New Historian

The History of the Peloponnesian War


<![CDATA[Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War is much more than a record of the conflict between Athens and the Peloponnesian League. As well as being a vital account and analaysis of the war that heralded the end of the Golden Age of Ancient Greece, it's a pioneering work of history, philosophy and international relations, that remains relevant thousands of years after its publication. The Peloponnesian War was a twenty seven year conflict fought between 431 BCE and 404 BCE. The main protagonists were the Athenian Empire and the Peloponnesian League - an alliance of city-states led by Sparta. Thucydides' account is so vital because it was written as the war was taking place. Indeed, the book actually finishes mid sentence, a few years before the war came to an end, because its author had passed away. In the fifty years prior to the outbreak of the war, the city state of Athens had accumulated enourmous wealth and extensive influence throughout the Aegean region. The growth of its political sphere meant that it was increasingly becoming the dominant empire in Greece, with the ability to influence the governments of other states. This image of Athenian rule was further propagated by its massive naval force, which allowed it to monopolise trade in the area. On the other hand, Sparta had developed a formidable land army in terms of both numbers and strength. The Peloponnesian League, which had formed around Sparta, was comprised of states who had grown suspicious of Athens' increasing area of control. Political tensions continued to build as diplomacy continued to fail. The war erupted hesitantly, with the two dominant forces taking on opposing roles in minor, local conflicts. Eventually, the Spartans launched a series of damaging raids into Athenian territory, while Athens' navy made a series of attacks on the coasts of the Peloponnesian states. After a decade, the early phase of the war came to an end with the peace of Nicias in 421 BCE. The political tensions remained and war eventually broke out again, much more dramatically, in 415 BCE. The Athenians launched a surprise military attack on Syracuse, which proved a calamity for Athens, ending in heavy defeat and the destruction of most of the Athenian armed forces by 413 BCE. The final phase of the war would have devastating consequences for Athens. Sparta had gained substantial support from Persia, strengthening its military even more. The Athenian Empire was pulled apart bit by bit as Sparta encouraged the smaller city states to revolt against its influence. Athens' political power, the core of its empire, was increasingly undermined. A massive military defeat at Aegospotami proved the final straw, and Athens surrendered. The consequences were economic depression throughout the Hellenic region, the transfer of political leadership to Sparta, and a long lasting revolution in the technology of warfare. Thucydides' History is so important, not just because it provides a contemporary narrative of the war, but because it analyses the causes. Rather than treat the war and its development as the acts of gods, he considered the political, economic and human factors behind it. He deals with the war as a clash of systems, the commercial imperialism of Athens versus the military might of Sparta.]]>

Exit mobile version