Famous Greeks: Nicias

The personal and political enemy of Alcibiades, Nicias (465–414 B.C.) led the conservative party at Athens during a significant part of the Peloponnesian War. A wealthy man of great reputation for his piety and virtue, he negotiated a peace with Sparta in 421 B.C. Despite his opposition to the Sicilian expedition in 415 B.C., Nicias was named by the Athenian Assembly as one of its three commanders, along with Alcibiades. Ultimately, supreme command of the expedition devolved on him. He proved himself to be one of the worst generals in history. Lazy, inept, and cowardly, he brought disaster on the Athenian expeditionary force. In fact, like many men of reputed virtue, he was a fraud, deceptive and manipulative. We study Nicias because examples of bad leaders are frequently more instructive than those of good ones.

Questions to Consider:

1. Was the Sicilian expedition a reasonable strategic undertaking or was it folly from the beginning?

2. Can you find a parallel in American history to Nicias? What would you say about George McClellan in the Civil War?

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