d. 413 BC

Nicias was a wealthy statesman and solder in Athens who played a key role in the Peloponnesian War. During the first part of the war he exhibited both bravery and restraint, and was a key figure in negotiating a peace treaty with Sparta in 421 B.C., called the "Peace of Nicias". Although he counselled against the Sicilian expedition, he was put in charge of it, and its disastrous failure was largely due to his inaction and caution.

Sicilian Expedition
Nicias inherited from his father a considerable fortune invested mainly in the silver mines of Laurium. Evidence of his wealth is found in the fact that he had no less than 1000 slaves whom he hired out. He gravitated naturally to the aristocratic party, and was several times colleague with Pericles in the strategia. On the death of Pericles he was left leader of the aristocrats against the advanced party of Cleon. He made use of his wealth both to buy off enemies (especially informers) and to acquire popularity by the magnificent way in which he discharged various public services, especially those connected with the state religion, of which he was a strong supporter. In the field he displayed extreme caution, and prior to the great Sicilian expedition achieved a number of minor military successes. In 421 B.C. he took a prominent part in the arrangement of the "Peace of Nicias," which terminated the first decade of the Peloponnesian War. He now entered with varying success upon a period of rivalry with Alcibiades, the details of Which are largely matters of conjecture. So bitter was the strife that the ostracism of one seemed inevitable, but by a temporary coalition they secured instead the banishment of the demagogue Hyperbolus (417B.C.). In 415 B.C. he was appointed with Alcibiades and Lamachus to command the Sicilian expedition, and, after the flight of Alcibiades and the death of Lamachus, was practically the sole commander, the much more capable Demosthenes, who was sent to his aid, being apparently of comparatively little weight. How far it is just to attribute to his excessive caution and his blind faith in omens the disastrous failure it is difficult to say. At all events it is clear that the management of so great an enterprise was a task far beyond his powers. He was a man of conventional respectability and mechanical piety, without the originality which was required to meet the crisis which faced him. His popularity with the aristocratic party in Athens is, however, strikingly shown by the lament of Thucydides over his death: "He assuredly, among all Greeks of my time, least deserved to come to so extreme a pitch of ill-fortune, considering his exact performance of established duties to the divinity".

—Adapted from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Key events during the life of Nicias:

427 BC
Pillaged the coast of Megara, and occupied island of Minoa
424 BC
Fought against Corinth, and seized the island of Cythera
423 BC
Besieged Scione, after it bolted from Delian League.
421 BC
Negotiates "Peace of Nicias" with Sparta.
415 BC
Put in command of the Sicilian Expedition, with Lamachus and Alcibiades.
414 BC
Expedition ends in complete disaster. Nicias is captured and killed.

Book Links
Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition  by  Alfred J. Church

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Fatal Expedition  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Alcibiades in Disgrace  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Nicias  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Amphipolus Surrenders to Brasidas  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Images of Hermes Are Destroyed  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Sicilian Expedition  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan

Short Biography
Demosthenes Important Athenian general in the Peloponnesian War. Perished at Syracuse.
Alcibiades Controversial statesman and general of Athens, who betrayed the city, then returned as hero.
Lamachus Admiral who with Nicias and Alcibiades led the Sicilian Expedition. Died in early combat.
Cleon War mongering politician, opposed Sparta's peace proposals.
Gylippus Lead the resistance in Syracuse that defeated Athenian forces during Peloponnesian War.