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"Panic! The Sicilian Misadventure" by students in CSTS119 (Haverford College)

In our vision of the Sicilian expedition we obviously used a loose interpretation of the actual events. The goal was to capture the essence of the expedition’s failings, the inherent incompatibility of a democratic method in the middle of a war or similar crisis. Obviously the Athenian soldiers never held an assembly during the expedition. However, the blind faith Athenians placed in democracy, expecting three drastically differing generals to come to a reasoned agreement on how to fight a war, is reflected in such an action. Since Nicias did not even want to be a part of the expedition to Sicily, he was probably an even worse choice for Strategoi than some random Athenian who would have at least fallen more in line with Lamachus in his enthusiasm for the affair. Instead, Nicias’ caution and hesitation proved the downfall of Athens. Rather than aiding the expedition with his input, Nicias simply restricted the actions of Lamachus by constantly opposing his decisions. When the soldiers stand up and decide to have an assembly they are doing exactly what the actual Athenians did when they sent Nicias along. Three generals are better than one, why not include the soldiers in the decision-making process? The more viewpoints the better the debate and then a truly informed decision can be made. Unfortunately times of crisis demand expediency, one thing democracy is not known for. In the game we wasted entire class periods arguing over whether or not a citizen would be allowed to privately fund a school. If you need more evidence look no further than Haverford’s own process of consensus. Plenary is a painful reminder of the flaws of democracy.

The second aspect of Athenian democracy we hoped to convey was the mob mentality. The people of Athens prove easily distracted and time and again are steered off course on ultimately inconsequential pursuits. When trapped on the wrong side of the ditch, the soldiers following Lamachus decide to have an ostracism rather than attend to the vastly more important threat of the Syracusans. The exact same thing happened in the game when instead of deciding how to construct our foreign policy we ostracized Thrasybulus, successfully accomplishing nothing of any importance. It may seem ridiculous until we remember the accusations brought against Alcibiades the day of the expedition. With Athens sending one of its largest fleets ever assembled on a prolonged mission, this would hardly seem like the right time to put the lead strategoi on trial for conspiracy. Political infighting weakened crippled the expedition. With Alcibiades support, Lamachus would probably have been able to overcome Nicias’ resistance. After Lamachus died, the presence of Alcibiades would also most likely have meant the completion of the wall and perhaps Athenian victory.

While it may not be the most factual account of the Sicilian expedition it certainly reflects the absurdity of democracy in a time of crisis that eventually tore Athens down from its seat of empire.

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Location: Haverford, PA


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