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- Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book IV. - 2/19 -


idle rumours? Send to Athens some messengers of your own, in whom you can confide; let them inspect matters with their own eyes, and report to you accordingly."

The ephors (not unreluctantly, if the assertion of Theopompus may be credited) yielded to so plausible a suggestion, and in the mean while the crafty Athenian despatched a secret messenger to Athens, urging the government to detain the Spartan ambassadors with as little semblance of design as possible, and by no means to allow their departure until the safe return of their own mission to Sparta. For it was by no means improbable that, without such hostages, even the ephors, however powerful and however influenced, might not be enabled, when the Spartans generally were made acquainted with the deceit practised upon them, to prevent the arrest of the Athenian delegates. [121]

At length the walls, continued night and day with incredible zeal and toil, were sufficiently completed; and disguise, no longer possible, was no longer useful. Themistocles demanded the audience he had hitherto deferred, and boldly avowed that Athens was now so far fortified as to protect its citizens. "In future," he added, haughtily, "when Sparta or our other confederates send ambassadors to Athens, let them address us as a people well versed in our own interests and the interests of our common Greece. When we deserted Athens for our ships, we required and obtained no Lacedaemonian succours to support our native valour; in all subsequent measures, to whom have we shown ourselves inferior, whether in the council or the field? At present we have judged it expedient to fortify our city, rendering it thus more secure for ourselves and our allies. Nor would it be possible, with a strength inferior to that of any rival power, adequately to preserve and equally to adjust the balance of the liberties of Greece." [122]

Contending for this equality, he argued that either all the cities in the Lacedaemonian league should be dismantled of their fortresses, or that it should be conceded, that in erecting fortresses for herself Athens had rightly acted.

VII. The profound and passionless policy of Sparta forbade all outward signs of unavailing and unreasonable resentment. The Spartans, therefore, replied with seeming courtesy, that "in their embassy they had not sought to dictate, but to advise--that their object was the common good;" and they accompanied their excuses with professions of friendship for Athens, and panegyrics on the Athenian valour in the recent war. But the anger they forbore to show only rankled the more bitterly within. [123]

The ambassadors of either state returned home; and thus the mingled firmness and craft of Themistocles, so well suited to the people with whom he had to deal, preserved his country from the present jealousies of a yet more deadly and implacable foe than the Persian king, and laid the foundation of that claim of equality with the most eminent state of Greece, which he hastened to strengthen and enlarge.

The ardour of the Athenians in their work of fortification had spared no material which had the recommendation of strength. The walls everywhere presented, and long continued to exhibit, an evidence of the haste in which they were built. Motley and rough hewn, and uncouthly piled, they recalled, age after age, to the traveller the name of the ablest statesman and the most heroic days of Athens. There, at frequent intervals, would he survey stones wrought in the rude fashion of former times--ornaments borrowed from the antique edifices demolished by the Mede--and frieze and column plucked from dismantled sepulchres; so that even the dead contributed from their tombs to the defence of Athens.

VIII. Encouraged by the new popularity and honours which followed the success of his mission, Themistocles now began to consummate the vast schemes he had formed, not only for the aggrandizement of his country, but for the change in the manners of the citizens. All that is left to us of this wonderful man proves that, if excelled by others in austere virtue or in dazzling accomplishment, he stands unrivalled for the profound and far-sighted nature of his policy. He seems, unlike most of his brilliant countrymen, to have been little influenced by the sallies of impulse or the miserable expediencies of faction--his schemes denote a mind acting on gigantic systems; and it is astonishing with what virtuous motives and with what prophetic art he worked through petty and (individually considered) dishonest means to grand and permanent results. He stands out to the gaze of time, the model of what a great and fortunate statesman should be, so long as mankind have evil passions as well as lofty virtues, and the state that he seeks to serve is surrounded by powerful and restless foes, whom it is necessary to overreach where it is dangerous to offend.

In the year previous to the Persian war, Themistocles had filled the office of archon [124], and had already in that year planned the construction of a harbour in the ancient deme of Piraeus [125], for the convenience of the fleet which Athens had formed. Late events had frustrated the continuance of the labour, and Themistocles now resolved to renew and complete it, probably on a larger and more elaborate scale.

The port of Phalerun had hitherto been the main harbour of Athens--one wholly inadequate to the new navy she had acquired; another inlet, Munychia, was yet more inconvenient. But equally at hand was the capacious, though neglected port of Piraeus, so formed by nature as to permit of a perfect fortification against a hostile fleet. Of Piraeus, therefore, Themistocles now designed to construct the most ample and the most advantageous harbour throughout all Greece. He looked upon this task as the foundation of his favourite and most ambitious project, viz., the securing to Athens the sovereignty of the sea. [126]

The completion of the port--the increased navy which the construction of the new harbour would induce--the fame already acquired by Athens in maritime warfare, encouraging attention to naval discipline and tactics--proffered a splendid opening to the ambition of a people at once enterprising and commercial. Themistocles hoped that the results of his policy would enable the Athenians to gain over their own offspring, the Ionian colonies, and by their means to deliver from the Persian yoke, and permanently attach to the Athenian interest, all the Asiatic Greeks. Extending his views, he beheld the various insular states united to Athens by a vast maritime power, severing themselves from Lacedaemon, and following the lead of the Attican republic. He saw his native city thus supplanting, by a naval force, the long-won pre-eminence and iron supremacy of Sparta upon land, and so extending her own empire, while she sapped secretly and judiciously the authority of the most formidable of her rivals.

IX. But in the execution of these grand designs Themistocles could not but anticipate considerable difficulties: first, in the jealousy of the Spartans; and, secondly, in the popular and long-rooted prejudices of the Athenians themselves. Hitherto they had discouraged maritime affairs, and their more popular leaders had directed attention to agricultural pursuits. We may suppose, too, that the mountaineers, or agricultural party, not the least powerful, would resist so great advantages to the faction of the coastmen, if acquainted with all the results which the new policy would produce. Nor could so experienced a leader of mankind be insensible of those often not insalutary consequences of a free state in the changing humours of a wide democracy--their impatience at pecuniary demands-- their quick and sometimes uncharitable apprehensions of the motives of their advisers. On all accounts it was necessary, therefore, to act with as much caution as the task would admit--rendering the design invidious neither to foreign nor to domestic jealousies. Themistocles seemed to have steered his course through every difficulty with his usual address. Stripping the account of Diodorus [127] of its improbable details, it appears credible at least that Themistocles secured, in the first instance, the co-operation of Xanthippus and Aristides, the heads of the great parties generally opposed to his measures, and that he won the democracy to consent that the outline of his schemes should not be submitted to the popular assembly, but to the council of Five Hundred. It is perfectly clear, however, that, as soon as the plan was carried into active operation, the Athenians could not, as Diodorus would lead us to suppose, have been kept in ignorance of its nature; and all of the tale of Diodorus to which we can lend our belief is, that the people permitted the Five Hundred to examine the project, and that the popular assembly ratified the approbation of that senate without inquiring the reasons upon which it was founded.

X. The next care of Themistocles was to anticipate the jealousy of Sparta, and forestall her interference. According to Diodorus, he despatched, therefore, ambassadors to Lacedaemon, representing the advantages of forming a port which might be the common shelter of Greece should the barbarian renew his incursions; but it is so obvious that Themistocles could hardly disclose to Sparta the very project he at first concealed from the Athenians, that while we may allow the fact that Themistocles treated with the Spartans, we must give him credit, at least, for more crafty diplomacy than that ascribed to him by Diodorus [128]. But whatever the pretexts with which he sought to amuse or beguile the Spartan government, they appear at least to have been successful. And the customary indifference of the Spartans towards maritime affairs was strengthened at this peculiar time by engrossing anxieties as to the conduct of Pausanias. Thus Themistocles, safe alike from foreign and from civil obstacles, pursued with activity the execution of his schemes. The Piraeus was fortified by walls of amazing thickness, so as to admit two carts abreast. Within, the entire structure was composed of solid masonry, hewn square, so that each stone fitted exactly, and was further strengthened on the outside by cramps of iron. The walls were never carried above half the height originally proposed. But the whole was so arranged as to form a fortress against assault, too fondly deemed impregnable, and to be adequately manned by the smallest possible number of citizens; so that the main force might, in time of danger, be spared to the fleet.

Thus Themistocles created a sea-fortress more important than the city itself, conformably to the advice he frequently gave to the Athenians, that, if hard pressed by land, they should retire to this arsenal, and rely, against all hostilities, on their naval force. [129]

The new port, which soon bore the ambitious title of the Lower City, was placed under the directions of Hippodamus, a Milesian, who, according to Aristotle [130], was the first author who, without any knowledge of practical affairs, wrote upon the theory of government. Temples [131], a market-place, even a theatre, distinguished and enriched the new town. And the population that filled it were not long before they contracted and established a character for themselves different in many traits and attributes from the citizens of the ancient Athens--more bold, wayward, innovating, and tumultuous.

But if Sparta deemed it prudent, at present, to avoid a direct assumption of influence over Athens, her scheming councils were no less bent, though by indirect and plausible means, to the extension of her own power. To use the simile applied to one of her own chiefs, where the lion's skin fell short, she sought to eke it by the fox's.

At the assembly of the Amphictyons, the Lacedaemonian delegates moved that all those states who had not joined in the anti-Persic


Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book IV. - 2/19

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