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Corinthians At The 2nd Spartan Congress

Special thanks to for permission to use this image adapted from their authentic replica of a Spartan spear.

(1.20) Such are the results of my enquiries, though the early history of Hellas is of a kind which forbids implicit reliance on every particular of the evidence.22 Men do not discriminate, and are too ready to receive ancient traditions about their own as well as about other countries. For example, most Athenians think that Hipparchus was actually tyrant when he was slain by Harmodius and Aristogeiton; they are not aware that Hippias was the eldest of the sons of Peisistratus, and succeeded him, and that Hipparchus and Thessalus were only his brothers.23 At the last moment, Harmodius and Aristogeiton suddenly suspected that Hippias had been forewarned by some of their accomplices. They therefore abstained from attacking him, but, wishing to do something before they were seized, and not to risk their lives in vain, they slew Hipparchus, with whom they fell in near the temple called Leocorium as he was marshalling the Panathenaic procession. There are many other matters, not obscured by time, but contemporary, about which the other Hellenes are equally mistaken. For example, they imagine that the kings of Lacedaemon in their council have not one but two votes each,24 and that in the army of the Lacedaemonians there is a division called the Pitanate division;25 whereas they never had anything of the sort. So little trouble do men take in the search after truth; so readily do they accept whatever comes first to hand.

(1.21) Yet any one who upon the grounds which I have given arrives at some such conclusion as my own about those ancient times, would not be far wrong. He must not be misled by the exaggerated fancies of the poets, or by the tales of chroniclers who seek to please the ear rather than to speak the truth. Their accounts cannot be tested by him; and most of the facts in the lapse of ages have passed into the region of romance. At such a distance of time he must make up his mind to be satisfied with conclusions resting upon the clearest evidence which can be had. And, though men will always judge any war in which they are actually fighting to be the greatest at the time, but, after it is over, revert to their admiration of some other which has preceded, still the Peloponnesian, if estimated by the actual facts, will certainly prove to have been the greatest ever known.

(1.22) As to the speeches which were made either before or during the war, it was hard for me, and for others who reported them to me, to recollect the exact words. I have therefore put into the mouth of each speaker the sentiments proper to the occasion, expressed as I thought he would be likely to express them, while at the same time I endeavoured, as nearly as I could, to give the general purport of what was actually said. Of the events of the war I have not ventured to speak from any chance information, nor according to any notion of my own; I have described nothing but what I either saw myself, or learned from others of whom I made the most careful and particular enquiry. The task was a laborious one, because eye-witnesses of the same occurrences gave different accounts of them, as they remembered or were interested in the actions of one side or the other. And very likely the strictly historical character of my narrative may be disappointing to the ear. But if he who desires to have before his eyes a true picture of the events which have happened, and of the like events which may be expected to happen hereafter in the order of human things, shall pronounce what I have written to be useful, then I shall be satisfied. My history is an everlasting possession, not a prize composition which is heard and forgotten.

(1.23) The greatest achievement of former times was the Persian War; yet even this was speedily decided in two battles by sea and two by land. But the Peloponnesian War was a protracted struggle, and attended by calamities such as Hellas had never known within a like period of time. Never were so many cities captured and depopulated--some by Barbarians, others by Hellenes themselves fighting against one another; and several of them after their capture were repeopled by strangers. Never were exile and slaughter more frequent, whether in the war or brought about by civil strife. And traditions which had often been current before, but rarely verified by fact, were now no longer doubted. For there were earthquakes unparalleled in their extent and fury, and eclipses of the sun more numerous than are recorded to have happened in any former age; there were also in some places great droughts causing famines, and lastly the plague which did immense harm and destroyed numbers of the people. All these calamities fell upon Hellas simultaneously with the war, which began when the Athenians and Peloponnesians violated the thirty years' truce concluded by them after the recapture of Euboea.26 Why they broke it and what were the grounds of quarrel I will first set forth, that in time to come no man may be at a loss to know what was the origin of this great war. The real though unavowed cause I believe to have been the growth of the Athenian power, which terrified the Lacedaemonians and forced them into war; but the reasons publicly alleged on either side were as follows.

(1.24) The city of Epidamnus is situated on the right hand as you sail up the Ionian Gulf. The neighbouring inhabitants are the Taulantians, a barbarian tribe of the Illyrian race. The place was colonised by Corcyraeans, but under the leadership of a Corinthian, Phalius, son of Eratocleides, who was of the lineage of Heracles; he was invited, according to ancient custom, from the mother city, and Corinthians and other Dorians joined in the colony. In process of time Epidamnus became great and populous, but there followed a long period of civil commotion, and the city is said to have been brought low in a war against the neighbouring barbarians, and to have lost her ancient power. At last, shortly before the Peloponnesian War, the notables were overthrown and driven out by the people; the exiles went over to the barbarians, and, uniting with them, plundered the remaining inhabitants both by sea and land. These, finding themselves hard pressed, sent an embassy to the mother-city Corcyra, begging the Corcyraeans not to leave them to their fate, but to reconcile them to the exiles and settle the war with the barbarians. The ambassadors came, and sitting as suppliants in the temple of Herè preferred their request; but the Corcyraeans would not listen to them, and they returned without success. (1.25) The Epidamnians, finding that they had no hope of assistance from Corcyra, knew not what to do, and sending to Delphi enquired of the God whether they should deliver up the city to their original founders, the Corinthians, and endeavour to obtain aid from them. The God replied that they should, and bade them place themselves under the leadership of the Corinthians. So the Epidamnians went to Corinth, and informing the Corinthians of the answer which the oracle had given, delivered up the city to them. They reminded them that the original leader of the colony was a citizen of Corinth; and implored the Corinthians to come and help them, and not leave them to their fate. The Corinthians took up their cause, partly in vindication of their own rights (for they considered that Epidamnus belonged to them quite as much as to the Corcyraeans), partly too because they hated the Corcyraeans, who were their own colony but slighted them. In their common festivals they would not allow them the customary privileges of founders, and at their sacrifices denied to a Corinthian the right of receiving first the lock of hair cut from the head of the victim, an honour usually granted by colonies to a representative of the mother-country. In fact they despised the Corinthians, for they were more than a match for them in military strength, and as rich as any state then existing in Hellas. They would often boast that on the sea they were very far superior to them, and would appropriate to themselves the naval renown of the Phaeacians, who were the ancient inhabitants of the island. Such feelings led them more and more to strengthen their navy, which was by no means despicable; for they had a hundred and twenty triremes when the war broke out.

(1.26) Irritated by these causes of offence, the Corinthians were too happy to assist Epidamnus; accordingly they invited any one who was willing to settle there, and for the protection of the colonists despatched with them Ambracian and Leucadian troops and a force of their own. All these they sent by land as far as Apollonia, which is a colony of theirs, fearing that if they went by sea the Corcyraeans might oppose their passage. Great was the rage of the Corcyraeans when they discovered that the settlers and the troops had entered Epidamnus and that the colony had been given up to the Corinthians. They immediately set sail with five and twenty ships, followed by a second fleet, and in insulting terms bade the Epidamnians receive the exiled oligarchs, who had gone to Corcyra and implored the Corcyraeans to restore them, appealing to the tie of kindred and pointing to the sepulchres of their common ancestors.27 They also bade them send away the troops and the new settlers. But the Epidamnians would not listen to their demands. Whereupon the Corcyraeans attacked them with forty ships. They were accompanied by the exiles whom they were to restore, and had the assistance of the native Illyrian troops. They sat down before the city, and made proclamation that any Epidamnian who chose, and the foreigners, might depart in safety, but that all who remained would be treated as enemies. This had no effect, and the Corcyraeans proceeded to invest the city, which is built upon an isthmus.

(1.27) When the news reached the Corinthians that Epidamnus was besieged, they equipped an army and proclaimed that a colony was to be sent thither; all who wished might go and enjoy equal rights of citizenship; but any one who was unwilling to sail at once might remain at Corinth, and, if he made a deposit of fifty Corinthian drachmae, might still have a share in the colony.28

Many sailed, and many deposited the money. The Corinthians also sent and requested the Megarians to assist them with a convoy in case the Corcyraeans should intercept the colonists on their voyage. The Megarians accordingly provided eight ships, and the Cephallenians of Palè four; the Epidaurians, of whom they made a similar request, five; the Hermionians one; the Troezenians two; the Leucadians ten; and the Ambraciots eight. Of the Thebans and Phliasians they begged money, and of the Eleans money, and ships without crews. On their own account they equipped thirty ships and three thousand hoplites.

(1.28) When the Corcyraeans heard of their preparations they came to Corinth, taking with them Lacdaemonian and Sicyonian envoys, and summoned the Corinthians to withdraw the troops and the colonists, telling them that they had nothing to do with Epidamnus. If they made any claim to it, the Corcyraeans expressed themselves willing to refer the cause for arbitration to such Peloponnesian states as both parties should agree upon, and their decision was to be final; or, they were willing to leave the matter in the hands of the Delphian oracle. But they deprecated war, and declared that, if war there must be, they would be compelled by the Corinthians in self-defence to discard their present friends and seek others whom they would rather not, for help they must have. The Corinthians replied that if the Corcyraeans would withdraw the ships and the barbarian troops they would consider the matter, but that it would not do for them to be litigating while Epidamnus and the colonists were in a state of siege. The Corcyraeans rejoined that they would consent to this proposal if the Corinthians on their part would withdraw their forces from Epidamnus: or again, they were willing that both parties should remain29 on the spot, and that a truce should be made until the decision was given.

(1.29) The Corinthians turned a deaf ear to all these overtures, and, when their vessels were manned and their allies had arrived, they sent a herald before them to declare war, and set sail for Epidamnus with seventy-five ships and two thousand hoplites, intending to give battle to the Corcyraeans. Their fleet was commanded by Aristeus the son of Pellichus, Callicrates the son of Callias, and Timanor the son of Timanthes; the land forces by Archetimus the son of Eurytimus, and Isarchidas the son of Isarchus. When they arrived at Actium in the territory of Anactorium, at the mouth of the Ambracian gulf, where the temple of Apollo stands, the Corcyraeans sent a herald to meet them in a small boat forbidding them to come on. Meanwhile their crews got on board; they had previously put their fleet in repair, and strengthened the old ships with cross-timbers, so as to make them serviceable. The herald brought back no message of peace from the Corinthians. The Corcyraean ships, numbering eighty (for forty out of the hundred and twenty were engaged in the blockade of Epidamnus), were now fully manned; these sailed out against the Corinthians and, forming line, fought and won a complete victory over them, and destroyed fifteen of their ships. On the very same day the forces besieging Epidamnus succeeded in compelling the city to capitulate, the terms being that the Corinthians until their fate was determined should be imprisoned and the strangers sold.

(1.30) After the sea-fight the Corcyraeans raised a trophy on Leucimnè, a promontory of Corcyra, and put to death all their prisoners with the exception of the Corinthians, whom they kept in chains. The defeated Corinthians and their allies then returned home, and the Corcyraeans (who were now masters of the Ionian sea), sailing to Leucas, a Corinthian colony, devastated the country. They also burnt Cyllenè, where the Eleans had their docks, because they had supplied the Corinthians with money and ships. And, during the greater part of the summer after the battle, they retained the command of the sea and sailed about plundering the allies of the Corinthians. But, before the season was over, the Corinthians, perceiving that their allies were suffering, sent out a fleet and took up a position at Actium and near the promontory of Cheimerium in Thesprotia, that they might protect Leucas and other friendly places. The Corcyraeans with their fleet and army stationed themselves on the opposite coast at Leucimnè. Neither party attacked the other, but during the remainder of the summer they maintained their respective stations, and at the approach of winter returned home.

(1.31) For the whole year after the battle and for a year after that, the Corinthians, exasperated by the war with Corcyra, were busy in building ships. They took the utmost pains to create a great navy: rowers were collected from the Peloponnesus and from the rest of Hellas by the attraction of pay. The Corcyraeans were alarmed at the report of their preparations. They reflected that they had not enrolled themselves in the league either of the Athenians or of the Lacedaemonians, and that allies in Hellas they had none. They determined to go to Athens, join the Athenian alliance, and get what help they could from them. The Corinthians, hearing of their intentions, also sent ambassadors to Athens, fearing lest the combination of the Athenian and Corcyraean navies might prevent them from bringing the war to a satisfactory termination. Accordingly an assembly was held at which both parties came forward to plead their respective causes; and first the Corcyraeans spoke as follows:

(1.32) 'Men of Athens, those who, like ourselves, come to others who are not their allies and to whom they have never rendered any considerable service and ask help of them, are bound to show, in the first place, that the granting of their request is expedient, or at any rate not inexpedient, and, secondly, that their gratitude will be lasting. If they fulfil neither requirement they have no right to complain of a refusal. Now the Corcyraeans, when they sent us hither to ask for an alliance, were confident that they could establish to your satisfaction both these points. But, unfortunately, we have had a practice alike inconsistent with the request which we are about to make and contrary to our own interest at the present moment:--Inconsistent; for hitherto we have never, if we could avoid it, been the allies of others, and now we come and ask you to enter into an alliance with us;--Contrary to our interest; for through this practice we find ourselves isolated in our war with the Corinthians. The policy of not making alliances lest they should endanger us at another's bidding, instead of being wisdom, as we once fancied, has now unmistakably proved to be weakness and folly. True, in the last naval engagement we repelled the Corinthians single-handed. But now they are on the point of attacking us with a much greater force which they have drawn together from the Peloponnesus and from all Hellas. We know that we are too weak to resist them unaided, and may expect the worst if we fall into their hands. We are therefore compelled to ask assistance of you and of all the world; and you must not be hard upon us if now, renouncing our indolent neutrality which was an error but not a crime, we dare to be inconsistent.

(1.33) 'To you at this moment the request which we are making offers a glorious opportunity. In the first place, you will assist the oppressed and not the oppressors; secondly, you will admit us to your alliance at a time when our dearest interests are at stake, and will lay up a treasure of gratitude in our memories which will have the most abiding of all records. Lastly, we have a navy greater than any but your own. Reflect; what good fortune can be more extraordinary, what more annoying to your enemies than the voluntary accession of a power for whose alliance you would have given any amount of money and could never have been too thankful? This power now places herself at your disposal; you are to incur no danger and no expense, and she brings you a good name in the world, gratitude from those who seek your aid, and an increase of your own strength. Few have ever had all these advantages offered them at once; equally few when they come asking an alliance are able to give in the way of security and honour as much as they hope to receive.

'And if any one thinks that the war in which our services may be needed will never arrive, he is mistaken. He does not see that the Lacedaemonians, fearing the growth of your empire, are eager to take up arms, and that the Corinthians, who are your enemies, are all-powerful with them. They begin with us, but they will go on to you, that we may not stand united against them in the bond of a common enmity; they will not miss the chance of weakening us or strengthening themselves. And it is our business to strike first, we offering and you accepting our alliance, and to forestall their designs instead of waiting to counteract them.

(1.34) 'If they say that we are their colony and that therefore you have no right to receive us, they should be made to understand that all colonies honour their mother-city when she treats them well, but are estranged from her by injustice. For colonists are not meant to be the servants but the equals of those who remain at home. And the injustice of their conduct to us is manifest: for we proposed an arbitration in the matter of Epidamnus, but they insisted on prosecuting their quarrel by arms and would not hear of a legal trial.30. When you see how they treat us who are their own kinsmen, take warning: if they try deception, do not be misled by them; and if they make a direct request of you, refuse. For he passes through life most securely who has least reason to reproach himself with complaisance to his enemies.

(1.35) 'But again, you will not break the treaty with the Lacedaemonians31 by receiving us: for we are not allies either of you or of them. What says the treaty?--"Any Hellenic city which is the ally of no one may join whichever league it pleases." And how monstrous, that they should man their ships, not only from their own confederacy, but from Hellas in general, nay, even from your subjects, while they would debar us from the alliance which naturally offers and from every other, and will denounce it as a crime if you accede to our request. With far better reason shall we complain of you if you refuse. For you will be thrusting away us who are not your enemies and are in peril; and, far from restraining the enemy and the aggressor, you will be allowing him to gather fresh forces out of your own dominions. How unjust is this! Surely if you would be impartial you should either prevent the Corinthians from hiring soldiers in your dominions, or send to us also such help as you can be induced to send; but it would be best of all if you would openly receive and assist us. Many, as we have already intimated, are the advantages which we offer. Above all, our enemies are your enemies, which is the best guarantee of fidelity in an ally; and they are not weak but well able to injure those who secede from them. Again, when the proffered alliance is that of a maritime and not of an inland power, it is a far more serious matter to refuse. You should, if possible, allow no one to have a fleet but yourselves; or, if this is impossible, whoever is strongest at sea; make him your friend.

(1.36) 'Some one may think that the course which we recommend is expedient, but he may be afraid that if he is convinced by our arguments he will break the treaty. To him we reply, that as long as he is strong he may make a present of his fears to the enemy, but that if he reject the alliance he will be weak, and then his confidence, however reassuring to himself, will be anything but terrifying to enemies who are strong. It is Athens about which he is advising, and not Corcyra: will he be providing for her best interests if, when war is imminent and almost at the door, he is so anxious about the chances of the hour that he hesitates to attach to him a state which cannot be made a friend or enemy without momentous consequences? Corcyra, besides offering many other advantages, is conveniently situated for the coast voyage to Italy and Sicily; it stands in the way of any fleet coming from thence to the Peloponnesus, and can also protect a fleet on its way to Sicily. One word more, which is the sum of all and everything we have to say, and should convince you that you must not abandon us. Hellas has only three considerable navies:--there is ours, and there is yours, and there is the Corinthian. Now, if the Corinthians get hold of ours, and you allow the two to become one, you will have to fight against the united navies of Corcyra and the Peloponnesus. But, if you make us your allies, you will have our navy in addition to your own ranged at your side in the impending conflict.'

Thus spoke the Corcyraeans: the Corinthians replied as follows:

Special thanks to for permission to use this image adapted from their authentic replica of a Spartan spear.


22. (From 1.20) Or (i), 'Though they may not obtain entire credit, even when the proofs of them are all set down in order.' Or (2), 'Though they will not readily be believed upon a bare recital of all the proofs of them.' Or (3), ' Though it is difficult to set down all the proofs in order, so as to make the account credible.'

23. (From 1.20) Cp. vi. 54 seqq.

24. (From 1.20) Herod. vi. 57.

25. (From 1.20) Herod. ix. 53.

26. (From 1.23) Cp. i. 115, 146.

27. (From 1.26) Cp. iii. 58 med., 59 init.

28. (From 1.27) The sum would amount to 2 15s. 4d., or to 1 2s. 6d., according to the two systems of reckoning discussed in the note on iii. 70, q.v.

29. (From 1.28) Or, 'or again, they would agree to arbitration on the condition that both parties should remain' etc.

30. (From 1.34) Cp. i. 29 init.

31. (From 1.35) Cp. i. 115 init.

From Thucydides, translated into English, to which is prefixed an essay on inscriptions and a note on the geography of Thucydides, by Benjamin Jowett. Second edition. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1900.

Scanned and edited specially for Peithô's Web. Jowett's footnotes have been converted to endnotes. Peithô's Web accepts no liability whatsoever for errors or any other problem with the texts or their use.

Special thanks to (link) for graciously permitting images of their ancient art and replicas of armor and weapons to appear in our Thucydides pages.

Background mosaic from the Architectural Ornament collection of the Architectural Engineering Graduate Students Association of The Pennsylvania State University.