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Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian war alliances 431 BC.png
The Peloponnesian War
Date c. 431–April 25, 404 BC
Location Mainland Greece, Asia Minor, Sicily
Result Peloponnesian League victory
Dissolution of the Delian League
Delian League (led by Athens) Peloponnesian League (led by Sparta)
Archidamus II
Casualties and losses
4,130+ killed 2,256+ killed

The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 B.C., was an ancient Greek war, fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League, led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases. In the first phase, the Archidamian War, Sparta launched repeated invasions of Attica, while Athens took advantage of its naval supremacy to raid the coast of the Peloponnese attempting to suppress signs of unrest in its empire. This period of the war was concluded in 421 BC, with the signing of the Peace of Nicias. That treaty, however, was soon undermined by renewed fighting in the Peloponnese. In 415 BC, Athens dispatched a massive expeditionary force to attack Syracuse in Sicily; the attack failed disastrously, with the destruction of the entire force, in 413 BC. This ushered in the final phase of the war, generally referred to either as the Decelean War, or the Ionian War. In this phase, Sparta, now receiving support from Persia, supported rebellions in Athens' subject states in the Aegean Sea and Ionia, undermining Athens' empire, and, eventually, depriving the city of naval supremacy. The destruction of Athens' fleet at Aegospotami effectively ended the war, and Athens surrendered in the following year.

The Peloponnesian War reshaped the Ancient Greek world. On the level of international relations, Athens, the strongest city-state in Greece prior to the war's beginning, was reduced to a state of near-complete subjection, while Sparta became established as the leading power of Greece. The economic costs of the war were felt all across Greece; poverty became widespread in the Peloponnese, while Athens found itself completely devastated, and never regained its pre-war prosperity.[1][2] The war also wrought subtler changes to Greek society; the conflict between democratic Athens and oligarchic Sparta, each of which supported friendly political factions within other states, made civil war a common occurrence in the Greek world.

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 Peloponnesian War marked the dramatic end to the fifth-century-B.C. golden age of Greece.[3]




Casus Belli

As the preeminent Athenian historian, Thucydides, wrote in his influential History of the Peloponnesian War, "The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon, made war inevitable."[4] Indeed, the nearly fifty years of Greek history that preceded the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War had been marked by the development of Athens as a major power in the Mediterranean world. Its empire began as a small group of city-states, called the Delian League — from the island of Delos, on which they kept their treasury — that came together to ensure that the Greco-Persian Wars were truly over. After a time, though, Athens' influence began to dominate the other city-states. The city proceeded to conquer all of Greece save for Sparta and its allies, and became known as the Athenian Empire. After defeating the Persian invasion of Greece in the year 480 BC, Athens led the coalition of Greek city-states that continued the Greco-Persian Wars with attacks on Persian territories in the Aegean and Ionia. What then ensued was a period, referred to as the Pentecontaetia (the name given by Thucydides), in which Athens increasingly came to be recognized as an Athenian Empire,[5] carrying out an aggressive war against Persia. By the middle of the century, the Persians had been driven from the Aegean and forced to cede control of a vast range of territories to Athens. At the same time, Athens greatly increased its own power; a number of its formerly independent allies were reduced, over the course of the century, to the status of tribute-paying subject states of the Delian League. This tribute was used to support a powerful fleet and, after the middle of the century, to fund massive public works programs in Athens, ensuring resentment.[6]

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.[7] According to Thucydides, although the Spartans took no action at this time, they "secretly felt aggrieved."[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

In 459 BC, Athens took advantage of a war between its neighbor Megara and Corinth, both Spartan allies, to conclude an alliance with Megara, giving the Athenians a critical foothold on the isthmus of Corinth. A fifteen year conflict, commonly known as the First Peloponnesian War, ensued, in which Athens fought intermittently against Sparta, Corinth, Aegina, and a number of other states. For a time during this conflict, Athens controlled not only Megara but also Boeotia; at its end, however, in the face of a massive Spartan invasion of Attica, the Athenians ceded the lands they had won on the Greek mainland, and Athens and Sparta recognized each other's right to control their respective alliance systems.[11] The war was officially ended by the Thirty Years' Peace, signed in the winter of 446/5 BC.[12]

Breakdown of the peace

The Thirty Years' Peace was first tested in 440 BC, when Athens' powerful ally Miletus 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 powerful ally of Corinth was notably opposed to intervention, and the congress voted against war with Athens. The Athenians crushed the revolt, and peace was maintained.[13]

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, Corinth began to build an allied naval force. Alarmed, Corcyra sought an alliance with Athens, which after debate and input from both Corcyra and Corinth, decided to swear to a defensive alliance with Corcyra. At the Battle of Sybota, a small contingent of Athenian ships played a critical role in preventing a Corinthian fleet from capturing Corcyra. It is worth noting, however, that the Athenians were instructed not to intervene in the battle unless it was clear that Corinth was going to press onward to invade Corcyra. This was done in order to uphold the Thirty Years' Peace. The presence of Athenian warships standing off from the engagement was enough to dissuade the Corinthians from exploiting their victory, thus sparing much of the routed Corcyraean fleet.

Following this, Athens instructed Potidaea, a tributary ally of Athens but a colony of Corinth, to tear down its walls, to send hostages to Athens, to dismiss the Corinthian magistrates from office, and to refuse the magistrates that the city would send in the future.[14] 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). 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.[15] Historians that attribute responsibility for the war to Athens cite this event as the main cause for blame.[16]

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 a delegation from Athens (that was not invited) 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.[17] 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.[18] Undeterred, a majority of the Spartan assembly voted to declare that the Athenians had broken the peace, essentially declaring war.[19]

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 citizens of Attica abandoned their farms and moved inside the long walls, which connected Athens to its port of Piraeus. The Spartans also occupied Attica for periods of only three weeks at a time; in the tradition of earlier hoplite warfare the soldiers were expected to go home to participate in the harvest. Moreover, Spartan slaves, known as helots, needed to be kept under control, and could not be left unsupervised for long periods of time. The longest Spartan invasion, in 430 BC, lasted just forty days.

The Athenian strategy was initially guided by the strategos, or general, 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, however, 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 soldiers and even 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 Attica was abandoned, their troops being unwilling to risk contact with the diseased enemy.

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 Boeotia and Aetolia, and began fortifying posts around the Peloponnese. One of these posts was near Pylos on a tiny island called Sphacteria, where the course of the first war turned in Athens's favour. The post off Pylos struck Sparta where it was weakest: its dependence on the helots. Sparta was dependent on a class of slaves, known as helots, to tend the fields while its citizens trained to become soldiers. The helots made the Spartan system possible, but now the post off Pylos began attracting helot runaways. In addition, the fear of a general revolt of helots emboldened by the nearby Athenian presence drove the Spartans to action. Demosthenes, however, outmanoeuvred the Spartans and trapped a group of Spartan soldiers on Sphacteria as he waited for them to surrender. Weeks later, though, Demosthenes proved unable to finish off the Spartans. After boasting that he could put an end to the affair in the Assembly, the inexperienced Cleon won a great victory at the Battle of Pylos and the related Battle of Sphacteria in 425 BC. The Athenians captured between 300 and 400 Spartan hoplites. The hostages gave the Athenians a bargaining chip.

After these battles, the Spartan general Brasidas raised an army of allies and helots and marched the length of Greece to the Athenian colony of Amphipolis in Thrace, which controlled several nearby silver mines; their product supplied much of the Athenian war fund. Thucydides was dispatched with a force which arrived too late to stop Brasidas capturing Amphipolis; Thucydides was exiled for this, and, as a result, had the conversations with both sides of the war which inspired him to record its history. Both Brasidas and Cleon were killed in Athenian efforts to retake Amphipolis (see Battle of Amphipolis). The Spartans and Athenians agreed to exchange the hostages for the towns captured by Brasidas, and signed a truce.

Peace of Nicias

With the death of Cleon and Brasidas, zealous war hawks for both nations, the Peace of Nicias was able to last for some six years. However, it was a time of constant skirmishing in and around the Peloponnese. While the Spartans refrained from action themselves, some of their allies began to talk of revolt. They were supported in this by Argos, a powerful state within the Peloponnese that had remained independent of Lacedaemon. With the support of the Athenians, the Argives succeeded in forging a coalition of democratic states within the Peloponnese, including the powerful states of Mantinea and Elis. Early Spartan attempts to break up the coalition failed, and the leadership of the Spartan king Agis was called into question. Emboldened, the Argives and their allies, with the support of a small Athenian force under Alcibiades, moved to seize the city of Tegea, near Sparta.

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.

Sicilian Expedition

In the 17th year of the war, word came to Athens that one of their distant allies in Sicily was under attack from Syracuse. The people of Syracuse were ethnically Dorian (as were the Spartans), while the Athenians, and their ally in Sicilia, were Ionian. The Athenians felt obliged to assist their ally.

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 Sicily would have brought Athens an immense amount of resources. In the final stages of the preparations for departure, the hermai (religious statues) of Athens were mutilated by unknown persons, and Alcibiades was charged with religious crimes. Alcibiades demanded that he be put on trial at once, so that he might defend himself before the expedition. The Athenians however allowed Alcibiades to go on the expedition without being tried (many believed in order to better plot against him). After arriving in Sicily, Alcibiades was recalled back to Athens for trial. Fearing that he would be unjustly condemned, Alcibiades defected to Sparta and Nicias was placed in charge of the mission. After his defection, Alcibiades informed the Spartans that the Athenians planned to use Sicily as a springboard for the conquest of all of Italy, and to use the resources and soldiers from these new conquests to conquer all of the Peloponnese.

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 Gylippus to Sicily with reinforcements. Upon arriving, he raised up a force from several Sicilian cities, and went to the relief of Syracuse. He took command of the Syracusan troops, and in a series of battles defeated the Athenian forces, and prevented them from invading the city.

Nicias then sent word to Athens asking for reinforcements. Demosthenes was chosen and led another fleet to Sicily, joining his forces with those of Nicias. More battles ensued and again, the Syracusans and their allies defeated the Athenians. Demosthenes argued for a retreat to Athens, but Nicias at first refused. After additional setbacks, Nicias seemed to agree to a retreat until a bad omen, in the form of a lunar eclipse, delayed any withdrawal. The delay was costly and forced the Athenians into a major sea battle in the Great Harbor of Syracuse. The Athenians were thoroughly defeated. Nicias and Demosthenes marched their remaining forces inland in search of friendly allies. The Syracusan cavalry rode them down mercilessly, eventually killing or enslaving all who were left of the mighty Athenian fleet.

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 Athenian Empire was at hand. Her treasury was nearly empty, her docks were depleted, and the flower of her youth was dead or imprisoned in a foreign land. They overestimated the strength of their own empire and the beginning of the end was indeed at hand.

Athens recovers

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 severely lacking in vigor. Corinth and Syracuse were slow to bring their fleets into the Aegean, and Sparta's other allies were also slow to furnish troops or ships. The Ionian states that rebelled expected protection, and many rejoined the Athenian side. The Persians were slow to furnish promised funds and ships, frustrating battle plans. Perhaps most importantly, Spartan officers were not trained to be diplomats, and were insensitive and politically inept.

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

The Key actions of each phase

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 to the Hellespont, the source of Athens' grain. Threatened with starvation, the Athenian fleet had no choice but to follow. Through cunning strategy, 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 Cyprus, carrying the "strategos" (General) Conon, who was anxious not to face the judgment of the Assembly.

Facing starvation and disease from the prolonged siege, Athens surrendered in 404 BC, and its allies soon surrendered as well. The democrats at 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 possessions. Corinth and Thebes demanded that Athens should be destroyed and all its citizens should be enslaved. However, the Spartans announced their refusal to destroy a city that had done a good service at a time of greatest danger to Greece, and took Athens into their own system. Athens was "to have the same friends and enemies"[20] as Sparta.

By doing so the victorious Spartans proved to be the most clement state that fought Athens and at the same time they turned out to be its saviour as neither Corinth nor Thebes at the time could challenge their decision.


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. The oligarchs were overthrown and a democracy was restored by Thrasybulus in 403 BC.

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 it was all brought to an end a few years later when Philip II of Macedon conquered all of Greece.

The Peloponnesian War continues to fascinate later generations, because of the way it engulfed the Greek world. The insight Thucydides provides into the motivations of its participants is deeper than that which is known about any other war in ancient times.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Kagan, The Peloponnesian War, 488.
  2. ^ Fine, The Ancient Greeks, 528–33.
  3. ^ Kagan, The Peloponnesian War, Introduction XXIII–XXIV.
  4. ^ Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 1.23
  5. ^ Fine, The Ancient Greeks, 371
  6. ^ Kagan, The Peloponnesian War, 8
  7. ^ Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 1.89–93
  8. ^ Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 1.92.1
  9. ^ Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 1.102
  10. ^ Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 1.103
  11. ^ Kagan, The Peloponnesian War, 16–18
  12. ^ In the Hellenic calendar, years ended at midsummer; as a result, some events cannot be dated to a specific year of the modern calendar.
  13. ^ Kagan, The Peloponnesian War, 23–24
  14. ^ Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 1.56
  15. ^ Fine, The Ancient Greeks, 454–456
  16. ^ Buckley Aspects of Greek History, 319–322
  17. ^ Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 1.67–71
  18. ^ Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 1.73–75
  19. ^ Kagan, The Peloponnesian War, 45.
  20. ^ Xenophon, Hellenica, 2.2.20,404/3

References and further reading

Classical authors

Modern authors

  • Bagnall, Nigel. The Peloponnesian War: Athens, Sparta, And The Struggle For Greece. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0-312-34215-2).
  • Cawkwell, G.L. Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War. London: Routledge, 1997 (hardcover, ISBN 0-415-16430-3; paperback, ISBN 0-415-16552-0).
  • Hanson, Victor Davis. A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War. New York: Random House, 2005 (hardcover, ISBN 1-4000-6095-8); New York: Random House, 2006 (paperback, ISBN 0-8129-6970-7).
  • Heftner, Herbert. Der oligarchische Umsturz des Jahres 411 v. Chr. und die Herrschaft der Vierhundert in Athen: Quellenkritische und historische Untersuchungen. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2001 (ISBN 3-631-37970-6).
  • Hutchinson, Godfrey. Attrition: Aspects of Command in the Peloponnesian War. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Tempus Publishing, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 1-86227-323-5).
  • Kagan, Donald:
    • The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1969 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8014-0501-7); 1989 (paperback, ISBN 0-8014-9556-3).
    • The Archidamian War. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8014-0889-X); 1990 (paperback, ISBN 0-8014-9714-0).
    • The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8014-1367-2); 1991 (paperback, ISBN 0-8014-9940-2).
    • The Fall of the Athenian Empire. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8014-1935-2); 1991 (paperback, ISBN 0-8014-9984-4).
    • The Peloponnesian War. New York: Viking, 2003 (hardcover, ISBN 0-670-03211-5); New York: Penguin, 2004 (paperback, ISBN 0-14-200437-5); a one-volume version of his earlier tetralogy.
  • Kallet, Lisa. Money and the Corrosion of Power in Thucydides: The Sicilian Expedition and its Aftermath. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001 (hardcover, ISBN 0-520-22984-3).
  • Krentz, Peter. The Thirty at Athens. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8014-1450-4).
  • The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War, edited by Robert B. Strassler. New York: The Free Press, 1996 (hardcover, ISBN 0-684-82815-4); 1998 (paperback, ISBN 0-684-82790-5).

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PELOPONNESIAN WAR, in Greek history, the name given specially to the struggle between Athens at the head of the Delian League and the confederacy of which Sparta was the leading power.' According to Thucydides the war, which was ' Some historians prefer to call it the Second Peloponnesian War, the first being that of 457, which ended with the Thirty Years' Peace.

in his view the greatest that had ever occurred in Greece, lasted from 431 to the downfall of Athens in 404. The genius of Thucydides has given to the struggle the importance of an epoch in world history, but his view is open to two main criticisms-0) that the war was in its ultimate bearings little more than a local disturbance, viewed from the standpoint of universal history; (2) that it cannot be called a war in the strict sense. The former of these criticisms is justified in the article on Greece: History (q.v.). Unless we are to believe that the Macedonian supremacy is directly traceable to the mutual weakening of the Greek cities in 431-403, it is difficult to see what lasting importance attaches to the war. As regards the second, a few chief difficulties may be indicated. The very narrative even of Thucydides himself shows that the " war " was not a connected whole. It may be divided into three main periods - (1) from 431 to 421 (Lysias calls it the " Archidamian " War), when the Peace of Nicias, not merely formally, but actually produced a cessation of hostilities; (2) from 421 till the intervention of Sparta in the Sicilian War; during these years there was no " Peloponnesian War," and there were several years in which there was in reality no fighting at all: the Sicilian expedition was in fact a side issue; (3) from 413 to 404, when fighting was carried on mainly in the Aegean Sea (Isocrates calls this the " Decelean " War). The disjointed character of the struggle is so obvious from Thucydides himself that historians have come to the conclusion that the idea of treating the whole struggle as a single unit was ex post facto (see Greece: History, § A, " Ancient " ad The book itself affords evidence which goes far to justify this view. A very important problem is presented by bk. v., which is obviously put in as a connecting link to prove a theory. Thucydides expressly warns us not to regard the period of this book as one of peace, and yet the very contents of the book refute his argument. In 419 and 417 there is practically no fighting: the Mantinean War of 418 is a disconnected episode which did not lead to a resumption of hostilities: in 420 there are only obscure battles in Thrace: in 416 there is only the expedition to Melos; and finally from 421 to 413 there is official peace. Other details may be cited in corroboration. Book v. (ch. 26) contains a second introduction to the subject; Me 6 iroAeµos in i. 23 and iv. 48 is the Archidamian or Ten Years' War; in v. 26 we read of a irpi;n-OS rae,uos, a v6repos 7rOXEpos and an avarccoXii. Some critics think on these and other grounds that Thucydides wrote and published bks. i. - v. 25 by itself, then bks. vi. and vii. (Sicilian expedition), and finally revising his view joined them into one whole by the somewhat unsatisfactory bk. v. 26 and following chapters, and began to round off the story with the incomplete bk. viii. (on this see Greece: History, as above). It is perhaps most probable that he retained notes made contemporarily and worked them up some time after 404, in a few passages failing to correct inconsistencies and dying before bk. viii. was completed. The general introduction in bk. i. was unquestionably written shortly after 404. .

The causes of the war thus understood are complex. The view taken by Thucydides that Sparta was the real foe of Athens has been much modified by modern writers. The key to the situation is in fact the commercial rivalry of the Corinthians, whose trade (mainly in the West) had been seriously limited by the naval expansion of the Delian League. This rivalry was roused to fever heat by the Athenian intervention in 434-33 on behalf of Corcyra, Corinth's rebellious colony (see Corfu) and from that time the Corinthians felt that the Thirty Years' Truce was at an end. An opportunity soon offered for making a counter attack. Potidaea, a Dorian town on the western promontory of Chalcidice in Thrace, a tributary ally of Athens - to which however Corinth as metropolis still sent annual magistrates - was induced to revolt,' with the support. of the Macedonian king Perdiccas, formerly an Athenian ally. The Athenian Phormio succeeded in blockading the city so that 1 The importance of this revolt lay in the fact that it immediately involved danger to Athens throughout the Chalcidic promontories, and her north-east possessions generally.

its capture was merely a question of time, and this provided the Corinthians with an urgent reason for declaring war. Prior to these episodes Athens had not been in hostile contact with any of the Peloponnesian confederate states for more than ten years, and Pericles had abandoned a great part of his imperial policy. He now laid an embargo upon Megara by which the Megarians were forbidden on pain of death to pursue trading operations with any part of the Athenian Empire. The circumstances of this decree (or decrees) are not material to the present argument (see Grote, History of Greece, ed. 1907, p. 370 note) except that it turned special attention to the commercial supremacy which Athens claimed to enjoy. In 432 a conference of Peloponnesian allies was summoned and the Corinthian envoys urged the Spartans to declare war on the ground that the power of Athens was becoming so great as to constitute a danger to the other states. This might have been urged with justice before the Thirty Years' Truce (447); but by that truce Athens gave up all her conquests in Greece proper except Naupactus and Plataea, while her solitary gains in Amphipolis and Thurii were compensated by other losses. The fact that the Corinthian argument failed to impress Sparta and many of the delegates is shown by the course of the debate. What finally impelled the Spartans to agree to the war was the veiled threat by the Corinthians that they would be driven into another alliance (i.e. Argos, i. 71). We can hardly regard Sparta as the determined enemy of Athens at this time. Only twice since 461 had she been at war with Athens - in 457 (Tanagra) and 447, when she deliberately abstained from pushing the advantage which the revolt in Euboea provided; she had refused to help the oligarchs of Samos in 440. Corinth however had not only strong, but also immediate and urgent reasons (Potidaea and Corcyra) for desiring war. It has been argued that the war was ultimately a struggle between the principles of oligarchy and democracy. This view, however, cannot be taken of the early stages of the war when there was democracy and oligarchy on both sides (see ad fin.); it is only in the later stages that the political difference is prominent.

The Opposing Forces

The permanent strength of the Peloponnesian confederacy lay in the Peloponnesian states, all of which except Argos and Achaea were united under Sparta's leadership. But it included also extra-Peloponnesian states - viz. Megara, Phocis, Boeotia and Locris (which had formed part of the Athenian land empire), and the maritime colonies round the Ambracian Gulf. The organization was not elaborate. The federal assembly with few exceptions met only in time of war, and then only when Sparta agreed to summon it. It met in Sparta and the delegates, having stated their views before the Spartan Apella, withdrew till the Apella had come to a decision. The delegates were then invited to return and to confirm that decision. It is clear that the link was purely one of common interest, and that Sparta had little or no control over, e.g. so powerful a confederate as Corinth. Sparta was the chief member of the confederacy (hegemon), but the states were autonomous. In time of war each had to provide two-thirds of its forces, and that state in whose territory the war was to take place had to equip its whole force.

The Athenian Empire is described elsewhere (Delian League, Athens). Here it must suffice to point out that there was among the real and technical allies no true bond of interest, and that many of the states were in fact bound by close ties to members of the Peloponnesian confederacy (e.g. Potidaea to Corinth). Sparta could not only rely on voluntary co-operation but could undermine Athenian influence by posing as the champion of autonomy. Further, Thucydides is wrong on his own showing in saying that Sparta refused to tolerate democratic government in confederate cities: it was not till after 418 that this policy was adopted. Athens, on the other hand, had undoubtedly interfered in the interest of democracy in various allied states (see Delian League).

No detailed examination of the comparative military and naval resources of the combatants can here be attempted. On land the Peloponnesians were superior: they had at least 30,000 hoplites not including 10,000 from Central Greece and Boeotia: these soldiers were Highly trained. The Athenian army was undoubtedly smaller. There has been considerable discussion as to the exact figures, the evidence in Thucydides being highly confusing, but it is most probable that the available fighting force was not more than half that of the Peloponnesian confederacy. Even of these we learn (Thuc. iii. 87) that 4400 died in the great plague. The only light-armed force was that of Boeotia at Delium (io,000 with 500 peltasts). Of cavalry Athens had 1000, Boeotia a similar number. The only other cavalry force was that of Thessaly, which, had it been loyal to Athens, would have meant a distinct superiority. In naval power the Athenians undoubtedly had an overwhelming advantage at the beginning, both in numbers and in training.

Financially Athens had an enormous apparent advantage. She began with a revenue of 1000 talents (including 600 from er)p axoe), and had also, in spite of the heavy expense which the building schemes of Pericles had involved, a reserve of 6000 talents. The Peloponnesians had no reserve and no fixed revenue assessment. On the other hand the Peloponnesian armies were unpaid, while Athens had to spend considerable sums on the payment of crews and mercenaries. In the last stages of the war the issue was determined by the poverty of Athens and Persian gold.

The events of the struggle from 431 to 404 may be summarized in the three periods distinguished above.

1. The Ten Years' or Archidamian War. - The Spartans sent. to Athens no formal declaration of war but rather sought first to create some specious casus belli by sending requisitions to Athens. The first, intended to inflame the existing hostilities against Pericles (q.v.) in Athens, was that he should be expelled the city as being an Alcmaeonid (grand-nephew of Cleisthenes) and so implicated in the curse pronounced on the murderers of Cylon nearly 200 years before. This outrageous demand was followed by three others - that the Athenians should (I) withdraw from Potidaea, (2) restore autonomy to Aegina, and (3) withdraw the embargo on Megarian commerce. Upon the refusal of all these demands Sparta finally made the maintenance of peace contingent upon the restoration by Athens of autonomy to all her allies. Under the guidance of Pericles Athens replied that she would do nothing on compulsion, but was prepared to submit difficulties to amicable arbitration on the basis of mutual concessions. Before anything could come of this proposal, matters were precipitated (end of March 431) by the attack of Thebes upon Plataea (q.v.), which immediately sought and obtained the aid of Athens. War was begun. The Spartan king Archidamus assembled his army, sent a herald to announce his approach, marched into Attica and besieged Oenoe.

Meanwhile Pericles had decided to act on the defensive, i.e. to abandon Attica, collect all its residents in Athens and treat Athens as an island, retaining meanwhile command of the sea and making descents on Peloponnesian shores. The policy, which Thucydides and Grote commend, had grave defects - though it is by no means easy to suggest a better; e.g. it meant the ruin of the landed class, it tended co spoil the moral of those who from the walls of Athens annually watched the wasting of their homesteads, and it involved the many perils of an overcrowded city - a peril increased by, if not also the cause of, the plague. Moreover sea power was not everything, and delay exhausted the financial reserves of the state, while financial considerations, as we have seen, were comparatively unimportant to the Peloponnesians. The descents on the Peloponnese were futile in the extreme.

Archidamus, having wasted much territory, including Acharnae, retired at the end of July. The Athenians retaliated by attacking Methone (which was secured by Brasidas), by successes in the West, by expelling all Aeginetans from Aegina (which was made a cleruchy), and by wasting the Megarid.

In 430 Archidamus again invaded Attica, systematically wasting the country. Shortly after he entered Attica plague broke out in Athens, borne thither by traders from Carthage or Egypt (Holm, Greek History, ii. 346 note). The effect upon the overcrowded population of the city was terrible. Of the 200 cavalry (including mounted archers) 300 died, together with 4400 hoplites: altogether the estimate of Diodorus (xii. 58) that more than io,000 citizens and slaves succumbed is by no means excessive. None the less Pericles sailed with i oo triremes, and ravaged the territory near Epidaurus. Subsequently he returned and the expedition proceeded to Potidaea. But the plague went with them and no results were achieved. The enemies of Pericles, who even with the aid of Spartan intrigue had hitherto, failed to harm his prestige, now succeeded in inducing the desperate citizens to fine him for alleged malversation. The verdict, however, shocked public feeling and Pericles was reinstated in popular favour as strategus (c. Aug. 430). About a year later he died. In the autumn of 430 a Spartan attack on Zacynthus failed and the Ambraciots were repulsed from Amphilochian Argos. In reply Athens sent Phormio to Naupactus to watch her interests in that quarter. In the winter Potidaea capitulated, receiving extremely favourable terms.

In 429 the Peloponnesians were deterred by the plague from invading Attica and laid siege to Plataea in the interests of Thebes. The Athenians failed in an expedition to Chalcidice under Xenophon, while the Spartan Cnemus with Chaonian and Epirot allies was repulsed from Stratus, capital of Acarnania,. and Phormio with only 20 ships defeated the Corinthian fleet of 47 sail in the Gulf of Corinth. Orders were at once sent from Sparta to repair this disaster and 77 ships were equipped. Help sent from Athens was diverted to Crete, and after much manoeuvring Phormio .was compelled to fight off Naupactus. Nine of his ships were driven ashore, but with the other II he subsequently defeated the enemy and recovered the lost nine. With the reinforcement which arrived afterwards he established complete control of the western seas. A scheme for operating. with Sitalces against the Chalcidians of Thrace fell through,, and Sitalces joined Perdiccas.

The year 428 was marked by a third invasion of Attica and by the revolt of Lesbos from Athens. After delay in fruitless negotiations the Athenian Cleippides, and afterwards Paches,. besieged Mytilene, which appealed to Sparta. The Peloponnesian confederacy resolved to aid the rebels both directly and by a counter demonstration against Athens. The Athenians, though their reserve of 6000 talents was by now almost exhausted (except for 1000 talents in a special reserve), made a tremendous effort (raising 200 talents by a special property tax), and not only prevented an invasion by a demonstration of loo triremes at the Isthmus, but sent Asopius, son of Phormio, to take his place in the western seas. In spring 427 the Spartans again invaded Attica without result. The winter of 428-427 was marked by the daring escape of half the Plataean garrison under cover of a stormy night, and by the capitulation of Mytilene, which was forced upon the oligarchic rulers by the democracy. The Spartan fleet arrived too late and departed without attempting to recover the town. Paches cleared the Asiatic seas of the enemy, reduced the other towns of Mytilene and returned to Athens with upwards of 1000 prisoners. An assembly was held and under the invective of Cleon it was decided to kill. all male Mytileneans of military age and to sell the women and children as slaves. This decree, though in accordance with the rigorous customs of ancient warfare as exemplified by the treatment which Sparta shortly afterwards meted out to the Plataeans,.

shocked the feelings of Athens, and on the next day it was (illegally) rescinded just in time to prevent Paches carrying it out. The thousand' oligarchic prisoners were however executed,. and Lesbos was made a cleruchy.

Meanwhile there occurred civil war in Corcyra, in which ultimately, with the aid of the Athenian admiral Eurymedon,. the democracy triumphed amid scenes of the wildest savagery. In the autumn of the year Nicias fortified Minoa at the mouth of the harbour of Megara. Shortly afterwards the Spartans 1 So Thuc. iii. 50. It is suggested that this number is an error for 30 or 50 (i.e., A or N for A). It seems incredible that 1000 could be described as " ringleaders " out of a population of perhaps 5000.

planted an unsuccessful colony at Heraclea in the Trachinian territory north-west of Thermopylae.

In the summer of 426 Nicias led a predatory expedition along the north-west coast without achieving any positive victory. More important, though equally ineffective, was the scheme of Demosthenes to march from Naupactus through Aetolia, subduing the wild hill tribes, to Cytinium in Doris (in the upper valleys of the Cephissus) and thence into Boeotia, which was to be attacked simultaneously from Attica. The scheme was crushed by the courage and skill of the Aetolians, who thereupon summoned Spartan and Corinthian aid for a counter attack on Naupactus. Demosthenes averted this, and immediately afterwards by superior tactics inflicted a complete defeat at Olpae in Acarnania on Eurylochus at the head of a Spartan and Ambracian force. An Ambracian reinforcement was annihilated at one of the peaks called Idomene, and a disgraceful truce was accepted by the surviving Spartan leader Menedaeus. This was not only the worst disaster which befell any powerful state up to the peace of Nicias (as Thucydides says), but was a serious blow to Corinth, whose trade on the West was, as we have seen, one of the chief causes of the war.

The year 425 is remarkable for the Spartan disaster of Pylos. The Athenians had despatched 40 triremes under Eurymedon and Procles to Sicily with orders to call first at Corcyra to prevent an expected Spartan attack. Meantime Demosthenes had formed the plan of planting the Messenians of Naupactus in Messenia - now Spartan territory - and obtained permission to accompany the expedition. The fleet was, as it chanced, delayed by a storm in the Bay of Navarino, and rough fortifications were put up by the sailors on the promontory of Pylos. Demosthenes was left behind in this fort, and the Spartans promptly withdrew from their annual raid upon Attica and their projected attack on Corcyra to dislodge him. After a naval engagement (see Pylos) a body of Spartan hoplites were cut off on Sphacteria. So acutely did Sparta feel their position that an offer of peace was made on condition that the hoplites should go free. The eloquence of Cleon frustrated the peace party's desire to accept these terms, and ultimately to the astonishment of the Greek world the Spartan hoplites to the number of 292 surrendered unconditionally (see Cleon).

Thus in 424 the Athenians had seriously damaged the prestige of Sparta, and broken Corinthian supremacy in the north-west, and the Peloponnesians had no fleet. This was the zenith of their success, and it was unfortunate for them that they declined the various offers of peace which Sparta made. The next two years changed the whole position. The doubling of the tribute in 425 pressed hardly on the allies (see Delian League): Nicias failed in a plot with the democratic party in Megara to seize that town; and the brilliant campaigns of Brasidas (q.v.) in the north-east, culminating in the capture of Amphipolis (422), finally destroyed the Athenian hopes of recovering their land empire, and entirely restored the balance of success and Spartan prestige. Moreover, the admirably conceived scheme for a simultaneous triple attack upon Boeotia at Chaeronea in the north, Delium in the south-east, and Siphae in the south-west had fallen through owing to the inefficiency of the generals. The scheme, which probably originated with the atticizing party in Thebes, resulted in the severe defeat of Hippocrates at Delium by the Boeotians under Pagondas, and was a final blow to the policy of an Athenian land empire.

These disasters at Megara, Amphipolis and Delium left Athens with only one trump card - the possession of the Spartan hoplites captured in Sphacteria. This solitary success had already in the spring of 423 induced Sparta in spite of the successes which Brasidas was achieving in Thrace to accept the " truce of Laches " - which, however, was rendered abortive by the refusal of Brasidas to surrender Scione. The final success of Brasidas at Amphipolis, where both he and Cleon were killed, paved the way for a more permanent agreement, the peace parties at Athens and Sparta being in the ascendant.

2. From 421 to 413. - Peace was signed in March 421 on the basis of each side's surrendering what had been acquired by the war, not including those cities which had been acquired by capitulation. It was to last for fifty years. Its weak points, however, were numerous. Whereas Sparta had been least of all the allies interested in the war, and apart from the campaigns of Brasidas had on the whole taken little part in it, her allies benefited least by the terms of the Peace. Corinth did not regain Sollium and Anactorium, while Megara and Thebes respectively were indignant that Athens should retain Nisaea and receive Panactum. These and other reasons rapidly led to the isolation of Sparta, and there was a general refusal to carry out the terms of agreement. The history of the next three years is therefore one of complex inter-state intrigues combined with internal political convulsions. In 421 Sparta and Athens concluded a defensive alliance; the Sphacterian captives were released and Athens promised to abandon Pylos. Such a peace, giving Sparta everything and Athens nothing but Sparta's bare alliance, was due to the fact that Nicias and Alcibiades were both seeking Sparta's friendship. At this time the Fifty Years' Truce between Sparta and Argos was expiring. The Peloponnesian malcontents turned to Argos as a new leader, and an alliance was formed between Argos, Corinth, Elis, Mantinea and the Thraceward towns (420). This coalition between two different elements - an anti-oligarchic party and a war party - had no chance of permanent existence. The war party in Sparta regained its strength under new ephors and negotiations began for an alliance between Sparta, Argos and Boeotia. The details cannot here be discussed. The result was a re-shuffling of the cards. The democratic states of the Peloponnese were driven, partly by the intrigues of Alcibiades, now anti-Laconian, into alliance with Athens, with the object of establishing a democratic Peloponnese under the leadership of Argos. These unstable combinations were soon after upset by Alcibiades himself, who, having succeeded in displacing Nicias as strategus in 419, allowed Athenian troops to help in attacking Epidaurus. For a cause not easy to determine Alcibiades was defeated by Nicias in the election to the post of strategus in the next year, and the suspicions of the Peloponnesian coalition were roused by the inadequate assistance sent by Athens, which arrived too late to assist Argos when the Spartan king Agis marched against it. Ultimately the Spartans were successful over the coalition at Mantinea, and soon afterwards an oligarchic revolution at Argos led to an alliance between that city and Sparta (c. Feb. 417). This oligarchy was overthrown again in June, and the new democracy having vainly sought an agreement with Sparta rejoined Athens. It was thus left to Athens to expend men and money on protecting a democracy by the aid of which she had hoped practically to control the Peloponnesus. All this time, however, the alliance between her and Sparta was not officially broken.

The unsatisfactory character of the Athenian Peloponnesian coalition was one of the negative causes which led up to the Sicilian Expedition of 415. Another negative cause may be found in the failure of an attempt or attempts to subdue the Thraceward towns. By combining the evidence of Plutarch (in his comparison of Nicias and Crassus), Thuc. v. 83, and the inscription which gives the treasury payments for 418-415 (Hicks and Hill, Gr. Hist. Inscr. 70), we can scarcely doubt that there were expeditions in 418 (Euthydemus) and the summer of 417 (Nicias), and that in the winter of 417 a blockading squadron under Chaeremon was despatched. This policy - which was presumably that of Nicias in opposition to Alcibiades - having failed, the way was cleared for a reassertion of that policy of western conquest which had always had advocates from Themistocles onward in Athens,' and was part of the democratic programme.

The tragic fiasco of the Sicilian expedition, involving the death 1 In 454 Athens made a treaty with Segesta (inscr. Hicks and Hill, Greek Hist. Inscr. 34): in 433 with Rhegium and Leontini (Hicks and Hill, 51 and 52; cf. Thuc. iii. 86, ,raXaca, o - vbigaxia. with Chalcidic towns in Sicily): in 444 the colony of Thurii was founded: in 427 (see above) 60 ships were sent to Sicily; and if we may b' lieve Aristophanes (Eq. 1302) Hyperbolus asked for moo triremes for Carthage.

of Nicias and the loss of thousands of men and hundreds of ships, was a blow from which Athens never recovered (see under Syracuse and Sicily). Even before the final catastrophe the Spartans had reopened hostilities. On the advice of Alcibiades (q.v.), exiled from Athens in 415, they had fortified Decelea in Attica within fifteen miles of Athens. This place not only served as a permanent headquarters for predatory expeditions, but cut off the revenue from the Laurium mines, furnished a ready asylum for runaway slaves, and rendered the transference of supplies from Euboea considerably more difficult (i.e. by the sea round Cape Sunium). Athens thus entered upon the third stage of the conflict with exceedingly poor prospects.

3. The Ionian or Decelean War. - From the Athenian standpoint this war may be broken up into three periods: (1) period of revolt of allies (413-411), (2) the rally (410-408), (3) the relapse (407-4 o 4). As contrasted with the Archidamian. War, this war was fought almost exclusively in the Aegean Sea, the enemy was primarily Sparta, and the deciding factor was Persian gold. Furthermore, apart from the gradual disintegration of the empire, Athens was disturbed by political strife.

In 412 many Ionian towns revolted, and appealed either to Agis at Decelea or to Sparta direct. Euboea, Lesbos, Chios, Erythrae led the way in negotiation and revolt, and simultaneously the court of Susa instructed the satraps Pharnabazus and Tissaphernes to renew the collection of tribute from the Greek cities of Asia Minor. The satraps likewise made overtures to Sparta. The revolt of the Ionian allies was due in part to Alcibiades also, whose prompt action in co-operation with his friend the ephor Endius finally confirmed the Chian oligarchs in their purpose. In 411 a treaty was signed by Sparta and Tissaphernes against Athens: the treaty formally surrendered to the Persian king all territory which he or his predecessors had held. It was subsequently renewed in a form somewhat less disgraceful to Greek patriotism by the Spartans Astyochus and Theramenes. On the other hand, a democratic rising in Samos prevented the rebellion of that island, which for the remainder of the war was invaluable to Athens as a stronghold lying between the two great centres of the struggle.

After the news of the Sicilian disaster Athens was compelled at last to draw on the reserve of 1000 talents which had lain untouched in the treasury.' The revolt of the Ionian allies, and (in 411) the loss of the Hellespontine, Thracian and Island tributes (see Delian League), very seriously crippled her finances. On the other hand, Tissaphernes undertook to pay the Peloponnesian sailors a daily wage of one Attic drachma (afterwards reduced to a drachma). In Attica itself Athens lost Oenoe and Oropus, and by the end of 411 only one quarter of the empire remained. In the meanwhile Tissaphernes began to play a double game with the object of wasting the strength of the combatants. Moreover Alcibiades lost the confidence of the Spartans and passed over to Tissaphernes, at whose disposal he placed his great powers of diplomacy, at the same time scheming for his restoration to Athens. He opened negotiations with the Athenian leaders in Samos and urged them to upset the democracy and establish a philo-Persian oligarchy. After elaborate intrigues, in the course of which Alcibiades played false to the conspirators by forcing them to abandon the idea of friendship with Tissaphernes owing to the exorbitant terms proposed, the new government by the Four Hundred was set up in Athens (see Theramenes). This government (which received no support from the armament in Samos) had a brief life, and on the final revolt of Euboea was replaced by the old democratic system. Alcibiades (q.v.) was soon afterwards invited to return to Athens.

The war, which, probably because of financial trouble, the Spartans had neglected to pursue when Athens was thus in the throes of political convulsion, was now resumed. After much manoeuvring and intrigues a naval battle was fought at Cynos 1 She had already abolished the system of tribute in favour of a 5 °,o ad valorem tax on all imports and exports carried by sea between her ports and those of the allies.

sema in the Hellespont in which victory on the whole rested with the Athenians (Aug. 411), though the net result was inconsiderable. About this time the duplicity of Tissapherneswho having again and again promised a Phoenician fleet and having actually brought it to the Aegean finally dismissed it on the excuse of trouble in the Levant - and the vigorous honesty of Pharnabazus definitely transferred the Peloponnesian forces to the north-west coast of Asia Minor and the Hellespont. There they were regularly financed by Pharnabazus, while the Athenians were compelled to rely on forced levies. In spite of this handicap Alcibiades, who had been seized and imprisoned by Tissaphernes at Sardis but effected his escape, achieved a remarkable victory over the Spartan Mindarus at Cyzicus (about April 410). So complete was the destruction of the Peloponnesian fleet that, according to Diodorus, peace was offered by Sparta (see ad fin.)and would have been accepted but for the warlike speeches of the " demagogue " Cleophon representing the extreme democrats? Another result was the return to allegiance (409) of a number of the north-east cities of the empire. Great attempts were made by the Athenians to hold the Hellespont and then to protect the corn-supply from the Black Sea. In Greece these gains were compensated by the loss of Pylos and Nisaea.

In 408 Alcibiades effectively invested Chalcedon, which surrendered by agreement with Pharnabazus, and subsequently Byzantium also fell into his hands with the aid of some of its inhabitants.

Pharnabazus, weary of bearing the whole cost of the war for the Peloponnesians, agreed to a period of truce so that envoys might visit Susa, but at this stage the whole position was changed by the appointment of Cyrus the Younger as satrap of Lydia, Greater Phrygia and Cappadocia. His arrival coincided with the appointment of Lysander (c. Dec. 408) as Spartan admiral - the third of the three great commanders (Brasidas and Gylippus being the others) whom Sparta produced during the war. Cyrus promptly agreed on the special request of Lysander (q.v.) to pay slightly increased wages to the sailors, while Lysander established a system of anti-Athenian clubs and oligarchic governments in various cities. Meanwhile Alcibiades (May 407), having exacted levies in Caria, returned at length to Athens and was elected strategus with full powers (see Strategus). He raised a large force of men and ships and endeavoured to draw Lysander (then at Ephesus) into an engagement. But Cyrus and Lysander were resolved not to fight till they had a clear advantage, and Alcibiades took a small squadron to Phocaea. In spite of his express orders his captain Antiochus in his absence provoked a battle and was defeated and killed at Notium. This failure and the refusal of Lysander to fight again destroyed the confidence which Alcibiades had so recently regained. Ten strategi were appointed to supersede him and he retired to fortified ports in the Chersonese which he had prepared for such an emergency (c. Jan. 406). At the same time Lysander's year of office expired and he was superseded by Callicratidas, to the disgust of all those whom he had so carefully organized in his service. Callicratidas, an honourable man of pan-Hellenic patriotism, was heavily handicapped in the fact that Cyrus declined to afford him the help which had made Lysander powerful, and had recourse to the Milesians and Chians, with whose aid he fitted out a fleet of 140 triremes (only 10 Spartan). With these he pursued Conon (chief of the ten new Athenian strategi), captured 30 of his 70 ships and besieged him in Mytilene. Faced with inevitable destruction, Conon succeeded in sending the news to Athens, where by extraordinary efforts a fleet of 11o ships was at once equipped. Callicratidas, hearing of this fleet's approach, withdrew from Mytilene, leaving Eteonicus in charge of the blockade. Forty more ships were collected by the Athenians, who met and defeated Callicratidas at Arginusae with a loss of more than half his fleet. The immediate result was that Eteonicus left Mytilene and Conon found himself free. Unfortunately the victorious generals at Arginusae, through negligence or owing Xenophon, Hell. does not mention it: Thucydides's history had by this time come to an end.

to a storm, failed to recover the bodies of those of their crews who were drowned or killed in the action. They were therefore recalled, tried and condemned to death, except two who had disobeyed the order to return to Athens.

At this point Lysander was again sent out, nominally as secretary to the official admiral Aracus. Cyrus, recalled to Susa by the illness of Darius, left him in entire control of his satrapy. Thus strengthened he sailed to Lampsacus on the Hellespont and laid siege to it. Conon, now in charge of the Athenian fleet, sailed against him, but the fleet was entirely destroyed while at anchor at Aegospotami (Sept. 405), Conon escaping with only 12 out of 180 sail to Cyprus. In April 404 Lysander sailed into the Peiraeus, took possession of Athens, and destroyed the Long Walls and the fortifications of Peiraeus. An oligarchical government was set up (see Critias), and Lysander having compelled the capitulation of Samos, the last Athenian stronghold, sailed in triumph to Sparta..

Two questions of considerable importance for the full understanding of the Peloponnesian War may be selected for special notice: (I) how far was it a war between two antagonistic theories of government. oligarchic and democratic ? and (2) how far was Athenian statesmanship at fault in declining the offers of peace which Sparta made ?

I. A common theory is that Sparta fought throughout the war as an advocate of oligarchy, while Athens did not seek to interfere with the constitutional preferences of her allies. The view is based partly on Thuc. i. 19, according to which the Spartans took care that their allies should adhere to a policy convenient to themselves. This idea is disproved by Thucydides' own narrative, which shows that down to 418 (the battle of Mantinea) Sparta tolerated democratic governments in Peloponnesus itself - e.g. Elis, Mantinea, Sicyon, Achaea. It was only after that date that democracy was suppressed in the Peloponnesian League, and even then Mantinea remained democratic. In point of fact, it was only when Lysander became the representative of Spartan foreign policy - i.e. in the last years ,of the war - that Sparta was identified with the oligarchic policy.

On the other hand, there is strong evidence that the Athenian Empire at a much earlier date was based upon a uniform democratic type of government (of. Thuc. i. 19, viii. 64; Xen. Pol. i. 14, Hell. iii. 47; Arist. Pol. viii. 69). It is true that we find oligarchic government in Chios and Lesbos (up to 428) and in Samos (up to 440), but this is discounted by the fact that all three were " autonomous " allies. Moreover, in the case of Samos there was a democracy in 439, though in 412 the government was again oligarchic. The case of Selymbria (see Hicks and Hill, op. cit. 77) is of little account, because at that time (409) the Empire was in extremis. In general we find that Athenian orators take special credit on the ground that the Athenian had given to her allies the constitutional advantages which they themselves enjoyed.

2. In view of the disastrous issue of the war, it is important to notice that on three occasions - (a) after Pylos, (b) after Cyzicus, (c) after Arginusae - Athens refused formal peace proposals from Sparta. (a) Though Cleon was probably wise in opposing peace negotiations before the capture of the Spartans in Sphacteria, it seems in the light of subsequent events that he was wrong to refuse the terms which were offered after the hoplites had been captured. No doubt, however, the temper in Athens was at that time predominantly warlike, and the surrender of the hoplites was a unique triumph. Possibly, too, Cleon foresaw that peace would have meant a triumph for the philo-Laconian party. (b) The peace proposals of 410 are given by Diodorus, who says that the ephor Endius proposed that a peace should be made on the basis of uti possidetis, except that Athens should evacuate Pylos and Cythera, and Sparta, Decelea. Cleophon, however, perhaps doubting whether the offer was sincere (cf. Philochorus in Schol. ap. Eurip. Orest. 371; Fragm. ed. Didot, 117, 118), demanded the status quo ante (i.13 or 431). (c) The proposals of 406, mentioned by Ath. Pol. 34, were on the same lines, except that Athens no longer had Pylos and Cythera, and had lost practically half her empire. At this time peace must therefore have been advantageous to Athens as showing the world that in spite of her losses she was still one of the great powers of Greece. Moreover, an alliance with Sparta would have meant a check to Persian interference. It is probable, again, that party interest was a leading motive in Cleophon's mind, since a peace would have meant the return of the oligarchic exiles and the establishment of a moderate oligarchy.

Authorities. -G. Busolt, Griech. Gesch., Bd. iii., Teil ii. (1904), Der Peloponnesische Krieg " is essential. All histories of Greece may be consulted (see GREECE: History, Ancient, section " Authorities "). (J. M. M.)

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Simple English

The Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) was an Ancient Greek military conflict, fought by Athens and its allies, against the Peloponnesian League, led by Sparta.

Athens stood for democracy, and Sparta for oligarchy, though they fought as much for ecomomic reasons of trade and for the dominance of their respective leagues.

Sparta eventually won the Pelopennesian War. Athens was never the same again.


How the war went

Athens was the greatest sea power, and Sparta the greatest land power in 5th century BC Greece.

In the first phase, the Archidamian War, Sparta launched repeated invasions of Attica, while Athens took advantage of its naval supremacy to raid the coast of the Peloponnese attempting to suppress signs of unrest in its empire.

This period of the war ended in 421 BC, with the signing of the Peace of Nicias. That treaty, however, was soon undermined by renewed fighting in the Peloponnese. In 415 BC, Athens dispatched a large force to attack Syracuse in Sicily. The attack failed, with the destruction of the entire force, in 413 BC.

This ushered in the final phase of the war, generally referred to either as the Decelean War, or the Ionian War. In this phase, Sparta, now receiving support from Persia, supported rebellions in Athens' subject states in the Aegean Sea and Ionia, undermining Athens' empire, and, eventually, depriving the city of naval supremacy. The destruction of Athens' fleet at Aegospotami effectively ended the war, and Athens surrendered in the following year.


The Peloponnesian War reshaped the Ancient Greek world. Athens, the strongest city-state in Greece before the war started, was reduced to a state of near-complete subjection. Sparta became the leading power of Greece.

The economic costs of the war were felt all across Greece; poverty became widespread in the Peloponnese, Athens was completely devastated, and never regained its pre-war prosperity.[1]p488[2] The war also wrought subtler changes to Greek society; the conflict between democratic Athens and oligarchic Sparta, each of which supported friendly political factions within other states, made civil war a common occurrence in the Greek world.

Greek warfare, 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 Peloponnesian War marked the dramatic end to the fifth-century BC 'Golden age of Greece'.[1]xxiii-xxiv

Related pages

Further reading

Classical authors

Modern authors

  • Bagnall, Nigel. The Peloponnesian War: Athens, Sparta, And The Struggle For Greece. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0-312-34215-2).
  • Cawkwell, G.L. Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War. London: Routledge, 1997 (hardcover, ISBN 0-415-16430-3; paperback, ISBN 0-415-16552-0).
  • Hanson, Victor Davis. A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War. New York: Random House, 2005 (hardcover, ISBN 1-4000-6095-8); New York: Random House, 2006 (paperback, ISBN 0-8129-6970-7).
  • Heftner, Herbert. Der oligarchische Umsturz des Jahres 411 v. Chr. und die Herrschaft der Vierhundert in Athen: Quellenkritische und historische Untersuchungen. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2001 (ISBN 3-631-37970-6).
  • Hutchinson, Godfrey. Attrition: Aspects of Command in the Peloponnesian War. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Tempus Publishing, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 1-86227-323-5).
  • Kagan, Donald:
  • Kallet, Lisa. Money and the Corrosion of Power in Thucydides: The Sicilian Expedition and its Aftermath. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001 (hardcover, ISBN 0-520-22984-3).
  • Krentz, Peter. The Thirty at Athens. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8014-1450-4).
  • The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War, edited by Robert B. Strassler. New York: The Free Press, 1996 (hardcover, ISBN 0-684-82815-4); 1998 (paperback, ISBN 0-684-82790-5).

Other websites

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  1. 1.0 1.1 Kagan, Donald 2003. The Peloponnesian War. New York: Viking. hardcover ISBN 0-670-03211-5; Penguin paperback ISBN 0-14-200437-5
  2. Fine, The Ancient Greeks, 528–33.


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