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Ἀλκιβιάδης), the son of Cleinias, was born at Athens about B. C. 450, or a little earlier. His father fell at Coroneia B. C. 447, leaving Alcibiades and a younger son. (Plat. Protag. p. 320a.) The last campaign of the war with Potidaea was in B. C. 429. Now as Alcibiades served in this war, and the young Athenians were not sent out on foreign military service before they had attained their 20th year, he could not have been born later than B. C. 449. If he served in the first campaign (B. C. 432), he must have been at least five years old at the time of his father's death. Nepos (Alcib. 10) says he was about forty years old at the time of his death (B. C. 404), and his mistake has been copied by Mitford.

Alcibiades was connected by birth with the noblest families of Athens. Through his father he traced his descent from Eurysaces, the son of Ajax (Plat. Alcib. I. p. 121), and through him from Aeacus and Zeus. His mother, Deinomache, was the daughter of Megacles, the head of the house of the Alcmaeonids. 1 Thus on both sides he had hereditary claims on the attachment of the people; for His paternal grandfather, Alcibiades, took a prominent part in the expulsion of the Peisistratids (Isocrat. De Big. 10), and his mother was descended from Cleisthenes, the friend of the commonalty. IIis father Cleinias did good service in the Persian war. He fitted out and manned a trireme at his own expense, and greatly distinguished himself in the battle of Artemisitum. (Hdt. 8.17.) One of his ancestors of the name of Cleinias earned a less enviable notoriety by taking fraudulent advantage of the Seisachtheia of Solon. The name Alcibiades was of Laconian origin (Thuc. 8.6), and was derived from the Spartan family to which the ephor Endius belonged, with which that of Alcibiades had been anciently connected by the ties of hospitality. The first who bore the name was the grandtlather of the great Alcibiades.

On the death of his father (B. C. 447), Alcibiades was left to the guardianship of his relations Pericles and Ariphron. 2 Zopyrus, the Thracian, is mentioned as one of his instructors. (Plat. Alc. i. p. 122.) From his very boyhood he exhibited signs of that inflexible determination which marked him throughout life.

He was at every period of his life remarkable for the extraordinary beauty of his person, of which he seems to have been exceedingly vain. Even when on military service he carried a shield inlaid with gold and ivory, and bearing the device of Zeus hurling the thunderbolt. When he grew up, he earned a disgraceful notoriety by his amours and debaucheries. At the age of 18 he entered upon the possession of his fortune, which had doubtless been carefully husbanded during his long minority by his guardians. Connected as he was with the most influential families in the city, the inheritor of one of the largest fortunes in Athens (to which he afterwards received a large accession through his marriage with Hipparete, the daughter of Hipponicus 3), gifted with a mind of singular versatility and energy, possessed of great powers of eloquence, and urged on by an ambition which no obstacle could daunt, and which was not over scrupulous as to the means by which its ends were to be gained,--in a city like Athens, amongst a people like the Athenians, (of the leading features of whose character he may not unaptly be regarded as an impersonation,) and in times like those of the Peloponnesian war, Alcibiades found a field singularly well adapted for the exercise and display of his brilliant powers. Accustomed, however, from his boyhood to the flattery of admiring companions and needy parasites, he early imbibed that inordinate vanity and love of distinction, which marked his whole career; and he was thus led to place the most perfect confidence in his own powers long before he had obtained strength of mind sufficient to withstand the seductive influence of the temptations which surrounded him. Socrates saw his vast capabilities, and attempted to win him to the paths of virtue. Their intimacy was strengthened by mutual services. In one of the engagements before Potidaea, Alcibiades was dangerously wounded, but was rescued by Socrates. At the battle of Delium (B. C. 424), Alcibiades, who was mounted, had an opportunity of protecting Socrates from the pursuers. (Plat. Conviv. pp. 220, 221; Isocr. De Big. 12.) The lessons of the philosopher were not altogether without influence upon his pupil, but the evil tendencies of his character had taken too deep root to render a thorough reformation possible, and he listened more readily to those who advised him to secure by the readiest means the gratification of his desires.

Alcibiades was excessively fond of notoriety and display. At the Olympic games (probably in Ol. 89, B. C. 424) he contended with seven chariots in the same race, and gained the first, second, and fourth prizes. His liberality in discharging the office of trierarch, and in providing for the public amusements, rendered him very popular with tire multitude, who were ever ready to excuse, on the score of youthful impetuosity and thoughtlessness, his most violent and extravagant acts, into which he was probably as often led by his love of notoriety as by any other motive. Accounts of various instances of this kind, as his forcible detention of Agatharchus, his violence to his wife Hipparete, his assault upon Taureas, and the audacious manner in which he saved Hegemon from a lawsuit, by openly obliterating the record, are given by Plutarch, Andocides, and Athenaeus. (ix. p. 407.) Even the more prudent citizens thought it safer to connive at his delinquencies, than to exasperate him by punishment. As Aeschylus is made to say by Aristophanes (Aristoph. Frogs 1427), " A lion's whelp ought not to be reared in a city; but if a person rears one, he must let him have his way."

Of the early political life of Alcibiades we hear but little. While Cleon was alive he probably appeared but seldom in the assembly. From allusions which were contained in the Δαιταλείς of Aristophanes (acted B. C. 427) it appears that he had already spoken there. (For the story connected with his first appearance in the assembly, see Plutarch, Plut. Alc. 10.) At some period or other before B. C. 420, he had carried a decree for increasing the tribute paid by the subject allies of Athens, and by his management it was raised to double the amount fixed by Aristeides. After the death of Cleon there was no rival able at all to cope with Alcibiades except Nicias. To the political views of the latter, who was anxious for peace and repose and averse to all plans of foreign conquests, Alcibiades was completely opposed, and his jealousy of the influence and high character of his rival, led him to entertain a very cordial dislike towards him. On one occasion only do we find them united in purpose and feeling, and that was when Hyperbolus threatened one of them with banishment. On this they united their influence, and Hyperbolus himself was ostracised. The date of this occurrence is uncertain.

Alcibiades had been desirous of renewing those ties of hospitality by which his family had been connected with Sparta, but which had been broken off by his grandfather. With this view he vied with Nicias in his good offices towards the Spartan prisoners taken in Sphacteria; but in the negotiations which ended in the peace of 421, the Spartans preferred employing the intervention of Nicias and Laches. Incensed at this slight, Alcibiades threw all his influence into the opposite scale, and in B. C. 420, after tricking the Spartan ambassadors who had come for the purpose of thwarting his plans, brought about an alliance with Argos, Elis, and Mantineia. In 419 he was chosen Strategos, and at the head of a small Athenian force marched into Peloponnesus, and in various ways furthered the interests of the new confederacy. During the next three years he took a prominent part in the complicated negotiations and military operation which were carried on. Whether or not he was the instigator of the unjust expedition against the Melians is not clear; but he was at any rate the author of the decree for their barbarous punishment, and himself purchased a Melian woman, by whom he had a son.

In B. C. 415 Alcibiades appears as the foremost among the advocates of the Sicilian expedition (Thuc. vi.), which his ambition led him to believe would be a step towards the conquest of Italy, Carthage, and the Peloponnesus. (Thuc. 6.90.) While the preparations for the expedition were going on, there occurred the mysterious mutilation of the Hermases-busts A man named Pythonicus charged Alcibiades with having divulged and profaned the Elensinian mysteries; and another man, Audrocles, endeavoiured to connect this and sismilair offeinces with the mutilation of the Hermae. In spite of his demands for an investigation, Alcibiades was sent out with Nicias and Lamachus in command of the fleet, but was recalled before he could carry out the plan of operations which at his suggestion had been adopted, namely, to endeavour to will over the Greek towns in Sicily, except Syracuse and Selinus, and excite the native Sicels to revolt, and then attack Syracuse. He was allowed to accompany the Salaminia in his own galley, but managed to escape at Thurii, from which place he crossed over to Cyllene, and thence proceeded to Sparta at the invitation of the Spartan government. He now appeared as the avowed enemy of his country; disclosed to the Spartans the plans of the Athenians, and recommended them to send Gylipus to Syracute. and to fortify Decelcia. (Thuc. 6.88, &c., 7.13, 27, 28.) Before he left Sicily he had managed to defeat a plan which had been laid for the acquisition of Messana. At Athens sentence of death was passed upon him, his property confiscated, and a curse pronounced upon him by the ministers of religion. At Sparta he rendered himself popular by the facility with which he adopted the Spartan manners. Through his instrumentality many of the Asiatic allies of Athens were induced to revolt, and an alliance was brought about with Tissaphernes (Thuc. 8.6,&c.); but the machinations of his enemy Agis [AGIS II.] induced him to abandon the Spartans and take refuge with Tissaphernes (B. C. 412), whose favour he soon gained by his unrivalled talents for social intercourse. The estrangement of Tissaphernes from his Spartan allies ensued. Alcibiades, the enemy of Sparta, wished to return to Athens. He accordingly entered into correspondence with the most influential persons in the Athenian fleet at Samos, offering to bring over Tissaphernes to an alliance with Athens, but making it a condition, that oligarchy should be established there. This coinciding with the wishes of those with whom he was negotiating, those political movements were set on foot by Peisander, which ended (B. C. 411) in the establishmennt of the Four Hundred. The oligarchs, however, finding he could not perform his promises with respect to Tissaphernes, and conscious that he had at heart no real liking for an oligarchy, would not recall him. But the soldiers in the armament at Samos, headed by Thrasybulus and Thrasyllus. declared their resolution to restore democracy, and passed a vote, by which Alcibiades was pardoned and recalled, and appointed one of their generals. He conferred an important benefit on his country, by restraining the soldiers from returning at once to Athens and so commencing a civil war; and in the course of the sale year the oligarchy was overthrown without their assistance. Alcibiades and the other exiles were recalled, but for the next four years he remained abroad, and under his command the Athenians gained the victories of Cynossema, Abydos, 4 and Cyzicus, and got possession of Chalcedon and Byzantium. In B. C. 407, he returned to Athens, where he was received with great enthusiasm. The records of the proceedings against him were sunk in the sea, his property was restored, the priests were ordered to recant their curses, and he was appointed commander-in-chief of all the land and sea forces. (Diod. 13.69; Plut. Alc. 33; Xen. Hell. 1.4.13-20.) He signalised his return by conducting the mystic procession to Eleusis, which had been interrupted since the occupation of Deceleia. But his unsuccessful expedition against Andros and the defeat at Notium, occasioned during his absence by the imprudence of his lieutenant, Antiochus, who brought on an engagement against his orders, furnished his enemies with a handle against him, and he was superseded in his command. (B. C. 406.)

Thinking that Athens would scarcely be a safe place for him, Alcibiades went into voluntary exile to his fortified domain at Bisanthe in the Thracian Chersonesus. He collected a band of mercenaries, and made war on the neighbouring Thracian tribes, by which means he considerably enriched himself, and afforded protection to the neighbouring Greek cities. Before the fatal battle of Aegos-Potami (B. C. 405), he gave an ineffectual warning to the Athenian generals. After the establishment of the tyranny of the Thirty (B. C. 404), he was condemned to banishment. Upon this he took refuge with Pharnabazus, and was about to proceed to the court of Artaxerxes, when one night his house was surrounded by a band of armed men, and set on fire. He rushed out sword in hand, but fell, pierced with arrows. (B. C. 404.) According to Diodorus and Ephorus (Diod. 14.11) the assassins were emissaries of Pharnabazus, who had been led to this step either by his own jealousy of Alcibiades, or by the instigation of the Spartans. It is more probable that they were either employed by the Spartans, or (according to one account in Plutarch) by the brothers of a lady whom Alcibiades had seduced. His corpe was taken up and buried by his mistress Timandra. Athenaeus (xiii. p. 574) mentions a monument erected to his memory at Melissa, the place of his leath, and a statue of him erected thereon by the emperor Hadrian, who also instituted certain yearly sacrifices in his honour. He left a son by his wife Hipparete, named Alcibiades, who never distinguished himself. It was for him that Isocrates wrote the speech Περὶ τοῦ Ζεύγους. Two of Lysias's speeches (xiv. and xv.) are directed against him. The fortune which he left behind him turned out to be smaller than his patrimony. (Plut. Alcib. and Nicias ; Thuc. lib. v.--viii. ; Xenophon, Hellen. lib. i. ii.; Andoc. in Alcib. and de Myster. ; Isocr. De Bigis ; Nepos, Alcib. ; Diod. 12.78-84, 13.2-5, 37-41, 45, 46, 49-51, 64-73; Athen. 1.3, iv. p. 184, v. pp. 215, 216, ix. p. 407, xi. p. 500, xii. pp. 525, 534, 535, xiii. pp. 574, 575.)


1 * Demosthenes (Mid. p. 561) says, that the mother of Alcibiades was the daughter of Hippoincus and that his father was connected with the Alcmaeonidae. The latter statement may possibly be true. But it is difficult to explain the former, unless we suppose Demosthenes to have confounded the great Alcibiades with his son.

2 † Agariste, the mother of Pericles and Ariphon, was the daughter of Hippocrates, whose brother Cleisthenes was the grandfather of Deinomache. (Hdt. 6.131; Isocr. De Big. 10; Boeckh, Explic. ad Pind. Pyth. vii. p. 302.)

3 He received a portion of 10 talents with his wife, which was to be doubled on the birth of a son. His marriage took place before the battle of Delium (B. C. 424), in which Hipponicus was slain. (Andoc. Alcib. p. 30.)

4 * Shortly after the victory at Abydos, Alcibiades paid a visit to Tissaphernes, who had arrived in the neighlbourhood of the Hellespont, but was arrested by him and sent to Sardis. After a month's imnprisolment, however, he succeeded in making his escape. (Xen. Hell. 1.1.9.)

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  • Cross-references from this page (24):
    • Aristophanes, Frogs, 1427
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.37
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.41
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.45
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.46
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.69
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.73
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 12.78
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 12.84
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.2
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.49
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.5
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.51
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.64
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.11
    • Herodotus, Histories, 8.17
    • Plutarch, Alcibiades, 10
    • Plutarch, Alcibiades, 33
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.88
    • Thucydides, Histories, 6.90
    • Thucydides, Histories, 8.6
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 1.4.13
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 1.4.20
    • Athenaeus, of Naucratis, Deipnosophistae, 1.3
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (2):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 6.131
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 1.1.9
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