Alcibiades

Alcibiades

(c. 450-404 B.C.)

Alcibiades (al-sih-BY-ah-dees) was born in Athens, nephew to the great statesman Pericles, and briefly a disciple of the great philosopher Socrates (whose admonitions to seek balance and harmony were apparently wasted on the young man). Alcibiades became known for his disregard for any moral code.

After serving with distinction in the Athenian army (he saved Socrates’ life at the Battle of Delium in 424 B.C.), Alcibiades was elected one of the 10 generals of Athens in 420 B.C. Pericles was dead, and the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta was in its 12th year. Radically in favor of continuing the war, Alcibiades convinced his fellow military leaders to send a large force from the Athenian navy to attack the city of Syracuse (a Spartan ally) in Sicily.

Named one of the fleet’s commanders, Alcibiades fell into disgrace after images of the god Hermes were mutilated the night prior to departure. His political enemies persuaded the government that Alcibiades was responsible, and an escort was sent to bring him home.

Alerted to this danger, Alcibiades left the fleet and sailed to Argos. He then marched to Sparta, where he offered his services to his long-time enemies. Intrigued by the offer, the Spartan king allowed Alcibiades to remain.

He was soon allowed to present himself to the king as a Spartan who valued only military skill and speaking the truth. Still, a traitor from any nation is generally viewed with distrust, and Alcibiades made the situation worse — by seducing the king’s wife. Discovered, he fled from Sparta and crossed the Aegean Sea to Asia Minor, where he offered his services to Tissaphernes, the Persian satrap (governor).

Still hoping to return to Athens, Alcibiades made overtures that were rejected at first. Then a group of Athenian generals gave him command of an Athenian fleet based on the island of Samos. Departing quickly from the Persian court, Alcibiades took command and won several victories, notably at Cyzicus, where 60 Spartan ships were destroyed or cap¬ tured. In 407 B.C., Alcibiades returned to Athens and was welcomed as a hero.

Alcibiades went into voluntary exile in Thrace, and the exile was soon made perma¬ nent by the end of the war. Sparta won a complete victory over Athens in 404 B.C., and the Spartan commander, Lysander, demanded the surrender of the man who had turned coat a total of three times. Alcibiades fled to Asia Minor, where the Persian satrap Pharnabazus agreed to allow him safe residence. Pressured by Lysander, Pharnabazus had Alcibiades slain by a group of armed men at his residence in Phrygia in the same year. Handsome, persuasive and unscrupulous, Alcibiades was finally brought down by his own double¬ dealing maneuvers.