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An uneasy peace

The Peace of Nicias failed to quiet those on both sides of the conflict who were pushing for a decisive victory over the enemy. A brash Athenian aristocrat named Alcibiades1 (c. 450-404 B.C.) was especially active against the uneasy peace. He was a member of one of Athens' richest and most distinguished families, and he had been raised in the household of Pericles2 after his father had died in battle against allies of Sparta in 447 when his son was only about three years old. By now in his early thirties—a very young age at which to have achieved political influence, by Athenian standards—Alcibiades rallied some support3 at Athens for action against Spartan interests in the Peloponnese. Despite the ostensible conditions of peace between Sparta and Athens, he managed to cobble together a new alliance4 between Athens, Argos, and some other Peloponnesian city-states that were hostile to Sparta. He evidently believed that Athenian power and security, as well as his own career, would be best served by a continuing effort to weaken Sparta. Since the geographical location of Argos5 in the northeastern Peloponnese placed it astride the principal north-south route in and out of Spartan territory, the Spartans had reason to fear this alliance created by Alcibiades. If the alliance held, Argos and its allies could virtually pen the Spartan army inside its own borders. Nevertheless, support for this new coaltion seems to have been shaky in Athens, perhaps because the memory of the ten years of war just concluded was still vivid. The Spartans, recognizing the threat to themselves, met and defeated the forces of the coalition in battle at Mantinea6 in the northeastern Peloponnese in 418. The Peace of Nicias was now certainly a dead letter in practice, whatever its notional continuance in theory.

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