The Brief Rule of the 400

At home in Athens various factions of aristocrats began plotting to overthrow the popular assembly and replace it with an oligarchy. Prominent democrats were assassinated and the Council of Five Hundred was intimidated by threats. A commission was set up to devise new proposals for governing the city, and with the help of soldiers it evicted the Council of Five Hundred, replacing it in 411 with a Council of Four Hundred. On hearing this what remained of the Athenian fleet rebelled. They formed a popular assembly of their own and planned to sail from their base off the coast of Turkey at Samos to re-establish democracy at Athens.

However, Alcibiades, an unlikely champion given his previous statements in favor of oligarchy, dissuaded them and led the fleet to several important victories over the Spartans at sea. After ruling for only four months the Four Hundred were deposed and their power transferred to a larger body of five thousand whose task was to redraft the Athenian constitution. In 410 democracy was restored.

The war continued to drag on indecisively for another three years, with each side capturing and recapturing strategic colonies and city-states. But just when the Athenians appeared to be once again gaining the upper hand, new forces emerged...