The PELOPONNESIAN WAR (431–404 BC) was an ancient Greek war fought
Delian League led by Athens against the Peloponnesian League
Sparta . Historians have traditionally divided the war into
three phases. In the first phase, the Archidamian War,
repeated invasions of
Greek warfare , meanwhile, originally a limited and formalized form
of conflict, was transformed into an all-out struggle between
city-states , complete with atrocities on a large scale. Shattering
religious and cultural taboos, devastating vast swathes of
countryside, and destroying whole cities, the
* 1 Prelude
* 1.1 Breakdown of the peace
* 5 The Second War
* 5.1 Athens recovers
* 6 Lysander triumphs, Athens surrenders * 7 Aftermath * 8 References
* 9 Further reading
* 9.1 Classical authors * 9.2 Modern authors
* 10 External links
As the preeminent Athenian historian,
Thucydides , wrote in his
History of the Peloponnesian War
Friction between Athens and Peloponnesian states, including Sparta, began early in the Pentecontaetia; in the wake of the departure of the Persians from Greece, Sparta attempted to prevent the reconstruction of the walls of Athens (without the walls, Athens would have been defenseless against a land attack and subject to Spartan control), but was rebuffed. According to Thucydides, although the Spartans took no action at this time, they "secretly felt aggrieved". Conflict between the states flared up again in 465 BC, when a helot revolt broke out in Sparta. The Spartans summoned forces from all of their allies, including Athens, to help them suppress the revolt. Athens sent out a sizable contingent (4,000 hoplites ), but upon its arrival, this force was dismissed by the Spartans, while those of all the other allies were permitted to remain. According to Thucydides, the Spartans acted in this way out of fear that the Athenians would switch sides and support the helots; the offended Athenians repudiated their alliance with Sparta. When the rebellious helots were finally forced to surrender and permitted to evacuate the country, the Athenians settled them at the strategic city of Naupactus on the Corinthian Gulf .
In 459 BC, Athens took advantage of a war between its neighbors
BREAKDOWN OF THE PEACE
The Delian League in 431 BC
Thirty Years' Peace was first tested in 440 BC, when Athens'
Samos rebelled from its alliance with Athens. The rebels
quickly secured the support of a Persian satrap , and Athens found
itself facing the prospect of revolts throughout the empire. The
Spartans, whose intervention would have been the trigger for a massive
war to determine the fate of the empire, called a congress of their
allies to discuss the possibility of war with Athens. Sparta's
The more immediate events that led to war involved Athens and
Corinth. After suffering a defeat at the hands of their colony of
Corcyra , a sea power that was not allied to either
Sparta or Athens,
Following this, Athens instructed Potidaea (Chalcidice peninsula), a tributary ally of Athens but a colony of Corinth, to tear down its walls, send hostages to Athens, dismiss the Corinthian magistrates from office, and refuse the magistrates that the city would send in the future. The Corinthians, outraged by these actions, encouraged Potidaea to revolt and assured them that they would ally with them should they revolt from Athens. Meanwhile, the Corinthians were unofficially aiding Potidaea by sneaking contingents of men into the besieged city to help defend it. This was a direct violation of the Thirty Years' Peace, which had (among other things) stipulated that the Delian League and the Peloponnesian League would respect each other's autonomy and internal affairs.
A further source of provocation was an Athenian decree, issued in 433/2 BC, imposing stringent trade sanctions on Megarian citizens (once more a Spartan ally after the conclusion of the First Peloponnesian War). It was alleged that the Megarians had desecrated the _ Hiera Orgas _. These sanctions, known as the Megarian decree , were largely ignored by Thucydides , but some modern economic historians have noted that forbidding Megara to trade with the prosperous Athenian empire would have been disastrous for the Megarans, and have accordingly considered the decree to be a contributing factor in bringing about the war. Historians that attribute responsibility for the war to Athens cite this event as the main cause for blame.
At the request of the Corinthians, the Spartans summoned members of the Peloponnesian League to Sparta in 432 BC, especially those who had grievances with Athens to make their complaints to the Spartan assembly. This debate was attended by members of the league and an uninvited delegation from Athens, which also asked to speak, and became the scene of a debate between the Athenians and the Corinthians. Thucydides reports that the Corinthians condemned Sparta's inactivity up to that point, warning the Spartans that if they continued to remain passive while the Athenians were energetically active, they would soon find themselves outflanked and without allies. The Athenians, in response, reminded the Spartans of their record of military success and opposition to Persia, and warned them of the dangers of confronting such a powerful state, ultimately encouraging Sparta to seek arbitration as provided by the Thirty Years' Peace. Undeterred, a majority of the Spartan assembly voted to declare that the Athenians had broken the peace, essentially declaring war.
THE "ARCHIDAMIAN WAR"
The walls surrounding Athens
Sparta and its allies, with the exception of Corinth, were almost exclusively land-based powers, able to summon large land armies which were very nearly unbeatable (thanks to the legendary Spartan forces ). The Athenian Empire, although based in the peninsula of Attica, spread out across the islands of the Aegean Sea; Athens drew its immense wealth from tribute paid from these islands. Athens maintained its empire through naval power. Thus, the two powers were relatively unable to fight decisive battles.
The Spartan strategy during the first war, known as the Archidamian
War (431–421 BC) after Sparta's king
Archidamus II , was to invade
the land surrounding Athens. While this invasion deprived Athenians of
the productive land around their city, Athens itself was able to
maintain access to the sea, and did not suffer much. Many of the
The Spartans also occupied
The Athenian strategy was initially guided by the _strategos ,_ or
Pericles , who advised the Athenians to avoid open battle
with the far more numerous and better trained Spartan hoplites,
relying instead on the fleet. The Athenian fleet, the most dominant in
Greece, went on the offensive, winning a victory at
Naupactus . In 430
BC an outbreak of a plague hit Athens. The plague ravaged the densely
packed city, and in the long run, was a significant cause of its final
defeat. The plague wiped out over 30,000 citizens, sailors and
Pericles and his sons. Roughly one-third to
two-thirds of the Athenian population died. Athenian manpower was
correspondingly drastically reduced and even foreign mercenaries
refused to hire themselves out to a city riddled with plague. The fear
of plague was so widespread that the Spartan invasion of
After the death of Pericles, the Athenians turned somewhat against
his conservative, defensive strategy and to the more aggressive
strategy of bringing the war to
Sparta and its allies. Rising to
particular importance in Athenian democracy at this time was
Cleon , a
leader of the hawkish elements of the Athenian democracy. Led
militarily by a clever new general
Demosthenes (not to be confused
with the later Athenian orator
Demosthenes ), the Athenians managed
some successes as they continued their naval raids on the Peloponnese.
Athens stretched their military activities into
After these battles, the Spartan general
Brasidas raised an army of
allies and helots and marched the length of Greece to the Athenian
PEACE OF NICIAS
Main article: Peace of
With the death of
Brasidas , zealous war hawks for both
nations, the Peace of
The Battle of Mantinea was the largest land battle fought within Greece during the Peloponnesian War. The Lacedaemonians, with their neighbors the Tegeans, faced the combined armies of Argos, Athens, Mantinea, and Arcadia . In the battle, the allied coalition scored early successes, but failed to capitalize on them, which allowed the Spartan elite forces to defeat the forces opposite them. The result was a complete victory for the Spartans, which rescued their city from the brink of strategic defeat. The democratic alliance was broken up, and most of its members were reincorporated into the Peloponnesian League. With its victory at Mantinea, Sparta pulled itself back from the brink of utter defeat, and re-established its hegemony throughout the Peloponnese.
In the 17th year of the war, word came to Athens that one of their
distant allies in
The Athenians did not act solely from altruism: rallied on by
Alcibiades, the leader of the expedition, they held visions of
conquering all of Sicily. Syracuse, the principal city of Sicily, was
not much smaller than Athens, and conquering all of
The Athenian force consisted of over 100 ships and some 5,000
infantry and light-armored troops. Cavalry was limited to about 30
horses, which proved to be no match for the large and highly trained
Syracusan cavalry. Upon landing in Sicily, several cities immediately
joined the Athenian cause. Instead of attacking at once, Nicias
procrastinated and the campaigning season of 415 BC ended with
Syracuse scarcely damaged. With winter approaching, the Athenians were
then forced to withdraw into their quarters, and they spent the winter
gathering allies and preparing to destroy Syracuse. The delay allowed
the Syracusans to send for help from Sparta, who sent their general
THE SECOND WAR
The Lacedaemonians were not content with simply sending aid to Sicily; they also resolved to take the war to the Athenians. On the advice of Alcibiades, they fortified Decelea , near Athens, and prevented the Athenians from making use of their land year round. The fortification of Decelea prevented the shipment of supplies overland to Athens, and forced all supplies to be brought in by sea at increased expense. Perhaps worst of all, the nearby silver mines were totally disrupted, with as many as 20,000 Athenian slaves freed by the Spartan hoplites at Decelea. With the treasury and emergency reserve fund of 1,000 talents dwindling away, the Athenians were forced to demand even more tribute from her subject allies, further increasing tensions and the threat of further rebellion within the Empire.
The Corinthians, the Spartans, and others in the Peloponnesian League sent more reinforcements to Syracuse, in the hopes of driving off the Athenians; but instead of withdrawing, the Athenians sent another hundred ships and another 5,000 troops to Sicily. Under Gylippus, the Syracusans and their allies were able to decisively defeat the Athenians on land; and Gylippus encouraged the Syracusans to build a navy, which was able to defeat the Athenian fleet when they attempted to withdraw. The Athenian army, attempting to withdraw overland to other, more friendly Sicilian cities, was divided and defeated; the entire Athenian fleet was destroyed, and virtually the entire Athenian army was sold off into slavery.
Following the defeat of the Athenians in Sicily, it was widely
believed that the end of the
The key actions of each phase
Following the destruction of the Sicilian Expedition, Lacedaemon encouraged the revolt of Athens's tributary allies, and indeed, much of Ionia rose in revolt against Athens. The Syracusans sent their fleet to the Peloponnesians, and the Persians decided to support the Spartans with money and ships. Revolt and faction threatened in Athens itself.
The Athenians managed to survive for several reasons. First, their
foes were lacking in initiative.
At the start of the war, the Athenians had prudently put aside some money and 100 ships that were to be used only as a last resort.
These ships were then released, and served as the core of the Athenians' fleet throughout the rest of the war. An oligarchical revolution occurred in Athens, in which a group of 400 seized power. A peace with Sparta might have been possible, but the Athenian fleet, now based on the island of Samos , refused to accept the change. In 411 BC this fleet engaged the Spartans at the Battle of Syme . The fleet appointed Alcibiades their leader, and continued the war in Athens's name. Their opposition led to the reinstitution of a democratic government in Athens within two years.
Alcibiades, while condemned as a traitor, still carried weight in Athens. He prevented the Athenian fleet from attacking Athens; instead, he helped restore democracy by more subtle pressure. He also persuaded the Athenian fleet to attack the Spartans at the battle of Cyzicus in 410. In the battle, the Athenians obliterated the Spartan fleet, and succeeded in re-establishing the financial basis of the Athenian Empire.
Between 410 and 406, Athens won a continuous string of victories, and eventually recovered large portions of its empire. All of this was due, in no small part, to Alcibiades.
LYSANDER TRIUMPHS, ATHENS SURRENDERS
Faction triumphed in Athens following a minor Spartan victory by their skillful general Lysander at the naval battle of Notium in 406 BC. Alcibiades was not re-elected general by the Athenians and he exiled himself from the city. He would never again lead Athenians in battle. Athens was then victorious at the naval battle of Arginusae . The Spartan fleet under Callicratidas lost 70 ships and the Athenians lost 25 ships. But, due to bad weather, the Athenians were unable to rescue their stranded crews or to finish off the Spartan fleet. Despite their victory, these failures caused outrage in Athens and led to a controversial trial . The trial resulted in the execution of six of Athens’s top naval commanders. Athens’s naval supremacy would now be challenged without several of its most able military leaders and a demoralized navy.
Unlike some of his predecessors the new Spartan general, Lysander,
was not a member of the Spartan royal families and was also formidable
in naval strategy; he was an artful diplomat, who had even cultivated
good personal relationships with the Persian prince Cyrus , the son of
Darius II . Seizing its opportunity, the Spartan fleet sailed at once
Hellespont , the source of Athens' grain . Threatened with
starvation, the Athenian fleet had no choice but to follow. Through
Lysander totally defeated the Athenian fleet, in 405
BC, at the
Battle of Aegospotami , destroying 168 ships and capturing
some three or four thousand Athenian sailors. Only 12 Athenian ships
escaped, and several of these sailed to
Facing starvation and disease from the prolonged siege, Athens
surrendered in 404 BC, and its allies soon surrendered as well. The
Samos , loyal to the bitter last, held on slightly
longer, and were allowed to flee with their lives. The surrender
stripped Athens of its walls, its fleet, and all of its overseas
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For a short period of time, Athens was ruled by the "Thirty Tyrants ", and democracy was suspended. This was a reactionary regime set up by Sparta. In 403 BC, the oligarchs were overthrown and a democracy was restored by Thrasybulus .
Although the power of Athens was broken, it made something of a recovery as a result of the Corinthian War and continued to play an active role in Greek politics. Sparta was later humbled by Thebes at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, but the rivalry between Athens and Sparta was brought to an end a few decades later when Philip II of Macedon conquered all of Greece except Sparta.
* ^ Kagan, _The Peloponnesian War_, 488. * ^ Fine, _The Ancient Greeks_, 528–33. * ^ Kagan, _The Peloponnesian War_, Introduction xxiii–xxiv. * ^ Thucydides, _History of the Peloponnesian War_ 1.23 * ^ Fine, _The Ancient Greeks_, 371 * ^ Kagan, _The Peloponnesian War_, 8 * ^ Thucydides, _The Peloponnesian War_ 1.89–93 * ^ Thucydides, _The Peloponnesian War_ 1.92.1 * ^ Thucydides, _The Peloponnesian War_ 1.102 * ^ Thucydides, _The Peloponnesian War_ 1.103 * ^ Kagan, _The Peloponnesian War_, 16–18 * ^ In the Hellenic calendar , years ended at midsummer; as a result, some events cannot be dated to a specific year of the modern calendar. * ^ Kagan, _The Peloponnesian War_, 23–24 * ^ Thucydides, Book I, 49–50 * ^ Thucydides, _History of the Peloponnesian War_ 1.56 * ^ Fine, _The Ancient Greeks_, 454–56 * ^ Buckley _Aspects of Greek History_, 319–22 * ^ Thucydides, _The Peloponnesian War_ 1.67–71 * ^ Thucydides, _The Peloponnesian War_ 1.73–75 * ^ Kagan, _The Peloponnesian War_, 45. * ^ Xenophon, _Hellenica_, 2.2.20,404/3
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