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Map of the Peloponnesian War



The Peloponnesian War


General Pericles (ca. 495-429 BC)
Pericles’ successful building and defence program made the leader popular. As a result, he was elected general (strategos) uninterruptedly between 444-443 and 429 BC with the sole exception of the year 430 BC.

The Peloponnesian War, 431–404 BC, was a decisive struggle in ancient Greece between Athens and Sparta. It ruined Athens. The rivalry between Athens' maritime domain and Sparta's land empire was of long standing. Athens under Pericles, had become a bastion of Greek democracy with a foreign policy of regularly intervening to help local democrats. The Spartans however, favored oligarchies like their own.

The war began after sharp contests between Athens and Corinth over Corcyra (now Kerkira) and Potidaea. The first important action was the initial invasion of Attica by a Spartan army in 431 BC. Pericles brought the rural population within the walls and the Athenian fleet began raids, winning victories off Naupactus (now Navpaktos). Meanwhile a plague (perhaps bubonic) wiped out probably a quarter of the population of Athens and Pericles died. Cleon, his successor, won a great victory at Sphacteria (now Sfaktiria) and refused a Spartan bid for peace.

The younger AlcibadesThe Spartan leader Brasidas brilliantly surprised Athens with a campaign in North-Eastern Greece, taking Athenian cities, including Olynthus and Amphipolis. Fighting went on over these even after an armistice (423 BC) and ended in a decisive Spartan victory at Amphipolis, in which Brasidas and Cleon were both killed. The new Athenian leader, Nicias, arranged a peace in 421BC but his rival Alcibiades persuaded the Athenians to invade powerful Syracuse. In the greatest expeditionary force a Greek city had ever assembled, Alcibiades and Nicias both had commands but before the attack on Syracuse had begun, Alcibiades was recalled to Athens to face a charge of sacrilege. He fled to Sparta and, at his advice, the Spartans set up a permanent base at Decelea in Attica and sent a military expert, Gylippus, to Syracuse. The incompetent Nicias lost his chance to surprise Syracuse and after two years his force was wiped out in 413 BC.

Soon Persia was financing a Spartan fleet. Alcibiades sailed it across the Aegean and there was a general revolt of Athenian dependencies. In Athens, the Four Hundred - an oligarchic council - Lysander, a Roman copymanaged a short-lived coup and Alcibiades, who had quit the Spartans, received an Athenian command. He destroyed the Spartan fleet at Cyzicus. The new Spartan admiral, Lysander, built a fleet with Persian aid and won a naval battle off Notiumand. Alcibiades was driven from Athens. The Athenians won one more victory at Arginusae, near Lesbos, in 406 BC and again declined an offer of peace.

The next year Lysander wiped out the Athenian navy at Aegospotamos and then besieged Athens which capitulated in 404 BC. Lysander installed an oligarchic government, the Thirty Tyrants, in Athens which never regained its former importance. For about 30 years afterward, Sparta was the main power in Greece.

The Long Walls protecting Athens and Piraeus – Click to enlarge The war went badly for Athens from the start. The Long Walls, built to protect the city and its port of Piraeus, saved the city itself as long as the fleet was paramount but the allies of Athens fell away and the empire hat Pericles had tried to build, already had crumbled before his death in 429 BC. The war dragged on under the leadership of Cleon and continued even after the collapse of the expedition against Sicily, urged by Alcibiades. The Peloponnesian War finally ended in 404 BC with Athens completely humbled, its population cut in half and its fleet reduced to a dozen ships.

Under the dictates of Sparta, Athens was compelled to tear down the Long Walls and to Timelineaccept the government of an oligarchy, called the Thirty Tyrants. However, the city recovered rapidly. In 403 BC the Thirty Tyrants were overthrown by Thrasybulus and by 376 BC Athens again had a fleet, had rebuilt the Long Walls, had re-created the Delian League and had won a naval victory over Sparta. Sparta also lost power as a result of its defeat (371 BC) by Thebes at Leuctra and, although Athens did not again achieve hegemony over Greece, it did have a short period of great prosperity and comfort. Top

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