Peloponnesian War

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Peloponnesian War

Nearly during fifty years that preceded Peloponnesian War, the Greek history was characterized by development of the city of Athens as the main power in the Mediterranean world. The ancient Greece is a term used to describe the Greek speaking world in the ancient times which included the Hellenic culture that were settled in Greek during the ancient times. The ancient times in Greece was influenced by frequent migration as several people were forced to leave their land due to pressure from superior tribes.

People were not free to cultivate their land since they could not predict when the invaders would come. Most of these people sort refuge in the city of Athens as a safe retreat. No form of communication, no freedom of trade and the richest soil were frequently invaded thus changed master. Such fertile district included most parts of Peloponnese, Boeotia, and Thessaly (Hanson, V, 2005). The city of Athens in Europe was the birthplace of democracy and became the most powerful and the leading city in the Ancient Greece during the first millennium BC.

Classical democracy which was also called Athenian democracy was the democratic system that greatly developed in the Ancient Greek city state Athens and it’s surrounding such the Attica. Many states in Greek also had democracies but not in the Athenian model nor were they as powerful and stable as the Athenian democracy. It started as a small group of city states who merged in order to bring to an end the then intense Persian war. It had several cultural achievements that laid the foundation for the western civilization.

Just before the commencement of the Peloponnesian war, the city of Athens had grown in power and wealth and was the strongest city state in Greece. After a short while the city of Athens started dominated and invading other city-states. They succeeded in dominating all the Greece except the Sparta and its allies thus making the Athens Empire with which they were able to defeat the Persians and thereafter formed a coalition of Greek city-states.

Just after the departure of the Persians friction began between the Athens and the Peloponnese states including Sparta who were trying to hinder the Athenians from building the walls of Athens but their hindrances were thwarted (Cawkwell, G, 1997). The Peloponnesians believed that without the walls the Athenians would defenseless against land attack and thus would be easily subjects to Sparta since they (the Spartans) overpowered the Athenians in land war. Since they did not succeed in their bid, they felt secretly grieved. All this events marked the birthpangs of Peloponnesian war.

Other events that fueled the war involved the Athens and the Corinth. After Corinth faced defeated from Corcyra which happened to be one of their colony, they started building naval power but the Corcyra formed an ally with the Athens so as to gain defense against any farther attack from the Corinth. Peloponnesian war which is also known as Athenian war commenced in 431BC between the Athenians and the Spartans who were leading the Peloponnesian league at that time. Many were the underlying factors behind this war which lasted up to 404BC.

These two countries had made a peace treaty which had lasted for thirty years at that time. However, the Spartans felt threatened by the increasing power and wealth of the Athenians since they (the Athenians) being power hungry had began to reassert their control on the mainland of Greece. The other factor that triggered the war was the trade sanctions that the Athenians gave to the Megarans who were Spartans allies. As a result of this, Spartans and the Athenians fell into another war which was named Peloponnesian war after the Peloponnesian league which was led by the Spartans.

This war lasted for over twenty seven years and it occurred in three different phases namely: Archidamian War, the attack of the Syracuse in Sicily and the Decelean war or the Lonian war. First phase of the war named Archidamian war, after the king of Sparta called Archidamus II, took place between 431BC and 421 BC. At the outbreak of the war the Spartans attacked Attica and burned all their crops with an aim to starve the Athenians forcing many of the citizens in Attica to leave their farms and seek refuge inside the long walls that joined Athens and its port known Piraeus.

The general of the Spartan army during this period was Brasidas while the general of the Athenian army was Cleon. They highly wished to fight the land war which they were good at to the disadvantage of the Athenians who anchored on the powerful navy they had. A good number of the population of the Athenians died during this period not only as a result of the war but also an outbreak of plague which consumed almost two thirds of entire Athens population. Each of the sides believed that it would over power the other and therefore force a surrender which was not the case (Kallet, L, 2001).

After ten years of struggles and fighting, both the two nations were worn down and thus they agreed and signed a fifty-year peace treaty which was called the Peace of Nicias. The peace treaty was named Nicia after an Athenian politician and general leader of the Athens at that time. However, the treaty lasted for only six years after the death of Brasidas and Cleon thereafter there was an outbreak of another war which ushered the second phase of the war. During these six years there were constant skirmishes and even though the Spartans kept themselves from war their allies constantly conversed on the possibility of revolt.

As a result of these talks the allies got good support from Argos one of the cities within Peloponnesus which was quite independent from Lacedaemon (another Greek name for Sparta). They managed to form a coalition with other democratic states within the Peloponnese such as Elis and Mantinea and the Spartans were unable to break this coalition despite all their efforts. A small portion of Athenians including Alcibiades backed this coalition too. History has it that the war which occurred in Mantinea was the fiercest war that was ever fought during Peloponnesian war.

The Lacedaemonians together with their neighbors Tegean faced a tough opposition from the combined forces of the Mantinea, Argos, Arcadia and the Athens. The Spartans who were also known as Lacedaemonians were able to put down this coalition forcing the democratic alliance to break. Finally, the members of this coalition joined the Peloponnesian league. The second phase of this war was characterized by the attack in Sicily from Syracuse. The people of Syracuse were Dorians as the Spartans whereas the Sicilians were Ionians as the Athenians.

The colonization of the Sicily would have been a great door for getting immense wealth by the Athenians. During this time the Athenian religious statute was destroyed by an anonymous figure but the charges were placed upon Alcibiades who demanded trial immediately so that he could defend himself. Instead, the Athenians allowed him to go for expedition. He was then summoned back to Athens when he was in Sicily but he fearing that he could possibly be condemned unjustly, he opted not to return to Athens and instead defected to the side of Spartans (Krentz, P, 1982).

He became a resourceful person to the Spartans by revealing to the Spartans the underlying plans of the Athenians as pertained to the city of Sicily including the Athenian plan to use Sicily as a springboard to conquer Italy and use the resources plus the soldiers in these new conquests to conquer all the Peloponnese. In order to counteract this move, Nicia was taken to replace Alcibiades as mission who then was commissioned to mount an attack on the Syracuse. But with the help from Spartans, the Athenians were all defeated miserably thus they were unable to invade the city.

The joint reinforcement of the Spartans, Corinth and Peloponnese league to Syracuse were able to entirely destroy the Athenian fleet and consequently all their army was sold off into slavery The Sicily attack almost left the Athenians powerless since their power was more vested in the naval power and any of their troops that remained were killed and enslaved by the Syracusans. This war had detrimental effect on the Athenian empire as their treasury was reading empty and their strong youths were held prisoners in a strange land.

Through the advice of Alcibiades, the Spartans were able to fortify Decelea, a city near Athens, thus preventing the shipment of supplies to Athens and also hindering them from using their land in a full year. This move disrupted the sliver mines that were nearby and thus forced the supplies to be taken by sea at an increased cost. Worst of all, the Spartans freed most of the Athenian slaves at Decelea forcing the Athenians to seek tribute from their subject allies which farther caused tension and a threat of rebellion within the Athenian empire (Robert B, 1996).

Despite all these humiliating defeat in the Sicily the Athenians never gave up on their fight but they managed to escape. For instance, the slow with which the Spartans furnished their troops and ship. The Syracuse and the Corinth were also not speedy enough in letting their fleet in Aegean thus giving the Athenians an opportunity to survive. The Spartan officers lacked necessary skills and these accounted for their slowness in furnishing the troops.

During the last phase of the war, the Spartans received reinforcement from the Persians who offered assistance in form of money and ship. The Persians allied with the bid to revenge on the Athenians for the war they had prosecuted in the earlier century. Whenever war was shifted to the sea the Athenians could enjoy victory. Under the leadership of General Lysander, the Spartans got an overall victory over the Athenians. As a result of this Alcibiades exiled himself from Athens because he was not re-elected as the general of the Athenians.

Unfortunately their fleets were completely destroyed due to a surprise attack which then left them very hopeless and consequently they surrendered to the Spartans who broke the walls of their cities and barred them from possessing a navy. The aftermaths of the Peloponnesian included the overthrowing of oligarchs and restoration of democracy. This war reshaped the ancient Greek world. Sparta was established as the leading power in Greece whereas Athens which was the powerful state was lowered into subjection.

Poverty was greatly experienced in Peloponnesus due to the economic costs of the war across the entire Greece. Reference: Cawkwell, G. L. (1997). Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War. London: Routledge. Hanson, V. (2005). How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War. New York: Random House. Kallet, L. (2001). The Sicilia Expedition and its Aftermath. Berkeley: University of California Press, Krentz, P. (1982). The Thirty at Athens. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, Robert B. (1996). A Guide to the Peloponnesian War. New York: The Free Press.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 28 October 2016

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