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The Sicilian Expedition (415-413 BC)

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The Sicilian expedition was a military campaign during the Peloponnesian War, during which the Athenian fleet attempted in 415-413 BC to capture Syracuse. In 415 BC, a large Athenian fleet under the command of three strategists; Alcibiades, Nicias, and Lamachus; sailed to Sicily. After the departure of Alcibiades and the death of Lamachus, Nicias inevitably became sole commander of the operation. The main event of the expedition was the siege of Syracuse which, for about two years, Nicias unsuccessfully led. For a long time, Syracuse was on the brink of defeat, but the arrival of Spartans under the command of Gylippus broke the course of military operations. In 413 BC, the Athenian troops were defeated, and their commanders were executed.

The Western Policy of Pericles

Athens, by the middle of the 5th century BC, having achieved hegemony in the basin of the Aegean Sea, even under Pericles, began to spread its influence on Greater Greece, the traditional sphere of influence of Corinth.

The western policy of Pericles was aimed at strengthening the position of Athens in Sicily and Southern Italy. Athens began to interfere in the affairs of the Spartan-Corinthians. This caused discontent primarily among Corinthians, whose interests were affected by Athenian competition.

The First Sicilian Expedition

In Sicily, the struggle between cities continued, and also between Syracuse and the Chalcid colonies, primarily the Leontines. Syracusans supported all the Dorian cities. The reason for the intervention was the appeal to the Athenians from the inhabitants of Leontin, who did not have enough soldiers to confront the Syracusans, who blocked them from land and sea. The Athenians decided to send help, under the pretext of a tribal relationship with the Ionians. In September 427 BC, a squadron of twenty ships went to Sicily. For several years, the Athenian strategists fought but did not achieve decisive success.

Together with the existing Athenian and Allied ships, the combined fleet made an impressive force of 80 triremes. With these forces, they attempted to reverse the course of the war; however, the intentions of the Athenians began to alarm not only enemies but also allies who feared that after the victory they would become Athenian subjects. Therefore in the summer of 424 BC, representatives of the Sicilian cities gathered at the Congress in Gela, where they concluded a common peace, which prevented the Athenians from continuing to intervene.


The political activity of Alcibiades began in 420 BC. He was a resolute opponent of peace with Sparta and a supporter of the resumption of hostilities. At the same time, he was guided by personal reasons. In the same year, he had been elected a strategist and was re-elected for five consecutive years. In this position, he was already able to abruptly change the foreign policy of Athens in the first year. He preferred enmity toward Sparta. For this, he began to seek allies in the Peloponnese. He managed to conclude an alliance with Argos, the eternal enemy of Sparta. Then two more former Spartan allies, Mantinea and Elid, joined the union.

The Beginning of the Expedition

Alcibiades, Nicias, and Lamachus sailed to Sicily with 140 triremes. After arriving in Italy, the Athenians took Regi. Then they crossed to Sicily and took Katana. After this, Alcibiades arrived in a state ship from Athens with a summons to the court. He sailed from Sicily, allegedly to Athens, on his ship with the Salamis. However, in Furies, Alcibiades and his friends landed on the shore and fled. People from the “Salamis”, after unsuccessful searches, returned to Athens. There, Alcibiades was sentenced to death in absentia, and his property was confiscated. After Alcibiades’ departure, Nicias became commander-in-chief.

At the end of 415 BC, Athenians prepared to attack Syracuse. The Syracusans, noticing the indecision of the Athenians, were disgusted with them and began to plan a campaign against Katana, where the Athenian army stood. In the battle, the Syracusans were defeated and retreated. No one took advantage of his victory.

In winter and spring, 414 BC, the Syracusans and Athenians sought allies. The Athenians succeeded in forming an alliance with several Sicilian cities, and the Syracusans sent ambassadors for help from Corinth and Sparta. In Sparta, Alcibiades advised them to send troops to Sicily. The Spartans agreed and sent a small detachment to Siracusa.

Siege of Syracuse

In the summer of 414 BC, Athenians came to Syracuse and besieged the city. By the end of the year, Syracuse was considering surrender, but after the arrival of Sparta, the Syracusans became more confident. In Athens, they decided to send reinforcements to Sicily. In the winter, 10 ships under the command of the strategist Eurymedon arrived in Syracuse, and in the spring Demosthenes was exp-ected with 73 ships. In the meantime, the Syracusans entered into battle with the Athenians on land and at sea. In the sea battle on September 3, the Athenians suffered complete defeat. After this battle, the Syracusans blocked exit from the harbor, where the Athenian vessels were stationed.


The Sicilian expedition ended in disaster for Athens. Two-thirds of the fleet were lost, about a third of the entire hoplite militia, and they had exhausted their finances. In 413 BC, news came to Athens of the defeat of the Athenian troops and fleet in Sicily. The Spartans invaded Attica and turned it into a permanent bridgehead on the territory of the enemy.

In 412 BC, feeling the weakening of Athens, the strongest ally of Athens, Chios, rebelled. It was supported by the Ionian cities. Sparta sent them a large fleet, which included, among other things, the ships of the Sicilian allies. By 411 BC, Ionia completely disappeared from Athens grasp. The Spartans made a deal with Persian king Darius II and his Asiatic satraps for financial assistance. The purpose of this assistance was to create a Spartan fleet that could defeat a large Athenian fleet. Sparta was obliged to hand over to Persia the Greek cities of Asia Minor, reclaimed during the Greco-Persian wars.

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