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The Peloponnesian War

The Sicilian Expedition - Origins

The plan was pure Alcibiades: daring, outrageous, with the potential for brilliant victory and for terrible defeat. His uncle had figured out how to defend Athens but not how to defeat Sparta. Alcibiades solved the other half of the equation. Athens had been unable to make large gains anywhere in Greece. Sparta was secure from direct invasion, but Sparta depended on getting supplies from audio gif Magna Graecia. And her ally, Corinth, likewise depended on trade from the area.

map
Names are in German, but the route is more accurate than on older maps

Syracuse was the chief city of Sicily and was one of the largest Greek cities anywhere. Take Syracuse and the rest of Sicily would follow. Take Sicily, and both Corinth and Sparta would be cut off from their supplies and wealth. Victory for Athens would soon follow.

If it worked, it would work. If the military victory could be achieved, the economic and political consequences would follow. But could the military aims be achieved? Could Athens send a fleet that could avoid the Corinthians? Could it land an Athenian army that could take Syracuse? Could Athens afford such an undertaking?

Nicias opposed the expedition from the start. As the architect of the thirty year truce, he thought Alcibiades little short of mad and well short of morals. But Alcibiades knew how to speak well and how to win friends, and Nicias soon found himself out-maneuvered. Too many people favored the idea of an expedition.

Nicias tried to be clever. He tried to out-fox the fox. He tried to dissuade the Athenians by proposing a fleet of unprecedented size, hoping they would say no because of its cost. Instead, they granted all he asked. The people of Athens were for the expedition and were willing to foot the cost.

In fine Athenian tradition, the assembly named both Nicias and Alcibiades as commanders of the expedition. That way, neither political faction in Athens could claim that its leader was undermining the efforts of the other. To mediate and accomodate, they named a third commander, audio gifLamachus. But there was little doubt that the expedition belonged to Alcibiades.