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

(3.53) 'Men of Lacedaemon, we surrendered our city because we had confidence in you; we were under the impression that the trial to which we submitted would be legal, and of a very different kind from this; and when we accepted you and you alone to be our judges, which indeed you are, we thought that at your hands we had the best hope of obtaining justice. But we fear that we are doubly mistaken, having too much reason to suspect that in this trial our lives are at stake, and that you will turn out to be partial judges. So we must infer, because no accusation has been preferred against us calling for a defence, but we speak at our own request; and because your question is a short one, to which the answer, if true, condemns us, and, if false, is exposed at once. In the extremity of our helplessness, our only and our safest course is to say something, whatever may be our fate; for men in our condition are sure to reproach themselves with their silence, and to fancy that the unuttered word, if spoken, would have saved them.

'But by what arguments can we ever convince you? If we were unacquainted with one another we might with advantage adduce in evidence matters of which you were ignorant, but now you know all that we can say; and we are afraid, not that we are criminals in your eyes because you have decided that we fall short of your own standard of virtue,42 but that we are being sacrificed to please others, and that the cause which we plead is already prejudged.

(3.54) 'Still we may urge our claims of justice against our Theban enemies, and our claims of gratitude upon you and the other Hellenes; the recollection of our good deeds may perhaps move you. To your short question, "Whether in this war we have done any service to the Lacedaemonians and their allies," we reply that "if we are enemies you are not wronged, because you have received no good from us; and if you deem us friends, you who have made war upon us, and not we, are to blame." During the late peace and in the Persian War our conduct was irreproachable; we were not the first to violate the peace, and we were the only Boeotians who took part in repelling the Persian invader and in the liberation of Hellas. Although we are an inland city, we joined in the sea-fight off Artemisium; we were at your side when you fought in our land under Pausanias, and, whatever dangers the Hellenes underwent in those days, we took a share beyond our strength in all of them. And you, Lacedaemonians, more especially should remember how at the time when Sparta was panic-stricken by the rebellion of the Helots, who seized Ithomè after the earthquake,43 we sent a third part of our own citizens to your aid; these are things not to be forgotten.

(3.55) 'Such was the spirit which animated us in the great days of old; not until later did we become your enemies, and that was originally your own fault. For when we sought your help against the violence of the Thebans, you had rejected us and had bade us turn to the Athenians, who were near, whereas you were at a distance. Yet even in this war you have neither suffered nor were ever likely to suffer anything very atrocious at our hands. If we refused to revolt from the Athenians at your bidding, we were quite right; for they assisted us against the Thebans when you shrank from the task; and after this it would have been dishonourable to betray them. They had been our benefactors; we had been at our own request admitted to their alliance, and we shared the rights of citizenship with them. How could we refuse to respond loyally to their call? When you or they in the exercise of your supremacy have acted, it may be, wrongly and led your allies into evil courses, the leaders and not the followers are to be blamed.

(3.56) 'The Thebans have inflicted many injuries upon us, and their latest crime, as you are well aware, is the cause of our present misfortunes. They came not only in time of peace, but at a holy season and attempted to seize our city; we righteously and in accordance with univeral law defended ourselves and punished the aggressor; and there is no reason why we should now suffer for their satisfaction. If you take your own present advantage and their present hatred to be the measure of justice, you will prove yourselves, not upright and impartial judges, but the slaves of expediency. The Thebans may appear serviceable now, but of far greater service to you were we and the other Hellenes when you were in far greater danger. For now you invade and menace others, but in those days the Barbarian was threatening to enslave us all, and they were on his side. May we not fairly set our former patriotism against our present offence, if indeed we have offended? You will find that the one more than outweighs the other; for our service to you was performed at a time when very few Hellenes opposed their courage to the power of Xerxes; they were then held in honour, not who, looking to their own advantage, made terms with the invader44 and were safe, but who, in the face of danger, dared the better part. Of that number were we, and there was a time when we received the highest honour at your hands, but now we fear that these same principles, which have led us to prefer a just alliance with the Athenians to an interested alliance with you, will be our destruction. Yet when men have been consistent in their conduct, others should show themselves consistent in their judgment of it.45 For true expediency is only this--to have an enduring sense of gratitude towards good allies for their services, while we46 do not neglect our own immediate interest.

(3.57) 'Consider, before you act, that hitherto you have been generally esteemed among Hellenes to be a pattern of nobility; if you decide unjustly (and this judgment cannot be hidden, for you, the judges, are famous, and we, who are judged by you, are of good repute), mankind will be indignant at the strange and disgraceful sentence which will have been passed against good men by men still better.47 They will not endure to see spoils taken from us, the benefactors of Hellas, dedicated by our enemies in the common temples. Will it not be deemed a monstrous thing that the Lacedaemonians should desolate Plataea; that they, whose fathers inscribed the name of the city on the tripod at Delphi in token of her valour,48 should for the sake of the Thebans blot out the whole people from the Hellenic world? For to this we have come at last. When the Persians conquered our land, we were all but ruined; and now, when we plead before you, who were once our dearest friends, the Thebans have prevailed against us. We have had to meet two terrible trials, the danger first of starvation, if we had not given up the city; and secondly, of condemnation to death. The Plataeans, who were zealous in the cause of Hellas even beyond their strength, are now friendless, spurned and rejected by all. None of our old allies will help us, and we fear that you, O Lacedaemonians, our only hope, are not to be depended upon.

(3.58) 'Yet once more for the sake of those Gods in whose name we made a league of old, and for our services to the cause of Hellas, relent and change your minds, if the Thebans have at all influenced you: in return for the wicked request which they make of you, ask of them the righteous boon that you should not slay us to your own dishonour.49 Do not bring upon yourselves an evil name merely to gratify others. For, although you may quickly take our lives, you will not so easily obliterate the infamy of the deed. We are not enemies whom you might justly punish, but friends who were compelled to go to war with you; and therefore piety demands that you should spare our lives. Before you pass judgment, consider that we surrendered ourselves, and stretched out our hands to you; the custom of Hellas does not allow the suppliant to be put to death. Remember too that we have ever been your benefactors: Cast your eyes upon the sepulchres of your fathers slain by the Persians and buried in our land, whom we have honoured by a yearly public offering of garments, and other customary gifts. We were their friends, and we gave them the first fruits in their season of that friendly land in which they rest; we were their allies too, who in times past had fought at their side; and if you now pass an unjust sentence, will not your conduct strangely contrast with ours? Reflect: when Pausanias buried them here, he thought that he was laying them among friends and in friendly earth. But if you put us to death, and make Plataea one with Thebes, are you not robbing your fathers and kindred of the honour which they enjoy, and leaving them in a hostile land inhabited by their murderers? Nay more, you will enslave the land in which the Hellenes won their liberty; you bring desolation upon the temples in which they prayed when they conquered the Persians; and you will take away the sacrifices which our fathers instituted from the city which ordained and established them.

(3.59) 'These things, O Lacedaemonians, would not be for your honour. They would be an offence against the common feeling of Hellas and against your ancestors. You should be ashamed to put us to death, who are your benefactors and have never done you any wrong, in order that you may gratify the enmity of another. Spare us, and let your heart be softened towards us; be wise, and have mercy upon us, considering not only how terrible will be our fate, but who the sufferers are; think too of the uncertainty of fortune, which may strike any one how ever innocent. We implore you, as is becoming and natural in our hour of need, by the Gods whom the Hellenes worship at common altars, to listen to our prayers. We appeal to the oaths which your fathers swore, and entreat you not to forget them. We kneel at your fathers' tombs, and we call upon the dead not to let us be betrayed into the hands of the Thebans, their dearest friends to their bitterest enemies. We remind you of the day on which we shared in their glorious deeds--we who on this day are in danger of meeting a fearful doom. And now we say no more; to men in our case, though we must, there is nothing harder than to make an end; for with the end comes the decisive hour. Our last word is that we did not surrender Plataea to the Thebans,--far rather would we have perished from hunger, the most miserable of deaths,--but to you, in whom we trusted, and, if you will not listen to us, you ought at least to replace us in the same position, and allow us to choose our destiny, whatever it may be. We adjure you not to deliver us, the Plataeans, who were so loyal to the cause of Hellas, and who are now suppliants to you, O Lacedaemonians, out of your own hands and your own good faith, into the hands of the Thebans, our worst enemies. Be our saviours. You are liberating the other Hellenes; do not destroy us.'

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


42.(From 3.53) Cp. iii. 57 init.

43.(From 3.54) Cp. i. 101.

44.(From 3.56) Or, reading autois, and referring the word to the Persians: 'who, looking to advantage, forwarded the course of the invader.'

45.(From 3.56) This may refer to the judgment of the Spartans on the Plataeans, or to the adhesion of the Plataeans to the Athenians; see note.

46.(From 3.56) Reading hêmin.

47.(From 3.57) Cp. iii. 53 fin.

48.(From 3.57) Cp. i. 132 init.

49.(From 3.58) Or, 'ask of them the boon that you should not kill those whom you ought not, and receive an honest gratitude from us, instead of a disgraceful gratitude from them.'

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.

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