Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Theramenes

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THERAMENES, an Athenian who played a prominent part in the history of Athens towards the close of the Peloponnesian War and in the revolution which followed it. He was one of the conspirators who, in 411 B.C., abolished the democracy at Athens, and substituted the oligarchy of the Four Hundred. The adhesion of the army in Samos to the democracy, however, created dissensions among the oligarchs at Athens. Theramenes supported the more moderate section, and was the chief means of destroying a fortress which the extreme section had been building at the mouth of the harbour, ostensibly as a protection against any violent movement on the part of the democrats at Samos, but really, according to Theramenes, to admit the enemy. He further accused Antiphon and Archeptolemus, members of the extreme oligarchical party, who, according to Lysias, had been his own intimate friends, and secured their capital punishment. In 410 Theramenes commanded one of the three squadrons of the Athenian fleet in the victory over the Spartans at Cyzicus. In 409 he took part in the siege of Chalcedon and the capture of Byzantium. At the battle of Arginusse in 406 he was one of the officers deputed by the generals in command to pick up the crews of the disabled ships; but the rescue was not effected, on account, it seems, of the storm. Nevertheless, on his return to Athens, Theramenes took a leading part in accusing and procuring the condemnation to death of the generals for neglecting to rescue the men. When Athens was besieged by the Peloponnesians, Thera menes conducted the negotiations for surrendering the city, traitorously prolonging them till starvation compelled the Athenians to accept the rigorous terms imposed by Sparta. After the surrender he formed one of the notorious Thirty who, backed by a Spartan garrison, misgoverned Athens. But by opposing their excesses he incurred their suspicions, and, being denounced by Critias, the most violent of the Thirty, he was, in defiance of the forms of law, put to death (404). He submitted to his fate with a fortitude which won the admiration of his contemporaries and of posterity, and which might well have graced the close of a better life. His ability and eloquence are recognized by Thucydides, and Aristotle is said by Plutarch (Nic., 2) to have reckoned him one of the three best patriots of Athens. This latter judgment is not borne out by the facts as we know them. Rather Theramenes appears as a selfish and faithless trimmer, who deserved his nickname Cothurnus (a boot which fitted either foot).

The chief authorities for his life are Thucydides, viii.; Xenophon, Hellenica, i., ii.; Lysias, Contra Erat.; Diodorus, xiii., xiv.