A History of Greece: From the Time of Solon to 403 B.C

By George Grote; J. M. Mitchell et al. | Go to book overview

23[LIII]

EIGHTH YEAR OF THE WAR

THE eighth year of the war presents events of a more important and decisive character than any of the preceding. In reviewing the preceding years we observe that though there is much fighting, with hardship and privation inflicted on both sides, yet the operations are mostly of a desultory character, not calculated to determine the event of the war. But the capture of Sphakteria and its prisoners, coupled with the surrender of the whole Lacedæmonian fleet, was an event full of consequences and imposing in the eyes of all Greece. It stimulated the Athenians to a series of operations, larger and more ambitious than anything which they had yet conceived - directed, not merely against Sparta in her own country, but also to the reconquest of that ascendancy in Megara and Bœotia which they had lost on or before the Thirty years' truce. On the other hand, it intimidated so much both the Lacedæmonians, the revolted Chalkidic allies of Athens in Thrace, and Perdikkas king of Macedonia - that between them the expedition of Brasidas, which struck so serious a blow at the Athenian empire, was concerted. This year is thus the turning-point of the war. If the operations of Athens had succeeded, she would have regained nearly as great a power as she enjoyed before the Thirty years' truce. But it happened that Sparta, or rather the Spartan Brasidas, proved successful, gaining enough to neutralize all the advantages derived by Athens from the capture of Sphakteria.

The first enterprise undertaken by the Athenians in the course of the spring was against the island of Kythêra, on the southern coast of Laconia. It was inhabited by Lacedæmonian Periœki, and administered by a governor, and garrison of hoplites, annually sent thither. It was the usual point of landing for merchantmen from Libya and Egypt; and as it lay very near to Cape Malea, immediately over against the Gulf of Gythium - the only accessible portion of the generally inhospitable coast of Laconia - the chance that it might fall into the hands of an enemy was considered as so menacing to Sparta, that some politicians are said to have wished the island at the bottom of the sea. 1 Nikias,

1 Thukyd., iv. 54; Herodot., vii. 235. The manner in which Herodotus alludes to the dangers which would arise to Sparta from the occupation of Kythêra by an enemy, furnishes one additional probability tending to show that his history was composed before the actual occupation

-591-

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