In the spring of 411 B. C. the opportunity for which Antiphon had been waiting at last came. Alkibiades, by promises of Persian aid, induced the oligarchs in the army at Samos to commence a movement for the overthrow of the Athenian democracy. Peisandros, as their representative, came to Athens, and, by insisting on the hopelessness of the war without such help as Alkibiades covenanted to bring, extorted from the ekklesia a vote for that change of constitution which the exile demanded. Having visited the various oligarchical clubs in the city and urged them to combine in favour of the project, Peisandros went back to confer with Alkibiades. When he presently returned to Athens,—with the knowledge that his hopes from Persia were idle, but that, on the other hand, the Revolution must go on,— he found a state of things very different from that which he had left. He had left the people just conscious that an oligarchy was proposed, and consenting, in sheer despair, to entertain the idea; but, at the same time, openly and strongly averse to it, and in a temper which showed that the real difficulties of the undertaking were to come. He now finds that, in the brief interval of his absence, every difficulty has already vanished. Not a trace of open opposition remains in the senate or in the ekklesia; not a
murmur is heard in the conversation of the citizens (Thuc. VIII. 65
). It is a fair inference from the words of Thucydides that the principal agent in producing this rapid and wonderful change had been Antiphon1
. A brief consideration of the task which he had to do, and of the manner in which it was done, will supply the best criterion of his capacity. He had, first, to bring into united and disciplined action those oligarchical clubs to which Peisandros had appealed. These are described as ‘leagues with a view to lawsuits and to offices2
;’ that is, associations of which the members were pledged by oath to support, personally and with funds, any one of their body who brought, or defended, a civil action, or who sought one of the offices of the State. When, with the steady advance of democracy from the Persian wars onwards, the oligarchs found themselves more and more in a minority, such associations became their means of concentrating and economising their one great power—wealth. The tone of such clubs would always be, in a general way, antipopular. But they were unaccustomed to systematic action for great ends; and, in regard to those smaller ends which they ordinarily pursued, their interests would, from the nature of the case, frequently conflict. Antiphon need not have had much difficulty in proving to them that, on this occasion, they had a common interest. But to make them effective as well as unanimous; to restrain, without discouraging,
the zeal of novices in a political campaign, and to make of these a compact and temperate force, loyally taking the word from the best men among them, and so executing the prescribed manœuvres that in a short time they were completely ascendant over an enormous and hostile, but ill-organised majority,—this, assuredly, was the achievement of no ordinary leader. The absence of overt, and the skilful use of secret, violence was the characteristic of the Revolution. Adverse speakers were not menaced, but they disappeared; until apparent unanimity, and real terror, had silenced every objection. Antiphon had seen clearly how the Athenian instinct of reverence for constitutional forms might be used against the constitution. His too, on the showing of Thucydides, must have been that clever invention, the imaginary body of Five Thousand to whom the franchise was to be left; a fiction which, to the end, did service to the oligarchs by giving them a vague prestige for strength.