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Mary Macgregor

Alcibiades Returns to Athens

Alcibiades fled from the Athenians to Sparta, but he did not stay there long, for he soon grew tired of living as simply and frugally as the people of that country. He had, too, made an enemy of one of the kings of Sparta, so in the autumn of 412 b.c. he fled to Miletus in Asia Minor, where Tissaphernes, the Persian governor, ruled for the great king.

Tissaphernes was a cruel man, but he was easily pleased by flattery. Alcibiades soon discovered the governor's weakness, and he determined to win his favour by his agreeable speeches. He succeeded so well that the Persian named some of his parks and pavilions Alcibiades, in honour of the eloquent Athenian.

The luxury and ease with which the Persians were surrounded pleased Alcibiades after his course of Spartan fare and discipline, and he indulged for a time in even greater magnificence than did Tissaphernes. His anger against the Athenians had gradually grown less vehement, and he now began to wish that they would forget their hatred of him and recall him from exile.

But they had little thought to spare for the traitor, for troubles were pouring in upon them on every side. They had but lately heard of the complete overthrow of their fleet and army in Sicily, and they were now building a new fleet with money which Pericles had put aside long before, lest at any time Attica should be invaded by sea.

The Spartans, too, were still at Decelea, where they had built a fort, not fourteen miles from the city. Town after town that had been allied with Athens in the time of her prosperity now became her enemy.

In their despair the Athenians had taken a desperate step—they had asked their old enemies the Persians to come to their aid.

It was then that Alcibiades saw an opportunity, as he thought, to help the people whom he had so cruelly betrayed, and at the same time to please the Persians.

So he sent a message to the Athenians to say that if they would place the government of Athens in the hands of a party named "The Four Hundred," he would be able to persuade Tissaphernes to make an alliance with them. For his master, the great king, would make no terms with Athens as long as she was a democracy.

The Athenians followed Alcibiades" advice, and the government of the city was entrusted to The Four Hundred for a short time. But Alcibiades had not so much influence as he had believed, and the Persian government still refused to help the Athenians.

Partly perhaps in anger with Tissaphernes, partly because the Athenians were not satisfied with the rule of The Four Hundred, Alcibiades helped to overthrow them and to make Athens once again a democracy.

So grateful were the people for his help, that they declared his exile was at an end, and bade his return to Athens.

But although Alcibiades longed to go back to Athens, he was content to wait until he could return covered with glory. By his own request he was given the command of a few ships, and with these he set sail for the Hellespont. Mindarus, the Spartan admiral, with a large army was there, hoping to stop the corn supply of Athens on its way to the city from the Black Sea. If the corn supply was stopped, Athens would starve, and Mindarus knew that the city would then soon be in the hands of the Spartans.

The Athenian fleet was in three divisions, and the one commanded by Alcibiades passed the Hellespont unseen by the enemy and took Mindarus by surprise.

By land and sea desperate battles were fought, and in both the Athenians were victorious. Mindarus was slain, and the Spartan fleet was destroyed. The Hellespont was not blocked, and Athens was no longer in danger of starving.

The Spartans in their own laconic way sent a brief message to Sparta to tell of their defeat. The dispatch was seized by the Athenians before it reached its destination. This is what the victorious people read: "The ships are gone; Mindarus is slain; the men are starving; we know not what to do."

For two years, from 409 b.c. to 407 b.c. , Alcibiades stayed at the Hellespont retaking cities which had thrown off their allegiance to Athens and joined Sparta. Then feeling that now he might return with glory, he set sail for Athens.

Plutarch tells us that as Alcibiades drew near to the Piræus he was afraid to venture on shore, until he saw friends waiting to welcome him:

"As soon as he was landed the multitude who came out to meet him scarcely seemed so much as to see any of the other captains, but came in throngs about Alcibiades and saluted him with loud acclamations, and still followed him; those who could press near him crowned him with garlands, and they who could not come up so close, yet stayed to behold him afar off, and the old men pointed him out and showed him to the young ones."


The multitude saluted him with loud acclamations

In the assembly, crowns of gold were placed on his head, and he was created general, with absolute power, over both the land and the sea forces.

His estates were given back to him, and a "holy herald" was bidden to absolve him from the curses which had been pronounced against him.

The high priest alone refused to obey, for he said, "If he is innocent, I never cursed him."