Peloponnesian War

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Greek warrior with hoplite helmet , Sparta, early 5th century BC Chr.

The Peloponnesian War between the Athens- led Attic Maritime League and the Peloponnesian League under its leading power Sparta lasted from 431 BC, interrupted by some armistices. BC to 404 BC And ended with the victory of the Spartans. The war ended the classical age of Athens and the Attic democracy and shook the Greek world for good. Almost all of the Greek city-states ( Poleis ) took part, and the fighting spanned almost the entire Greek-speaking world .

The war was just as important for the course of the history of ancient Greece as it was for historiography itself. For it was the first event that was the subject of a scientific historical account: the Greek historian Thucydides provided a detailed contemporary one in his history of the Peloponnesian War Representation up to the winter of the year 411 BC In which he analyzed the causes and backgrounds of the war in a way that was exemplary for European historiography. His history has a decisive influence on today's knowledge of the course of the Peloponnesian War. For the period after 411 BC Later, Xenophon continued Thucydides' unfinished work with his work Hellenika , but did not reach its level.

The term Peloponnesian War is not contemporary, but only came up later. Thucydides himself spoke of the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians .

Causes and cause of the war

Initial situation and first Peloponnesian war

Area of ​​influence of the Attic League shortly before the outbreak of war in 431 BC Chr.

The Attic Sea League , after the Persian Wars 50 years earlier still a voluntary defense alliance of free Greek cities, had meanwhile become a pure power and coercive instrument of Athens and now served to expand and secure the hegemony of Athens in the Aegean Sea (see also Pentecontaetie ) . In Athens, the so-called Long Walls were built, which connected the city with its port of Piraeus and made it immune to threats from the mainland.

However, the Peloponnesian League, led by Sparta , was an effective counterweight to Athens' efforts to expand the sovereignty of the League . The conflict between Athens and Sparta in the years 457–446 / 445 BC BC, which resulted from Megara's conversion to Athens, among other things , is often seen as a preliminary stage to the Great War. This so-called First Peloponnesian War was sparked when Thebes , Athens' northern neighbor, formed an alliance with Sparta to gain help against Phocis , an ally of Athens. When the Spartans marched on Boeotia , the Athenians opposed them, but were defeated by the Spartans at the Battle of Tanagra in 457 BC. Beaten. Only two months later, however, the Athenians remained successful in the battle of Oinophyta against Thebes, with which they gained dominance over central Greece for the next 10 years. However, since afterwards there was more and more apostasy movements within the Attic dominion, Athens had to grant Boeotia its autonomy again, and the war ended in 445 BC. With a stalemate, Megara switched back to Sparta. A balance seemed to have been reached, as the peace treaty, which was concluded for a period of 30 years, agreed that the respective alliance system would be respected and that an arbitration court would be invoked in the event of conflicts. The relationship to the “neutral” poleis was deliberately excluded, which turned out to be a serious mistake: Because in the thirties of the 5th century BC. A fire flickered on the outermost edge of the Greek world and set in motion a development that would ultimately lead to war.

Military balance of power

As different as the natural conditions of the warring parties were their warfare skills. The alliance led by Athens consisted primarily of the Aegean islands and port cities, and its strength was consequently naval warfare . The status of Athens as the largest sea power depended on its strong navy as well as on the existence of the League. This is explained by the construction of the Greek trireme and the topography of the Aegean Sea. The triremes had a very light construction and were by no means suitable for the ocean; an anchorage had to be found at the first sign of a storm. A beach was sufficient for anchoring the easy trireme, but the coasts of the Aegean Sea are characterized more by rocks and cliffs than by beaches; suitable anchorages were rare and mostly populated. That is why disposal over it was so important to Athens - both for trade and for naval warfare. At the beginning of the war, according to Thucydides, Athens had 13,000 hoplites  - including Socrates , who took part in the campaigns to Potideia, Amphipolis and the Battle of Delion - as well as 16,000 reservists.

The Spartan alliance, on the other hand, consisted mainly of the cities of the Peloponnese and central Greece (with the exception of the port city of Corinth ), that is, land powers whose advantages lay in the field of hoplite warfare. Athens had an indirect military advantage over Sparta, as it had large financial reserves thanks to the income from the League.

Cultural and ideological characteristics of the warring parties

Athens, at the height of its cultural heyday ( Periclean golden age; construction of the Parthenon , the Propylaea ), was a democracy . Sparta's form of rule, on the other hand, was a mixed constitution , although the Spartans traditionally preferred oligarchies in foreign policy . This contrast also existed with the respective allies. How important this ideological contradiction was can be seen in the fact that Sparta immediately introduced an oligarchy in defeated Athens after the end of the war.

From today's perspective, there was a situation that seemed paradoxical: the democratic Athens stood for the oppression of the poleis striving for independence, while Sparta - a military society that rejected democracy and brutally suppressed a large part of its own population, the Helots - played the role of the defender of the Freedom of Greece played. The attribute “democratic” for Athens was often used in recent historiography to relativize the expansive behavior of Athens. In popular historiography and fiction , too , a “good” democratic Athens is often contrasted with the “militaristic” Sparta. Such a morally oriented evaluation of the warring parties, based on the current meaning of the terms democracy and militarism , can no longer be found in modern historical research.

The way to war

The Spartan allied Corinth, which sought to maintain its hegemony in the Gulf of Ambrakia independently of the major alliance systems, played a key role in the initial phase of the conflict . When during a stasis ( civil war ) in Epidamnos (around 436 BC) the “democratic” Corinth party, while the aristocratic party asked Corinth's former colony Kerkyra ( Corfu ) for help, a conflict arose between these two poles over domination in the Ionian Sea . After the first defeats against Kerkyra, Corinth built up such a large fleet that Athens feared for its status as the largest sea power and therefore in the summer of 433 BC. A defensive alliance ( Epimachia ) entered into with Kerkyra, which had the second largest fleet in Greece. Corinth saw this as a violation of the peace of 446 BC. And finally turned to Sparta.

As a result of another conflict Athens imposed (probably in the year 433 BC..) By referendum decision ( psephisma ) a prohibition against the Indianapolis Megara was with the Athens since the end of the first Peloponnesian War enemies ( mega skills psephisma; and it is controversial, whether it was one or more resolutions). Megara, like Corinth a member of the Peloponnesian League, did everything possible to force Sparta to act. In general, this decision is seen as the ultimate reason for war, as Sparta came under pressure. This assessment was already shared by contemporaries, such as Aristophanes , who said that Pericles wanted to divert attention from internal difficulties:

“The source of the calamity was the Phidias scandal,
then Pericles stuck, because he was afraid that the same calamity would hit him, because he was afraid of
your anger, your vicious character
just to protect himself, our city on fire
threw the little spark into it Megarian Edict "

- Aristophanes, Eirene, verses 605ff .; listed in 421 BC Chr.

A third conflict developed in the city of Potidaia on the Chalkidike , a member of the Attic League, which also had good relations with the mother city of Corinth. When Athens demanded from Potidaia to expel Corinthian officials and tear down the sea walls, the latter withdrew from the League. Despite the support of Corinth, however, the Athenians were able to quickly include Potidaia.

However, these conflicts were only the trigger and not the cause of the war - a difference that Thucydides already emphasized. He saw the real reason for the war in the Spartans' fear of the growing power of Athens. In his opinion, the conflict was ultimately inevitable - an assessment that modern research only partially shares.

In the summer of 432 BC BC the disaffected Peloponnesian allies called on Sparta to finally intervene. In Sparta it was above all King Archidamos II who advised reason; however, he could not prevail. At first, however, it was only established that Athens would have the thirty-year peace of 446 BC. Had broken; this was soon followed by the formal declaration of war. The ongoing negotiations with Athens, however, did not bring a solution: In Athens it was Pericles in particular who now made a war come up. this thesis was particularly emphasized by Karl Julius Beloch in his "Greek History", but was also at least partially shared by Thucydides.

Ultimately, Pericles' willingness to take risks and the Spartan fear of one or more allies leaving the Peloponnesian League (which affected Sparta's security interests, see the permanent danger of helots ) were the main reasons for the war. Pericles' intention was to force Sparta to accept dualism and thus the League of Nations; Sparta had to take into account the interests of its allies.

Whether the war guilt for the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War lay with Athens (because of Pericles' policy of confrontation) or with Sparta (because of the calculated risk of a war in order to conquer Athens) is a matter of dispute. What is certain is that due to an atmosphere of political uncertainty, aggressive power politics and excessive prestige thinking, there was more or less willingness to go to war on all sides. Thucydides summed up the mood:

“There weren't any petty plans here or there, everyone wanted to do their best for the war - understandable: At the beginning everyone grabs harder, and at that time there was a lot of young people in the Peloponnese, a lot in Athens, who were not reluctant, because they didn't know them, started the war. The rest of Hellas was in tension at this battle of arms between the first cities; [...] With their hearts by far most people supported the Spartans, especially since they appeared as liberators of Hellas. […] Most of them had such hatred of Athens, some wishing to shake off the yoke, others in fear of subjugation. "

- Thucydides 2.8

The actual fighting did not begin until the Thebans, allied with Sparta, attacked Platää in the spring of 431 BC. Chr.

Course of war

Battles and campaigns. The coloring corresponds to the situation at the outbreak of the war in 431 BC. BC, with the exception of Macedonia, which was initially neutral.

Generally, in modern research, the Peloponnesian War is divided into three phases:

  1. The Archidamian War (named after the Spartan king and general Archidamos II ), which began in 431 BC. BC to 421 BC Lasted.
  2. The time of the Peace of Nicias, which began in 421 BC. Until about 413 BC Lasted.
  3. The Dekeleisch-Ionian War, as the fighting continued to spread on Attica (where the Spartans operated from Dekeleia ) and on the east coast of the Aegean ( Ionia ). This phase lasted from 414/413 BC. Until the defeat of Athens in 404 BC. Chr.

The Archidamian War

The first years

Athens had a weak land army compared with Sparta, but a strong navy. The strategy devised by Pericles was, on the one hand, not to get involved in a conflict on land and to protect the population of Attica behind the Long Walls, but on the other hand to attack the coastal cities of the Peloponnese with the strong fleet and slowly wear down Sparta by blocking the sea routes ( already in the first Peloponnesian War it was carried out in a similar way by the Athenian strategist Tolmides ). However, campaigns also took place in the Megaris , but these ultimately had little success: One of the two ports of Megara , Nisaia, fell in 424 BC. BC finally into the hands of the Athenians, but this was lost again in the last years of the war.

Sparta, on the other hand, invaded Attica with its strong land army and devastated the area around Athens, with the intention of forcing the Athenians into an open field battle. The Athenians, however, did not agree to this because of the superiority of the Spartan phalanx . Since it was impossible to take Athens in view of the strong fortifications, the state of the siege technology at that time and the limits of logistics at the time , Sparta also pursued a strategy of attrition: the summer invasion of Attica repeated itself until the year 429 BC. BC (due to an epidemic) and 426 BC BC (due to an earthquake), year after year. The Spartans devastated the country and withdrew after a few weeks. Athens, on the other hand, cost the maintenance of the fleet and the siege of Potideias enormous sums, which led to serious accusations against Pericles, who was temporarily deposed as strategos .

In Athens, in 430 BC. An epidemic that killed about a quarter of the population, including 429 BC. BC also Pericles . Although Thucydides gives an accurate description of the symptoms, the exact nature of this plague , often referred to as the plague , has not yet been clarified with certainty.

From the death of Pericles to the Battle of Sphakteria

The death of Pericles brought a new generation of politicians to the helm: men like Kleon (the leader of the radical democrats and proponent of more aggressive politics) and Nikias (who advised a compromise with Sparta and represented the interests of the property owners) did not come from the old aristocratic families and used the people's assembly even more as a forum. The fact that further alimentation measures were now being implemented by the radical democrats was a consequence of the fact that the majority of the population of Attica was gathered together for a long time in one place, precisely within the fortifications of Athens. However, these supply payments to the poorer sections of the population were to put a heavy strain on Athens' financial resources in later times (see also below: Oligarchical coup ).

In the following years there was no decision. However, the Athenians managed to block the Corinthian Gulf and thus paralyze large parts of the Peloponnesian fleet. 428 BC Mytilene fell away from the sea alliance on Lesbos , but was soon forced back into the alliance. 427 BC Finally, the so-called first Sicilian expedition of Athens came about under the leadership of Laches , but this was of no importance for the course of the war.

425 BC BC Athens seemed to have an advantage: an Athenian force under the strategist Demosthenes had landed at Pylos on the west coast of the Peloponnese. A Spartan siege failed, with 120 Spartians - the Spartan elite - being captured during the Battle of Sphakteria . Glory fell to Kleon, who had urged a military decision against the Spartans at Pylos. Sparta, worried about the captured Spartians (the Athenians threatened the execution of the prisoners if the Spartans repeated their invasions to Attica), finally showed a willingness to bring peace. Athens, however, did not respond, especially under the influence of Cleon. Rather, the latter made unacceptable territorial demands that Sparta rejected.

Atrocities of war and Thucydides' observation of the decay of morals

During the war, there were numerous military actions on the part of the Athenians against renegade allies (such as Mytilene on Lesbos in 427 BC), also against neutral poleis. Thucydides describes the military action against the island of Melos in the year 416 BC particularly vividly. In the so-called Melierdialog : Melos, originally neutral, is attacked and conquered by the Athenians contrary to existing treaties. In the Melierdialogue, the Athenians justify their actions with the “right of the strongest”. In this context, the role of the Athenian people's assembly must be emphasized, which - not least under the influence of “ demagogues ”, who partly heated up the mood in the assembly - easily allowed itself to be carried away to brutal acts (see Attic democracy ). At the request of the People's Assembly, the allies' taxes were increased and their collection organized more efficiently.

Thucydides, who emphasized the brutalization of the war, noted an overall decline in morals in this war , which he exemplified with the example of Kerkyra , where a bloody civil war soon broke out ( stasis ) . The atrocities actually increased as the war progressed. For example: In the summer of 413 BC Chr. Thracian mercenaries in the service of Athens attacked the village of Mykalessos in Boeotia and killed everyone they could find - men, women and children. The Thracians also broke into a school and murdered all the boys gathered there.

However, it can generally be stated that atrocities were committed by both parties during the war; also on the side of Sparta, as the siege of Plataiai shows. Thucydides statements indicate that the standard of violence valid in ancient Greece (the martial code of that time allowed more than the standards customary today) was exceeded in this war.

The Brasidas Campaign and the End of the Archidamian War

Thucydides was himself a participant in the war; He could not prevent the capture of Amphipolis by Brasidas and was removed from his office as strategos and banished from Athens.

For Sparta, further incursions into Attica were out of concern for the captured Spartians. The establishment of its own fleet had also brought more setbacks than successes. Therefore a new strategy was adopted: to attack Athens on the periphery. 424 BC The talented Spartan General Brasidas began his operations in Thrace , including using helots on his campaign , who were promised freedom. Brasidas, who campaigned against the League of Athens under the motto of freedom and autonomy (a propaganda instrument that was also tried and tested again and again later), established contacts with Perdiccas II , the king of Macedonia , who worked during the war between Athens and Sparta, and included them Alliance with him. The Spartans succeeded in 424 BC. The capture of the most important Athenian base in this region, Amphipolis . In the same year, the Athenians suffered a heavy defeat at Delion in Boeotia, where they were defeated by the Thebans in open battle.

The life nerve of Athens was hit with the operations of Brasidas, because the grain route from today's Ukraine , which ensured Athens' survival , ran through this region . Athens also received money and wood from this region to build its fleet. However, the ambitious Kleon stuck to his tough stance towards Sparta, while his political opponent Nicias advised an understanding with Sparta. Although there was a temporary ceasefire, it was not observed, so that the fighting soon flared up again.

With the death of Kleon and Brasidas in 422 BC At the Battle of Amphipolis , where the Spartans achieved a brilliant victory, but which was marred by the loss of their best general, the two main opponents of an understanding failed. This cleared the way for a peace treaty that Nicias negotiated and which also bore his name: the Nicias Peace .

The Peace of Nicias - a deceptive security

The 421 BC The so-called Nicias Peace , which was concluded in the 4th century BC , was largely based on the status quo ante : Sparta was to get its prisoners back and vacate the Thracian bases, for which Athens was to give up the Peloponnesian bases in return, but was allowed to keep one of the two ports of Megara. However, there soon became disagreements on both sides, as not all contractual points were met. Spartan troops remained stationed in Amphipolis and did not even think of handing it over to the Athenians. Meanwhile, the Athenians did not vacate their Peloponnesian base Pylos .

But Sparta's allies, especially Corinth and Thebes, were also dissatisfied: their interests had not been taken into account in the treaty. This led to considerable tension in the Peloponnesian League, whereupon Sparta, through the mediation of Nicias, concluded an alliance with Athens, which however had no real value. Because Argos , itself a democracy and Sparta's arch-rival, worked on an anti-Spartan alliance, for which it finally entered into a pact with Athens, where the ambitious Alkibiades , who came from the oldest nobility, worked towards a new war with Sparta and undermined the equalization policy of Nicias . Sparta, in turn, reaffirmed his ties with Thebes and Corinth, neither of which joined the Argive alliance.

This left Sparta hands free in relation to Argos, while Athens was given respite and could attend to its problems in Thrace. Finally, Argos could not benefit from the temporary weakness of Sparta, for 418 BC. Its forces were defeated by Sparta's contingent at the Battle of Mantineia , while Athens consolidated its rule over the League.

However, the submission of the island of Melos by Athens in the midst of peace (416 BC) and the punishment of its people (execution of all men, enslavement of women and children) were a crime first denounced by the sophist Diagoras of Melos and later by Thucydides was processed in his famous Melierdialog .

Alkibiades and the expedition to Sicily

During the recovery period after the conflict with Sparta, Alkibiades gained more and more influence on the popular assembly and inspired the Athenians for a dangerous plan: the Sicily campaign . The goal was both the island's grain and plans to expand the Athenian sphere of influence. The reason given was a cry for help from Segesta , which, like some other local poles, was in conflict with Selinunte and Syracuse , the most powerful Sicilian city-state, which was also a moderate democracy. Alcibiades pushed through the expedition against the recommendations of Nicias , who advised reason and considered the whole plan to be too daring. The company was overshadowed even before it began, as the so-called Hermen crime occurred in the city : Unknown people had mutilated the Hermen in the city, which was also interpreted as an attack on Attic democracy. Alkibiades was suspected of having been involved. Although no trial was brought against him for the time being, the incident was not without consequences as the suspicions persisted.

The route of the Athenian fleet. The trireme were not suitable for the high seas, so they drove near the coast

Finally, under the command of Alcibiades, Nicias and Lamachos, a huge fleet of 134 triremes and about 5000 hoplites (the force was later reinforced) moved in 415 BC. To Sicily . The total strength of the expedition was around 32,000 men (6,400 landing troops and over 25,000 rowers). The Athens contingent alone (100 triremes, 1500 hoplites) was by far the largest expedition fleet that had ever equipped a single polis - and it operated far from home. However, before the army arrived in Sicily, Alcibiades was called back to Athens, where he was to face a trial: he was charged with the hermit crime and the charge of having committed a religious crime (he is said to have mocked the mysteries of Eleusis ). He then ran over to the enemy Sparta.

The Athenians under Nicias initially besieged Syracuse, but were unable to complete the enclosure. Syracuse received little support from Sparta, but the dispatch of the strategist Gylippos turned out to be a stroke of luck in retrospect. Nicias suffered a few setbacks, but for fear of the anger of the popular assembly did not dare to retreat and received at the end of 414 BC. BC once again reinforcement under the command of Demosthenes, who had already distinguished himself in the Archidamian War. Finally, in the summer of 413 BC, the Athenians came across In danger of being completely cut off. They were now also robbed of their fleet, which had been destroyed in battle in the port of Syracuse. Thus the siege of Syracuse had finally failed and the Athenians still had to retreat - much too late, as it soon turned out. Most of the troops were captured in retreat, in which most of them died while Nicias and Demosthenes were executed. The so-called Sicilian expedition ended in catastrophe for Athens, which had by far overstretched its forces.

The Dekeleisch-Ionian War

Sparta and Persia communicate


Athens would never really recover from the catastrophe of the Sicilian campaign, even if it was long open who would decide the conflict for themselves. Sparta declared due to Athenian attacks in 414 BC. BC the peace of Nikias for broken. Soon afterwards it went on the offensive and sat down in 413 BC. BC on the advice of Alcibiades in the small town of Dekeleia in Attica, from where Spartan troops undertook raids into Attic territory. Athens was thus in a state of permanent siege: several thousand slaves defected. Much more serious, however, was that the supply of Athens from Euboea , where a large part of the Athenian cattle stood, was only possible by sea, and the walls had to be manned day and night, which tied up additional forces and was psychologically stressful.

In addition, Athens had 414 BC. BC supported a local rebel in Asia Minor, so that it also fell out with the Persian Empire , which was to have serious consequences, because Persia now made contact with Sparta. In negotiations with the Persian satrap in Sardis , Tissaphernes , a total of three draft treaties were negotiated. 412 BC In the 3rd century BC, Sparta finally undertook to cede Asia Minor to Persia, in return for which it received regular, but by no means extensive, monetary payments.

Several members of the League took advantage of this precarious situation for Athens and fell in 412 BC. And in the following years from Athens, while the Spartan fleet, built with Persian gold, operated quite successfully in the Aegean, but failed to beat the Athenian fleet. However, even after the treaty with Sparta was signed, Tissaphernes pursued a fickle policy in order to prolong the war of attrition between Athens and Sparta to the advantage of Persia, which he was allegedly encouraged by Alcibiades, who had long since fallen out of favor with Sparta (allegedly he seduced the wife of King Agis II ).

Oligarchical coup in Athens

In Athens, meanwhile, the atmosphere was very tense. Militarily the situation was serious, as there were now Spartan troops even in Asia Minor , and there were also financial problems. The last financial reserves that had been put aside when the war broke out had even been approached. This situation prepared the ground for the oligarchic constitutional overthrow of the year 411 BC. In the fleet operating from Samos , several oligarchically minded commanders had come together. They had had enough of the politics of their hometown that had led to the Sicilian expedition and the bloodletting that went with it. In their endeavors they were encouraged by Alcibiades, who operated with the Spartan fleet in the Aegean Sea. Because of his endangered position, he planned to change sides again and made the conspirators believe that if an oligarchy were in power in Athens, the Persian Empire would also be ready to settle and he, Alkibiades, would be able to come back to Athens.

The conspirators proceeded systematically and made contact with the oligarchically-minded Athenian hetairies (loose associations of nobles). One of the oligarchs' spokesmen, Peisandros , declared before the people's assembly that the constitution, as it now stands, does not take into account the requirements of war. In an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty created by the hetairies, the assembly agreed to the formation of a committee to work out a new constitution.

In the spring of 411 BC the oligarchs were deposed The people's assembly and finally achieved the establishment of a council of 400 , which should prepare a new constitution, but only 5000 hoplites are entitled to vote in the people's assembly and the regular payments to the free population should be stopped. The assembly of 5000 never met, and the council of 400 exercised all power (May / June 411 BC). However, an agreement with Persia was not achieved (the oligarchs were deceived by Alkibiades' promise), nor was peace made with Sparta, where no thought was given to yielding to this favorable situation.

Thanks to the still democratically minded fleet, whose rowing teams did not find any support for the oligarchs, the overthrow could soon be reversed, especially since among the oligarchs men like Theramenes tended in a more moderate direction. After only a few months the council of 400 was disempowered, and a meeting of 5000 met before mid-410 BC. The democracy was established again, including the measures to support the population. Alkibiades had already switched to the democrats and made himself the leader of the democratic counter-movement on Samos after the oligarchs had left him out because of the failure to achieve a compromise with Persia.

Lysander and the end of the war

After the return of Alcibiades, a series of Athenian victories followed, for example at Kyzikos in 410 BC. After which Sparta was ready for peace again, which in Athens was rejected by the radical democrats under the leadership of Cleophon . Alkibiades was able to force several fallen cities back into the League, such as the strategically important Byzantium , and even conclude an armistice with the satrap of Phrygia , Pharnabazos (a competitor of the Tissaphernes). Alcibiades then held in the summer of 408 BC. A triumphant entry into Athens and was elected strategos . In addition, he, who had once betrayed Athens and defected to the enemy, was given unrestricted supreme command of the land and naval forces.

407 BC The experienced Spartan general Lysander went to Asia Minor there and made contact with the Persian Prince Cyrus the Younger , who now acted as a kind of commander-in-chief in Asia Minor. Cyrus was deeply impressed by Lysander. Persia ended its rocking policy for good, and Sparta now received significantly more support from Persia. In this last phase of the Decelish-Ionian War , Athens lost the battle of Notion in 407 BC against the Spartans under Lysander . BC, which finally led to the recall of Alcibiades, although he himself was not present, but he was obviously no longer trusted.

Lysander soon had to give up his command on a rotating basis, and the new Spartan fleet commander, Kallikratidas , got on far less well with Cyrus. Nevertheless, the Spartans succeeded in encircling the Athenian fleet near Lesbos . Athens once again mobilized all its strength and dispatched a relief fleet, which the Spartans near the Arginus (a group of islands in the Aegean Sea ) in 406 BC. Forced to battle . It was the greatest sea battle the Greeks had ever fought against each other, and it ended in an overwhelming victory for Athens. However, due to the failure to rescue Athenian seafarers, the infamous Arginus trial came about , which ended with the execution of several Athenian strategists , with which Athens robbed itself of experienced military personnel.

The defeat at Aigospotamoi (in which the Spartans were again commanded by Lysander) in 405 BC. BC - actually more of a coup than a battle - then sealed the fate of Athens, which no longer had an intact fleet, while the Spartans under Lysander ruled the sea. Panic spread in the city: it was feared that they would be treated as they had dealt with defeated opponents in the past. Only Samos still stood by the Athenians, all the other allies had long since fallen away or were now submitting to the Spartans. Lysander ordered units to Samos (whose citizens now received Attic citizenship and were thus placed on an equal footing with the citizens of Athens, a previously unthinkable measure), the rest of the fleet set course for Piraeus , while two Spartan armies united in front of Athens. The city, overflowing with the influx of refugees, was encircled and eventually starved to death in the spring of 404 BC. Surrender.

consequences of war

The war, which had been waged with unprecedented brutality and was characterized by close intermeshing of foreign and domestic politics, had broken the power of Athens. With the end of the long conflict, however, there were also many hopes, especially those for peace and freedom, which is clear in Xenophon's description of Athens' surrender:

“After the peace conditions had been accepted, Lysander entered the Peiraios, the exiles returned, and people began with joy to tear down the walls to the accompaniment of flute players, as it was believed that on that day the beginning of freedom for Hellas had begun. "

- Xenophon, Hellenika, 2,2,23.

The Long Walls were torn down, the League dissolved, the fleet had to be delivered up to twelve ships, and with the rule of thirty a pro-Spartan oligarchy was brought to power in Athens, which, however, in 403 BC. Was eliminated. In the Aegean, pro-Spartan regimes, so-called decarchies (since they were commissions of ten), were installed and Spartan garrisons set up. However, Athens was not destroyed, as requested by Corinth and Thebes. Sparta did not want to allow a power vacuum to arise, especially since it itself had great difficulties: It had taken to the field against Athens with the call for freedom and self-determination, but in return for its help had promised Persia the cession of the coast of Asia Minor. This was no longer an option, so that Sparta now had to wage war against the Persian Empire . The Persian Empire had profited most from the war by eliminating or weakening the two strongest poles - a development that finally led to the peace of the king in 386 BC. Led.

The golden age of Classical Greece was ended by this ancient world war , which raged from Sicily to Asia Minor and in which every major power in the region was involved. The war was a turning point for the history of the Greek polis world, whose already unstable political equilibrium was now finally broken. Athens could indeed in the 4th century BC Reach the restoration of the League, but this lagged far behind the first League.

But the Spartan hegemony was only to last for a few decades, as its political, social and economic system did not have a sufficient basis to effectively compensate for the immense material and personal losses from the decades-long war on the one hand and to effectively control the new allies / vassals on the other. The traditionally relatively small stratum of the Spartan free population, who had always formed the elite and backbone of the Spartan state, had been decisively weakened by the war. Increasingly (already during the war) unfree auxiliary troops had to support the Spartan troops, which led to an increased dependence of the Spartans on the subjugated helots . Ultimately, the military defeat against the Thebans in the Battle of Leuktra in 371 BC withdrew . The livelihood of the Spartan state; Thebes also triumphed in 362 BC. In the second battle of Mantineia and thus established a short-term hegemonic position. The Greek world of states did not, however, arrive at a modus vivendi . Attempts to achieve a lasting, general peace (koiné eiréne) based on autonomy and equality resulted in only short-term respite. The Greek polis world found so in the 4th century BC. No way out of the permanent state of war. At the end of this development, Greece was under the hegemony of the ambitious King Philip II of Macedonia .

See also


Most important source up to 411 BC BC is Thucydides , whose representation is not always unproblematic. In addition, Diodor , Plutarch and, for the last years of the war, Xenophon ( Hellenika ) are of importance. Further sources are inscriptions (see Brodersen / Günther / Schmitt, inscriptions ), comedies / tragedies (see Aristophanes and Euripides ), historical fragments (such as the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia ) as well as the work Athenaion politeia and Pseudo-Xenophon, probably from the school of Aristotle .

A comprehensive overview of the sources is provided by Busolt, Greek History , Vol. 3.2, p. 591ff. See also (taking into account more recent finds) the overviews in Bleckmann and Kagan.


The literature on the subject of the Peloponnesian War is endless, so only a small selection is mentioned. A more comprehensive overview of sources and literature (up to the mid-1980s) is provided by Kagan in his work in four volumes.

  • Bruno Bleckmann : Athens' path to defeat. The last years of the Peloponnesian War . Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-519-07648-9 .
    (Detailed and source-based representation of the last years of the war.)
  • Bruno Bleckmann: The Peloponnesian War. Munich 2007, ISBN 3-406-55388-5 .
    (Brief overview)
  • Georg Busolt : Greek History . Vol. 3, second part. Gotha 1904.
    (Despite the age it is still one of the basic representations of the Peloponnesian War.)
  • Martin Dreher: Athens and Sparta. Munich 2001.
  • Victor Davis Hanson: A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War . New York 2005, ISBN 1-4000-6095-8 .
    (Hanson, a respected military historian, primarily describes the means by which the war was fought.)
  • Donald Kagan : The Peloponnesian War . New York 2003, ISBN 0-14-200437-5 .
    (Probably the best overall account. Kagan has also written a standard four-volume work on the Peloponnesian War, this book being an account written for the general public, albeit on a high level.)
  • Donald Kagan: The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War . Ithaca / New York 1969, ISBN 0-8014-9556-3 .
    (First volume of Kagan's tetralogy on war, which is considered a standard work.)
  • Donald Kagan: The Archidamian War . Ithaca 1974, ISBN 0-8014-9714-0 .
  • Donald Kagan: The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition . Ithaca 1981, ISBN 0-8014-9940-2 .
  • Donald Kagan: The Fall of the Athenian Empire . Ithaca 1987, ISBN 0-8014-9984-4 .
  • Russell Meiggs : The Athenian Empire . Oxford 1972, several reprints, ISBN 0-19-814843-7 .
    (Detailed representation of the Attic maritime empire, including the Peloponnesian War.)
  • Alexander Rubel : City in Fear. Religion and Politics in Athens during the Peloponnesian War . Darmstadt 2000, ISBN 3-534-15206-9 .
  • Sebastian Schmidt-Hofner : Classical Greece. The war and freedom. CH Beck, Munich 2016, ISBN 3-406-67915-3 , especially pp. 163–225 (current presentation, which in particular presents the prehistory and the consequences of the war based on current research).
  • Raimund Schulz : Athens and Sparta (series history compact. Antiquity) . Darmstadt 2003, ISBN 3-534-15493-2 .
    (Intelligent and compact presentation, which at the same time shows the central research opinions in an easily understandable way.)
  • Geoffrey de Ste Croix : The Origins of the Peloponnesian War . London 1972, ISBN 0-7156-1728-1 .
    (Very good summary of the conditions that led to the outbreak of the war, but with an anti-Spartan stance.)
  • Lawrence A. Tritle: A New History of the Peloponnesian War . Hoboken / NJ 2010.
  • Karl-Wilhelm Welwei : Classical Athens. Democracy and Power Politics in the 5th and 4th Centuries . Darmstadt 1999, ISBN 3-89678-117-0 .
    (Excellent detailed study of the emergence of the Athens hegemony. There also numerous references to modern research literature.)
  • Karl-Wilhelm Welwei: Sparta. The rise and fall of an ancient great power. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-608-94016-2 .
  • Karl-Wilhelm Welwei: The Peloponnesian War and its Aftermath . In: Konrad Kinzl (Ed.): A Companion to the Classical Greek World . Blackwell, Oxford et al. a. 2006, pp. 526-546.
    (brief summary)
  • Wolfgang Will : Athens or Sparta. The history of the Peloponnesian War. CH Beck, Munich 2019.
    (current overview)
  • Wolfgang Will: The downfall of Melos. Power politics in the judgment of Thucydides and some contemporaries. Bonn 2006, ISBN 3-7749-3441-X .

Web links

Commons : Peloponnesian War  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files


  1. Thucydides 1,1,1.
  2. Thucydides 2:13.
  3. Cf. for discussion Michael Zahrnt : The Megarian Psephism and the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War . In: Historische Zeitschrift 291 (2010), pp. 593ff. Zahrnt assumes that the Psephism was decided a few years earlier and only moved to the center of the conflict in 432. But then it was decisive for the outbreak of war, as neither side could give way on this point without a sensitive loss of face, especially not Pericles.
  4. ^ Translation based on Schulz: Athens and Sparta , p. 86.
  5. ↑ In general on this development cf. Kagan, The Peloponnesian War , pp. 25ff.
  6. Thucydides 1,23,6.
  7. Thucydides 1,127,3.
  8. Schulz, Athens and Sparta , p. 72ff; Kagan, The Peloponnesian War , pp. 25ff.
  9. translated by GP Landmann
  10. On the history of events, which is largely based on the description of Thucydides (supplemented by other sources), see also Busolt, Greek History , Vol. 3.2 and Kagan's presentation (summarized in Kagan, The Peloponnesian War , p. 64ff.).
  11. Thucydides 2: 59-65.
  12. B. Shapiro, A. Rambaut, M. Gilbert: (a. Reply to Papagrigorakis et al) No proof did typhoid Caused the Plague of Athens . In: International Journal of Infectious Diseases 10 (4), 2006, pp. 334f; Answer to this: ibid., Pp. 335f.
  13. Thucydides 7.29.
  14. Will: The Downfall of Melos , pp. 59–75 and 95–123
  15. Cf. Kagan, Peloponnesian War , 251ff.
  16. ^ Kagan, The Peace of Nicias , pp. 218f.
  17. ↑ In summary, Kagan, The Peloponnesian War , p. 327ff.
  18. On the Persian intervention see also Pierre Briant : From Cyrus to Alexander . Winona Lake 2002, pp. 591ff.
  19. Cf. in addition to the general descriptions, especially Herbert Heftner: The oligarchical overthrow of the year 411 BC. And the rule of the four hundred in Athens. Source-critical and historical studies , Frankfurt a. M. 2001.
  20. For the end of the war, see above all Bleckmann: Athens way into defeat , as well as Kagan ( The Fall of the Athenian Empire or The Peloponnesian War , p. 415ff.).
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on March 11, 2005 in this version .