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(6.19) Such were the words of Alcibiades. After hearing him and the Egestaeans and certain Leontine exiles who came forward and earnestly entreated assistance, reminding the Athenians of the oaths which they had sworn,19 the people were more than ever resolved upon war. Nicias, seeing that his old argument would no longer deter them, but that he might possibly change their minds if he insisted on the magnitude of the force which would be required, came forward again and spoke as follows:

(6.20) 'Men of Athens, as I see that you are thoroughly determined to go to war, I accept the decision, and will advise you according1y, trusting that the event will be such as we all wish. The cities which we are about to attack are, I am informed, powerful, and independent of one another; they are not inhabited by slaves, who would gladly pass out of a harder into an easier condition of life; and they are very unlikely to accept our rule in exchange for their present liberty.20 As regards numbers, although Sicily is but one island, it contains a great many Hellenic states. Not including Naxos and Catana (of which the inhabitants, as I hope, will be our allies because they are the kinsmen of the Leontines), there are seven other cities fully provided with means of warfare similar to our own, above all Selinus and Syracuse, the cities against which our expedition is particularly directed. For they have numerous hoplites, archers, and javelin-men, and they have many triremes which their large population will enable them to man; besides their private wealth, they have the treasures of the Selinuntian temples; and the Syracusans receive a tribute which has been paid them from time immemorial by certain barbarian tribes. Moreover, they have a numerous cavalry, and grow their own corn instead of importing it: in the two last respects they have a great advantage over us.

(6.21) 'Against such a power more is needed than an insignificant force of marines; if we mean to do justice to our design, and not to be kept within our lines by the numbers of their cavalry, we must embark a multitude of infantry. For what if the Sicilians in terror combine against us, and we make no friends except the Egestaeans who can furnish us with horsemen capable of opposing theirs? To be driven from the island or to send for reinforcements, because we were wanting in forethought at first, would be disgraceful. We must take a powerful armament with us from home, in the full knowledge that we are going to a distant land, and that the expedition will be21 of a kind very different from any which you have hitherto made among your subjects against some enemy in this part of the world, yourselves the allies of others. Here a friendly country is always near, and you can easily obtain supplies. There you will be dependent on a country22 which is entirely strange to you, and whence during the four winter months hardly even a message can be sent hither.

(6.22) 'I say, therefore, that we must take with us a large heavy-armed force both of Athenians and of allies, whether our own subjects or any Peloponnesians whom we can persuade23 or attract by pay24 to our service; also plenty of archers and javelin-men to act against the enemy's cavalry. Our naval superiority must be overwhelming, that we may not only be able to fight, but may have no difficulty in bringing in supplies. And there is the food carried from home, such as wheat and parched barley, which will have to be conveyed in merchant-vessels; we must also have bakers, drafted in a certain proportion from each mill, who will receive pay, but will be forced to serve, in order that, if we should be detained by a calm, the army may not want food; for it is not every city that will be able to receive so large a force as ours. We must make our preparations as complete as possible, and not be at the mercy of others; above all, we must take out with us as much money as we can; for as to the supplies of the Egestaeans which are said to be awaiting us, we had better assume that they are imaginary.

(6.23) 'Even supposing we leave Athens with a force of our own, not merely equal to that of the enemy, but in every way superior, except indeed as regards the number of hoplites which they can put into the field, for in that respect equality is impossible, still it will be no easy task to conquer Sicily, or indeed to preserve ourselves. You ought to consider that we are like men going to found a city in a land of strangers and enemies, who on the very day of their disembarkation must have command of the country; for if they meet with a disaster they will have no friends. And this is what I fear. We shall have much need of prudence; still more of good fortune (and who can guarantee this to mortals?). Wherefore I would trust myself and the expedition, as little as possible to accident, and would not sail until I had taken such precautions as will be likely to ensure our safety. This I conceive to be the course which is the most prudent for the whole state, and, for us who are sent upon the expedition, a condition of safety. If any one thinks otherwise, to him I resign the command.'

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


19. (From 6.19) Cp. iii. 86.

20. (From 6.20) CP. vii. 55 fin.

21. (From 6.21) Reading strateusomenoi and apartêsontes.

22. (From 6.21) Or, 'you will be removed to a country'; or, reading with Bekker apartêsantes, 'you will find yourselves dependent on,' or 'will have been removed to a country.'

23. (From 6.22) Cp. vi. 29 med.

24. (From 6.22) Cp. vi. 43 med.; vii. 57 fin.

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.