NIKIASAthens, approx. 470 - 413 B.C.
Athenian general from the municipality of Kydantides, son of Nikiratos. He owned silver mines, which made him one of the richest Athenians of his time. Nikias was one of the protagonists of the political life of Athens in the last quarter of the 5th century BC. A follower and successor of Pericles, he followed - in contrast to his radical rival Cleonas - a moderate policy and proposed the conclusion of peace with Sparta, based on the principle of the status quo, which meant maintaining Athenian naval hegemony in the pre-proclamation of the Peloponnesian war facts.
His views gained ground in 423 BC when his political friend Lachis passed a resolution for a truce with the Spartans, only for them to prevail in 421 BC after the death of Cleon, when the Athenians and Spartans concluded a defensive alliance of fifty years' duration on the basis of the above-mentioned principle. Until that moment, Nicias had led some military operations, but without impressive results. Specifically, it concerns the capture of Minoa, a small island near Megara in 427 BC, the victory over the Tanagraeans in 426 BC and the cleansing of Delos, the battle against the Corinthians in combination with the capture of Kythera and the capture of Mendis in 424/423 BC, which contributed to the rapprochement of the Macedonians with the Athenians.
The policy of 421 BC, however, was reversed in 418 BC when Alcibiades persuaded the Athenians to ally with the Spartans' rivals, the Argives, the Helians and the Mantines, which undermined the climate of depression that had begun to characterize Athens-Sparta relations and eventually led the two great powers into conflict in Sicily a few years later. Previously (in 417 BC), there had been the failed attempt by the political Hyperbolus to rid Athens of the presence of Nikias or Alcibiades, who were fierce political opponents, by activating the institution of ostracism. However, Nicias and Alcibiades came to an understanding and succeeded in having the law enforced at the expense of Hyperbolus himself. This is the last application of the institution of ostracism.
Despite the strong reaction that Nicias brought to the decision-making bodies of the Athenian State, Alcibiades finally convinced his countrymen to campaign in Sicily with large forces. With the defection of Alcibiades to Sparta, due to the beheading of the Hermes (an act of disrespect and insult to morals for which Alcibiades himself was accused) and while the Athenian expeditionary force was at the beginning of its operations, the direction of the campaign was taken over by Nicias himself, at first with his other co-general (the emperor general), Lamachus, and then, due to the death of the latter, alone, without, however, achieving the main objective of the campaign, namely the capture of Syracuse. He had of course scored some minor successes, such as the capture of Epipola in 414 BC.
The inadequate way in which he managed the operations - as Thucydides suggests in the relevant passages - is reflected on the one hand in his reluctance to expand the operations and on the other hand in his refusal to adopt the proposal of Lamachus' replacement general Demosthenes for an early departure from the island, due to its superstition, which manifested itself specifically during the lunar eclipse that occurred in August 413 BC. During the intervening 27 days of inactivity, the Syracusans, reinforced by the Spartans under the general Gylippos, succeeded in destroying the Athenian fleet, while in October of the same year they annihilated the entire Athenian army near the river Assinaros, as it tried to retreat to the interior of the island.