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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Night Attack on Platæa
By Thucydides (c. 460–c. 395 B.C.)
From ‘History’: Translation of Benjamin Jowett

AND now the war between the Athenians and Peloponnesians and the allies of both actually began. Henceforward the struggle was uninterrupted, and they communicated with one another only by heralds. The narrative is arranged according to summers and winters, and follows the order of events.  1
  For fourteen years the thirty years’ peace … remained unbroken. But in the fifteenth year, when Chrysis the high-priestess of Argos was in the forty-eighth year of her priesthood, Ænesias being ephor at Sparta, and at Athens Pythodorus having two months of his archonship to run,… and at the beginning of spring, about the first watch of the night, an armed force of somewhat more than three hundred Thebans entered Platæa, a city of Bœotia which was an ally of Athens…. They were invited by Naucleides, a Platæan, and his partisans, who opened the gates to them. These men wanted to kill certain citizens of the opposite faction, and to make over the city to the Thebans, in the hope of getting the power into their own hands…. There was an old quarrel between the two cities; and the Thebans, seeing that war was inevitable, were anxious to surprise the place while the peace lasted, and before hostilities had actually broken out. No watch had been set; and so they were enabled to enter the city unperceived. They grounded their arms in the agora; but instead of going to work at once, and making their way into the houses of their enemies, as those who invited them suggested, they resolved to issue a conciliatory proclamation, and try to make friends with the citizens. The herald announced that if any one wished to become their ally, and return to the ancient constitution of Bœotia, he should join their ranks. In this way they thought that the inhabitants would easily be induced to come over to them.  2
  The Platæans, when they found that the city had been surprised and taken, and that the Thebans were within their walls, were panic-stricken. In the darkness they were unable to see them, and greatly overestimated their numbers. So they came to terms, and accepting the proposals which were made to them, remained quiet,—the more readily since the Thebans offered violence to no one. But in the course of the negotiations they somehow discovered that their enemies were not so numerous as they had supposed, and concluded that they could easily attack and master them. They determined to make the attempt; for the Platæan people were strongly attached to the Athenian alliance. They began to collect inside the houses, breaking through the party-walls that they might not be seen going along the streets; they likewise raised barricades of wagons, unyoking the beasts which drew them, and took other measures suitable to the emergency. When they had done all which could be done under the circumstances, they sallied forth from their houses; choosing the time of night just before daybreak, lest, if they put off the attack until dawn, the enemy might be more confident and more a match for them. While darkness lasted they would be timid, and at a disadvantage, not knowing the streets so well as themselves. So they fell upon them at once hand to hand.  3
  When the Thebans found that they had been deceived, they closed their ranks and resisted their assailants on every side. Two or three times they drove them back. But when at last the Platæans charged them with a great shout, and the women and slaves on the housetops screamed and yelled and pelted them with stones and tiles, the confusion being aggravated by the rain which had been falling heavily during the night, they turned and fled in terror through the city. Hardly any of them knew the way out, and the streets were dark as well as muddy, for the affair happened at the end of the month when there was no moon; whereas their pursuers knew well enough how to prevent their escape: and thus many of them perished. The gates by which they entered were the only ones open; and these a Platæan fastened with the spike of a javelin, which he thrust into the bar instead of the pin. So this exit too was closed, and they were chased up and down the city. Some of them mounted upon the wall, and cast themselves down into the open. Most of these were killed. Others got out by a deserted gate, cutting through the bar unperceived, with an axe which a woman gave them; but only a few, for they were soon found out. Others lost themselves in different parts of the city, and were put to death. But the greater number kept together, and took refuge in a large building abutting upon the wall, of which the doors on the near side chanced to be open; they thinking them to be the gates of the city, and expecting to find a way through them into the country. The Platæans, seeing that they were in a trap, began to consider whether they should not set the building on fire, and burn them where they were. At last they, and the other Thebans who were still alive and were wandering about the city, agreed to surrender themselves and their arms unconditionally. Thus fared the Thebans in Platæa.  4
  The main body of the Theban army, which should have come during the night to the support of the party entering the city in case of a reverse, having on their march heard of the disaster, were now hastening to the rescue. Platæa is about eight miles distant from Thebes, and the heavy rain which had fallen in the night delayed their arrival; for the river Asopus had swollen, and was not easily fordable. Marching in the rain, and with difficulty crossing the river, they came up too late; some of their friends being already slain and others captives. When the Thebans became aware of the state of affairs, they resolved to lay hands on the Platæans who were outside the walls; for there were men and property left in the fields, as would naturally happen when a sudden blow was struck in time of peace. And they meant to keep any one whom they caught as a hostage, and exchange him for one of their own men if any of them were still alive. But before they had executed their plan, the Platæans, suspecting their intentions, and fearing for their friends outside, sent a herald to the Thebans protesting against the crime of which they had been guilty in seizing their city during peace, and warning them not to touch anything which was outside the walls. If they persisted, they threatened in return to kill the prisoners; but if they retired, they would give them up. This is the Theban account; and they add that the Platæans took an oath. The Platæans do not admit that they ever promised to restore the captives at once, but only if they could agree after negotiations; and they deny that they took an oath. However this may have been, the Thebans withdrew, leaving the Platæan territory unhurt; but the Platæans had no sooner got in their property from the country than they put the prisoners to death. Those who were taken were a hundred and eighty in number; and Eurymachus, with whom the betrayers of the city had negotiated, was one of them.  5
  When they had killed their prisoners, they sent a messenger to Athens and gave back the dead to the Thebans under a flag of truce; they then took the necessary measures for the security of the city. The news had already reached Athens; and the Athenians had instantly seized any Bœotians who were in Attica and sent a herald to Platæa bidding them do no violence to the Theban prisoners, but wait for instructions from Athens. The news of their death had not arrived. For the first messenger had gone out when the Thebans entered, and the second when they were just defeated and captured: but of what followed, the Athenians knew nothing; they sent the message in ignorance, and the herald, when he arrived, found the prisoners dead. The Athenians next dispatched an army to Platæa, and brought in corn. Then, leaving a small force in the place, they conveyed away the least serviceable of the citizens, together with the women and children. The affair of Platæa was a glaring violation of the thirty years’ truce; and the Athenians now made preparations for war.  6

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