Ancient History 101 : Greece 05 - Peloponnesian Wars.

the Peloponnesian War(s)

Greece chapter 5 (460-404 BCE)

Post-Persian invasion, the Athenians began a burst of creativity: they built a complex of temples atop the the Acropolis, their central hill.. One of these was the Parthenon, which some have called the most perfect structure ever built. They produced paintings and sculptures and staged many great dramas in the Theater of Dionysus. They came to dominate many smaller city-states and were known as the seat of culture and democracy.

Ah, human nature 101. The difficulty of being happy for others and embracing the unique attributes others have. Athens and Sparta have totally different vibes going on. Athens has culture, has art and philosophy and wealth, and Sparta has...Sparta has…

Sparta has an entire society devoted to one thing: breeding and building the greatest warriors in the world. They believe in the supremacy of the state over the individual and everything is dedicated toward preparing for conflict. They delegate farming to their slaves (helots). Young boys are conscripted into the army at age seven to begin training. Conscription is a fancy word that means “forced to join.” Men are soldiers from age 20 to age 60. Even the women are expected to stay physically fit in order to produce the strongest and hardiest children (e.g. future soldiers). They don’t travel for fun, they don’t trade to get wealthy, they don’t play cards to bond with their grandmas. They prepare for war.

It would be nice to think that after the shared trauma of the Persian invasions, where they fought together to fight back Darius and then Xerxes, that their bond could continue in peacetime. But it was not to be. Even bromances and beautiful friendships sometimes come to an end. After taking a brief break to unite against Persia, the Spartans became concerned about Athens’ expanding power and influence and in 431, the Peloponnesian War erupts - or rather, flares back up again. It lasts for 27 years and involves almost every city-state.

So there’s oligarchic Sparta, with its awe-inspiring army of bred-for-battle-since-infancy warriors who are an unstoppable force on land versus democratic Athens, with its awe-inspiring citizens who are wowing the world with their contributions to art, science, and philosophy...oh, and they have a pretty good navy.

rule by a small group

rule by the majority

One other tidbit: Persia is now helping Sparta. Why? Because Athens, after beating Persia fifty years earlier, has been steadily building its own little empire and attacking Persian territories. So Persia leaps at the chance to help out Sparta, who is concerned about the growing power and reach of Athens.

We’ll skip over all the battles on land and sea and jump to the end. Athens makes some severe tactical blunders, not the least of which is executing six of their own top naval commanders, hiding out behind the walls of their city, and settling in for siege. Finally, facing starvation and disease, they surrender.

The city-states of Corinth and Thebes want Athens completely destroyed and its citizens enslaved, but Sparta, honorable society that it was, stated that the city had done much good at a time of great danger to Greece (i.e. the Persian invasions), and therefore they would be spared, would have the same friends and enemies as themselves, and would become a part of Sparta’s empire.

So Sparta wins. But, similar to the Persian annihilation of the Greeks at Thermopylae, it’s a Pyrrhic victory. They win the battle - okay, technically the war - but eventually they lose everything because of how much it weakens all of them. That’s what civil war does. The entire country suffers greatly in the aftermath. It weakened many city-states, which remained disunited. So the feud between Athens and Sparta was ended, but it was the beginning of the end.

In 371, for the first time ever, Sparta loses a land battle. Even though they survive for another two centuries until the Roman conquest, they never reach the height of their power again.

The feuds in the southern cities brought the rise of King Philip II of Macedonia, a northern Greek kingdom. By the 330s, Philip had conquered all of Greece except for Sparta.

Additional notes

In reference to Sparta never previously having lost a land battle: at full strength. In other words, we’re not counting the Battle of Thermopylae.


Introduction to Ancient History, from the Paleolithic Era to the fall of Rome, and how the lives, cultures, decisions, and actions of these periods affects our modern lives.

Education for most ages and for all curious people.
Written by Joseph Ivan Long with curiosity, humbleness, and a big grin.