If Arrested Development took place in Ancient Greece, one of the main characters would definitely be Alcibiades. This handsome, devious traitor made the kind of mind-bogglingly huge mistakes that would have seen anyone else put out to pasture—but thanks to his charisma and good looks, Alcibiades still managed to sleep his way to the top. Slow clap it out to a true anti-hero: Here are 50 flamboyant facts about Alcibiades, the ancient world’s most entertaining mess.
One of history’s most entertaining figures, Alcibiades is what would happen if you combined an incompetent James Bond villain with Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove. He was incredibly good-looking and had countless affairs with high-profile men and women—when he wasn’t busy running Greece’s military into the ground.
On paper, Alcibiades was an Athenian general, advisor, and statesman. In reality, he mostly convinced people to go with the “first thought, best thought” approach to life. Throughout his colorful career, Alcibiades helped the Athenian military make some of their worst decisions. In a good move for Alcibiades’ reputation, history loves a bad boy.
Lots of anti-Alcibiades speeches made grand claims about his outrageous amorous acts, so take that topic with a grain of salt. But whether they’re true or not, the rumors about Alcibiades’ love life are too good not to share. According to one hater, Alcibiades sailed off to Abydus as soon as he got permission. Was he collecting a tax? Making diplomatic moves? Pfft, no.
He went over to learn about the town’s lovemaking moves so that he could use them for himself.
One time, Alcibiades double-teamed a woman named Medontis with his friend Axiochus. When Medontis gave birth, no one knew who the dad was. When a kid has a 50% chance of being your daughter, the smart thing is probably just to pass on trying to get some. Not if you’re Alcibiades!
When Alcibiades’ maybe-daughter was about to hit the marriage market, he claimed he could tell she was Axiochus’ spawn and promptly slept with her. Just one problem there: When Axiochus did the same, he claimed she was definitely Alcibiades’ kid. Either way you slice it, someone definitely got way too close for comfort.
Despite his playboy reputation, Alcibiades did settle down—for a time at least. He married a woman named Hipparete and promptly brought a trail of courtesans into their house. Yeah, she tried to divorce him pretty quick.
When Alcibiades celebrated his 30th birthday, he got a very nice present. His superiors promoted him to a general of the Athenian army and, not only that, he became a member of a high-profile military council called the strategoi. In other words, Alcibiades was officially in the big leagues. Unfortunately for Athens, they’d just given a ton of power to their messiest playboy.
In one report, Alcibiades died doing what he loved: getting it on. Apparently, Alcibiades romanced a young lady whose family was not into the match. We guess negotiations went poorly because instead of persuading their daughter to come back home, they straight-up killed Alcibiades.
The famous playwright Aristophanes said that Athens “yearns for him [Alcibiades], and hates him too, but wants him back.” To be honest, that’s also the way I feel about this charming trash bag of a man.
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In 415, Segesta, one of Athens’ allies in Sicily, asked for help fighting against their enemies, Selinus and Syracuse. Alcibiades was gung ho about the mission, using his charm and charisma to urge the strategoi to defend Segesta. In reality, Alcibiades wasn’t doing this just to be nice. Sicily had valuable timber and, as we’ll see, Alcibiades was really into making elaborate wooden ships.
You know you have a reputation when one of Ancient Greece’s major comedians writes a risque comedy about you. Aristophanes’ sadly lost play Triphales (which means Triple Phallus, by the way) is apparently based on Alcibiades.
Even after Alcibiades gave one of his trademark big speeches to the strategoi, not everyone was on his side. A guy named Nicias was not into Alcibiades’ idea. Nicias brought up the very reasonable point that to win, Athens would need a way bigger navy. Unfazed, Alcibiades somehow managed to make Athens spend a ton of money to build said navy.
Spoiler alert: Athens should have listened to Nicias.
Between 415-413 BC, Athens put Alcibiades’ terrible plan into action. It was called The Sicilian Expedition and it’s gone down in history as a complete failure. Long story short: Their “allies” in Syracuse took forever to show up and help, then when Athens tried to get out of the battle, almost everyone died or was captured by the enemy, Sicily.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Alcibiades’ legacy.
Alcibiades was not a subtle guy. In one story, he struts around with a golden shield, on which is engraved Eros, the God of love, holding a phallic thunderbolt. The man knew how to work his personal brand, what can I say?
The Sicilian Expedition was a disaster, but even worse, the Athenians couldn’t say they weren’t warned. The night before the ships would set sail, a mysterious person (or persons) went around town destroying these statues called Herms that were basically just a head and genitals—no lie, Ancient Greece was freaky. The statues were supposed to be good luck charms specifically for travellers.
The fact that they were wrecked the night before the troops sailed out? Not a good sign.
Back in Ancient Greece, relationships between older men and adolescent boys were normal. Once a boy grew a beard, however, all bets were off. Despite this expectation, when Alcibiades’ beard started to grow and all his lovers abandoned him, Socrates stuck around. He said he was his “only true lover.”
Who was behind the destruction of the Herm statues? We still don’t know—but at the time, people thought that one person may have been responsible. Guess who? Alcibiades!
Except for his frenemy Nicias and a few haters, pretty much everyone was in love with Alcibiades. Despite all the rumors that he destroyed the statues—and the fact that he volunteered to stand trial—no one made Alcibiades go to court. Instead, he got to sail away to Segesta—for now at least.
One of Alcibiades’ lovers was so obsessed with him that he sold all his worldly goods and gave the money to Alcibiades. In return, Alcibiades helped his boyfriend pull a fast one on the tax collectors. Would watch this episode of “Alcibiades: The Early Years.”
Once the ships sailed out, Alcibiades’ enemies pressed charges, figuring that once the army was gone, Alcibiades wouldn’t have nearly so many loyal friends to stick up for him. Can you see where this is going? Yeah, once Alcibiades was firmly en route to Segesta, he was called back to stand trial.
One jealous contemporary writer called Alcibiades a “chaser of other men’s wives” and a drunk.
Planning the Sicilian Expedition was not smooth sailing, especially since Alcibiades had to cooperate with two other military high-ups: Nicias and Lamachus. Nicias wanted to settle the quarrel between Segesta and Silenus, then walk around and rally people in Sicily. Alcibiades, extra as always, craved fanfare. He wanted to recruit soldiers throughout Italy before settling the conflict.
Even though this would give enemy forces, um, a lot of time to prepare for the Athenians’ arrival and was a capital-B Bad idea, Lamachus sided with Alcibiades...a decision that basically killed a ton of his own soldiers.
One of Alcibiades’ high-profile ex-boyfriends was Socrates, the famous philosopher. Dude even wrote about how his love for Alcibiades made him want to be a better man. Nicholas Sparks—if you’re down for historical fiction, may I suggest you get in on this?
When Alcibiades got the news that he needed to go all the way back to Athens to stand trial about the Herm statues, he got into his nice boat and set sail. Ready to face the death penalty, Alcibiades bravely voyaged...to Sparta. In other words, dear reader, he fled.
I’ve been hard on him, but Alcibiades wasn’t always a complete idiot. When he first became a general, he did Athens a solid by getting Athens, Argos, Ellis, and Mantineia to agree to an alliance. Thanks to Alcibiades' negotiations, this alliance lasted for 100 years, which is approximately a million times longer than any of Alcibiades’ relationships.
Once Alcibiades had settled in Sparta, he shifted allegiances quickly. Our anti-hero sang for his supper, giving up all the Athenian secrets to his new Spartan friends. He was even instrumental in the seizing of Dekeleia, an Athenian fortress. And yet, for all his tips and tricks, Alcibiades wouldn’t be in the Spartans' good books for very long...
When he was a boy, Alcibiades was known to seduce husbands away from their wives. As a man, he entranced wives away from their husbands.
If you thought “I bet Alcibiades got thrown out because he hooked up with someone he shouldn’t have” pat yourself on the back. When the Queen of Sparta gave birth to a kid who looked a lot more like Alcibiades than her husband, King Agis, Alcibiades figured it was time to get out of Dodge. But even though he didn't know it then, Alcibiades' horndog ways would change Spartan history forever...
Banished from Athens and Sparta, Alcibiades switched sides again, this time hopping over to Persia where he romanced the powerful ruler Tissaphernes. Once ingratiated, Alcibiades started working his wily magic. He urged Tissaphernes to be nice to both Athens and Sparta, while also secretly telling Athens that he could get them an Athens-Persia alliance.
But in order to get this alliance, Alcibiades had one chilling demand.
Alcibiades would do anything—and I mean anything—to get his way. He was so determined to get that sweet Persia-Athens alliance (and low-key to get his old hero reputation restored) that he managed to up-end the entire political system in Athens while he was still in Persia. Alcibiades sent his man Peisandros to rile up the irritable, power-hungry aristocrats and get them to take over the democratic government.
According to one Ancient Greek historian, Alcibiades “gave offence to every one.” What a guy.
With his grumpy-old-men-oligarchy in place, Alcibiades could choose any title he wanted. The one-time traitor was once again a military strategist and, back to his fixation with boats, in 410 his fleet defeated the Spartans on the Hellespont River. Alcibiades’ luck had finally turned.
After the victory on the Hellespont, Alcibiades solidified his loyalty—imagine Alcibiades being loyal to anyone but himself—to Athens by back-stabbing his old friends the Persians over on Abydos. Oh, and his forces also took Byzantium. In other words, Alcibiades was Prom King once again.
When our guy Alcibiades returned to Athens, he was welcomed like a king. All those pesky charges about the statues? Not even a thing anymore. Instead, Athens made him not just a strategist but the strategist, giving him a special rank above all the other generals. In a gesture that must have stroked his ego, this honor was never given to anyone else.
Alcibiades was known for being a great speaker, even though he had a lisp.
Remember Nicias, the nice, smart man that Athens should have listened to? Yeah, he died on the Sicilian Expedition. I can’t even think about how ticked he must have been when he died, all because of Alcibiades’ dumb idea.
How do you captivate a playboy like Alcibiades? It’s the oldest trick in the book: you play hard to get. Socrates knew what was up. On his first night with Alcibiades, he refused to do anything romantic. As a result, Alcibiades was so thirsty that he followed the philosopher around.
Why was Alcibiades such a mess? Two words: Daddy issues. Alcibiades’ father died in battle in 447 or 446 BCE and his guardian, uncle Pericles, didn’t exactly pick up the slack. As a result, Alcibiades wasn’t raised with a firm hand. Some historians believe that this laid back upbringing allowed Alcibiades' naturally reckless nature to go out of control.
Alcibiades’ last companion was Timandra. Her name appropriately means “man tamer.”
Being top dog isn’t all fancy titles and big parties. After his promotion, Alcibiades had to get back to work and go fight in Ionia. While Alcibiades took care of that situation, he trusted his buddy Antiochos to take care of the fleet in Samos. Little did he know, this promotion would be yet another of Alcibiades' catastrophic mistakes.
When the Spartans, who were understandably furious at Alcibiades, heard the Athenian general wasn’t actually at Samos, they decided to strike. Under Lysander’s leadership, the Spartans crushed the Athenian navy in 406. This was the beginning of the end for our boy Alcibiades.
After the horrible defeat of the Athenian navy at Samos, Alcibiades found himself in hot water yet again. It turned out that Antiochus was deeply unqualified to control the navy, leading Athens to take away Alcibiades’ fancy military title. Ouch.
Upset with his demotion, Alcibiades left with his tail between his legs. He settled in Thrace, though somehow wormed his way back into Persia. Say what you will about him, this guy clearly had amazing people skills.
Remember Axiochus, who had a three-way with Alcibiades and Medontis? He wasn’t just Alcibiades’ friend. He was his uncle too. I don’t even want to think about that family tree.
Why did everyone like Alcibiades so much? The answer isn’t complicated. Apparently, Alcibiades was incredibly hot—and he knew how to use it.
Alcibiades made so many enemies that it was never a question of whether he’d die by murder, but who the murderer would be. Well, it looks like that honor goes to Sparta. Remember the military general Lysander? Apparently, he never got over Alcibiades’ wily ways. He sent his men to Phrygia, where Alcibiades was living and got to work on an over-the-top assassination plan.
Alcibiades thought he was in for a regular day at the Persian court, but he was way off base. As he walked out the door, he realized that Spartan warriors had surrounded his home and set it on fire. Alcibiades ran through the fire with a dagger, trying to attack his assailants. His last-ditch effort did not go well. The soldiers unleashed their arrows and Alcibiades perished.
The year was 404 BCE.
Alcibiades got around, but as you might recall, one of his most famous conquests was Timaea, the Queen of Sparta. Not only did they do the deed, but they also had a kid named Leotychides in 425 BCE. Despite his mom, Leo did not end up keeping the throne of Sparta, since everyone thought he wasn’t an, um, legitimate heir. And because Timaea's hubby King Agis never had another son, he actually died without a successor. Thanks, Alcibiades.
Historians don’t generally think this one is true—but with Alcibiades, anything goes. A man named Antisthenes accused Alcibiades of getting it on with his mother, daughter, and sister—despite the fact that, as far as we can tell, Alcibiades didn’t even have a sister. Haters gonna hate.
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