The Peloponnesian war remains one of the most inexhaustible wars in the annals of ancient Greek. According to Waring (2015), the Peloponnesian war erupted in Greece in the year 431 BC and lasted for three decades. The war was fought between Athens and Sparta the two major cities in Greece and various allies (Jaffe, 2017). Warring (2015) notes that the war derives its name from the Peloponesse a Greece area that included Sparta since a majority of the sources are written by Athenians rather than by Spartans. This discussion explores the background event that proceeded the war, how it unfolded and the factors that tipped the balance of power between the players and its implications. The Peloponnesian war resulted in the defeat of all Greeks.
It is essential to understand the political organization of ancient Greece before analyzing the Peloponnesian war. Ancient Greece was a metropolis that consisted of a number of city-states or poleis (Jaffe, 2017). Greece experienced a form of a duopoly in which Sparta and Athens were the most powerful states while the weaker ones sided with either party with only a few poleis remaining independent. Thus, from the outset, it is evident that the balance of power that existed had been a checks-and-balance system maintaining the peace. Athens was a true democracy and the naval power of Greece. Athens and its allies created the Delian League before the war in which it dominated (Jaffe, 2017). Sparta was an oligarchy with the rule of the minority presided over by two King. Sparta also had its allies form the Peloponnesian League (Warring, 2015). Therefore, the strategic strength characterized by the political organization, sufficient resources, strategic location, and allies gave them the confidence to wage a war.
There are varied reasons that explain the cause of the Peloponnesian war. The first notable cause was Athenian imperialism. After the end of the Persian war, the city-states unhappy with Spartan conduct in the war looked up at Athens for leadership forming the Delian League (Jaffe, 2017). Consequently, Sparta was concerned by the growing size and influence of the league and feared being swallowed by the Athenian empire. However, it is not clear why Sparta chose that particular moment despite also controlling the power within its alliances. The main trigger was the Megarian decree wherein 432 B.C Athens blocked the Megarians from using any port in the Athenian Empire (Waring, 2015). In reaction, Sparta convened other city-states and convinced them to declare war against Athens for breaking the peace (Waring, 2015). Historical author Thucydides perception was that Spartans reacted out of fear for Athens rather than its allies complaints (Kubala, 2013). Arguably, the economic sanction by Athens was not a violation of the peace treaty and hence a mere excuse for Sparta to declare war.
The Peloponnesian war was a continuous period of fighting with a series of related episodes. The first phase is the Archidamian war named after the then king of Sparta in which Sparta invaded Attica and ravaged the countryside with the aim of starving Athens (Waring, 2015). Nevertheless, Athens used its navy to ensure its trade and supplies came from the sea (Waring, 2015). The second phase was the plague of Athens that came during the rule of Pericles whose defensive strategy resulted to the subjects withdrawing behind the walls and a plague broke out due to the dense population (Martinez, 2017). Pericles himself perished in the plague trapped in his own strategy (Waring, 2015). Ideally, the strategy worked to prolong the war, but the plague contributed too many deaths and reduced supplies from foreign traders.
In the third phase, Athens led an offensive battle using its naval force under the command of general Demosthenes and won the Battle of Spachteria taking some Spartan slaves and some nobles (Waring, 2015). Led by general Brasidas, Sparta retaliated and took over Amphipolis a mineral-rich territory of Athens (Torp, 2017). The Spartan general Brasidas was himself killed in the battle he won (Waring, 2015). In the wake of the two battles, a truce called the Peace of Nicias was signed and Spartan hostages exchanged for the Athenian territory (Waring, 2015). During the truce, some of the city-states allied to Sparta revolted tipping power towards Athens (Waring, 2015). These developments demonstrate that any win between the two parties often came with hefty losses on both sides.
The fifth phase is the Sicilian expedition in 416 B.C where Athens sent a huge force commanded by general Lamachus, Nicias, and Alcibiades to support the city of Segesta against Syracuse city allied to Sparta (Torp, 2017). The lack of unity in command flawed the expedition, and General Alcibiades was arrested only to escape to Sparta where he revealed Athenian war plans to the Peloponnesian League (Waring, 2015). Sparta and Corinth reinforced Syracuse forces and destroyed the Athenian naval fleet marking the downfall of Athens and general Demosthenes and Nicias were slain (Waring, 2015). The news of Athenian defeat in the Sicilian expedition spread throughout Greece and changed city-states alliances and Athens surrendered in 404 B.C (Waring, 2015). The final defeat was inflicted by Spartan general Lysander who succeeded in cutting off the supply of grains. Eventually, the walls of Athens fell and as Thucydides points out the city lost its glory as the Greek model for democracy and naval power (Kubala, 2013). Though Sparta won the war, a weak Athens translated into a week Greek state vulnerable to external attacks by other Roman and Persian empires.
In summary, it may be argued that the Peloponnesian war resulted in the defeat of all Greeks. The war lasted for three decades and involved Athens and Greece city-states. Sparta was disturbed by the rise of power in Athens and its Delian League and countered the influence by forming the Peloponnesian League. Eventually, Sparta declared war on Athens for blocking the Megarian from accessing the port, which they claimed, was a breach of peace. Fought in phases, the main events included Archidamian war, the Plague of Athens, the Peace of Nicias, and the Sicilian expedition. The war consumed almost all the war generals from both sides to include Pericles, Demosthenes, Lamachus, Nicias, Alcibiades, and Brasidas. In addition to the sickness, death, and starvation, the war led to the fall of Athens as a naval power and reorganization of political alliances. The Peloponnesian war will continue to elicit interest for the political and military strategist.
Jaffe, S.N. (2017, July 21). The risks and rewards of Thucydides history of the Peloponnesian war. ETH Zurich. Retrieved from http://www.css.ethz.ch/en/services/digital-library/articles/article.html/e906834d-d295-4f47-9045-7588b4073098/pdf
Kubala, L. (2013). The distinctive features and the main goals of Athenian imperialism in the 5th century BC ('imperial' policies and means of control in the mid-5th-century Athenian empire). Graeco-Latina Brunensia, 18 (1), 131-148.
Martinez, J. (2017). Political consequences of the plague of Athens. Graeco-Latina Brunensia. Retrieved from https://digilib.phil.muni.cz/bitstream/handle/11222.digilib/136470/1_GraecoLatinaBrunensia_22-2017-1_14.pdf
Torp, A. K. (2017). Chios and the ancient Greek superpowers: An examination of Chios' role in the Peloponnesian war. Master's thesis, NTNU. Retrieved from https://brage.bibsys.no/xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/2455175/andreas_kagiavas_torp_master.pdf?sequence=1
Waring, P. (2015, November 16). The Peloponnesian War. Paul Warring. Retrieved from https://www.pwaring.com/downloads/peloponnesian-war.pdf
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