About this time an earthquake brought great misfortunes upon Greece. The whole country shook and swayed, and the effects of the earthquake were so disastrous at Sparta that all the houses and temples were destroyed.
Many of the inhabitants were crushed under the falling stones and timbers, and there were only five houses left standing. The Spartans were in despair; and the Helots, or slaves, who had long been waiting for an opportunity to free themselves, fancied that the right time had come.
They quickly assembled, and decided to kill the Spartans while they were groping about among the ruined dwellings for the remains of their relatives and friends.
The plan would have succeeded had not the king, Archidamus, found it out. Without a moment’s delay, he rallied all the ablebodied men, and sent a swift messenger to Athens for aid.
True to their military training, the Spartans dropped everything when the summons reached them; and the Helots came marching along, only to find their former masters drawn up in battle array, and as calm as if no misfortune had happened.
This unexpected resistance so frightened the Helots, that they hastily withdrew into Messenia. Here they easily persuaded the Messenians to join forces with them and declare war against the Spartans.
In the mean while the swift runner sent by Archidamus had reached Athens, and told about the destruction of the town and the perilous situation of the people. He ended by imploring the Athenians to send immediate aid, lest all the Spartans should perish.
Cimon, who was generous and kindhearted, immediately cried out that the Athenians could not refuse to help their unhappy neighbors; but Pericles, who, like most of his fellow-citizens, hated the Spartans, advised all his friends to stay quietly at home.
Much discussion took place over this advice. At last, however, Cimon prevailed, and an army was sent to help the Spartans. Owing to the hesitation of the Athenians, this army came late, and they fought with so little spirit that the Lacedaemonians indignantly said that they might just as well have remained at home.
This insult so enraged the Athenians that they went home; and when it became publicly known how the Spartans had treated their army, the people began to murmur against Cimon. In their anger, they forgot all the good he had done them, and, assembling in the market place, they ostracized him.