Phormio - Athenian General

Phormio was an Athenain General who was active during the beginning of the Peloponnesian War

While still in the beginning stages of the Peloponnesian War and Athens finding itself inflicted with the plague, the only general capable of saving Athens was this time living in poverty, disgrace and dishonour, almost forgotten by his fellow citizens. Phormio had been a successful commander through almost three decades of service to the city, but had falled victim to the people's hunt for scapegoats during these difficult times.

Though his ancestry was noble as any Athenians's Phormio was now a poor man. In the course of his honest generalship at Potidaea he had helped provide for his troops from his own personal funds. After his return to Athens the civilian scrutiny board censured his for his conduct of the campaign and fined him one hundred silver minai. Phormio was too pround to beg or borrow the money from friends. His failure to pay the fine led to an offical ban, which meant he was not allowed to set foot on consectrated ground including the Acropolis, Agora and the Pnyx.

Finding himself in this situation Phormio left the city altogether and retired to his ancestral home at Paiania on the far side of Mount Hymettus. The family farm lay in the heart of the broad plain called Mesogaia (Middle Earth), and had been visited earlier that summer by the marauding Peloponnesian army. Settleing down to live off the blackened earth, he worked his fields, and plant his crops. His career as a naval commander seemed over.

Phormio was around 60 years old, and was used to living rough. On his many campaigns he had shared the hardships and short rations of his troops. Every day he stripped down and exercised naked, like a boy toughening his body in the gymnasium at home. Phormio had kept up this regimen in all weathers, winter and summer. Exposure to sund and wind had burned his body dark brown, so the men gave him one of Heracles' nicknames, Melampygous (Black Butt). At night he slept on the ground. His pallet was a reed mat so thin and poor that 'Phormio's sleeping mat' became a proverb in Athens to describe anything of truly wretched quality.

His look was as a weatherbeaten campaigner was deceptive, he had stormed cities, won allies, enriched the public treasury, and even beaten fifty enemy triremes with an Athenian fleet of only thirty. His genius lay in his quick improvisation on unexpected themes, and in his conviction that every situation, no matter how discouraging, offered a chance for victory. That chance had to be discovered and exploited through cunning and the use of his mind (in Greek metis). Calling him intelligent might be painting him with too broad a brush, streets smarts would be better, he had the ability to understand military situations and make brash bold counter measurments against them. He once tricked a city into opening its gates. On that occasion he borrowed techniques from the playwrighters of Athens, including disguises and a dramatic messenger's speech that he wrote and recited himself in order to fool the enemy. In the case of the sea battle of fifty against thirty, he used a standard cavalry formation to hide the true numbers of his ships, thus luring the foolish enemy into undertaking a hasty and disordered charge. For Phormio the mind was his most important tool during battles.

His career fell between two supreme challenges to Athenian liberty, the Persian invasion and the Peloponnesian War, Phormio had been too young to fight against Xerxes and would soon be too old to participate further in the war against the Spartans. His gifts had been squandered while he played minor roles in distant campaigns, and now, when Athens most desperately needed able commanders, it seemed his disgrace would keep him from coming to his city's aid until it was too late.

Name: Phormio
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Father: Asopius
Native City: Athens
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