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- Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book V. - 1/25 -




Thucydides chosen by the Aristocratic Party to oppose Pericles.--His Policy.--Munificence of Pericles.--Sacred War.--Battle of Coronea.-- Revolt of Euboea and Megara.--Invasion and Retreat of the Peloponnesians.--Reduction of Euboea.--Punishment of Histiaea--A Thirty Years' Truce concluded with the Peloponnesians.--Ostracism of Thucydides.

I. On the death of Cimon (B. C. 449) the aristocratic party in Athens felt that the position of their antagonists and the temper of the times required a leader of abilities widely distinct from those which had characterized the son of Miltiades. Instead of a skilful and enterprising general, often absent from the city on dazzling but distant expeditions, it was necessary to raise up a chief who could contend for their enfeebled and disputed privileges at home, and meet the formidable Pericles, with no unequal advantages of civil experience and oratorical talent, in the lists of the popular assembly, or in the stratagems of political intrigue. Accordingly their choice fell neither on Myronides nor Tolmides, but on one who, though not highly celebrated for military exploits, was deemed superior to Cimon, whether as a practical statesman or a popular orator. Thucydides, their new champion, united with natural gifts whatever advantage might result from the memory of Cimon; and his connexion with that distinguished warrior, to whom he was brother-in- law, served to keep together the various partisans of the faction, and retain to the eupatrids something of the respect and enthusiasm which the services of Cimon could not fail to command, even among the democracy. The policy embraced by Thucydides was perhaps the best which the state of affairs would permit; but it was one which was fraught with much danger. Hitherto the eupatrids and the people, though ever in dispute, had not been absolutely and totally divided; the struggles of either faction being headed by nobles, scarcely permitted to the democracy the perilous advantage of the cry--that the people were on one side, and the nobles on the other. But Thucydides, seeking to render his party as strong, as compact, and as united as possible, brought the main bulk of the eupatrids to act together in one body. The means by which he pursued and attained this object are not very clearly narrated; but it was probably by the formation of a political club--a species of social combination, which afterward became very common to all classes in Athens. The first effect of this policy favoured the aristocracy, and the energy and union they displayed restored for a while the equilibrium of parties; but the aristocratic influence, thus made clear and open, and brought into avowed hostility with the popular cause, the city was rent in two, and the community were plainly invited to regard the nobles as their foes [251]. Pericles, thus more and more thrown upon the democracy, became identified with their interests, and he sought, no less by taste than policy, to prove to the populace that they had grown up into a wealthy and splendid nation, that could dispense with the bounty, the shows, and the exhibitions of individual nobles. He lavished the superfluous treasures of the state upon public festivals, stately processions, and theatrical pageants. As if desirous of elevating the commons to be themselves a nobility, all by which he appealed to their favour served to refine their taste and to inspire the meanest Athenian with a sense of the Athenian grandeur. It was said by his enemies, and the old tale has been credulously repeated, that his own private fortune not allowing him to vie with the wealthy nobles whom he opposed, it was to supply his deficiencies from the public stock that he directed some part of the national wealth to the encouragement of the national arts and the display of the national magnificence. But it is more than probable that it was rather from principle than personal ambition that Pericles desired to discountenance and eclipse the interested bribes to public favour with which Cimon and others had sought to corrupt the populace. Nor was Pericles without the means or the spirit to devote his private fortune to proper objects of generosity. "It was his wealth and his prudence," says Plutarch, when, blaming the improvidence of Anaxagoras, "that enabled him to relieve the distressed." What he spent in charity he might perhaps have spent more profitably in display, had he not conceived that charity was the province of the citizen, magnificence the privilege of the state. It was in perfect consonance with the philosophy that now began to spread throughout Greece, and with which the mind of this great political artist was so deeply imbued, to consider that the graces ennobled the city they adorned, and that the glory of a state was intimately connected with the polish of the people.

II. While, at home, the divisions of the state were progressing to that point in which the struggle between the opposing leaders must finally terminate in the ordeal of the ostracism--abroad, new causes of hostility broke out between the Athenians and the Spartans. The sacred city of Delphi formed a part of the Phocian station; but, from a remote period, its citizens appear to have exercised the independent right of managing to affairs of the temple [252], and to have elected their own superintendents of the oracle and the treasures. In Delphi yet lingered the trace of the Dorian institutions and the Dorian blood, but the primitive valour and hardy virtues of the ancestral tribe had long since mouldered away. The promiscuous intercourse of strangers, the contaminating influence of unrelaxing imposture and priestcraft--above all, the wealth of the city, from which the natives drew subsistence, and even luxury, without labour [253], contributed to enfeeble and corrupt the national character. Unable to defend themselves by their own exertions against any enemy, the Delphians relied on the passive protection afforded by the superstitious reverence of their neighbours, or on the firm alliance that existed between themselves and the great Spartan representatives of their common Dorian race. The Athenian government could not but deem it desirable to wrest from the Delphians the charge over the oracle and the temple, since that charge might at any time be rendered subservient to the Spartan cause; and accordingly they appear to have connived at a bold attempt of the Phocians, who were now their allies. These hardier neighbours of the sacred city claimed and forcibly seized the right of superintendence of the temple. The Spartans, alarmed and aroused, despatched an armed force to Delphi, and restored their former privileges to the citizens. They piously gave to their excursion the name of the Sacred War. Delphi formally renounced the Phocian league, declared itself an independent state, and even defined the boundaries between its own and the Phocian domains. Sparta was rewarded for its aid by the privilege of precedence in consulting the oracle, and this decree the Spartans inscribed on a brazen wolf in the sacred city. The Athenians no longer now acted through others--they recognised all the advantage of securing to their friends and wresting from their foes the management of an oracle, on whose voice depended fortune in war and prosperity in peace. Scarce had the Spartans withdrawn, than an Athenian force, headed by Pericles, who is said to have been freed by Anaxagoras from superstitious prejudices, entered the city, and restored the temple to the Phocians. The same image which had recorded the privilege of the Spartans now bore an inscription which awarded the right of precedence to the Athenians. The good fortune of this expedition was soon reversed.

III. When the Athenians, after the battle of Oenophyta, had established in the Boeotian cities democratic forms of government, the principal members of the defeated oligarchy, either from choice or by compulsion, betook themselves to exile. These malecontents, aided, no doubt, by partisans who did not share their banishment, now seized upon Chaeronea, Orchomenus, and some other Boeotian towns. The Athenians, who had valued themselves on restoring liberty to Boeotia, and, for the first time since the Persian war, had honoured with burial at the public expense those who fell under Myronides, could not regard this attempt at counterrevolution with indifference. Policy aided their love of liberty; for it must never be forgotten that the change from democratic to oligarchic government in the Grecian states was the formal exchange of the Athenian for the Spartan alliance. Yet Pericles, who ever unwillingly resorted to war, and the most remarkable attribute of whose character was a profound and calculating caution, opposed the proposition of sending an armed force into Boeotia. His objections were twofold--he considered the time unseasonable, and he was averse to hazard upon an issue not immediately important to Athens the flower of her Hoplites, or heavy- armed soldiery, of whom a thousand had offered their services in the enterprise. Nevertheless, the counsel of Tolmides, who was eager for the war, and flushed with past successes, prevailed. "If," said Pericles, "you regard not my experience, wait, at least, for the advice of TIME, that best of counsellors." The saying was forgotten in the popular enthusiasm it opposed--it afterward attained the veneration of a prophecy. [254]

IV. Aided by some allied troops, and especially by his thousand volunteers, Tolmides swept into Boeotia--reduced Chaeronea--garrisoned the captured town, and was returning homeward, when, in the territory of Coronea, he suddenly fell in with a hostile ambush [255], composed of the exiled bands of Orchomenus, of Opuntian Locrians, and the partisans of the oligarchies of Euboea. Battle ensued--the Athenians received a signal and memorable defeat (B. C. 447); many were made prisoners, many slaughtered: the pride and youth of the Athenian Hoplites were left on the field; the brave and wealthy Clinias (father to the yet more renowned Alcibiades), and Tolmides himself, were slain. But the disaster of defeat was nothing in comparison with its consequences. To recover their prisoners, the Athenian government were compelled to enter into a treaty with the hostile oligarchies and withdraw their forces from Boeotia. On their departure, the old oligarchies everywhere replaced the friendly democracies, and the nearest neighbours of Athens were again her foes. Nor was this change confined to Boeotia. In Locris and Phocis the popular party fell with the fortunes of Coronea--the exiled oligarchies were re-established-- and when we next read of these states, they are the allies of Sparta. At home, the results of the day of Coronea were yet more important. By the slaughter of so many of the Hoplites, the aristocratic party in Athens were greatly weakened, while the neglected remonstrances and fears of Pericles, now remembered, secured to him a respect and confidence which soon served to turn the balance against his competitor Thucydides.

V. The first defeat of the proud mistress of the Grecian sea was a signal for the revolt of disaffected dependants. The Isle of Euboea, the pasturages of which were now necessary to the Athenians, encouraged by the success that at Coronea had attended the arms of the Euboean exiles, shook off the Athenian yoke (B. C. 445). In the same year expired the five years truce with Sparta, and that state forthwith prepared to avenge its humiliation at Delphi. Pericles seems once more to have been called into official power--he was not now supine in action. At the head of a sufficient force he crossed the channel, and landed in Euboea. Scarce had he gained the island, when he heard that Megara had revolted--that the Megarians, joined by partisans from Sicyon, Epidaurus, and Corinth, had put to the sword

Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book V. - 1/25

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