The Peloponnesian War



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The Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War, (431–404 BC), fought between the two leading city-states in ancient Greece, Athens and Sparta. Each had a group of alliances that included nearly every Greek city-state. The fighting included almost the entire Greek world, and it was regarded as the most important war up to that time.


  1. Who was the Peloponnesian War between?

The Athenian alliance was an empire that included most of the island states around the Aegean Sea. Sparta was leader of an alliance of independent states that included most of the major land powers of the Peloponnese and central Greece, as well as the powerful city-state of Corinth. The Peloponnese is a peninsula in southern Greece in which Sparta is located. The Athenians had the stronger navy and the Spartans the stronger army. The Athenians were better prepared financially than their enemies, because of the money they had gained from the regular taxes they received from their empire.




  1. If Sparta had such a strong army how could Athens compete with them in a war?



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Athens and Sparta had fought each other before the outbreak of the Great Peloponnesian War but had agreed to a truce, called the Thirty Years’ Treaty, in 445 BC. In the following years their respective sides observed an uneasy peace. The events that led to renewed fighting began in 433, when Athens allied itself with Corcyra, an important colony of Corinth. Fighting ensued, and the Athenians then took steps that violated the Thirty Years’ Treaty. Sparta and its allies accused Athens of aggression and threatened war.

On the advice of Pericles, Athens’ most influential leader, Athens refused to back down. Peace efforts to resolve the dispute failed. Finally, in the spring of 431 BC, a Spartan ally, Thebes, attacked an Athenian ally, Plataea, and war began


  1. Who was Pericles?

  2. What event started the war?

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The years of fighting that followed can be divided into two periods, separated by a truce of six years. The first period lasted 10 years and began with the Spartans, under Archidamus, leading an army into the region around Athens. Pericles declined to fight the superior army and urged the Athenians to keep to their city and make full use of their naval superiority by attacking their enemies’ coasts. Within a few months, however, Pericles fell victim to a terrible plague that raged through the crowded city, killing a large part of its army as well as many civilians. Thucydides, who would later write of the war, survived an attack of the plague and left a detailed account of its impact on Athenians. In the meantime (430–429 BC), the Spartans attacked Athenian bases in western Greece but were held back. Meanwhile, the Spartans suffered losses at sea.


The uncertain 6 year peace was finally shattered when, in 415 BC, the Athenians launched a massive assault against Sicily. The next 11 years made up the war’s second period of fighting. The decisive event was the catastrophe suffered by the Athenians in Sicily. Aided by a force of Spartans, Syracuse was able to break through the Athenian navy. Even after gaining reinforcements in 413 BC, the Athenian army was defeated again. Soon afterward the navy was also beaten, and the Athenians were utterly destroyed as they tried to retreat.

By 411 BC Athens was in chaos. At the end of 411 BC the rebuilt Athenian navy, fresh from several victories, acted to restore democratic rule. However, the democratic leaders refused Spartan peace offerings, and the war continued at sea with the Spartan and Athenian fleets each getting victories. The end came in 405 BC when the Athenian navy was destroyed at Aegospotami by the Spartan fleet under Lysander. The next year, Sparta surrounded the city of Athens and blocked any food or supplies from getting into the city. Athens had no choice but to surrender. Athens’ defeat was perhaps the worst casualty in a war that crippled Greek military strength. As a result of the Peloponnesian War, the Greek Empire was greatly weakened and would never regain the strength it once had.




  1. How did Pericles and many Athenians suffer during the war?

  2. What was the decisive battle of the war?

  3. How did the war come to an end?

  4. What was the effect of the war?



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