Alcibiades (c.450-404 B.C.). An Athenian politician and general. He was the son of Clinias and Dinomache, and belonged to the class of the Eupatridæ. He was born at Athens, lost his father in the battle of Coronea in 440 B.C., and was in consequence educated in the house of Pericles, his uncle. In his youth he gave evidence of his future greatness, excelling both in mental and bodily exercises. His handsome person, his distinguished parentage, and the high position of Pericles procured him a multitude of friends and admirers. Socrates was one of the former and gained considerable influence over him, but was unable to restrain his love of luxury and dissipation, which found ample means of gratification in the wealth that accrued to him by his union with Hipparete, the daughter of Hipponicus. His public displays, especially at the Olympic Games, in 420 B.C., were incredibly expensive. He bore arms for the first time in the expedition against Potidæa (432 B.C.), where he was wounded, and where his life was saved by Socrates, a debt which he liquidated eight years after at the battle of Delium by saving, in his turn, the life of the philosopher; but he seems to have taken no considerable part in political matters till after the death of the demagogue Cleon, when Nicias (q.v.) brought about a treaty of peace for 50 years between the Athenians and the Lacedæmonians, 421 B.C. Alcibiades, jealous of the esteem in which Nicias was held, set himself at the head of the war party and persuaded the Athenians to ally themselves with the people of Argos, Elis, and Mantinea, and did all in his power to stir up afresh their old antipathy to Sparta; the allies, however, were defeated at Mantinea in 418. It was at his suggestion that the Athenians, against the vigorous opposition of Nicias, engaged in the celebrated enterprise against Syracuse (q.v.), to the command of which he was elected, with Nicias and Lamachus But while preparations were being made, it happened that during one night all the statues of Hermes (q.v.) in Athens were mutilated. The enemies of Alcibiades threw the blame of this mischief upon him, but, fearing that, if tried at once he would be acquitted through the support of the soldiers, with whom he was very popular, postponed impeachment of him till he had set sail for Sicily. They then stirred up the people against him to such a degree that he was recalled in the autumn of 415 B.C. to stand his trial. See ANDOCIDES.
On his way home, Alcibiades landed at Thurii in Italy, fled from the fleet, and betook himself to Sparta, where, by conforming to the strict manners of the people, he soon became a favorite. He induced the Lacedæmonians to send assistanceto the Syracusans, under Gylippus (q.v.), persuaded them to occupy permanently a post at Decelea in Attica, to form an alliance with the King of Persia, and, after the unfortunate issue of the Athenian expedition in Sicily, to support the people of Chios in their endeavors to throw off the yoke of Athens. He went thither himself and raised all Ionia in revolt against Athens. But Agis (q.v.) and the other leading men in Sparta, jealous of the success of Alcibiades, ordered their generals in Asia to have him assassinated. Alcibiades discovered this plot and fled to Tissaphernes (q.v.), a Persian satrap, who had orders to act in concert with the Lacedæmonians. He now resumed his old manners, adopted the luxurious habits of Asia, and made himself indispensable to Tissaphernes. He represented to the latter that it was contrary to the interests of Persia entirely to disable the Athenians. He then sent word to the commanders of the Athenian forces at Samos that he would procure for them the friendship of the satrap if they would control the extravagance of the people and commit the government to an oligarchy. This offer was accepted, and in 411 B.C. Pisander (q.v.) was sent to Athens, where he had the supreme power vested in a council of 400 persons. When it appeared, however, that this council had no intention of recalling Alcibiades, the army at Samos chose him as their commander, desiring him to lead them instantly to Athens and overthrow the tyrants. But Alcibiades did not wish to return to his native country till he had rendered it some service, and he accordingly attacked and defeated the Lacedæmonians by sea and land. Tissaphernes now ordered him to be arrested at Sardis on his return, the satrap not wishing the King to imagine that he had been accessory to his doings. But Alcibiades found means to escape, placed himself again at the head of the army, beat the Lacedæmonians and the Persians at Cyzicus, 410 B.C., took Cyzicus, Chalcedon, and Byzantium, restored to the Athenians the dominion of the sea, and then returned to his country (407 B.C.), to which he had been formally invited. He was received with general enthusiasm, as the Athenians attributed to his banishment all the misfortunes that had befallen them.
The triumph of Alcibiades, however, was not destined to last. He was again sent to Asia with 100 ships; but, not being supplied with money for the soldiers' pay, he was obliged to seek assistance at Caria, where he transferred the command in the meantime to Antiochus, who, being lured into an ambuscade by Lysander (q.v.), lost his life and part of the ships. The enemies of Alcibiades took advantage of this to accuse him and appoint another commander. Alcibiades went into voluntary exile at Pactye in Thrace, one of the strongholds which he had built out of his earlier spoils. But being threatened here with the power of Lacedæmonia he removed to Bithynia, with the intention of repairing to Artaxerxes, to gain him over to the interests of his country. At the request of the Thirty Tyrants of Athens, and with the concurrence of the Spartans, Pharnabazus a satrap of Artaxerxes, received orders to put Alcibiades to death. He was living at this time in a castle in Phrygia; Pharnabazus caused it to be set on fire during the night. As his victim was endeavoring to escape from the flames, he was pierced with a volley of arrows. Thus perished Alcibiades (404 B.C.), about the forty-fifth year of his age. He was singularly endowed by nature, being possessed of the most fascinating eloquence and having in a rare degree the ability to win and to govern men. Yet in all his transactions be allowed himself to be directed by external circumstances, without having any fixed principles of conduct. On the other hand, he possessed that boldness which arises from conscious superiority, and he shrank from no difficulty, because be was never doubtful concerning the means by which an end might be attained. Consult: The Lives, by Plutarch and Nepos.
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. I (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 350-351.