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His date of birth is unknown, but Plato asserts that he was distinctly older than Socrates, who was born around 470 BCE. In 427 BCE, Laches and Charoeades were sent to Sicily with a fleet of 20 ships in order to support Athenian allies against Syracuse. When Charoeades died in 426 BCE, Laches took over the supreme command of the fleet and forced the cities of Mylae and Messana to yield. However, due to the annual reappointment of generals, at the beginning of 425 BCE he was replaced by Pythodoros as supreme commander. The first Athenian expedition to Sicily ended badly. Upon Laches' return to Athens he was prosecuted by Cleon, but was acquitted of any wrongdoing. His trial was satirized by Aristophanes in his play The Wasps, which is the main source for its historicity.
In 423 BCE, Laches successfully moved for an armistice with Sparta in the Athenian Assembly. It only lasted a year, but after Cleon died in 422 BCE, Laches, together with Nicias, was able to negotiate the Peace of Nicias. In 418 BCE the peace broke down because of Athens’s support for Spartan rebels. Laches was again appointed general and was killed in the Athenian’s defeat at the Battle of Mantinea.
Others named Laches
Laches was a common name at Athens; the archon of 400/399 BCE, the year of Socrates' execution, was another Laches. Johannes Kirchner's Prosopographia Attica lists eighteen men of the name of Laches, including the general's son, grandson, and great-grandson, who appear in Demosthenes' speech against Timocrates and in his letters. There was also another Laches, son of Demochares, who was Demosthenes' cousin and brother-in-law, but he was of another deme and family. There was also a captain at the battle of Coronea (394 BCE); and an Athenian commander who fought (and lost to) Epaminondas in 364 BCE.
- Demosthenes 24