One of the historical landmarks of the ancient period of history is the Ancient Greek Peloponnesian War. Greece was not one unified kingdom. Rather, it consisted of a number of city-states having different ideas and culture, though the language and the religion were common. These city-states began to form alliances among themselves.

The Peloponnesian War

Sources on Peloponnesian war

The main source of information about the Peloponnesian war came from the accounts written by ancient Greek commander and historian, Thucydides in his book, ‘The history of the Peloponnesian war’. It contained a detailed analysis of the causes and course of the war.But Thucydides died, 10 years into the war by the deadly plague, and his account was continued by Xenophon. We got more information from the writings in Historica Bibliotheca and also from Plutarch.

Ancient Greek Peloponnesian War

By 430 BC, two distinct groups emerged led by Athens and Sparta respectively. The two city-states were completely different in characteristics. Athens was an Ionian state with the democratic system. The culture was highly intellectual and the state was a great naval power. Sparta, on the other hand, was a Dorian state.It was somewhat narrow-minded and functioned on oligarchic principles. Emphasis was placed on harsh military training.

The war was contested by two coalition led by Sparta and Athens. The Peloponnesian leafue was a faction consisting of states in Peloponnese and led by Sparta, where the Delian League was made of Athenian allies. This conflict lasted from 431 BC to 404 BC and was called ancient Greek Peloponnesian war after the Peloponnesian peninsula occupied by Sparta.

Prelude and causes

The Greek states had been terrorized by a Persian invasion around 480 BC, under Xerxes. The Greek states managed to resist the Persians by forming a coalition between the Greek states, known as the Hellenic League. But with the liberation of the Greek mainland, Sparta and their allies decided to end the coalition and were satisfied with Persians being driven out of the Greek mainland

But Athens and its allies decided to continue the resistance and formed a coalition known as the Delian League. They invaded Asia minor to liberate the Greek states from Persian rule in Asia minor or Ionia. They managed to liberate Ionia and also made many Ionian states their colonies. This led to a great increase in the power and prestige of Athens

Athens and Sparta, even engaged in a 15-year struggle known as The First Peloponnesian war which ended without any direct victory but it showed the military might of Athens and showed the weakness of the Spartan army which was considered to be the most powerful state in ancient Greece.

Athens had built the biggest navy in the Greek world and they managed to build a far-flung empire in the Aegean making them extremely prosperous. They even decided to build a wall along its city as fortifications which angered the Spartans

Athens with its growing power became very arrogant and even imposed a trade embargo on Megara, destroying their economy who was an ally of the Peloponnese. Sparta and its allies became irritated with Athenian dominance and its establishment of democracy in other states. Sparta, which was a monarchical oligarchy, looked at this with suspicion. They were becoming afraid of the growing military might of Athens

The boiling of these events was when Athens interfered in a conflict between Corinth, a spartan ally, and Corcyra in favor of the latter. This enraged the Peloponnesian league and led to Sparta issuing an ultimatum to Athens to withdraw its support for Corcyra or face war which the Athenians ignored and this led to the beginning of the Peloponnesian war.

Course of the War

The first phase or the Archidamian War(431-421 BC)

The first phase of the war was known as the ten years’ war or the Archaedamian war. It began with the invasion of Attica by Sparta. They expected a direct decisive hoplite battle as was the Greek custom at the time. But Pericles decided to stay back within the walls which were high enough to keep them out and it even had access to their port

Athens devised a strategy to pour in men wherever required disrupting enemy supply routes while keeping their tribute and food coming in from their colonies.

The Spartans were frustrated for 3 years as their attack on Attica did not provoke Athens to attack 3hild they carried out naval attacks on their allies.

The turning point in the war came with the outbreak of plague in Athens which carried off a huge amount of their manpower including their leader, Pericles. He was replaced by Demosthenes who devised a more aggressive policy and even defeated a Spartan force in the Battle of Sphacteria, in which they captured a band of Spartan soldiers which consisted of their elite and threatened to execute them in case of another Attican invasion.

Spartans looked humiliated with their military invincibility on land shattered. But they managed to march on Thrace which consisted of Athenian silver mines supplying the bulk of war funds to them. It was ultimately surrendered for an exchange of captives and a six-year Peace of Nicias.

Peloponnesian war

? The first phase is called Archidamian war. Sparta repeatedly raided the outlying fields of Athens. It began with the naval battle of Stratus. Athens initially triumphed but soon was overcome by the power of Sparta.

? It was when the Athenian fortune had just begun to be reversed that the state was hit by a devastating plague. Poverty and fall in productivity followed.

? By the next few years, Athens began to recover. Around 425 BC, the two nations again clashed on naval and land warfare. Sparta was gradually pushed into a corner. Finally, the peace of Nicias was made in 421 BC.

THUCYDITES History of the Peloponnesian War

The Ionian War(413-404 BC)

A six-year peace continued with little skirmishes but without any major confrontation. But the events took a different turn with the invasion of Sicily by Athens against Syracuse. They were closer to the Spartans and were supported by the Peloponnesians. Athens suffered a humiliating defeat in Sicily losing its major portion of the navy. After forcing a retreat they took the war to Athens and manage to capture and fortify Declea which disrupted their overland supply route and more importantly their silver mines where their slaves were liberated by Sparta.

Athens was now in huge economic trouble with their silver mines gone and supplies being brought for a bigger price than normal. They looked defeated with their main soldiers dead and a major part of the fleet destroyed in Sicily. But they managed to recover by rebuilding their navy with a reserve fund elongating the war which seemed to be won by Sparta.

The war already stretched to about 20 years and did not seem to end bringing financial trouble for both sides. At this moment the decisive event was the Persian support for the Spartans. They looked at an opportunity to recover their lost territories from Athens and the Spartans in desperate need of winning the war accepted the support of the foreign power against whom they had fought together with the Athenians.

The Peloponnesians began building their navy with Persian funds being poured in. They attained parity even on the sea with Athens and invaded their colonies in Ionia which threatened to cut off the last source of Athenian income.

The war stretched with stiff Athenian resistance but had to suffer defeat with their navy being dominated and without any land army. Their colonies were also lost, ending their source of revenue from outside with a Spartan siege outside their walls. They had to surrender with starvation setting in and Spartans celebrated their victory in a war that lasted close to 3 decades.

Impact of the Peloponnesian War

Peloponnesian war in greece

The ancient Greece Peloponnesian war devastated the Greeks and completely changed the economic and political scenario of the land.