Saturday, December 26, 2015

Athens: Defeat and Ruin (405 BC)

The next year of the war would prove to be the last one.  Something had gone wrong with the Athenians.  Their energy and initiative had deserted them.  It is hard to say what.  Maybe the last strain on resources left their ships too sloppily constructed and their crews too untrained to be an effective fighting force.  Maybe killing their top generals left the fleet without effective leadership. Maybe their final resources were simply tapped out.  Be that as it may, the Athenians began the next year of the war (405 BC) with 173 ships, a perfectly respectable fleet, commanded by Conon and Philocles.  According to Diodorus, they Athenians left only 20 ships at their base in Samos and sent the rest of the fleet to the Hellespont.  Splitting of the fleet seems reasonable, since the Athenian strategy would presumably be first, if possible, to keep the Peloponnesians bottled up at their base and second, if that failed, to keep them out of the Hellespont at all costs, since Athens' food was imported by that route. How to split the fleet would be very much a matter of military judgment, but it would be important to establish a system of lookouts and fire signals to allow the two fleets to communicate with each other.

The Spartans, by contrast, had one basic response to their defeat -- bring back Lysander.  Lysander had, after all, defeated the Athenians once, though more due to foolish decisions on their part than and particular skill of his.  But there were strong political reasons for returning him as well.  He was on good terms with the Persian Prince supplying resources, and he had many local supporters.  Still, his ambitions must have been alarming to more traditional Spartans.  Kagan (p. 377) goes so far as to suggest that fear of Lysander's ambitions may have driven the Spartans to seek peace.  But in the end there was little choice.  Spartan law did not allow any man to serve as admiral twice, so they made Lysander vice-admiral with the clear understanding that the official admiral was to follow his commands.*  He began by firmly securing Persian support.  He then apparently slipped his fleet past the Athenians at Samos and set out on the most energetic -- and vicious -- campaign yet.

Recall that he had been conspiring with financial backers to install them as governing juntas in exchange for their support.  It was these men who were clamoring loudest for Lysander's return.  In Miletus the conspirators had apparently changed their minds and reconciled with the democrats.  Lysander pretended to approve, but secretly persuaded the conspirators to attempt their coup.  He then arrived and appeared to suppress the attempt.  But this was merely a trick to lull the leaders of the popular party into a false sense of confidence.  When the time was ripe, the conspirators struck,  killing 300 democratic leaders in the agora and dragging another 40 from their homes.  A thousand  democratic leaders fled and took refuge with the Persians.

He then turned south.  According to Diodorus, he seized the city of Iasos by storm, killed all the men numbering about 800, sold the women and children as slaves, and destroyed the city. Xenophon says that he seized the city of Cedraie after a two-day siege and sold all the inhabitants as slaves.**  The then audaciously crossed the Aegean, laid waste to neighboring islands (probably without capturing them), and visited the Spartan king at Deceleia on the outskirts of Athens.  The Athenians pursued him, but were never able to overtake him or to prevent any of these actions.

Hellespont is the narrow channel depicted
 Most alarmingly from the Athenian perspective, he headed straight for the Hellespont -- the route where their food imports came from.  The Athenians had inexcusably let their guard down on this immensely strategic waterway.  One wonders if Lysanders atrocities were undertaken not just to terrorize other cities into submission, but to provoke the Athenians into letting their guard down.  Lysander quickly raised an army at Abdyos (the only remaining Spartan base in the Hellespont) and attacked Lampsacus.  The city was quickly taken.  Lysander and his army plundered the city (as was routine practice at the time), but spared its inhabitants.

The Athenians arrived in the Hellespont with their full fleet of 180 ships, only to learn that Lampsacus had already fallen.  The Athenians camped at Aegespotomi (Goat River), the beach across the channel from Lampsacus, but without provisions or defense.  Daily, the Athenians  sailed forth to challenge the enemy.  Lysander refused to be challenged, but did send out scouts to see what the Athenians were doing.  Mostly, they were foraging for food, since they were away from their base and supplies.  All sources agree that Alcibiades had been watching this activity from his fortress and now approached to give advice.  Xenophon and Plutarch say that he warned that they were in an exposed position and should withdraw to Sestos, where they would have supplies and fortification.  Diodorus and the Roman Cornelius Nepos say that he offered to bring a Thracian army to fight on their side, if he were given a share of the command.  All agree that they refused, with the insulting remark that they were the generals and he was not.  Diodorus blames their action on selfishness by the generals -- they believes that Alcibiades would get the credit for success and they would be blamed for failure.  Classical historians unanimously see this as a huge mistake, driven mostly by personal vanity.  Kagan sees their decision as defensible.  The danger of Lysander and his fleet slipping out and cutting off their food supply was so great that they had to take the risk of an unsecure and unprovisioned site in order to detect the Peloponnesians' movements and be able to attack immediately if they sailed forth.  As for his promise to bring in Thracian forces, why would anyone believe him, given his past lies about being able to deliver the support of the Persians?  To say nothing of the logistical difficulty in getting them across the strait.

Be that as it may, the Athenians continued to sail forth for five days, vainly attempting to provoke a fight.  Xenonphon and Plutarch say that the Athenians were becoming contemptuous of Lysander and became careless and over-confident as a result.  Diodorus, by contrast, says that they were running out of supplies and becoming desperate.  On the fifth day the stalemate broke dramatically.  After they had returned and were scattered about foraging for food, Lysander's scouts raised a signal.  Or, perhaps the Athenian general Philocles set forth with 30 ships to lure Lysander into a trap, but the others failed to follow through.  The Athenians were taken completely by surprise and were routed  with little resistance.  Of 180 ships, only ten escaped.  These included the ones commanded by Conon, the supreme commander, who made an unsuccessful attempt to rally the forces and, when all was clearly lost, fled to Cyprus instead of returning home.  The flagship Paralus alone returned to Athens with news of the defeat.  About 3000 Athenians, including the admirals Philocles and Adeimantus were captured; the rest fled to Sestos.  Their captors were in no mood to be generous. Philocles on at least two occasions had thrown overboard the crews of captured ships and had persuaded the Assembly to adopt a resolution to cut off the right hands (Xenophon) or right thumbs  (Plutarch) of anyone captured.***  All prisoners were executed except Adeimantus, who had opposed the resolution.  Philocles is said to have died bravely.

With the destruction of the Athenian fleet, Athens' allies except Samos promptly went over to Sparta. Lysander allowed the Athenians in Sestos and everywhere else to depart in peace, provided that they returned to Athens.  If that sounds uncharacteristically generous for this savage man, his motives were not altruistic.  More people in Athens meant more mouths to feed in the upcoming blockade and siege.  This he enforced by threatening to kill any Athenians caught out of the city.  No doubt the other cities had heard enough of his methods not to dare harbor any.  He then proceeded to establish the decarchies, or ten-man juntas in all the cities he passed, backed by a garrison and Spartan commander (harmost).  He imposed these alike on friend and foe, choosing personal cronies without local support, a process that took significant bloodshed to achieve.  In this he was following the classic imperial tactic of deliberately choosing unpopular puppet rulers to ensure that they would be dependent on the imperial power and always obey it.  He did, however, make such amends as he could for past Athenian atrocities and restore the Aegintenians, Scionians and Melians to their homes.****

As for the Athenians, when they learned that their fleet was destroyed, they knew that all was lost.  Xenonphon is none too sympathetic, believing that they feared they would suffer what they had inflicted on others, and that they deserved as much.  Certainly what they had seen of Lysander's methods could not have been reassuring. But they blocked the harbors, repaired the walls, and settled in for a siege.  The two Spartan kings besieged Athens by land and Lysander arrived with 200 ships. The city's fortifications were too strong to take by force, so the Peloponnesians blockaded the city  instead.  The Athenians held out, perhaps as much out of fear as out of courage. Only when their food was gone did they offer terms, proposing to subordinate their foreign policy to Sparta if they could keep their long walls (i.e., the walls connecting the main city to the port).  The Ephors sent the Athenians ambassadors back, telling them to come back with a more serious proposal.  When one Athenian proposed accepting an offer to tear down a portion of the walls, he was thrown in prison and such proposals forbidden.  Theramenes then offered to negotiate what terms he could.  He then stayed away for three months, leading some to believe that he was deliberately delaying to let famine argue on behalf of the Spartan proposals.  He returned from Lysander empty-handed, saying that only the Ephors had authority to set terms.  Theramenes then went to negotiate with the Ephors.  Although the Corinthians and Thebans wanted to destroy Athens and enslave its people, the Spartans eventually agreed to peace on the condition that Athens tear down its long walls altogether, destroy its fleet except for twelve ships, and subordinate its foreign policy to Sparta.  These terms, it must be noted, were no worse than what Athens routinely imposed on rebellious allies before the long and bitter war has brutalized all parties.  The proposal met with some resistance, but was ultimately approved.

Lysander then turned his full might on Samos, which alone held out, with the courage of despair.  In Samos, recall, the democrats had slaughtered (or exiled) all the aristocrats.  So much did they fear the revenge that the aristocratic exiles might have in store that they held out long after all was lost.  In the end, the entire citizen body agreed to go into exile with no more than the clothes on their backs, preferring that to whatever fate the returning exiles might have in store for them.*****  We are not told where the Samians went.  Their alliance with Athens was close enough that normally they could have taken refuge there.  But, as we shall soon see, political developments in Athens would preclude that possibility.

The Peloponnesian War was over, and Athens had lost. Its democracy survived to its surrender, but not long after.  Next:  Diplomacy, intrigue, and the overthrow of the democracy.

*Alexander Hamilton would later cite this as an example why it is dangerous to forbid a government from doing something necessary -- because it will find its way around the law.
**Kagan accepts both atrocities as accurate.  But I don't see how he could have committed the massacre at Iasus, given that the Peloponnesians had cemented their Persian alliance by capturing that city, which was harboring a Persian fugitive, plundering it, and turning the entire population over to the Persians.  How could such a massacre have taken place if Iasus had already been destroyed.  And even in the unlikely event that the Persians released the people of Iasus and let them return to their city, what would be the chances that they would court disaster by returning to the Athenian alliance? I am inclined to think that Diodorus is confusing this with a later atrocity by Lysander at Thasos.  There he assembled the citizens in a sacred temple and promised that no harm would come to the pro-Athenian party.  When the pro-Athenian party took his word for it and came out of hiding, he had them slaughtered.  Kagan prefers Iasos to Thasos for reasons of geography, but the massacre at Thasos appears to have happened later.  
***The right hands would leave the victim unable to fight at all; the thumb would leave them able to row but not to hold a spear.  Some modern historians have doubted either the decree or the massacre.  Xenophon does give reason, which I will discuss later, to distrust the massacre, or at least the scale of it.
****The Aegintenians were longstanding enemies of the Athenians, living on a neighboring island.  The Athenians expelled them at the beginning of the war and made a habit of executing any who fell into their hands afterwards.  Since the non-combatant Scionians had been evacuated, presumably their remnant was significant and well-assembled.  Less clear is where he found the Melian remnant, since the Athenians had killed all their men and sold the women and children as slaves.
*****So much for what I said about the basic asymmetry that allowed the democrats to kill all the oligarchs, but kept the oligarchs from killing all the democrats because they needed their subordinate labor.  Apparently Samos had enough metics and slaves that the oligarchy could dispense with the democratic citizen body altogether.

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