(c. 470—413 bc)
Athenian politician and general. After the death of Pericles he became the main rival of Cleon in the struggle for political leadership. He was a moderate and opposed the aggressive imperialism of the extreme democrats, his aim being the conclusion of peace with Sparta as soon as it could be attained on terms favourable to Athens. Often elected strategos, he led several expeditions in which, thanks to his cautious competence, he suffered no serious defeat and won no important victory. He was largely responsible for the armistice concluded in 423, and the Peace of 421 rightly bears his name.
He now favoured a policy of retrenchment and objected to the ambitious schemes of Alcibiades, who advocated Athenian intervention in Peloponnese and later an expedition to Sicily. Despite his disapproval Nicias was appointed with Alcibiades and Lamachus to command this enterprise. Alcibiades was soon recalled, and little was accomplished in 415, but in 414 Syracuse was besieged and almost reduced to capitulation. The death of Lamachus, the arrival of the Spartan Gylippus, and the inactivity of Nicias, now seriously ill, transformed the situation, and in spite of the efforts of Demosthenes (1), who brought reinforcements in 413, the Athenians were themselves blockaded. Nicias, who refused to withdraw by sea until too late, led the vanguard in a desperate attempt to escape by land. His troops were overwhelmed at the river Assinarus, and he was later put to death. The narrative of Thucydides (2), though giving due credit to Nicias for his selfless devotion, shows clearly that the Athenian disaster was largely due to his inadequate leadership. He was very rich (Xenophon. says he had 1,000 slaves working in the silver mines; see slavery) and spent lavishly. Plutarch mentions the splendid procession he led to Delos, where Athens has recently re‐established the festival of the Delia. See peloponnesian war.
Subjects: Classical studies