gigatos | November 3, 2021
The Peloponnesian War is the conflict between the League of Delos, led by Athens, and the League of Peloponnese, under the hegemony of Sparta. The course of the conflict is mainly known through the accounts that Thucydides and Xenophon made of it. Provoked by three successive crises in little time, the war is however mainly caused by the fear of the Athenian imperialism at the allies of Sparta. This conflict puts an end to the pentecontaétie and extends from 431 to 404 in three generally admitted periods: the archidamic period from 431 to 421, the indirect war from 421 to 413, and the war of Décélie and Ionie, from 413 to 404. It is characterized by a total transformation of the traditional modes of combat of ancient Greece, in particular by a progressive abandonment of the battle in formation of phalanx towards what the historian Victor Davis Hanson will qualify as first “total” conflict of the History.
The first decade of war is marked by the annual invasions of Attica by the Spartans, the plague of Athens which carries away a significant part of the population of this city, and a series of Athenian successes, then of reverses. The peace of Nicias of 421, respected only partly and not settling at all the grievances of the beginning of the conflict, involves a latent peace of eight years, which ends on the Athenian disaster of the expedition of Sicily in 413. The open war resumes then and takes place primarily on sea, the Spartans being able from now on to compete with Athens in the naval field because of the Persian financial assistance and of the important losses undergone by their adversaries in Sicily.
The conflict ends with the victory of Sparta and the collapse of the Athenian empire. The Spartan domination on the Greek world is however short-lived. Culturally, the conflict radically alters, by its scale and ferocity, the vision of war in ancient Greece and marks the end of its golden age.
Thucydides, with his work History of the Peloponnesian War, is the main source of modern historians. This work is however unfinished, ending abruptly in 411, and the denouement of the conflict is related in the Hellenic of Xenophon. The account of Thucydides is considered a founding stone and a masterpiece of historiography by its reflections on “the nature of war, international relations and crowd psychology. Thucydides introduces more rigor in the relation of the facts, refines the chronology and seeks the truth by “the examination of the testimonies and the collection of the indices”. Unlike Herodotus, he limits digressions as much as possible. With him, history is more explanatory than narrative, with a systematic search for the causes or reasons for any action or event. His narrative is didactic, the lessons to be learned from the conflict being useful for future generations because human nature does not change. His style is however sometimes difficult for the modern reader, in particular in the speeches that he places at various moments to analyze the actions. Thucydides fixes the chronological reference points of the war, from 431 to 404, such as they are recognized by the modern historians and although his contemporaries did not necessarily share his sights, some making it start in 433, to finish in 394 or seeing there still several distinct conflicts. Xenophon concentrates on the military operations without trying to analyze the causes and the motives.
Later ancient historians such as Diodorus of Sicily, who devoted two books to the conflict in his Historical Library, and Plutarch, who wrote the biographies of Pericles, Alcibiades, Lysander and Nicias in his Parallel Lives of Illustrious Men, provided additional information on the period. The Athenian comic poet Aristophanes took the Peloponnesian War as the main theme of several plays, such as The Acharnians (425), in which he mocked the party in favor of the war, The Cavaliers (424), in which he attacked Cleon, The Peace (421), in which he celebrated the end of hostilities, and Lysistrata (411), in which Athenian women refused their husbands in order to stop the fighting. It provides invaluable information on the feelings felt by the farmers of Attica who took refuge within the walls of Athens as well as on the effects of this forced cohabitation between city dwellers and peasants. The Constitution of the Athenians, from the school of Aristotle, gives an account of the last part of the war, and in particular of the oligarchic revolution of 411. Archaeological discoveries shed new light on certain details, the most important being the restoration and translation of the stele on which the Athenians engraved the amount of the annual tributes that they imposed from 454 until the dissolution of their empire.
In the nineteenth century, George Grote”s twelve-volume work on Greek antiquity challenged many preconceptions and gave rise to several other works on the period. In the twentieth century, Arnold Wycombe Gomme”s and Kenneth Dover”s commentaries on Thucydides” work proved important, as did the works of Russell Meiggs and Geoffrey de Ste. Croix. More recently, Donald Kagan”s four-volume account of the war is considered authoritative. Victor Davis Hanson”s scholarship is also recognized, although the parallels he draws between Greek antiquity and the modern era are more controversial. In France, Jacqueline de Romilly is considered a specialist of the period and of Thucydides in particular.
For Thucydides, the war is inevitable because of the rise of the Athenian imperialism within the framework of the league of Delos. This last one is founded in 478, in the context of the medieval wars, and sees quickly imposing the hegemony of Athens: the allied cities, rather than investing themselves directly in the defense of the alliance prefer to pay a tribute, the phoros, which maintains the military power of the only city taking in hand all the military operations of the confederation. The Athenian fleet thus becomes soon the most powerful of the Greek world and allows the emergence of what the historians name the Athenian thalassocracy, granting to the city a more and more great influence on the other members of the league; of allies the latter become subjects, not placed any more under a hegemony but under an archè, an authority. Thus the cities seeking to leave the league see their desires repressed by a fleet originally constituted to defend them. The revolts of Eubée, in 446, and Samos, in 440, are thus hard repressed by the Athenians. At the dawn of the Peloponnesian war, what was originally an alliance of independent cities directed by Athens to put an end to the Persian threat became an Athenian empire where, on more than 150 members of the league, only the islands of Lesbos and Chios still preserve their own fleets and a certain autonomy.
In addition to creating internal dissensions with the confédération, this imperialism frightens the other cities of the Greek world, like those of the league of Peloponnese, placed under the hegemony of Sparta and making counterweight with the Athenian power. The relations between Sparta and Athens degraded as of the end of the Medieval wars. In 462, whereas the Spartans must face a revolt of hilots, they refuse in a brutal way the assistance offered by Athens, which involves in this city the ostracism of Cimon, leader of the party favorable to the alliance with Sparta. The two cities clashed intermittently during the first Peloponnesian war (460-445), which was caused by the conflict between Corinth and Megara, two cities members of the league of Peloponnesus. Megara, in bad position, concludes then an alliance with Athens likely to upset the balance of the forces. The war opposes mainly the Athenians and their allies to Corinth and Thebes. After an initial period favorable to Athens, the victory of the Thebans on the Athenians with Coronée (447) puts these last in difficulty. Megara regains the bosom of the league of the Peloponnese, and the Lacedemonians invade Attica but return at home without fighting after having let themselves be bribed. Shortly after, Athens and Sparta concluded a peace of Thirty Years, the Athenians having to restore their conquests except Aegina and Naupact. An important clause of the treaty forbids from now on the members of the two leagues to change alliance, what officially divides the Greek world in two camps, and another requires to submit future grievances to an arbitration.
Nevertheless, Sparta must, with the risk to see its hegemony collapsing, prove near its allies its capacity to protect them from the threat which constitutes Athenian imperialism. Thus a city like Corinth, the most populated of the peninsula after Athens, threatens to leave the league if the Lacedemonians do not actively oppose their rival. According to Thucydides, the true cause, but not avowed, of the conflict is thus the power to which the Athenians reached. The fear for the Spartans to see it still increasing, with their detriment, pushes them then to strike the first ones. The fight is also, and perhaps especially, ideological, the Spartan oligarchy being worried about the will of Athens to impose its democratic model, by the force if necessary, in many other cities.
Thucydides distinguishes three cases leading to the outbreak of the conflict:
The affair of Epidamne: Epidamne is a city of the north of Illyria, colony of Corcyre, island off the Epirus, itself founded by Corinth but in bad terms with this city and which has with 120 trieras the second most important fleet of Greece. A civil war burst in 435 in Epidamne leading to the expulsion of the oligarchs of the city, who started to practice brigandage. The democrats of Epidamne appeal then to Corcyre which does not react, because it is itself governed by an oligarchic government. Epidamne thus turns to Corinth which sends colonists and troops. Considering that it is a question of interference, Corcyre besieges Epidamne while starting negotiations with Corinth. After the failure of those, Corinth sends an expedition of 75 triers which is intercepted and overcome by a Corcyrean fleet of 80 ships off Leucimne. The same day, Corcyre obtains the surrender of Epidamne. In September 433, whereas Corinth prepares a new attack, Corcyre calls upon Athens by asking for its alliance. Between the risk to see passing the fleet of Corcyre to the hands of the league of the Peloponnese in the event of Corcyrean defeat and that to cause a war by the conclusion of an alliance at the same time defensive and offensive (symmachia), the Athenian assembly is hesitating. Undoubtedly at the initiative of Pericles, which dominates the Athenian political life since 443, it thus votes an alliance only defensive (epimachia) and decides the sending of a symbolic force of ten triers to protect Corcyre. Shortly after, Corinth prevails on Corcyre at the time of the great and confused naval battle of Sybota, in which 260 ships are involved. Whereas Corinthians were about to launch a decisive attack, the arrival of twenty new Athenian triers forced them to withdraw. Athens gained with Corcyre a new support in Ionian sea but attracted the enmity of Corinth.
The affair of Potidée: Potidée, another colony of Corinth, is member of the league of Delos but maintains cordial relations with its founding city. Shortly after the battle of Sybota, and by fear of a defection, Athens summons it to raze its walls, to deliver hostages to him and to expel its Corinthian magistrates. The Potideans protested against this ultimatum and engaged with Athens of the negotiations which lasted all winter. After the sending of a secret embassy, Potidée obtains the insurance of Sparte that it will intervene in its favour in the event of Athenian attack and thus decides to leave the league. The Athenian troops disembarked in front of Potidée during the summer 432 and beat the Potideans and reinforcements sent by Corinth before putting the seat in front of the city.
The affair of Mégare : at about the same period as the affair of Potidée, Mégare, city at the doors of Attica but member of the league of Peloponnese, is seen interdicting the access to the markets of Attica and the ports of the league of Délos. Athens indeed officially reproaches him to exploit sacred grounds and to accommodate fugitive slaves. It is however probable that this explanation is only one pretext and that the true reason for this commercial embargo is to punish Mégare for having supported Corinth at the time of the affair of Epidamne. Mégare, asphyxiated economically, protests near Sparta.
In July 432, a Corinthian embassy thus finds itself in the Lacedemonian city where it calls, during a speech in front of the assembly of Sparta, with a war against Athens in the name of Mégare, while pointing out the grievances of the siege of Potidée and the naval battle of Sybota and by agitating the threat of the creation of a new league supplanting that dominated by Sparta. An Athenian delegation, officially present in Sparta for other reasons, answers this speech by affirming not to have violated the peace of Thirty Years and to be free to do what it wants inside its empire. She ends by asking the plaintiffs to submit to arbitration, as the Thirty Years” Peace provides, and warns the Spartans against the consequences that a declaration of war could have. During the deliberations which follow, Archidamos II, king of Sparta and friend of Pericles, speaks against the war by warning the assembly that Athens is a powerful enemy and that the conflict could last more than one generation. Sthénélaïdas, an ephorus, calls as for him to the conflict by putting forward the Athenian provocations and the Spartan honor. At the conclusion of these two speeches, the assembly pronounces itself for the war with a strong majority. On the insistence of Corinth, the other cities of the league of Peloponnese vote in their turn in favour of the war in August 432. The arguments of Archidamos have nevertheless more weight near the Spartans once the spirits cooled. Instead of passing immediately to the offensive, Sparta thus sends several embassies to Athens, one of them proposing to him not to enter in war in the event of lifting of the commercial embargo against Megara. After the rejection of this offer by the Athenians, who remain camped on their proposal of arbitration, the Spartans launch an ultimatum to them which is rejected after the intervention of Pericles, which declares himself favorable to the war.
The war of Archidamos, or war of the Ten Years, is called thus from the name of Archidamos II, king of Sparta.
The opposition of two strategies
In 431 Athens has the most powerful fleet of the Greek world, that is to say approximately 300 trieras, when Sparta does not have almost any, and its allies, Corinth in particular, a little more than one hundred. Moreover, their crews are much better trained. Athens also has financial resources infinitely higher than those of its adversary. On its side, Sparta is regarded, because of its hoplitic tactics tested during the wars of Messénie and of the training of its soldiers within the agôgé, the spartiate education, like the best ground army. At the beginning of the conflict, the troops of the league of Peloponnese are evaluated around 40 000 hoplites against 13 000 for the league of Delos, to which it is necessary to add 12 000 mobilizable Athenians.
The Lacedemonians are unable to impose on Athens a long siege, not having any know-how in poliorcetics and not possessing sufficient financial and material resources to be established durably outside their bases. In addition, Sparta is reluctant to send too a long time its army out of the Peloponnese by fear of a revolt of the hilots or an attack of Argos, its traditional enemy. The strategy of Spartans is thus very simple: it consists in invading Attica and in devastating its cultivated lands in order to force the Athenians, by the famine or the humiliation felt, to leave their walls to fight in open country.
Pericles knew that Sparta and its league would be superior in case of a pitched battle but also that they could not support a prolonged or maritime war. His plan is thus to carry out a war of attrition by sheltering the population of the countryside of Attica in the enclosure of the Long Walls, which connect Athens to the port of Piraeus, during the Spartan invasions, while the fleet will have as a mission to supply Athens, to take care that the allies of the city continue to pay their tributes and to carry out raids in the Peloponnese. According to Pericles, the Spartans would understand after three or four years that they could not subject Athens and would then open negotiations. For the historian Donald Kagan, this almost exclusively defensive strategy has the disadvantage of placing Athens in a weak position in the eyes of all Greece, thus leading the other cities to no longer fear it. To refuse the combat and to let its territory be ravaged is indeed inconceivable for a culture which places the bravery at the top of all the virtues.
Invasions, raids and epidemics
The blow of Platées is the first armed confrontation of the war: in March 431, oligarchs platéens call in Thèbes, allied with Sparte, to overthrow their democracy. Platées being allied with Athens and occupying an important strategic position, the Thébains seized at once the occasion. A force of approximately 300 men is sent, the doors of the city are opened to him by night by the plotters but the people manage to seize the Thebans. A second expedition is sent to deliver the first one and negotiations take place, the Platéens promising to release their prisoners if the Thébains withdraw. But once the Thebans left, the prisoners were executed. From then on, Plataea is watched over by an Athenian garrison. The city, with a status considered inviolable since the battle of Platées in 479, was besieged from May 429 to August 427 by the troops of the Peloponnesian league and had to capitulate after a long and ingenious resistance. Platées is then razed and its defenders massacred.
As Pericles had foreseen it, the Lacedemonians launched out in a series of short invasions of Attica, the first taking place in May 431. The entry of the Spartan army commanded by Archidamos II in Athenian territory officially marks the beginning of the hostilities. This army burns the fields of cereals and devastates the vines and the orchards of the area of Acharnes, evacuated by its inhabitants, but the task proves to be arduous and the Spartans return at home at the end of one month without having obtained the hoped reaction of the Athenians, who remain inside their walls. In spite of the discomfort felt by the population because of the influx of refugees and the charges of cowardice launched against him by his political adversaries, the prestige of Pericles and the respect which he inspires persuades the Athenians to stick to his plan. Financially, the first year of war proves very expensive for Athens, because of the maintenance of its fleet as well as the army besieging Potidée and of a balance of trade affected by the invasion of Attica.
The Lacedemonian troops devastate again Attica in spring 430, this time during forty days and on a wider zone, then in spring 428, 427, this one causing great devastation, and 425, this last invasion lasting only fifteen days because of the Athenian attack on Pylos. There are no invasions in 429, by fear of the plague, and in 426, an earthquake having been regarded as a bad omen but undoubtedly also because of the recrudescence of the epidemic. In reprisal of these invasions, the Athenians ravage the Megaraid twice a year until 424, without arriving them either at decisive results. They also launch two great naval expeditions in 431 and 430. The first devastates Elis and seizes Cephallenia, whereas the second ravages the east of Argolid. During the first expedition, Brasidas, a Spartan officer, prevents the setting to bag of the town of Méthônè by a daring counter-offensive. More modest expeditions allow the Athenians to seize Thronion and to expel the population of Aegina, whose position threatens the port of Piraeus, to replace it by colonists. Understanding that they will not be able to win the war without a powerful fleet, the Lacedemonians send in 430 an embassy to propose an alliance to the Persian king Artaxerxes Ier. The ambassadors are however arrested in Thrace at the instigation of Athenian agents and sent to Athens, where they are immediately executed without trial.
However, the arrival during the Spartan invasion of 430, with an Egyptian ship, of what Thucydides names the plague, and which is more probably a form of typhus, condemns the plan of Pericles: spreading all the more quickly that the number of Athenians refugees behind the walls grows and that the conditions of hygiene deteriorate, it rages particularly in 430 and 429, then, after a period of remission, in 426. From 430, the attacks against Pericles intensified and the partisans of peace obtained the sending of an embassy to Sparta to open negotiations. The Spartans put however conditions with peace which Athens considers unacceptable, probably the dissolution of the league of Delos, which causes the failure of this embassy. The epidemic kills, between 430 and 425, a quarter to a third of the population of Athens, of which 4 400 hoplites and 300 horsemen, as well as Pericles himself in September 429. The historian Victor Davis Hanson estimates the total losses, civilian and military, between 70 000 and 80 000 dead. The traumatic experience of this epidemic also led to a deterioration in morals, with many Athenians ceasing to fear the laws and the gods, and may explain the unprecedented brutality of certain actions carried out subsequently by Athens. The laws are also modified in order to compensate for the losses undergone, only one Athenian parent being sufficient from now on to be granted the citizenship.
After a two and a half years siege, the Athenians finally obtained the surrender of Potidée during winter 430-429, in spite of the death of a quarter of the 4 000 hoplites besieging the city because of the propagation of the epidemic striking Athens. They do not become for all that masters of the area because they are defeated by Chalcidians with the battle of Chalcis. In 429, the Lacedemonians decided to invade Acarnania in order to drive Athens and its allies out of the west of Greece. However, their ground attack fails and, during the summer, the Athenian fleet based in Naupacte, strong of twenty trieras and commanded by the strategist Phormion, gains a double brilliant victory on the fleet of the league of Peloponnese at the time of the battles of Patras, where it faces 47 vessels, and Naupacte, where it faces 77, thus showing the power of the Athenian thalassocracy, even when this one is put in difficulty. In Patras, using a new strategy, Phormion turns around the opposite fleet formed in circle by gradually narrowing these turns to sow disorder with the raising of the wind. After these two battles, Sparta and its allies avoided to face the Athenians on sea until 413. The financial situation of Athens after three years of war becomes nevertheless worrying: the Athenian treasure, strong of 5 000 talents at the beginning of the hostilities, counts from now on less than 1 500 of them.
The death of Pericles, in 429, left the Athenian civic body orphaned. Two parties dominated political life from then on: that led by Nicias, moderate democrat, partisan of a war without excess and this in the name of the large landowners, tired of seeing their lands ravaged; and that led by Cléon, demagogue, himself a merchant and speaking in the name of urban Athens; he called for a total involvement in the conflict. That involves reversals, as in 428, when Mytilene, city of the island of Lesbos with the oligarchs leaders, prepares secretly to leave the league of Delos. Athens, informed of these velléités, sends a fleet to launch an ultimatum which Mytilène pushes back while calling Sparta with its assistance in August 428. The Athenians succeeded in delaying the departure of an expedition of help by a demonstration of force off the coasts of the Peloponnese and put the seat in front of Mytilene. They raise in addition an exceptional direct tax (eisphora) to face the expenses caused. Mytilene capitulated in July 427, one week before the arrival of Lacédémonian reinforcements which turned back immediately. The question of the fate of the Mytilenians arises then. The most radical fringe, led by Cléon, claims the severity and a first decree is taken by the ecclesia: the men will be killed, the women and the children sold in slavery and the city razed. A ship is sent to carry out the sentence. But, under the action of the moderates, a second decree is taken the following day: only the walls will be razed and the fleet will have to be delivered. A second ship catches up with the first in extremis and saves the population of Mytilene. The persons in charge of the revolt, to the number of approximately one thousand, are however put to death.
Sparta and Athens also clashed through agents provocateurs, as at Corcyra in 427 where the oligarchs tried to take power at the urging of Spartan agents. Thousands of people, mainly civilians, died in the fights and the massacres which followed and ended in the victory of the democrats. In 427, the Sicilian city of Leontinoi asked for the help of Athens against Syracuse. The Athenians sent twenty triers but did not carry out any decisive action apart from the catch, short-lived, of Messina. At the time of a congress of the cities of the island held in Gela during the summer 424, Hermocrates of Syracuse persuaded the Sicilians to make peace and to return the Athenians, who thus returned on their premises. In 426, Agis II succeeds to his father Archidamos whereas Pleistoanax returns from the exile to which it had been condemned in 445, Sparte having thus again two kings.
In June 426, the Athenian strategist Démosthène carries out a campaign in Etolia of its own initiative in the general optics of an ambitious plan which must lead by an offensive on Béotie to take the Thébains with reverses. The campaign, compromised by the defection of several allies of Athens, turns quickly to the disaster after a surprise attack of the tribes étoliennes. Fearing a trial, Demosthenes remained in Naupacte rather than returning to Athens. The Lacedemonians decided to counter-attack at once in the area with the assistance of their allies Ambraciotes but an army made up of Athenians, Acarnanians and Amphilochians and commanded by Demosthenes gained on them the battle of Olpae in the autumn 426. The following day, Démosthène grants to the Lacedemonians the right to withdraw provided that they do it secretly. An Ambracian army of help, unaware of the last events, arrived shortly afterwards and Démosthène launched by night a surprise attack which made more than thousand dead at the Ambraciotes. Athens cannot however benefit from this unhoped-for success to take the control of all the north-west of Greece for lack of financial means.
Cleon and Brasidas
In May 425, whereas Athens is finally rid of the plague, Démosthène, which is part of an expedition bound for Corcyre, takes advantage of a storm which immobilizes the fleet near Pylos, to occupy and fortify the places, remaining on the spot with a small troop. Lacedemonians, fearing a revolt of the hilots of Messénie very close, interrupt their invasion of Attica and send 420 hoplites which unload on the island of Sphactérie. But the Spartan attack on Pylos fails because of the return of the Athenian fleet, and the 420 hoplites, of which 180 belong to the Spartan elite, find themselves trapped on Sphacteria. The Spartan elite being numerically very weak, this threat on the life of as many of its members is taken very seriously and a truce is concluded at once, Sparta delivering to Athens its fleet of 60 trières in hostage. However, the negotiations of peace started by Sparta on the basis of a return to the peace of Thirty Years fail because of the draconian conditions imposed by Cleon. Athens refuses to restore its fleet to Sparta under the pretext of a violation of the truce but the deadlock is prolonged in Pylos, the famine threatening from now on as well the Spartan hoplites as the Athenians who besiege them. Cléon is then charged to help Démosthène and both launch in August 425 a surprise attack on Sphactérie with light troops and remote weapons. The Spartans, taken with reverses, are overcome, and the 292 survivors give up and are made prisoners. The Spartan prestige is strongly shaken by this ground defeat followed by a surrender preferred to death. Moreover, Athens uses the Spartan prisoners as hostages by threatening to execute them in the event of new invasion of Attica, an effective threat since these invasions cease in fact until 413. Emboldened by his victory, Cleon governed de facto Athens until his death three years later. One of the first measures that it takes is to increase the tributes taken on the allies of Athens in order to relieve the finances of the city.
The Athenians are galvanized by the victory of Sphacteria, which is followed by some minor successes, and, for the first time of the war, they seem very close to gain the victory. However, 424 turns out for them a very unfavourable year, apart from the capture of Cythère in May. In July, they tried to seize Megara with the complicity of its new democratic regime, but the city was rescued just in time by the Spartan general Brasidas and the oligarchy was restored. They then invaded Boeotia with the aim of depriving Sparta of the support of Thebes and its allies by provoking a democratic uprising. The invasion is however badly coordinated and, in November, the Béotians triumph with the battle of Délion of a part of the Athenian forces, which lose their head, the strategist Hippocrates, 1 000 hoplites and undoubtedly as many light combatants. This Béotian victory is due largely to the new use of a cavalry of reserve which surprises and demoralizes the Athenian right wing whereas this one had just overcome the Béotian left wing.
Brasidas, at the head of a small expedition of 1 700 men including 700 freed hilots, crosses all Greece in August 424 to invade Thrace at the request of king Perdiccas II of Macedonia, which seeks an ally in the conflict which opposes it to Lyncestes. Using unconventional tactics and presenting himself as a liberator, he obtained without fighting the surrender of Acanthos and Stagire. In December, he seized Amphipolis by a surprise attack before the Athenian fleet of the strategist Thucydides (the one who, exiled following this failure, tells the conflict) could intervene. Following this victory, several other cities of the area give up the Athenian alliance. It is a defeat of importance for Athens since it is with the wood of Thrace that it builds its triers.
A truce of one year is concluded in March 423 but Brasidas does not respect it by bringing its assistance to the city of Skionè revolted against Athens. Revolts burst also in Toronè and Mendè, this last being quickly reconquered by Athens thanks to the departure of Brasidas, left to join Perdiccas for a new campaign against Lyncestes. This one ends by a precipitated departure of the Macédonians. Brasidas, left alone in dangerous position, succeeds in taking out his army of the trap but this episode puts an end to the alliance between him and Perdiccas. The truce is then respected until its term. During the summer 422, Cleon takes the head of an Athenian expedition to reconquer Thrace and takes again Toronè. It seeks then to seize Amphipolis but is surprised and put in rout by an attack of its adversary in October 422. Cleon and Brasidas die during the fight, allowing the moderates of the two cities to agree on a stop of the hostilities.
Peace of Nicias
The two camps, exhausted and eager to recover the respective lost possessions, begin negotiations during the winter 422-421. The peace of Nicias, concluded in April 421, devotes the return to the status quo ante bellum. It includes the following clauses: a peace concluded for fifty years; the restitution of all the taken places and the prisoners; the cities of Thrace are evacuated by the Péloponnésians; and the quarrels to come will be regulated by arbitration and negotiations.
Athens must restore Cythère and Pylos and return the 300 hoplites which it holds while Sparta must evacuate Thrace. That devotes an implicit victory for Athens since its empire, at the origin of the conflict, does not emerge from it reduced. However, Athens lost much and the resentments of 431 are not less latent. Athenians and Spartans are animated of a deep mutual distrust and are reluctant to hold their engagements. The 300 Spartan prisoners are finally released, at the price of a defensive alliance between Sparta and Athens allowing the intervention of the Athenian troops in the event of revolt of the hilots in Messénie. The revolt of Skionè is brutally repressed by Athens, all the men being put to death and all the women and the children sold like slaves after its capitulation during the summer 421. However, Amphipolis refuses to regain the Athenian alliance after the departure of the Spartan troops, as a result Athens opposes the restitution of Pylos.
Moreover, the peace of Nicias engages practically only Sparta vis-a-vis Athens and its allies. On their side, Corinth, Thebes, Elis and Megara, under various pretexts, refuse to sign peace. It is there a serious threat weighing on the cohesion of the league of Peloponnese.
The League of Argos
Among the old resentments which peace does not solve are those of Corinth, which, considering itself badly defended by Sparta, wishes to see a new confederation being formed. It thus takes advantage of the term to come of the period of peace signed by Sparta and Argos in 451 and of the negotiations being reopened between the two cities to encourage the democrats of Argolid to create a new confederation which gathers Argos, Corinth, Mantinée and Elis, as well as some cities of Chalcidique, eager to leave the Athenian bosom. But this alliance is insufficient because Thèbes, Mégare and Tégée decline the invitation which is made to them to adhere to it. It is then that Alcibiade, entered a short time before in the political arena and pushed by his immoderate ambition, succeeds by his talents of diplomacy, and against the opinion of Nicias, to persuade Argos, Elis and Mantinée to sign with Athens a defensive alliance for one hundred years. This new alliance disintegrates the league of Peloponnese and increases the tensions between Athens and Sparta, this one being thus excluded in a humiliating way from the Olympic games by Elis in 420.
During summer 419, Argos attacked Epidaurus, ally of Sparta, at the instigation of Alcibiades, who wanted to prove the weakness of Spartans and to detach Corinth from the league of Peloponnese. This plan fails because, even if the Spartans give up to deliver battle because of unfavourable omens, the arrival of their army at the border is enough to make return the Argians at home. King Agis II decides to invade Argolid during the summer 418. An armistice is then concluded between Sparta and Argos but the arrival of 1 300 Athenians pushes the Argians to break it. In August, the battle of Mantinée opposed Sparta to the coalition formed by Argos and Mantinée and to the Athenian reinforcements. The army of Elis, left momentarily because of a quarrel with its allies, returns too late to take part in the combat, its absence having certainly had a great impact on its course. The battle ends indeed by a great Spartan victory, the city restoring its hegemony in the Peloponnese at the price of 300 deaths in its ranks against more than one thousand for the coalition. In addition, the oligarchs temporarily took again the capacity with Argos but the democracy and the Athenian alliance are restored at the end of the summer 417. Athens benefited from this period of peace to reconstitute important financial reserves but its foreign policy was undecided because of the opposition between Nicias and Alcibiades, which dominated from now on the public affairs of the city.
Massacres of civilians
The massacres multiply, even during this period when Athens and Sparta are officially in peace. Thus, in 417, the Spartans seized Hysiai, located on the territory of Argos, and put to death all the adult male population of this small city.
Athens makes pressure since the first phase of the war so that the island of Mélos, neutral in the conflict, enters its empire. In 416, it decides to intervene militarily by sending an expedition of 3 500 men charged to subject the island. The Méliens, of Dorian origin, refused to give up, in spite of the threats of death of the Athenians, by hoping for the intervention of Sparta. Melos is taken after more than six months of siege, its walls are razed, the men of the city are executed, the women and the children sold like slaves and 500 colonists are sent. This affair darkened considerably the image of Athens. Thucydides places there a famous dialogue where the imperial will of the Athenians is asserted with the contempt of the right of people, imperialism founded on the law of the strongest.
In spring 413, Athens sends thracian mercenaries, arrived too late to join the reinforcements sent in Sicily, to plunder the coasts of Béotie. These, under the leadership of an Athenian general, attacked by surprise the village of Mycalesse and massacred its inhabitants, including the children who were then at school, thus committing, according to the words of the historian Donald Kagan, “the worst atrocity of the whole war”.
In 416, the Sicilian city of Segesta, attacked by Selinunte, called upon Athens to defend it by offering to finance the expedition. Syracuse, second most populated city of the Greek world, is a democracy, allied of Selinunte in this business, imposing its hegemony on this island fertile in cereals, that Athens could appropriate if it sent a fleet in Sicily. Alcibiades, who dreams of an Athenian empire extending to Italy and North Africa, opposes again to Nicias on the question of the validity of an intervention. Whereas the first pleads passionately the interventionist cause, Nicias wants to frighten the Athenians by overestimating the Sicilian forces. It obtains the opposite effect, making only to give more extent to the expedition which passes from twenty to a hundred triers. The possibility of holding such a position in the Mediterranean, the prospect of cutting the supplies of Sparta and its allies, as much as the ambition of Alcibiades lead to the starting of this company, which however takes place on a ground badly known of the Athenians. In June 415, an expedition made up of 134 ships and 27 000 men and directed jointly by Alcibiade, Nicias and Lamachos takes the sea. The affair of Hermocopides, mutilations of statues of the god Hermes, burst a few days before its departure and, within its framework, Alcibiade is accused to have taken part in a parody of the Mysteries of Eleusis. He asks to be judged before taking the sea but does not succeed.
The three strategists have different objectives: Nicias wants to temporize by being satisfied with a demonstration of force, Lamachos wishes to attack Syracuse immediately, and Alcibiades wants to rally the Sicilian cities in an alliance against Syracuse. It is this last one which succeeds in persuading the two others. After having learned that Segesta did not have the means of paying the expenses of the expedition, the fleet seized Catania to make its base of operations. But a new denunciation on the participation of Alcibiade in the parody of the Mysteries causes the sending of a trier to bring back him to Athens and to judge him. In order to escape from it, Alcibiades forged company with his escort in Thourioi and took refuge in Sparta during the winter 415-414 when the news of his condemnation to death in absentia reached him. Nicias, who had never believed in the validity of this expedition, is from now on paradoxically its undisputed leader. Having failed in his search for allies in Sicily, all being afraid by the size of the expedition, but not daring to return to Athens by fear of a lawsuit, he has no other choice than to attack the Syracusans who provoke him. The Athenians won a victory during a battle of hoplites near the river Anapo but their lack of cavalry is then felt when it is about exploiting it. They cannot undertake the siege of the city without riders and, while waiting for reinforcements in this field to arrive, the winter passes without them carrying out other actions. The Athenians nevertheless took the advantage on Syracuse in spring 414 by seizing the plateau of Epipoles where they started the construction of a double wall in order to isolate the city. Shortly after, Lamachos is killed at the time of a skirmish, his energy going cruelly to make lack with the Athenians. Indeed, by his inaction and his negligence, Nicias does not manage to finish the construction of the wall before the arrival of the help for Syracuse because Alcibiades persuades the Spartan assembly that it is necessary to send an expedition to help the city and to take again the war in Attica by fortifying Decélie.
The reinforcements of the Spartan Gylippe, arrived in August 414 just in time to prevent the complete encirclement of Syracuse, obliged in October the Athenians to retreat towards the roadstead, in which they were affected by an epidemic of malaria. Nicias, in bad health, asks once again for the assistance of Athens by hiding the truth on its strategic errors, and the assembly renews its confidence to him by voting the sending of important reinforcements, ordered by Démosthène, with 73 trières and 15 000 men. In spring 413, Sparta and Athens thus send both new expeditions in Sicily. Before their arrival, Syracusans and their allies nevertheless strike a great blow by seizing the three Athenian forts of Plemmyrion and by beating their fleet for the first time at the time of a surprise attack, which seriously affects the Athenian morale. As soon as he arrived, Demosthenes set up a plan aiming at taking again the plateau of Epipoles. At the time of the night attack which follows, in August 413, the Athenians initially surprise their adversaries but the disorganization of their troops and their ignorance of the ground involves chaos, then the rout, the Athenians losing finally 2 000 men and the hope of taking Syracuse. Nicias then lost a precious time before deciding to leave Sicily and his fleet was defeated at the time of two battles in the port of Syracuse because of the confined space which prevented it from maneuvering and of the tactics of ramming employed by the Syracusan and Corinthian ships with the reinforced prow. Nicias and Démosthène then tried to flee by the ground way with 40 000 men but those are caught up and massacred on the banks of Assinaros. Captured, Nicias and Démosthène are executed by the Syracusans in spite of the objections of Gylippe. Most of the 10 000 survivors disappeared in the stone quarries of Latomia where they were held prisoner by Syracuse in appalling conditions. The Athenian expedition, whose failure can be as much imputed to the treason of Alcibiades as to the incompetence of Nicias, thus ends in disaster with the loss of 50 000 men and more than 200 triers.
Consequences of the Sicilian disaster
Raids launched in 414 by Athens on the coasts of Laconia, in flagrant violation of the peace of Nicias, persuaded Sparta to take again the open war. Since the fort of Décélie, occupied by king Agis II in a permanent way since the summer 413, the Spartans organized the terrestrial blockade of Athens as of 412, prevented their adversaries from exploiting the silver mines of Laurion and seized 20 000 slaves. Athens lost two thirds of its fleet and had almost no more money to maintain its empire. However, it is by its control of the seas that Athens can ensure its provisioning and the payment of the tributes, and the Lacedemonians can henceforth make equal play with it as well in terms of number of trieras as of quality of the crews. Sparta is approached by Persians which, through the intermediary of the rival satraps Pharnabaze and Tissapherne, want to benefit from the weakness of Athens to recover the territories of Asia Minor lost during the Median wars. The Spartans have the choice between four possible offensives in various regions, among which two proposed by Pharnabaze and Tissapherne, but the factions which share the power do not manage to agree. Alcibiades, from now on with the service of Sparta, persuades its leaders to entrust to him an expedition of five ships to convince the allies of Athens in Ionia to leave the league of Delos and ensures the defection of Chios, Erythrae, Clazomenes, Téos, Milet and Ephesus. Shortly after, a secret alliance, because very favorable to Persians, is concluded between the Spartan expedition and Tissapherne.
Athens reacted by releasing an emergency fund of thousand talents which enabled it to arm a fleet and to send it to the coasts of Ionia. The Athenians made Samos their principal naval base in the Aegean Sea and managed to keep the control of Lesbos. They also operated the blockade of Chios, thus largely threatening the rebellion on this island, but gave up to deliver a battle which could have been decisive against a fleet péloponnésienne superior in number, thus failing to put the seat in front of Milet. This decision causes moreover the anger of their Argian allies, who cease from then on to be involved in the conflict. At the same time, Alcibiades made an enemy of Agis II by seducing his wife. The Spartans, which are wary of him, give the order to remove him. Warned in time, he took refuge near Tissapherne towards October 412 and became his adviser. He persuades it to carry out a policy of rocking between Sparta and Athens, thus reducing the financial assistance and cancelling the Persian naval assistance to Sparta. In spite of a minor naval victory off Symi, the Lacedemonians carefully avoid any important engagement, thus leaving the control of the sea to their adversaries. They succeeded nevertheless in bringing their assistance to an oligarchic revolution in Rhodes, the island thus passing in their camp in January 411.
Alcibiades, knowing that his association with Tissapherne is only temporary, contacts the Athenian strategists of Samos, and in particular Thrasybule, in order to prepare his return in grace by promising them that the Persians will pass in their camp if Athens changes political regime. With the assistance of Thrasybule, who is conscious of the need for an alliance with Persians, Alcibiade is then elected strategist by the Athenian soldiers of Samos. However, the distrust of Phrynichos, one of the principal Athenian oligarchs, towards Alcibiades condemns the original plan of the latter. Taking advantage of the absence of powerful and respected democratic leaders in their city, the Athenian oligarchs prepare their coup in the greatest secrecy. While pretending to respect the institutions, they make reign terror by assassinating their principal opponents and establish the regime of the Four Hundred, of which Phrynichos, Pisandre, Antiphon and Théramène are most in sight, in June 411. In Samos, an oligarchic coup d”état failed, and the Athenian soldiers elected Thrasybule and Thrasylle to command them and oppose the Four Hundred. Alcibiades nevertheless succeeded in preventing the Athenian soldiers of Samos to abandon the island to return to Athens. Meanwhile, the Spartans, who doubt more and more the loyalty of Tissapherne, turn to Pharnabazus and send troops in the Hellespont, which pushes the cities of Abydos, Byzantium, Chalcedon, Cyzique and Selymbria to revolt against Athens. When revolts burst also on the island of Eubée, vital for Athens, the city sends a fleet to keep the control of the island but this one is defeated in September 411 by the Lacédémonians off Erétrie. With the loss of Euboea, the panic gains Athens, from now on with the edge of the civil war. The Four Hundred, unable to restore the situation and divided into factions, are in their turn overthrown four months after their coup d”état by hoplites, who hand over the power to the Five Thousand, a body composed of all citizens able to afford the hoplite equipment. The Five Thousand, guided by moderates such as Theramene, got rid of the most extreme oligarchs, officially pardoned Alcibiades and restored civil peace, Athens becoming a full democracy again ten months later.
Return of Alcibiade and triumph of Lysander
Mindarus, the new Spartan navarch, succeeds in moving his fleet from Milet, until now the base of his operations, to Abydos, in the Hellespont. It thus threatens to cut the principal way of provisioning in grain of Athens and obliges the Athenians, from now on the back to the wall, to pass to the offensive. In October and November 411, the Athenian strategists Thrasybule and Thrasylle gain on Mindarus of the naval victories in Cynosséma, narrow victory but which restores confidence to the Athenians, and in Abydos. During this last one, it is the intervention of Alcibiade with eighteen ships in full medium of the battle which allows the Athenian victory and the capture of thirty adversary ships. The battle of Cyzique in March 410, during which Mindarus finds the death, is a total victory of the Athenians which allows the capture of sixty ships and pushes the Spartans to ask for the peace on the basis of the status quo by exchanging Decélie against Pylos, proposal which is rejected. Thanks to this series of victories, of which Thrasybule is the principal craftsman for the historian Donald Kagan, Athens has again the control of the seas. Sparta manages to seize the fort of Pylos during the winter 410-409 but, a few months later, the invasion of Sicily by Carthaginians pushes Syracuse to withdraw its naval support to the Spartans. In 409, Thrasylle directs an unsuccessful campaign in Ionia but, the following year, Alcibiade recovers Chalcedon, Sélymbrie and Byzance, by a mixture of diplomacy and military actions, which gives again with Athens the control of Propontide. It is at this same time that Pausanias Ier succeeds his father Pleistoanax on one of the two thrones of Sparta. After the campaign of Alcibiades, Abydos remains the only city of the area still with the hands of the Spartans but, on the diplomatic level, the Athenians fail to detach Persians from their alliance with Sparta. Elected strategist, Alcibiades returned triumphantly to Athens in May 407 and was granted the full military powers.
Having avoided the confrontations on sea during three years, Sparta reconstitutes its fleet and entrusts it in 407, with the navarch Lysander, regarded by the historian Victor Davis Hanson like the “chief of war the most intractable, the most brilliant and the most complete that Greece had ever produced since Thémistocles”. Having made sure of the support of Cyrus, son of the king of Persia Darius II and new leader of Asia Minor in place of Tissapherne, Lysander hires thanks to his financial assistance of many Athenian mercenaries by offering them a higher salary. It establishes its naval base in Ephesus and trains there intensively the crews of its ships. During winter 407-406, whereas the two fleets observe each other, Alcibiade leaves the command temporarily with his friend Antiochos to attend the siege of Phocée. Antiochos, contravening the orders enjoining him not to seek the combat, is trapped and overcome by Lysander with the battle of Notion, which causes the loss of 22 ships and the destitution of Alcibiade, which is exiled in its grounds of Chersonèse of Thrace. Its magistracy of navarque arrived at term, Lysander must however, and with its great displeasure, withdraw. His successor, Callicratidas, is far from getting along as well as him with Cyrus, but gains a new victory off Mytilene which costs thirty ships to Athenians. Athens gathers then a “fleet of the last chance” by engaging its last resources and by freeing slaves so that they are used as crews. In August 406, during the greatest naval battle of the war, the Athenian fleet of 155 trieras directed by eight strategists, of which Thrasyllus and Pericles the Younger, beat that of 120 ships of Callicratidas in Arginuses, archipelago in the south of the island of Lesbos. Callicratidas died there and the Spartans lost 77 ships against 25 for the Athenians. A storm makes however impossible to the Athenians the recovery of the shipwrecked and the bodies, 2 000 sailors having fallen to the sea, which is contrary to the religious tradition. The scandal caused involves a lawsuit which ends in the condemnation to death and the execution of the six Athenian strategists having presented themselves at their lawsuit. This measure, taken by the assembly under the blow of anger and regretted thereafter, deprives Athens of its most experienced commanders. Shortly after, the Spartans make a new proposal of peace, proposing to restore Décélie, the two camps preserving all their other conquests. Although more advantageous than that made in 410, this offer is still rejected by Athens on the incentive of the demagogue Cleophon.
As for Cyrus, he demanded the return of Lysander as a condition of his continued support. To circumvent the law which prohibits a navarch from being named more than once, Sparta officially names him second in command while unofficially entrusting him the direction of the operations. In 405, Lysander and his new fleet, financed by Cyrus, regained the Hellespont by the ruse by attracting the Athenian ships in a vain continuation. Lysander then made fall Lampsack, thus threatening Byzantium. In September 405, the fleets of Athens and Sparta face each other on the two banks of the Hellespont. Alcibiades, who lives not far, intervenes for the last time of the war by advising the Athenian strategists to give up their anchoring close to the mouth of Aigos Potamos because this one is not sure but it is not listened. Shortly afterwards, Lysander launched a surprise attack while most of the Athenian sailors were ashore to look for provisions. The Spartans captured or sank 170 trieras, that is to say the quasi-totality of the fleet, and put to death at least 3 000 prisoners. Having the total control of the sea, Lysander then undertook the conquest of all the Athenian possessions, with the exception of Samos, before carrying its fleet until Piraeus. Athens, encircled on ground and on sea, is quickly gained by the famine – more especially as Lysander knowingly left to the Athenian garrisons of the conquered cities the right to return to their mother city so that there are more mouths to be fed – and must submit in April 404 after long negotiations carried out by Théramène near Lysander, then of the ephors of Sparta.
Peace is concluded shortly after the surrender of Athens. Whereas Corinthians and Thebans want to see Athens destroyed and its inhabitants reduced to slavery, the peace treaty is relatively lenient. The Spartans refused to reduce Athens in servitude by pointing out the role which it had played during the Median wars, but especially so that the city is used as counterweight with Thebes, of which they are wary. The fact that the king of Persia Darius II is on his deathbed and that his designated successor, Artaxerxes II, is hostile with his younger brother Cyrus and thus likely to withdraw its support with Sparte, was undoubtedly also an important factor in the establishment of less hard conditions of peace making it possible to accelerate the surrender of Athens. The city thus preserves Attica but must give up the remainder of its empire. According to Xénophon, it is agreed that Athens “would destroy the Long Walls and the fortifications of Piraeus, would deliver all its vessels except twelve, would let return the exiles and, having the same enemies and the same friends as the Lacedemonians, would follow them on ground and sea everywhere where those would lead them”.
The league of Delos is thus dissolved and Athens enters that of the Peloponnese. Democracy is replaced by the tyranny of the Thirty following the action of Lysander. This last makes pressure to make elect thirty members of a commission which, under cover to write new laws, exerts the capacity with the support of a Spartan garrison. The Thirty quickly became unpopular by giving the order to massacre citizens and rich metèques to seize their fortune. After the recall of Lysander to Sparta by king Pausanias, Thrasybule manages to take again the city to the Thirty in 403 and restores the democracy there. Athens, if it does not find any more its dominant position, manages all the same to maintain its statute of city of weight in the Greek world with a political mode based on the reconciliation, a law of general amnesty prohibiting even under penalty of death to recall the past faults. Whereas Sparta always claimed to fight for the freedom of the Greeks, it proves very quickly that it was nothing of it since it keeps the control of several cities in Asia Minor, imposing a tribute and installing oligarchies protected by Spartan garrisons, and that other cities are restored to Persians. Sparta finds itself soon after isolated in the game of the leagues and must deliver the war of Corinth (395-387) against Thebes, Athens, Corinth and Argos. Victorious on ground, the Spartans lose however their maritime hegemony after their defeat off Cnide in 394. The peace of Antalcidas makes of Persia the arbitrator of Greece and Ionia returns in the Persian bosom. Sparta, which always lived in isolation, proves unable to manage an empire whereas the Spartan elite, already numerically weak, decreases still to fall to 1 500 individuals only at the time of the defeat against Thebes in 371. On its side, Athens makes rebuild the Long Walls and establishes fortifications to protect Attica in 393, then creates a second Athenian confederation, with the much more flexible conditions than the league of Delos, in 378.
The surrender of Athens in 404 is commonly associated with the end of the golden age of ancient Greece. Beside human losses impossible to quantify exactly, but counting in hundreds of thousands of individuals, and of very heavy material losses also, Greece seems to lose also its “intellectual energy” and undergoes a serious psychological traumatism associated with the feeling of a lost greatness. Ten years after the end of the fights, the adult male population of Athens is approximately half less numerous than at the beginning of the war, and cities like Megara and Corinth leave also very weakened of the conflict. The trade and the agriculture, two economic sectors very touched by the hostilities, take many years to recover, and even the religion does not leave unscathed from the fight, the irrational mysticism or the cynical skepticism being two extreme tendencies which spread everywhere. The Greek society is moreover deeply reshaped by the fact that thousands of former slaves are freed during the war while thousands of citizens are reduced to slavery. The expansion of the Athenian democratic model knows a definitive stop in the Greek world, the political tendency returning to the oligarchies.
The conflict radically changes the vision that the Greeks had of the war. One passes from a war with limited objectives to a total war where all the resources are devoted to the destruction of the adversary, whereas the massacres of civilians and prisoners, previously very rare, become generalized. Efficiency, at any cost, is put forward to the detriment of traditions and “considerations of wealth and power”, and armies become more professional. Tactics evolved, giving an additional dimension to the battle through the use of terrain, reserve forces and envelopment techniques, as did equipment, with lighter helmets and hoplite armor. Hoplite battles, while not disappearing, are no longer considered the only way to fight a land war. Surprise or night attacks and the use of light fighters such as peltasts became much more frequent. Siege and fortification techniques evolved immediately after the war. There was also a change in mentality about the nature of war: seen until then as something tragic but also noble and patriotic, it was increasingly condemned as a dreadful and inherently evil human experience.
The Athenian defeat, which could seem improbable at the beginning of the conflict given the resources which the city had in comparison with those of Sparta, is explained according to Thucydides by four reasons: the epidemic having struck Athens, the expedition in Sicily, the creation of the fort of Décélie by the Spartans and finally the construction of a fleet thanks to gold provided by Persians. One can add to that that Sparta had, in particular with Thèbes and Corinth, allies more powerful and more reliable than those of its adversary. The excess of confidence of Athens pushes it then to engage on a new front without having ensured its backs and, moreover, to fight the democratic city of Syracuse, which weakens its ideological message of fight against the oligarchies. Even after the Sicilian disaster, Athens repulses twice acceptable proposals of peace by believing to be able to still prevail. The Athenian democracy, which “gave him in the misfortune of incredible faculties of resistance”, is then revealed a weakness by its intransigence, not only towards its adversaries but also towards its own generals who can be executed or banished at the least occasion and are thus pushed “to an excess of prudence or audacity”.
The conflict is still studied in modern times, with Thucydides” account of it being read and analyzed in many military schools. Parallels with the Peloponnesian War have been drawn by statesmen, military men and academics on the occasion of crucial events of the twentieth century, such as to explain the causes of the First World War and especially during the Cold War to compare the rivalry then opposing the Western bloc to that of the East with that which led to the confrontation between the leagues of Delos and Peloponnesus.
Apart from the contemporary plays of Aristophanes already mentioned, the conflict is very little represented in all artistic fields. In painting, there are mainly works representing Alcibiades or Pericles but outside the framework of war. The painter Philipp von Foltz represents in the middle of the 19th century the funeral oration of Pericles to the Athenian soldiers killed at the beginning of the war.
In literature, Gertrude Atherton”s The Jealous Gods (1928) is a fictionalized biography of Alcibiades. Mary Renault”s Lysis and Alexias (The Last of the Wine, 1956) is set in Athens at the end of the war and depicts homosexuality in ancient Greece. The Shining (1961) by Stephen Marlowe traces the life of a young Athenian who participates in the Sicilian expedition. Goat Song (1967) by Frank Yerby relates the adventures of a Spartan captured in Sphateria and discovering the Athenian culture. The Flowers of Adonis (1969) by Rosemary Sutcliff is a novel with Alcibiades as the main character. The Walled Orchard (1990) by Tom Holt tells the life of a rival of Aristophanes against the backdrop of the Peloponnesian War. Steven Pressfield”s Tides of War (2000) offers a fictionalized vision of the conflict with Alcibiades again as a prominent character. The Isle of Stone (2005) by Nicholas Nicastro is a novel centered on the Spartan fighters of Sphtheria.
The Peloponnesian War is the historical backdrop for the video game Assassin”s Creed Odyssey. The player can choose to fight for Athens or for Sparta, and meets many historical characters who participated or at least lived through the conflict, such as Pericles, Cleon, Brasidas, Lysander, Demosthenes or Alcibiades.
On March 10, 1996 (twenty-four centuries after the events), in a special ceremony held in ancient Sparta, the mayor of contemporary Sparta Dimosthenis Matalas and the mayor of Athens Dimítris Avramópoulos signed a peace treaty that officially ended the war.
: document used as a source for the writing of this article.