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Mityleneans to Peloponnesians at Olympia

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

(3.9) 'We know, Lacedaemonians and allies, that all Hellenes entertain a fixed sentiment against those who in time of war revolt and desert an old alliance. Their new allies are delighted with them in as far as they profit by their aid; but they do not respect them, for they deem them traitors to their former friends. And this opinion is reasonable enough; but only when the rebels, and those from whom they sever themselves, are naturally united by the same interests and feelings and equally matched in power and resources, and when there is no reasonable excuse for a revolt. But our relation to the Athenians was of another sort, and no one should be severe upon us for deserting them in the hour of danger although we were honoured by them in time of peace.

(3.10) 'Since an alliance is our object, we will first address ourselves to the question of justice and honour. We know that no friendship between man and man, no league between city and city, can ever be permanent unless the friends or allies have a good opinion of each other's honesty, and are similar in general character. For the diversity in men's minds makes the difference in their actions.

'Now our alliance with the Athenians first began when you ceased to take part in the Persian War, and they remained to complete the work. But we were never the allies of the Athenians in their design of subjugating Hellas; we were really the allies of the Hellenes, whom we sought to liberate from the Persians. And while in the exercise of their command they claimed no supremacy, we were very ready to follow them, But our fears began to be aroused when we saw them relaxing their efforts against the Persians and imposing the yoke of their dominion upon the allies, who could not unite and defend themselves, for their interests were too various. And so they were all enslaved, except ourselves and the Chians. We forsooth were independent allies, free men--that was the word--who fought at their side. But, judging from previous examples, how could we any longer have confidence in our leaders? For they had subjugated others to whom, equally with ourselves, their faith was pledged; and how could we who survived expect to be spared if ever they had the power to destroy us?

(3.11) 'Had all the allies retained their independence,we should have had better assurance that they would leave us as we were; but when the majority had been subjugated by them, they might naturally be expected to take offence at our footing of equality; they would contrast us who alone maintained this equality with the majority who had submitted to them; they would also observe that in proportion as their strength was increasing, our isolation was increasing too. Mutual fear is the only solid basis of alliance; for he who would break faith is deterred from aggression by the consciousness of inferiority. And why were we left independent? Only because they thought that to gain an empire they must use fair words and win their way by policy and not by violence. On the one hand, our position was a witness to their character. For, having an equal vote with them, we could not be supposed to have fought in their wars against our will, but those whom they attacked must have been in the wrong. On the other hand, they were thus enabled to use the powerful against the weak; they thought that they would leave us to the last; when the lesser states were removed, the stronger would fall an easier prey. But if they had begun with us while the power of the allies was still intact, and we might have afforded a rallying-point, they would not so easily have mastered them. Besides, our navy caused them some apprehension; they were afraid that we might join you, or some other great power, and that the union would be dangerous to them. For a time, too, we saved ourselves by paying court to the people and to the popular leaders of the day. But we were not likely to have survived long, judging by the conduct of the Athenians towards others, if this war had not arisen.

(3.12) 'What trust then could we repose in such a friendship or such a freedom as this? The civility which we showed to one another was at variance with our real feelings. They courted us in time of war because they were afraid of us, and we in time of peace paid a like attention to them. And the faith which is generally assured by mutual good-will had with us no other bond but mutual fear; from fear, and not from love, we were constrained to maintain the alliance, and whichever of us first thought that he could safely venture would assuredly have been the first to break it. And therefore if any one imagines that we do wrong in striking first, because they delay the blow which we dread, and thinks that we should wait and make quite sure of their intentions, he is mistaken. If we were really on an equality with them and in a position to counteract their designs and imitate their threatening attitude, how was it consistent with this equality that we had still to be at their mercy? The power of attack is always in their hands, and the power of anticipating attack should always be in ours.

(3.13) 'These were the reasons, Lacedaemonians and allies, and the grievances which led us to revolt. They were clear enough to prove to all hearers the justice of our cause, and strong enough to alarm us and drive us to seek some deliverance. We have acted from no sudden impulse; long ago, before the war began, we sent envoys to you, and proposed to revolt. But we could not, because you refused our request. Now, however, when the Boeotians have invited us, we have at once obeyed the call. We were intending to make a double severance of ourselves, from the Hellenes and from the Athenians; from the guilt, that is, of oppressing the Hellenes, in concert with the Athenians, instead of aiding in their liberation, and from the ruin which the Athenians were sooner or later sure to bring upon us, unless we anticipated them. But the step has been taken hastily and without due preparation; hence you are the more bound to receive us into alliance and to send us speedy help, thereby showing that you are ready to protect those who have claims upon you and to strike a blow at your enemies. Never was there such an opportunity before. The Athenians are exhausted by pestilence and by a costly war; some of their ships are cruising about your shores; the remainder are threatening us; so that they are not likely to have many to spare if you, in the course of this summer, make a second attack upon them by land and by sea. They will not be able to meet you at sea; or, if they do, they will have to withdraw their forces both from Lesbos and from Peloponnesus. And let no one say to himself that he is going to incur a danger which will be his own on behalf of a country which is not his own. He may think that Lesbos is a long way off; but he will find that the help which we bring will be very near him. For the war will not be fought in Attica, as might be imagined; but in those countries by which Attica is supported. The revenues of the Athenians are derived from their allies, and, if they subdue us, will be greater than ever; no one will revolt again, and our resources will be added to theirs; and we shall suffer worse things than those who have been enslaved already. But, if you assist us heartily, you will gain the alliance of a great naval power, and a navy is your chief want; you will draw away the allies of the Athenians, who will fearlessly come over to you; thus you will more easily overthrow the power of Athens. And you will no longer incur, as in times past, the reproach of deserting those who revolt.2 If you come forward as their liberators your final triumph will be assured.

(3.14) 'Do not then for very shame frustrate the hopes which the Hellenes rest on you, or dishonour the name of Olympian Zeus in whose temple we are in a manner suppliants, but be our allies and helpers. Do not betray us; we, the people of Mytilenè, risk our lives alone in the common cause of Hellas: universal will be the benefit which we confer if we succeed, and still more universal the ruin if you are inflexible and we fall. Wherefore prove yourselves worthy of your reputation in Hellas, and be such as we in our fear would have you.'

These were the words of the Mytilenaeans.

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


2.(From 3.13) Cp. i. 40 fin.; i. 69.

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.