Stories of the Ancient Greeks - Charles D. Shaw

False and Cruel

Sparta found her greatest though not her best citizen in Lysander. He was born a Helot,—that is, a slave,—but he was given a good Spartan education and by his own efforts gained the rights of a citizen. He was a very cunning man and cared nothing for truth or honor. He said that where courage was not enough deceit must be used; that the fox is wiser and more successful than the lion; that oaths are made to deceive men, and only foolish people keep them. He was willing to work hard and to suffer many things, but he loved nobody and cared only for himself and his own power and glory.

He hated Athens and wished to humble her. Cyrus the Younger was at war with that city and the Spartans were helping him. Lysander was made commander of the fleet. There were no ships and he had much trouble in getting together seventy sail. He took these to the harbor of Ephesus. That city had never been friendly to Athens, and in its port he was nearer to the Persians. Cyrus gave him money so that he could pay higher wages to the sailors and many went to him from the Athenian ships.

Alcibiades, who led the Athenians, blockaded Lysander in the harbor of Ephesus and went away, leaving Antiochus in charge. Lysander made a sudden attack, sank Antiochus and his ship, and took or destroyed fifteen vessels.

Admirals were only elected for a certain time and could not be re-elected. When Lysander's time was out he was made vice admiral and remained the real leader of the fleet. He went back to Ephesus and built more ships. Cyrus gave him plenty of money to pay soldiers and sailors, invited him to Sardis, and went away on a journey to Media leaving Lysander to rule in his place.

In the spring he was ready for battle. He sailed about the sea in every direction, landed at different places to show that he could do as he pleased, and at last took his fleet to the Hellespont. He attacked the city of Lampsacus and captured it with all its money and supplies.

The Athenian ships were gathered in an open bay opposite Lampsacus and near the mouth of Goat River. No town was near and every day the sailors had to go a mile inland to get something to eat. This was done for four days and daily the Athenian sailors grew more careless. On the fifth day, when they had gone inland and not many were left with the ships, Lysander sailed down the bay and attacked the fleet. The few men who had remained by the ships were not enough to work them and all except eight vessels surrendered to Lysander. These put out to sea under the command of Conon and escaped. Lysander captured one hundred and eighty ships and took three thousand prisoners, whom he treated with the most savage cruelty.

He conquered a number of other places but allowed the Athenians who were living in them to go back to their own city. He wished to crowd Athens so that there would be more mouths to feed when he made his attack there.

Troops were ordered to surround that unhappy capital by land. Lysander with two hundred ships sailed to the mouth of the Piraeus and blockaded the port. Food became very scarce in the city, though a few vessels sailed through the enemy's fleet and brought in grain. The citizens met and agreed to give up to Sparta all they owned in other places, keeping only the Piraeus and the Walls.

This word was carried to Sparta. A message was sent back that the walls of the harbor and those joining it to the city must be torn down; that all the ships of war except twelve must be given up to the Spartans; that troops must be sent to their help whenever called for; and that Athens could rule only in Attica.

Athens was obliged to yield. Lysander had the harbor filled up and the Long Walls pulled down. While that was going on he ordered the most joyful music to be played, to mock the grief of the Athenians.

He took away the power from the people and put thirty Spartan captains in charge of the city. These were called the "Thirty Tyrants." Athens was no longer the beautiful mistress of Greece; she was the poor slave of Sparta.

Lysander carried back the rich spoils of war to Sparta, and put them in the public treasury.

He was very vain and proud and hired poets to write his praises and musicians to sing them. He was the first Greek to whom altars were built and sacrifices offered as if he had been a god. He went to war against the Thebans and was killed in battle. Divine honors could not preserve him from the universal fate of mankind.