The essence of government is power, and power, lodged as it is in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. — James Madison

Story of Greece - Mary Macgregor

The Spartans Surrender

When Epitadas found that he was shut up on the island of Sphacteria, he sent a messenger to Sparta to tell what had befallen him. The ephors were so disturbed by his tidings that they at once sent some of their number to the Bay of Pylos to see what could be done to set free Epitadas and his men.

They soon saw that it would be too difficult a task to relieve the island, so they begged Eurymedon to grant a truce until they sent ambassadors to Athens to sue for peace.

Their request was granted, and the Spartan ambassadors at once set sail for Athens.

When they entered the assembly, Athens, had she but known it, might have ended the war with honour. But Pericles was no longer there to tell her that to do so would be well. Cleon still ruled the assembly with his rough eloquence. Nicias, the leader of those who desired peace, although he bitterly disliked Cleon, was not strong enough to overthrow him.

The assembly, urged by its leader, offered the Spartan ambassadors terms which it knew they would not accept. After rejecting them as the Athenians expected, the ambassadors returned indignant to Pylos, and the truce was at an end. But Sphacteria was not taken so easily as the Athenians had dreamed. In spite of the strict blockade, food was taken to the island, so that the Spartans were in no danger of starving.

Sometimes swimmers carrying with them linseed, poppy seeds and honey, reached the island. Sometimes Helots, tempted by promise of freedom, would manage, when the sky was dark and the sea stormy, to sail past the enemy's ships, taking cheese, meal and even wine to the Spartans.

In Athens, the people were growing impatient of the long blockade. When Demosthenes sent messengers to the city to ask for reinforcements, they began to be sorry that they had not offered more reasonable terms to the ambassadors. They looked darkly at Cleon, and began to whisper that but for his counsel peace would certainly have been made.

A meeting of the assembly was called, and Cleon, losing his temper when Nicias urged that peace should be arranged without delay, said, 'It would be easy enough to take Sphacteria if our generals were men. If I were general I would do it at once.'

Nicias was a quiet man, but these scornful words roused him to anger, and he retorted that if Cleon thought he was able to take the island it would be well that he should go and do so. He was himself a general, while Cleon was only a leather-merchant, but he was willing to resign in his favour.

At first Cleon thought that Nicias was but jesting, and he pretended that he really wished to go to the help of Demosthenes. But when he found that his opponent was in earnest, he declined the honour, saying that while Nicias was a general, he himself had no training in military affairs.

But the people were not willing to let the leather-merchant escape the consequences of his rash words. They shouted that he must go and prove that he could do as he had said.

When Cleon saw that there was no escape he grew reckless, and boasted that he would not only go to Sphacteria, but that he would take the island within twenty days, and either kill all the Spartans on it or bring them prisoners to Athens.

Some there were who mocked at his words, others laughed. But all were glad that the merchant should go, for they were tired of his rough ways and rougher speech. If he went he might return with his promise unfulfilled and his power with the people would then be lost. If he came back in triumph, the Spartans would have been defeated.

Before long, Cleon set out at the head of an army for Pylos. When he arrived he found Demosthenes already prepared to attack the island.

A large part of the forest on Sphacteria had just been burned down by some Athenian soldiers. They had been sent to the island to reconnoitre, and while making a fire to cook their dinner the trees were accidentally set alight.

The wood had sheltered the Spartans from the enemy, and the fire spoiled their chief defence, so that they were the less prepared to face the army of nearly fourteen thousand Athenians, which, led by Cleon and Demosthenes, now landed on the island.

Outnumbered as the Spartans were, for their army consisted of only abut four hundred and twenty soldiers and the same number of Helots, they fought bravely as was their custom.

But the arrows of the Athenians soon greatly reduced their number, while to add to the distress of the wounded, as well as of those who had escaped, the ground over which they marched was hot with still smouldering ashes of burnt wood.

At length Epitadas, the Spartan general, was slain, and the few soldiers who were still able to fight retreated to a hill on which was an old ruined fort. Here they took their stand, determined to keep the enemy at bay. And they did so until the Athenians found a path up a steep crag, from the top of which they could command the Spartan fort.

Unseen by the brave defenders, the enemy scaled the almost precipitous path, and when they reached the top they at once began to shoot arrows down upon the startled soldiers.

But soon Cleon bade them stay their arrows while he sent a herald to the Spartans to bid them surrender.

Spartan troops had never yet yielded to a foe. Ever they had conquered or fought to the death. Cleon believed that now, as their brave fellows at Thermopylae had done, they would rather die than yield.

But the Spartans dropped their shields and waved their hands above their heads to show that they would cease to fight. They begged to be allowed to ask the advice of their friends on the mainland. Their request was granted, and their friends bade them 'to take counsel for themselves, but to do nothing disgraceful.'

Two hundred and ninety-two Spartans, who were all that were still alive on Sphacteria, then surrendered, one hundred and twenty of these belonging to the noblest families in Sparta. Never after this surrender were the Spartans considered invincible.

Cleon was now able to return to Athens, which he reached within twenty days from the time he left the city, bringing with him, as he had boasted that he would do, his Spartan prisoners.

The Athenians rejoiced at the success of their army, but they laughed as they thought of the strange general who had led it to victory.

As for the prisoners, they were glad to hold them as hostages. The Spartans would be less likely to invade Attica while their comrades were in Athens.


Front Matter

The Great God Pan
The Six Pomegranate Seeds
The Birth of Athene
The Two Weavers
The Purple Flowers
Danae and Her Little Son
The Quest of Perseus
Andromeda and Sea-Monster
Acrisius Killed by Perseus
Achilles and Briseis
Menelaus and Paris Do Battle
Hector and Andromache
The Horses of Achilles
The Death of Hector
Polyphemus the Giant
Odysseus Escapes from Cave
Odysseus Returns to Ithaca
Argus the Hound Dies
The Bow of Odysseus
The Land of Hellas
Lycurgus and His Nephew
Lycurgus Returns to Sparta
Training of the Spartans
The Helots
Aristomenes and the Fox
The Olympian Games
The Last King of Athens
Cylon Fails to be Tyrant
Solon Frees the Slaves
Athenians Take Salamis
Pisistratus Becomes Tyrant
Harmodius and Aristogiton
The Law of Ostracism
The Bridge of Boats
Darius Rewards Histiaeus
Histiaeus Shaves His Slave
Sardis Is Destroyed
Sandal Sewn by Histiaeus
Earth and Water
Battle of Marathon
Miltiades Sails to Paros
Aristides is Ostracised
The Dream of Xerxes
Xerxes Scourges the Hellespont
Bravest Men of All Hellas
Battle of Thermopylae
Battle of Artemisium
Themistocles at Salamis
Themistocles Tricks Admirals
Battle of Salamis
Battle of Plataea
Delian League
Themistocles Deceives Spartans
Themistocles is Ostracised
Eloquence of Pericles
Pericles and Elpinice
The City of Athens
Great Men of Athens
Thebans Attack Plataeans
Attica Invaded by Spartans
Last Words of Pericles
Siege of Plataea
The Sentence of Death
Brasidas Loses His Shield
The Spartans Surrender
Brasidas the Spartan
Amphipolus Surrenders
Alcibiades the Favourite
Socrates the Philosopher
Alcibiades Praises Socrates
Images of Hermes Destroyed
Alcibiades Escapes to Sparta
The Siege of Syracuse
Athenian Army is Destroyed
Alcibiades Returns to Athens
Antiochus Disobeys Alcibiades
Walls of Athens Destroyed
March of the Ten Thousand
Pelopidas and Epaminondas
Seven Conspirators
Battle of Leuctra
Death of Epaminondas
The Two Brothers
Timoleon exiles Dionysius
Icetes Attacks Timoleon
Battle of Crimisus
Demosthenes' Wish
Greatest Orator of Athens
The Sacred War
Alexander and Bucephalus
Alexander and Diogenes
Battle of Granicus
The Gordian Knot
Darius Gallops from Battle
Tyre Stormed by Alexander
Battle of Gaugamela
Alexander Burns Persepolis
Alexander Slays Foster-Brother
Porus and His Elephant
Alexander Is Wounded
The Death of Alexander
Demosthenes in the Temple