The king of Persia was not pleased with his governor Tissaphernes, because he had made an alliance with neither the Athenians nor the Spartans. So he now sent his younger son Cyrus to take the place of Tissaphernes, bidding him make terms with the Spartans.
Lysander was now in command of the Spartan fleet. He was as brave and as skilful an admiral as Brasidas had been, although he could not win the trust of strangers as his famous countryman had done. But he gained the affection of his men and cared for their welfare.
Cyrus invited Lysander to a feast and tried to bribe him to join the Persians, but in vain.
The Persian prince then offered to give him whatever he chose to ask. Lysander wished nothing for himself, but, to the surprise of all who were present, he begged that the daily wage of his sailors might be increased.
In September 407 b.c., the Spartan sailed with his fleet close to the harbour of Ephesus. About the same time, Alcibiades, with the Athenian fleet, arrived at Notium, from which port he could watch the movements of the enemy.
As he had little money with which to pay his men, he determined to leave the fleet in charge of his pilot, Antiochus, while he, taking with him a few ships, sailed away to plunder a neighbouring city. In this way he hoped to find the money that he needed. Alcibiades strictly forbade Antiochus to risk a battle.
No sooner, however, had the admiral gone than the pilot disobeyed his orders, and with a number of ships he sailed past the Spartan fleet, challenging Lysander to fight.
The Spartan in reply merely sent a few vessels to drive away the reckless pilot, but the ships that had been left at Notium soon noticed that Antiochus was being chased, and they at once hastened to join him.
In a short time the two fleets were engaged in battle. Antiochus was slain, and fifteen of the Athenian ships were taken or sunk. Those that escaped sailed to Samos, where Alcibiades soon joined them. He determined, if it were possible, to avenge the punishment the Spartans had inflicted on the Athenian vessels, so he sailed to Ephesus and offered battle to Lysander. But the Spartan had won a great victory and he did not mean to risk a defeat. He refused to fight again.
Alcibiades still had enemies in Athens, and they were so angry with him for having left the charge of the fleet to Antiochus that they clamoured for his command to be taken from him. The assembly was forced to yield to them, and Alcibiades was deposed, while the command was given to an Athenian named Conon.
The admiral then fled to a city on the Hellespont, where he had long ago bought a castle, lest at any time he should need a place of refuge from his enemies.
Conon, the new commander, gained a great victory, at the island of Arginusæ, on the coast of Asia. After the victory a storm arose, and a dozen Athenian vessels which had been disabled in the battle went down with all their crews on board.
No attempt was made to rescue the unfortunate sailors, and eight Athenian generals were ordered to come home to be tried for neglect of duty. Six only obeyed.
The assembly met and condemned the generals, but their sentence was left undetermined. On the day after the trial a festival was held in the city, at which solemn family gatherings took place.
When the relations of those who had perished at Arginusæ appeared, clad in black, their number roused the people to fresh fury against the condemned generals.
The assembly met shortly afterwards, and one of the members demanded that the people should vote without delay, and if the generals were found guilty that they should be put to death.
Now the generals had not yet finished their defence; moreover, there was a law in Athens that prisoners should be judged and sentenced one at a time.
At first the assembly wished to obey this law, but the mob was so fierce that it yielded, and pronounced sentence of death on all the generals at once. To each was brought a cup of hemlock.
Socrates was present in the assembly, and he was not afraid to denounce the sentence as unlawful. Nor would he withdraw his protest in face of the angry crowd. This was a brave deed, such as you would expect from the great philosopher.