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Biographies (4)

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Nicias Niceratou Cydantides

Nicias (ca. 470-413 B.C.) An Athenian politician prominent during the first half of the Peloponnesian War (431-404). Nicias is best known for arranging a halt to that war in 421 ("Peace of Nicias') and for presiding over an Athenian military disaster in Sicily in which he lost his life.
  Little is known of Nicias' father, Niceratus. A wealthy man, Nicias was one of the biggest known slaveholders in late fifth century Athens. The family's money came from interests in silver mines (Plut. Nic. 4 ). Nicias continued the family investment and was said to have employed 1,000 men in the mines (Xen. Ways 4.14 ).
  Since Niceratus is unknown in Athenian politics, Nicias may have had to proceed as a newcomer. Nicias probably sought the patronage of Pericles. Plutarch implies that he was Pericles' political heir (Plut. Nic. 2 ). Thucydides makes no mention of Nicias' early political significance. There Nicias appears for the first time in 427 leading an Athenian expedition to the island of Minoa just off Megara (Thuc. 3.51 ). In the years thereafter Nicias held important (but not momentous ) military commands (Thuc. 3.91; Thuc. 4.42 ).
  It was also in 425 that a confrontation occurred in the assembly which provides insight into Nicias' character (Thuc 4.26-41 ). As general that year Nicias was held responsible by the demagogue Cleon for the stalemate at Sphacteria. Cleon demanded in the assembly that Nicias act decisively to capture the Spartans on the island. Cleon pointed to Nicias and claimed that "if only the generals were real men" the Spartans could be easily brought back to Athens and boasted that if he himself were in command the matter would be quickly resolved (Thuc. 4.27 ). Nicias replied by turning his command over to Cleon. Ancient and modern observers have judged Nicias harshly for bowing to the reckless Cleon (Plut. Nic. 9 ).
  In 424 Nicias achieved his greatest military success. A force under his command occupied Cythera, a large island off the southern Peloponnesus. Thucydides says that the occupation of Cythera brought Spartan morale to a low level (Thuc. 4.55 ). From 423 to 421 Nicias was closely involved in peace negotiations with Sparta. In March 423 an armistice was arranged and in 421 a fifty-year alliance was concluded (Thuc. 4.119, Thuc. 5.17-24 ). Nicias was present at these conferences, taking the oath of peace on each occasion. As the most important Athenian at the time, the peace came to be named after Nicias. The contemporary Thucydides does not refer to the accord as the "Peace of Nicias" but Andocides does use such terminology (Andoc. 3.8 ).
At this point in the Peloponnesian War, Nicias is usually considered to be the spokesman for conservative elements which constituted a "peace party" at Athens. Plutarch implies that Nicias forged an alliance with the wealthy and older citizens as well as with rural landlords and peasants. These men had the most to gain from an end to hostilities (Plut. Nic. 9 ). Nicias himself also had reason to hope for peace. Thucydides states (Thuc. 5.16 ): "Nicias wished to rest upon his laurels, to find an immediate release from toil and trouble both for himself and for his fellow citizens."
  By 420 the peace between Sparta and Athens had collapsed. In that year Nicias made a last attempt to repair the rupture. He traveled to Sparta to seek, among other things, Spartan help in the return of Amphipolis. In the balance lay not only war or peace but also Nicias' own strategy. The embassy failed and hostilities soon resumed. Thucydides reports that Nicias was attacked upon his return to Athens for the failure of his peace (Thuc. 5.46 ).
  The opposition to Nicias and his supporters came from new demagogues, most notably the young and talented Alcibiades. The two men were thorough contrasts. In 418 Nicias was approximately 52 years old while Alcibiades was perhaps 32. More than the different values and temperaments of two generations divided the men. Nicias had appeared on the political scene from a relatively unknown family; Alcibiades was a descendant of the famed Cleisthenes and nephew to Pericles. Nicias was a conservative in politics and war; Alcibiades was brilliant and daring. Finally, Nicias was superstitious and pious (Thuc. 7.50; Plut. Nic. 3.4 ); while Alcibiades became infamous for sacrilege.
  By 417 a crisis of leadership had developed. Alcibiades and Nicias were elected generals but advocated imcompatible military policies. The solution proposed by Hyperbolus was the old Athenian practice of ostracism. It was assumed the process would eliminate either Nicias or Alcibiades and leave the state with a single leader and policy. The wily Alcibiades, however, thwarted Hyperbolus and allied himself with Nicias. The result was that Hyperbolus' name appeared on a majority of the ostraka and the demagogue was promptly ostracized (Plut. Nic. 11; Plut. Alc. 13 ).
  The alliance between Alcibiades and Nicias was only temporary. A debate in the assembly over the proposed Sicilian expedition revealed the differing policies and characters of the two men (Thuc. 6.8-26 ). The Athenians voted to send 60 ships to Sicily under Alcibiades, Nicias and Lamachus. Nicias was utterly opposed to the project. When the assembly met to consider the logistics of the expedition Nicias leveled a bitter attack on Alcibiades and Athenian adventurism and asked the Athenians to reconsider, calling on support from older men. Nicias emphasized the strength of the Sicilian cities and reminded the Athenians that they were risking a two-front war (Thuc. 6.10,20-22 ). (It is interesting to note that many of the concerns Nicias voiced in the debate--for example his fears over the Syracusan cavalry and Athenian supply lines--turned out to be well-founded. ) In a last attempt to dissuade the Athenians Nicias recommended that only a very large force could succeed in the project (Thuc. 6.19 ). This strategy was indeed a blunder. Not only did the Athenians quickly approve Nicias' request, they also gave the generals powers to call on whatever forces they saw fit. Instead of giving the Athenians cause to pause in their plans, Nicias actually increased the risks of the Sicilian expedition. Perhaps most surprising of all is Nicias' decision to take part in an expedition he opposed.
  The drama of the Athenian expedition to Sicily (415-413 B.C ) is vividly treated by Thucydides in books six and seven. Modern historians have often assigned Nicias a large part of the blame for the Athenian defeat in Sicily. Thucydides does not explicitly do so, but does record numerous strategic blunders committed by the general. Two in particular loom large. The first allowed reinforcements to reach Syracuse when Nicias neglected to complete his northern wall around Syracuse (Thuc. 7.1,6 ). Later, when the Athenian position had deteriorated and speedy withdrawal was critical, the superstitious general delayed a breakout for an entire month because of a lunar eclipse (Thuc. 7.50. The eclipse can be pinpointed to August 27, 413 B.C.) In the intervening period the Syracusans sealed the harbor to trap Nicias and the Athenians. When attempts to breakout finally came it was too late. In Nicias' defence it should be noted that the general suffered from a kidney illness in Sicily and had personally written to Athens asking to be relieved (Thuc. 7.8-15; Plut. Nic. 17-18 ). On the eighth day of the Athenian retreat from Syracuse Nicias surrendered to Gylippus in hopes of saving his men and was soon executed (Thuc. 7.85 ).
Ancient and Modern Views of Nicias.
  Nicias stands as one of the most important personalities in Thucydides' History. Although many of his actions in the History are blameworthy, the final judgement of Thucydides on Nicias is surprising: "he was killed, a man who, of all the Hellenes in my time, least deserved to come to so miserable an end, since the whole of his life had been devoted to the study and practice of virtue arete." This statement has led to much modern debate about Thucydides' view of Nicias. Several of Aristophanes' comedies also contain contemporary references to Nicias: see, for example, Aristoph. Birds 593-595. Contemporary Athenians may not have been as charitable as Thucydides in their view of Nicias after the Sicilian debacle. The second century A.D. travel writer Pausanias records having seen a stele commemorating the Athenian generals who had died in Sicily. Nicias' name had been left off the list. Pausanias' reason for the omission was that Nicias had been "unmanly in war" (Paus. 1.29.11-12 ).

Vincent Burns, ed.
This text is cited August 2004 from Perseus Project URL bellow, which contains interesting hyperlinks

Nicias, Nikias. An Athenian general who was a man of birth and fortune; but one in whom a generous temper, popular manners, and considerable political and military talent were marred by unreasonable diffidence and an excessive dread of responsibility. Nicias, however, signalized himself on several occasions. He took the island of Cythera from the Lacedaemonians, subjugated many cities of Thrace which had revolted from the Athenian sway, shut up the Megarians within their city-walls, cutting off all communications from without, and taking their harbour Nisaea. When the unfortunate expedition against Syracuse was undertaken by Athens, Nicias was one of the three commanders who were sent at its head, the other two being Alcibiades and Lamachus. He had previously, however, used every effort to prevent his countrymen from engaging in this affair, on the ground that they were only wasting their resources in distant warfare and multiplying their enemies. After the recall of Alcibiades, the natural indecision of Nicias, increased by ill-health and dislike of his command, proved a principal cause of the failure of the enterprise. In endeavouring to retreat by land from before Syracuse, the Athenian commanders, Nicias and Demosthenes (the latter had come with re-enforcements), were pursued, defeated, and compelled to surrender. The generals were put to death (B.C. 414); their soldiers were confined at first in the quarry of Epipolae, and afterwards sold as slaves. There is a life of Nicias by Plutarch.

This text is from: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. Cited Nov 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

Nicias> One of the most celebrated of the Athenian generals engaged during the Peloponnesian war. He was the son of Niceratus, from whom he inherited a large fortune, derived mainly from the silver mines at Laureium, of which he was a very large lessee, employing in them as many as 1000 slaves (Xen. Mem. ii. 5.2, de Vect. 4.14; Athen. vi.). His property was valued at 100 talents (Lys. pro Arist. Bonis). From this cause, combined with his unambitious character, and his aversion to all dangerous innovations, he was naturally brought into connection with the aristocratical portion of his fellow-citizens. He was several times associated with Pericles, as strategus; and his great prudence and high character gained for him considerable influence. On the death of Pericles he came forward more openly as the opponent of Cleon, and the other demagogues of Athens; but from his military reputation, the mildness of his character, and the liberal use which he made of his great wealth, he was looked upon with respect, and some measure of attachment, by all classes of the citizens. His timidity led hint to buy off the attacks of the sycophants. This feature of his character was ridiculed by more than one comic poet of the day. Tile splendour with which he discharged the office of choregus exceeded anything that had been seen before. On one occasion, when charged with the conduct of the Theoria to Delos, he made a remarkable display of his wealth and munificence. To prevent the confusion which usually ensued when the Chorus landed at Delos amidst the crowd of spectators, he landed first at Rheneia; and having had a bridge prepared before he left Athens, it was thrown across the channel between Rheneia and Delos, in the course of the night, and by daybreak it was ready, adorned in the most sumptuous manner with gilding and tapestry, for tile orderly procession of the Chorus. After the ceremonies were over he consecrated a brasen palm tree to Apollo, together with a piece of land, which he purchased at the cost of 10,000 drachmae, directing that the proceeds of it should be laid out by the Delians in sacrifices and feasts; the only condition which he annexed being, that they should pray for the blessing of the god upon the founder. His strong religious feeling was perhaps as much concerned in this dedication, as his desire of popularity. It was told of him that he sacrificed every day, and even kept a soothsayer in his house, that he might consult the will of the gods not only about public affairs, but likewise respecting his own private fortunes. Aristophanes ridicules him rather severely in the Equites for his timidity and superstition (l. 28, &c., 80, 112, 358). The excessive dread which Nicias entertained of informers led him to keep as much as possible in retirement. He made himself difficult of access; and the few friends who were admitted to his privacy industriously spread the belief that he devoted himself with such untiring zeal to the public interests, as to sacrifice enjoyment, sleep, and even health, in the service of the state. His characteristic caution was the distinguishing feature of his military career. He does not seem to have displayed any very great ability, still less anything like genius, in the science of strategy; but he was cautious and wary, and does not appear on a single occasion to have beemi guilty of any act of remissness, unless it were in the siege of Syracuse. Hence his military operations were almost invariably successful. In B. C. 427 he led an expedition against the island of Minoa, which lies in front of Megara, and took it (Thuc. iii. 51). In the following year he led an armament of sixty triremes, with 2000 heavy-armed soldiers, against the island of Melos. He ravaged the island, but the town held out; and the troops being needed for an attack upon Tanagra, he withdrew, and, after ravaging the coast of Locris, returned home (Thuc. iii. 91; Diod. xii. 65). He was one of the generals in B. C. 425, when the Spartans were shut up in Sphacteria. The amusing circumstances under which he commissioned his enemy, Cleon, to reduce the island, have already been described in the article Cleon. In the same year Nicias led an expedition into the territory of Corinth. He defeated the Corinthians in battle, but, apprehending the arrival of reinforcements for the enemy's troops, he re-embarked his forces. Two of the slain, however, having been left behind, whom the Athenians had not been able to find at the time, Nicias resigned the honours of victory for the purpose of recovering them, and sent a herald to ask for their restoration. He then proceeded to Crommyon, where he ravaged the land, and then directed his course to the territory of Epidaurus. Having carried a wall across the isthmus connecting Methone with the main land, and left a garrison in the place, he returned home (Thuc. iv. 42-45; Diod. xii. 65). In B. C. 424, with two colleagues, he led an expedition to the coasts of Laconia and captured the island of Cythera, a success gained with the greater facility, as he had previously had negotiations with some of the Cytherians. He stationed an Athenian garrison in the island, and ravaged the coast of Laconia for seven days. On his return he ravaged the territory of Epidaurus in Laconia, and took Thyrea, where the Spartans had settled the Aeginetans after their expulsion from their own island. These Aeginetans having been conveyed to Athens were put to death by the Athenians (Thuc. iv. 54; Diod. l. c.). In B. C. 423, Nicias and Nicostratus were sent with an army to Chalcidice to check the movements of Brasidas. They obtained possession of Mende, and blockaded Scione; while thus engaged they entered into an agreement with Perdiccas. Having finished the circumvallation of Scione, they returned home (Thuc. iv. 130- 132).
  The death of Cleon removed out of the way of Nicias the only rival whose power was at all commensurate with his own, and he now exerted all his influence to bring about a peace. He had secured the gratitude of the Spartans by his humane treatment of the prisoners taken at Sphacteria, so that he found no difficulty in assuming the character of mediator between the belligerent powers. The negotiations ended in the peace of B. C. 421, which was called the peace of Nicias on account of the share which he had had in bringing it about (Thuc. v. 16, 19, 24, vii. 86). In consequence of the opposition of the Boeotians, Corinthians, and others, and the hostile disposition of Argos, this peace was soon followed by a treaty of defensive alliance between Athens and Sparta. According to Theophrastus, Nicias, by bribing the Spartan commissioners, contrived that Sparta should take the oaths first. Grounds for dissatisfaction, however, speedily arose between the two states. The jealousy felt by the Athenians was industriously increased by Alcibiades, at whose suggestion an embassy came from Argos in B. C. 420, to propose an alliance. The Spartan envoys who came to oppose it were entrapped by Alcibiades into exhibiting an appearance of double dealing, and it required all the influence of Nicias to prevent the Athenians from at once concluding an alliance with Argos. He induced them to send him at the head of an embassy to Sparta to demand satisfaction with respect to the points on which the Athenians felt themselves aggrieved. The Spartan government would not comply with their demands, and Nicias could only procure a fresh ratification of the existing treaties. On his return the alliance with Argos was resolved on (Thuc. v. 43, 46).
  The dissensions between Nicias and Alcibiades now greatly increased, and the ostracism of one or other began to be talked of. The demagogue Hyperbolus strove to secure the banishment of one of them that he might have a better chance of making head against the other. But Nicias and Alcibiades, perceiving his designs, united their influence against their common enemy, and the ostracism fell on Hyperbolus.
In B. C. 415, the Athenians resolved on sending their great expedition to Sicily, on the pretext of assisting the Segestaeans and Leontines. Nicias, Alcibiades, and Lamachus were appointed to the command. Nicias, who, besides that he disapproved of the expedition altogether, was in feeble health, did all that he could to divert the Athenians from this course. He succeeded in getting the question put again to the vote; but even his representations of the magnitude of the preparations required did not produce the effect which he wished. On the contrary, the Athenians derived from them grounds for still greater confidence; and Nicias and the other generals were empowered to raise whatever forces they thought requisite. When the armament arrived at Rhegium, finding the hopes which the Athenians had entertained with regard to the Segestaeans futile, in a conference of the generals Nicias proposed that they should call upon the Segestaeans to provide pay, if not for the whole armament, at least for the amount of the succours which they had requested, and that, if they furnished these. the forces should stay till they had brought the Selinuntines to terms, and then return home, after coasting the island to display the power of Athens. But the intermediate plan of Alcibiades was finally adopted. After the recall of Alcibiades Nicias found no difficulty in securing the concurrence of Lamachus in his plans. From Catana, which had come over to the Athenians and been made their head-quarters, Nicias and Lamachus proceeded with all their forces towards Segesta. On their way they captured Hyccara. Nicias went himself to Segesta, but could only obtain thirty talents. On their return they seem to have remained almost inactive for some time, but in the autumn they prepared to attack Syracuse. By a skilful stratagem the Athenians without molestation took possession of a station near the Olympieum, by the harbour of Syracuse. A battle took place the next day, in which the Syracusans were defeated. But, being in want of cavalry and money, the Athenians sailed away, and for the first part of the winter took up their station at Naxos. They were unsuccessful in their endeavours to induce Camarina to join them, but secured the assistance of several of the Sicel tribes. Even some Etruscan cities promised aid, and envoys were sent to Carthage. From Naxos Nicias removed to Catana. Additional supplies were sent from Athens, and arrived at Catana in the spring (B. C. 414). Nicias now made preparations for seizing Epipolae, in which ho was successful; and the circumvallation of Syracuse was immediately commenced. The work proceeded rapidly, and all attempts of the Syracusans to stood it were defeated. In a battle which took place in the marsh Lamachus was slain. It fortunately happened at this juncture that Nicias, who was afflicted with a painful disorder of the eyes, was left upon Epipolae, and his presence prevented the Syracusans from succeeding in a bold attempt which they made to gain possession of the heights and destroy the Athenian works. The circumvallation was now nearly completed, and the doom of Syracuse seemed sealed, when Gylippus arrived in Sicily. Nicias, for the first time in his life probably, allowed his confidence of success to render him remiss, and he neglected to prevent Gylippus from making his way into Syracuse. lie seems now to have supposed that he should be unable to stop the erection of a counter-wall on Epipolae, and therefore abandoned the heights and established his army on the headland of Plemmyrium, where he erected three forts. His forces were defeated in an attempt to hinder the completion of the counterwork of the Syracusans. Succours were now called in by the Syracusans from all quarters, and Nicias found himself obliged to send to Athens for reinforcements, as his ships were becoming unsound, and their crews were rapidly thinned by deaths and desertions. He requested at the same time that another commander might be sent to supply his place, as his disorder rendered him unequal to the discharge of his duties. The Athenians voted reinforcements, which were placed under the command of Demosthenes and Eurymedon. But they would not allow Nicias to resign his command.
  Meantime, Gylippus induced the Syracusans to try their fortune in a sea-fight. During the heat of the action he gained possession of the forts on Plemmyrium. The sea-fight at first was against the Athenians; but the confusion caused by the arrival of the reinforcements to the Syracusans from Corinth enabled the Athenians to attack them at an advantage, and gain a victory. Other contests followed in the great harbour, and in a severe engagement the Athenians were defeated with considerable loss. But at this moment the Athenian reinforcements arrived.
  At the suggestion of Demosthenes, a bold attempt was made in the night to recover Epipolae, in which the Athenians, after being all but successful, were finally driven back with severe loss. Demosthenes now proposed to abandon the siege and return to Athens. To this Nicias would not consent. He professed to stand in dread of the Athenians at home, but he appears to have had reasons for believing that a party amongst the Syracusans themselves were likely in no long time to facilitate the reduction of the city, and, at his urgent instance, his colleagues consented to remain for a little longer. But meantime fresh succours arrived for the Syracusans; sickness was making ravages among the Athenian troops, and at length Nicias himself saw the necessity of retreating. Secret orders were given that every thing should be in readiness for departure, supplies were countermanded, and nothing seemed likely to prevent their unmolested retreat, when an eclipse of the moon happened. The credulous superstition of Nicias now led to the total destruction of the Athenian armament. The soothsayers interpreted the event as an injunction from the gods that they should not retreat before the next full moon, and Nicias resolutely determined to abide by their decision. The Syracusans now resolved to bring the enemy to an engagement, and, after some successful skirmishing, in a decisive naval battle defeated the Athenians, though a body of their land forces received an unimportant check. They were now masters of the harbour, and the Athenians were reduced to the necessity of making a desperate effort to escape. Nicias exerted himself to the utmost to encourage the men, but the Athenians were decisively defeated, and could not even be induced to attempt to force their way at day-break through the bar at the mouth of the harbour. They set out on their retreat into the interior of Sicily. Nieias, though bowed down by bodily as well as mental sufferings, used all his arguments to cheer the men. For the details of the retreat the reader is referred to Thucydides. Nicias and Demosthenes, with the miserable remnant of the troops, were compelled to surrender. Gylippus was desirous of carrying Nicias to Sparta; but those of the Syracusans with whom Nicias had opened a secret correspondence, fearing lest its betrayal should bring them into difficulties, eagerly urged that he should be put to death. His execution draws the following just remarks from Bishop Thirlwall: " His death filled up the measure of a singular destiny, by which the reputation he had acquired by his prudence and fortune, his liberality and patriotism, his strength as well as his weakness, all the good and the bad qualities of his mind and character, his talents and judgment, as well as his credulity and superstition, his premature timidity, his tardy courage, his long protracted wavering and his unseasonable resolution, contributed in nearly equal degrees to his own ruin and to the fall of his country. The historian deplores his undeserved calamity; but the fate of the thousands whom he involved in his disasters was perhaps still more pitiable." According to Pausanias (i. 29.12), his name was omitted on a monument raised at Athens to the memory of those who fell in Sicily, because he surrendered himself voluntarily (Plut. Nicias; Diod. xii. 83; Thuc. vi. and vii.).

This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited July 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

The Peace of Nicias
Cleon, the most prominent and influential leader at Athens after the Athenian victory at Pylos in 425, was dispatched to northern Greece in 422 to try to stop Brasidas. As it happened, both he and Brasidas were killed before Amphipolis in 422 B.C. in a battle won by the Spartan army. Their deaths deprived each side of its most energetic military commander and opened the way to negotiations. Peace came in 421 B.C. when both sides agreed to resurrect the balance of forces just as it had been in 431 B.C. The agreement made in that year is known as the Peace of Nicias after the name of the Athenian general Nicias, who was instrumental in convincing the Athenian assembly to agree to a peace treaty. The Spartan agreement to the peace revealed a fracture in the coaltion of Greek states allied with Sparta against Athens and its allies because the Corinthians and the Boetians refused to join the Spartans in signing the treaty.

This text is from: Thomas Martin's An Overview of Classical Greek History from Homer to Alexander, Yale University Press. Cited July 2005 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.

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