a flurry of diplomatic activity.  Although Thucydides portrays Athens' allies/ subjects as eager to revolt now that Athens was so fatally weakened, none of them were actually prepared to do so without Spartan assistance, and the Spartans were not prepared to support more than one revolt at a time.  King Agis, at Decelea, favored supporting Euboea (right next door and in a position to cause great harm) or Lesbos, but he was overruled by the government in Sparta, which opted for Chios, as the largest and most important member of the Athenian empire.  Another important factor appears to have been Alcibiades, who was "a personal enemy" of Agis and was  intriguing against him with one of the Ephors, seeking to get all the credit.

Once again, despite Thucydides' claim of how oppressive the Athenians were and how all their subject/allies were eager to revolt, the reason that Chios was unwilling to revolt without Spartan support was that only a narrow oligarchic party favored the revolt, while the general public was opposed.  The Athenians got wind of what was going on and proceeded to prove that they could not be counted out yet by bottling up the Peloponnesian fleet before they got started.  But five ships, commanded by Alcibiades, bypassed the Athenians and made it to Chios, where they started a revolt.**  The neighboring cities of Erythrea and Clazomenae soon joined in.  Alcibiades raised a small fleet and then moved on to Miletus to start a revolt there.  When the Athenians heard of the revolt in so important a state as Chios, ten -- and only then -- did then they consider their situation so dire that the broke out a thousand talent emergency reserve and financed a fleet to go to Chios.

Hope this make sense of the accompanying paragraph
We then begin to see the fast-moving nature of the naval war.  The Athenians quickly suppressed a  revolt the Chians had stirred up in Lesbos, then headed south and just as quickly recaptured Clazomenae.  They drove back the Chians into the city walls, laid waste to the countryside and established a fortress.  As with Decelea back home, the Chians were trapped within their city with a hostile army roaming the countryside.  They also had serious internal security problems -- the general citizenry opposed the revolt and large numbers of slaves deserted. The bulk of the Athenian force then moved on to Miletus, defeated their army in the field, and settled in for a siege.  Just then, news arrived that the blockaded Peloponnesian fleet had broken out and were arriving, joined by the Sicilian fleet.  Fearing a repeat of events at Syracuse, the Athenians withdrew.

The Athenians withdrew to the island of Samos.  Samos had recently undergone a democratic revolution with the assistance of three Athenian ships.  Thucydides give no description whatever of the pre-revolutionary regime or what led to the revolution, but only says that the democrats seized the property from the landed aristocracy, executed some 200 of them, exiled another 400, and disenfranchised the ones who remained, not even allowing them to intermarry with the general citizenry.  This established Samos as such a reliable ally that Athens granted it complete autonomy.  Thucydides salutes the wisdom of the Athenians in not repeating the mistake they made at Syracuse and instead establishing a safe base of operations from which they could venture forth as needed, one that continued to serve them to the end of the war.  Some modern historians have disagreed, saying that if the Athenians had successfully defeated the revolt at Miletus, they would have squelched the Ionian revolt altogether and won the war.  Victory or destruction, like all counter-factuals, this one is impossible to prove or disprove.  In any event, the admiral responsible for this decision was named Phrynicus.*  Andocides mentions a Phrynicus, son of Orchesamenus as arrested on false accusations in the matter of the herms.  We do not have a patronymic or deme for Phrynicus the admiral, but he is almost certainly not the same one. The Phrynicus arrested was a cousin of Andocides and therefore an aristocrat, while this Phrynicus was originally a poor man who kept sheep in the fields.

Triumphant at Miletus, the Peloponnesians went on to incite revolts in Cnidus and then Rhodes.  As the accompanying map should make clear, the war was clearly moving southward.  There is a reason for that.  The diplomatic feelers the Spartans had put out included some to the Persians.  Two main Persian satraps,  Pharnabazus in the north and Tissaphernes in the south were seeking an alliance.  Though both formally subordinate to the Persian government in Suza, both had considerable autonomy and acted for all intents and purposes as independent and rival sovereigns.  Largely as a result of Alcibiades' influence, the Spartans made their alliance with Tissaphernes and stirred up most of their trouble in the south.

So why would the Persians join with the rising hegemon among their enemies, the Greeks, to destroy a Greek power clearly on its way down?  Maybe they thought that Sparta, as a land power, would be less able to maintain an overseas empire.  Maybe they had learned that the Spartans were Dorians and would feel less kinship than the Athenians for the Ionians.  Maybe they weren't thinking ahead very far.  There is one other possibility.  There is some evidence that the Athenians had intervened in Persia's internal affairs by backing a rebel satrap named Amorges and allowing him to take refuge in the Greek city of Iasos (near Miletus, see map) when he was defeated.  Why would the Athenians stir up trouble in Persia at exactly the time they could least afford to make any  more enemies?  Perhaps it was an attempt to weaken an enemy, started well before Athens was so severely weakened.

In any event, The Spartan decision to ally with Persia may seem treasonous from a Greek perspective, but the Athenians, having allied with the Sicils and Estruscans against the Italian Greeks, were hardly in a position to criticize.  It got worse, though.  The original treaty proposed by Tissaphernes said, "All the territory and all the cities which are in possession of the King, or were in possession of his forefathers, shall be the King's."  In other words, the Persian Wars were to be set aside altogether.  Persia was reclaiming not only all of Asian Greece, but large chunks of the mainland that had been part of the Persian Empire.  The Spartans indignantly refused.***  The treaty was renegotiated, but the final product left much to be desired.  It ceded all of Asian Greece to Persia and made reference to the "King's country" that were rather vague as to its precise boundaries.  This was treason far in excess of any alliance Athens may have made with non-Greeks in Italy (although Athens would soon prove itself willing to do the same).  And the Peloponnesians lived up to their bargain with the Persians.  They captured the Greek city if Iasos because it was harboring Amorges and turned the city and its inhabitants over the the Persians.

In exchange, the Peloponnesians received access to Persia's seemingly limitless resources.  That might have meant the end for the depleted Athens had it not been for another wild card -- Alcibiades. Alcibiades had worn out his welcome in Sparta.  He was obviously unreliable and had no loyalty except to his own personal ambition.  Thucydides mentions only a personal enmity with King Agis and discusses his intrigues with a friendly Ephor to undercut Agis by opposing his policies and seeking all the credit in military and diplomatic victories.  Plutarch give a very personal reason for their enmity.  He says that Alcibiades had an affair with Agis' wife, and that she had a son of very dubious paternity.  This story may very well be true, or at least believed by contemporaries, since the son in question was denied succession because of his dubious paternity and the kingship instead went to Agis' younger brother.  Assuming this affair was genuine, it was incredibly stupid on Alcibiades' part.  But even if he fell out of favor only for his political intrigues, they were stupid, too.  Recall that the Ephors were powerful enough to override or even arrest a king, but they only held power for one year, probably in part to prevent intrigues of this very kind.  Anyone less arrogantly self-confident that Alcibiades would have remembered that, although the Ephor he chose as an ally could override the king, he would be out of power in a year and the king would still be there.  It might also have been wise to remember that the Ephors could order any non-citizen executed without trial, and that Alcibiades was not a citizen.  And, indeed, once his ally was replaced, the new Ephors sent the order to do just that.

So Alcibiades did what Alcibiades always did.  He defected, again.  As before, he did not flee to a neutral, but went where he could do most harm.  He went straight to Tissaphernes and did all he could to hurt the Peloponnesian cause.  He advised Tissaphernes to back whoever was losing in order to wear to Greeks down, eminently sensible advice from the Persian point of view, but clearly treasonous coming from a Greek.  He also advised the satrap to keep delaying the Peloponnesian action by promising to bring the Phoenician fleet to their aid, but never to actually bring it.  And he encouraged Tissaphernes to stint soldiers and sailors on their pay, paying less than promised, and irregularly, and to bribe the officers into going along with it.  And he squeezed allied cities.  In short, he was truly despicable.  But don't worry.  He has some new acts of treachery in store very soon.

*Watch this man.  He will be important later on.
**Along the way Alcibides arrested everyone they met to keep them from spreading the word and only released them on the other side.  Contrast this with Alcidas, the first Spartan admiral to cross the Aegean who also arrested everyone he met to keep word from getting out and started to execute them on the other side, until the Ionians persuaded him that he would never be accepted as a liberator if he behaved that way.  Further proof, I think that Alcibiades, while unprincipled and treacherous, was not bloodthirsty or cruel.
***Here, again, I am indebted to a modern historian.  Thucydides' account, taken at its word, would say that the Spartans originally agreed to these terms, then later rejected them and demanded better.  My editor says it is far more likely that the earlier versions were drafts and only the final agreement was the true treaty.  

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