|The Story of Greece|
|by Mary Macgregor|
| Stories from the history of ancient Greece beginning with mythical and legendary stories of gods and heroes and ending with the conquests of Alexander the Great. Gives short accounts of battles and sieges, and of the men who made Greece a great nation. Ages 10-14 |
THE SIEGE OF PLATAEA
 THE Peloponnesian War began with an attack upon the little
town of Plataea. Two years later, in the early summer
of 429 B.C., Plataea was again attacked, this time by
the Spartans, who were led by their king Archidamus.
The town, small though it was, was an Athenian
fortress, so the Spartans were eager to raze it to the
But Plataea stood on sacred territory; for Pausanias,
after his great victory over the Persians, had declared
that in time of war it should ever be left undisturbed.
The Plataeans reminded the king of the promise of the
Spartan general, and begged him to withdraw his troops.
Archidamus would not lead his army away, but he
promised to do the Plataeans no harm if they would
become allies of Sparta, or if they would give up their
alliance with Athens and fight on neither side. But
the Plataeans would not agree to either of these plans.
Then the king offered to let them leave the town. He
promised that their homes, their orchards, their fields
would be kept in good order as long as the war lasted,
and that they would be given back to them when peace
It was a generous offer, and the Plataeans begged to be
allowed to send to Athens to ask her advice. Her
answer speedily settled the matter.
"Athens," so ran the message, "never deserted her
allies, and would not now neglect the Plataeans, but
succour them with all her might. Wherefore the
alliance must stand and the attack of the Spartans be
 When Archidamus heard what Athens had said to the
Plataeans, he determined to besiege the town. The
Thebans who were with the Spartan army rejoiced that
war was to begin, for they were ever bitter enemies of
The little town prepared to defend herself against the
enemy, sending away the women and children to a place
of safety. A hundred women slaves only were kept to
cook and wash for the garrison, which was small. Yet
few in number as they were, the doughty citizens
withstood the attacks of the Spartans for two years.
When Archidamus ordered his men to raise a mound as
high as the wall around the town, the Plataeans at once
added to the height of their defences. They also dug
beneath the mound of the enemy, and so undermined it
that it was continually sliding down.
Then lest the walls should at length be scaled by the
enemy, the citizens built an inner wall to protect the
city yet more strongly.
Often the little garrison looked wistfully for the help
that Athens had assured them would be sent, but month
after month passed and no help came from the
plague-stricken city. Yet the Plataeans did not dream
Archidamus was in despair, for he knew that his
soldiers were seldom able to take a walled town. His
pride was hurt at the thought of being beaten by a mere
handful of men. He had with him the whole
Peloponnesian army, yet a garrison of five hundred had
been able to defy all his efforts to capture the city.
The king determined, since he could not take the town
by assault, to starve it into submission. So he now
ordered two great walls to be built round the city,
placing on them here and there towers or battlements.
The walls were a certain space apart, and this space
was covered over, so that the soldiers could live in it
as in a camp, while armed sentinels paced up and down
on the roof.
When the second year of the siege began, food grew
 scarce in Plataea. Either the little garrison must
force its way out or die of hunger. To escape, the
soldiers would have to scale the wall, without
attracting the attention of the sentinels, and reach
the ground on the other side.
More than half the garrison resolved to stay where it
was, but about two hundred determined to make the
So one cold, dark night in the month of December, when
the sentinels had retreated into the towers for
shelter, the brave two hundred stole out of the town,
carrying ladders on their backs. They wore little
clothing, that they might climb and run the easier.
That they might step the more quietly their right feet
were bare, while on the left each wore a shoe to keep
him from slipping in the mud.
Stealthily they made their way across a ditch and
reached the wall unseen, unheard. Twelve of the
bravest scaled the wall and killed the sleepy
sentinels, who had sought shelter in the towers from a
storm of wind and rain.
The others then mounted the wall, fixed their ladders
on the farther side and reached the ground in safety,
while the twelve, who had waited to the last, began to
All would have been well, had not one man slipped and
knocked a tile off the top of the wall. It rattled and
fell to the ground with a noise that roused the
Spartans, who scrambled up the wall in great haste.
But the darkness was so dense that they could see
Those of the garrison who had stayed in the city did
all that they could to perplex the enemy, by making a
sally on the side of the town farthest from that by
which their friends had fled. And when the Spartans
lit torches and flashed danger signals to the Thebans
whose city was not far off, the Plataeans lit beacons,
so that the signals were confused.
Meanwhile the fugitives, having reached the ground in
safety, were met by a band of three hundred Spartans.
These were carrying lights, so the Plataeans were able
 send a shower of arrows among them with sure and deadly
aim. In the confusion that followed, all save one
archer succeeded in crossing a ditch, covered with ice,
but too thin to bear the weight of the fugitives. They
struggled through the icy water, and after many narrow
escapes two hundred and twelve weary men reached Athens
Plataea held out gallantly until the summer of 427
B.C., when famine at length forced her to surrender.
Five judges were sent from Sparta to decide the fate of
the prisoners. But the trial was a mere form, for the
Thebans had already persuaded the Spartans how to treat
the unfortunate men.
Each prisoner as he was brought before the judges was
asked if he had helped the Spartans in their war
against Athens. As each one answered "No," he was led
out and put to death. In this way two hundred
Plataeans and twenty-five Athenians lost their lives,
while the city they had so bravely defended was razed
to the ground.
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