History >> Ancient Greece
The Peloponnesian War was fought between the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta. It lasted from 431 BC to 404 BC. Athens ended up losing the war, bringing an end to the golden age of Ancient Greece.
Where did the name Peloponnesian come from?
The word Peloponnesian comes from the name of the peninsula in southern Greece called the Peloponnese. This peninsula was home to many of the great Greek city-states including Sparta, Argos, Corinth, and Messene.
Before the War
After the Persian War, Athens and Sparta had agreed to a Thirty Year Peace. They didn't want to fight each other while they were trying to recover from the Persian War. During this time, Athens became powerful and wealthy and the Athenian empire grew under the leadership of Pericles.
Sparta and its allies became increasingly jealous and distrustful of Athens. Finally, in 431 BC, when Sparta and Athens ended up on different sides in a conflict over the city of Corinth, Sparta declared war on Athens.
Map of the Peloponnesian War
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The First War
The first Peloponnesian War lasted for 10 years. During this time the Spartans dominated the land and the Athenians dominated the sea. Athens built long walls all the way from the city to its seaport Piraeus. This enabled them to stay inside the city and still have access to trade and supplies from their ships.
Although the Spartans never breached the walls of Athens during the first war, many people died inside the city due to plague. This included the great leader and general of Athens, Pericles.
The Long wall of Athens
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Peace of Nicias
After ten years of war, in 421 BC Athens and Sparta agreed to a truce. It was called the Peace of Nicias, named after the general of the Athenian army.
Athens Attacks Sicily
In 415 BC, Athens decided to help one of their allies on the island of Sicily. They sent a large force there to attack the city of Syracuse. Athens lost the battle horribly and Sparta decided to retaliate starting the Second Peloponnesian War.
The Second War
The Spartans began to gather allies to conquer Athens. They even enlisted the help of the Persians who lent them money to build a fleet of warships. Athens, however recovered and won a series of battles between 410 and 406 BC.
Athens is Defeated
In 405 BC the Spartan general Lysander defeated the Athenian fleet in battle. With the fleet defeated, the people in the city of Athens began to starve. They did not have the army to take on the Spartans on land. In 404 BC the city of Athens surrendered to the Spartans.
The city-states of Corinth and Thebes wanted the city of Athens destroyed and the people enslaved. However, Sparta disagreed. They made the city tear down its walls, but refused to destroy the city or enslave its people.
Interesting Facts about the Peloponnesian War
Take a ten question quiz at The Peloponnesian War questions page.
- The first major war between Athens and Sparta is often called the Archidamian War after Sparta's King Archidamus II.
- The "long walls" of Athens were around 4 ½ miles long each. The entire length of the walls around the city and the ports was around 22 miles.
- After Sparta defeated Athens, they ended democracy and set up a new government ruled by the "Thirty Tyrants". This only lasted for one year, however, as the local Athenians overthrew the tyrants and restored democracy.
- The Greek soldiers were called hoplites. They typically fought with shields, a short sword, and a spear.
- Sparta was defeated by Thebes in 371 BC at the Battle of Leuctra.
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