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.
|DESTRUCTION OF THE ATHENIAN ARMY AS SYRACUSE|
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
. 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
.). In 415 B
. 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:
||Pillaged the coast of Megara, and occupied island of Minoa
||Fought against Corinth, and seized the island of Cythera
||Besieged Scione, after it bolted from Delian League.
||Negotiates "Peace of Nicias" with Sparta.
||Put in command of the Sicilian Expedition, with Lamachus and Alcibiades.
||Expedition ends in complete disaster. Nicias is captured and killed.
||Important Athenian general in the Peloponnesian War. Perished at Syracuse.
||Controversial statesman and general of Athens, who betrayed the city, then returned as hero.
||Admiral who with Nicias and Alcibiades led the Sicilian Expedition. Died in early combat.
||War mongering politician, opposed Sparta's peace proposals.
||Lead the resistance in Syracuse that defeated Athenian forces during Peloponnesian War.