The Peace of Nicias, also known as the
Fifty-Year Peace, was a peace treaty signed between the Greek city-states of
Athens and Sparta in March 421 BC that ended the first half of the
Peloponnesian War. In 425, the Spartans had lost the Battles of Pylos and
Sphacteria, a severe defeat resulting in the Athenians holding 292 prisoners.
At least 120 were Spartiates, who had recovered by 424, when the Spartan
general Brasidas captured Amphipolis. In the same year, the Athenians suffered
a major defeat in Boeotia at the Battle of Delium, and in 422, they were
defeated again at the Battle of Amphipolis in their attempt to take back that
city. Both Brasidas, the leading Spartan general, and Cleon, the leading
politician in Athens, were killed at Amphipolis. By then, both sides were
exhausted and ready for peace. The negotiations were begun by Pleistoanax, King
of Sparta, and the Athenian general Nicias. Both decided to return everything
that they had conquered during the war except for Nisaea, which would remain in
Athenian hands, and Plataea, which remained under the control of Thebes. Most
notably, Amphipolis would be returned to Athens, and the Athenians would
release the prisoners taken at Sphacteria. Temples throughout Greece would be
open to worshippers from all cities, and the oracle at Delphi would regain its
autonomy. Athens could continue to collect tribute from the states from which
it had received it since the time of Aristides, but Athens could not force them
to become allies. Athens also agreed to come to Sparta's aid if the helots
revolted. All of Sparta's allies agreed to sign the peace, except for Boeotia,
Corinth, Elis, and Megara. Seventeen representatives from each side swore an
oath to uphold the treaty, which was meant to last for fifty years. The Spartan
representatives were the kings Pleistoanax and Agis II, Pleistolas, Damagetus,
Chionis, Metagenes, Acanthus, Daithus, Ischagoras, Philocharidas, Zeuxidas,
Antiphus, Tellis, Alcindas, Empedias, Menas, and Laphilus. The Athenian
representatives were Lampon, Isthmonicus, Nicias, Laches, Euthydemus, Procles,
Pythodorus, Hagnon, Myrtilus, Thrasycles, Theagenes, Aristocrates, Iolcius,
Timocrates, Leon, Lamachus, and Demosthenes. However, Athens's chief goal, the
restoration of Amphipolis, was denied when Clearidas obtained from the Spartans
a clause in the treaty negating the transfer. Thus, the treaty was broken from
the start and, after several more failures, was formally abandoned in 414.
Thus, the Peloponnesian War resumed in its second stage.]
The Peace of Nicias (421 ) brought a
temporary end to the fighting in the Great Peloponnesian War. Although it was
meant to last for fifty years, it was broken after only a year and a half, and
the war continued until 404 . The first tentative peace negotiations began
after the Spartan defeat on Sphacteria in 425 . This battle ended with the
surrender of 292 hoplites trapped on the island, amongst them 120 full
Spartans. One weakness of the Spartan system was that there were very few full
Spartans, and so the loss of 120 of them would have been a disaster. At first
the peace negotiations had been unsuccessful, but in 424 the Athenians suffered
a defeat at Delium, while the Spartan commander Brasidas was winning victories
in Thrace and threatening Athens's grain supply. In 423 the two sides agreed to
a one-year long truce. After this expired in 422 the Athenians send an
expedition to Thrace, under the command of Cleon. This ended in another
military disaster, at Amphipolis. Cleon and Brasidas were both killed in this
battle, and with them went two of the main obstacles to peace. Both sides now
had good reasons to desire peace. The Athenians had suffered two costly defeats
in a row and were not as confident as before. They were also worried that some
of their allies might revolt if the run of defeats continued. The Spartans were
still worried about the men captured on Sphacteria. Their territory was being
raided, and they were worried that this might inspire a helot uprising. They
were also faced with the prospect of a war on two fronts. The thirty-year truce
between Sparta and their Peloponnesian neighbour and enemies Argos was about to
expire, and was unlikely to be renewed. Thucydides also picked out one
political leader on each side who had a particular desire for peace, and
assigned them somewhat unflattering motives. Nicias, son of Niceratus, one of
the more successful Athenian commanders, was said to be motivated by a desire
to end his active military career without any disasters. King Pleistoanax of
Sparta, who had been exiled for nineteen years before being restored as king
was said to have wanted to distract attention from the nature of his
restoration, and hoped that the return of Spartan prisoners would achieve that.
Thucydides records eighteen main clauses of the peace treaty.
1 - Temples and those travelling to them were to be respected.
2 - Delphi was to be self-governing.
3 - The treaty was to last fifty years
4 - It was to be illegal to fight for the Spartans against the Athenians or for
the Athenians against the Spartans (and both sets of allies).
5 - Disputes were to be solved by law and by oath
6 - Amphipolis was to be returned to Athens.
7 - The citizens of cities being returned to Athens were to be allowed to move
wherever they want, with their property
8 - The cities returned to Athens were to be independent, and were to pay the
tribute fixed by Aristides
9 - The Athenians were not allowed to take up arms against any city that paid
10 - The cities included in clauses seven, eight and nine were listed as
Argilus, Stagirus, Acanthus, Scolus, Olynths and Spartolus.
11 - The Mecybernaeans, Sanaeans, Singaeans, Olynthians and Acanthians were
allowed to inhabit their own cities.
12 - Sparta shall return Panactum to Athens
13 - Athens shall return Coryphasium, Cythera, Methana, Ptelium and Atalanta to
the Spartans and also to return all Spartan prisoners in Athens or in the
14 - All Peloponnesians and allies of Sparta trapped within the besieged city
of Scione are to be allowed to leave. The siege itself continued, and ended
with a massacre of the men of military age.
15 - The Spartans shall return any Athenian or allied prisoners.
16 - The Athenians were free to do whatever they want with Scione, Torone,
Sermyle and any other cities in their hands.
17 - Athens and their allied cities and Sparta and their allied cities were to
swear an annual oath to obey the treaty.
18 - Any point that had been overlooked could be added to the treaty by
agreement between Sparta and Athens.
Effectively the treaty restored the situation before the war began, although
Athens was able to keep Nicaea and Sparta the city of Plataea, both places have
changed sides after an agreement was made with the inhabitants. This treaty was
not popular with some of Sparta's allies. Amphipolis was unwilling to be
returned to Athenian rule, and several others refused to sign without
modifications. Amazing Sparta's response was to sign an alliance with Athens!
Both cities agreed to come to the others aid if they were invaded and Athens
agreed to support the Spartans against any slave uprising. The peace of Nicias
was never entirely effective, and was never entirely put into effect.
Thucydides records it as lasting for six years and ten months, but this only
refers to the period in which neither side directly invaded the others
territory. In reality the war resumed after a gap of about a year and a half,
and in 418 Athenians and Spartans once against faced each other on the
battlefield, at Mantinea.