The Peloponnesian War

The Peloponnesian War is one of the most impressive political, ideological and territorial conflicts of antiquity. It opposed two ideologies and two military forces in search of hegemony, Athens and Sparta, from 431 to 404. At the end of this war, Sparta and the Peloponnesian League emerged victorious.

The League of Delos vs the League of Peloponnese

The best way to understand the story of the events of the Peloponnesian War is to understand the conflict between the two leagues. The first, the league of Delos, is governed by Athens which advocates democracy and trade. The Peloponnesian League was led by Sparta, which ruled an oligarchy that in reality proved to be a fragile political system.

It is thus above all a purely ideological conflict which was born from the extension of the power of Athens through many plays of alliance. This extension was perceived by Sparta as a threat to the stability of its oligarchy.

Thus, from 431 to 404 B.C., period during which took place the Peloponnesian war, Athens and Sparta clashed to defend each its interests. If this conflict was named the Peloponnesian War, it is because its outcome was favorable to Sparta and therefore to the Peloponnesian League.

What are the origins?

If the ideological and territorial confrontation is the base even of the starting of the Peloponnesian war, they are two small successive conflicts which will contribute to envenomate a situation already very tended. It all started 2 years before the beginning of the conflict, in 433 BC.

Athens vs Corinth

After having conquered in 456 the naval base of Naupacte located at the west of Corinth, Athens had again sights on the Ionian sea dominated by Corinth. To achieve its objective, it brought its support to Corcyre in a conflict which opposes it to Epidamne supported by Corinth.

In answer, Corinth made sign with Potidée, an ally of Athens, a secret agreement with Sparta to leave the league of Delos and to allow Sparta to invade Attica in the event of conflict. The Athenians and the Corinthians fought then a battle in Potidée in 432.

Athens vs Megara

In the conflict which opposed Athens to Corinth, this last obtained the support of Megara. In answer, Athens refused the access of the ports of the league of Delos to Megara. Since this one was part of the League of Peloponnese as well as Corinth, Sparta attacked Attica in 431. This was the beginning of the war.

The course of the war

Just like the causes of the outbreak, the Peloponnesian War, take place in several phases.

The first phase of the war

The first phase of the war bears the name of the Spartan king Archidamos who initiated the invasion of Attica. It lasts 10 years, that is to say from 431 to 421, and was characterized by a balance of the forces between the league of Delos and the League of Peloponnese. Athens had the largest naval fleet while Sparta had the most impressive land army. This is why this phase of the war lasted so long.

The only real ground on which the two adversaries could play was that of financial resources and food supply. Siege, weakening by the opponent’s margins and defection were the methods used by both sides to win the war.

The second phase of the war

In 421, Athens succeeds in obtaining the peace of Nicias. It came out of it grown because of its consecutive successes whereas the League of Peloponnese was divided. This division involved the creation of the league of Argos to which Athens joined to attack Tégée and Épidaure.

By this attack, Athens thus broke the peace of Nicias concluded initially for 50 years. It engaged then an expedition in Sicily and launched successive attacks on Corinthian colonies and allies of Sparta.

In October 414, the Spartans won a battle against the Athenians. Followed the defeat of the Athenian relief fleet in 413. Athens is also weakened by the defection in 412 of city of Ionia as well as by a coup d’état in 411.

After having refused the proposal of peace of Sparta, Athens must face a Spartan army supported by Persia. A maritime and terrestrial blockade will then be set up by the adversaries to prevent the supplies of wheat to Athens which capitulates finally in 404 after a terrible famine.