The Peloponnesian War refers to the conflict that lasted from 431 to 404 (with some periods of interruption), opposing Athens, which had transformed the League of Delos (originally intended to resist the Persians) into an empire subject to its power and Sparta, an oligarchic and conservative power, whose land army was the most powerful military force of the time, and which directed the Peloponnesian League and Boeotia. The Peloponnesian War ended with the victory of Sparta.
Plan of the article
According to Thucydide
According to the Athenian historian Thucydides, one of the causes of the war was the rise and increasing size of Athens, which gave the Spartans fears for their own position. One can add the systemic opposition between Sparta the oligarch, where a small number of citizens lived in fear of the revolt of their Helots, and which appears as little flourishing, and Athens the Democrat, living trade. Sparta possessed the power on earth, Athens directed a thalassocracy thanks to the League of Delos. It is also on the side of the game of alliances that the causes of the outbreak of war must be sought.
The events that precipitated this war began in 433, when a quarrel broke out between Epidamne and Corcyra. Although Corcyra was founded by Corinth, it took the side of Epidamne. Athens supported Corcyra, which did not belong to any alliance, and found itself in a position to be able to oust Corinth from the Ionian Sea.
Athens had already acquired an important naval base western by seizing in 456 Naupacte, with the western entrance of the gulf of Corinth. Corinth, a member of the Peloponnesian League, then pressed his former colony Potidae to leave the league of Delos. Potidae, located on the strangulation of the western tip of Chalkidiki, on the Thracian coast, left the League of Delos in 432 BC. J. - C., after a secret agreement with Sparta. This agreement stipulated that in the event of a conflict between Potidaea and Athens, Sparta would invade Attica.
The Athenians sent a force to besiege it, while Corinth sent help.
Other sources of litigation
Athens made another enemy, Megara, by forbidding her access to the ports of the league of Delos. She reproached him for welcoming the fugitive slaves (Megara is near Athens, on the isthmus of Corinth) and supporting his adversary Corinth. This city, like Corinth, appealed to Sparta, who, under the threat of seeing two of his principal allies leave the alliance, mobilized the Peloponnesian League for a war against Athens. In Athens, the war was decided by the intervention of Pericles, proving to his fellow citizens that the conflict was inescapable. During the summer of 431, the Spartans invaded Attica.
The Archidamos war
The first ten years of war, known as the "Archidamos War", named after Archidamos II, a Spartan king (died in 426) who led the incursion into Attica, did not involve any decisive event. The strengths of both sides were balanced, Athens having no rival on sea, and Sparta with the best hoplites. The allies of the two cities brought extra forces. Nevertheless, thanks to the treasure of the league of Delos (transferred from Delos to Athens in - 454) and the silver mines of Laurion, Athens had financial resources far superior to those of the League of Peloponnese.
Even before its beginning, the war seemed to last, since neither side could reasonably hope to win a decisive victory. The strategies referred to wheat supplies (essential in a long war), and the gradual weakening of the opponent by the margins, ie the weakest allies, either by obtaining their defection in one way or another, either by the seat. The regularity of wheat supplies was crucial especially for Athens, Sparta not having to fear famine until the Helots revolted. Nevertheless, Sparta could fear for his allies. The supplies of wheat from Athens came mainly from Euboea, probably supplemented by purchases in Egypt, and at the beginning of the war by some cargoes from Propontant (Crimea). Sparta had allies in Sicily, rich producer. To win, each side had to maintain supplies while cutting off those of the opponent.
A war of hands
The Spartans who invaded and ravaged Attica in 431 found a deserted country. The Athenian hoplites being well below those of Sparta, Pericles, strategist for the 13th time, made shelter the Athenians behind the Long Walls. The town was refueled by sea. After a month of raiding, the Spartans returned home; the Athenians, thanks to their fleet, ravaged the coast of Peloponnese. Sparta ravaged Attica five times in the first seven years of the war. Athens invaded the neighboring Megaride twice a year.
However, Athens managed to occupy Aegina in 430. Plataeus, ally of Athens, is attacked by Thebes in April 431 and succumbs.
In June 430, an epidemic of "plague" (in fact a typhoid fever) devastated Athens and the city lost more than a quarter of its population. Pericles, elected strategist for the 14th time, made proposals of peace to Sparta, which were refused. He was deposed and fined in September after the summer campaign against Epidaurus, Trézène and Prasie.
In 430, Potidaea was forced to surrender to Athens. Pericles, elected strategist for the 15th time, died of the epidemic in 429. In 429, Phormion won a half-naval victory off Naupactus. In 428, his successor bearing the same name also won a naval battle at Naupactus.
The defection of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, who wanted to leave the league of Delos, led to a punitive expedition from Athens. Mytilene made his surrender in 427, before the arrival of a spartan rescue fleet. Its walls were cut down and the other cities of the island passed under Athenian rule.
In 426 Demosthenes inflicted two defeats on the Peloponnesians at Amphilochia and Olpai.
Cleon and Brasidas
The main success of Athens was the capture of Pylos on the west coast of Messinia in 425 as well as the massacre or capture of 420 hoplites, of which one hundred and twenty Spartans in Sphacteria, an event that caused a great stir throughout Greece and shattered the reputation of invincibility of the Spartans. Among these hoplites, there were many homoioi. However, despite these successes, the financial situation of Athens was deteriorating, and the treasure of Delos was exhausted. The tribute of the allies was brutally increased to 1300 talents per year (instead of 450) by the decree of Thodippos, but the defections reduced its product to about 1000 talents. A successful expedition to Euboea allowed a distribution of wheat to citizens in 424.
During the summer of that year 424, the Athenians planned an invasion of Boeotia in order to sow the seed of democracy, which they hoped to eventually spread in the region. The operation had three components that were to coordinate for the same day: supporters present in the cities of Chéronée and Siphes raised the population against the order in place that was to consolidate the arrival of an Athenian fleet occupying Siphes , the third outbreak of trouble being planned in the city of Recion by a capture of the city that an important army was in charge of fortifying, that in order to divide the Boeotian army. The treacherous project, coupled with an inexplicable error on the date, did not produce any results in the west, and allowed the Boeotian forces to assemble and contact the Athenian army. The Battle of Delion that winter was a defeat for Athens which also lost the fortified position and any chance of reconquest in this region.
On the Spartan side General Brasidas rescued Megara besieged by the Athenians. Then he surprised his opponents by a quick maneuver that allowed him to cross Greece and seize Amphipolis in Thrace the same year, despite the attempt of Thucydides to save her. A one-year truce is concluded between Athens and Sparta, but operations continue against smaller enemies: Nicias takes Mende and sieges Scioné, who defected, while Brasidas campaigns against Arrhibaios (unsuccessful).
At the end of the truce, Cleon gets killed while trying to retake Amphipolis; his army is defeated, and the Spartan general Brasidas also dies during the battle.
The victories of Athens offered him a permanent advanced position in the enemy territory, but the setbacks against Brasidas and the death of Cleon led to the victory of the party of peace. Sparta gave up his annual incursions into Attica and made proposals for peace.
The peace of Nicias
The peace of Nicias was concluded in 421. Establishing a peace for fifty years, she returned to the status quo ante. It was a success for Athens, which kept its empire intact while its enemies were divided, Corinth and the other allies of Sparta refusing to sign peace. The city of Argos created its own league competing with the Peloponnesian league.
The second part of the war
The creation of the Argos league led to the disintegration of the Peloponnesian league. The Athenians, under the influence of Alcibiades, allied with Elis, Mantinea and Argos, in conflict with Sparta. The allies attacked Epidaurus and advanced on Tegea, and Sparta moved against them.
The battle of Mantinea (418 BC) was a great victory for Sparta. Argos abandoned the Athenian alliance and was once again isolated.
In 416, Athens attacked and ravaged the island of Melos, which had remained neutral, but had been friendly to Sparta.
This is the last event of the precarious "peace" of 421-415, as Thucydides describes it.
The expedition in Sicily
In 415, under the influence of Alcibiades, Athens embarked on the Sicilian expedition, to which Nicias opposed. Athens answered the call of Segesta, attacked by Selinus in 416. Syracuse, a Corinthian colony, was an ally of Selinunte. Segesta appealed to Athens, even offering to pay the shipping costs. At this time of the war, the loss of Euboea, and the defection of many allies of Athens had rendered its supplies of grain precarious. The prospect of cutting those of Sparta's allies, while conquering new sources of supply, was certainly a determining factor.
It was designed to counter the growing power of Syracuse, to gain a foothold in Sicily and to gain full control of the sea. The expedition sailed under the command of Nicias, Alcibiades and Lamachos in June 415.
However, during the expedition, Alcibiades was recalled to Athens for trial in the Hermocopides case. Preferring to go into exile, he took refuge in Sparta and gave them the judicious advice to occupy Decélie (which they did in 413) as well as to rescue Syracuse.
In Sicily, Lamachos was killed and Nicias remained alone at the head of the expedition. The arrival at Syracuse of Gylippos, a Spartan general, caused the Athenians to lose the battle of the entrenchments around the city (October, 414). The Athenian fleet was imprisoned in the harbor, and they sent a relief force commanded by Demosthenes and Eurymedon. In August 413 the fleet was defeated at the battle of the Epipoles, and the army was defeated on land. Athens lost more than two hundred ships in this expedition, and fifty thousand men (including seven thousand prisoners of the Latomies, career of Syracuse).
The triumph of Lysander
The unpopularity of Athens grew, and only the cities of Lesbos and Samos remained faithful. It is also in Samos that a new Athenian fleet is moored. In 412, the cities of Ionia, for which the League of Delos had been formed, defected, preceded by Chios.
In 411, an oligarchic coup d'état took place in Athens. The Quatre-Cents ask for peace in Sparta. But the army and the fleet refuse to recognize the change and after four months of existence, the oligarchic regime is overthrown. Euboea rises, and the Spartans win a naval victory at Eretria.
Alcibiades is then recalled and wins three naval victories against the Spartans at Cynossema, Abydos in 411, and at Cyzique in 410. Athens then refuses a proposal for Spartan peace. Alcibiades regained control of the Straits by besieging and taking Byzantium in 409, and was again exiled after the defeat of Notion.
Sparta gets the support of the Persian king, who sends his son Cyrus. He meets Lysander, the Spartan navar, and gives him a lot of financial help. In 406, Callicratidas, Lysander's successor, defeated Conon. Athens is recovering in a last burst, promising citizenship to the metics and slaves to build a fleet that beats Callicratidas at the Battle of the Arginuses Islands. This success, however, is tarnished by the killing of the victorious strategists (including Pericles the Younger and Thrasyle). Athens, in a fit of anger, thus eliminates her best generals.
Lysander, replacing Callicratidas who died at Arginuses, took command of the Spartan fleet. The Athenian fleet, positioned in the Dardanelles to secure the wheat route from the Black Sea, is surprised and crushed at the Battle of Aigos-Potamos. The last supply sources of Athens disappear with his fleet. Athens at bay tries to resist again: it offers the right of city to Samians, last faithful allies, and consolidates its fortifications. But, subjected to the terrestrial and maritime blockade, overwhelmed by famine, it must surrender in 404.
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