Alcibiades was a complete maverick. An extravagant and keen witted fellow, the Athenian is best known for his close relationship with scholar Socrates and devil-may-care attitude towards the Peloponnesian War that was tearing Greece apart. It is his role in the war that saw classical heavyweights Athens and Sparta go head to head that he is remembered most for.
From Socrates to Athenian general
Alcibiades’ father was a general in the Athenian army, paving the way for the young boy to fulfil a life serving in the military. Even after his father was killed in battle in 447 BCE, he continued in combat and fought as a hoplite alongside scholar Socrates in the battles of Potidaea and Delium. When he reached the age of 30, however, he abandoned the philosophies of Socrates and his ego began to take over.
Antagonising the Ancient World
Now both a military general and a respected diplomat, Alcibiades helped stoke up the Peloponnesian War by convincing the city-states of Argos, Elis and Mantineia to form an anti-Spartan alliance. The coalition was comprehensively defeated but the cunning Athenian general hot footed it out of harm’s away and escaped punishment.
After a brief stint winning chariot races with ease, he persuaded the mighty Athenian navy to use their resources in an attack on Syracuse in Sicily. The request was granted, but the night before they were due to set sail, the anxious Alcibiades strangely decided to settle his nerves by mutilating statues of Hermes in Athens. This would change everything.
Enraged, the powers that be condemned Alcibiades to death, but ever the slippery customer, he escaped once again, this time to the enemy, Sparta. He now became a thorn in the side of his home city, giving the Spartans Athenian military secrets and encouraging Athens’s allies to revolt. All this while secretly seducing the wife of the Spartan king.
By now, even the Spartans had had enough of Alcibiades’ nonconformist ways. After serving both of Greece’s major power bases, he now decided to try to wreak havoc in Persia, but after failing to do so, he returned to Athenians, who were surprisingly glad to see him.
Back in charge
Recognising his talent as a naval commander, all charges were dropped against Alcibiades by the state. He was given supreme command of the Athenian navy and he repaid their faith emphatically with convincing victories over the Spartan fleet at Abydos and Cyzicus. Despite this, he still had political enemies and their combined power saw him exiled from Athens once more. This came back to haunt his home city, who did not heed his warnings of a surprise attack and the Spartans routed the Athenian fleet.
A master of escape and manipulation, even Alcibiades’ luck was due to run out at some point. Athens had now been soundly been defeated but their former general seemingly didn’t care and was now living far away in Asia Minor. As the Thirty Tyrants took hold of the city, the people yearned for their hero to return. The Spartans heard of this and, fearing an uprising, sent a group of assassins to finish him off once and for all.
Alcibiades was asleep when the hit men arrived. He was woken by the sound of flames licking his door as the assassins set his house ablaze. Jumping out of bed, he grabbed his sword and ran at his Persian-hired goons. Frightened, they withdrew but regained their composure to bring Alcibiades down with a flurry of stones and spears. The Greek maverick was dead at the age of 40.
Supremely talented, Alcibiades was nonetheless a selfish womaniser who somehow exploited the two biggest powers in Greece for his own gain. People like him want to watch the world burn.