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THE ATHENIAN ARMY IS DESTROYED
 THE Athenians made their preparations to retreat as
secretly as possible, but the Syracusans soon
discovered their plans. When they heard that their
departure was delayed for twenty-seven days, they
determined to attack the Athenian fleet once more, and
again they were successful.
On land the Athenians repulsed Gylippus, but they
gained little by this success, for the Syracusans had
made up their mind that the whole Athenian army should
So, as Demosthenes had foreseen, they barricaded the
entrance to the Great Harbour, drawing their ships
across it and lashing them together with chains.
Nicias saw that a battle must be fought, and he ordered
a great number of the land troops to go on board the
fleet. At all costs he must strengthen his navy.
The first thing the Athenians had to do was to break
through the ships that were lashed together at the
mouth of the harbour. But before the chains could be
broken the enemy was upon them, surrounding them on
every side. Despair gave the Athenians courage, and so
desperately did they fight that for a time it seemed
that they might yet escape.
Above the crash of vessels rose the cheers or groans of
those who watched the battle from the shore.
Thucydides gives us a picture of the hopes and fears,
the triumph and despair of those who fought as of those
who watched. He says:
 "The fortune of the battle varied, and it was not
possible that the spectators on the shore should all
receive the same impression of it. Being quite close
and having different points of view, they would some of
them see their own ships victorious; their courage
would then revive, and they would earnestly call upon
the gods not to take from them their hope of
deliverance. But others, who saw their ships worsted,
cried and shrieked aloud, and were by the sight alone
more utterly unnerved than the defeated combatants
"Others again who had fixed their gaze on some part of
the struggle which was undecided were in a state of
excitement still more terrible; they kept swaying their
bodies to and fro in an agony of hope and fear, as the
stubborn conflict went on and on; for at every instant
they were all but saved or all but lost. And while the
strife hung in the balance, you might hear in the
Athenian army at once lamentation, shouting, cries of
victory or defeat, and all the various sounds which are
wrung from a great host in extremity of danger."
At length the Athenians were pushed back and yet
further back, until the fleet was stranded on the
shore. The soldiers who had been left on land now
rushed forward and succeeded in saving sixty of their
ships from the enemy.
Demosthenes urged the men to embark and try once again
to cut their way out of the harbour, but they refused,
so crushed were they by their defeat. To retreat by
land was all that the Athenians could now try to do,
yet in their hearts they knew that the retreat must end
in slavery or in death.
The sick and the wounded were left behind. But those
who were stricken with fever, caused by the marsh land
on which they had been encamped, clung to their
comrades, and scarce knowing what they did, begged that
they might not be left behind. But their strength soon
failed, and they sank down by the wayside to die.
 Nicias, ill as he was, did all in his power to
encourage and cheer his men. He himself led the van,
Demosthenes brought up the rear.
After marching for several days, the Athenians were
parched with thirst. When at length they reached a
stream, it was to find the enemy awaiting them on the
But their thirst was intolerable, and paying no heed to
the foe, the soldiers rushed to the water. As they
stooped to drink, the Syracusans fell upon them and put
them to death.
Demosthenes and his men had fallen
behind the rest of the army, and had already been
forced to surrender. Nicias now saw that he, too, must
submit to Gylippus.
Seven thousand prisoners were sent by the Spartans to
work in stone quarries. These quarries were like
dungeons, but they were open to the sky, and during the
day the scorching sun beat down piteously on the
miserable prisoners, while at night the cold was so
intense that sleep was impossible.
Here they were kept for seventy days, with only enough
food to keep them alive, and with scarcely any water to
drink. Many of the men died, those who survived were
sold as slaves.
Nicias and Demosthenes were both put to death. It is
said that they were tortured, although Gylippus did all
he could to save them from the angry Syracusans. Thus
in disaster and defeat ended the expedition that sailed
forth so bravely from Athens two years before.
Thucydides says that this expedition was "the greatest
adventure that the Greeks entered into during this war,
and, in my opinion," he adds,
"the greatest in which
the Greeks were ever concerned; the one most splendid for the
conquerors and most disastrous for the conquered,
for they suffered no common defeat, but were absolutely
annihilated—land-army, fleet and all—and of many
thousands only a handful ever returned home."