THE WALLS OF ATHENS ARE DESTROYED
 THE last battle of the Peloponnesian War was fought in the
Hellespont in 405 B.C. The Athenians had drawn up
their ships near a desolate spot named Ægospotami, and
they soon found that it was an awkward place from which
to get provisions for the army. There were no houses
near, from which they could demand help, so the sailors
were forced to leave their ships and scour the country
round about for food. So dreary was the spot that the
Athenians longed to fight at once.
But Lysander was in a strong position on the other side
of the strait; he had, too, a plentiful supply of food,
so that he did not mean to let himself be forced into a
Again and again the Athenians sailed across the strait,
hoping to tempt the Spartans to fight, but Lysander
refused to move.
As the weeks passed, the Athenians grew careless of an
enemy that seemed too lazy or too cowardly to fight.
They left their ships well-nigh unguarded, and wandered
over the country in large numbers in search of food.
Alcibiades, from his castle not far off, saw that the
Athenians were in a dangerous position, and that they
were leaving their ships unprotected. He rode over to
Ægospotami to warn the generals to seek a safer
position. At Sestos, a town but two miles off, they
would be better able to defend themselves from the
Spartans, should they be attacked. They would also be
able to command provisions.
But the generals did not wish to listen to Alcibiades,
 their pride forbade them to follow his advice. They
spoke rudely to him, telling him to be gone, that now
not he but others had the command of the forces.
The very day after Alcibiades had warned them, the
Athenians, leaving their ships for the most part
unmanned, set out to search the countryside for food.
Lysander knew how the enemy usually spent the
afternoons. Now that they had grown heedless of danger
he determined to attack the forsaken ships without
So he ordered his vessels to row quickly across the
strait and he found, as he expected, the Athenian fleet
utterly unprepared for battle.
There was indeed no battle fought, for the Spartans
easily captured one hundred and seventy ships, and took
more than four thousand prisoners, among whom were
three or four admirals.
Conon alone, with eight ships, succeeded in escaping.
But he dared not return to Athens with tidings of the
disaster, for he knew that if he did so he would be
condemned to death. So he sent a ship to carry the
terrible news to the city.
It was evening when the vessel reached Piræus.
"The noise of wailing spread all up the Long Walls into
the city, as one passed the tidings on to another; that
night no one slept." For now there was no fleet to
hinder the Spartans from stopping the supply of corn,
and the Athenians knew that they must starve or
For a little while the city refused to yield. But she
had no allies, no ships, no money, and no corn could
enter the town. The wretched people were dying of
hunger before Athens surrendered to the Spartans in
March 404 B.C.
She expected no mercy from her conqueror. Even as she
had destroyed many a Spartan town, so she thought that
now she herself would be utterly ruined.
But Sparta proved less harsh than Athens had deemed
 was possible. The city was indeed to be "rendered
harmless for ever, but not destroyed."
All that was left of her fleet was taken away, and the
walls of Piræus and the walls leading to Athens were
Lysander stood near, looking on, as the Athenians and
the Spartans together began to break down the walls.
It was not so gloomy a scene as you might have
expected. Perhaps the Athenians were glad that at
length the long and desperate struggle had come to an
end. Flute players and dancers were present, and added
a strange touch of gaiety to the crowd.
Soon after the surrender of Athens, Lysander was
ordered to put Alcibiades to death, lest he should
encourage the Athenians at any time to throw off their
allegiance to Sparta.
Plutarch tells us that "those who were sent to
assassinate him had not courage enough to enter the
house, but surrounded it first and set it on fire.
"Alcibiades, as soon as he perceived it, getting
together great quantities of clothes and furniture,
threw them upon the fire to choke it, and having
wrapped his cloak about his left arm, and holding his
naked sword in his right, he cast himself into the
middle of the fire, and escaped securely through it,
before his clothes were burnt.
"The barbarians, as soon as they saw him, retreated,
and none of them durst stay to wait for him, or to
engage with him, but, standing at a distance, they slew
him with darts and arrows."