Peloponisian Wars

“Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war between the
Peloponnesians and the Athenians, beginning at the moment that it broke out, and
believing that it would be a great war and more worthy of relation than any that
had preceded it. This belief was not without its grounds. The preparations of
both the combatants were in every department in the last state of perfection;
and he could see the rest of the Hellenic race taking sides in the quarrel;
those who delayed doing so at once having it in contemplation. Indeed this was
the greatest movement yet known in history, not only of the Hellenes, but of a
large part of the barbarian world- I had almost said of mankind. For though the
events of remote antiquity, and even those that more immediately preceded the
war, could not from lapse of time be clearly ascertained, yet the evidences
which an inquiry carried as far back as was practicable leads me to trust, all
point to the conclusion that there was nothing on a great scale, either in war
or in other matters”.

It is with these words that the great Greek historian Thucydides begins his
epic history “History of the Peloponnesian War”. He documented the war
between Sparta and Athens, which lasted for 27 years between 431 and 404 BC. The
war was the largest the Greek world had known of up to this date, and
encompassed almost all of the Greek world, and came with a very high price.
Athens, once the mightiest power in Greece lost her supremacy due to the war,
and Sparta, although victorious, used so many resources that she would never
recover from it, and indeed lost her hard won power shortly after winning the
war. Although Sparta won the war, it is clear in hindsight that both sides lost.

The loss of Athens to Sparta during this conflict resulted in the complete
destruction of Athenian political power in Greece, although she remained an
important city in the region. Athens retained cultural and philosophical
importance, but would never again lead an empire or control the affairs of
Greece.

The Athenian loss in the Peloponnesian War is due to many different factors.
The first of these reasons is the tactic of the Spartans to blockade Athens on
land year round, something they had not done for the entirety of the war. For
the majority of the war, Spartan forces would occupy the land around Athens for
a part of the year, but then retreat as winter approached. By blockading Attica
year round, the Spartans forced the Athenian citizens to live in cramped,
disease-ridden conditions year round. Athens would also have had to import food
year round in an effort to feed the citizens, which would cost a lot of money.

Secondly, the democratic coup in 411 BC had a demoralizing effect on the
citizens of Athens. No longer were the common people free to make their own
policy, but were ruled by the oligarchy who believed they were much more
qualified to make such decisions. Although this government did not last very
long, it had a profound effect on the Athenian war effort, as the citizens were
busy in the midst of a revolution, and could not focus primarily on the war with
Sparta.

A third reason for the downfall of Athens was the escape of 20,000 slaves
from the silver mines Athens controlled. This represented a serious threat to
the economy of Athens, who relied on the silver to pay her soldiers, sailors,
hire mercenaries, build ships, and buy goods like food and weapons.

Another major obstacle to Athenian victory in the war was the failure of the
expedition in Sicily, launched in 414 BC. This defeat led to the depletion of
much of Athens resources, in money, manpower, and ships. It is this reason that
allowed for the Persian aid received by Sparta had such a profound effect upon
the war.

The final, and most influential, reason for the loss to Sparta was the
Persian influence. This essay will deal with the role of Persia, which was
central to Athenian defeat. The Persian support of Sparta in the latter years of
the war was the most important reason for Spartan victory and Athenian defeat.

Athens’, who was a rich port city for an extended period of time,
controlled the largest and most powerful navy in Greece. Her fleet consisted of
hundreds of triremes that were manned by crews of well-trained and highly
effective sailors. Sparta, on the other hand, was a landlocked city-state, and
did not have a navy to speak of.