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Peloponnesian War Summary

Causes, Effects, and Timeline of the Ancient Peloponnesian War

The Peloponnesian War was an important event in the history of the conflicts in ancient Greece. Read on to know more about this war...
Medha Godbole
Last Updated: Jul 14, 2017
The Peloponnesian War (431 BCE to 404 BCE), taking place between Sparta and its allies and the empire of Athens, was one amongst many instances of Athens and Sparta going to war.
Causes of the Peloponnesian War
Ancient historian Thucydides chalked out the reasons for this war. The alarming rate at which Athens was growing created a stir in Lacedaemon. It made war inevitable. However, the causes of this war have always been a bone of contention among historians. Some of the other causes are said to be as follows:
  • Spartans were not happy that they no longer had the military glory of yore.
  • Athens was putting pressure on its allies and neutral cities.
  • Sparta was jealous of the increasing expanse and power of Athens.
  • Finally, there were conflicting and competing political ideologies.
These are some of the basic reasons for the outbreak of this war. Actually, the name of the war comes from the fact that the alliance Sparta had with individual kingdoms till Peloponnese. The Spartan alliance itself was called the Peloponnesian League. Nevertheless, apart from the reasons above, there were quite a few interesting intertwining incidents which led to the war. Now let's take a look at how the war progressed.
Several historians divide the war in 3 stages.
First Stage - 431 to 421 BCE
The first stage, which dated from 431 to 421 BCE, is also termed as the Archidamian war. Minor breakthroughs were made by Athens on the Peloponnese by the naval way, and they caused the destruction of areas in Attica. Similarly, the expedition of Boeotia proved to be a disaster. Soon enough, Athens feared her allies would no longer support her.
Consequently, a treaty was signed, called Peace of Nicias, which saved some honor for the Athenians. They were also able to create normalcy prior to their forays, except for a few problem areas. Thus, in 431 BCE the war commenced. In 430 BCE, there was a plague in Athens. 429 BCE witnessed the death of Pericles, and in 427 BCE, Athenians made an expedition to Sicily. This was a very tumultuous time for both Athens as well as Sparta.
Second Stage - 421 to 413 BCE
Athenians once again carried out an expedition to Sicily in Syracuse. Other political happenings in this stage were that Corinth formed a coalition with Athens. Alcibiades was exiled as he created problems, and betrayed Athens to join Sparta. Both camps vied for support from Argos, which ultimately became an ally to Athens.
Third Stage - 413 to 404
Attica was attacked by Sparta as advised by Alcibiades. On the other hand, Athens dug a hole for itself by sending ships and men to Sicily. The naval battle, which was going Athens' way initially, took a turn in favor of the Corinthians and the Syracusans. Sparta then procured gold from Cyrus to build a fleet, and eventually destroyed the Athenian fleet, led by Lysander. This was in the battle of Aegosotami. Finally, 404 BC saw the downfall of the Athenian Empire, and the war ended.
Historians have long debated this war and its repercussions. Still, I have made an attempt to present an unambiguous summary. All said and done, one thing is sure, as Bertrand Russel said, war does not determine who is right―only who is left.