Alcibiades : biography
Alcibiades, son of Cleinias, from the deme of Scambonidae ( Greek: , transliterated Alkibiádēs Kleiníou Skambōnidēs; c. 450 – 404 BC), was a prominent Athenian statesman, orator, and general. He was the last famous member of his mother's aristocratic family, the Alcmaeonidae, which fell from prominence after the Peloponnesian War. He played a major role in the second half of that conflict as a strategic advisor, military commander, and politician.
During the course of the Peloponnesian War, Alcibiades changed his political allegiance on several occasions. In his native Athens in the early 410s BC, he advocated an aggressive foreign policy, and was a prominent proponent of the Sicilian Expedition, but fled to Sparta after his political enemies brought charges of sacrilege against him. In Sparta, he served as a strategic adviser, proposing or supervising several major campaigns against Athens. In Sparta too, however, Alcibiades soon made powerful enemies and was forced to defect to Persia. There he served as an adviser to the satrap Tissaphernes until his Athenian political allies brought about his recall. He then served as an Athenian General (Strategos) for several years, but his enemies eventually succeeded in exiling him a second time.
The Sicilian Expedition was Alcibiades' idea, and scholars have argued that, had that expedition been under Alcibiades' command instead of Nicias', the expedition might not have met its eventual disastrous fate.A. Vlachos, Thucydides' Bias, 59 &c. In the years that he served Sparta, Alcibiades played a significant role in Athens' undoing; the capture of Decelea and the revolts of several critical Athenian subjects occurred either at his suggestion or under his supervision. Once restored to his native city, however, he played a crucial role in a string of Athenian victories that eventually brought Sparta to seek a peace with Athens. He favored unconventional tactics, frequently winning cities over by treachery or negotiation rather than by siege.P.B. Kern, Ancient Siege Warfare, 151. Alcibiades' military and political talents frequently proved valuable to whichever state currently held his allegiance, but his propensity for making powerful enemies ensured that he never remained in one place for long; and, by the end of the war he had helped rekindle in the early 410s, his days of political relevance were a bygone memory.
Political career until 412 BC
Rise to prominence
Alcibiades first rose to prominence when he began advocating aggressive Athenian action after the signing of the Peace of Nicias. That treaty, an uneasy truce between Sparta and Athens signed midway through the Peloponnesian War, came at the end of seven years of fighting during which neither side had gained a decisive advantage. Historians Arnold W. Gomme and Raphael Sealey believe, and Thucydides reports,Thucydides, "The History of the Peloponnesian Wars", 5.43. that Alcibiades was offended that the Spartans had negotiated that treaty through Nicias and Laches, overlooking him on account of his youth.A.W. Gomme, A Historical Commentary on Thucydides, 339.R. Sealey, A History of the Greek City States, 353.
Disputes over the interpretation of the treaty led the Spartans to dispatch ambassadors to Athens with full powers to arrange all unsettled matters. The Athenians initially received these ambassadors well, but Alcibiades met with them in secret before they were to speak to the ecclesia (the Athenian Assembly) and told them that the Assembly was haughty and had great ambitions.Plutarch, Alcibiades, . He urged them to renounce their diplomatic authority to represent Sparta, and instead allow him to assist them through his influence in Athenian politics.Thucydides, V, . The representatives agreed and, impressed with Alcibiades, they alienated themselves from Nicias, who genuinely wanted to reach an agreement with the Spartans. The next day, during the Assembly, Alcibiades asked them what powers Sparta had granted them to negotiate and they replied, as agreed, that they had not come with full and independent powers. This was in direct contradiction to what they had said the day before, and Alcibiades seized on this opportunity to denounce their character, cast suspicion on their aims, and destroy their credibility. This ploy increased Alcibiades' standing while embarrassing Nicias, and Alcibiades was subsequently appointed General. He took advantage of his increasing power to orchestrate the creation of an alliance between Argos, Mantinea, Elis, and other states in the Peloponnese, threatening Sparta's dominance in the region. According to Gomme, "it was a grandiose scheme for an Athenian general at the head of a mainly Peloponnesian army to march through the Peloponnese cocking a snook at Sparta when her reputation was at its lowest".A.W. Gomme, A Historical Commentary on Thucydides, 70. This alliance, however, would ultimately be defeated at the Battle of Mantinea.Plutarch, Alcibiades, .
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