94 Facts About Alcibiades


Alcibiades was a prominent Athenian statesman, orator, and general.

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Alcibiades was the last of the Alcmaeonidae, which fell from prominence after the Peloponnesian War.

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Alcibiades played a major role in the second half of that conflict as a strategic advisor, military commander, and politician.

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However, Alcibiades made powerful enemies in Sparta too, and defected to Persia.

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Alcibiades served as an Athenian general for several years, but enemies eventually succeeded in exiling him a second time.

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Alcibiades favored unconventional tactics, frequently winning cities over by treachery or negotiation rather than by siege.

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Alcibiades' mother was Deinomache, the daughter of Megacles, head of the powerful Alcmaeonid family, and could trace her family back to Eurysaces and the Telamonian Ajax.

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Alcibiades's paternal grandfather, named Alcibiades, was a friend of Cleisthenes, the famous constitutional reformer of the late sixth century BC.

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Alcibiades was noted, however, for his unruly behavior, which was mentioned by ancient Greek and Latin writers on several occasions.

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Xenophon attempted to clear Socrates's name at trial by relaying information that Alcibiades was always corrupt and that Socrates merely failed in attempting to teach him morality.

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Alcibiades took part in the Battle of Potidaea in 432 BC, where Socrates was said to have saved his life.

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Alcibiades later returned the favour by rescuing Socrates at the Battle of Delium in 424 BC.

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Alcibiades had a particularly close relationship with Socrates, whom he admired and respected.

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Alcibiades was married to Hipparete, the daughter of Hipponicus, a wealthy Athenian.

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Alcibiades's bride brought with her a large dowry, which significantly increased Alcibiades' already substantial family fortune.

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Alcibiades seized her in court and carried her home again through the crowded Agora.

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Alcibiades's lived with him until her death, which came soon after, and gave birth to two children, a son named Alcibiades the Younger and a daughter.

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Alcibiades was famed throughout his life for his physical attractiveness, of which he was inordinately vain.

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Alcibiades first rose to prominence when he began advocating aggressive Athenian action after the signing of the Peace of Nicias.

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The Athenians initially received these ambassadors well, but Alcibiades met with them in secret before they were to speak to the ecclesia and told them that the Assembly was haughty and had great ambitions.

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Alcibiades urged them to renounce their diplomatic authority to represent Sparta, and instead allow him to assist them through his influence in Athenian politics.

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The representatives agreed and, impressed with Alcibiades, they alienated themselves from Nicias, who genuinely wanted to reach an agreement with the Spartans.

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The next day, during the Assembly, Alcibiades asked them what powers Sparta had granted them to negotiate and they replied, as agreed, that they had not come with full and independent powers.

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Alcibiades took advantage of his increasing power to orchestrate the creation of an alliance between Argos, Mantinea, Elis, and other states in the Peloponnese, threatening Sparta's dominance in the region.

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Hyperbolos tried to bring about the ostracism of one of this pair, but Nicias and Alcibiades combined their influence to induce the people to expel Hyperbolos instead.

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Later his opponents, chief among them being Androcles and Thessalus, Cimon's son, enlisted orators to argue that Alcibiades should set sail as planned and stand trial on his return from the campaign.

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Alcibiades was suspicious of their intentions, and asked to be allowed to stand trial immediately, under penalty of death, in order to clear his name.

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Alcibiades told the heralds that he would follow them back to Athens in his ship, but in Thurii he escaped with his crew; in Athens he was convicted in absentia and condemned to death.

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Alcibiades's property was confiscated and a reward of one talent was promised to whoever succeeded in killing any who had fled.

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Kagan asserts that Alcibiades had not yet acquired his "legendary" reputation, and the Spartans saw him as "a defeated and hunted man" whose policies "produced strategic failures" and brought "no decisive result".

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Alcibiades served as a military adviser to Sparta and helped the Spartans secure several crucial successes.

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Alcibiades advised them to build a permanent fort at Decelea, just over ten miles from Athens and within sight of the city.

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In spite of these valuable contributions to the Spartan cause, Alcibiades fell out of favor with the Spartan government at around this time, ruled by Agis II.

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An alternate account asserts that Alcibiades took advantage of King Agis' absence with the Spartan Army in Attica and seduced his wife, Timonassa.

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Alcibiades's influence was further reduced after the retirement of Endius, the ephor who was on good terms with him.

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On his arrival in the local Persian court, Alcibiades won the trust of the powerful satrap and made several policy suggestions which were well received.

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Alcibiades next advised Tissaphernes to bribe the Generals of the cities to gain valuable intelligence on their activities.

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Alcibiades tried to convince the satrap that it was in Persia's interest to wear both Athens and Sparta out at first, "and after docking the Athenian power as much as he could, forthwith to rid the country of the Peloponnesians".

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Alcibiades was one of several Greek aristocrats who took refuge in the Achaemenid Empire following reversals at home, other famous ones being Themistocles, Demaratos or Gongylos.

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Alcibiades seemed to assume that the "radical democracy" would never agree to his recall to Athens.

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Phrynichus, fearing that Alcibiades if restored would avenge himself upon him for his opposition, sent a secret letter to the Spartan Admiral, Astyochus, to tell him that Alcibiades was ruining their cause by making Tissaphernes the friend of the Athenians, and containing an express revelation of the rest of the intrigue.

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Alcibiades responded in kind, sending to the authorities at Samos a letter against Phrynichus, stating what he had done, and requiring that he should be put to death.

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Alcibiades however gained no credit, because Phrynichus had anticipated Alcibiades's letter and, before the accusations could arrive, told the army that he had received information of an enemy plan to attack the camp and that they should fortify Samos as quickly as possible.

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Alcibiades realized this and, by presenting the Athenians with stiffer and stiffer demands on Tissaphernes's behalf, attempted to convince them that he had persuaded Tissaphernes to support them, but that they had not conceded enough to him.

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Kagan argues that this reinstatement was a disappointment to Alcibiades, who had hoped for a glorious return to Athens itself but found himself only restored to the rebellious fleet, where the immunity from prosecution he had been granted "protected him for the time being but not from a reckoning in the future"; furthermore, the recall, which Alcibiades had hoped to bring about through his own prestige and perceived influence, was achieved through the patronage of Thrasybulus.

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At his first speech to the assembled troops, Alcibiades complained bitterly about the circumstances of his exile, but the largest part of the speech consisted of boasting about his influence with Tissaphernes.

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Thucydides is in agreement with Plutarch that the Persian fleet was at Aspendus and that Alcibiades told the troops he would bring the fleet to their side or prevent it from coming at all, but Thucydides further speculates that the real reason was to flaunt his new position to Tissaphernes and try to gain some real influence over him.

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Alcibiades was recalled by the "intermediate regime" of The Five Thousand, the government which succeeded the Four Hundred in 411, but it is most likely that he waited until 407 BC to actually return to the city.

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Alcibiades had remained behind at Samos with a small force while Thrasybulus and Thrasyllus led the greater part of the fleet to the Hellespont.

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Shortly after the battle, Tissaphernes had arrived in the Hellespont and Alcibiades left the fleet at Sestos to meet him, bringing gifts and hoping to try to win over the Persian governor.

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Evidently Alcibiades had gravely misjudged his standing with the satrap, and he was arrested on arrival.

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Alcibiades had been forced to flee from Sestos to Cardia to protect his small fleet from the rebuilt Peloponnesian navy, but as soon as the Athenian fleet was reunited there its commanders led it to Cyzicus, where the Athenians had intelligence indicating that Pharnabazus and Mindarus, the Peloponnesian fleet commander, were together plotting their next move.

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Alcibiades' troops, leading the Athenian pursuit, landed and attempted to pull the Spartan ships back out to sea.

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Alcibiades plotted with a pro-Athenian party within the city and offered the Selymbrians reasonable terms, imposing strict discipline on his men to see that they were observed.

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Alcibiades did the Selymbrians's city no injury whatsoever, but merely took a sum of money from it, set a garrison there and left.

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Alcibiades's performance is judged as skillful by historians, since it saved time, resources, and lives and still fully achieved his goal.

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From here Alcibiades joined in the siege of Byzantium along with Theramenes and Thrasyllus.

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The portion of the citizenry that remained loyal to the Peloponnesians fought so savagely that Alcibiades issued a statement in the midst of the fighting which guaranteed their safety and this persuaded the remaining citizens to turn against the Peloponnesian garrison, which was nearly totally destroyed.

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Alcibiades finally sailed to Gytheion to make inquiries, partly about the reported preparations of the Spartans there, and partly about the feelings in Athens about his return.

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Alcibiades's inquiries assured him that the city was kindly disposed towards him and that his closest friends urged him to return.

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Alcibiades entered the harbor full of fear until he saw his cousin and others of his friends and acquaintance, who invited him to land.

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Alcibiades's enemies took note of this and kept it in mind for a future occasion.

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Alcibiades was able to assert his piety and to raise Athenian morale by leading the solemn procession to Eleusis by land for the first time since the Spartans had occupied Decelea.

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The procession had been replaced by a journey by sea, but this year Alcibiades used a detachment of soldiers to escort the traditional procession.

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Alcibiades's property was restored and the ecclesia elected him supreme commander of land and sea.

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In 406 BC Alcibiades set out from Athens with 1, 500 hoplites and a hundred ships.

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Alcibiades failed to take Andros and then he went on to Samos.

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In search of funds and needing to force another decisive battle, Alcibiades left Notium and sailed to help Thrasybulus in the siege of Phocaea.

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Alcibiades was aware the Spartan fleet was nearby, so he left nearly eighty ships to watch them under the command of his personal helmsman Antiochus, who was given express orders not to attack.

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Alcibiades soon returned and desperately tried to undo the defeat at Notium by scoring another victory, but Lysander could not be compelled to attack the fleet again.

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Diodorus reports that, in addition to his mistake at Notium, Alcibiades was discharged on account of false accusations brought against him by his enemies.

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Diodorus, however, does not mention this advice, arguing instead that Alcibiades offered the generals Thracian aid in exchange for a share in the command.

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Alcibiades was one of several Greek aristocrats who took refuge in the Achaemenid Empire following reversals at home, other famous ones being Themistocles, Hippias, Demaratos and Gongylos.

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Much about Alcibiades's death is uncertain, as there are conflicting accounts.

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Alcibiades is not held responsible by Thucydides for the destruction of Athens, since "his habits gave offence to every one, and caused the Athenians to commit affairs to other hands, and thus before long to ruin the city".

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Demosthenes defends Alcibiades's achievements, saying that he had taken arms in the cause of democracy, displaying his patriotism, not by gifts of money or by speeches, but by personal service.

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For Demosthenes and other orators, Alcibiades epitomized the figure of the great man during the glorious days of the Athenian democracy and became a rhetorical symbol.

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Central to the depiction of the Athenian statesman is Cornelius Nepos' famous phrase that Alcibiades "surpassed all the Athenians in grandeur and magnificence of living".

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For Malcolm F McGregor, former head of the Department of Classics in the University of British Columbia, Alcibiades was rather a shrewd gambler than a mere opportunist.

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Evangelos P Fotiadis, a prominent Greek philologist, asserts that Alcibiades was "a first class diplomat" and had "huge skills".

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Vlachos asserts that Alcibiades had already conceived a broader plan: the conquest of the whole West.

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Alcibiades intended to conquer Carthage and Libya, then to attack Italy and, after winning these, to seize Italy and Peloponnesus.

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Kagan criticizes Alcibiades for failing to recognize that the large size of the Athenian expedition undermined the diplomatic scheme on which his strategy rested.

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Kagan believes that while Alcibiades was a commander of considerable ability, he was no military genius, and his confidence and ambitions went far beyond his skills.

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Alcibiades thus was capable of important errors and serious miscalculations.

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Kagan argues that at Notium, Alcibiades committed a serious error in leaving the fleet in the hands of an inexperienced officer, and that most of the credit for the brilliant victory at Cyzicus must be assigned to Thrasybulus.

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Press argues that "though Alcibiades can be considered a good General on the basis of his performance in the Hellespont, he would not be considered so on the basis of his performance in Sicily", but "the strengths of Alcibiades's performance as a General outweigh his faults".

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Plutarch asserts that "Alcibiades was a most able speaker in addition to his other gifts", while Theophrastus argues that Alcibiades was the most capable of discovering and understanding what was required in a given case.

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Kagan acknowledges his rhetorical power, whilst Thomas Habinek, professor of Classics at the University of Southern California, believes that the orator Alcibiades seemed to be whatever his audience needed on any given occasion.

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Alcibiades has not been spared by ancient comedy and stories attest to an epic confrontation between Alcibiades and Eupolis resembling that between Aristophanes and Cleon.

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Alcibiades appears as a character in several Socratic dialogues.

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Alcibiades has been depicted regularly in art, both in Medieval and Renaissance works, and in several significant works of modern literature as well.

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Alcibiades has been the main character in historical novels of authors like Anna Bowman Dodd, Gertrude Atherton, Rosemary Sutcliff, Daniel Chavarria, Steven Pressfield and Peter Green.

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Alcibiades is involved in the plot of the video game Assassin's Creed Odyssey, under the name Alkibiades.

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