Meanwhile the Lacedaemonians, urged on all sides by the complaints of their allies against Athens, summoned a general meeting of the Peloponnesian confederacy at Sparta. The Corinthians took the most prominent part in the debate; but other members of the confederacy had also heavy grievances to allege against Athens. Foremost among these were the Megarians, who complained that their commerce had been ruined by a recent decree of the Athenians which excluded them from every port within the Athenian jurisdiction. It was generally felt that the time had now arrived for checking the power of Athens. Influenced by these feelings, the Lacedaemonians decided upon war; and the congress passed a resolution to the same effect, thus binding the whole Peloponnesian confederacy to the same policy. This important resolution was adopted towards the close of B.C. 432, or early in the following year. Before any actual declaration of war, hostilities were begun in the spring of B.C. 431 by a treacherous attack of the Thebans upon Plataea. Though Boeotians by descent, the Plataeans did not belong to the Boeotian league, but had long been in close alliance with the Athenians. Hence they were regarded with hatred and jealousy by the Thebans, which sentiments were also shared by a small oligarchical faction in Plataea itself. The Plataean oligarchs secretly admitted a body of 300 Thebans into the town at night; but the attempt proved a failure; the citizens flew to arms, and in the morning all the Thebans were either slain or taken prisoner.
ATHENS IN THE TIME OF PERICLES.
[Note: The figures referred to in a few places in this chapter have had to be omitted from the etext.]
At the commencement of the Peloponnesian war Athens was at the height of its glory under the brilliant administration of Pericles. We may therefore here pause to take a brief survey of the city and of its most important buildings. Athens is situated about three miles from the sea-coast, in the central plain of Attica. In this plain rise several eminences. Of these the most prominent is a lofty insulated mountain, with a conical peaked summit, now called the Hill of St. George, and which bore in ancient times the name of LYCABETTUS. This mountain, which was not included within the ancient walls, lies to the north-east of Athens, and forms the most striking feature in the environs of the city. It is to Athens what Vesuvius is to Naples, or Arthur's Seat to Edinburgh. South-west of Lycabettus there are four hills of moderate height, all of which formed part of the city. Of these the nearest to Lycabettus and at the distance of a mile from the latter, was the ACROPOLIS, or citadel of Athens, a square craggy rock rising abruptly about 150 feet, with a flat summit of about 1000 feet long from east to west, by 500 feet broad from north to south. Immediately west of the Acropolis is a second hill of irregular form, the AREOPAGUS. To the south- west there rises a third hill, the PNYX, on which the assemblies of the citizens were held; and to the south of the latter is a fourth hill, known as the MUSEUM. On the eastern and western sides of the city there run two small streams, which are nearly exhausted before they reach the sea, by the heats of summer and by the channels for artificial irrigation. That on the east is the Ilissus, which flowed through the southern quarter of the city: that on the west is the Cephissus. South of the city was seen the Saronic gulf, with the harbours of Athens.
Athens is said to have derived its name from the prominence given to the worship of Athena by its king Erechtheus. The inhabitants were previously called Cranai and Cecropidae, from Cecrops, who according to tradition, was the original founder of the city. This at first occupied only the hill or rock which afterwards became the ACROPOLIS; but gradually the buildings began to spread over the ground at the southern foot of this hill. It was not till the time of Pisistratus and his sons (B.C. 560-514) that the city began to assume any degree of splendour. The most remarkable building of these despots was the gigantic temple of the Olympian Zeus, which, however, was not finished till many centuries later. In B.C. 500 the theatre of Dionysus was commenced on the south-eastern slope of the Acropolis, but was not completed till B.C. 34O; though it must have been used for the representation of plays long before that period.
Xerxes reduced the ancient city almost to a heap of ashes. After the departure of the Persians, its reconstruction on a much larger scale was commenced under the superintendence of Themistocles, whose first care was to provide for its safety by the erection of walls. The Acropolis now formed the centre of the city, round which the new walls described an irregular circle of about 60 stadia or 7 1/2 miles in circumference. The space thus enclosed formed the ASTY, or city, properly so called. But the views of Themistocles were not confined to the mere defence of Athens: he contemplated making her a great naval power, and for this purpose adequate docks and arsenals were required. Previously the Athenians had used as their only harbour the open roadstead of PHALERUM on the eastern side of the Phaleric bay, where the sea-shore is nearest to Athens. But Themistocles transferred the naval station of the Athenians to the peninsula of Piraeus, which is distant about 4 1/2 miles from Athens, and contains three natural harbours,--a large one on the western side, called simply Piraeus or The Harbour, and two smaller ones an the eastern side, called respectively ZEA and MUNYCHIA, the latter being nearest to the city. It was not till the administration of Pericles that the walls were built which connected Athens with her ports. These were at first the outer or northern Long Wall, which ran from Athens to Piraeus, and the Phaleric wall connecting the city with Phalerum. These were commenced in B.C. 457, and finished in the following year. It was soon found, however, that the space thus enclosed was too vast to be easily defended; and as the port of Phalerum was small and insignificant in comparison with the Piraeus, and soon ceased to be used by the Athenian ships of war, its wall was abandoned and probably allowed to fall into decay. Its place was supplied by another Long wall, which was built parallel to the first at a distance of only 550 feet, thus rendering both capable of being defended by the same body of men. Their height in all probability was not less than 60 feet. In process of time the space between the two Long Walls was occupied on each side by houses.
It will be seen from the preceding description that Athens, in its larger acceptation, and including its port, consisted of two circular cities, the Asty and Piraeus, each of about 7 1/2 miles in circumference, and joined together by a broad street of between four and five miles long.
Such was the outward and material form of that city, which during the period between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars reached the highest pitch of military, artistic, and literary glory. The latter portion of this period, or that comprised under the ascendency of Pericles, exhibits Athenian art in its highest state of perfection, and is therefore by way of excellence commonly designated as the age of Pericles. The great sculptor of this period--perhaps the greatest the world has ever seen-- was Phidias, to whom Pericles intrusted the superintendence of all the works executed in his administration.