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Athenian defeat in Sicily

The desertion of Alcibiades left the Athenian expedition against Sicily1 without a strong and decisive leader. The Athenian fleet was so strong that it won initial victories against Syracuse and its allies even without brilliant leadership, but eventually the indecisiveness of Nicias undermined the attackers' successes. The Athenian assembly responded to the setbacks by authorizing large reinforcements led by the general Demosthenes,2 but these new forces proved incapable of defeating Syracuse, which enjoyed effective military leadership to complement its material strength. Alcibiades had a decisive influence on the quality of Syracusan military leadership because Sparta adopted his suggestion to send an experienced Spartan commander to Syracuse3 to combat the invading expedition. The Athenian forces were eventually trapped in the harbor of Syracuse and completely crushed in a climactic naval battle4 in 413 B.C. When the survivors of the attacking force tried to flee overland to safety,5 they were either slaughtered or captured almost to a man. The Sicilian expedition ended in ignominious defeat for Athens6 and the crippling of its navy, its main source of military power.

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