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The Story of the Greek People by  Eva March Tappan




[189] SPARTA was now in command, and all the cities that were in her power watched anxiously to see what she would do. For twenty-seven years, from the beginning of the war to its close, she had saying to them "Athens is a tyrant, and Sparta is striving to set you free." Now they learned that Sparta's idea of freedom was for her to do what she chose and force the other states to yield to her. The first thing that she did in each city was to give it a Spartan governor, with ten men friendly to his plans as magistrates, and enough Spartan soldiers to compel the citizens to be obedient. Ęgean cities were especially helpless. They had thought it hard to be obliged to pay tribute to Athens, but now they had to [190] pay not only the tribute, but also for the support of the governor and his soldiers.



Sparta suddenly forgot that Athens was "one of the two eyes of Greece," and treated her far more severely than any other city. Ten magistrates were not enough for the Athenians,— they must have thirty, besides the Spartan governor and a large body Spartan soldiers. The Thirty Tyrants, as they came to be called, chose three thousand men who they were sure would stand by them, and took away all arms from the rest of the citizens. Then they had no fear of gods or men. They put to death all who had worked against them during the war, all those against whom they had any grudge, and enough of the wealthier men to supply the themselves liberally with money. The wretched Athenians said to one another even then, "Alcibiades will not bear this; he will surely find some way to help us"; but it was not long before they heard that Alcibiades had been assassinated. Then, indeed, they were hopeless, and hundreds fled from the city. The other states were angry at the selfishness of Sparta, and were ready to give the fugitives a home. Even the Thebans, who had been such bitter enemies of the Athenians, welcomed them. Just as soon as the little company of exiles had grown large enough to make the venture, they crossed the border of Attica and made a stand against the Thirty. Xenophon, a disciple of Socrates, wrote, "The Thirty, quite dejected and solitary, sat together in council." They might well be "quite dejected," for this was the beginning of the overthrow of their rule.



No nation is quite the same at the end of a long war as at the beginning. During the Peloponnesian War the members of each party in Athens had been so sure that they were in the right that they hated the other political parties most bitterly, and had [191] come to feel that whatever act brought them their own way was the proper course to follow. The philosopher Socrates had fought fearlessly for Athens, and he loved his city: but he saw that it was more important to do right than for any party to get what it wanted; and that to be honest and good was better than to pay sacrifices to the gods. Such teachings as these did not please the people, who meant to have their own way no matter what happened. At length he was brought into court and accused of not worshiping the gods and of giving false teaching to young men. He was condemned to die, or, as he said, "to depart to some happy state of the blessed." Several of his followers were with him during the last days of his life, and one of them, named Plato, wrote an account of the teacher's words and acts. When the cup of poison was brought him, he drank it as quietly as if it had been wine. His [192] disciples burst into tears. Plato says, "I did not weep for him, but for my own fortune in being deprived of such a friend." At the last, when all supposed that the poison had taken effect, Socrates called to one of the young men, "Crito, we owe a cock to Ęsculapius; pay it, therefore, and do not neglect it." Ęsculapius was the god to whom a man who was grateful for his recovery from illness made a sacrifice; and Socrates was so sure of a nobler, happier life to come that he felt as if giving up his life on earth was only passing from sickness to health.



The following is a bit of the wisdom of Socrates. One Antipho wished to draw away the followers of the philosopher. Therefore he came to Socrates one day when they were present, and said, "I thought that those who studied philosophy were to become happier than other men; but you seem to have reaped from philosophy fruits of an opposite kind; at least you live in a way in which no slave would continue to live with his master: you eat food, and drink drink, of the worst kind; you wear a dress, not only bad, but the same both summer and winter, and you continue shoeless and coatless. Money, which cheers men when they receive it, and enables those who possess it to live more generously and pleasantly, you do not take; and if, therefore, as teachers in other professions make their pupils imitate themselves, you also shall produce a similar effect on your [193] followers, you must consider yourself but a teacher of wretchedness." Socrates replied quietly, "You, Antipho, resemble one of who thinks that happiness consists in luxury and extravagance; but I think that to want nothing is to resemble the gods, and that to want as little as possible is to make the nearest approach to the gods; that the divine nature is perfection, and that to be nearest to the divine nature is to be nearest to perfection."



The enemies of Socrates did not forget to remind the judges that Alcibiades and Critias, the chief of the Thirty Tyrants, had been among his pupils; but there was more than one of his devoted followers who became an honor to Socrates and to his country. Plato lived half a century after the death of his beloved teacher, and became even more famous as a philosopher. He wrote on the deepest subjects, but with so much humor and fancy and sweetness, that people began to claim that he was a descendant of Apollo, the god of eloquence. Disciples flocked around him as around Socrates, and he used to talk with them and lecture in his garden close by the Academe. The story has come down to us that some strangers who met him at the Olympian games were so pleased with him that they accepted gladly his invitation to visit him in Athens. When it was nearly time [194] for their visit to come to an end, they said, "But will you introduce us to your famous namesake, the philosopher Plato?" They were surprised indeed when their host replied simply, "I am the person whom you wish to see."



Another follower of Socrates was Xenophon, who was a philosopher, a military commander, and a historian. When Socrates was in prison, Xenophon was just returning from a remarkable expedition that was planned by Cyrus of Persia. After the Peloponnesian War was over, Cyrus sent envoys to Sparta to ask the Spartans that they behave toward him as he had behaved toward them. By this he meant that he wanted to borrow some Grecian soldiers. His brother, Artaxerxes II, was on the throne [195] of Persia, but many thought it belonged to Cyrus, and he had raised and army of 100,000 men to help him get possession of it. He knew how well the Greeks fought, and it is no wonder that he was eager to hire them. There were thousands of men in Greece who knew little of any other life than that of the soldier, and they were ready to fight for any one who would pay their wages. They would not, however, have agreed to go to the heart of Asia; so they were tricked into making the march by being told that Cyrus wanted them to help subdue some rebels in Pisidia, on the southern coast of Asia Minor. They crossed the Ęgean Sea, landed near Samos, and set out cheerfully toward Pisidia. But Pisidia seemed to be a long way off, and at length, they began to suspect some trickery. By and by Cyrus and his troops met them, and he finally admitted that they were on their way to Babylonia and were to fight, not a few rebels, [196] but the king of the mighty Persian empire. They were already well into Persia, and it was almost as dangerous to try to retreat as to go forward. Cyrus promised them generous wages as they agreed to go on.



One day, just before noon, a man came galloping up to the army at full speed, crying out, first in Persian and then in Greek, "The king is coming, the king is coming, with a vast army; all prepared for battle!" Early in the afternoon a low white cloud was seen lying across the plain. That was the dust made by the king's army. The dust grew darker and darker; then the flash of a spear or of a suit of brazen armor could be seen. Cavalry, with armor of snowy white, appeared; troops of Egyptians with long wooden shields; bowmen; chariots with scythes projecting from the axle-tree; nations upon nations, each one in a solid mass by itself. The lines of Cyrus were forming, and he himself was watching them, when he heard a low murmur pass through the ranks from right to left, then from left to right. "What is that?" he asked. Xenophon had just ridden up to ask if he had any commands to give, and he replied that it was the watchword, "Jupiter the Preserver, and Victory." "I accept it as a good omen," said Cyrus, "and may it be so."

The omen proved false. It is true that the valiant Greeks won the battle, but Cyrus was slain. "Give up your arms," the king commanded. "Victors do not give up their arms," replied the Greeks. The king did not care to fight again. He wanted rather to get rid of those troublesome foreigners, and he thought it would be a good plan to let them wander off into the country and starve. Their generals were slain through a trick; [197] and the Greeks were left in an enemy's country, at least one thousand miles from home. They had no guides, no commander, and little knowledge of the land save that there were many rivers and mountains. They were in despair. Night came and they lay on the ground, longing for their families and their own country. Xenophon had gone to Persia with the army, not as a soldier, and with no idea of fighting the king, but only to win advancement with Cyrus. As he lay on the ground, he made up his mind that since no one else took the lead, it was left for him to do something. He hesitated because there were so many older men than he; then he said to himself, "Surely, I shall never be any older if I give myself up to the enemy to-day." This was soon after mid-night. In the darkness he called together the captains and they planned as best they could. "Do you tell the army," they said; and in the first gray of the morning Xenophon put on his best armor and his finest accoutrements and stood before the ten thousand men. He told them how brave their forefathers had been, and that they could surely make their way home. They must burn their baggage, saving only what was needed of meat and drink and arms. "If we are victorious, we ought to look upon the enemy as our baggage-carriers," he said.

The soldiers forgot their discouragement. They burned all the baggage they could spare, chose new generals,— of course Xenophon was one,—ate their breakfast with good cheer, and started on one of the most remarkable of retreats. They plodded over burning plains, waded through swiftly flowing rivers, climbed rugged hills, pushed on through mountain-passes where snow-drifts were a fathom deep and the keenest of winter winds whistled around them. Sometimes they had food and sometimes no food. Sometimes they were allowed to pass through a district [198] in peace, sometimes they were attacked on all sides. If they could only come to the sea! they thought, for then the way to friends and home would be easy. At length Xenophon heard one day a great shout from the men in advance. It grew louder and louder. It did not sound like a battle-cry, and yet there might be a foe in front of them,—no one could tell. He sprang upon his horse and galloped up the hill. Behold, on the horizon, far away to the north, lay a line of shining water, the Euxine Sea. "The Sea, the Sea!" shouted the soldiers. Those sturdy warriors burst into tears, they threw their arms around one another's necks, they embraced their generals and captains. The native who had led them up the hill stood by. They gave him a horse, a silver cup, a Persian robe, and ten gold coins. They raised a mound, as had been done at Marathon, and on it they laid oxhides and staves, and shields taken from the enemy. In three days the Ten Thousand were at the Greek city of Trebizond. The citizens welcomed them and gave them oxen and wine and barley meal, and celebrated games in honor of the kindness of the gods. Xenophon himself wrote the account of this retreat of the Ten Thousand who fought their way for a thousand miles through the enemy's country to the sea.

Xenophon, too, as well as Plato, loved Socrates, and wrote what he could remember of his master's teachings. After giving him the warmest praise, he closed with the words, "If any on disapproves of my opinion, let him compare the conduct of others with that of Socrates, and determine accordingly."



[199] The march of the Ten Thousand showed the Greeks that the enormous Persian empire was really a big unwieldy realm, without life or energy; and Sparta was somewhat pleased when the Greek coast cities begged for help against Tissaphernes, who was making ready to punish every city that had been friendly to Cyrus. After a little fighting between the Spartans and Tissaphernes, the Spartan king Agesilaus formed the plan of sweeping through Persia and conquering the overgrown dominion. He was so successful that it really began to seem as if he might be able to carry out his plan; but the crafty Persians could scheme if they could not fight. They knew that the other Greeks hated Sparta for her tyranny and selfishness, and now they offered ships and men, and contrived to induce Corinth, Athens, Thebes, and Argos to unite against her. This was the beginning of the Corinthian War, which lasted for eight years. Much of the fighting was done in Corinth, but at last there was a great naval battle off Cnidus, in Asia Minor. Then there came a sorry day for Sparta, for the whole Spartan fleet was destroyed. A little later there was more joy in Athens than there had been for many a day, for by the aid of Persian money the first stones were put in place for the rebuilding of the Long Walls and the fortifications of the Piręus.

The Athenians were happy, but their allies were jealous. "Why [200] should we fight if Athens is to have the reward?" they questioned. Sparta, too, began to be uncomfortable. "Why should we try to protect the Greek colonies if all that our work amounts to is to help Athens?" they grumbled. There was nothing to do but to make peace, and with their usual selfishness they made a treaty, called the Peace of Antalcidas from the name of the ambassador, which gave the Greek cities of Asia to the Persians. Almost worse than this was a sentence in the treaty which declared that the Persian king and the Spartans would fight any state that refused to obey its terms. This really meant that Sparta was ready to unite with Persia against any part of her own country.

Sparta not only made a shameful treaty, but she behaved even more shamefully in carrying it out. She still claimed that she was giving freedom to the Greeks, and she not only set to work to force every city that was ruling another to give up that control, but she broke up any friendly union of towns that she fancied might some day be of injury to her. She thought that the people of Mantinea in Arcadia did not approve of her course, and she tore down their walls and forced the citizens to separate and settle five little villages. The government of Greece was really a sort of tyranny, and Sparta was the tyrant. A Spartan general was marching through the friendly city of Thebes when a Theban said to him privately, "The other party hates the Spartans, but ours is friendly to you. I will conduct you into the citadel, Thebes will then be in your power, and you will not forget us." It was a hot summer noon, and there were few people in the streets to oppose, and soon the Spartan general was in control of Thebes. When news of this reached the Spartans, the were indignant, not because he had done so wicked a deed, but because he had done it without orders from the state. Then said [201] King Agesilaus, "The point is whether he has done harm or good to Sparta. If harm, he ought to be punished; but if good, it is an old rule that a man may do such a thing of his own accord." They concluded that it was good for Sparta, and therefore they kept the citadel.

Many Thebans of the opposite party fled from the city in fear for their lives. Among them was one Pelopidas. He used to say to the other exiles, "It is dishonorable to be contented with saving our own lives; we ought to be striving to free our city." At length he aroused them, and a plan was made to deliver Thebes. Pelopidas and some others of the younger men dressed as peasants and stole into the city by different ways. It was so cold and snowy that most people were in their houses, but some friends of the exiles were on the watch to lead them to the place of meeting. When evening had come, they put on the dresses of women over their armor, with heavy wreaths of pine and poplar falling over their foreheads to hide their bearded faces. So disguised, they went to the place where the leaders of the party that had betrayed their city were banqueting, and slew the chief ones among them. Pelopidas threw open the jails to free those who were true to Thebes. Now the lights began to shine out from the windows of the houses; the streets were full of people; there was confusion and shouting everywhere, for no one knew just what had happened. When morning had come, the loyal Thebans called the people together. Then Pelopidas and the other exiles, his friend Epaminondas, and the priests of the temples stood before the assembly. "Arouse yourselves," cried the priests, "for the gods and your country!" The whole assembly sprang to their feet like one man, and shouted with joy. They marched straight to the citadel. The Spartans who held it were of different [202] stamp from those of Thermopylę, and they surrendered a once. One place after another followed the example of Thebes. The Spartans punished the governors who surrendered, but surrenders did not cease.



Then Athens began to dream of a return of her own greatness. She founded a new association of states that was far better than the Delian League, for the states were to hold equal rank and the money collected was to be used for the benefit of all. This was so fair an association that it might have endured but for the same old trouble, one state's jealousy of another. Now it was the Athenians that were becoming so jealous of Thebes that they decided to make peace with Sparta.

Sparta still declared that she was freeing the Bœotian cities, but one day the Spartan army were surprised to see a Theban army march out to meet them. The Spartans arranged their men in the same old way that they had followed for generations, and advanced toward the enemy in a long line, twelve men deep. Epaminondas, who led the Thebans, reasoned, "The best warriors will be around the king, and if we can defeat them, the rest will be an easy matter." Therefore he did not make his line of the same depth, but arranged the ranks opposite the king fifty men deep. No line twelve deep could be expected to withstand the attack of a line fifty deep, and although Sparta had more men, she met the worst defeat in all her history, for the army was beaten in a fair fight by a much smaller force. This was the battle of Leuctra.

[203] When the news was brought to Sparta that their men had been beaten by a smaller number, the ephors knew well that the Greeks would never fear them again; they had lost the leadership of bore defeat their country. If the Spartans had been Athenians, they would have wept and moaned, but being Spartans, they bore their loss in the old Spartan fashion. "Let the games go on," bade the ephors, for they were in the midst of a festival. All the usual ceremonies were observed, and the ephors themselves stayed until the last contest and the last dance were ended. It was the Spartan custom to shame in every way possible any soldier who had fled from a battle. He was obliged to shave one half his beard and leave the other half uncut. He must wear shabby clothes covered with patches of different colors. He was never allowed to hold office, and any Spartan girl who married such a man was looked upon as having disgraced herself. So many had fled from the battle of Leuctra that the Spartans did not dare to treat them in this fashion; but the relatives of those who had died went about the streets with an air of pride, and entered the temples to give thanks for the courage of their friends. The relatives of those who had escaped from the battle wore sorrowful faces, and walked through the city with their heads bowed, or even shut themselves up altogether, as was the Spartan custom in time of deepest mourning. So it was that Sparta bore the defeat that destroyed her dream of becoming the ruler of Greece.


[204] Sparta enslaved the cities that she had claimed to be setting free; but the "Thirty" in Athens were overthrown.

Socrates made enemies and was condemned to die. Plato and Xenophon were his pupils.

Cyrus hired Greek soldiers on a false pretense and led them into Asia. They overcame Artaxerxes II in battle; but he slew the generals and left them to wander away and starve. Xenophon urged them to make a brave retreat. They did so, and at length they came to the sea. Then their way to Greece was easy.

This "March of the Ten Thousand" showed the weakness of Persia, and Sparta planned the conquest of the country. The Persians induced Corinth, Athens, Thebes, and Argos to unite against Sparta. This was the beginning of the Corinthian War. The Spartan fleet was destroyed at the battle of Cnidus. Persian money helped to rebuild the Athenian walls. The Peace of Antalcidas was made, by which Sparta agreed to unite with Persia to punish any state that broke the treaty.

Sparta became tyrant of Greece. She seized the citadel of Thebes. Many of the Thebans fled. At length Pelopidas and others returned and drove out the Spartans. Other places also yielded.

Athens formed an association of states and finally made peace with Sparta.

The Thebans under Epaminondas won at Leuctra, and the Spartans were no longer the leaders of Greece.


One of Plato's guests tells the story of his visit to Athens.

A soldier of Xenophon describes the last day of the march.

How Pelopidas took Thebes.

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