THE THEBANS ATTACK THE PLATAEANS
 THE cause of the Peloponnesian War was jealousy—jealousy between
Athens and Sparta. Each wished to be the chief State in
Greece, and the only way to settle the dispute in those days
was by an appeal to arms.
Athens had a great navy and much wealth. She was at the
head of an empire, but the States which she had subdued, and
which she had forced to pay tribute, were discontented
and unlikely to prove useful allies.
Sparta was the head of the Peloponnesian States. She had a
strong army, but she had not money with which to carry on
war, nor had she, or any of her allies save Corinth, a fleet
that would be of any use against the large, well-equipped
fleet of Athens.
As long as Athens could keep the mastery of the sea, she
would be able to defy the enemy. Famine would soon subdue
her if she lost this mastery, for much of her corn supply
came from abroad, and if the corn ships did not reach the
Piraeus with their precious freight, the people would
On land Athens could not hope to hold her own against
Sparta. Pericles knew this well, and so he urged the
Athenians to place their trust in their ships.
"Let us give up lands and houses," he said, "but keep a
watch over the city and the sea. We should not, under any
irritation at the loss of our property, give battle to the
Peloponnesians, who far outnumber us. Mourn not for houses
or lands, but for men; men may give these, but these
not give men. If I thought that you would listen to me, I
would say to you, "Go yourselves and destroy them, and
thereby prove to the Peloponnesians that none of these
things move you." Such is the power which the empire of the
The Peloponnesian War began in the early spring of 431 B.C. when
the citizens of the little town of Thebes made a
treacherous attack upon the town of Plataea.
Thebes belonged to the Boeotian League, which was on good
terms with Sparta, upon bad terms with Athens.
Plataea was in alliance with Athens, but there were traitors
among the citizens, and these determined to betray their
city into the hands of the Thebans.
One dark, stormy night the gates of the city were opened to
admit a band of three hundred Thebans. The main body of the
Theban force was still some distance off. At midnight the
citizens of Plataea were awakened by the sound of trumpets.
They dressed in haste, and then rushing to the market place
found it in the hands of the Thebans, who were calling upon
the citizens to forsake Athens and to join the Boeotian
At first the Plataeans thought it would be useless
to resist the enemy, but before long they found that
there was only a small band of Thebans in the market
place. Heavy rains had made the river Asopus rise, and
the main body of the enemy was still on the farther side
of the river, looking in vain for a ford.
So the Plataeans shut their gates, barricaded their
streets with wagons, and then boldly attacked the enemy.
The Thebans were soon separated from one another and lost
their way in the unknown and dusky streets. To add to their
confusion, from windows and roofs, heavy missiles were
hurled down upon them by the angry Plataean women. A few
scaled the city wall and escaped, but the greater number,
rushing through a large door which they mistook for one of
the city gates, found themselves in a granary from
there was no escape save by the door through which they had
entered. It was already held by the Plataeans, and the
Thebans were taken prisoners and commanded to lay down their
Meanwhile the main body of the Thebans had reached the city
gates to find them guarded by the inhabitants. A herald was
sent to bid them withdraw, after releasing the prisoners
whom they had taken on their march to the city. Unless this
was done without delay, the Plataeans threatened to put to
death the Thebans whom they had captured.
It was plain that their plot had failed; so, to save their
comrades, as they believed, the Thebans released their
prisoners, recrossed the Asopus, and went back to their own
city. Then the Plataeans did a cruel and treacherous deed,
for they slew two hundred of their Theban prisoners.
The Plataeans sent to Athens to ask for help when the Theban
army appeared without their walls, but the danger was over
before help could reach them.
Yet, lest the Thebans should return, the women and children
were taken to Athens for safety, while eighty Athenians were
sent to garrison the walls of Plataea.