Ancient Greece: Peloponnesian War

The Peloponnesian War was fought between the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta. It lasted from 431 BC to 404 BC. Athens ended up losing the war, bringing an end to the golden age of Ancient Greece.

After the Persian War, Athens and Sparta had agreed to a Thirty Year Peace. They didn't want to fight each other while they were trying to recover from the Persian War. During this time, Athens became powerful and wealthy, and the Athenian empire grew.

In 431 BC, when Sparta and Athens ended up on different sides in a conflict over the city of Corinth, Sparta declared war on Athens. The first Peloponnesian War lasted for 10 years. Spartans dominated the land, and the Athenians dominated the sea. Athens built long walls all the way from the city to its seaport Piraeus. The wall enabled them to stay inside the city and still have access to trade and supplies from their ships. Although the Spartans never breached the walls of Athens during the first war, many Athenians died from the plague, including the great Athenian leader and general, Pericles. After ten years of war, Athens and Sparta agreed to a truce.

Six years later, Athens decided to help one of their allies on the island of Sicily. They sent a large force there to attack the city of Syracuse. Athens lost the battle, and Sparta retaliated, launching the Second Peloponnesian War. The Spartans gathered allies to conquer Athens, including borrowing money from Persians to build a fleet of warships. Athens, however, recovered and won a series of battles.

In 405 BCE the Spartan general Lysander defeated the Athenian fleet in battle. The people in the city of Athens began to starve. They did not have the army to take on the Spartans on land, so the city of Athens surrendered to the Spartans. The city-states of Corinth and Thebes wanted the city destroyed and the people enslaved. However, Sparta disagreed and only destroyed the city walls.

Interesting facts about the Peloponnesian War:

  • The "long walls" of Athens were around 4.5 miles long each. The entire length of the walls around the city and the ports was 22 miles.
  • After Sparta defeated Athens, they ended democracy and set up a new government ruled by the “Thirty Tyrants.” One year later the local Athenians overthrew the tyrants and restored democracy.
  • The Greek soldiers were called hoplites. They typically fought with shields, a short sword, and a spear.
  • Sparta was defeated by Thebes in 371 BCE at the Battle of Leuctra.

Source: Ancient Greece: Peloponnesian War
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