Tissaphernes (d.395 BC)

Tissaphernes (d.395 BC)

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Tissaphernes (d.395 BC)

Tissaphernes (d.395 BC) was the Persian satrap of Lydia and Caria in Asia Minor and played part in the defeat of Athens in the Great Peloponnesian War and the defeat of the revolt of Cyrus the Younger in 401, but was executed for his failures against the Spartans in 395.

Tissaphernes first came to prominence in 415 BC when he defeated Pissuthnes, the ruler of Lydia. Pissuthnes had hired some Greek mercenaries commanded by an Athenian called Lycon and rebelled against the Persians. Tissaphernes bribed Lycon by giving him control of a number of towns. Pissuthnes was arrested, taken to court and executed. His son Amorges managed to hold on at Iasus for some time, but the danger of a serious revolt had been averted.

In 413 Tissaphernes, then satrap of Lydia and Caria for Darius II, helped form an alliance between Persia and Sparta, bringing Persia into the Great Peloponnesian War. His aim was to regain the Greek cities of Asia Minor, which had been ruled by Athens since the end of the Greco-Persian Wars in 449/8. By the end of 412 the Persians had retaken most of the lost cities, and Tissaphernes reduced the amount of aid he gave to the Spartans, to prevent them from winning a total victory.

During this period Tissaphernes had become close to Alcibiades, one of the most controversial Athenian leaders of this period, who at this point was working for Sparta. Alcibiades now wanted to return to the Athenian side, and in 411 he played a part in bringing about negotiations between Tissaphernes and an Athenian delegation. These ended in stalemate, and the chief negotiator, Pesiander, returned to Athens where he attempted to overthrow the democracy. For some time there was a standoff between the oligarchic regime at Athens and the democratic fleet, based at Samos, and Alcibiades was able to use the promise of money from Tissaphernes to return to favour. The oligarchy soon collapsed, and Alcibiades briefly returned to favour in Athens, but without actual support from Tissaphernes. Early in 410 Tissaphernes even moved north towards the Hellespont to play a public part in the anti-Athenian war effort. Alcibiades made a daring visit to his court in an attempt to maintain his relationship with the satrap, but instead he was arrested and thrown into jail. He managed to escape after thirty days, but his arrest did prevent Tissaphernes from coming under too much suspicion.

In 407 Darius II decided to give Sparta his full support. His younger son, Cyrus the Younger, replaced Tissaphernes as commander-in-chief of the Persian forces in Asia Minor and as satrap of Lydia. Tissaphernes kept Caria and acted as Cyrus's advisor, although the relationship was probably always rather uneasy. With the full support of Persia the Spartans were finally able to defeat Athens, destroying their fleet at Aegospotami in 405 and forcing them to surrender in 404.

In the same year Darius II died. He had two sons, Artaxerxes and Cyrus, both with Queen Parysatis. She favoured Cyrus, but Darius chose Artaxerxes as his successor. Cyrus was accused (possibly by Tissaphernes) of being involved in an assassination bid against his brother at this point, but his mother got him a pardon and he returned to his post in Lydia. However the tribute from the local cities was allocated to Tissaphernes. As a result an undeclared war broke out between Cyrus and Tissaphernes. Most of the Greek cities of Asia sided with Cyrus, although Miletus remained loyal to Tissaphernes because he had expelled the city's oligarchs.

Cyrus soon began to raise an army to revolt against his brother. He hired a large number of Greek mercenaries, telling them that they would be used against rebels in eastern Asia Minor and to watch Tissaphernes. Tissaphernes wasn’t fooled, and when Cyrus began his march east in 401 he sent a warning message to Artaxerxes. As a result Artaxerxes was able to raise an army in time to defeat Cyrus at Cunaxa (401), ending the revolt. Tissaphernes commanded the left wing of Artaxerxes's army at Cunaxa, and suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of the Greek hoplites. He then betrayed the surviving Greek leaders, killing them at a meeting, and pursued the survivors into the mountains of Asia Minor. The surviving Greeks (the '10,000'), managed to escape to the Black Sea coast and eventually fought on the Spartan side against Persia.

As a reward Tissaphernes was restored to his former post as satrap of Lydia and Caria, and given a Royal wife. His first job was to restore Persian control of the Greek cities of Asia Minor, lost during Cyrus's revolt. He began with an unsuccessful attack on Cyme, called off as winter approached. The Greeks of Asia called for help from the Spartans, who had offered some support to Cyrus. Sparta sent a small army at first, under the command of Thibron who campaigned against Tissaphernes (Persian-Spartan War). He was largely ineffective and was soon replaced by Dercylidas. The new Spartan commander arranged a truce with Tissaphernes, and then attacked his fellow satrap, Pharnabazus. In 397 Dercylidas was ordered to move back south to defend the Greek cities under Tissaphernes's rule. Tissaphernes was the senior of the two satraps, and was able to summon Pharnabazus to his aid. The two sides nearly clashed on the road to Ephesus. Pharnabazus wanted to fight, but Tissaphernes wanted to avoid a repeat of the battle of Cunaxa, and agreed to peace negotations. A truce was put in place while the rival peace offers were considered by the two governments. Pharnabazus didn't agree with this, and went to Susa where he was able to convince Artaxerxes II to fund the construction of a new fleet.

Towards the end of 397, while peace negotiations were underway, news reached Sparta that 300 triremes were being prepared in Phoenicia. The Spartans decided to send King Agesilaus II to Asia Minor with a larger force. He arrived in the spring of 396, and immediately arranged a further truce with Tissaphernes. Most of our sources suggest that Tissaphernes used this time to ask for reinforcements from Susa. Once these reinforcements arrived, Tissaphernes demanded that the Spartans leave Asia, a declaration of renewed war. Tissaphernes then fell for a Spartan trick. Agesilaus ordered the creation of a series of markets on the road east into Caria (so that his men could purchase food as they went). Tissaphernes moved to intercept this raid, at which point the Spartans moved north instead and raided Pharnabazus's satrapy.

In 395 Agesilaus reversed the trick. This time he ordered markets to be set up on the road to Tissaphernes's capital of Sardis. Assuming that this was another bluff Tissaphernes moved into Caria once again, but this time the Spartans went exactly where they said they were going. Tissaphernes moved north quickly in an attempt to stop them ravaging the area around Sardis, but part of his army was defeated and his camp captured (battle of Sardis, 395 BC).

This played into the hands of Tissaphernes's enemies at court, and in particular the Queen Mother Parysatis. Artaxerxes sent one of his senior officials, Tithraustes, to Sardis, with orders to dispose of Tissaphernes. The killing was carried out by Ariaeus, one of Cyrus's supporters at Cunaxa who had since been pardoned. Tissaphernes was beheaded in his bath while he was at Colossae in Phrygia.

File:MYSIA, Astyra. Tissaphernes. Circa 400-395 BC.jpg

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Tissaphernes (Ancient Greek: Τισσαφέρνης Old Persian Čiθrafarnah > Mod. Persian Čehrfar) (died 395 BC) was a Persian soldier and statesman, grandson of Hydarnes.

In 413 BC he was satrap of Lydia and Caria, and commander in chief of the Persian army in Asia Minor. When Darius II ordered the collection of the outstanding tribute of the Greek cities, he entered into an alliance with Sparta against Athens, which in 412 BC led to the conquest of the greater part of Ionia. But Tissaphernes was unwilling to take action and tried to achieve his aim by astute and often perfidious negotiations Alcibiades persuaded him that Persia's best policy was to keep the balance between Athens and Sparta, and rivalry with his neighbour Pharnabazus of Hellespontic Phrygia still further lessened his energy. When, therefore, in 408 BC the king decided to support Sparta strenuously, Tissaphernes was removed from the generalship and limited to the satrapy of Caria, whereas Lydia and the conduct of the war were entrusted to Cyrus the Younger.

On the downfall of Athens, Cyrus and Tissaphernes both claimed jurisdiction over the Ionian cities, most of which acknowledged Cyrus as their ruler but Tissaphernes took possession of Miletus, where he was attacked by Cyrus, who gathered an army under this pretence with the purpose of using it against his brother Artaxerxes II. The king was warned by Tissaphernes, who took part in the battle of Cunaxa, and afterwards tried to destroy the Greek mercenaries of Cyrus by treachery.

He was then sent back to Asia Minor to his old position as general in chief and satrap of Lydia and Caria. He now attacked the Greek cities, to punish them for their allegiance to Cyrus. This led to the war with Sparta in 399 BC. Tissaphernes, who once again had recourse to subtle diplomacy, was beaten by Agesilaus II on the Pactolus near Sardis in 395 BC and at last the king yielded to the representations of Pharnabazus, strongly supported by the chiliarch (vizier) Tithraustes and by the queen-mother Parysatis, who hated Tissaphernes as the principal cause of the death of her favourite son Cyrus. Tithraustes was sent to execute Tissaphernes, who was lured to Ariaeus' residence in Colossae and slain in 395 BC. Ώ]


In 405 BC the outstanding Spartan General Lysander commanded the Spartan fleet in its victory against the Athenians at Aegospotami.[1] The following year he helped bring the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) to an end when he took Athens itself.[2] There is no birthdate recorded for Lysander but it is known that the General was killed at the beginning of the Corinthian War (395-387 BC) when his troops were surprised by an ambush at the battle of Haliartus at Thebes in 395 BC. [3]The following essay is a brief but thorough examination of Lysander’s life and attempts to shed additional light on his actions, both during the war and afterwards.

Lysander’s father, Aristoclitus (d. 35 BC) was a descendent of Heracles (Hercules), while Lysander himself was a mothakes (mothax), a class of people with Spartiate fathers and helot mothers (or perhaps of a Spartan who had lost his status).[4] His family was poor and he was not of noble birth so very few details of his early years exist except that it is known that he needed a sponsor to be able to train as a Spartan soldier. He was said to be charismatic, handsome, and reckless, and one of the most controversial figures in Greek history. He was also considered to be double dealing, treacherous, and self-promoting, but whatever he was, he was an extremely successful navarch (an ancient Greek word meaning close to the same thing as a modern day Admiral) and arguably one of the best the world has ever seen. Lysander presumably demonstrated superior talents in fighting though there is no official record of such, his rise through the ranks to commander was probably due to his powerful patronage. It is prudent to mention here that while it was unusual for a mothax to reach the elevated level of navarch, during the Peloponnesian War the Spartans appointed at least two others to this level because of the poor showing by other Spartan commanders during battles at sea.[5] However, his eventual eminence started when, like all boys of the age of twelve or so, he gained a mentor of perhaps thirty years of age. While ancient writers tend to focus on the education of these young wards, along with the moral and spiritual aspects coming into play, there is little question as to the physical relationship that was intertwined around the rest.[6] Lysander’s mentor, and lover, was the young Agesilaus (444 BC-360 BC), half-brother to King Agis of Sparta (427 BC-400 BC).[7] This connection would have given Lysander some political significance and he was bound to be close to his adult lover throughout the years as he himself grew of age. He played a role in Agesilaus’ ascension to the throne of Sparta in 401 BC. [8]Lysander was probably helping his mentor because he later wanted help in return for his own bid for the Spartan throne. There is evidence that he tried to persuade the Spartans to alter their constitution so that he could so.[9]

There seemed to be a cordial relationship between Lysander and Agis as well, as both men wanted to replace the Athenian Empire with the Spartan Hegemony, while many Spartans did not. There is evidence that shows the two were probably even associates, once Lysander had reached prominence, and the two men worked together on shaping strategy towards the end of the war. Of course, Lysander surely benefited from the relationship because he cultivated many such personal situations to gain additional power for his pursuit of political dominance. He was even noted to have a competitive spirit and ambition among other Spartans.

He took naval command in 407 BC and he immediately set out to demonstrate his abilities and make himself a crucial figure to the Spartans. That spring he set out across the Aegean Sea for Ionia, fathering ships as he went. By the time he reached his destination, Asia Minor, he had a fleet of seventy triremes at his command.[10] The first thing he did was establish his base at Ephesus (also known as Notium) knowing that the location father south, Miletus, was not a viable location for a base for winning the war at sea. Besides, Ephesus was much closer to the city of Sardis which had taken on many Persian features, and was friendly to the Spartan cause.[11]

While Lysander was working on his political dominance in Sparta and moving his fleet towards Sardis, events were taking place elsewhere that would have an impact on the young commander. During the final years of the Peloponnesian War, King Darius of the Persian Empire (r. 423-404 BC) revoked the command of his General Tissaphernes (d. 395 BC) and replaced the man with his seventeen year old, untried son, Cyrus (d. 401 BC).[12] Darius’s wife disliked her oldest son, and influenced the king into the decision because she, along with Cyrus, wanted the teen to ascend the throne instead of the older boy. Thus, the young prince was sent to Sardis and given the title of karanos (lord, ruler) of the satrapy in western Anatolia. The king assigned Cyrus control of Lydia, Cappadocia, and Greater Phrygia, along with this command of Ionia.[13] However, even with his mother’s support Cyrus was going to have a hard time getting what he wanted because he had many powerful enemies at home and the Athenians to deal with as well. He was going to need some effective help, someone with which the above mentioned were going to have to contend with, on his side if his plans were to succeed. [14]

The first thing Cyrus was going to have to do was defeat the Athenians, and even with the Spartans and the other Peloponnesian allies, this was going to be considerably difficult since they seemed unable to claim victory in sea battles no matter the ships and financial support Persia gave them. Next would be for him to find military support in Sparta, and this too would be difficult since the Persians and Spartans continued to have opposing interests. He was going to have to find an ally, someone of rare military talent who had every reason to support him and the authority he was sure to bring to Sparta. As Cyrus made his way to Sardis in the summer of 407 BC, such a man was waiting for him.[15]

The meeting between the ardent seventeen year old prince and the equally ambitious Spartan commander was one of those alignments in history that create momentous events that historians throughout the ages study with relish. It also began the final years of the navarch’s life, of which was primarily wrapped up in the war and the aftermath. Lysander was the type of man that was practical and very skilled at gaining the trust of young royal men with high ambitions.[16] It was his way “to deceive boys with knucklebones and men with oaths”.[17] The two were destined to work perfectly together and gain the support needed to win the war that had been dragging on for twenty-four years.

Lysander had set about building his fleet upon his arrival at Ephesus, and helped turn it into a commercial center.[18] All he lacked during this time was the money to put his plans into action, and that changed when Cyrus appeared. The two leaders got on splendidly with Lysander blaming Tissaphernes with previous losses and any misunderstandings that may have cropped up between Persia and Sparta. He quickly tried to get Cyrus to change Persian policy so that the two peoples could fight the Athenian threat. Cyrus promised everything, even the throne on which he sat, but in reality he was severely limited in what he could and could not do.[19] When Lysander asked him to double the pay of his rowers, Cyrus could not but he did add one obol a day to the three they were already receiving. Only a beloved prince and queen’s favorite could get away with raising Spartan pay without additional authorization. [20]

While Lysander was currently financially dependent on Cyrus, he was not going to let that stay the case. He called together a meeting of the most powerful men from the cities of Ionia and promised them that he if won the war he would cede their cities to the aristocrats, if they helped him. This of course caused a great surge of financial support. [21]Yet, Lysander was not promising this to just win the war he was building personal allegiance to himself with these wealthy and powerful men for future purposes of his own.[22]

This was when the Athenians tried to force a naval battle with Lysander. [23]Due to the additional pay he was giving his rowers, there were defections from the Athenian navy to that of the Peloponnesians.[24] The Athenian navarch Alcibaides (450 BC–404BC) did not have the resources to outwait Lysander since he chose to not leave port to engage in battle thus Alcibaides moved from one area to another looking for plunder to pay his men.[25] Instead, Lysander was gathering his forces and incorporating the above mentioned defectors into his own navy. Soon Lysander’s fleet had grown to eighty ships and were manned by a solid group of sailors, while he presumed that Alcibaides was manned by roust-a-bouts and those dispirited left behinds who made trouble for their commander. Lysander continued to bide his time as he was sure that it was on his side, and as the next events played out, this proved to be the case indeed.

With Lysander watching closely, no matter how confident he was, Alcibaides left his fleet of triremes at Ephesus to guard the ever growing Spartan fleet in February 406 BC and sailed to join Thrasybulus (d. 338 BC) in the siege of Phocaea with his troopships.[26] This could be seen as a plan by Alcibaides to lure Lysander from the safety of port and draw the commander into a battle at sea. Lysander would not be able to sit idly by as the Athenian began to take Ionian cities and Phocaea was an excellent location to begin doing just that.[27]

It is prudent here to state that Alcibaides left his fleet of triremes in the seemingly capable hands of Antiochus (d. 406 BC), a petty officer and the helmsman for Alcibaides’ own ship. This was a unique event in the entire history of the Athenian navy, and has been repeatedly displayed as a folly from antiquity to modern times.[28] Alcibaides seemed to have made this decision because he figured that his helmsman was more likely to follow the command of “Do not attack Lysander’s fleet”[29] than a more experienced and headstrong captain. Alcibaides underestimated Antiochus’s desire for glory, or overestimated the loyalty his men held for him because the petty officer seized the day, as it were, and devised a strategy and launched an attack on Lysander as soon as Alcibaides had left the fleet under his command.[30]

Lysander had been well informed of the Athenian’s movement by the deserters who had come into his camp and by the almost constant observation of the fleet for over a month. Not only this but he was well aware of other battles that had been fought before he had been given command so when Antiochus’s strategy mimicked the battle at Cyzicus,[31] it wasn’t a surprise. Thus, when Antiochus sailed, along with nine other triremes, into port in what appeared to be a ploy to coax Lysander to follow them outward to open water where the bulk of the Athenian fleet would then attack, Lysander surprised them instead. This was an unprecedented stroke of luck, the Athenian fleet being commanded by someone with no experience. Therefore he decided to do something that was worthy of Sparta. First he charged the lead ship with three of his own triremes, sinking it and killing the upstart helmsman. Second, he chased the remaining triremes from the harbor with his entire fleet. With this surprising turn of events, the captains of the Athenian ships could not get into battle formation and Lysander easily dominated the seas and sunk fifteen Athenian ships.[32]

By April of 406 BC, Lysander was just where he wanted to be he was well funded, his fleet was growing, and with the easily-won battle over Antiochus, his crew’s moral was high. There was one obstacle, one small detail that was now at his feet. Spartan law would not let a navarch command for more than one year,[33] even one as successful as he had been. Lysander was forced to turn his fleet over to his successor, Callicratidas (d. 406 BC).[34] While he seemingly did this with loyalty to Sparta and in support of the new commander, Lysander had of course moved aside, using the event to further his own cause, himself. He had still been in possession of some of the money Cyrus had given him, and though he was supposed to bequeath it to his successor, instead he returned it to Cyrus. This left the new commander low of funds and with the obligation to ask Cyrus for money to pay his men. Of course Cyrus refused the request, ever helpful to Lysander in any way possible. This being the case, the fleet had to be moved back to the less strategic location, Miletus, in order to attempt to raise money.[35]

By the end of the year Callicratidas had lost a large portion of the fleet of one hundred seventy ships to the Athenians and been killed in a crushing blow at Arginusae.[36] The Spartans were left with only ninety ships and no money to pay the crews. Those men that Lysander had promised great things to in that meeting at Ephesus came together, along with Cyrus, to reinstate Lysander’s command. While, technically, he was given only vice-command under the navarch Aracus as the nominal leader, Lysander was back in control just as he had probably planned from the moment of handing the fleet over merely months before.[37]

These events, as laid out, show just how Lysander moved in order to keep himself where he thought he deserved to be. He was not above damaging Sparta’s chances at winning the war if it gave him the needed momentum to keep moving forward with his own plans. When he crushed the Athenians at the battle of Aegospotami in 405 BC,[38] he quickly moved on Athens before the enemy could rebuild its fleet or even regroup. In 404 BC, Lysander took Athens, thus ending the war and giving Sparta the victory.[39] He proved to be the best commander of Sparta had ever seen, and is credited with winning that war.

Lysander is credited with installing the Thirty Tyrants into Athens after its surrender. There is much speculation as to exactly what happened in the months after its defeat, as there are many accounts. These events are some of the most ardently documented in Greek history. A group of thirty oligarchs were given control, supposedly by Lysander as the conquering general, and assumed political control of Athens for about eight months. Then they were forcibly removed and democracy restored.[40]

Lysander was killed in 395 BC at the walls of Thebes.[41] He had marched his army to the city and attacked before allowing his reinforcements to arrive. Without his knowing, an additional Theban force stood outside the walls under cover and attacked mid battle at Haliartus. Lysander himself was killed and his army driven into the hills. This ended his ambitious move towards the Spartan throne.

In summation, Lysander is a figure of Ancient Greece that can stand tall as a savior to Sparta when the city needed a savior in its darkest hour, and one disliked as well for promoting himself above Sparta. He did not save the city out of love or loyalty, but to further his cause of political dominance. In the battles he fought, and won, he showed great courage and strategic guile. He knew how to get his men to love him and be loyal to him, even when he was no longer their commander. He also easily gained the love and support of a young, but powerful, prince.


Primary Sources:

Herodotus. The History of Herodotus, vol. 1. Translated by G. C. Macaulay.

Plutarch. Lives, vol 1. Translated by Aubrey Stewart, London, 1894.

Plutarch. Lysander. Translated by John Dryden.

Thucydides. The History of the Peloponnesian War. Translated by Richard Crawley.

Xenophon. Hellenica. Translated by: H.G. Daykins.

Secondary Sources:

Cook, Brad, L. The Essential Philip of Macedon: A Byzantine Epitome of his life. Duke University. http://www.duke.edu/web/classics/grbs/FTexts/45/Cook.pdf pages 189-211.

Kagan, D. The Peloponnesian War. England: Penguin Books, 2003.

Murray, W. Knox, M., and Berstein, A. ed., The Making of Strategy: Rulers, States, and War. Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Nikellis, Kostas. Ancient Greek Battles. http://www.ancientgreekbattles. net/Pages/People/Lysander.htm

Papapostolou, Metaxia Konstantinakos, Pantelis Mountakis, Costas Georgiadis, Kostas, “Rites of Passage and their Role in the Socialization of the Spartan Youth.” Choregia 2010, Vol. 6 Issue 1, 43-51. http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy2.apus.edu.

Pomeroy, Sarah B., Burnstein, Stanley M., Donlan, Walter, and Roberts, Jennifer T. Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History, 2nd. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Stem, Rex. “The thirty at Athens in the summer of 404.” Phoenix 57, no. ½. 18-34,187. http://www.proquest.com.ezproxy1.apus.edu.

Warry, John. Warfare in the Classical World. Salamander books Ltd, 1980.

Waterfield, R. Athens: A History from Ancient Ideal to Modern City. New York: Perseus Books Group, 2004.

Zabecki, David. “The Great Greek Turncoat.” Military History, Jan2011, Vol. 27 Issue 5, 42-51. http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy2.apus.edu.

[1] Xenophon. Hellenica. Translated by: H.G. Daykins. (8) Lit. fifteen stades.

[3] Plutarch. Lysander. Translated by John Dryden. Location 314.

[4] Plutarch. Lysander. Location 12.

[5] Thucydides. The History of the Peloponnesian War. Translated by Richard Crawley. Page 411

[6] Papapostolou, Metaxia Konstantinakos, Pantelis Mountakis, Costas Georgiadis, Kostas, “Rites of Passage and their Role in the Socialization of the Spartan Youth.” Choregia 2010, Vol. 6 Issue 1, 43-51. http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy2.apus.edu. Page 46.

[7] Kagan, D. The Peloponnesian War. England: Penguin Books, 2003. Page 439.

[10] Waterfield, R. Athens: A History from Ancient Ideal to Modern City. New York: Perseus Books Group, 2004. Page 206.

[14] Herodotus. The History of Herodotus, vol. 1. Translated by G. C. Macaulay. Section 141.

[15] Plutarch, Lysander. location 37

[17] Cook, Brad, L. The Essential Philip of Macedon: A Byzantine Epitome of his life. Duke University. http://www.duke.edu/web/classics/grbs/FTexts/45/Cook.pdf 189-211. Page 207.

[20]Plutarch. Lives, vol 1. Translated by Aubrey Stewart, London, 1894. Page 256, location 5836.

The Great Greek Turncoat

In one of his lesser-known plays, Timon of Athens, William Shakespeare put a speech in the mouth of a supporting character that remains a classic statement of the sense of betrayal soldiers throughout history have felt at the hands of their political masters. In a moment of extreme frustration, an Athenian captain named Alcibiades blurts out:

I am worse than mad: I have kept back their foes, While they have told their money and let out Their coin upon large interest I myself Rich only in large hurts. All those for this? Is this the balsam that the usuring senate Pours into captains’ wounds? —Act III, Scene V

Though a fictional character, Shakespeare’s Alcibiades was based on a real general of the same name who in the 5th century BC was among the key Athenian commanders during the 431–404 BC Peloponnesian War. A close friend (and, according to some period sources, lover) of the great philosopher Socrates, the real Alcibiades was not as noble and selfless as Shakespeare’s character claims to be. True, he was charismatic, handsome, reckless and one of the most controversial figures in Greek history. But the real Alcibiades was also arguably one of the most treacherous, double-dealing, self-aggrandizing—and yet most successful —generals in all of military history.

Alcibiades Cleinoiu Scambonides was born in Athens in 450 BC. His mother was a member of an old aristocratic family and a sister of Pericles, the most famous statesman of Athens’ Golden Age. When Alcibiades’ father was killed at the Battle of Coronea in 447 BC, Pericles became the boy’s guardian. In his school years, Alcibiades learned from Athens’ best teachers, including Socrates, one of the founders of Western philosophy.

In 432 BC, 18-year-old Alcibiades served as a hoplite (a heavily armed infantryman) at the Battle of Potidaea, a precursor to the Peloponnesian War. He shared the same mess tent with his old teacher, Socrates. In Plato’s dialogue The Symposium, Alcibiades credits Socrates with saving his life—and his weapons—after he was wounded. Although the generals awarded Alcibiades a prize for bravery, he insisted with uncharacteristic humility the distinction should have gone to Socrates. Eight years later Alcibiades and Socrates again served together, at the Battle of Delium, in which Boeotia trounced Athens. Alcibiades was by now a cavalryman, while the 45- year-old Socrates remained a hoplite. During the Athenian retreat Socrates calmly led a small party on foot along the line of withdrawal as many of those around him fled in panic. Alcibiades covered Socrates on horseback. This time the military leaders did recognize Socrates’ courage in battle.

Pericles, meanwhile, fell victim to the plague that swept Athens in 429 BC, as the Spartans and their allies besieged the city. After a decade of fighting, the Spartans and Athenians in 421 BC agreed to a truce, brokered by the Athenian general and statesman Nicias. The Peace of Nicias was supposed to last 50 years, but held for barely five. Several Peloponnesian allies—including Corinth, Megara and Boeotia—refused to sign and broke from Sparta. Alcibiades, who had entered politics the year before, was now a member of the Athenian ecclesia, the city-state’s principal assembly. Ambitious and ruthless, Alcibiades considered Nicias one of his main rivals. He used the uneasy and unstable truce to agitate for a more aggressive posture toward Sparta, thus undermining his opponent. When Sparta and its former ally Argos fought a brief war, the Athenians, at Alcibiades’ urging, sent a force of hoplites to support Argos at the 418 BC Battle of Mantinea, which Sparta won.

The Peace of Nicias collapsed in 416 BC, as Alcibiades continued to prod the ecclesia to widen operations against Sparta. The turning point came in 415 BC, when the Sicilian city of Segesta requested Athenian support in its struggle against neighboring Selinus, an ally of Sparta. Alcibiades argued that by conquering all of Sicily, the Athenians would cut off Sparta from the rear while gaining control of the island’s wealth in grain and natural resources. Alcibiades further argued that with Athens primarily a maritime power and Sparta primarily a land power, the Athenians should press their advantage and fight at sea as much as possible.

The ecclesia finally agreed to launch a huge invasion force of 130- plus triremes (fighting galleys) and an equal number of transport ships, 20,000 crewmen, 5,000 hoplites and about 1,300 peltasts (specialist light troops, including archers and slingers). Alcibiades was appointed one of three generals in command of the expedition. Much to his chagrin, his cautious rival, Nicias, was also appointed to command, although Nicias had opposed the intervention. The third commander was the experienced and capable Lamachus.

On the eve of the expedition, someone mutilated a number of statues of the god Hermes throughout Athens. The resulting religious scandal was a bad omen for the coming campaign, and Alcibiades’ political enemies quickly blamed him and his notoriously hard-drinking friends for the sacrilege. Alcibiades demanded an immediate capital trial to clear his name, but his enemies, fearing the army, stalled the proceedings, bringing formal charges only after the expeditionary force had sailed. Soon after the invasion fleet reached the Sicilian coast, a trireme arrived with orders to return Alcibiades and the other accused to Athens for trial.

Alcibiades agreed to follow the trireme to Athens in his own ship, but he and his crew slipped away en route. It was then the Athenian general shifted loyalties. He contacted the Spartans, offering them his sword if they would grant him sanctuary. He disclosed to his new masters that Athens intended first to subdue Syracuse’s Sicilian allies before attacking the city itself. The information gave Sparta time to send reinforcements and assign one of its own generals to the defense of Syracuse. Back in Athens, meanwhile, Alcibiades was tried in absentia for treason and sentenced to death. All of his property was confiscated.

But the damage was done, and nothing went right for the Athenian forces on Sicily. As Nicias and Lamachus argued about strategy, the Spartan reinforcements arrived. In 414 BC Lamachus was killed in action, leaving the militarily incompetent Nicias sole commander of the expedition. After some indecisive skirmishes that only whittled down the Athenians’ strength, the Spartans turned the tables and besieged the besiegers. The Syracusan navy forced the Athenians to beach their fleet and dig in ashore. Late in 414 BC an Athenian relief force arrived, but it was too late to turn the situation around. By the time the Athenians surrendered, they had lost more than 40,000 men and 175 ships. Syracuse put the captives to work as slave laborers in Sicily’s rock quarries. None would see Athens again.

Back in Greece the Spartans, on Alcibiades’ recommendation, sent a land force into Attica and established a fortified base at Decelea, just 13 miles from Athens. Cut off from the farmland outside the city walls, the Athenians were entirely dependent on the sea for their food and trade. With Athens under massive strategic pressure, its client city-states of the Delian League started to break away. Persia, perennial enemy of the Greek citystates, had long been content to sit back and watch Athens and Sparta fight it out. But after the Athenian failure at Sicily, the Persians began providing financial support to the Spartans, in exchange for recognition of Persian sovereignty over those cities along the coast of Asia Minor that Persia had lost to Athens in the 499–449 BC Greco-Persian Wars.

Noting that Athens had lost most of its fleet at Sicily, Alcibiades encouraged Sparta to build up its navy and challenge Athens directly. He sailed with the Spartan fleet to Ionia in 412 BC and encouraged widespread revolt against Athens. Most of the key city-states in the eastern Aegean abandoned the Delian League only the island of Samos remained loyal. Athens struggled to rebuild its fleet, with Samos as its major naval base, but found itself fighting two battles simultaneously—one to deflect Sparta and the other to hold together its crumbling alliance.

Despite Alcibiades’ considerable services to Sparta, he managed to wear out his welcome. The retirement of an influential supporter, one of Sparta’s five ephors (imperial overseers), weakened him politically. About the same time, he was rumored to have fathered a son by the wife of King Agis II. Warned of an assassination plot against him, Alcibiades fled Sparta in 412 BC and defected to Persian-controlled Asia Minor, where he wheedled his way into the confidence of Tissaphernes, the regional satrap (provincial governor). He urged Persia to continue playing Sparta and Athens against each other, giving priority first to decisively reducing Athens’ power at sea and then to conquering a weakened Sparta on land.

At the time of the failed Sicilian Expedition, Athens had become deeply divided between two hostile political factions. The group holding power wanted to maintain Athens’ radical (by the standards of the time) democracy, while their opponents sought a return to a more traditional oligarchic state. The Athenian navy was the main force behind the democratic faction, while the oligarchs found support among the older landed families who remained in Athens while the fleet deployed. In the years following Athens’ final defeat by Sparta in 404 BC, the struggle between these two factions erupted into a civil war that set the stage for Socrates’ trial and execution in 399 BC.

Alcibiades didn’t remain loyal to the Persians for long: Almost immediately after submitting himself to Tissaphernes’ protection, he began plotting a return to Athens. Assuming he would find more support among the oligarchic faction, Alcibiades suggested that if they took control in Athens and then recalled him, he could guarantee Persian support with a fleet of some 150 triremes. In 411 BC the oligarchic faction finally seized power in Athens through a campaign of murder and intimidation. The city-state came under the control of the revolutionary oligarchic council known as the Four Hundred, but Alcibiades’ scheme collapsed when Tissaphernes refused to deliver the Persian support, preferring to continue playing off both sides against each other.

At Samos, meanwhile, the navy refused to recognize the new government in Athens and set up its own democratic government in exile. The sailors expelled all officers who supported the oligarchs and elected new commanders. One of them, Thrasybulus, persuaded the men to support Alcibiades’ recall, hoping perhaps he could rally Persian support. It wasn’t exactly what Alcibiades’ had planned, but once at Samos he convinced the fleet he could either bring the Persian fleet in on Athens’ side or at least convince Tissaphernes to remain neutral. According to the contemporary Greek historian Thucydides, who was the first to chronicle the Peloponnesian Wars, Alcibiades knew all along that the Persians intended to remain on the sidelines. Regardless, the troops elected Alcibiades along with Thrasybulus.

Back in Athens, more regime change ensued: The Four Hundred collapsed, giving way to a more moderate government, which sought cooperation with the exiled fleet, then rolling back Spartan encroachment in the Aegean. Under Thrasybulus, the Athenians in 411 BC defeated a Spartan fleet off the coast of Cynossema, near the entrance to the Hellespont (Dardanelles), which controlled Athens’ vital trade route to the Black Sea. Although Alcibiades was not present at Cynossema, he played a key roll in the follow-up battle off Abydos, where Sparta and its Peloponnesian allies had a major naval base. During that daylong fight, Thrasybulus’ 74 ships engaged the 97-vessel Peloponnesian fleet, and the battle raged to and fro in an apparent draw. But at day’s end Alcibiades arrived from Samos with 18 triremes, tipping the balance.

The Peloponnesians withdrew to their base at Abydos, having lost 30 ships but avoiding complete destruction when the Persian army provided cover from shore. Shortly after the fighting ended, Tissaphernes arrived from Ionia with a Persian fleet. Alcibiades, seeking to flaunt his influence with the Persian satrap, sailed out to meet him with gifts. Tissaphernes— knowing not to trust the self-interested Athenian and needing to shore up relations with the Spartans—had him imprisoned on the spot. Alcibiades managed to escape within a month and was soon back in command of the Athenian fleet, but from that point on his boasts of influence with the Persians carried no weight.

Over the next several months the Spartans and their Peloponnesian allies rebuilt their fleet, while the Athenians besieged several of their former Delian League allies on the Adriatic to pull them back into line and raise money. Still fighting for control of the vital route to the Black Sea, the opposing fleets clashed again in 410 BC, this time off Cyzicus on the Propontis (the present-day Sea of Marmara). Reaching Cyzicus undetected under cover of darkness, Alcibiades’ small squadron of 20 ships advanced toward the 80-ship Peloponnesian fleet, luring it into pursuit. As the Peloponnesians took the bait, Alcibiades turned in seeming retreat back to sea, the Spartans close behind. When they were far enough from shore, the 66-ship main body of the Athenian fleet, split into squadrons commanded by Thrasybulus and Theramenes, slipped behind the Peloponnesians from opposite directions, cutting them off. Alcibiades then swung his squadron around and sailed straight back into battle.

Attacked from three directions, the Spartans were overwhelmed. Fighting both afloat and ashore, the Athenians defeated the combined Spartan-Persian forces and captured Cyzicus. The Persians, keen on seeing the war continue, provided the funds for Sparta to rebuild its fleet. And for the next several years, Athenian naval operations in the Adriatic under Alcibiades centered on plunder to pay for maintaining their army and navy. Such operations included the unsuccessful 409 BC Siege of Chalcedon, followed by a successful attack against Selymbria (on the Propontis) and a successful siege of Byzantium in 408 BC. The latter secured Athens’ control of the vital waterway between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

With a string of military victories behind him, Alcibiades decided the time was ripe for a triumphal return to Athens, which he had not seen since the 415 BC Sicilian Expedition. With traditional democracy restored, Alcibiades entered Athens in triumph in the spring of 407 BC. The ecclesia overturned his conviction and dropped all other criminal charges, restored his property and appointed him strategos autokrator (supreme commander) of all Athenian military forces.

Alcibiades’ resurgence didn’t last long. In 407 BC the new Persian satrap in Asia Minor, Cyrus the Younger, son of King Darius II, abandoned all pretenses of neutrality and provided the funds, materials and training to build a new Peloponnesian fleet at Notium (also known as Ephesus), just north of the main Athenian base at Samos the next year the Spartans appointed the capable Lysander as navarch, commander of the new fleet. In response to this threat, Alcibiades set sail from Athens in 406 BC with a fleet of some 100 triremes, intending to destroy the new Peloponnesian fleet. But when he reached the waters off Notium, nothing he did could lure Lysander out to fight. Tired of waiting, Alcibiades took 20 ships farther up the coast to support Thrasybulus, who was besieging rebellious Phocaea. Alcibiades left the 80-ship main body under the command of his helmsman, Antiochus, with strict orders not to engage the Peloponnesians.

But Antiochus did just that. Apparently seeking to repeat Alcibiades’ successful tactics at Cyzicus, Antiochus tried to lure Lysander from harbor with a small decoy force. But Lysander struck first and fast, and in the ensuing fight the Athenians lost 22 ships, without a single loss for the Peloponnesians. Although it was a relatively minor loss for the Athenians, Lysander scored an important psychological victory by proving the Athenians could be beaten at sea. Alcibiades’ many enemies in Athens pounced on the defeat, removing him and his key subordinates, including Thrasybulus and Theramenes. Their political gambit effectively decapitated the fleet, setting the stage for Athens’ final defeat two years later.

Alcibiades entered self-imposed exile, leaving Athens, never to return. He first sailed north to the fortifications in Thracian Chersonese he had captured three years earlier. His new home was near the Hellespont, close to Aegospotami, where the final battle of the Peloponnesian Wars played out in 405 BC. Just before that battle, Alcibiades tried to convince Athenian commanders their fleet was vulnerable and recommended shifting it to a more secure anchorage close to Sestos. They rejected his advice out of hand. Just days later Lysander attacked from the opposite shore of the Hellespont, capturing almost all 200 of the Athenian ships and their crews unprepared on the beach.

After the farce at Aegospotami, Alcibiades crossed into Asia Minor and traveled to Phrygia (at the center of present-day Turkey), apparently seeking refuge at the main Persian court. Period accounts of his death differ, but according to the Roman biographer Plutarch, assassins sent by Lysander tracked down Alcibiades in 404 BC and set fire to his house while he was in bed with a courtesan named Timandra. Alcibiades grabbed his sword and, using his cloak as a makeshift shield, made a “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” charge into the firelit night.

Historians have long had trouble with Alcibiades. Many agree he had an outsized ego and trouble controlling his passions. According to Plutarch, he carried a golden shield adorned with an Eros armed with a thunderbolt. His readiness to shift political allegiances also calls his ethics into question. The verdict is far less than clear on his abilities as a military commander. His decision to leave Antiochus in command at Notium was a serious blunder. Thucydides strongly suggests that the course of the Sicilian Expedition would have gone better had Alcibiades retained command. But Thucydides also criticized Alcibiades for being motivated more by personal ambition than the good of the state when in 420 BC he pushed for a more aggressive posture against Sparta and in 415 BC when he instigated the Sicilian Expedition. Then, of course, the Peloponnesian War might have ended quite differently had Athenian commanders heeded Alcibiades’ advice at Aegospotami.

Alcibiades was perhaps the principal author of his own undoing. In Lives, his series of biographies of Greek and Roman notables, Plutarch wrote of him: “It would seem that if ever a man was ruined by his exalted reputation, that man was Alcibiades. His continuous successes gave him such a repute for unbound daring and sagacity that when he failed in anything, men suspected his inclination they would not believe his inability.”

For further reading, David T. Zabecki recommends: Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, Plutarch’s Lives and The Fall of the Athenian Empire, by Donald Kagan.

Originally published in the January 2011 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.

Zoroastrian Heritage

The Historical Alcibiades
The historical Alcibiades lived c. 450� BCE, and was a controversial politician and general during the Peloponnesian war between Sparta and Athens (431 to 404 BCE. See map below. ). The war between Sparta and Athens (Athens was ethnically Ionian, Asian?, while the Spartans were ethnically Dorian, northerners?) was one of the most destructive wars in ancient history and one which brought to an end the golden age in Greek history.

Plutarch (Plutarch, Alcibiades, 6-8) states that Socrates was amongst Alcibiades' teachers and that Alcibiades "feared and reverenced Socrates alone, and despised the rest of his (Socrates' many) lovers". Plato informs us that the much older Socrates was the young and exceptionally handsome Alcibiades' first (male) lover.

Map of Ancient Greece. The Peloponnesus peninsula is the located to the southwest
of the mainland. Sparta lies to the south of the peninsula while Athens lies east of the
peninsula's isthmus.
Loved & Hated
Alcibiades' Anti-Spartan Alliance & Its Defeat
Alcibiades was variously loved and hated by the Athenians. In 421 BCE Alcibiades gained notoriety as the political opponent of Nicias/Nikias and the peace-party that had negotiated peace with Sparta after years of indecisive warring. According to the historian Thucydides, who knew Alcibiades well and who wrote about him dispassionately, Alcibiades vainly opposed the treaty because the Spartans had not negotiated through him. The slighted Alcibiades instead constructed an anti-Spartan alliance between the democracies of Athens Argos, Mantinea and Elis, the latter three being city-states neighboring Sparta in the Peloponnese. He then advocated a resumption of the war with Sparta. In 418, a crushing Spartan victory at Mantinea broke up Alcibiades' anti-Spartan alliance.
Spartans and Athenians at war

Incident Regarding the Phallic God Hermes
In 415 BCE, Alcibiades persuaded the Athenians to send a major military expedition to Sicily against Syracuse, Syracuse was the most powerful city state in Sicily. It was Dorian by ethnicity (as was Sparta), and it was a colony of Corinth, a Spartan ally. The night before the expedition was to set sail, the Hermae, that is, heads of the god Hermes on a plinth with a phallus, were mysteriously mutilated throughout Athens.

A Herma plinth - a roadside marker rep-
resenting the phallic god Hermes. In Athens,
herms or hermae were placed as roadside
markers and outside houses for good luck.
Before we continue our narrative, we will take a short aside to discuss the Hermae plinth and the god Hermes. In Greek mythology, Hermes, god of boundaries, exchange, cunning thieves and tricksters - popularly the messenger god carrying messages from the gods to humans - was considered to be a phallic deity. He was conceived as a result of the Olympian supreme god Zeus' adulterous love of the nymph Maia/Maya (cf. Gaia/Gaya), daughter of the more ancient Titan god Atlas. Next morning, Maia gave birth to Hermes in a cave hiding from the certain wrath of Zeus' wife (who was also his sister) Hera, were she to discover the object of her husband's (very frequent) infidelity. By nightfall of the first day of his birth, the infant Hermes stole the immortal cattle of Apollo, making them walk backwards so that their footprints might make it appear they were walking in the opposite direction. He thereby showed his skills not just as a thief, but as a trickster as well. Hermes went on to become a procurer to satisfy the sexual desires of the gods of Olympus. In Rome, his counterpart Mercury was one of the most immodest of the Jovian gods. He was employed by Jupiter (Zeus' Roman counterpart) to deliver amorous messages.

A devotee placing a Herma near an altar
The Homeric hymn to Hermes invokes him as a much-traveled (polytropos) i.e. wandering, blandly cunning, robber, cattle driver, bringer of dreams, watcher by night, thief at the gates. His image was commonly a head mounted on a Herm or pillar that include an erect phallus. The herms/hermae were used as roadside markers and were placed outside homes for good luck. This is the backdrop to what happened next - events that had a profound impact on history and subsequent Greek-Persian relations.

Alcibiades Sentenced to Death by Athenians
We now return to our narrative. In the ensuing melee after the discovery of the vandalized hermae, Alcibiades was accused of being the originator of the sacrilege as well as of having profaned the Eleusinian Mysteries. Perhaps because in one of his roles - Hermes was the god who protected travellers - the act was seen as an attempt to sabotage the voyage to Sicily. Alcibiades demanded an immediate inquiry to clear his name, but his enemies fearing that soldiers loyal to him might protect him, ensured that he sailed with the charge still hanging over him. However, when he and his troops reached Sicily, he was recalled alone to stand trail, and a state ship was sent to bring him back to Athens.

Alcibiades Flees to Sparta. Advises Sparta Against Athens
Fearing for his life, Alcibiades did not return to Athens. Instead he fled to Sparta where he convinced the Spartans that he could assist them in their cause. Sure enough, while he was hiding in Sparta, the Athenians found Alcibiades guilty in absentia and sentenced him to death. But soon he would have to flee Sparta, this time seeking the protection of the Persian satrap (governor-general) of Lydia and Caria, Tissaphernes.

Alcibiades Seduces Timaia Queen of Sparta
The reason for Alcibiades fleeing Sparta was the disclosure of his affair with Timaia, the wife of Spartan King Agis II while the latter was away warring at Decelea with his army. Alcibiades was also likely the father of the son she bore. When news of the affair became public, a death warrant was issued for Alcibiades - but fortunately for him, he was sailing to Asia Minor at the time.

Map of ancient Greek states c. 500-400 BCE. Note Medising states -
states friendly to the Persian Empire - in blue.
1. To see a larger map click here 2. To see an additional map click here
Alcibiades Flees to Persian Lands
Becomes Adviser & Manipulates Persians
In Asia minor, Alcibiades fled the long arms of both Athenian and Spartan law, seeking refuge this time in lands of the Persian Empire (Lydia, Caria and Phrygia. See map above) that bordered the Greek island states of Lesbos, home of the Lesbians, Ionia and Samos, home to the Asiatic Greeks and the Athenian naval fleet. This is where Tissaphernes (Old Persian Chithrafarnah, d. 395 BC) held office as satrap or governor general for the Persian Emperor Darayavahush II (Darius II, 423-404 BCE, not to be confused with Darius I, the Great). There Alcibiades offered his services as an adviser to the satrap. Such was Alcibiades's good fortune that Tissaphernes accepted the offer.

In his relations with the Greek states, the Persian satrap Tissaphernes was more inclined to diplomacy and negotiations. Alcibiades though was more inclined to achieving his ends through treachery and subterfuge. Alcibiades was well aware that Athens had been instigating the Asian Greek states under Persian rule not to pay taxes. The Athenian therefore counselled the Persian to adopt a more aggressive approach towards Athens. The militant Alcibiades also persuaded the Persian satrap Tissaphernes that Persia's best policy was to play Athens and Sparta against one another.

Alcibiades was often successful in manipulating the Persians to whom he ingratiated himself by displaying an affectation of Persian manners. When in Sparta he had similarly shown an affection for Spartan manners. In Sparta, Alcibiades had abandoned the wild and extravagant lifestyle he had enjoyed in Athens (perhaps without choice because he had no remaining wealth or property) and adopted instead the fabled austere lifestyle of the Spartans which included dressing in a single cloak, bathing in the cold waters of the River Eurotas, and dining on Spartan 'black broth' made from pork blood and vinegar.

Alcibiades Supports the Oligarchs Against the Democrats
Not content to leave matters be, Alcibiades continued his old ways and persuaded a group of Athenian generals and admirals in Samos (of the coast of Caria) to overthrow to "radical" Athenian democracy and install in its place an oligarchy - dictatorship by a power elite that included the generals. As part of his plan, Alcibiades promised to use his influence with Tissaphernes and the King of Persia, to switch sides and support the Athenian cause against the Spartans. The generals and admirals in turn persuaded their soldiers and sailors to support the coup with promises of lucrative pay from the Persian king.

Phrynichus, a politician in Athens who had opposed Alcibiades, on hearing of the plan, feared that a restored Alcibiades would seek revenge against him. Phrynichus therefore sent a secret letter to the Spartan admiral, Astyochus, informing him of Alcibiades' plot to make the Persian satrap Tissaphernes support the Athenians against the Spartans. Part of Phrynichus' offer to the Spartan admiral Astyochus was support in destroying the rebellious Athenian fleet in Samos.

Persians Refuse to Take Sides
In all likelihood, the Persians were originally unaware of these intrigues. If the Persian satrap Tissaphernes is to be faulted, it is for his own naiveté. When the Persian did become aware of the plot, Alcibiades' scheme encountered a set-back, for Tissaphernes, determined to stay neutral in the squabble, refused to make an agreement with the Athenian conspirators on any terms.

Not to be outdone or to have his scheme undone, the wily and treacherous Alcibiades managed to convince the Athenians that the Persians in fact supported his scheme - and raised the stakes by presenting the Athenians with ever increasing demands supposedly on Tissaphernes' behalf and supposedly in exchange for Persian support. The Athenians believed Alcibiades represented the Persians and were enraged at the audacity of what they thought were Persian demands! The upshot was that Alcibiades' scheme backfired, for the Athenians withdrew their support for him.

In 411 BCE, the Athenian rebels nevertheless launched their planned coup. They succeeded in overthrowing the democrats and in installing an oligarchy of four hundred erstwhile dictators - a coalition which didn't survive very long, for the 400 squabbled between themselves and a few days later were replaced by an oligarchy of 5,000 consisting of Athens' wealthiest landowners. In a strange twist of fate, the Athenian democrats continued to hold power on the island of Samos - which, the reader will remember, lay off the Asiatic coast where the Athenian navy was based. At Samos, the democrats thwarted the coup launched by the generals and 300 would-be Samian oligarchs.

Alcibiades Supports Democrats Against Oligarchs
Now Alcibiades, true to form, concluded a pact that resulted in an alliance between himself and the democrats of Samos. The pact was that Alcibiades would be reinstated as an Athenian citizen in exchange for Alcibiades using his influence with the Persians to garner Persian support for the Athenian democrats in Samos. Alcibiades used his considerable oratorical and persuasion skills to convince the Athenian soldiers and sailors stationed in Samos to elect him as their general. He managed to rile the troops to such an extent and they wished to waste no time in sailing to Athens in an attempt to depose the oligarchs, only to be dissuaded by Alcibiades.

Newly elected as an admiral, Alcibiades sailed to a Persian controlled port with his fleet to show-off his new-found status and power to the Persian satrap Tissaphernes. He told the Greeks that his purpose was to convince Tissaphernes not to sail against the Athenians with the Persian fleet harbored at Aspendos. The pacifist and non-interventionist Tissaphernes had no such plans to sail against the Athenians in the first place. As such, Alcibiades succeeded admirably in impressing both Persians and Athenians.

Persia Actively Supports Sparta
The war between Sparta and Athens continued unabated. In 408 BCE the Persian emperor Darius II decided to actively support Sparta in its war against Athens. He removed the non-interventionist satrap Tissaphernes from the generalship of the western Persian armies and limited Tissaphernes' satrapy to Caria. Darius then gave the satrapy of Lydia and management of the alliance with Sparta in its war with Athens to Pharnabazus under the overall command of his son Cyrus the Younger.

Actively supporting Sparta is what Alcibiades had been pushing the Persians to do in the first place. But now that Alcibiades had switched sides and joined the Athenians, that made him an adversary of the Persians.

Setbacks for the Spartan-Persian Alliance

Greek naval fleet.
Image credit: Sharing Knowledge (from Wikipedia)
Athens and Sparta had in the meantime been preparing themselves for a 'mother of all' sea battle to end all battles. When the two fleets engaged, the Athenian fleet gained the upper-hand and were set to destroy the Spartan fleet entirely, when a timely intervention by the Persian saved the Spartan fleet from utter destruction. The reprieve was only temporary, for the Spartan-Persian alliance suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Athenians during their next engagement. Alcibiades was now fully engaged as a restored Athenian admiral and general and is credited with many Athenian victories over the Spartans and their Persian supporters.

Victory for the Spartan-Persian Alliance
Alcibiades Blamed for Athenian Defeat
But as the world turns, so would the fortunes of the Athenian's new found hero, for in 406 BCE the Spartan-Persian alliance scored an important victory over the Athenians fleet led by Alcibiades of the coast of Ionia in Asia Minor. While the defeat was relatively minor, Alcibiades' enemies in Athens used the defeat to blame him and the resulting internal divisions in Athens served to further weaken them. In 405 the Athenians would suffer a more devastating defeat at Aegospotami. That defeat cut off the main source of Athenian food supply which was brought in by sea from the wheat fields to the north of the Black Sea.

Alcibiades's Last Desperate Ploy
Alcibiades must have been delusional about his influence with Persia after warring against the Spartan-Persian alliance. For his next move was to go to Phrygia (to the north of Lydia) to seek Persian assistance in yet another scheme. In Phrygia, he sought a meeting with the Persian satrap Pharnabazus to solicit Pharnabazus' assistance for the Athenians. If that plan wasn't delusional enough, it was Alcibiades' intention to journey on from Phrygia to the imperial court of Persia and advise the Persian emperor on how to deal with the Greeks. Perhaps this was Alcibiades' last and desperate attempt to win favor in Athens by demonstrating his connections and influence with the Persian throne.

Assassination of Alcibiades

Morte di Alcibiade, the Death of Alcibeade (1839)
by Michele De Napoli (1808-1892)
Alcibiade's mistress Timandra is in the background
Amongst the accounts of what happened next, one widely held is that the Spartans discovered his plans and their admiral Lysander - with the consent of the Persians - arranged to have the hapless Alcibiade, then bedded with his mistress Timandra, assassinated.

Surrender of Athens
But Victory for Persia?
Their sea-borne food shipments cut-off and close to the point of mass starvation, Athens surrendered to Sparta in 404 BCE. The Persians vicariously shared in the victory.

But the Persians would not have long to savor their gains. The skies to the north were darkening and a Persian Empire weakened by internal dissent and treachery from within would have to contend with the armies of the Athenians' cousins, the Macedonians. Persian meddling in Greek affairs at a time when the Persians were weak from within would eventually cost them their empire.

For a further discussion of Persian-Greek relations during this period, see our section Peace with Greece - Really?.

Barbarians and Vandals

The barbarians, which is a term that covers a varied and changing group of outsiders, were embraced by Rome, who used them as suppliers of tax revenue and bodies for the military, even promoting them to positions of power. But Rome also lost territory and revenue to them, especially in northern Africa, which Rome lost to the Vandals at the time of St. Augustine in the early 5th century CE.

At the same time the Vandals took over the Roman territory in Africa, Rome lost Spain to the Sueves, Alans, and Visigoths. The loss of Spain meant Rome lost revenue along with the territory and administrative control, a perfect example of the interconnected causes leading to Rome's fall. That revenue was needed to support Rome's army and Rome needed its army to keep what territory it still maintained.

Military people similar to or like Tissaphernes

Achaemenid satrap of Lydia, which included Ionia, circa 440–415 BC. His capital was Sardis. The son of Hystaspes, probably himself the son of Darius I, which shows his Persian origin and his membership of the Achaemenid dynasty. Wikipedia

Persian prince and general, Satrap of Lydia and Ionia from 408 to 401 BC. His birth date is unknown, but he died in 401 BC during a failed battle to oust his elder brother, Artaxerxes II, from the Persian throne. Told by Xenophon in his Anabasis. Wikipedia

Persian soldier and statesman, and Satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia. The son of Pharnaces II of Phrygia and grandson of Pharnabazus I, and great-grandson of Artabazus I. Wikipedia

Administrative province (satrapy) of the Achaemenid Empire, located in the ancient kingdom of Lydia, with Sardis as its capital. The first satrap however, his rule did not last long as the Lydians revolted. Wikipedia

Persian satrap of Lydia and Ionia under the high king Darius III Codomannus. One of the Persian commanders at the Battle of the Granicus, in 334 BC. In this engagement, while he was aiming a blow from behind at Alexander the Great, his arm was cut off by Cleitus the Black and he subsequently died. Wikipedia

Brother of the Achaemenid king of Persia, Darius I, satrap of Lydia from the capital of Sardis, and a Persian general. Important role in suppressing the Ionian Revolt. Wikipedia

Persian Satrap of Lydia from ca. 530-520 BC, during the reigns of Cyrus the Great, Cambyses and Darius the Great, succeeding Harpagus, and being followed by Bagaeus. Described by Herodotus in the third book of his Histories, where he achieved notoriety for the death of Polycrates, tyrant of Samos: Wikipedia

Achaemenid general and satrap of ancient Egypt during the early 5th century BC, at the time of the 27th Dynasty of Egypt. Appointed satrap of Egypt some time between 486 and 484 BC, shortly after Xerxes' accession. Wikipedia

List of all the known Satraps (governors) of Lydia, a satrapy of the Persian Empire: Tabalus (546 - 545) Wikipedia

Achaemenid satrap of ancient Egypt during the 5th century BC, at the time of the 27th Dynasty of Egypt. Appointed satrap by general Megabyzus. Wikipedia

Achaemenid Persian general, son of Zopyrus, satrap of Babylonia, and grandson of Megabyzus I, one of the seven conspirators who had put Darius I on the throne. Killed when the satrapy rebelled in 482 BCE, and Megabyzus led the forces that recaptured the city, after which the statue of the god Marduk was destroyed to prevent future revolts. Wikipedia

Persian Satrap of Phrygia and military commander, leader of an independence revolt, and the first known of the line of rulers of the Greek town of Cius from which were eventually to stem the kings of Pontus in the 3rd century BCE. Apparently a cadet member of the Achaemenid dynasty, possibly son of Pharnabazus II, and part of the Pharnacid dynasty which had settled to hold Dascylium of Hellespont in the 470s BCE. Wikipedia

Persian Satrap of Lydia, who also distinguished himself as a general in the reign of Artaxerxes III and Darius III. Forced to set him free. Wikipedia

Persian commander of the Achaemenid Empire in the 5th century BC. He was the son of Hydarnes I, satrap of the Persian empire and one of the seven conspirators against Gaumata. One of the commanders for the Second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. Wikipedia

Persian satrap of Bactria and Persis. The father of Darius I, king of the Achaemenid Empire, and Artabanus, who was a trusted advisor to both his brother Darius as well as Darius's son and successor, Xerxes I. Wikipedia

Satrap of Caria, nominally the Achaemenid Empire Satrap, who enjoyed the status of king or dynast by virtue of the powerful position his predecessors of the House of Hecatomnus (the Hecatomnids) created when they succeeded the assassinated Persian Satrap Tissaphernes in the Carian satrapy. Also ruled by the Carian dynasts since the time of Mausolus, and the name of Pixodarus as ruler appears in the Xanthos trilingual inscription in Lycia. Wikipedia

Region within the satrapy of Lydia, with its capital at Sardis, within the First Persian Empire. At the Behistun inscription. Wikipedia

Achaemenid judge and later Satrap of Ionia during the reign of Darius the Great, circa 500 BC. Condemned for corruption by Cambyses II. Wikipedia

Achaemenid satrap of Western Armenia and later satrap of Lydia in western Anatolia. Highly regarded by the Persian King Artaxerxes II, and when he was present, so Xenophon tells us, no one else had the honour of helping the sovereign to mount his horse. Wikipedia

Prominent Persian satrap of Bactria in Persia, and later self-proclaimed king of Persia. According to classical sources, he killed his predecessor and relative, Darius III, after the Persian army had been defeated by Alexander the Great. Wikipedia

Achaemenid satrap of ancient Egypt during the 5th century BCE, at the time of the Achaemenid 27th Dynasty of Egypt. Mainly attested from three letters written in Egyptian Demotic. Wikipedia

The third Persian King of Kings of the Achaemenid Empire, reigning from 522 BCE until his death in 486 BCE. He ruled the empire at its peak, when it included much of West Asia, parts of the Caucasus, parts of the Balkans (Thrace-Macedonia, and Paeonia), most of the Black Sea coastal regions, Central Asia, as far as the Indus Valley in the far east and portions of north and northeast Africa including Egypt (Mudrâya), eastern Libya, and coastal Sudan. Wikipedia

Ancient Iranian empire based in Western Asia founded by Cyrus the Great. Larger than any previous empire in history, spanning 5.5 e6sqkm. Wikipedia

The brother of Spithridates, a satrap of Ionia and Lydia, with whom he might have held the possession of satrap. Singled out for his 'valour and loyalty' to serve alongside allied Theban troops. Wikipedia

Tissaphernes (d.395 BC) - History

Xenophon in front of the Austrian Parliament Building in Vienna

The Route of Xenophon’s Ten Thousand Men

Coinage of Phokaia, Ionia, circa 478-387 BC. Possible portrait of Satrap Tissaphernes, with satrapal headress.

The multitude saluting Lysander with loud acclamations.

Thalatta! Thalatta! (The Sea! The Sea!) — painting by Bernard Granville Baker, 1901 – A famous scene from Xenophon’s works

Xenophon, Aphrodisias Museum

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One comment

Almost afraid to leave a comment, I have just started at the age of 60 studying the ancient classics. I have read and studied much about different individuals, Now I am trying to connect the dots and see the bigger picture. This explains so much, thank you.

War Council

Persian Army (Use Eastern blocks)
Leader: Tissaphernes
Take 4 Command Cards .

Spartan Army (Use Greek blocks)
Leader: Agesilaus
Take 6 Command Cards .
Move First .

Special Rules
On the first Spartan turn, that player is considered to have played a "Mounted Charge" card. No card is actually played or drawn on that turn.

A Spartan unit that occupies the Persian camp hex at the start of the Spartan player's turn may remove the camp hex and gain one victory banner.

The three units marked as "Veterans of Xenophon's 10,000" are special units. Place a special block in the same hex as these three units to distinguish them from the other units. These three veteran units, in the same hex or in an adjacent hex to Herippidas, will battle with one additional dice.

All medium infantry units are considered hoplites and the hoplite infantry rule is in effect.

Watch the video: Урал 379. 395 19691973