‘The True cause of the conflict between the Athenians and the Spartans was growing fear of Athenian domination.’ To what extent is this an accurate assessment?
This assessment is accurate however there are other causes which led to conflict between Athens and the Spartans, which many historians have discussed the different causes of the Peloponnesian War, the two equal but different powers in control of Greece and the surrounding area. Athens with a democratic rule expanded by using the surrounding waterways for trade and developing a great navy. Sparta with an oligarchic rule settled in by developing a thriving agriculture community and a land based army. The balance of power leans towards Sparta and her allies. Sparta already feared Athens’ growing power. Therefore, Sparta needed to check Athens’ control of the region. The need to keep a balance of power is the main reason of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides attains that Sparta’s fear of Athenian rule provided an unavoidable path to war.
Athens controlled about half of the city-states; dominated much of the trade; and maintained a strong navy. Sparta kept a strong army and retained equal allies but was primarily an agriculture state. Athens’ ability to maneuver on the sea provided opportunities to expand her power, and this alarmed Sparta. Since Sparta is concerned by Athens’ growing power, Sparta waits for a way to be able to stop the expansion. By waiting for an opportunity that comes for war against Athens, Sparta is not very reluctant and could even be considered eager to enter an altercation, however key individuals such as Pericles convinced the Athenians that allowing allied states to become free was a sign of weakness. In addition, he convinced them that Sparta was no match and could not win a long-term war against the great Athenian navy. He stressed the need for Athens to rely on the navy and utilize the walls around Athens while Sparta’s army attacked.
This method proved to be a weakness in reality. The residents of Athens and the countryside were too numerous for safe living conditions behind the walls of Athens. Furthermore, it appears that Pericles forgot that long time enemies could enter the picture and help the Spartans as the Persians did, because Athens was so aggressive especially under the guidance of Pericles. This aggression led to Sparta’s attack against Athens. In the end, Athens’ aggression only leads to her defeat. However historians like Thucydides stated that the “Real cause I consider to be the one which was formally most kept out of sight.
The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired Lacedaemon, made war inevitable”. While Thucydides may have thought he settled the causes of the Peloponnesian War. However other historians debate that other reasons were to blame such as ‘Spartans desire for more’ as well as ‘Athenian bullying of its allies and neutral cities’. Because Thucydides was exiled from Athens for 11 or more years his research could be more dedicated, however some of his information from Athens had to been eye witness accounts of events, speeches etc.
The Megarian Decree was a set of economic sanctions levied upon Megara in 432 BC by the Athenian Empire shortly before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War.The extent to which the decree encouraged the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war is the subject of debate.
My primary source for the war, Thucydides, however he puts very little emphasis upon the decree in his analysis of the cause of the war, and treating it as a pretext on the part of the Spartans. The main evidence we have for the significance of the decree is Aristophanes, an ancient playwright and satirist of the time. His play ‘The Acharnians’ mentions how the decree left the Megarians ‘slowly starving’ and caused them to appeal to the Spartans for aid which could be another reason Sparta fought Athens.
The main precipitating causes of the war, thought of as a war between Athens and Sparta, actually concerned relations between Sparta’s allies rather than Sparta itself as well as other smaller states with Athenian connections, at Potidaea, a Corinthian colony, the Athenians demanded that the Corinthian magistrates be sent home. Potidaea revolted, and an unofficial Corinthian force went out to help. Potidaea was laid under siege by Athens. None of this yet amounted to war with the Peloponnesian League as a whole, but the temperature was as high as it could be.
A congress of Spartan allies was convoked to discuss grievances against Athens, and the decision was taken for war. The other Spartan ally seeking to involve Sparta in a private feud with an enemy was Thebes, whose attack on its neighbour Plataea (an Athenian ally) in time of peace was retrospectively recognized by Sparta as an act of war guilt. Sparta should not have condoned it, nor should it have invaded Attica despite the fact that Athens had placed a garrison in Plataea so long as Athens was offering arbitration, as it seems it was.
Overall Sparta and Athens could not compromise with each other as well as the risk being conquered by the other state. I believe Sparta would have chosen to attack Athens regardless of communication between each other, Since that Sparta fears Athens power, it is doubtful that they will trust Athens to not be aggressive towards their state.
In my own opinion I think that the Peloponnesian War could have been avoided if the leaders of Sparta and Athens could have discussed the situation in Epidamnus. Together they could have provided some resolutions and an end to the civil war. However Each side remained fearful of the other holding too much power. I also agree with Thucydides that in the end the Peloponnesian war was inevitable, and Athens’ aggressions as well as greed was certain to end their reign of power.