Peloponnesian War - Who Won, History and Definition

Peloponnesian War - Who Won, History and Definition

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

The two most powerful city-states in ancient Greece, Athens and Sparta, went to war with each other from 431 to 405 B.C. The Peloponnesian War marked a significant power shift in ancient Greece, favoring Sparta, and also ushered in a period of regional decline that signaled the end of what is considered the Golden Age of Ancient Greece.

The Cause of the Peloponnesian War

The formation of the Delian League, or Athenian League, in 478 B.C. united several Greek city-states in a military alliance under Athens, ostensibly to guard against revenge attacks from the Persian Empire. In reality, the league also granted increased power and prestige to Athens. The Spartans, meanwhile, were part of the Peloponnesian League (550 BC- 366 B.C.) of city-states. It was only a matter of time before the two powerful leagues collided.

The Great Peloponnesian War, also called the First Peloponnesian War, was the first major scuffle between them. It became a 15-year conflict between Athens and Sparta and their allies. Peace was decreed by the signing of the Thirty Years Treaty in 445 B.C., effective until 437 B.C., when the Peloponnesian War began.

A civil war in the obscure country of Epidamnus led to the involvement of Sparta’s ally, Corinth. When Sparta was brought in to be part of conflict negotiations, Corinth’s longtime enemy Corcyra targeted Epidamnus and seized it in a naval battle. Corinth retreated to rebuild its fleet and plan retaliation.

The War Begins

In 433 B.C. the tension continued to build and Corcyra officially sought Athens’ support by arguing that conflict with Sparta was inevitable and Athens required an alliance with Corcyra to defend itself. The Athenian government debated the suggestion, but its leader Pericles suggested a defensive alliance with Corcya, sending a small number of ships to protect it against Corinthian forces.

All forces met at the Battle of Sybota, in which Corinth, with no support from Sparta, attacked and then retreated at the sight of Athenian ships. Athens, convinced it was about to enter war with Corinth, strengthened its military hold on its various territories in the region to prepare.

Sparta was hesitant to enter the war directly, but was eventually convinced by Corinth to do so, though this was not a popular decision among Sparta’s other allies. A year passed before Sparta took aggressive action. During that time, Sparta sent three delegations to Athens to avoid war, offering proposals that could be viewed as a betrayal of Corinth. These efforts conflicted with Pericles’ agenda and the Athenians rejected peace.

Athens vs. Sparta

The first 10 years of the conflict are known as “Archidamian War,” after Spartan King Archidamus. The Spartan slogan for that period was “Freedom for the Greeks,” and its stated aim was to liberate the states under Athenian rule by destroying its defenses and dismantling its structure.

As Spartan forces surrounded Athens in a siege, decimating the countryside and farmland, Pericles declined to engage against them near the city’s walls, instead leading naval campaigns elsewhere. He returned to Athens in 430 B.C. as a plague ravaged the city, killing nearly two-thirds of the population. Pericles, following a political uprising that led to his censure, succumbed to the plague in 429 B.C., fracturing the Athenian leadership. Despite this major setback for the Athenians, the Spartans saw only mixed success in their war efforts, and some major losses in western Greece and at sea.

The Peace of Nicias

In 423 B.C., both sides signed a treaty known as the Peace of Nicias, named for the Athenian general who engineered it. Meant to last 50 years, it barely survived eight, undermined by conflict and rebellion brought on by various allies.

Second Phase of War

War reignited decisively around 415 B.C. when Athens received a call to help allies in Sicily against invaders from Syracuse, where an Athenian official defected to Sparta, convincing them that Athens was planning to conquer Italy. Sparta sided with Syracuse and defeated the Athenians in a major sea battle.

Who Won the Peloponnesian War?

Athens did not crumble as expected, winning a string of naval victories against Sparta, which sought monetary and weapons support from the Persian Empire. Under the Spartan general Lysander, the war raged for another decade. By in 405 B.C. Lysander decimated the Athenian fleet in battle and then held Athens under siege, forcing it to surrender to Sparta in 404 B.C.

Impact of the Peloponnesian War

The Peloponnesian War marked the end of the Golden Age of Greece, a change in styles of warfare, and the fall of Athens, once the strongest city-state in Greece. The balance in power in Greece was shifted when Athens was absorbed into the Spartan Empire. It continued to exist under a series of tyrants and then a democracy. Athens lost its dominance in the region to Sparta until both were conquered less than a century later and made part of the kingdom of Macedon.


The Peloponnesian War by Nigel Bagnall, published by St Martins Press, 2004.

The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan, published by Viking Penguin, 2003.

Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times by Thomas R. Martin, published by Yale University Press, 1996.

Ancient Greece

The Peloponnesian War was fought between the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta. It lasted from 431 BC to 404 BC. Athens ended up losing the war, bringing an end to the golden age of Ancient Greece.

The word Peloponnesian comes from the name of the peninsula in southern Greece called the Peloponnese. This peninsula was home to many of the great Greek city-states including Sparta, Argos, Corinth, and Messene.

After the Persian War, Athens and Sparta had agreed to a Thirty Year Peace. They didn't want to fight each other while they were trying to recover from the Persian War. During this time, Athens became powerful and wealthy and the Athenian empire grew under the leadership of Pericles.

Map of the Peloponnesian War
The Alliances of the Peloponnesian War from the US Army
Click map to see larger version

The first Peloponnesian War lasted for 10 years. During this time the Spartans dominated the land and the Athenians dominated the sea. Athens built long walls all the way from the city to its seaport Piraeus. This enabled them to stay inside the city and still have access to trade and supplies from their ships.

Although the Spartans never breached the walls of Athens during the first war, many people died inside the city due to plague. This included the great leader and general of Athens, Pericles.

After ten years of war, in 421 BC Athens and Sparta agreed to a truce. It was called the Peace of Nicias, named after the general of the Athenian army.

Athens Attacks Sicily

In 415 BC, Athens decided to help one of their allies on the island of Sicily. They sent a large force there to attack the city of Syracuse. Athens lost the battle horribly and Sparta decided to retaliate starting the Second Peloponnesian War.

The Spartans began to gather allies to conquer Athens. They even enlisted the help of the Persians who lent them money to build a fleet of warships. Athens, however recovered and won a series of battles between 410 and 406 BC.

In 405 BC the Spartan general Lysander defeated the Athenian fleet in battle. With the fleet defeated, the people in the city of Athens began to starve. They did not have the army to take on the Spartans on land. In 404 BC the city of Athens surrendered to the Spartans.

The city-states of Corinth and Thebes wanted the city of Athens destroyed and the people enslaved. However, Sparta disagreed. They made the city tear down its walls, but refused to destroy the city or enslave its people.

Athens and the Delian League

Many historical accounts make brief mention of the earlier Persian Wars, which undervalues their importance as a contributing factor to the later war. Because of the Persian Wars, Athens had to be rebuilt and it came to dominate its group of allies politically and economically.

The Athenian empire started with the Delian League, which had been formed to allow Athens to take the lead in the war against Persia, and wound up providing Athens with access to what was supposed to be a communal treasury. Athens used these communal funds to build up its navy and, with it, its importance and power.

What if Athens had won the Peloponnesian War?

When the war started The Delian League was already mutating into an Athenian Empire. An Athenian victory would result in a Greek great power several decades before the rise of Macedonia, and a Great Power with a democratic government.

Some possible butterflies:

1. No conquest of Persia. The Athenian Empire would probably grab some more territory in Asia Minor for it's Ionian vassals, though, as well as help any Anatolian satraps that revolt. Athens would quite likely help Egypt successfully revolt from Persia, too.

2. This will certainly affect the Italian Greeks, but I'm not sure how, exactly.

3. with no Persian Conquest there is no Bactrian Greek kingdom messing around in India. There will be no King Menander to ask questions from Buddhist monks.

Rex Romanum


However, the question is would the Delian League be able to stop Macedonian invasion?

If not, then the Macedonian conquest of Persia would still happen.

Lysandros Aikiedes

Rex Romanum




Rex Romanum




many of the city-states were emphatically NOT united in opinion at this time period. The populist, pro-democratic factions in the various cities were emphatically pro-Athens, while the aristocratic factions were just as strongly anti-Athens. During the war many cities erupted into internal class war, with the Populists calling in the Athenians and the Aristocrats calling in the Spartans.

Be aware that Thucydides, our main source on the time period, is an aristocrat himself and has a noticeable bias against Athens' democratic government. That is not to say Athens was not engaging in imperialistic arm-twisting, but one must keep aware of anti-populist spin by ancient sources demonizing Athens

Rex Romanum




One thing that'd help Athens to survive better longterm and win the war in the first place would be to get it some governmental checks and balances, somehow.

Anaxagoras' right about Macedon not being a threat, I think. We're all taught in school about Alex the Great. But he just took excellent advantage of what his genius daddy, Philip II, gave him - the unification of Greece to fight Persia. Phil II DID very much take advantage of Greek disunity. I also think Philip II, or at least his evil-genius-inspiring nasty youth, would probably be butterflied away. If there were a Phil II, IMHO, he'd conquer the balkans using his Greek miltech advantage rather than go against the highest-tech and richest power that a unified Greece'd be.

I recommend reading Phil II of Macedon's wiki page. It's very interesting reading in its own right, and you'll come to understand my answer about Macedon better.


Iirc, wasn't there apowerful Athenian ally up in those parts - a city called Olynthus?

Istr that for a time it controlled a lot of what later became Macedonian territory - including Pella, the capital in Philip's day. It was an ally of Athens so might have grown even bigger had Sparta not butted in and cut it down to size.

Toynbee did a what-if about it in his Study of History.

Rex Romanum

Basileus Giorgios

Implausible, I'm afraid. Athens lacks the ability to impose herself fully upon Sicily and Magna Graecia, where, in any case, there are various Greek city states, notably Taras and Syracuse who are just as powerful and rich as a post war Athens would be. She can happily scrap with these states for influence in Magna Graecia, but for her to impose full Delian-league status on them is rather unlikely.

Macedon and Epirus as client states is very doable indeed, and is indeed desirable for Athens. If she can then bring the Macedonian heavy cavalry into her own forces and combine it with a traditional hoplite army, Athenian armed forces will be dangerous.

Rome isn't strong enough in c. 400BC to be much of a threat to Athens: remember she was still weak enough to be sacked by a rough and ready group of Gallic raiders in 390BC. Without the shame of that experience (probably butterflied by a POD thirty years or so earlier), Rome's development changes enormously, and there's a fair chance she could become another mercantial republic like Carthage rather than a fiercely martial city state.

War with Persia is likely to happen at some stage, but communications in this era aren't good enough for the Persians to be able to form and co-ordinate an alliance with Carthage, let alone the puny city state that Rome is at this point. The Achaemenid Empire is in any case dead on its feet for much of the fourth century BC, witness how easily it fell apart to Alexander, who did in a decade with a modestly sized army what it took hundreds of thousands of invaders nearly a century to do to the Western Roman Empire. The Achaemenids need to be "reforged" by a man of real ability, as they were under Darius, if they want any hope of long term survival.

The Peloponnesian War

It’s impossible to know if Athens and Sparta truly believed their peace agreement would last the full thirty years it was supposed to. But that the peace came under intense pressure in 440 BCE, just six years after the treaty was signed, helps show just how fragile things were.

Conflict Resumes Between Athens and Sparta

This near breakdown in cooperation took place when Samos, a powerful ally of Athens at the time, chose to revolt against the Delian League. The Spartans saw this as a major opportunity to perhaps once and for all put an end to Athenian power in the region, and they called a congress of their allies in the Peloponnesian Alliance to determine if the time had indeed come to resume conflict against the Athenians. However, Corinth, one of the few city-states in the Peloponnesian League that could stand up to Sparta’s power, was adamantly opposed to this move, and so the notion of war was tabled for some time.

The Corcyrean Conflict

Just seven years later, in 433 BCE, another major event took place that once again put considerable strain on the peace that Athens and Sparta had agreed to maintain. In short, Corcyra, another Greek city-state which was located in northern Greece, picked a fight with Corinth over a colony located in what is now modern-day Albania.

Ruins of the Temple of Apollo in Corinth. Ancient Corinth was one of the largest and most important cities of Ancient Greece, with a population of 90,000 in 400 BC.

Berthold Werner [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

This colony, which had been ruled by a Corcyrean oligarchy since its inception, had become wealthy and was seeking to install a democracy. The wealthy merchants hoping to overthrow the oligarchy appealed to Corinth for help, and they got it. But then the Corcyraeans asked Athens to step in, which they did. However, knowing that involving itself with one of Sparta’s closest allies could mean trouble between Athens and Sparta, the Athenians sent a fleet that was instructed to only engage in defensive maneuvers. But when they got to the battle, they ended up fighting, which only escalated things further.

This engagement became known as the Battle of Sybota, and it put the Thirty Years’ Peace to its biggest test yet. Then, when Athens decided to punish those who had offered support to Corinth, war started to become even more imminent.

The Peace is Broken

Seeing that Athens was still set on expanding its power and influence in Greece, the Corinthians requested that the Spartans call together the various members of the Peloponnesian League to discuss the matter. The Athenians, however, showed up uninvited to this congress, and a great debate, recorded by Thucydides, took place. At this meeting of the various heads of state in the Greek world, the Corinthians shamed Sparta for standing on the sidelines while Athens continued to try and bring free Greek city-states under its control, and it warned that Sparta would be left without any allies if it continued its inaction.

The Athenians used their time on the floor to warn the Peloponnesian alliance what could happen if war resumed. They reminded everyone of how the Athenians were the principle reason the Greeks managed to stop the great Persian armies of Xerxes, a claim that is debatable at best but essentially just false. On this premise, Athens argued that Sparta should seek out a resolution to the conflict through arbitration, a right it had based on the terms of the Thirty Years’ Peace.

However, the Spartans, along with the rest of the Peloponnesian League, agreed the Athenians had already broken the peace and that war was once again necessary. In Athens, politicians would claim the Spartans had refused to arbitrate, which would have positioned Sparta as the aggressor and made the war more popular. However, most historians agree this was merely propaganda designed to win support for a war Athenian leadership wanted in its quest to expand its power.

The Peloponnesian War Begins

At the end of this conference held among the major Greek city-states, it was clear that war between Athens and Sparta was going to happen, and just one year later, in 431 BCE, fighting between the two Greek powers resumed.

The scene was the city of Plataea, famous for the Battle of Plataea in which the Greeks won a decisive victory over the Persians. However, this time, there would be no major battle. Instead, a sneak attack by the citizens of Plataea would set in motion arguably the greatest war of Greek history.

In short, an envoy of 300 Thebans went to Plataea to help a group of elites overthrow the leadership in Plataea. They were granted access to the city, but once inside, a group of Plataean citizens rose up and killed nearly the entire envoy. This set off a rebellion inside the city of Plataea, and the Thebans, along with their allies the Spartans, sent troops to support those who had been trying to seize power in the first place. The Athenians supported the government in power, and this meant the Athenians and the Spartans were fighting once again. This event, while somewhat random, help set into motion 27 years of conflict that we now understand as the Peloponnesian War.

Part 1: The Archidamian War

Because The Peloponnesian War was such a long conflict, most historians break it up into three parts, with the first being called the Archidamian War. The name comes from the Spartan king at the time, Archidamus II. The Archidamian War did not start without serious disturbances in the Greek balance of power. This initial chapter lasted for ten years, and its events help show just how difficult it was for either side to gain an advantage of the other. More specifically, the impasse between the two sides was largely the result of Sparta having a strong ground force but weak navy and Athens having a powerful navy but less effective ground force. Other things, such as restrictions on how long Spartan soldiers could be away at war, also contributed to the lack of a decisive result from this initial part of the Peloponnesian war.

As mentioned, the Archidamian war officially broke out after the Plataea sneak attack in 431 BCE, and the city remained under siege by the Spartans. The Athenians committed a small defense force, and it proved to be rather effective, as Spartan soldiers were not able to break through until 427 BCE. When they did, they burned the city to the ground and killed the surviving citizens. This gave Sparta an initial edge in the Peloponnesian war, but Athens hadn’t committed anywhere near enough troops for this defeat to have a significant effect on the overall conflict.

The Athenian Defense Strategy

Recognizing the supremacy of Sparta’s infantry, the Athenians, under the leadership of Pericles, decided it was in their best interest to take a defensive strategy. They would use their naval supremacy to attack strategic ports along the Peloponnese while relying on the high city-walls of Athens to keep the Spartans out.

However, this strategy left much of Attica, the peninsula on which Athens is located, completely exposed. As a result, Athens opened its city walls to all residents of Attica, which caused the population of Athens to swell considerably during the early stages of the Peloponnesian War.

This strategy ended up backfiring slightly as a plague broke out in Athens in 430 BCE that devastated the city. It’s believed somewhere around one-third to two-thirds of the Athenian population died during three years of plague. The plague also claimed the life of Pericles, and this passive, defensive strategy died with him, which opened the door to a wave of Athenian aggression on the Peloponnese.

The Spartan Strategy

Because the Athenians had left Attica almost entirely undefended, and also because the Spartans knew they had a significant advantage in land battles, the Spartan strategy was to raid the land surrounding Athens so as to cut off the food supply to the city. This worked in the sense that the Spartans burned considerable swaths of territory around Athens, but they never dealt a decisive blow because Spartan tradition required soldiers, mainly the helot soldiers, to return home for the harvest each year. This prevented Spartan forces from getting deep enough into Attica to threaten Athens. Furthermore, because of the Athens’ extensive trade network with the many city-states scattered around the Aegean, Sparta was never able to starve its enemy in the way it had intended.

Athens Goes on the Attack

After Pericles died, Athenian leadership came under the control of a man named Cleon. As a member of political factions within Athens that most desired war and expansion, he almost immediately changed the defensive strategy Pericles had devised.

In Sparta, full citizens were forbidden from doing manual labor, and this meant that nearly all of Sparta’s food supply depended on the forced labor of these helots, many of whom were the subjects or descendants of cities on the Peloponnese conquered by Sparta. However, helot rebellions were frequent and they were a significant source of political instability within Sparta, which presented Athens with a prime opportunity to hit their enemy where it would hurt the most. Athens’ new offensive strategy was to attack Sparta at its weakest point: its dependence on helots. Before too long, Athens would be encouraging the helots to revolt so as to weaken Sparta and pressure them into surrendering.

Before this, though, Cleon wanted to remove the Spartan threat from other parts of Greece. He ran campaigns in Boeotia and Aetolia to drive back the Spartan forces stationed there, and he was able to have some success. Then, when the Spartans backed a revolt on the island of Lesbos, which at the time was a part of the Delian alliance/Athenian Empire, Athens responded ruthlessly, a move which actually lost Cleon a good deal of his popularity at the time. With these issues under his control, Cleon then moved to attack the Spartans on their home territory, a move which would prove to be rather significant not only in this part of the conflict but also in the entire Peloponnesian War.

The Battle of Pylos

Throughout the early years of the Peloponnesian war, Athenians, under the leadership of the naval commander Demosthenes, had been attacking strategic ports on the Peloponnesian coast. Due to the relative weakness of the Spartan navy, the Athenian fleet was met with little resistance as it raided smaller communities along the coast. However, as the Athenians made their way around the coast, helots frequently ran to meet the Athenians, as this would have meant freedom from their destitute existence.

Pylos, which is located on the southwestern coast of the Peloponnese, became an Athenian stronghold after the Athenians won a decisive battle there in 425 BCE. Once under Athenian control, helots began flocking to the coastal stronghold, putting further strain on the Spartan way of life. Furthermore, during this battle, the Athenians managed to capture 420 Spartan soldiers, largely because the Spartans got trapped on an island just outside Pylos’ harbor. To make things worse, 120 of these soldiers were Spartiates, elite Spartan soldiers who were both an important part of the Spartan military and society.

Bronze spartan shield-loot from the Battle of Pylos.

Museum of the Ancient Agora [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

As a result, Spartan leadership sent an envoy to Pylos to negotiate an armistice that would secure the release of these soldiers, and to show they were negotiating in good faith, this envoy surrendered the entire Spartan fleet at Pylos. However, these negotiations failed, and fighting resumed. Athens then won a decisive victory and the captured Spartan soldiers were taken back to Athens as prisoners of war.

Brasidas Marches to Amphipolis

The Athenian victory at Pylos gave them an important stronghold in the Peloponnese, and the Spartans knew they were in trouble. If they did not act quickly, the Athenians could send reinforcements and use Pylos as a base to run raids throughout the Peloponnese, as well as to house helots who decided to flee and defect to Athens. However, instead of retaliating at Pylos, the Spartans decided to copy the Athenians’ strategy and attack deep in their own territory where they might be least expecting it.

Under the command of the well-respected general Brasidas, the Spartans launched a large-scale attack in the northern Aegean. They were able to achieve considerable success, making it all the way to Amphipolis, one of Athen’s more important allies in the Aegean. However, in addition to winning territory by force, Brasidas was also able to win the hearts of the people. Many had grown tired of Athens’ thirst for power and aggression, and Brasidas’ moderate approach allowed him to win support from large swaths of the population without having to launch a military campaign. Interestingly, at this point, Sparta had freed helots throughout the Peloponnese to both stop them from running to the Athenians and also to make it easier to build their armies.

After Brasidas’ campaign, Cleon attempted to summon a force to retake the territory Brasidas had won, but political support for the Peloponnesian war was waning, and the treasuries were running low. As a result, he was not able to start his campaign until 421 BCE, and when he arrived near Amphipolis, he was met with a Spartan force that was much larger than his, as well as a population that was not interested in returning to a life governed by Athens. Cleon was killed during this campaign, which led to a dramatic change in the course of events in the Peloponnesian War.

The silver ossuary and gold crown of General Brasidas from Amphipolis.

Rjdeadly [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

The Peace of Nicias

After Cleon died, he was replaced by a man named Nicias, and he rose to power on the idea that he would sue for peace with Sparta. The plague that struck the city at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war, combined with the fact that a decisive victory appeared nowhere in sight, created an appetite for peace in Athens. By this point, Sparta had been suing for peace for some time, and when Nicias approached Spartan leadership, he was able to negotiate an end to this part of the conflict.

The peace treaty, known as the Peace of Nicias, was meant to establish peace between Athens and Sparta for fifty years, and it was designed to restore things to the way they were before the Peloponnesian war broke out. Some territory changed hands, and many of the lands conquered by Brasidas were returned to Athens, although some were able to maintain a level of political autonomy. Furthermore, the Peace of Nicias treaty stated that each side needed to impose the terms on its allies so as to prevent conflicts that could restart fighting between Athens and Sparta. However, this peace treaty was signed in 421 BCE, just ten years after the start of the 27-year Peloponnesian War, meaning it would also fail and fighting would soon resume.

Part 2: The Interlude

This next period of the Peloponnesian War, which took place between 421 BCE and 413 BCE, is often referred to at The Interlude. During this chapter of the conflict, there was little direct fighting between Athens and Sparta, but tensions remained high, and it was clear almost immediately that the Peace of Nicias would not last.

Argos and Corinth Collude

The first conflict to arise during The Interlude actually came from within the Peloponnesian League. The terms of the Peace of Nicias stipulated that both Athens and Sparta were responsible for containing their allies so as to prevent further conflict. However, this did not sit well with some of the more powerful city-states that were not Athens or Sparta, the most significant being Corinth.

Located between Athens and Sparta on the Isthmus of Corinth, the Corinthians had a powerful fleet and a vibrant economy, which meant they were often able to challenge Sparta for control of the Peloponnesian League. But when Sparta was put in charge of reigning in the Corinthians, this was seen as an affront to their sovereignty, and they reacted by reaching out to one of Sparta’s biggest enemies outside of Attica, Argos.

View of Argos, seen from the ancient theater. Argos is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

Karin Helene Pagter Duparc [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

One of the few major cities located on the Peloponnese that was not part of the Peloponnesian League, Argos had a long-standing rivalry with Sparta, but during The Interlude they had been subjected to a non-aggression pact with Sparta. They were going through a process of armament, which Corinth supported as a way to prepare for war with Sparta without making an outright declaration.

Argos, seeing this turn of events as a chance to flex its muscles, reached out to Athens for support, which it got, along with the support of a few other smaller city-states. However, this move cost the Argives the support of the Corinthians, who were not willing to make such an affront to their longtime allies on the Peloponnese.

All of this jockeying led to a confrontation between Sparta and Argos at Mantineia, a city in Arcadia just to the north of Sparta. Seeing this alliance as a threat to their sovereignty, the Spartans amassed a rather large force, around 9,000 hoplites according to Thucydides, and this allowed them to win a decisive battle that brought an end to the threat posed by Argos. However, when Sparta saw Athenians standing alongside the Argives on the battlefield, it became clear that Athens was not likely to honor the terms of the Peace of Nicias, an indication that the Peloponnesian War was not yet over. Thus, the Peace of Nicias treaty was broken from the start and, after several more failures, was formally abandoned in 414 BC. Thus, the Peloponnesian War resumed in its second stage.

Athens Invades Melos

An important component of the Peloponnesian War is Athenian imperial expansion. Emboldened by their role as the leader of the Delian alliance, the Athenian assembly was keen to find ways to expand its sphere of influence, and Melos, a tiny island state in the southern Aegean, was a perfect target, and it’s likely the Athenians saw its resistance from their control as stain on their reputation. When Athens decided to move, the superiority of its navy meant Melos stood little chance of resisting. It fell to Athens without much of a fight.

The Spartan and Athenian alliances, and Melos marked in purple, as they were in 416 BCE.

Kurzon [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

This event didn’t have much significance in the Peloponnesian War if we understand the conflict simply as a fight between Athens and Sparta. However, it does show how, despite the Peace of Nicias, Athens was not going to stop trying to grow, and, perhaps more importantly, it showed just how closely Athenians linked their empire with democracy. The idea was that if they did not expand, someone else would, and this would put their precious democracy at risk. In short, it’s better to be the rulers than the ruled. This philosophy, which was present in Athens before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, was now running rampant, and it helped provide justification for the Athenian expedition into Sicily, which played an important role in restarting the conflict between Athens and Sparta and also perhaps dooming Athens to defeat.

The Invasion of Sicily

Desperate to expand, but knowing that doing so on the Greek mainland would almost certainly lead to war with the Spartans, Athens began looking further afield for territories it could place under its control. Specifically, it began to look westward towards Sicily, an island in modern-day Italy that was at the time heavily settled by ethnic Greeks.

The main city on Sicily at the time was Syracuse, and the Athenians hoped to gather support for their campaign against Syracuse from both the non-aligned Greeks on the island as well as the native Sicilians. The leader in Athens at the time, Alcibiades, managed to convince the Athenian assembly that there was already an extensive support system waiting for them in Sicily, and that sailing there would lead to certain victory. He was successful, and in 415 BCE, he sailed west to Sicily with 100 ships and thousands of men.

However, it turned out the support promised to Alcibiades was not as certain as he had imagined. The Athenians attempted to gather this support after landing on the island, but in the time it took for them to do this, the Syracusans were able to organize their defenses and call together their armies, leaving the Athenian prospects for victory rather slim.

Athens in Turmoil

At this point in the Peloponnesian war, it’s important to recognize the political instability occurring within Athens. Factions were wreaking havoc on democracy, and new groups rose to power with the idea of exacting exact revenge on their predecessors.

A great example of this occurred during the Sicilian campaign. In short, the Athenian assembly sent word to Sicily calling Alcibiades back to Athens to face trial for religious crimes he may or may not have committed. However, instead of returning home to certain death, he fled to Sparta and alerted the Spartans of the Athenians’ attack on Sparta. Upon hearing this news, Sparta, along with Corinth, sent ships to help the Syracusans defend their city, a move that all but restarted the Peloponnesian War.

The attempted invasion of Sicily was a complete disaster for Athens. Almost the entire contingency sent to invade the city was destroyed, and several of the main commanders of the Athenian military died while trying to retreat, leaving Athens in a rather weak position, one that the Spartan would be all too keen to exploit.

Part 3: The Ionian War

The last part of the Peloponnesian War started in 412 BCE, a year after Athens’ failed campaign to Sicily, and it lasted until 404 BCE. It is sometimes referred to as the Ionian War because much of the fighting took place in or around Ionia, but it has also been referred to as the Decelean War. This name comes from the city of Decelea, which Sparta invaded in 412 BCE. However, instead of burning the city, Spartan leadership chose to set up a base in Decelea so that it would be easier to run raids into Attica. This, plus the Spartan decision to not require soldiers to return home each year for the harvest, allowed the Spartans to keep the pressure on Athens as it ran campaigns throughout its territories.

Sparta Attacks the Aegean

The base at Decelea meant that Athens could no longer rely on the territories throughout Attica to supply it with the supplies it needed. This meant Athens had to increase its tribute demands on its allies throughout the Aegean, which strained its relationship with the many of the members of the Delian League/Athenian Empire.

To take advantage of this, Sparta began sending envoys to these cities encouraging them to rebel against Athens, which many of them did. Furthermore, Syracuse, grateful for the help they received in defending their city, supplied ships and troops to help Sparta.

However, while this strategy was sound in logic, it ended up not leading to a decisive Spartan victory. Many of the city-states that had promised support to Sparta were slow to provide troops, and this meant Athens still had the advantage at sea. In 411 BCE, for example, the Athenians were able to win the Battle of Cynossema, and this stalled the Spartans’ advances into the Aegean for some time.

Athens Strikes Back

In 411 BCE, the Athenian democracy fell to a group of oligarchs known as The Four Hundred. Seeing that there was little hope for victory over Sparta, this group began trying to sue for peace, but the Spartans ignored them. Then, The Four Hundred lost control of Athens, surrendering to a much larger group of oligarchs knowns as “the 5,000.” But in the midst of all this, Alcibiades, who had previously defected to Sparta during the Syracuse campaign, had been trying to earn his way back into the good graces of the Athenian elite. He did this by putting together a fleet near Samos, an island in the Aegean, and fighting the Spartans.

His first encounter with the enemy came in 410 BCE at Cyzicus, which resulted in an Athenian rout of the Spartan fleet. This force continued to sail around the northern Aegean, driving out the Spartans wherever they could, and when Alcibiades returned to Athens in 407 BCE, he was welcomed as a hero. But he still had many enemies, and after being sent to campaign in Asia, a plot was hatched to have him killed. When Alcibiades learned of this, he abandoned his army and retreated into exile in Thrace until he was found and killed in 403 BCE.

The Peloponnesian War Comes to an End

This brief period of military success brought on by Alcibiades gave the Athenians a glimmer of hope that they could defeat the Spartans, but this was really just an illusion. The Spartan’s had managed to destroy most of the land in Attica, forcing people to flee to Athens, and this meant Athens was entirely dependent on its maritime trade for food and other supplies. The Spartan king at the time time, Lysander, saw this weakness and decided to change the Spartan strategy to focus on intensifying the siege of Athens.

At this point, Athens was receiving almost all of its grains from the Hellespont, also known as the Dardanelles. As a result, in 405 BCE, Lysander summoned his fleet and set out for this important part of the Athenian Empire. Seeing this as a major threat, the Athenians had no choice but to pursue Lysander. They followed the Spartans into this narrow stretch of water, and then the Spartans turned around and attacked, routing the fleet and capturing thousands of soldiers.

This victory left Athens without access to important staple crops, and because the treasuries had all but been depleted due to nearly 100 years of war (against both Persia and Sparta), there was little hope of regaining this territory and winning the war. As a result, Athens had no choice but to surrender, and in 404 BCE, the Peloponnesian War officially came to an end.

In the wake of the failed peace negotiations, Demosthenes initially attempted to starve out the Spartans on Sphacteria, but was unable to blockade the island tightly enough. In Athens there was concern that the approach of winter would necessitate abandoning the blockade, unless the impasse was swiftly broken. The politician Cleon took out reinforcements from Athens and joined forces with Demosthenes, and the Athenians launched an assault on Sphacteria. Landing in great force on a weakly defended point, the Athenians swamped the beachfront defenses and moved inland, harassing the Spartans by using bows and spears, whenever they attempted to come to grips with the Athenian hoplites. The Spartans retreated to the northern end of the island and dug in behind their fortifications, but when the Messenian general Comon succeeded in bringing his troops through seemingly impassable terrain into their rear, the Spartans surrendered.

The capture of over 292 hoplites (120 of which were Spartans) by Athens radically shifted the balance of power in the war. Athens threatened to execute its prisoners if Sparta invaded Attica, and the annual invasions which had occurred since the war's declaration were thus halted. [1] Athens, meanwhile, with increased prestige and confidence, went on to pursue the war with more vigor and initiative for several years, returning to the negotiating table only after a string of defeats had eroded its position.

After the Battle of Pylos, which resulted in the isolation of over 400 Spartan soldiers on the island of Sphacteria, Sparta sued for peace, and, after arranging an armistice at Pylos by surrendering the ships of the Peloponnesian fleet as security, sent an embassy to Athens to negotiate a settlement. [2] These negotiations, however, proved fruitless, and with the news of their failure the armistice came to an end the Athenians, however, refused to return the Peloponnesian ships, alleging that assaults had been made against their fortifications during the truce. [3] Hostilities resumed immediately, with the Athenians guarding the island night and day against attempts at rescue or resupply.

Demosthenes, commanding the force at Pylos, initially planned to starve the Spartans out rather than attack them, but as time wore on it became clear that the Spartans would be able to hold out for longer than anticipated. [4] By offering freedom to Helots and monetary rewards to free men who would volunteer to carry food across to the island, the Spartans were able to bring in a small but critical stream of food. Some of these men reached the island by approaching from the seaward side at night during rough weather others swam underwater towing bags of food. The Athenians, meanwhile, found themselves frequently short on rations, and the entire force was forced to depend on a single spring for its fresh water. In these adverse circumstances, the Athenians began to doubt that they could resolve the issue by siege before winter forced them to lift their blockade. [5]

This downturn of fortunes was the source of much concern at Athens, the decision to reject Sparta's peace offer became an item of much popular regret. [6] Noting this turn of popular opinion, Cleon, who had been the principal advocate of rejecting the peace offer, claimed that the reports brought back from the scene must be inaccurate. When Nicias, a political opponent of his and a strategos for that year, proposed to send a commission, with Cleon among its members, to verify the reports from Pylos, Cleon attacked him for proposing to waste time that should have been spent attacking. Nicias countered this rhetorical thrust by offering to stand aside as a general, and allow Cleon to take command of an expeditionary force to Pylos. Although he had no authority to make this offer, the assembly, caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment, went along with him, urging Cleon to back up his words with action. [7]

Cleon was probably aware that an attack was already being planned at Pylos, as he was likely to have been in communication with Demosthenes, [8] but once he realized that Nicias's offer was more than a rhetorical ploy he attempted to back down from his challenge. The crowd, however, refused to permit this, and Cleon was eventually compelled to accept command. Reassuming the bold attitude he had taken at the start of the debate, Cleon proclaimed that, with the force he had been given, he would either kill or capture the Spartans within twenty days. Naming Demosthenes as his partner in command, he set out from Athens with a force composed of Athenian sailors and ships carrying allied peltasts and archers.

Demosthenes had already been planning an attack on Sphacteria, as the difficulty of the circumstances his men were in had led him to doubt the viability of a prolonged siege. Moreover, a fire on the island, ignited by Spartan sailors lighting a fire to cook a meal away from the crowded confines of Pylos, had denuded the island of vegetation and allowed Demosthenes to examine both the contours of the island and the number and disposition of the defenders. [9] Seeing that only thirty Spartans were detailed to guard the southern end of the island, away from Pylos, Demosthenes landed his 800 hoplites on both the seaward and landward sides of the island one night. The Spartan garrison, thinking that the Athenian ships were only mooring in their usual nightly watch posts, was caught off guard and massacred. At dawn, the remainder of the Athenian force streamed ashore these included some 2,000 light troops (psiloi) and archers (toxotai) and some 8,000 rowers from the fleet, armed with whatever weapons could be found. [10]

The Spartans, under their commander Epitadas, attempted to come to grips with the Athenian hoplites and push their enemies back into the sea, but Demosthenes detailed his lightly armed troops, in companies of about 200 men, to occupy high points and harass the enemy with missile fire whenever they approached. When the Spartans rushed at their tormentors, the light troops, unencumbered by heavy hoplite armor, were easily able to run to safety dust and ash from the recent fire, stirred up by the commotion, further contributed to the Spartans' predicament by obscuring their attackers from their sight. Unable to make any headway, the Spartans withdrew in some confusion to the northern end of the island, where they dug in behind their fortifications and hoped to hold out. A stalemate took hold for some time, with the Athenians trying unsuccessfully to dislodge the Spartans from their strong positions. At this point, the commander of the Messenian detachment in the Athenian force, Comon, approached Demosthenes and asked that he be given troops with which to move through the seemingly impassable terrain along the island's shore. His request was granted, and Comon led his men into the Spartan rear through a route that had been left unguarded on account of its roughness. When he emerged with his force, the Spartans, in disbelief, abandoned their defenses the Athenians seized the approaches to the fort, and the Spartan force stood on the brink of annihilation.

At this point, Cleon and Demosthenes declined to push the attack further, preferring to take as many Spartans as they could prisoner. [11] An Athenian herald offered the Spartans a chance to surrender, and the Spartans, throwing down their shields, agreed at last to negotiate. Cleon and Demosthenes met with the Spartan commander Styphon (Styphon had initially been the third in command, but Epitadas had been killed and his first successor was severely wounded and had been left for dead). Styphon requested to send a herald to the mainland to seek advice the Athenians refused to allow any of the trapped men to leave, but permitted as many heralds from the mainland as were desired to pass back and forth. Several messengers did so, the last of whom left Styphon with the message "The Spartans order you to make your decision yourselves, so long as you do nothing dishonorable." [12] Styphon and his men, with no hope of victory or escape, surrendered. Of the 440 Spartans who had crossed over to Sphacteria, 292 survived to surrender of these, 120 were men of the elite Spartiate class.

"The outcome," Donald Kagan has observed, "shook the Greek world." [13] Spartans, it had been supposed, would never surrender. Now, with Spartiate hostages in their hands, the Athenians issued an ultimatum any invasion of Attica would lead to the execution of their prisoners. For the first time since the beginning of the war, the Athenians could farm their crops securely. At Pylos, a Messenian garrison was installed, and these men, launching raids into country that had once been their home, did significant damage to the Spartans and instigated the desertion of numerous Helots. At Athens, Cleon, his seemingly mad promise fulfilled, was the man of the hour he was granted meals at the state's expense in the prytaneum (the same reward granted to Olympic champions), and most scholars see his hand in the legislation of the following months, the most prominent item of which was an increased levy of tribute on the empire. [14] Sphacteria had changed the nature of the war. The next few years would see a newly aggressive Athens, and it would take a string of Athenian reverses to diffuse the impetus that the surrenders had given and bring the two sides to the table to negotiate the Peace of Nicias in 421 BC.

The initial phase, 431–425

Athenian war strategy and the initial conduct of the war are presented by Thucydides very much in personal terms: the focus is on what Pericles, the dominant figure of this time, did or wanted. That method, like the Homeric emphasis on heroes, is to some extent literary spotlighting, for at no time was Pericles immune from criticism. In the 440s he had to deal with a major rival, Thucydides, son of Melesias (not the historian), who was ostracized in 443. Even after that, in the poorly documented 430s (before Aristophanes and Thucydides provide information about individual figures of second- or third-rate significance), there are suggestions of tension, such as a partial ban on comedy (with its potential for exposure) and indications in the sources that Cleon was really not a successor of Pericles at all but a highly critical contemporary. The reasons for Pericles’ ascendancy remain a secret, and that in itself makes it necessary to allow for a large element of “charismatic” leadership.

In the military sphere Thucydides is surely wrong to present Pericles as a one-man band. He says of Pericles that early in the war “the Athenians reproached him for not leading them out as their general should.” If this sentence had survived in isolation, one would hardly have guessed that Pericles was one of the college of 10, subject to control and threat of deposition by the Assembly (Pericles was indeed deposed temporarily toward the end of his life). On the whole, however, Thucydides minimizes the degree to which Athenian generals enjoyed executive latitude, particularly in wartime it may be suggested that the reason for this was his own exile, imposed in 424 as a punishment for failing, as commander in the region, to relieve Amphipolis. This impressed him deeply—and unduly—with the impotence and vulnerability of generals other than Pericles.

The reproach of “not leading out the Athenians” provides useful insight into Periclean strategy, revealing it to have been largely reactive. Whereas the Spartans’ goal was to liberate Greece from tyranny, which required them to dismantle the Athenian empire, all the Athenians had to do was to avoid such demolition. In a way that suited neither side: initiative of the kind demanded from Sparta was in short supply there (though never entirely absent). For the Athenians’ part, the famously energetic and meddlesome population did not take kindly to the practical consequences of Periclean strategy that required it to evacuate Attica and move its population behind the fortified walls of Athens, to rely on accumulated capital reserves and on the fleet as an instrument to hold the empire firmly down, and to avoid adding to the empire during wartime. By these means the Athenians would eventually “win through” (the Greek word is neatly ambiguous as between victory and survival).

Actually the Athenian position was not and could not be so simple. For one, the agricultural evacuation of Attica was not as complete as it was to be after 413 when the Spartans occupied Decelea in northern Attica. Nor did Pericles altogether abandon Attica militarily: there were cavalry raids to harass the dispersed foot soldiers of the enemy and to keep up city morale. Holding the empire down and holding onto capital were potentially inconsistent aims in view of the great cost of siege warfare (there was no artillery before the 4th century to facilitate the taking of fortified cities by storm). The destruction of Samos had been expensive—a four-figure sum in talents—and the siege of Potidaea was to cost 2,000. Athens, even with coined reserves of 6,000 talents at the beginning of the war, could not afford many Potidaeas. Pericles can be criticized for not foreseeing this, with the evidence of Samos behind him.

Effects of the Peloponnesian War

Following the Peloponnesian War, Athens underwent a period of harsh oligarchic governance and Sparta enjoyed a brief hegemonic period.

Learning Objectives

Understand the effects of the Peloponnesian War on the Greek city-states

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Peloponnesian War ended in victory for Sparta and its allies, but signaled the demise of Athenian naval and political hegemony throughout the Mediterranean.
  • Democracy in Athens was briefly overthrown in 411 BCE as a result of its poor handling of the Peloponnesian War. Lysander, the Spartan admiral who commanded the Spartan fleet at Aegospotami in 405 BCE, helped to organize the Thirty Tyrants as Athens’ government for the 13 months they maintained power.
  • Lysander established many pro-Spartan governments throughout the Aegean, where the ruling classes were more loyal to him than to Sparta as a whole. Eventually Spartan kings, Agis and Pausanias, abolished these Aegean decarchies, curbing Lysander’s political influence.
  • Agesilaus II was one of two Spartan kings during the period of Spartan hegemony, and is remembered for his multiple campaigns in the eastern Aegean and Persian territories.
  • Agesilaus’s loss at the Battle of Leuctra effectively ended Spartan hegemony throughout the region.

Key Terms

  • oligarchy: A form of power structure in which a small group of people hold all power and influence in a state.
  • harmosts: A Spartan term for a military governor.
  • hegemony: The political, economic, or military predominance or control of one state over others.

The Peloponnesian War ended in victory for Sparta and its allies, and led directly to the rising naval power of Sparta. However, it marked the demise of Athenian naval and political hegemony throughout the Mediterranean. The destruction from the Peloponnesian War weakened and divided the Greeks for years to come, eventually allowing the Macedonians an opportunity to conquer them in the mid-4 th century BCE.


Democracy in Athens was briefly overthrown in 411 BCE as a result of its poor handling of the Peloponnesian War. Citizens reacted against Athens’ defeat, blaming democratic politicians, such as Cleon and Cleophon. The Spartan army encouraged revolt, installing a pro-Spartan oligarchy within Athens, called the Thirty Tyrants, in 404 BCE. Lysander, the Spartan admiral who commanded the Spartan fleet at Aegospotami in 405 BCE, helped to organize the Thirty Tyrants as a government for the 13 months they maintained power.

During the Thirty Tyrants’ rule, five percent of the Athenian population was killed, private property was confiscated, and democratic supporters were exiled. The Thirty appointed a council of 500 to serve the judicial functions that had formerly belonged to all citizens. Despite all this, not all Athenian men had their rights removed. In fact, 3,000 such men were chosen by the Thirty to share in the government of Athens. These men were permitted to carry weapons, entitled to jury trial, and allowed to reside with the city limits. This list of men was constantly being revised, and selection was most likely a reflection of loyalty to the regime, with the majority of Athenians not supporting the Thirty Tyrants’ rule.

Nonetheless, the Thirty’s regime was not met with much overt opposition for the majority of their rule, as a result of the harsh penalties placed on dissenters. Eventually, the level of violence and brutality carried out by the Thirty in Athens led to increased opposition, stemming primarily from a rebel group of exiles led by Thrasybulus, a former trierarch in the Athenian navy. The increased opposition culminated in a revolution that ultimately overthrew the Thirty’s regime. In the aftermath, Athens gave amnesty to the 3,000 men who were given special treatment under the regime, with the exception of those who comprised the governing Thirty and their associated governmental officials. Athens struggled to recover from the upheaval caused by the Thirty Tyrants in the years that followed.


As a result of the Peloponnesian War, Sparta, which had primarily been a continental culture, became a naval power. At its peak, Sparta overpowered many key Greek states, including the elite Athenian navy. By the end of the 5 th century BCE, Sparta’s successes against the Athenian Empire and ability to invade Persian provinces in Anatolia ushered in a period of Spartan hegemony. This hegemonic period was to be short-lived, however.


After the end of the Peloponnesian War, Lysander established many pro-Spartan governments throughout the Aegean. Most of the ruling systems set up by Lysander were ten-man oligarchies, called decarchies, in which harmosts, Spartan military governors, were the heads of the government. Because Lysander appointed from within the ruling classes of these governments, the men were more loyal to Lysander than Sparta, making these Aegean outposts similar to a private empire.

Lysander and Spartan king Agis were in agreement with Corinth and Thebes that Athens should be totally destroyed in the aftermath of the Peloponnesian War, but they were opposed by a more moderate faction, headed by Pausanias. Eventually, Pausanias’ moderate faction gained the upper hand and Athens was spared, though its defensive walls and port fortifications at Piraeus were demolished. Lysander also managed to require Athens to recall its exiles, causing political instability within the city-state, of which Lysander took advantage to establish the oligarchy that came to be known as the Thirty Tyrants. Because Lysander was also directly involved in the selection of the Thirty, these men were loyal to him over Sparta, causing King Agis and King Pausanias to agree to the abolishment of his Aegean decarchies, and eventually the restoration of democracy in Athens, which quickly curbed Lysander’s political influence.

Lysander: A 16th century engraving of Lysander

Agesilaus and His Campaigns

Agesilaus II was one of two Spartan kings during the period of Spartan hegemony. Lysander was one of Agesilaus’s biggest supporters, and was even a mentor. During his kingship, Agesilaus embarked on a number of military campaigns in the eastern Aegean and Persian territories. During these campaigns, the Spartans under Agesilaus’s command met with numerous rebelling Greek poleis, including the Thebans. The Thebans, Argives, Corinthians, and Athenians had rebelled during the Corinthian War from 395-386 BCE, and the Persians aided the Thebans, Corinthians, and Athenians against the Spartans.

During the winter of 379/378 BCE, a group of Theban exiles snuck into Thebes and succeeded in liberating it, despite resistance from a 1,500-strong Spartan garrison. This led to a number of Spartan expeditions against Thebes, known as The Boeotian War. The Greek city-states eventually attempted to broker peace, but Theban diplomat Epaminondas angered Agesilaus by arguing for the freedom of non-Spartan citizens within Laconia. As a result, Agesilaus excluded the Thebans from the treaty, and the Battle of Leuctra broke out in 371 BCE the Spartans eventually lost. Sparta’s international political influence precipitated quickly after their defeat.


Thucydides is considered to be one of the great "fathers" of Western history, thus making his methodology the subject of much analysis in area of historiography. [ citation needed ]

Chronology Edit

Thucydides is one of the first western historians to employ a strict standard of chronology, recording events by year, with each year consisting of the summer campaign season and a less active winter season. This method contrasts sharply with Herodotus.

Speeches Edit

Thucydides also makes extensive use of speeches in order to elaborate on the event in question. While the inclusion of long first-person speeches is somewhat alien to modern historical method, in the context of ancient Greek oral culture speeches are expected. These include addresses given to troops by their generals before battles and numerous political speeches, both by Athenian and Spartan leaders, as well as debates between various parties. Of the speeches, the most famous is the funeral oration of Pericles, which is found in Book Two. Thucydides undoubtedly heard some of these speeches himself while for others he relied on eyewitness accounts.

These speeches are suspect in the eyes of Classicists, however, inasmuch as it is not clear to what degree Thucydides altered these speeches in order to elucidate better the crux of the argument presented. Some of the speeches are probably fabricated according to his expectations of, as he puts it, "what was called for in each situation" (1.22.1). [4]

Neutrality Edit

Despite being an Athenian and a participant in the conflict, Thucydides is often regarded as having written a generally unbiased account of the conflict with respect to the sides involved in it. In the introduction to the piece he states, "my work is not a piece of writing designed to meet the taste of an immediate public, but was done to last for ever" (1.22.4).

There are scholars, however, who doubt this. Ernst Badian, for example has argued that Thucydides has a strong pro-Athenian bias. [5] In keeping with this sort of doubt, other scholars claim that Thucydides had an ulterior motive in his Histories, specifically to create an epic comparable to those of the past such as the works of Homer, and that this led him to create a nonobjective dualism favoring the Athenians. [6] The work does display a clear bias against certain people involved in the conflict, such as Cleon. [7]

Role of religion Edit

The gods play no active role in Thucydides' work. This is very different from Herodotus, who frequently mentions the role of the gods, as well as a nearly ubiquitous divine presence in the centuries-earlier poems of Homer. Instead, Thucydides regards history as being caused by the choices and actions of human beings.

Despite the absence of actions of the gods, religion and piety play critical roles in the actions of the Spartans, and to a lesser degree, the Athenians. [8] Thus natural occurrences such as earthquake and eclipses were viewed as religiously significant (1.23.3 7.50.4) [9]

Rationalization of myth Edit

Despite the absence of the gods from Thucydides' work, he still draws heavily from the Greek mythos, especially from Homer, whose works are prominent in Greek mythology. Thucydides references Homer frequently as a source of information, but always adds a distancing clause, such as "Homer shows this, if that is sufficient evidence," and "assuming we should trust Homer's poetry in this case too." [10]

However, despite Thucydides' lack of trust in information that was not experienced firsthand, such as Homer's, he does use the poet's epics to infer facts about the Trojan War. For instance, while Thucydides considered the number of over 1,000 Greek ships sent to Troy to be a poetic exaggeration, he uses Homer's Catalog of Ships to determine the approximate number of Greek soldiers who were present. Later, Thucydides claims that since Homer never makes reference to a united Greek state, the pre-Hellenic nations must have been so disjointed that they could not organize properly to launch an effective campaign. In fact, Thucydides claims that Troy could have been conquered in half the time had the Greek leaders allocated resources properly and not sent a large portion of the army on raids for supplies.

Thucydides makes sure to inform his reader that he, unlike Homer, is not a poet prone to exaggeration, but instead a historian, whose stories may not give "momentary pleasure," but "whose intended meaning will be challenged by the truth of the facts." [11] By distancing himself from the storytelling practices of Homer, Thucydides makes it clear that while he does consider mythology and epics to be evidence, these works cannot be given much credibility, and that it takes an impartial and empirically minded historian, such as himself, to accurately portray the events of the past.

The first book of the History, after a brief review of early Greek history and some programmatic historiographical commentary, seeks to explain why the Peloponnesian War broke out when it did and what its causes were. Except for a few short excursuses (notably 6.54–58 on the Tyrant Slayers), the remainder of the History (books 2 through 8) rigidly maintains its focus on the Peloponnesian War to the exclusion of other topics.

While the History concentrates on the military aspects of the Peloponnesian War, it uses these events as a medium to suggest several other themes closely related to the war. It specifically discusses in several passages the socially and culturally degenerative effects of war on humanity itself. The History is especially concerned with the lawlessness and atrocities committed by Greek citizens to each other in the name of one side or another in the war. Some events depicted in the History, such as the Melian dialogue, describe early instances of realpolitik or power politics.

The History is preoccupied with the interplay of justice and power in political and military decision-making. Thucydides' presentation is decidedly ambivalent on this theme. While the History seems to suggest that considerations of justice are artificial and necessarily capitulate to power, it sometimes also shows a significant degree of empathy with those who suffer from the exigencies of the war.

For the most part, the History does not discuss topics such as the art and architecture of Greece.

Military technology Edit

The History emphasizes the development of military technologies. In several passages (1.14.3, 2.75–76, 7.36.2–3), Thucydides describes in detail various innovations in the conduct of siegeworks or naval warfare. The History places great importance upon naval supremacy, arguing that a modern empire is impossible without a strong navy. He states that this is the result of the development of piracy and coastal settlements in earlier Greece.

Important in this regard was the development, at the beginning of the classical period (c. 500 BC), of the trireme, the supreme naval ship for the next several hundred years. In his emphasis on sea power, Thucydides resembles the modern naval theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan, whose influential work The Influence of Sea Power upon History helped set in motion the naval arms race prior to World War I.

Empire Edit

The History explains that the primary cause of the Peloponnesian War was the "growth in power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta" (1.23.6). Thucydides traces the development of Athenian power through the growth of the Athenian empire in the years 479 BC to 432 BC in book one of the History (1.89–118). The legitimacy of the empire is explored in several passages, notably in the speech at 1.73–78, where an anonymous Athenian legation defends the empire on the grounds that it was freely given to the Athenians and not taken by force. The subsequent expansion of the empire is defended by these Athenians, ". the nature of the case first compelled us to advance our empire to its present height fear being our principal motive, though honor and interest came afterward." (1.75.3)

The Athenians also argue that, "We have done nothing extraordinary, nothing contrary to human nature in accepting an empire when it was offered to us and then in refusing to give it up." (1.76) They claim that anyone in their position would act in the same fashion. The Spartans represent a more traditional, circumspect, and less expansive power. Indeed, the Athenians are nearly destroyed by their greatest act of imperial overreach, the Sicilian expedition, described in books six and seven of the History.

Earth science Edit

Thucydides correlates, in his description of the 426 BC Malian Gulf tsunami, for the first time in the recorded history of natural science, quakes and waves in terms of cause and effect. [12] [13]

Thucydides' History is extraordinarily dense and complex. His particular ancient Greek prose is also very challenging, grammatically, syntactically, and semantically. This has resulted in much scholarly disagreement on a cluster of issues of interpretation.

Strata of composition Edit

It is commonly thought that Thucydides died while still working on the History, since it ends in mid-sentence and only goes up to 410 BC, leaving six years of war uncovered. Furthermore, there is a great deal of uncertainty whether he intended to revise the sections he had already written. Since there appear to be some contradictions between certain passages in the History, it has been proposed that the conflicting passages were written at different times and that Thucydides' opinion on the conflicting matter had changed. Those who argue that the History can be divided into various levels of composition are usually called "analysts" and those who argue that the passages must be made to reconcile with one another are called "unitarians". This conflict is called the "strata of composition" debate. The lack of progress in this debate over the course of the twentieth century has caused many Thucydidean scholars to declare the debate insoluble and to side-step the issue in their work.

Sources Edit

The History is notoriously reticent about its sources. Thucydides almost never names his informants and alludes to competing versions of events only a handful of times. This is in marked contrast to Herodotus, who frequently mentions multiple versions of his stories and allows the reader to decide which is true. Instead, Thucydides strives to create the impression of a seamless and irrefutable narrative. Nevertheless, scholars have sought to detect the sources behind the various sections of the History. For example, the narrative after Thucydides' exile (4.108ff.) seems to focus on Peloponnesian events more than the first four books, leading to the conclusion that he had greater access to Peloponnesian sources at that time.

Frequently, Thucydides appears to assert knowledge of the thoughts of individuals at key moments in the narrative. Scholars have asserted that these moments are evidence that he interviewed these individuals after the fact. However, the evidence of the Sicilian Expedition argues against this, since Thucydides discusses the thoughts of the generals who died there and whom he would have had no chance to interview. Instead it seems likely that, as with the speeches, Thucydides is looser than previously thought in inferring the thoughts, feelings, and motives of principal characters in his History from their actions, as well as his own sense of what would be appropriate or likely in such a situation.

Critical evaluations Edit

The historian J. B. Bury writes that the work of Thucydides "marks the longest and most decisive step that has ever been taken by a single man towards making history what it is today.” [14]

Historian H. D. Kitto feels that Thucydides wrote about the Peloponnesian War not because it was the most significant war in antiquity but because it caused the most suffering. Indeed, several passages of Thucydides' book are written "with an intensity of feeling hardly exceeded by Sappho herself." [15]

In his Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl R. Popper writes that Thucydides was the "greatest historian, perhaps, who ever lived." Thucydides' work, however, Popper goes on to say, represents "an interpretation, a point of view and in this we need not agree with him." In the war between Athenian democracy and the "arrested oligarchic tribalism of Sparta," we must never forget Thucydides' "involuntary bias," and that "his heart was not with Athens, his native city:"

"Although he apparently did not belong to the extreme wing of the Athenian oligarchic clubs who conspired throughout the war with the enemy, he was certainly a member of the oligarchic party, and a friend neither of the Athenian people, the demos, who had exiled him, nor of its imperialist policy."

Thucydides' History has been enormously influential in both ancient and modern historiography. It was embraced by many of the author's contemporaries and immediate successors with enthusiasm indeed, many authors sought to complete the unfinished history. For example, Xenophon wrote his Hellenica as a continuation of Thucydides' work, beginning at the exact moment that Thucydides' History leaves off. Xenophon's work, however, is generally considered inferior in style and accuracy compared with Thucydides'. [ citation needed ] In later antiquity, Thucydides' reputation suffered somewhat, with critics such as Dionysius of Halicarnassus rejecting the History as turgid and excessively austere. Lucian also parodies it (among others) in his satire The True Histories. Woodrow Wilson read the History on his voyage across the Atlantic to the Versailles Peace Conference. [16]

In the 17th century, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote about Thucydides as follows:

It hath been noted by divers, that Homer in poesy, Aristotle in philosophy, Demosthenes in eloquence, and others of the ancients in other knowledge, do still maintain their primacy: none of them exceeded, some not approached, by any in these later ages. And in the number of these is justly ranked also our Thucydides a workman no less perfect in his work, than any of the former and in whom (I believe with many others) the faculty of writing history is at the highest. [17]

The most important manuscripts include: Codex Parisinus suppl. Gr. 255, Codex Vaticanus 126, Codex Laurentianus LXIX.2, Codex Palatinus 252, Codex Monacensis 430, Codex Monacensis 228, and Codex Britannicus II, 727. [18]

Grenfell and Hunt discovered about 20 papyrus fragments copied some time between the 1st and 6th centuries AD in Oxyrhynchus, including Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 16 and 17.

Peloponnesian War - Who Won, History and Definition - HISTORY

The Peloponnesian Wars ("The Great War" 431-404 BC)

The Peloponnesian Wars were a series of conflicts between Athens and Sparta. These wars also involved most of the Greek world, because both Athens and Sparta had leagues, or alliances, which brought their allies into the wars as well. The Athenian Thucydides is the primary source of the wars, as he fought on the side of Athens. Thucydides was ostracized after the Spartans' decisive victory at the Battle of Amphipolis in 422 BC, where Thucydides was one of the Athenian commanders. Thucydides wrote a book called The History of the Peloponnesian War. From 431 to 404 BC the conflict escalated into what is known as the "Great War." To the Greeks, the "Great War" was a world war, not only involving much of the Greek world, but also the Macedonians, Persians, and Sicilians.

The Peloponnesian Wars were ugly, with both sides committing atrocities. Before the Peloponnesian Wars, wars lasted only a few hours, and the losing side was treated with dignity. The losers were rarely, if ever, chased down and stabbed in the back. Prisoners were treated with respect and released. Thucydides warns us in his histories that the longer wars go, the more violent, and less civilized they become. During the Peloponnesian Wars, prisoners were hunted down, tortured, thrown into pits to die of thirst and starvation, and cast into the waters to drown at sea. Innocent school children were murdered, and whole cities were destroyed. These wars turned very personal, as both Athens and Sparta felt that their way of life was being threatened by the other power.

As you read in the last chapter, Athens, along with about 150 other city-states, formed the Delian League as a way to protect against a possible Persian invasion. If any one of the Delian league members was attacked, the other league members would come to their support. In 466 BC, an important battle took place at Eurymedon, off the coast of Asia Minor. The Delian League navy crushed the Persian navy so badly, that some of the Delian league members thought the threat by Persia was gone, and the league was no longer necessary. Some of the islands in the Aegean wanted to leave the league, they no longer wanted to pay money and provide ships. Athens stepped in and did not permit these Greeks to leave the league. Athens treated these city-states harshly by tearing down their walls, taking their fleet of ships, and insisting they continue to pay the league taxes. Apparently is was easy to join the Delian League, but impossible to back out, and the league was beginning to look more like an Athenian empire.

The Pentecontaetia &ldquothe period of fifty years&rdquo (a word created by Thucydides) was the time from the end of the Persian Wars to the beginning of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides tells us that this was a time of distrust between Athens and Sparta. Thucydides tells us that Athens greatness during this period brought fear to Sparta. What is interesting about that statement is that for the first time in history, emotion is said to be the cause of a war.

Let me give you one example of the distrust between the two city-states. As you read in the last chapter, a great earthquake rocked Sparta in 465 BC. The desperate Spartans asked Athens for help, but when the Athenians sent hoplites to Sparta, the Spartans, having second thoughts, sent them back to Athens. The Spartans put down the helot rebellion on their own, but could not remove a band of helots from high on a mountain top fortress. A deal was struck where the Spartans promised the helots they could leave the citadel peacefully, if the helots promised to move outside of Spartan territory. Thinking that the helots would scatter, the Spartans were alarmed to find out that the Athenians allowed all of these helots to settle in Naupactus, an Athenian controlled harbor city on the Corinthian gulf, directly across from Peloponnese. Here, the helots were free to do great harm to Sparta and her allies by controlling the gulf.

Athens had everything going for it before the outbreak of the "Great War." Athens controlled the Aegean Sea, and bullied the Delian League, so that only two other city-states in the league had their own navies. In 454-53 BC, Athens moved the Delian League treasury from Delos to Athens, creating a bank in the back of the newly-built Parthenon on the Acropolis. Athens then demanded 1/60th of the league money for a "donation to Athena," which really meant it was a tax on the league members going directly to Athens. The Athenians had allies all around them by land, including an alliance with Megara, a former Peloponnesian League friend of Sparta. Athens also and controlled the seas.

Phase One of the Great War - The Archidamian War (431-421 BC)

The Peloponnesian League met in 432 BC. Corinth, a city-state in that league, complained that Sparta was not doing enough to control Athens. Sparta decided to go to war with Athens. Pericles, whom we read about in the last chapter, was the clear leader of Athens at this point, replacing Cimon, who had been ostracized, and later, after returning to Athens, had died fighting the Persians. Pericles was confident in a quick Athenian victory. If the Spartans and their allies should invade Athenian territory, the Athenians could hide behind the Long Walls. Pericles knew that the Spartans had no knowledge of siege warfare, or destroying walls. The Spartans could destroy the farmland of Attica (Athenian territory), but grain would continue to flow from the Black Sea to the port of Piraeus, and then into Athens.

In 431 BC, King Archidamius of Sparta invaded Athenian territory. The Spartans only stayed for a few months, cut down some olive trees, and then headed back to the Peloponnese. They repeated this in 430 BC. In that same year, Pericles gave his famous "Funeral Oration," in which he praised the dead Athenian soldiers for giving their lives for Athens. Pericles went on to say that Athens would win, because Athens' way of life was clearly better than Sparta's.

Pericles felt Athens would win a quick victory over Sparta. Pericles felt that after a few years of raiding the Athenian countryside, the Spartans would eventually become frustrated by the Long Walls and agree to peace on Athens' terms. But then, something went terribly wrong for Athens. In 429 BC, a plague hit Athens. Some of the grain coming into Piraeus was tainted, and people started to die in the streets. Athens had become over-crowded as all of the people of Attica were now cramped into the city, fearful of the Spartans. Disease spread quickly, and the Long Walls became a prison, rather than a fortress. Around 30,000 Athenians died, including Pericles, the Athenian leader. Thucydides contracted the plague, but survived. The Spartans quickly left Attica, fearful that they may catch the plague as well. The war dragged on.

In 428 BC the Athenians had gained a foothold in the Peloponnese, by taking the old City of Pylos. When the Spartans tried to regain the city, 400 Spartan hoplites became trapped on the nearby Island of Sphacteria. The Athenians starved the Spartans into eventual surrender and brought 120 Spartan hoplites back to Athens. They placed these Spartan hoplites on display in a human zoo, as no Athenian had seen a Spartan hoplite up close. Sparta was desperate to have these warriors returned, and was willing to comes to terms with Athens.

Phase Two &ndash Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition (421-413 BC)

In 421 BC, a 50-year peace treaty was signed by Sparta and Athens, the treaty was called the Peace of Nicias, named after the Athenian who made the treaty. One of the terms was that the captured Spartan hoplites be allowed to return home. It was a shaky peace at best, and in 420 BC, the Spartans were accused of marching hoplites into Elis during an Olympic year. Sparta was not allowed to compete in the Olympic Games. At this time some of the Peloponnesian League cities decided to rebel against Sparta, and were helped by Argos, the long-time enemy of Sparta, and by Athens. In 418 BC, the largest land battle of the war took place in the Peloponnese at Mantinea. Here Sparta defeated Argos, Athens and their Peloponnesian allies, and returned them to the Peloponnesian League. During the war, Athens always won at sea, but lost on land. Some historians compare Athens to the whale, and Sparta to the elephant.

416-413 BC &ndash The Sicilian Expedition

In 416 BC, Alcibiades, a young Athenian and follower of the philosopher, Socrates, convinced the Athenians to take the war to Sicily, by attacking the city-state of Syracuse. Syracuse was a colony of Corinth and friendly to the Peloponnesian League. Alcibiades was very convincing, as he was an excellent public speaker. Alcibiades made the point that if Athens should take Syracuse, all of Sicily would fall, and give Athens new riches and power. It would only be a matter of time before Sparta would surrender. Sicily was 800 miles away from Athens, and it would take several ships in the Athenian navy to attack Syracuse.

The night before the expedition set sail, the sacred statues of Hermes were vandalized. Alcibiades and his friends were accused of drinking and then smashing the statues. This was awkward, because Alcibiades was the leader of the expedition. Alcibiades was allowed to set sail with the Athenian fleet, but when the fleet arrived at Thurii, a Greek colony on the southern coast of Italy, a messenger ship from Athens caught up with the fleet. This small boat was to take Alcibiades back to Athens, as he had been tried and convicted of smashing the statues. Unwilling to return, Alcibiades, along with his pet dog, jumped ship and swam to Thurii.

Nicias was now in charge of the attack on Syracuse, even though he had argued against it back in Athens. When the Athenian fleet landed in Sicily, close to Syracuse, the unwilling Nicias dragged his feet. The Athenians were slow to make the necessary walls to close off Syracuse by land, even though the mighty Athenian Fleet had closed of Syracuse by the sea.

Meanwhile, Alcibiades fled to Sparta, where he convinced the Spartans to help the Syracusans. Sparta sent one boat to Syracuse with a commander by the name of Gylippus. Gylippus raised an army in Sicily and defeated the Athenians. Foolishly, Nicias asked Athens to send reinforcements. When the new soldiers arrived, the Athenians finally decided the war was lost and to head back home. A rare lunar eclipse prevented the Athenian fleet from leaving the harbor, and during that delay, the Syracusans placed a metal chain across the harbor, trapping the Athenian fleet. The Athenians fled by land, but were hunted down, killed or thrown into pits to starve. Oddly, the Syracusans admired the tragedies of the Athenian playwright, Euripides, and any Athenian prisoner who could give a good performance of lines of Euripides, was released. Nicias was killed, and the Athenians lost most of their fleet. This was the turning-point of the war.

Peloponnesian War Phase Three: The Ionian War (412-404 BC)

At the advice of Alcibiades, the Spartans built a permanent fort in Attica so they could destroy the Athenian countryside year-round. This also cut off the access to the silver mine, and the Athenians were running out of resources. Alcibiades was flirting with the queen of Sparta while her husband was in Athenian territory, as Alcibiades had suggested, year-round. When the Spartan king found out about this, he returned to Sparta, only to find that Alcibiades had fled again, this time to Persia.

Now living in the Persian Empire, Alcibiades convinced the satrap of Lydia to slow down payments to Sparta, which the Persians had used to help Sparta gain a fleet of warships. Alcibiades was now no friend to Sparta, and he told the Persian satrap that by keeping Athens and Sparta even in power, they would eventually wear each other out, leaving the way clear for the Persians to gain power.

Seeing the influence Alcibiades had with Persia, Athens made it clear they wished for him to return and become a general. Athens was hopeful Alcibiades could convince the Persians to give aid to Athens. The Delian League was beginning to crumble, and Athens needed new allies. Alcibiades eventually returned to Athens to a hero's welcome. The charges brought up against Alcibiades for smashing the statues were dropped.

Alcibiades had great victories at the sea battles of Abydos and Cyzicus, keeping Athens in control of the Hellespont, but in 406 BC, at the Battle of Notium, Alcibiades was defeated by Lysander, a Spartan who was comfortable at sea. This Spartan whale would go on to become famous, while Alcibiades was recalled to Athens. Rather than face a trial, Alcibiades retired.

In 406 BC, the Athenians won the Battle of Arginusea, but the commanders of the fleet did not attempt to rescue sailors from the sea. Back in Athens these commanders were put on trial and sentenced to death. Socrates, the father of philosophy, protested this outcome. Socrates was no fan of democracy, as he felt it led to mob rule, and poor decision making.

Finally, in 405 BC, at the Battle of Aegospotami , Lysander captured the Athenian fleet in the Hellespont. Lysander then sailed to Athens and closed off the Port of Piraeus. Athens was forced to surrender, and Sparta won the Peloponnesian War in 404 BC.

Gray crossed swords indicate a Spartan victory, Black crossed swords indicate an Athenian victory. Explosion icon: Delian League member revolt Green: Neutral areas Yellow: Persian Empire

Spartans terms were lenient. First, the democracy was replaced by on oligarchy of thirty Athenians, friendly to Sparta. The Delian League was shut down, and Athens was reduced to a limit of ten triremes. Finally, the Long Walls were taken down. Within four years, the Athenians overthrew the "Thirty Tyrants" and restored their democracy. Looking for someone to blame for the loss to Sparta, the Athenians placed Socrates on trial. He was found guilty of corrupting the minds of young Athenians, and not believing in the gods. Socrates was sentenced to death by hemlock, a slow acting poison that you drink from a cup.

The Peloponnesian War had a lasting effect on the Greek world. Both Sparta and Athens were weakend. Thebes, defeated Sparta at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC to become the most powerful Greek polis, and then, Philip II of Macedonia defeated Thebes and the Greek allies to become master of the Greek world. We will learn more about Philip and his son Alexander in the next chapter.

Watch the video: Μαθαίνουμε στο Σπίτι: Ιστορία Δ Δημοτικού - Πελλοπονησιακός Πόλεμος 1ο Μέρος. 08042020. ΕΡΤ