Chapter XIII. The Armed Forces of Athens.
96. The Siege of Fortified Towns. - If, however, one party cannot be induced to risk an open battle; or if, despite a defeat, it allows the enemy to ravage the fields, and yet persists in defending the walls of its town, - the war is likely to be tedious and indecisive. It is notorious that Greeks dislike hard sieges. The soldiers are the fellow townsmen of the generals. If the latter order an assault with scaling ladders and it is repulsed with bloody loss, the generals risk a prosecution when they get home for "casting away the lives of their fellow citizens."[*] In short, fifty men behind a stout wall and "able to throw anything" are in a position to defy an army.
[*]In siege warfare Oriental kings had a great advantage over Greek commanders. The former could sacrifice as many of their "slaves" as they pleased, in desperate assaults. The latter had always to bear in mind their accountability at home for any desperate and costly attack.
The one really sure means of taking a town is to build a counter wall around it and starve it out, - a slow and very expensive, thought not bloody process. Only when something very great is at stake will a Greek city-state attempt this.[*] There is always another chance, however. Almost every Greek town has a discontented faction within its walls, and many a time there will be a traitor who will betray a gate to the enemy; and then the siege will be suddenly ended in one murderous night.
[*]As in the siege of Potidea (432-429 B.C.), when if Athens had failed to take the place, her hold upon her whole empire would have been jeopardized.
97. The Introduction of New Tactics. - Greek battles are thus very simple things as a rule. It is the general who, accepting the typical conditions as he finds them, and avoiding any gross and obvious blunders, can put his men in a state of perfect fitness, physical and moral, that is likely to win the day. Of late there has come indeed a spirit of innovation. At Leuctra (371 B.C.) Epaminodas the Theban defeated the Spartans by the unheard-of device of massing a part of his hoplites fifty deep (instead of the orthodox eight or twelve) and crushing the Spartan right wing by the sheer weight of his charge, before the rest of the line came into action at all. If the experiment had not succeeded, Epaminondas would probably have been denounced by his own countrymen as a traitor, and by the enemy as a fool, for varying from the time-honored long, "even line" phalanx; and the average general will still prefer to keep to the old methods; then if anything happens, HE at least will not be blamed for any undue rashness. Only in Macedon, King Philip II (who is just about to come to the throne) will not hesitate to study the new battle tactics of Epaminondas, and to improve upon them.
The Athenians will tell us that their citizen hoplites are a match for any soldiers in Greece, except until lately the Spartans, and now (since Leuctra) possibly the Thebans. But Corinthians, Argives, Sicyonians, they can confront more readily. They will also add, quite properly, that the army of Athens is in the main for home defense. She does not claim to be a preeminently military state. The glory of Athens has been the mastery of the sea. Our next excursion must surely be to the Peireus.