The evil implanted in man by nature spreads so imperceptibly, when the habit of wrong-doing is unchecked, he himself can set no limit to his shamelessness. — Cicero

Alcibiades

450–404 BC
Civilization: Greek — Athens
   Field of Renown:  military — Traitor
Era:  Golden Age

Alcibiades was the last famous member of the Alcmaeonidae family, and a close relative of Pericles. He was blessed with great beauty, and an agreeable disposition, but was spoiled, vain, and self-willed. Although he had outstanding leadership ability, and did Athens great service, he did her far more harm, due to his incontinence and selfishness. But the real interest in the life of Alcibiades is not so much an exposition of his own personal flaws, but the fact that the Athenian people as a whole, when confronted with a leader with such obvious defects, chose to overlook and excuse them, and continued to stake the fate of their entire city on a leader with such obvious character deficiencies.

Alcibiades returns
THE MULTITUDE SALUTED HIM WITH LOUD ACCLAMATIONS
Alcibiades took part in early battles in the Peloponnesian war, and during this time befriended Socrates. Although he respected Socrates a great deal, he was utterly unable to live up to his example of virtuous living. The great personal popularity Alcibiades enjoyed caused him to become interested in politics, and in a short while he was the leader of the pro-war party. When the Peace of Nicias was declared and hostilities with Sparta were suspended, the pro-war party looked about for ways to reignite the conflict, and the plan of an attack upon the wealthy city of Syracuse was hatched. Alcibiades led the charge and was able to convince a population that was finally at peace after ten years of futile fighting, that it should resume the mantle of war, and attack another city unprovoked. Nicias, the head of the pro-peace party, strongly opposed the mission, but was over-ruled. In spite of his opposition however, he was drafted to lead the expedition, along with Lamachus, and Alcibiades. Only a month into the mission, Alcibiades was recalled to Athens on charges of vandalism and impiety, but instead of returning, he escaped to Sparta, and vengefully advised the Spartans how best to flout the plans of the Athenians. In spite of his luxurious and excessive personal habits, he was welcomed into Sparta, where he assumed the ascetic mannerisms of a true Lacemaedonian. With Alcibiades counsels, Sparta managed to turn the tide against Athens not only in Syracuse, but also in Attica. The war was officially resumed, and Athens suffered a disastrous defeat in Syracuse.

But Alcibiades could not stay out of trouble in Sparta, he feuded with King Agis II, and had to flee again, this time to Tissaphernes in Asia Minor. Here he dressed and adopted the mannerisms of a luxurious eastern despot, and began to interfere with Tissaphernes' alliance with Sparta. He now decided to throw in his lot with Athens, and raised a fleet to aid the Athenian Navy in the Aegean Sea. After winning several important victories, he returned to Athens in triumph, apparently forgiven for his treachery. But his new found popularity could not sustain him through even one military setback, and after suffering a single defeat, he was again exiled, first to Thrace, and then finally, after the fall of Athens to Phrygia. But the enemies of Alcibiades would finally catch up with him. The Satrap of Phrygia, under pressure from the Spartans, arranged for his assassination. Thus ended the life of the notorious Alcibiades, in the same year the city of Athens, that he had misled, beguiled, and betrayed, finally surrendered in despair.


Key events during the life of Alcibiades:


Year
Event
447 BC
Pericles becomes the Guardian of Alcibiades on the death of his father.
432 BC
Life saved by Socrates at the battle of Potidaea.
  Indulges in wonton vices, but enjoys great popularity in Athens.
424 BC
Saved the life of Socrates at the battle of Delium.
  Married the daughter of Hipponicus, a wealthy Athenian.
421 BC
Peace of Nicias puts temporary end to the hostilities with Sparta.
  Alcibiades becomes leader of the pro-war party in Athens.
417 BC
Nicias fails to secure alliances in Thrace.
  Advocates for the Sicilian Expedition.
415 BC
Sicilian expedition is launched under the command of Alcibiades, Nicias, and Lamachus. Hermes statues are vandalized.
415 BC
Alcibiades recalled from Sicily to stand trial for vandalism. He escapes and joins the Spartans.
414 BC
On Alcibiades advice, Gylippus, a Spartan General, is sent to marshal defenses in Sicily.
413 BC
Sicilian Expedition turns into a disaster for Athens.
412 BC
Alcibiades feuds with Agis II, and is exiled from Sparta. Flees to court of Tissaphernes in Asia Minor.
412 BC
Alcibiades advises Tissaphernes to deny aid to either Sparta or Athens.
411 BC
Joins fleet at Abydos and wins victories over Sparta for Athens.
407 BC
Return to Athens in triumph, but quickly falls again from favor and flees to Thrace.
405 BC
Takes refuge with Pharnabazus in Asia Minor. Fall of Athens.
404 BC
Assassinated on the orders of the victorious Spartans.

Other Resources


Story Links
Book Links
Fatal Expedition  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Lion's Cub  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Great Scheme  in  Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition  by  Alfred J. Church
Man with Many Faces  in  Tales of the Greeks: The Children's Plutarch  by  F. J. Gould
Socrates' Favorite Pupil  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Alcibiades  in  Famous Men of Greece  by  John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland
Alcibiades, and the War between Athens and Sparta in  Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men  by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Alcibiades  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Alcibiades the Favourite of Athens  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Alcibiades Returns to Athens  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Socrates and Alcibiades  in  Historical Tales: Greek  by  Charles Morris
A Wasted Life  in  Stories of the Ancient Greeks  by  Charles D. Shaw
Sicilian Expedition  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan


Image Links


Alcibiades: From a bust in the Chiaramonti museum in the Vatican.
 in Pictures from Greek Life and Story

Alcibiades dared the driver to come on
 in The Story of the Greeks

Alcibiades
 in The Story of the Greeks

Socrates teaching young Alcibiades, Schopin
 in Famous Men of Greece

Socrates Instructing Alcibiades
 in Famous Men of Greece

Alcibiades Interrupting the Banquet of Agathon
 in Famous Men of Greece

The Death of Alcibiades
 in Famous Men of Greece

The multitude saluted him with loud acclamations.
 in The Story of Greece

Socrates Instructing Alcibiades
 in The Story of the Greek People

Alcibiades (In the Vatican at Rome)
 in The Story of the Greek People


Contemporary
Short Biography
Socrates First moral philosopher, immortalized by Plato.
Nicias After death of Pericles, emerged as leader of peace party. Led disastrous Sicilian Expedition.
Lamachus Admiral who with Nicias and Alcibiades led the Sicilian Expedition. Died in early combat.
Demosthenes Important Athenian general in the Peloponnesian War. Perished at Syracuse.
Gylippus Lead the resistance in Syracuse that defeated Athenian forces during Peloponnesian War.
Tissaphernes Persian Satrap of Asia Minor during Peloponnesian War. Allied with Sparta.
Lysander Spartan naval Commander who defeated Athens in Peloponnesian War.
Agis II Spartan King who feuded with Alcibiades, and exiled him from the Peloponnese.
Pharnabazus Satrap of Phrygia. Gave refuge to Alcibiades, but later had him assassinated.