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THE SPARTANS SURRENDER
 WHEN Epitadas found that he was shut up on the island of
Sphacteria, he sent a messenger to Sparta to tell what
had befallen him. The ephors were so disturbed by his
tidings that they at once sent some of their number to
the Bay of Pylos to see what could be done to set free
Epitadas and his men.
They soon saw that it would be too difficult a task to
relieve the island, so they begged Eurymedon to grant a
truce until they sent ambassadors to Athens to sue for
Their request was granted, and the Spartan ambassadors
at once set sail for Athens.
When they entered the assembly, Athens, had she but
known it, might have ended the war with honour. But
Pericles was no longer there to tell her that to do so
would be well. Cleon still ruled the assembly with his
rough eloquence. Nicias, the leader of those who
desired peace, although he bitterly disliked Cleon, was
not strong enough to overthrow him.
The assembly, urged by its leader, offered the Spartan
ambassadors terms which it knew they would not accept.
After rejecting them as the Athenians expected, the
ambassadors returned indignant to Pylos, and the truce
was at an end. But Sphacteria was not taken so easily
as the Athenians had dreamed. In spite of the strict
blockade, food was taken to the island, so that the
Spartans were in no danger of starving.
Sometimes swimmers carrying with them linseed, poppy
 seeds and honey, reached the island. Sometimes Helots,
tempted by promise of freedom, would manage, when the
sky was dark and the sea stormy, to sail past the
enemy's ships, taking cheese, meal and even wine to the
In Athens, the people were growing impatient of the
long blockade. When Demosthenes sent messengers to the
city to ask for reinforcements, they began to be sorry
that they had not offered more reasonable terms to the
ambassadors. They looked darkly at Cleon, and began to
whisper that but for his counsel peace would certainly
have been made.
A meeting of the assembly was called, and Cleon, losing
his temper when Nicias urged that peace should be
arranged without delay, said, "It would be easy enough
to take Sphacteria if our generals were men. If I were
general I would do it at once."
Nicias was a quiet man, but these scornful words roused
him to anger, and he retorted that if Cleon thought he
was able to take the island it would be well that he
should go and do so. He was himself a general, while
Cleon was only a leather-merchant, but he was willing
to resign in his favour.
At first Cleon thought that Nicias was but jesting, and
he pretended that he really wished to go to the help of
Demosthenes. But when he found that his opponent was
in earnest, he declined the honour, saying that while
Nicias was a general, he himself had no training in
But the people were not willing to let the
leather-merchant escape the consequences of his rash
words. They shouted that he must go and prove that he
could do as he had said.
When Cleon saw that there was no escape he grew
reckless, and boasted that he would not only go to
Sphacteria, but that he would take the island within
twenty days, and either kill all the Spartans on it or
bring them prisoners to Athens.
Some there were who mocked at his words, others
laughed. But all were glad that the merchant should
go, for they were tired of his rough ways and rougher
 If he went he might return with his promise unfulfilled
and his power with the people would then be lost. If
he came back in triumph, the Spartans would have been
Before long, Cleon set out at the head of an army for
Pylos. When he arrived he found Demosthenes already
prepared to attack the island.
A large part of the forest on Sphacteria had just been
burned down by some Athenian soldiers. They had been
sent to the island to reconnoitre, and while making a
fire to cook their dinner the trees were accidentally
The wood had sheltered the Spartans from the enemy, and
the fire spoiled their chief defence, so that they were
the less prepared to face the army of nearly fourteen
thousand Athenians, which, led by Cleon and
Demosthenes, now landed on the island.
Outnumbered as the Spartans were, for their army
consisted of only abut four hundred and twenty soldiers
and the same number of Helots, they fought bravely as
was their custom.
But the arrows of the Athenians soon greatly reduced
their number, while to add to the distress of the
wounded, as well as of those who had escaped, the
ground over which they marched was hot with still
smouldering ashes of burnt wood.
At length Epitadas, the Spartan general, was slain, and
the few soldiers who were still able to fight retreated
to a hill on which was an old ruined fort. Here they
took their stand, determined to keep the enemy at bay.
And they did so until the Athenians found a path up a
steep crag, from the top of which they could command
the Spartan fort.
Unseen by the brave defenders, the enemy scaled the
almost precipitous path, and when they reached the top
they at once began to shoot arrows down upon the
But soon Cleon bade them stay their arrows while he
sent a herald to the Spartans to bid them surrender.
 Spartan troops had never yet yielded to a foe. Ever
they had conquered or fought to the death. Cleon
believed that now, as their brave fellows at
Thermopylae had done, they would rather die than yield.
But the Spartans dropped their shields and waved their
hands above their heads to show that they would cease
to fight. They begged to be allowed to ask the advice
of their friends on the mainland. Their request was
granted, and their friends bade them "to take counsel
for themselves, but to do nothing disgraceful."
Two hundred and ninety-two Spartans, who were all that
were still alive on Sphacteria, then surrendered, one
hundred and twenty of these belonging to the noblest
families in Sparta. Never after this surrender were
the Spartans considered invincible.
Cleon was now able to return to Athens, which he
reached within twenty days from the time he left the
city, bringing with him, as he had boasted that he
would do, his Spartan prisoners.
The Athenians rejoiced at the success of their army,
but they laughed as they thought of the strange general
who had led it to victory.
As for the prisoners, they were glad to hold them as
hostages. The Spartans would be less likely to invade
Attica while their comrades were in Athens.