Thucydides – History of the Peloponnesian War, Book 2, Chapter 6 – Beginning of the Peloponnesian War—First Invasion of Attica—Funeral Oration of Pericles

  1. The war began. All talking between the 2 sides happened through heralds. Hostilities began without intermission.
  2. The 30 year truce lasted 14 years. 6 months after the Battle of Potidaea, a Theban force was sent into Plataea, an Athenian ally. A traitor in the city thought he could get control by having the Thebans put those who opposed him to death. The Thebans attacked to catch their old enemy, Plataea, by surprise while the truce was still on-going. The traitor invited them in, ordering them to kill his enemies. The Thebans refused & made friendly overtures to the city, hoping to win them over to the Peloponnesian alliance that way.
  3. Once the Plataeans realized that the Thebans were in the city, night hid the fact that there were very few invaders. So, they accepted the offer. Once they realized how small the Theban force was, they barricaded the houses & blockaded the streets, & waited for the enemy to present them with an opportunity to attack. They figured the Thebans would be less brave before day broke, so they attacked straight away.
  4. The Thebans closed in on themselves to repel attacks. They repelled a few of the attacks but the whole city threw stones & tiles at them. They ran away through the town but couldn’t find the exits. All the exits had been closed anyway. Some tried to climb the walls but fell to their death. Many ran into an open building & then were trapped inside. Others looked for someone to surrender to.
  5. Before other Thebans arrived in Plataea, the news of the first group came to them. They used to rescue their compatriots. However, Plataea was 8 miles away. The rain had flooded the River Asopus, hindering any crossing. The Thebans arrived too late. Those caught inside were killed or taken prisoner. Because the attack was made in peace time, there were men out in the fields that the Thebans hoped to capture & use in exchange for their own men. The Plataeans suspected this & called all the field workers into the city. The Plataeans used the Theban prisoners as a guarantee that the rest of the Thebans would go home. Since nothing was negotiated, the Plataeans put the men to death – 180 of them.
  6. Afterwards, Plataeans sent a messenger to Athens, & then gave back the dead to Thebes. Athens rounded up all the Boetians in Attica. They told the Plataeans to do nothing with the Theban prisoners without Athenian instruction. But the news of the deaths arrived. The Athenians marched to Plataea & left on garrison there & took the women & children back to Athens.
  7. With this battle at Plataea, the treaty was broken. Athens & Sparta prepared for war. They both appealed to the Persian king to help them out. Sparta ordered its allies in Italy & Sicily to start building 500 ships. Those cities were to remain neutral until the orders had been completed. Athens called in its allies to be ready for war.
  8. Both sides had high hopes & did their best to prepare for war. Both sides had many inexperienced young men. People began making predictions & oracles were chattering. At this point, an earthquake at Delos was seen by all as some sort of bad omen for something or other. Many cities were afraid of not being able to escape the grasp of Athens’s empire or of being sucked into it.
  9. Allies of Sparta: All Peloponnesians on the Isthmus, except Argives & Achaeans, the Pellenes, Megarians, Locrians, Boetians, Phocians, Ambraciots, Leucadians & Anactorians. Ships were furnished by Corinthians, Megarians, etc. Cavalry was provided by Boetians, Phocians & Locrians. Allies of Athens: Chians, Lesbians, Plataeans, Messenians, Acarnanians, Corcyraean, Zacynthians, Carians, Ionians, Hellespont & Thracian tribes.
  10. Spartans gave general orders to prepare armies & provisions for an invasion of Attica. Spartan King Archidamus spoke to the allies:
  11. “The elder men among us have experience in war. We’ve never had a larger force. But if our force is strong, so is the force of Athens. We should not look bad compared to our ancestors. Many Spartans think Athenians won’t meet us in the battlefield. But this perception should not stop our preparations. We should always be prepared. Most of the course of war is unforeseeable & attacks are usually dictated by impulses of the moment. Over-confidence scoffs at preparation. Not that confidence is bad but it should be accompanied by precaution. Troops should be as ready to receive a blow as to deal one out. Athens has a very capable army & will met us in battle often. Athens is more used to being an aggressor than receiving aggression. We will win through discipline & vigilance. This will also provide our army with the most security.”
  12. After this speech Archidamus sent a messenger to Athens to see if they’d submit after seeing their army on its way. Pericles had already banned Spartan messengers. The herald was escorted back to the border. He was told not to bother coming unless the Spartan army was in its own territory. The herald told them bad things would happen to all Greeks. Archidamus had the Boetian cavalry join Sparta to destroy the Plataean countryside.
  13. While the Peloponnesians were still on the Isthmus, Pericles senses the invasion was about to happen. He was friends with Archidamus & thought the Spartans would avoid destroying his property for one of two reasons. 1 – Archidamus would be doing him a personal favor in not destroying his land. 2 – They would try to prejudice the Athenian public against Pericles since he had a familial connection to an accursed family. Pericles prepared the public by informing them that the war would jeopardize their property & they should bring it in. Athens was also to secure their income from allies. They got 600 years a year from them. They also had 6000 stored in the Acropolis as well as a lot of gold & silver unminted & Median spoils. They were prepared to melt down the golden statue of Athena herself. They had an army of 13000 infantry in the city & 16000 in garrisons. They had old & young men on guard stationed along the walls in Athens, the Long Wall & the Phaleric Wall, as well as the walls of Piraeus itself. They had 1200 horsemen, including mounted archers, 1600 archers & 300 galleys.
  14. The Athenians brought in their wives & kids from the countryside. Their cattle & sheep were sent over to Euboea.
  15. Attica had always had a number of independent townships. They had always been that way except in times of emergency. During Theseus’s time their independent political institutions were suspended with the center of politics in Athens. Much of the organization was due to his influence. The other districts had had devotion to other deities, with evidence being many temples to them. There was also a fountain called “Nine Pipes” used for weddings.
  16. So, Athenians had been living outside of the city for a while. Even after the centralization by Theseus, most of them didn’t live in the city. They didn’t want to leave the countryside because the families had only just reestablished themselves after the Median invasion destroyed their land. But reluctant or not, they came into Athens.
  17. Few of those who came into the city had anywhere to live. They had to live in open unoccupied land. The Acropolis & the temple of Demeter were kept closed. A curse had made it forbidden to live in the area called the Pelasgi. The Oracle warned that bad things would happen if people lived in unoccupied territory. It probably meant that things would have to be bad for people to have to live there. People even had to live along the wall to Piraeus.
  18. Now the Peloponnesian army advanced. The first town they moved on was Oenoe on the Boetian & Attic border. It was a walled town used as a fortress by Athens. The Peloponnesians spent/wasted a lot of time in their siege of the place. Archidamus got a lot of flak for the decision. This was couple with his delay on the Isthmus & the slow march into Attica. While these delays went, Athenians spent the time securing their property.
  19. The initial & subsequent attempts on Oenoe failed & no envoy came from Athens. He broke camp & went into Attica. This happened 80 days after the Theban attack on Plataea, during the summer as the crops were ripe. They camped in Eleusis & the Thriasian plain & began ravaging the countryside, causing Athenian horses to take flight. They moved to the area of Acharnae, the largest Athenian deme & ravaged it.
  20. Archidamus had hoped to tempt the Athenians to come out of the city into battle by laying waste the lands. He felt if they didn’t come out, he could ravage the place all the way up to the walls.
  21. As long as the Peloponnesians were at Eleusis, they weren’t advancing closer. The Athenians remembered Pausanias’s son, Pleistonax, had invaded Attica but didn’t go any further than Eleusis & Thria. He was later exiled for being suspected of being bribed into retreat. But the army at Archarnae was 7 miles from Athens & the Athenians could see the damage they were doing. Debate was going on on whether Athens would let it continue. Pericles was being lambasted for advising its allowance.
  22. He felt sure it was the right thing to do to prevent an Athenian force to go out into battle. Bad results would come from following passions & not reason & caution. He looked out for the defense of the city quietly. But he sent out cavalry to limit Spartan raids. Athenian horsemen did get into a skirmish. Thessalians helped them but the Peloponnesians claimed victory.
  23. The Peloponnesians moved on to demes between Mt. Pares & Brilessus. The Athenians sent out 100 ships to the Peloponnese with 1000 infantry & 400 archers. Once the Peloponnesians in Attica exhausted their provision, they retired through Boetia destroyed lands in Greece. They all went home from there.
  24. The Athenians decided to have regular guards at stations & set up a special fund at the Acropolis to be used only in a case of an emergency in defense of the city. They also set up a fund for 100 galleys. No money could be used for anything else.
  25. 100 Athenians & 50 Corcyraean galleys ravaged the Peloponnesian coasts & landed in Laconia. They attacked a small city, Methone. A small crew of 100 Spartans came to defend it, losing only a few men. The Athenians moved on to Pheia in Elis. They ravaged the area & defeated a crew of 300 men. A strong wind came in, & since they had no harbor available, they went back to Pheia. Those who couldn’t get in the boats fast enough to sail off, went to Pheia by land. The Athenians continued with their raids.
  26. Athens sent 30 ships to Locris & to guard Euboea. They took Thronium & held hostages. They also defeated resisters at Alope.
  27. Athenians expelled the Aeginetans & their families for being the cause of the war. Aegina is so close to the Peloponnese that Athens felt safer with its own colonists on the island. The Aeginetans went to Thyrea which was given to them by the Spartans because they’d been indebted to Aegina for helping to fight off a Helot revolt.
  28. That summer, there was a partial solar eclipse.
  29. Nymphodorus, who was the brother-in-law of Sitacles, the King of Thrace. He was brought to Athens to convince Sitacles to become an ally to Athens, suppress Thracian towns, as well as stop Perdiccas from causing trouble in the area. Sitacles reconciled Perdiccas with the Athenians & they all became allies.
  30. The 100 Athenians ships were still cruising around the Peloponnese. They took a Corinthian city, Sollium & stormed Astacus, expelling its tyrant. They sailed to the island Cephallenia, brought it down without force & then sailed home.
  31. By Autumn, Athenians invaded the Megarid with their levied army of Athenians & foreigners under the command of Pericles. The 100 Athenians ships now arrived in Aegina hearing that the Athenian force was on the move. The army was the largest Athenian force ever assembled – 10000 infantry from Athens & 3000 from Potidaea, 3000 from elsewhere, & many lightly armed troops. They ravaged the countryside. The ravaging became an annual thing for them.
  32. Atalanta, an island, was converted into a fortified post to prevent privateers plundering Euboea.
  33. During the winter, an Acharnanian, Evarchus, persuaded the Corinthians to sail 40 ships with 1500 heavy infantry to restore him. He had mercenaries to help him. Afterwards, they failed to take places on the Acarnanian coast. They failed to take anything in the Cranian territory & went home.
  34. The Athenians held a funeral for those who’d died in the war held at public expense. The bones were put in coffins, in cars, with one empty for those whose bodies hadn’t been recovered. The female relatives wailed. The dead are buried in a public sepulcher where those who die in battle are buried, except the dead at Marathon, who were buried at the battlefield. The city selects one person to eulogize the dead & this time they chose Pericles to speak:
  35. “I know this speech is required by law but I think that the value of any words has already been surprised by the honor displayed in the deeds of the fallen. Some might say the eulogist would not be saying enough to honor the dead. Others might say he would probably be exaggerating about people he doesn’t know. In spite of that, I will carry on.
  36. “I’ll start with our ancestors. They had lived in our country generation after generation & handed it down to us through their valor. They went to great lengths to add to the greatness of our state. Some places haven’t been brought up to our level of living. But Athens itself can live on its own resources. Our history is evidence of the fact that our military can keep aggression at bay by foreigners & Greeks. It’s important to know how we got here in our position, our form of government & our national customs.
  37. “Our constitution isn’t a copy of neighboring states. We are a model to others in our form of government, Democracy. Our laws provide equal justice to our people. Differences in public status are down to differences in merit, without respect to class, poverty or wealth. Our freedom is also in our private lives. We don’t surveil each other jealously or pick fights with our neighbors for doing what they like. This ease in private relations isn’t lawlessness. We’ve been taught to obey magistrates & laws, whether written or unwritten.
  38. “We also have culture & entertainment outside of work. Our harbors are the destination for more goods than anywhere else in the world, importing & exporting.
  39. “Our military policy is not antagonistic. Our city is open to anyone in the world. No foreigners are excluded from learning or observing. If anything, enemies may profit from our liberality. We trust less in government than the native spirit of our people. In education, our rivals learn “manliness” in discipline. Here, we live as we please & are just as willing to face real danger. Proof of this is that the Spartans don’t fight us along – they bring in their allies. We can go into a foreign land & fight very well ourselves. We find having a large army & navy means that only a fraction of our troops has to fight any outside hostilities. This readiness allows us to fight anywhere at any time.
  40. “We are refined but not extravagant, knowledgeable but not effeminate. We use our wealth for utility, not show. Our politicians have lives outside of politics & our citizens are still good judges of public matters. We don’t see discussion as a stumbling block but as a way to deliberate wisely on any action. Often decisions can be made out of ignorance & hesitation can be out of reflection. But we never shy away due to fear. We acquire friends through giving, not receiving favors. Typically the giver of the favors is the truer friend & the debtor feels he owes something in return. We give benefits out of kindness & liberality, & not out of expectation of the favor being returned.
  41. “We are the school of Greece. Nowhere else in the world could make a man so self-dependent as an Athenian man is. Athens rises to challenges, even to those it’s lost to in the past. The admiration of the present & future will be on us. We have built up a power. Athens doesn’t need the panegyrics of Homer. We have made the land & sea the highways of our deeds & left monuments of ourselves behind.
  42. “Athens is the only thing to be celebrated, as it is, through the heroic actions that have made it. The test has been given to some & they’ve risen to the challenge. Battle has given them that chance. We’ve had men whose great actions as citizens outweighed demerits as individuals. They’ve accepted the risk & made sacrifices in hope for the best outcome. Our men chose to die resisting rather than to live submitting. They fled dishonor, met with danger & they live forever in glory.
  43. “That is how the dead are to be remembered. The living still have to adopt a resolution & not be tempted by ideas from words. You must achieve the power of Athens & love her until your heart is full, & show courage, sense of duty, feeling of honor & not allow anyone to deprive his country of valor. The offering of lives will achieve an eternal renown. The sepulcher is the noblest shrine where their glory will lie forever. Take these men as your model & judge happiness to be the fruit of freedom & valor, & never shy from the dangers of war. Cowardice would degrade the spirit of man & would render his life miserable & grievous.
  44. “I offer the parents of the dead comfort. But they are fortunate to have their sons die for the glory of Athens & for a happiness as they have done. I know it’s hard to hear this when you see other families still intact. But grief isn’t for lack of what we’ve never had, but for the loss of what we’ve had for so long. You, who still can have children, can hope they will bring joy to your lives. They will also bring the state more security. Fair & just policies can never be made without having the expectation that our children will never enjoy security. For those of you who are no longer able to have children, be happy that most of your lives were spent living in happiness. Love of honor never grows old because it rejoices the heart of age & helplessness.
  45. “The sons & brothers of the dead have a struggle ahead of them. When one dies & achieves such honor, it may seem impossible to live up to that. But they have shown you the path there. Widows still have to maintain their natural character to achieve glory.
  46. “Those who have died will be buried at public expense & their children will also be raised at public expense. This shows to what degree the state values the brave men fighting that their survivors will be so well taken care of.”

Leave a Reply