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The Peace of Nicias


Corinthian helmet. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.
Corinthian helmet (British Museum)
In March 421, the Peace of Nicias was signed, which marked the end of the Archidamian War. It is called after the Athenian negotiator Nicias; no doubt, the Spartans had another name for the document. Its main point was that Athens and Sparta would keep what they had, although there were some adjustments: Sparta would return Amphipolis to Athens, and the Athenians would give up the occupation of Pylos. Thucydides, who was fascinated by the problems of chronology, notes that the treaty was signed "just ten years, with the difference of a few days, after the first invasion of Attica and the beginning of this war" (History of the Peloponnesian War, 5.20.1).

There are two types of successful peace treaty. The first is possible if one side has been completely defeated and can no longer recover. In that case, the victor can dictate terms that will never be challenged (e.g., the end of the Second World War). The second type is possible when all parties are involved, understand the political and military realities, see their vital interests respected, and are willing to negotiate on minor points (e.g., the Peace of Westphalia or the Congress of Vienna).

The Peace of Nicias did not belong to these categories. Sparta had gone to war to put an end to Athenian supremacy but the Delian League was still alive; moreover, at Sphacteria it had become clear that Sparta was not invincible. However, although Athens had won the war, it had not destroyed Sparta, which was still a powerful state. Moreover, not all parties that had been involved agreed to the treaty. For example, Sparta's ally Thebes refused to agree, and the inhabitants of Amphipolis, who were supposed to return to the Athenian alliance, were not willing to do so. Sparta made promises that it could not keep. Moreover, it betrayed its allies Corinth and Megara, because it accepted the Athenian occupation of territories that belonged to these cities.

Almost immediately after the treaty had been signed, it collapsed. Corinth embarked upon an ambitious diplomatic offensive that was directed against Sparta; Thebes simply refused to sign; Sparta was unable to give back Amphipolis, and Athens did not return Pylos. As a result of these tensions, the Athenians accepted Alcibiades' advice to join the coalition of the democratic states Argos, Mantinea, and Elis. Athens now had allies on the Peloponnese, and it may have looked as if the Spartan alliance, the Peloponnesian League, was about to collapse.

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Thucydides. Mosaic from Jerash, now in the Altes Museum Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering. Thucydides; mosaic from Jerash (Altes Museum, Berlin)
In 418, the Spartan king Agis II attacked Mantinea and Argos. Now, Athens was faced with a difficult choice: would it help its ally Sparta, or would it help its democratic allies? It choose the second option and was willing to take up arms against Sparta in the battle of Mantinea. That Agis won the fight was important -it restored Spartan influence on the Peloponnese and discredited democracy- but the deeper significance of the battle was that the Peace of Nicias had come to an end, three years after it had been signed.

Below, you can read the text of the treaty, which has been included in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War (5.18.1-19.2, 23.1-24.1; Rex Warner's translation). There are two texts: the real treaty that ended the war, and a document in which Sparta and Athens concluded a defensive alliance.





 

The Peace of Nicias

The Athenians, the Spartans and their allies made treaty and swore to it, city by city, as follows:
  • With regard to the Panhellenic temples, everyone who wishes, according to the customs of his country, to sacrifice in them, to travel to them, to consult the oracles, or to attend the games shall be guaranteed security in doing so, both by sea and by land. At Delphi the consecrated ground and the temple of Apollo and the Delphians themselves shall be governed by their own laws, taxed by their own state, and judged by their own judges, both the people and the territory, according to the custom of the place.
  • The treaty is to be in force between the Athenians, with their allies, and the Spartans, with their allies, for fifty years without fraud or damage by land or sea.
  • It shall not be lawful to take up arms with the intent to do injury either for the Spartans and their allies against the Athenians and their allies, or for the Athenians and their allies against the Spartans and their allies, in any way or by any means whatever.
  • If any dispute should arise between them, they are to deal with it by law and by oath, as may be agreed between them.
  • The Spartans and their allies are to give back Amphipolis to the Athenians. In the case of all cities given back by the Spartans to the Athenians, the inhabitants shall have the right to go where they please taking their property with them.
  • These cities are to pay the tribute fixed by Aristides [1] and are to be independent. So long as they pay the tribute, it shall not be lawful for the Athenians and their allies to take up arms against these cities, once the treaty has been made. The cities referred to are Argilus, Stagirus, Acanthus, Scolus, Olynthus, and Spartalus.[2] These cities are to be allied neither to Sparta nor to Athens. If, however, the Athenians persuade the cities to do so, it shall be lawful for the Athenians to make them their allies, provided that the cities themselves are willing.
  • The Mecyberneans, the Sanaeans, and Singaeans shall inhabit their own cities, as shall the Olynthians and Acanthians.
  • The Spartans and their allies shall give back Panactum to the Athenians.
  • The Athenians shall give back Coryphasium [=Sphacteria], Cythera, Methana, Ptelium, and Atalanta to the Spartans; also all Spartans who are in prison in Athens or in any other prison in the Athenian dominions.
  • The Athenians shall let go the Peloponnesians besieged in Scione and all others in Scione who are allies of Sparta, and those whom Brasidas sent in there, and any other allies of Sparta who are in prison in Athens or in any other prison in the Athenian dominions.
  • The Spartans shall and their allies shall in the same way give back all Athenians or allies of Athens whom they have in their hands. With regard to Scione, Torone, Sermyle, and any other cities in Athenian hands, the Athenians may act as they shall see fit.[3]
  • The Athenians shall take an oath to the Spartans and their allies, city by city. The oath shall be the most binding one that exists in each city, and seventeen representatives on each side are to swear it. The words of the oath shall be these: "I shall abide by the terms of the treaty honestly and sincerely." In the same way, the Spartans and their allies shall take an oath to the Athenians. This oath is to be renewed annually by both sides.
  • Pillars are to be set up at Olympia, Pythia, the Isthmus, in the Acropolis at Athens, and in the temple at Amyclae in Lacedaemon.
  • If any point connected with any subject at all has been overlooked, alterations may be made, without any breach of oath, by mutual agreement and on due consideration by the two parties, the Athenians and the Spartans.
  • The treaty comes into effect from the 27th day of the month of Artemisium at Sparta, Pleistolas holding the office of ephor; and at Athens from the 25th day of the month of Elaphebolium, in the archonship of Alcaeus.
  • Those who took the oath and poured the libations were as follows:
    • For the Spartans: Pleistoanax, Agis, Pleistolas, Damagetus, Chionis, Metagenes, Acanthus, Daithus, Ischagoras, Philocharidas, Zeuxidas, Antiphus, Tellis, Alcindas, Empedias, Menas, and Laphilus.
    • For the Athenians: Lampon, Isthmonicus, Nicias, Laches, Euthydemus, Procles, Pythodorus, Hagnon, Myrtilus, Thrasycles, Theagenes, Aristocrates, Iolcius, Timocrates, Leon, Lamachus, and Demosthenes.

The Defensive Alliance

Sparta and Athens shall be allies for fifty years, under the conditions to be set out
  • In case of any enemy invasion of Spartan territory or hostile action against the Spartans themselves, the Athenians are to come to the aid of Sparta in the most effective way possible, according to their resources.
  • But if by this time the enemy enemy has laid waste the country and gone away, then that city shall be held to be in a state of war with both Sparta and Athens and shall be punished by them both. Peace shall be made by Sparta and Athens jointly and simultaneously. These provisions are to be carried out honestly, promptly, and sincerely.
  • In case of any enemy invasion of Athenian  territory or hostile action against the Athenians themselves, the Spartans are to come to the aid of Athens in the most effective way possible, according to their resources.
  • But if by this time the enemy enemy has laid waste the country and gone away, then that city shall be held to be in a state of war with both Sparta and Athens and shall be punished by them both. Peace shall be made by Sparta and Athens jointly and simultaneously. These provisions are to be carried out honestly, promptly, and sincerely.
  • In case of a rising of the slaves, the Athenians are to come to the aid of Sparta with all their strength, according to their resources.
  • This treaty shall be sworn to by the same people on either side who took the oath on the previous treaty. The oath shall be renewed every year by the Spartans going to Athens for the Dionysia and by the Athenians going to Sparta for the Hyacinthia.[4]
  • Each party shall set up a pillar, the one at Sparta to be near the statue of Apollo at Amyclae, the one at Athens near the statue of Athena on the Acropolis.
  • If the Spartans and the Athenians should wish to add or take away anything from the terms of this alliance, they may do it jointly together without any breach of oath.
  • Those who took the oath for the Spartans were Pleistoanax, Agis, Pleistolas, Damagetus, Chionis, Metagenes, Acanthus, Daithus, Ischagoras, Philocharidas, Zeuxidas, Antiphus, Tellis, Alcindas, Empedius, Menas, and Laphilus, and for the Athenians Lampon, Isthmonicus, Nicias, Laches, Euthydemus, Procles, Pythodorus, Hagnon, Myrtilus, Thrasycles, Theagenes, Aristocrates, Iolcius, Timocrates, Leon, Lamachus, and Demosthenes.





Note 1:
When the Delian League was founded.

Note 2:
Towns on the Chalkidike that had been forced out of the Delian League by Brasidas.

Note 3:
The inhabitants of Scione were massacred.

Note 4:
Religious festivals.





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