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Mary Macgregor

Brasidas the Spartan

The Athenians were encouraged by the victory they had gained at Sphacteria to hope for still greater success to their arms, and in 424 b.c. they marched boldly into the country of Boeotia. At Delium they seized and fortified a temple, sacred to Apollo.

Now the Boeotians were indignant with the Athenians for invading their land, but they were still more angry that they had dared to enter their temple. They at once marched against the enemy and defeated them with great loss, but the temple was still left in the hands of the Athenians.

As was the custom in those days, the defeated generals asked the victors to allow them to bury their comrades who had fallen on the battlefield. But the Boeotians answered "When you give us back our temple you shall bury your dead."

The Athenians refused to do this, saying that Delium, the site on which the temple stood, belonged to Attica, and they had a right to stay in their own land.

"If you are in your own land," retorted the Boeotians, "do as you wish without asking our consent." It was easy to say this, for they knew that the defeated army was not strong enough to defy them.

When the invaders still refused to leave the temple, the Boeotians determined to drive them away by setting fire to the wooden barricades with which the Athenians had fortified the temple.

So they took a large beam of wood, and scooping out the centre made it into a hollow tube. To one end they fastened, by an iron chain, a huge caldron. In the caldron they placed charcoal and sulphur, while to the other end of the tube they tied bellows, by which a strong current of air could be blown through to the other end. When this was done the charcoal and the sulphur in the caldron were fanned into a great blaze, and the fortifications of the temple were soon on fire.

The Athenians tried to quench the flames in vain, and at length they were forced to flee, leaving the temple to the triumphant Boeotians, who no longer refused to let them bury their comrades.

The defeat of Delium was followed by many other disasters, and was the beginning of the downfall of the empire of Athens.

Meanwhile Brasidas had recovered from the wound that he had received at Pylos.

Never had there been so strange a Spartan as Brasidas. His countrymen spoke as little as possible, and what they did say they said in a brief, concise manner. In later days such short, pithy speech was termed laconic. This name was used because Sparta was also called Laconia. But Brasidas was not laconic, he spoke quickly and with ease, and while his comrades liked to do things in the way their fathers had done, Brasidas loved new ways and bold adventures.

Spartans were seldom liked by strangers, for they were rough, often even discourteous in their manner; but Brasidas had winning ways, and wherever he went he made friends. He was not only pleasant, he was also just, and strangers soon learned that his word could be trusted.

This was the man who was now sent with an army through Thessaly. The country was for the most part loyal to Athens, yet the Spartans reached Macedon unhindered.

Brasidas had been told that the city of Acanthus was ready to fling open her gates to him, but he found them guarded. He asked to be allowed to enter that he might tell the people why he had come to their city, and they, won by his kind and simple manner, admitted him.

His first words pleased them, for he told them that he knew how powerful they were, and that if they refused to throw off their allegiance to Athens many other cities would be encouraged by their example.

If they would trust themselves to Sparta, he promised that their city should be free. "But should you refuse," and his voice grew stern, "and say that I have no right to force an alliance on a people against its will, I will ravage your land, and force you to consent. And for two reasons will I do this. The tribute you pay to Athens injures Sparta by making her foe stronger, and your example will make other cities resist the claims of Sparta."

The Acanthians were afraid that Brasidas would fulfil his threat and destroy their fields, and trample on their grapes which were now ripe and ready to pluck, so they determined to trust Sparta and throw off their allegiance to Athens.

Brasidas was pleased, for, as he had foreseen, other cities quickly followed the example of Acanthus.

Encouraged by his success the Spartan general now determined to attack Amphipolis, an important town in Thrace, standing on the bank of the river Strymon.