Sicilian Expedition

Was the Sicilian expedition and its objectives feasible?


  • Total voters
    6
Oct 2018
33
Sweden
#1
What do you guys think of the 415 BC Athenian expedition to Sicily?
Do you think it was a wise plan to lauch the expedition at all or do you just think Nicias was incompetent and the expedition failed on the tactical side of things?
What do you think of the three Athenian generals Nicias, Alcibiades and Lamachus and their respective strategies?

I hear a lot of people say it was completely idiotic and was just one of the worst case of demagoguery of all time.


After reading Thucydides it seems to me like it was a very good strategy that i would be behind.
I think we can all agree that the peace of Nicias was never going to last. War down the line between Athens and Sparta was innevitably happen until one of them completely defeated the other.
With that in mind the question on the Athenians mind was how they could defeat Sparta and there was not a question of if they should defeat sparta the question was how.
How could they on the strategic aspect gain the most and inflict the most amount of damage on Sparta and her allies.
Defeating the Spartan army head on has an extremely low likelyhood of happening so they needed to find another option.


Subduing Syracuse if not all of Greek Sicily and Italy seems to be the best option at hand for winning the war for Athens.

To my understanding both Boeotia and Corinth imported a vital amount of grain from Syracuse so it would be a heavy blow against them if Syracuse was to fall into Athenian hands.
Helping Segesta would make Athenian allies more confident in Athens ability to protect them.
Athens itself would gain a second grain source the other being ukraine which could possibly be at risk of being strangled at the Hellespont.
A massive amount of wealth, soldiers and other resources would be gained.
It was quite possible that Syracuse would be a major contender in the future and could quite possibly help their adversaries perhaps even sending their triremes against Athens.
It would be a massive achievment and would grant them prestige and glory which would uplift the spirit of the empire. It is of note that the new generation of Athenians after the peace of nicias were very eager for action and to acomplish something.

At the end of the 6th book it looked like a sure victory for the Athenians.
If it wasnt for Alcibiades betraying Athens the Spartans wouldnt set up a fort at Decelea which caused massive economic damage to her and the Spartans likely wouldnt send Spartan reinforcements to Syracuse.

I think the Athenians made a lot of tactical misstakes like having an inadequate cavalry force and building two walls to keep the Athenians safe from attacks from the back instead of completing the first wall facing Syracuse first but i still think Athens had a very good chanse of winning and becoming the misstress of the mediteranean especially if Alcibiades wasnt forced to leave the expedition. I also think they should have gone with Lamachus strategy of pouncing on Syracuse immediatly and building the wall of circumvallation as quickly as possible.
 
Last edited:
Aug 2014
943
United States of America
#2
I don't see the value of Sicily to Sparta. Syracuse wasn't a possession or colony or otherwise ruled by Sparta. Sparta could very well continue operating against Athens on the Greek mainland without Syracuse.
 
Oct 2018
33
Sweden
#3
I don't see the value of Sicily to Sparta. Syracuse wasn't a possession or colony or otherwise ruled by Sparta. Sparta could very well continue operating against Athens on the Greek mainland without Syracuse.
It has the value to sparta of preventing the Athenians from getting into a more powerful position from which to later defeat sparta.
 
Aug 2014
943
United States of America
#4
It has the value to sparta of preventing the Athenians from getting into a more powerful position from which to later defeat sparta.
I can't say I agree from any standpoint - Sicily was not a key piece of terrain nor a key partner in the war nor a key piece of Sparta's economy. It contributed little to the Spartan war effort and possessing it would not enable Athens to threaten Sparta anymore than it already could.
 
Mar 2018
323
UK
#5
Was unlikely to ever work, the logistics were just to difficult. And anyway, what happens if they did win? To gain the wealth of Syracuse they'd have to occupy the place, which would never work; or they'd have to install a friendly government, which might well not last more than a few years. It was a gamble where, if they lost, there would be a catastrophe, but if they won, very little is gained.
 
Oct 2018
33
Sweden
#6
I can't say I agree from any standpoint - Sicily was not a key piece of terrain nor a key partner in the war nor a key piece of Sparta's economy. It contributed little to the Spartan war effort and possessing it would not enable Athens to threaten Sparta anymore than it already could.
I think you are wrong i think an Athenian victory in Sicily would pretty much guarantee them the war.
 
Oct 2018
33
Sweden
#7
Was unlikely to ever work, the logistics were just to difficult. And anyway, what happens if they did win? To gain the wealth of Syracuse they'd have to occupy the place, which would never work; or they'd have to install a friendly government, which might well not last more than a few years. It was a gamble where, if they lost, there would be a catastrophe, but if they won, very little is gained.
I dont get the logistics argument.
Armies lived of the land, logistics was limited.
At the end of Thucydides 6th book victory for the Athenians looked pretty much guaranteed and the Athenians got unlucky with Alcibiades betraying Athens and sending the Spartans to Syracuse.

They could loot the place, install a strong garrison and puppet government, use all the Syracusan resources, unify the rest of Sicilly and southern Italy and strike at Sparta from the west.
 
Aug 2014
943
United States of America
#8
I dont get the logistics argument.
Armies lived of the land, logistics was limited.
At the end of Thucydides 6th book victory for the Athenians looked pretty much guaranteed and the Athenians got unlucky with Alcibiades betraying Athens and sending the Spartans to Syracuse.

They could loot the place, install a strong garrison and puppet government, use all the Syracusan resources, unify the rest of Sicilly and southern Italy and strike at Sparta from the west.
Athens could just as easily sail around the Peloponnese and strike at Sparta from the west, without having to go the distance to Sicily and back. In fact, Athens did this in the early part of the war at the Battle of Pylos in 425.
 
Oct 2018
33
Sweden
#9
Athens could just as easily sail around the Peloponnese and strike at Sparta from the west, without having to go the distance to Sicily and back. In fact, Athens did this in the early part of the war at the Battle of Pylos in 425.
They could just strike from the West but the Athenians got beaten by the Spartan army and were scared of facing the Spartans in the field.
If they got the resources, food, wealth, ships and manpower of Sicily and southern Italy they could easily crush the Spartans.
 

Mangekyou

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
7,853
UK
#10
It was a debacle. It could have succeeded if the Athenians took advantage of their early successes, but they were ground down and destroyed by a more energetic enemy and opposition leader. Thr problem was the uncertainty in command structure.

I don't see the value of Sicily to Sparta. Syracuse wasn't a possession or colony or otherwise ruled by Sparta. Sparta could very well continue operating against Athens on the Greek mainland without Syracuse.
It was a bread basket of grain for other Dorian city states tied to Sparta, like Corinth, so it's a pressure point against Athens. It would also tie Athenian forces away from other areas.
 

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