Ah 2 Greece in Conflict, 460-403 bc teachers’ notes by Peter Liddel

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AH 3.2 Greece in Conflict, 460-403 BC
Teachers’ notes by Peter Liddel

    1. Books and Resources

There are many textbooks which cover this period in varying levels of detail. This list lists them in order of difficulty (easiest first). Note that the more difficult they get, the more closely they engage with the sources and interesting issues:

General books on Greek history that cover the period:

  • Buckley, T. (1996), Aspects of Greek History, 750-323 BC – much maligned by many

  • Bury, J. B., & Meiggs, R. (1975), History of Greece (4th edn., MacMillan) – many of its interpretations have been challenged by more recent scholars.

  • Orrieux, C. & Schmitt-Pantel, P. (1999), A History of Ancient Greece.

  • Pomeroy, S.B., et al. (1999), Ancient Greece – now also available in a shorter version

Textbooks concentrated on classical period:

  • Todd, S. C. (1996), Athens and Sparta – short (and affordable), thematically arranged (not a narrative history)

  • Davies, J. K. (2nd edn., 1993), Democracy and Classical Greece – especially chapters 5 on the Athenian Empire and 7 on the Peloponnesian War

  • Osborne, R. (ed.) (2000), Classical Greece (Oxford Short History of Europe Series). (Hans van Wees’ chapter 4 ‘The City at War’ covers the warfare theme very well; chapter 7 by Lisa Kallet contains a lively fifth-century narrative)

The most detailed narrative accounts (Hornblower’s is the one most referred to in this set of notes, and it should be regarded as essential for the teacher)

  • Rhodes, P. J. (2005), A History of the Classical Greek World, 478-323 BC. London: Blackwells – the most complete narrative

  • Hornblower, S. (4th edn., 2002), The Greek World, 470-323 BC – good chapters on cities other than Athens and Sparta.

  • Cambridge Ancient History – vol. 5 (2nd edn, 1992) covers the fifth century,

Other relevant collections:

  • Samons, L. (2007), The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Pericles. Note especially chapter 4 on warfare and chapter 11 on the Peloponnesian War

  • Kinzl, K. (2006), A Companion to the Classical Greek World. Expensive but excellent on overviews of sources and themes, but not a huge amount of detailed narrative. Excellent for cultural, social and geographical context.


Maps are vitally important for understanding Greek conflict.

  • Eveday, C. M., (1967) Penguin Ancient History Atlas.

  • Hammond, N. G. L. (1981) Atlas of the Greek and Roman world in antiquity.

  • Levi, P., (1984), Atlas of the Greek World, Oxford.

  • Talbert, R. J. A., (1984) Atlas of classical history

The internet can be usefully deployed. It is possible, for instance, to get a better understanding of the location of cities like Megara, Argos and Corinth via Google

It is also possible to get a good view of the plain upon which the battle of Mantinea was fought (and one can clearly discern the walls of the polis of Mantinea) simply by searching for ‘Mantinea’ through Google Maps.


One of the focuses of this unit is conflict, and so it is worth mentioning some texts for those interested in this aspect of the subject. Note that some of the textbooks already mentioned (those of Osborne, Kinzl, Samons) have sections dedicated to warfare:

  • Sage, M., (1996) Warfare in Ancient Greece. A Sourcebook

  • Van Wees, H. (2004), Greek Warfare. Myths and Realities

  • Low, P. (2007), Interstate Relations in Classical Greece – a landmark study of interstate ethics and morality

1.2 Introduction to Sources

Thucydides and Xenophon – translations available in Penguin, but note also The Landmark Thucydides, ed. By R. Strassler, with maps, notes, appendices and index.

Thucydides’ ‘history of the war fought between the Peloponnesians and Athenians’ (Thuc. 1.1) and Xenophon’s Hellenika (Greek History) are the primary sources for this unit. Thucydides’ work is a history of what is now called the Peloponnesian War (viz. the conflict of 431-04), but book 1 is spent explaining its origins. Thucydides’ explanation of the war (his alethestate prophasis – truest explanation) is that the growth of Athenian power led to Spartan fear (Thuc. 1.23). This means that he has to explain that growth of Athenian power, and what he gives as explanation (commonly known as the Pentekontaetia (‘the fifty-year period’) is roughly an account of the fluctuations in Athenian fortunes in her inter-state relations of the period 479-c. 435 BC). What this provides is a patchy and Athenocentric account of Greek conflicts of this era, but one which is unparalleled in coverage (though, for a list of events that Thucydides omits, see A. W. Gomme, A Historical Commentary on Thucydides, volume 1, 365-70). Thucydides’ history ends abruptly shortly after an account of an Athenian victory in 411 BC, and Xenophon’s Hellenika picks up the narrative with an account of the war in the Hellespont.
Thucydides can be read usefully with a number of commentaries, but note that the first two of these comment on the Greek text (Hornblower, however, at least translates the passages on which he comments):

  • Gomme, A.W., Dover. K.J. & Andrewes, A. (1945-81), A Historical Commentary on Thucydides, 5 vols. – this contains an introduction in vol. 1

  • Hornblower, S. (1991-2008), A Commentary on Thucydides, 3 vols. Note that the best general introductions to Thuc. are in vol. 2

  • Cartwright, D. (1997), A Historical Commentary on Thucydides: a companion to Rex Warners Penguin translation.

  • Bristol Classical Press companions to the Penguin translation by T. Wiedemann (books 1-2.65), N. Rutter (books 3-5), and Rutter (books 6-7).

There are few commentaries on Xenophon’s Hellenika, but note:

  • Krentz, P. (1989-), Commentary on Xenophons Hellenika: 2 vols. so far published, covering books 1.1.1-2.3.10 and 2.3.11-4.3.8. The first of these is relevant to the period to 404 BC

As for general introductions to the works of these historians, note the following:

  • Cawkwell, G. (1997), Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War.

  • Dover, K. J. (1973), Thucydides (Greece & Rome, New Surveys in the Classics, no. 7)

  • Hornblower, S. (1987), Thucydides

  • Luce, T. J., (1997), The Greek Historians, chapters 4-5.

  • Cawkwell, G.,(1997), Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War – important for analysis of Thucydides and for unravelling aspects of the Peloponnesian war.

  • Pelling, C., (2000), Literary Texts and the Greek Historian – chapter 4 on the siege of Plataia, chapter 5 on the causes of the war are extremely subtle readings of Thucydides

  • Ste Croix, G. E. M. de (1972), The Origins of the Peloponnesian War

  • Zagorin, P. (2005), Thucydides: an introduction for the common reader. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  • Anderson, J.K. (1974), Xenophon


Plutarch’s Lives are extremely useful for the history of this period (Plutarch’s Great Men were often those who won fame by performing well in conflict) and the most important ones are collected in the Penguin, The Rise and Fall of Athens. This contains the Lives of late-fifth-century figures, such as the Athenians Pericles, Nicias, Alcibiades, and the Spartan Lysander. For discussion of his accounts of Nicias and Alcibiades, see chapter 3 of Pelling’s Literary Texts and the Greek Historian

The comic playwright of the fifth (and late-fourth) century BC is very useful for Athenian political life and also the impact of warfare on it: note in particular Acharnians, Knights, Wasps, Birds and Lysistrata. Translations are available in a number of Penguin Classics, but note also the texts available on the Perseus website. Summaries (often highlighting the historical perspectives offered by the plays can be found in D. MacDowell, Aristophanes and Athens.

Inscriptional evidence and other sources:

Stone (often marble) and bronze inscriptions say to us a huge amount about inter-state relations: they record treaties and (usually with formulaic, sometimes with particular, details of the alliance), commemorate the war dead, and sometimes victories, mark dedications of spoils to the gods, although the decision to go to war with another community was rarely written down on a permanent medium. For their significance for the ancient historian, see Claire Taylor in Omnibus 54. Inscriptions are collected in the sourcebooks (see below; especially Fornara, translating Meiggs and Lewis’ Greek Historical Inscriptions (which will be replaced at some point in the next few years by a new collection of fifth-century inscriptions (with translation and commentary) by Rhodes and Osborne). Inscriptional and other ancient information on the Athenian Empire is collected in LACTOR 1; on Athenian Radical Democracy in LACTOR 5, and on the Culture of Athens in LACTOR 12. A LACTOR on ancient Sparta, edited by Dr Maria Pretzler of Swansea University will appear at some point in the next few years.


  • Fornara, C. W. (1983), Archaic Times to the End of the Peloponnesian War – focus on inscriptions and the more obscure texts

  • Crawford, M.H. & Whitehead, D. (1983), Archaic and Classical Greece.

  • Rhodes, P. (2008), The Greek City States (2nd edition) - wide ranging

  • Dillon, M. and Garland, L., (2000) Ancient Greece (2nd edition)

    1. Background Information

A casualty list of the Erechtheid tribe of Athens dating to c. 459 BC reads as follows (LACTOR 14 42=Fornara 79=ML 33): ‘Of Erechtheis these died in the war, in Cyprus, in Egypt, in Phoenicia, at Haleis, on Aegina, at Megara, in the same year’. This document surely was a deliberate statement, set up by a subdivision of the Athenian polis of Athenian polypragmosune (many-sided activity). The Athenians were fighting on at least two fronts at the same time in this period: in the short-term it was a disastrous policy for the Athenians, but this kind of activity meant that to a significant degree, the history of conflict in the Greek world in this period is a history of Athenian conflicts and diplomacy with other states. (Of course this impression may, on the other hand, be an upshot of the Athenocentricty of the literary and inscriptional sources; just occasionally, on the other hand, we get sources which allow us a snapshot view of a world of diplomacy and conflicts outside that of Athens: take for instance the inscription pertaining to relations between Argos and some Cretan cities: Fornara 89=ML 42); Argos is also involved in an alliance with the Persians in the 460s (Hdt. 7.151) which gave them protection against the other powers of Greece. Indeed, Argos was an important player in Greek inter-state relations of the fifth century BC: see Hornblower, The Greek World, chapter 7. For a little more on Crete, see below, 2.1 section (g).

2.1 The range of conflicts in the Greek world, 460-403 BC
This set of notes attempts to outline, geographically, the kinds of conflict that were going on in the Greek world in this period.
Note that the conflicts are of many sorts: conflicts between near-neighbours (Athens and Megara), conflicts about expansionism and encroachment (Athens and Syracuse), conflicts about control over resources (Athens and Thasos), conflicts about political groups (Athens and Samos and Miletus), conflicts about influence over sanctuaries (Athens, Sparta, Phocis and Delphi). But we should also note the existence of civil wars between political factions within cities (the Thucydidean paradigm is that of Corcyra: Thuc. 3.69-85 (a stunningly vivid passage)), although political factions in Greek cities were often aligned according to pro- and anti-Athenian factions (as they were in Megara: Thuc. 4.6. Relations between Athens, Sparta, and their respective allies will be covered at 2.2. A brief survey of the means through which warfare was pursued or halted will be given at 2.6.
(a) Greece and Persia

The biggest issues here were about the Athenian desire to rid Northern Greece (i.e. Thrace), the islands, Cyprus, and the western coast of Asia Minor of Persian occupation or influence. But there were other factors at play too: the Athenian decision to support the Egyptian revolt against the Persians, and Persian intervention in the Peloponnesian war on behalf of the Spartans. Moreoever, the Persian reluctance to relinquish claims to Greek cities and islands is strongly suggested in the treaties made between Sparta and the king of Persia from 411 BC: they agreed initially that ‘all the territory and all the cities held now by the king or held in the past by the king’s ancestors shall be the king’s’ (Thuc. 8.18; cf. 8.37).

Despite the fact that the Persians were dealt a blow at Salamis in 480 BC, this did not bring conflict between the Greeks and Persians to an end. After the defeat at Mykale, many Ionian states of Asia Minor revolted to the Greeks and then went over to the Athenians (Hdt. 9.106). It is certainly the case that Athenians later believed that the Athenians had patriotically taken many cities from the Persians (Aristophanes, Wasps, 1097-8). The battle of Eurymdeon (perhaps in 467 BC; Thuc. 1.100, Plutarch Cimon 12) was certainly a culmination in the Delian confederacy’s blows against Persia; it brought new members to the league especially from southern Asia Minor; the spoils of the expedition made the Athenians wealthy (they dedicated a bronze date-palm, a phoenix (a pun on the name ‘Phoenicians’: see Pausanias 10.15.3)); and formed the basis for anti-Persian operations in the Thracian Chersonese (Pl. Cimon 14). The famous ‘Eurymedon Vase’, in which a man in non-Greek clothes says ‘I am Eurymedon. I stand bent over’ and is approached by a Greek figure who is holding his penis’ was read by Dover as a Greek statement of ‘We’ve buggered the Persians’, but this is not the only interpretation (see J. Davidson, Courtesans and Fishcakes, 170-1, 180-2). It is highly likely that the cities of the west coast of Asia Minor continued in the late 450s to be caught between the Athenian and the Persian spheres of interest: this is the situation in the case of Erythrai -- see LACTOR 14 216 = Fornara 71 (an Athenian decree imposing regulations on the Erythraians, mentioning ‘tyrants’ and ‘those who fled to the Medes’; see also Liddel, ‘Athenian Imperialism in the Fifth Century BC’ Omnibus 57).
There were theatres of Greek/Persian conflict beyond Asia Minor. In the 470s, the Athenians launched an expedition against Persian-held Cyprus (Thuc. 1.94). Cyprus was important as it was used by the Persian reserve fleet at the time of the battle of Eurymedon. The Athenians lost the island before they launched another expedition in the late 460s or early 450s (Thuc. 1.104), and the Athenian general Cimon died fighting there is 451 (Thuc. 1.112).
At some point after 464, the Egyptians revolted from Persian administration. Tired of the fact that much of the best land in Egypt was exploited by absentee Persian landlords (Hornblower, Greek World, 64), they were led by Inaros a Libyan, who appealed to the Athenians for support. The Athenians helped but the eventual outcome was a disaster for Athens (Fornara 72; Hdt. 3.12; 7.7; Thuc. 1.104, 109-10) with the loss of their fleet, the return of Persia to Persian control, and the crucifixion of Inaros. Hornblower calls it the ‘Athenian Vietnam’ (Greek World, 64). It is quite possible that the Athenians received support (or extracted support) from their allies in this expedition: an inscribed marble block from Samos dated to c. 464-54 suggests that Samians were fighting in Samos at this time, and that they took 15 ships from the Phoenicians: see LACTOR 14 43 = Fornara no. 77.
There is much discussion on whether there really was a treaty called the Peace of Kallias. According to some accounts, this treaty between the Athenians and the Persians can be dated to 449; others prefer a date in the 460s. According to Plutarch, Cimon, 13.4-5, the King promised ‘to keep away from the Hellenic sea by the distance a horse will travel in a day and not to sail with a bronze-prowed warship within the Kyaneai and Chelidonian islands’. Yet Callisthenes (a fourth-century historian) says: ‘the barbarian did not sign an agreement to this effect, but acted in this way because of his fear arising from the defeat and stayed so far away from Hellas that Pericles with 50 vessels and Ephaltes with a mere 30 sailed beyond the Chelidoniai without a fleet of the barbarians approaching them. But in the book entitled A Collection of Decrees by Craterus, copies of the agreements are set down as having been made’. Further sources are collected at LACTOR 14 50-56 and Fornara, 95, and discussion can be found (s.v. ‘Callias of Athens’) in Rhodes, A History. The absence of any attested Greek (as opposed to Athenian) alliance with the Persians has led Hornblower (The Greek World, 74) to suggest that the Spartans were ‘technically at war’ with the Persians down to 412 BC. But, in the Greek world, one must pause to consider whether there really was a ‘technical’ condition of being at war with another power: was an actual peace-treaty required for one state to be at peace with another? However, as Hornblower points out, there was a major difficulty: the Persians insisted that the Spartans accept that Asia Minor was Persian property. We can envisage communications and appeals going back and forth between the Greeks and Persians at some points during the Persian wars (Thuc. 4.50; LACTOR 14 57-63), but after the death of Cimon, there was no more open warfare between the Athenians against Persia until 413 BC when Amorges, the bastard son of Pissuthnes the satrap of Sardis (see LACTOR 14 153) who led a revolt against the Persian king, appears to have won Athenian support for his campaign against the king (Thuc. 8.5, 19, 28, 54). It is even possible, as a fourth-century orator, Andocides (3.29), suggests, that Athenian support for Amorges was what brought the Persians to make an alliance with Sparta (see Appendix 4 in the Penguin edition).
The treaties between Sparta and Persia (see Thuc. 8.18, 36-7, 57-8, Xen. Hellenika 1.4.2) were vital in channelling Persian pay to the Peloponnesians (e.g. Thuc. 8.57), which improved their performance in the war against Athens tremendously in the period 411-07. However, Athenians and one renegade Athenian, Alcibiades, periodically entered into negotiations with the Persian satraps: Alcibiades advised Tissaphernes to wear both the Peloponnesians and Athenians down (Thuc. 8.46). Indeed, Sparta’s support for the rebel Cyrus (who had been sent to conduct the war on the Spartans’ behalf in 407) against King Darius II (king 424-04) threw the Persians’ support for Sparta into jeopardy, and the Athenians even made an approach to Cyrus though Tissaphernes (Xen. Hell. 1.5.8-9).
(b) Thebes and Boiotia

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