The Peloponnesian War

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The Peloponnesian War

The Greek empire did not comprise of any center for power ruling over the states, instead it consisted of numerous city-states each having independence and being governed in a manner separate from the rest. Where Athens had a democratic style of government, with everyone from the populace having the right to participate in the government (except for women and slaves), Sparta had a totalitarian form of governance.

The populace was divided into 3 distinct classes which included Spartan men (who were all raised to be warriors), Spartan women (who were patriotic, proud, and exhibited more independence then women from other states) and finally Helots, or slaves (Adams). Aside from the political difference between the states, even their culture was vastly different. The lifestyles of Athenian citizens encouraged them to seek artistic and intellectual pursuits whereas Spartan men were trained to be soldiers from birth and led a life by the sword.

Athens was the most powerful state amongst the other states in the Greek Empire. After the expulsion of the Persian from the continent by the Greek allies led by Athens, the state became the central power by increasing their forces and converting the ally states into tribute paying states with the money earned going into improving Athens infrastructure and help strengthen its naval fleet.

It did not make matters any better when in a Helot uprising in Sparta, when Sparta called for aid from all the other Greek allies, it dismissed the contingent from Athens as they feared the troops would change sides and support the Helots instead, since Athens was a democratic state and Sparta was not. . The Peloponnesian War, which lasted from 431 – 404 BC provided the states a chance to enter into direct confrontation with each other to resolve their issues once and for all. In my opinion, the Peloponnesian War was an outlet for the states to finally destroy the others as each saw the others existence as an affront.

The superiority of Athens and their cultural background clashed with the ferocity and dominant attitude of the Spartans and eventually an altercation would have taken place. This paper will identify the strengths of the two city-states, determine which factors gave them an edge over the other and will analyze whether the states where able to maximize the potential of those benefits. Military Background Athens Athens was the most prosperous state on the continent. It had wealth and a large population, being the centre for business and politics.

After the Persian invasion, Athens took on the leading role and used its position to build its own state far surpassing the others. When the Persians had been defeated, the allies of Athens were reduced to subservient tribute paying states that were supposed to aid Athens prosper even more. The policies adopted by Athens towards the other states exhibit the superior attitude with which Athens looked upon the other states. Athens had a defensive wall built around its city which made land attacks impractical and futile.

Since the Persians had left and Athens had begun work to strengthen the walls, Sparta had seriously been against the measure as they recognize the tactical benefit Athens would obtain as Sparta would have difficulty in defeating Athens with the presence of the wall. Athens also had a strong naval fleet. Its fleets were much superior to the other states’ and it was able to maximize upon its advantage by using said fleets to ravage the Peloponnesus (Hooker, 1999). Sparta Sparta, as mentioned earlier, was a state which trained every one of its inhabitants to become warriors.

From birth onwards, Spartan men lived a life of training and fighting to become the ultimate soldiers. Therefore the Spartan army relied on its brute strength and its training superiority. The Spartan infantry was more numerous than the Athenian and in size; the Spartan army far surpassed the other states’. Throughout the course of the Peloponnese War, Sparta used its numbers to ravage the territory around Athens (Attica in general). Historical Events Exhibiting Military Strategies The first war between Sparta and Athens was the Archidamian War, named after the Spartan king, was initiated by the Spartans.

The Spartan troops invaded the lands surrounding Athens and were meant to deprive the city-state of its food source and access to its productive land. The strategy employed by the Spartans was a strategy any land based army would adopt. To cut off supplies and eventually force the opponent to surrender is probably the most successful way to gain victory without shedding much blood on the attacker’s side. Spartan troops however were unable to succeed by this strategy as Athens was able to acquire food and material via its ports which it still had access to.

The Spartan army itself was unable to stay over long periods of time due to the harvesting of their own crops and the inability to leave the helots unsupervised in the home state. The success of sieges work only if they are meant to last over longer durations, but the Spartans were able to stay at most for 40 days. From the start of the War we can see that the strengths of both the armies were conflicting with each other and an outright battle to rule was out of the question as both sides wished to play by their strengths.

Athens adopted the strategy to avoid any land battles with its far more superior opponent due to its numbers and experience in land battles. But in 430 BC an outbreak of plague hit the city and roughly one third of the Athens population died. But the plague had the effect that the Spartan armies did not want to catch the sickness and decided to put the ravaging expeditions on a hold as it would bring them in proximity to the Athenians (B. Strassler, 1996).

After recovering from the plague, Athens launched an offensive by sending out its naval troops to ravage the port cities of the Peloponnesus. Athens began stretching its military activities to further reaches and began setting up posts in the Peloponnesus bringing the war closer to the Spartans. Instead of engaging in direct confrontations, the Athenian forces began drawing the Spartan helots to them which crippled Sparta as most of the domestic work was tended to by these slaves.

Sparta led an expedition to the Athenian colony of Amphipolis, which was controlled nearby silver mines which basically funded the Athenian troops. A war was fought in Brasidas which eventually led to the two states signing a truce which lasted 6 years (ThinkQuest). The truce was an excuse for both sides to build up their strengths as both had faced economic losses. During the era of peace, the Athenians were able to gather support from the states of Argos, Mantinea and Arcadia. The allied coalition appeared to get early victories but was eventually crushed by the Spartan forces.

It can clearly be seen that Sparta had the major advantage in land battles and that Athens was initially wise in avoiding direct clashes as in the battle of Mantinea, which was the largest land battle fought in the Peloponnesian War, Sparta was able to crush its opponents brutally. The deciding battle in the war could probably be the Sicilian expedition. Syracuse (which shared the same race as the Spartans) were attacking Sicily (which shared the race with Athenians). Since Sicily was the second largest state and would have provided much needed resource to Athens, Athens decided to help them.

Troops sent for aiding Sicily proved incapable of defeating the Syracusan forces. While the Athenian forces waited to gather more allies in the surrounding vicinity, Syracuse was able to get the support from Sparta which tipped the scale in Sparta’s favor. Around this time Athens was facing harsh times as Spartan forces had made access to their lands difficult and food and other necessities had to be shipped in which cost a lot to the Athens government. The main source of funding for the Athenian forces was the silver mines which had now been taken over by the Spartans.

To accommodate for the decrease in capital, Athens began demanding more tribute from its allies. This created friction amongst the coalition and would eventually lead to dissatisfaction in the allies. (Hanson, 2005) Realizing the tactical advantage Athens possessed due to its navy, Sparta contacted the Persians and took their aid in building its own navy. The navy would prove to be the decisive factor as in 405 the critical blow hit Athens when the Spartan commander Lysander took his navy northward to Hellespont and destroyed the Athenian forces existing there.

This blow seemed too big to bear and Athens eventually conceded defeat and had to succumb to the humiliating terms laid down by the Spartans (Thucydides & Lattimore, 1998). Personal Observations Pertaining to the Peloponnesian War The war was not won due to the number of forces or the number of allies that any side had but it relied on the ability of the army to change to meet the situation. Both sides possessed benefits in separate areas, with Spartans having superiority on land and Athens having the superiority on the seas.

But Sparta was constantly reevaluating its approaches and battle plans and would accommodate for the situation at hand. Rather than relying strictly on sieges and confronting on the mainland, Sparta developed its own naval strength and reduced the competitive advantage that the Athens forces had over it. Even though from the beginning Sparta would have been deemed as the military superior, Athens had a number of opportunities to tip the war in their favor.

Such as during the Sicilian expedition, it was mismanagement and lethargy which cost the Athens forces defeat. Conclusion The strengths of the two states were clearly exhibited in this research paper but no amount of strength is affective if it does not keep training and does not keep advancing. The Athens forces made this mistake by simply relying on one’s strength and believing it would win them the war where in truth Sparta proved to be the wiser of the two and used the opponent’s strength, incorporated into its own arsenal and eventually won the war.

The Spartans were able to not only maximize on their own strength during the war (land based warfare) but created advancements in their weakness as well and had they not done so, the war would have lasted for numerous more years due to an intermittent deadlock as both sides initially had opposing tactical advantages. References Adams, P. (n. d. ). Comparing Athens and Sparta. Retrieved February 22, 2009, from Discovery Education: http://school. discoveryeducation. com/lessonplans/programs/spartans/ B. Strassler, R. (1996). In R. B. Strassler, The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War.

New York: The Free Press. Hanson, V. D. (2005). In V. D. Hanson, A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War. New York: Random House. Hooker, R. (1999, June 6). Ancient Greece. Retrieved February 22, 2009, from Ancient Greece: The Peloponnesian War: http://wsu. edu/~dee/GREECE/PELOWARS. HTM ThinkQuest. (n. d. ). Peleponnesian War. Retrieved February 22, 2009, from ThinkQuest. com: http://library. thinkquest. org/17709/wars/peloponn. htm Thucydides, & Lattimore, S. (1998). In S. Lattimore, The Peloponnesian War. Hackett Publishing.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 23 October 2016

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