The Peloponnesian War was a war that devastated the Greeks and their way of life. It was fought between the Delian League led by Athens and the Peloponnesian League which was led by Sparta. As a result, Athens would soon lose its empire and leave the entire mainland open to be expanded under Philip II of Macedonia. The reason the Peloponnesian War is historically important is because it put an end to Athens’ dominance and reshaped the Greek world altogether. Thucydides, an ancient historian, wrote nearly 30 years of the war and the tensions that rose between Athens and Sparta. Before I begin first, we need to discuss its origins.
The start of the war began in 431 BC, lasting a total of 27 years. In the book titled, “The Complete Writings of Thucydides” when commenting on the cause of the war, Thucydides simply states, “The real cause I consider to be the one which was formally most kept out of sight. The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon, made war inevitable.” He also goes to claim that he was present and had the chance to associate with sides. He seems to have taken the greatest care in getting his facts right and always claiming evidence that is need. So, because of this it is only fair that his work can be taken seriously. Now let’s talk about the first part of the war, also known as the Archidamian War.
In 480 BC, the Greeks celebrated over winning a tight victory against the Persian Navy in the Battle of Salamis. As a result, the Athenians needed to rebuild and so they did, becoming the leading power in the Delian League which dominated the Mediterranean Sea. Other city-states helped pay tribute in support of the military coalition. Meanwhile, Sparta went back and while doing so, they were able to gather up many city-states becoming the biggest navy in the entire region. Athens quickly grew with power and prosperity which sparked fear to Sparta. According to “The Complete Writings of Thucydides”, this could be the cause of The First Peloponnesian war which began in 460 BC. The author John H. Finley claims, “Thucydides evidently regarded naval power as the key to dominance, fumblingly held in earlier eras, but grasped with genius in his own time.” I do in fact agree with this claim because after looking through many of the texts, it seems to have been their main source of control. Further speaking, the city-state Thasos of the Delian League attempted to leave the league due to conflicts that were arising, but an earthquake struck the mainland of Laconia, killing many citizens of Sparta. The slaves of Sparta, also known as helots, used this opportunity to flee. Sparta sent out a word for help and Athens sent an army that consisted of four thousand men which was under the leadership of Cimon. They denied the offer of help and Cimon was sent back home. Athens then began forming alliances with Megara, Thessaly and Argos, Sparta’s enemy. These alliances helped cause the war with the northern states with the Peloponnesian League, which included Corinth. Towards the end of the war, Athens backed out and a thirty years peace treaty was signed between them and Sparta in 446. The thirty-year peace treaty ended up almost settling nothing. Scholars say we are exceedingly ill-formed on the outbreak of the First Peloponnesian War and Thucydides treats this part of the war as nothing more than a mere prelude.