Contents Introduction 7 Chronology 9 Background to war The rise of Athens 11 Warring sides Athens and Sparta 19 Outbreak Fear and suspicion lead to war 28 The fighting The first twenty years 33 Portrait of a soldier A ships captain at war 63 The world around war Politics and culture 73 Portrait of a civilian Hipparete, an Athenian citizen woman 79 How the war ended The fall of Athens 85 Conclusion and consequences The triumph of Sparta? 91 Further reading 93 Index 94
IntroductionThis book gives a concise account of one of Thucydides work is incomplete, tailing offthe key periods of Classical Greek history. literally in mid sentence, just as he isThe Peloponnesian War, which lasted from explaining what happened after an Athenian431 to 404 BC, was a conflict between the naval victory in 411. It is likely that he hadGreek city-states of Athens and Sparta. It was either died, or at least stopped working on ita confrontation between the leading land by 396 because he does not seem to knowpower of the time, Sparta, and the leading sea about an eruption of Mount Etna on Sicilypower, Athens. In a wider sense it was also a that occurred in this year. We do not knowclash between a cautious, traditional whether he simply had not written any ofoligarchy and an ambitious, innovative the remaining books which would havedemocracy. It is called the Peloponnesian War covered the period 410 to 404 (there werebecause Sparta was the head of an alliance of probably to be two more), or whether he hadGreek states from the Peloponnese, the drafts or notes but no final versions.southernmost peninsula of mainland Greece. Another Athenian historian, Xenophon,The stories of the Peloponnesian War feature continued the story of the war from a pointsome of the great personalities of the just a few months after the latest eventsClassical World, including the revered recorded by Thucydides. This could implyAthenian statesman Perikles, the bold and that Xenophon had a version of Thucydidesresourceful Spartans Brasidas and Gylippos, work which was slightly longer than the onethe flamboyant Athenian general Alkibiades which now survives, for it seems clear that heand the Spartan leader Lysandros, who intended his to be a continuation ofeventually achieved the decisive naval victory Thucydides, although he is less detailed andthat the Spartans needed to win the war. analytical than Thucydides. Xenophon called The enduring fame of the Peloponnesian his work the Hellenika, meaning an accountWar is due in no small way to its principal of the doings of the Hellenes, which was the historian, Thucydides, an Athenian citizen Greeks name for themselves. We canwho took part in some of the early stages of supplement these two main accounts fromthe war as a naval commander. He was exiled the works of many later classical writers, whofrom Athens in 424 and he decided to write provide biographical and historical detailsa detailed account of the war because, in his not mentioned by Thucydides or Xenophon,view, it was such an important war that it along with a small number of originalwas more worthy of a written history than documents from the time of the war, mostlyany previous conflict. He carefully gathered decrees of the Athenians inscribed on stone.as much information as possible, from Thucydides was the first writer who, ineye-witnesses and documents, so that he explaining the origins of a war, made a clearcould offer as accurate and well considered distinction between the immediate, publiclyan analysis of events as possible. He was proclaimed reasons for the conflict and theaware that this sort of history might not longer-term, underlying causes of tensionappeal to those who preferred a more between the two sides. This explanatoryromanticised and sensational account of the scheme is still regularly employed by modernpast, but he observed in his introduction: historians when they seek to account for theThis is a possession for all time, rather than outbreak of more recent wars. It is aa prize piece that is read and then forgotten. testament to the fascination of Thucydides
8 Essential Histories • The Peloponnesian Warsubject and the quality of his work that, even regularly study the events of thein the twenty-first century, students of Peloponnesian War for the lessons it canhistory, politics and warfare in universities teach them about politics, diplomacy,and military academies across the world strategy, tactics and the writing of history. This helmet was worn by a Greek heavy infantry soldier, or hoplite in the sixthcentury. By the start of the fifth century the city-states of Classical Greece hadalready fought many small scale wars, mostly as the result of border disputes withtheir neighbours.The Peloponnesian War was on a much grander scale thananything the Greeks had previously seen. (Ancient Art and Architecture)
Chronology478 Formation of the Delian League 433 Alliance of Athens and Corcyra; sea465-64 Earthquake at Sparta; (Messenian) battle of Sybota; Athens renews Helots revolt treaties of alliance with Leontini462 Spartans appeal for Athenian and Rhegion help against Messenians; Kimons 432 Revolt of Poteidaia; Megarian forces sent away by Spartans; decrees reforms of Ephialtes; Athenians 431-404 Peloponnesian War form alliance with Megara, Argos 431 Thebans attack Plataia; and Thessaly Peloponnesians invade Attika461 Ostracism of Kimon 430 Plague reaches Athens; Perikles459-54 Athenian expedition to Cyprus and expedition to Peloponnese; Egypt Perikles is deposed as general and459 Athenians begin building their fined; Poteidaia surrenders to Long Walls Athenians; Phormios expedition457 Battles of Tanagra and Oinophyta to Naupaktos456 Defeat of Messenians at Mt 429-27 Siege of Plataia Ithome; Tolmides expedition 429 Death of Perikles around the Peloponnese 428-27 Revolt of Mytilene; ebphora taxc. 455 Thucydides the historian born levied in Athens454 Delian League Treasury transferred 427-24 First Athenian expedition to Sicily to Athens (Tribute Lists begin) 425 Athenians fortify Pylos; Spartans451 Perikles law on Athenian captured on island of Sphakteria; citizenship; five-year truce between Spartan peace offer refused by Athens and Sparta; 50 year peace Athenians treaty between Sparta and Argos 424 Athenians take Kythera and launchc. 450 Alkibiades born raids on Lakonian coast; Boiotians449 Peace of Kallias between Athens defeat Athenians at the battle of and Persia Delion; Brasidas captures447 Building of the Parthenon-begun Amphipolis; Thucydides the446 Athenians defeated at battle of historian exiled Koroneia and driven out of Boiotia; 423 One year armistice between Athens Thirty Years Peace agreed between and Sparta; revolts of Skione and Athens and Sparta Mende; Dareios II (Ochos) becomesc. 443 Athenians make treaties with king of Persia Sicilian cities of Leontini and 422 Kleon and Brasidas killed at Rhegion Amphipolis441-140 Revolt of Samos 421 Peace of Nikias; 50-year alliancec. 440 Hipparete born concluded between Athens and439 Surrender of Samos Sparta438 Dedication of the Parthenon 418 Battle of Mantinea437/436 Foundation of Amphipolis 416 Athenians invade and capture435 Conflict between Corinth and Melos Corcyra over Epidamnos begins 415 Egesta appeals to Athens for help
10 Essential Histories • The Peloponnesian War against Selinous; Second Athenian 406 Athenians defeated at Notion; expedition to Sicily; Alkibiades Alkibiades goes into exile; Spartans recalled defeated at battle of Arginousai;414 Siege of Syracuse; death of trial of Athenian generals Lamachos; Spartans send Gylippos 405 Athenians defeated at battle of to Syracuse Aigospotamoi413 Athenians send reinforcements to 405-404 Siege of Athens; Death of Dareios Sicily; Spartans capture and fortify II; Artaxerxes II becomes king of Dekeleia; defeat and surrender of Persia Athenians in Sicily 404 Peace between Athens and Sparta;412-11 Spartans and Persian king Athenian Long Walls partially negotiate treaty; revolts of destroyed Athenian allies 404-403 Rule of Thirty Tyrants in Athens411 Oligarchic revolution installs 401 Revolt of Kyros the Younger government of 400 in Athens; 387/6 Kings Peace army and fleet at Samos remain loyal to democracy; Alkibiades takes command410 Spartans defeated at Kyzikos; [AUTHORS NOTE ON DATES: AH dates are restoration of full democracy in BC. The official Athenian year, which was Athens used by Thucydides and Xenophon as their409 Messenians driven out of Pylos; main dating device, began and ended in Spartans take control of Chios midsummer. As a result some of the dates in408-407 Kyros the Younger sent to take this book are given in the form 416/15, control of Persias western satrapies which indicates the Athenian year that407 Lysander takes control of Spartan began in the summer of 416 and ended in fleet the summer of 415]
Background to warThe rise of AthensThe origins of the Peloponnesian War lie in This painted water jug was produced in Athens after thethe rise to power of its two protagonists, the Peloponnesian Wat: It shows a Greek hoplite (heavy infantryman) and an archer fighting a cavalryman who iscity states of Athens and Sparta and their dressed as a Persian.The hoplite carries a large, roundpolitical estrangement during the middle shield on his left arm and uses a spear of between eightpart of the fifth century BC. Athens and and 10 feet in length. Aside from his essential helmet heSparta had been the two leading states in the wears no other armour (Ancient Art and Architecture)alliance of Greek city-states formed tocombat the Persian kings invasion in 480.Both could claim to have been instrumentalin saving the Greeks from conquest by thePersians, since the Athenians had taken theleading role in the naval victory over thePersians at Salamis in 480, but the followingyear the Spartans led the Greek army thatdefeated King Xerxes land forces and endedthe threat of Persian conquest. After the Persians had been driven out ofmainland Greece the alliance began to breakup. The Spartan regent Pausanias led avictorious expedition to liberate Greek citiesin the Eastern Aegean from the Persians, buthe behaved with great arrogance and histreatment of the Eastern Greeks angeredmany of them. The Spartans recalledPausanias and withdrew from the waragainst the Persians, leaving the alliancebereft of leadership. The Athenians wereinvited by several of the leading Greekstates, particularly the cities and islands ofIonia, to lead them in a continuation of thewar against the Persians. In 477 they created The Spartans already had their owna new alliance to ravage the territory of the alliance known as the Peloponnesian League.Persian king in compensation for the It was made up mainly of the small city-statessubjugation of the Ionians and the invasion in the Peloponnese, but some larger ones,of Greece. Each of the allies agreed to such as Corinth, belonged, as did most of thecontribute men, ships or money to a cities of Boiotia, the region to the north ofcommon pool of resources which was Athens. They had far greater autonomy thanadministered and commanded by the the members of the Delian League and theyAthenians. This alliance is called the Delian could vote on equal terms with the SpartansLeague by modern historians because its in the League conferences. It was essentially aofficial treasury was established at the defensive alliance that was only activatedsanctuary of Apollo on the tiny island of when there was a clear threat to the securityDelos, in the centre of the Cyclades. of one or more of its members.
12 Essential Histories • The Peloponnesian War A bronze statue of Athena, patron goddess of the Athenians c. 450.The statue shows Athena wearing a hoplrtes helmet. Her right arm originally held a spear and on her left can be seen the remnant of a strap for a large, round hoplite shield. The base bears an inscription saying, Melisso dedicated this as a tithe to Athena. (Ancient Art and Architecture) whole League force was lost. Kimon had been exiled in 461 but he returned in 451 to lead further campaigns, including an invasion of the Persian held island of Cyprus, where he died in 449. Later that year the Athenians negotiated a formal peace treaty with Persia, known as the Peace of Kallias. The Delian League had proven a remarkably successful alliance in terms of its victories over the Persians and the security and prosperity it earned for its members, but what had started out as a League of Greek states under Athenian leadership gradually took on the character of an Athenian Empire. As early as 470 the Aegean island state of Naxos tried to opt out of its obligations, but was forced back into line. Its contribution to the League was changed from a certain number of ships for each campaign to a fixed annual tribute of money, a process that was applied to more and more states. In 465 the island of Thasos tried to revolt; its citizens endured a two-year siege but eventually capitulated. They were reduced to tribute status and made to pay an indemnity, collected by the Athenians. In 454 the Leagues treasury was transferred to Athens. This move has made it possible for historians to study theThe Athenian Empire finances of the League in some detail, because the Athenians gave one sixtieth ofThe Delian League successfully waged war the annual tribute to their patron goddessagainst the Persians, culminating in a Athena each year, recording the paymentsmagnificent victory under the command of on stone slabs. Many of these so-calledthe Athenian general Kimon at the tribute lists have survived and they showEurymedon river in 466. A Persian fleet of both the widening extent and the increasing200 ships was destroyed and with it the wealth of the Athenian Empire. Alliedmain threat to the security of the Greeks in revolts were put down with considerablethe Aegean. In 459 the Delian League sent ferocity and in some cases the Athenians200 ships to the Nile Delta to assist in an appropriated land from the recalcitrant alliesEgyptian revolt against the Persians, but four and established colonies of Athenianyears later this revolt was crushed and the citizens there, to act in part as garrisons.
Background to war 13Inscribed records of decisions of the In the fifth century BC, the Greeks feltAthenian Assembly routinely refer to the that going to war in order to resolve aallies as the cities which the Athenians dispute or assert a claim to something was arule. Athens dominated the economic life right and proper thing to do. This certainlyof her subject allies, particularly their did not mean that they always resorted tomaritime trade. Some of the profits of the violence in order to settle arguments, but theEmpire were spent on the Athenian navy, on attempt to decide matters by armed forcepay for Athenian citizens who carried out was accepted as a normal way of behavingpublic offices and, it was rumoured among for communities and states. If a state was feltthe other Greeks, the magnificent public to deserve punishment, it was not unusualbuildings which adorned the city of Athens for the inhabitants to be sold into slavery; infrom the 440s onwards. extreme cases the men might all be executed. Given the small size of most individual states, it was natural that treaties for mutualThe First Peloponnesian War defence against third parties were regularly made, with each side promising to come toThe major turning point in relations the aid of the other in the event of an attack.between the Athenians and the Spartans A common formula for such alliances wascame in 462 BC. Two years earlier an that both parties agreed to have the sameearthquake had devastated Sparta, killing friends and enemies.thousands. It sparked off a major revolt One of the first things the Athenians didamong the Helots of Lakonia and Messenia, to vent their anger against the Spartans,who were servile populations under direct therefore, was to make an alliance in 460Spartan rule. Some of the Messenians with Argos, Spartas most powerful neighboursuccessfully resisted Spartan attempts to in the Peloponnese and her long-standingbring them to heel and established enemy. They also took advantage of a borderthemselves on Mount Ithome in Messenia. dispute between their western neighbour,In 462, in response to a Spartan appeal to all Megara, and her neighbour Corinth to detachher allies for help, Kimon persuaded the Megara from the Peloponnesian League. ToAthenians that he should lead a small army make Megara more secure from attack theto assist them. Kimon and his force had not Athenians built fortifications which linkedbeen in Messenia for very long when they, the port of Nisaia to the city of Megaraalone of all the allies whom the Spartans had proper. The Athenians were acting out ofinvited to help them, were dismissed. The self-interest in strengthening Megara. Areason for this seems to have been a growing Peloponnesian attack on their own territorysympathy for the Messenians cause among would probably have to come through thethe Athenians. Megarians territory, known as the Megarid; Kimon was exiled on his return by the an Athenian garrison was established inAthenians, who felt humiliated and insulted Megara. In 459 the Athenians began buildingby the Spartans actions. From 460 to 446 their own fortifications, known as the Longthere was constant political tension between Walls, to link the city of Athens to its mainthe two sides, with both Athens and Sparta port at Peiraieus.forming alliances with each others enemies. Another Athenian alliance, with theIn some cases the tension resulted in a series Thessalians, improved both their military andof military conflicts which exacerbated the strategic position. The extensive open plains ofrivalry. These conflicts are sometimes called Thessaly were ideal country for breeding andthe First Peloponnesian War, although to training horses, so the Thessalians were amongsome extent they lack the continuity and the best cavalrymen in the Greek world,coherence which is characteristic of a whereas mountainous Attika did not suit thesingle war. breeding of horses and produced few
14 Essential Histories • The Peloponnesian Warcavalrymen. The Thessalians were also the territory, then headed north into thenorthern neighbours of the Boiotians, whose Corinthian Gulf, capturing the Corinthian-southern borders with the Athenians were the held city of Chalkis on the northern shore ofsubject of several disputes. In Thessaly and the narrow entrance to the Gulf. ThisMegara the Athenians saw opportunities to expedition demonstrated the strategicweaken the Spartans by putting pressure on advantage of Athens massive fleet. A moretheir allies. significant outcome, however, was the In 457 the first major clash between the capture of the small city of Naupaktos, alsotwo sides occurred. The Peloponnesians on the northern shore of the Gulf ofbypassed Megara by taking their army by Corinth. Here the Athenians established asea across the Gulf of Corinth. They large group of Messenians who had beenencountered an Athenian army at Tanagra allowed to leave by the Spartans as the onlyin Boiotia. The ranks of the Athenians were way of ending the Messenian revolt. Theyswelled to over 14,000 men by their allies, were to play a major role in the futureincluding 1,000 Argives, a large contingent confrontations between Athens and Sparta.from the Ionian states of the Delian League The Athenians made more sorties north toand a force of Thessalian cavalry. The punish the Thessalians for their treachery atSpartans and their allies numbered less than Tanagra and in 454 they sailed into the12,000, but after two days of heavy fighting, Corinthian Gulf once more to discourageduring which the Thessalians changed sides, naval activity by the Corinthians and harrythe Spartans won a prestigious victory. Once their allies and friends in Western Greece.they had returned to the Peloponnese, But the destruction of the Athenianhowever, the Athenians defeated the expedition to Egypt, increasing difficulties inBoiotians in a separate battle at nearbyOinophyta, gaining control over much of This model shows an Athenian trireme at rest in onecentral Greece as a result. of the specially constructed ship-sheds around the In 456 the Athenian general Tolmides Peiraieus. As well as the ships and their crews a Greek city needed to invest in substantial facilities in order Lotook a force of 50 ships and, stopping at maintain an effective navy. For many of the cities inGytheion on the coast of Lakonia, burnt the the Delian League the cost was too great, so theySpartans dockyard facilities. The Athenians contributed money rather than ships to the Leaguesalso ravaged some of the surrounding war efforts, (J F Coates)
Background to war 15A sixth-century black-figure Athenian painted vase showing two warriorsfighting. Although Greek armies regularly consisted of several thousandmen, artists preferred to paint scenes of individual duels in the tradition ofthe Greek heroes of the Homeric epic the Iliad. (Ashmolean Museum)
16 Essential Histories • The Peloponnesian WarScenes of parting like this one are quite common on structure was created by the Boiotians, withAthenian painted pottery from the fifth century. Athens their largest city, Thebes, taking a leadingand her allies were at war with Persia or their fellow role. This move inspired the island of EuboiaGreeks almost continually from the Persian invasion of480 to the conclusion of the Thirty Years peace in 446. to revolt from Athens. While the Athenians(Ancient Art and Architecture) were trying to suppress the Euboians, the Megarians, encouraged by Corinth andcontrolling the Athenian Empire, and the Sikyon, also revolted, killing their Athenianreluctance of the Spartans to venture out of garrisons, and the young Spartan kingthe Peloponnese reduced the belligerence of Pleistoanax led the army of theboth sides. A five-year truce was agreed in Peloponnesian League into the Megarid to451, as well as a Thirty Years Peace between consolidate the revolt of Megara. TheSparta and Argos. Athenian general Perikles rushed his forces In 446 the Boiotians began to agitate back from Euboia to confront Pleistoanax,against Athenian domination and a punitive who had reached Eleusis. The Spartan kingexpedition led by Tolmides was defeated at withdrew without any attempt at battle,Koroneia, with many Athenians taken leaving Perikles free to return to Euboia andcaptive. In order to secure their safe return suppress the revolt. There were accusationsAthens abandoned all of Boiotia except the that he had bribed the Spartan king andsouthern city of Plataia. A federal political Pleistoanaxs senior adviser, Kleandridas, was
Background to war 17This photograph shows an impression taken from one of the huge stones on whichthe Athenians recorded the dedication of /so of their annual tribute to the goddessAthena. By studying the details of these tribute lists histonans have discovered howsome of the cities that revolted from the Delian League were punished through lossof territory and the imposition of colonies of Athenian settlers, which resulted intheir payments being reduced. (Archive of Squeezes. Oxford)
18 Essential Histories • The Peloponnesian War Athens and Peiraeus during the warcondemned to death for treason and forced suspicion which had caused the Firstinto exile to avoid execution. He eventually Peloponnesian War was not dispelled by thesettled in Thurii, an Athenian colony in Thirty Years Peace, however, and both sidesSouthern Italy, where he became a leading continued to look for ways to disadvantagemilitary commander and was influential in each other. When the island of Samos in thebringing the city into an alliance with the Eastern Aegean revolted against Athens withPeloponnesians in 435. Pleistoanax himself Persian help in 441, the Spartans tried towas tried and acquitted, but he nevertheless take advantage of this and go to war withwent into exile as well. Athens, but at a meeting in 440 they could In 446 the Athenians agreed a peace not persuade a majority of members oftreaty with the Spartans, to last for 30 years. Peloponnesian League to vote with them.Its terms were that each side should retain its Nevertheless there was a growing senseterritory and alliances. Athens gave up any among the Greeks that a decisiveclaim over Boiotia and agreed to stop trying confrontation between Athens and Spartato expand her empire at the expense of the was looming. In the historian ThucydidesPeloponnesian states, but she kept control of view, although there were several short-termNaupaktos. An important clause in the treaty justifications for the main Peloponnesianprovided for independent arbitration of any War, it was the increasing magnitude ofdisputes that might arise over the observance Athenian power and the fear this caused toof its terms. The mutual dislike and the Spartans that forced them into war.
Warring sidesAthens and SpartaIn the fifth century BC Greece was divided territory. Although there were manyinto hundreds of independent city-states; the differences in the ways that each state wasGreek word for this type of state was polis organised and governed, broadly speaking(plural poleis). The size of these states varied they came in two types: either a democracy,considerably, but most comprised an urban where decision making was in the hands ofcentre, where much of the population lived, the majority of the citizens, or an oligarchy,and where the principal public buildings in which effective control of decision makingwere located, plus a surrounding rural was limited to a minority of the citizens. Greece in the Peloponnesian War 431-404
20 Essential Histories • The Peloponnesian WarAthens practice meetings tended to be dominated by a handful of individuals. TheseAthens was a relatively large state comprising politicians were often men of aristocraticthe peninsula of Attika, with the city of birth, whose wealth, education, familyAthens as its political and religious centre. connections and military experienceThe Athenians had a very broadly based, commanded respect among the ordinarydemocratic constitution. The major decisions citizens. Kimon, the leader of severalwere taken by the Assembly, attendance at successful Delian League expeditionswhich was open to all adult male citizens. against the Persian Empire was one suchThe Assembly met regularly to debate figure, but the most influential politicianproposals on important issues put before it by in the mid-fifth century was Perikles, thea committee, but anyone who wanted to son of Xanthippos. As well as being rich,could speak out in a debate, or make their well bred and a good military commander,own proposal, as long as it was not contrary Perikles was an excellent orator. He wasto one that had already been voted into law. able to persuade the citizens in theThe Assembly could not meet every day, so Assembly to elect him as a general yearmundane financial and administrative after year and to vote in favour of hismatters and the day-to-day running of the proposals for using the political powerstates affairs were in the hands of several and financial resources of the Atheniansmaller committees. The most important of Empire for the benefit of the poorerthese was the Council, consisting of 500 men citizens. After Perikles death in 429 manywho were selected by lot from citizens over other politicians competed for popularitythe age of 30. It was the Council that and influence over the Athenians, but noneprepared the agenda for meetings of the ever managed to attain such a dominantAssembly. A sub-committee of 50 members of position again.the Council was permanently on duty eachmonth, living in a special building next tothe Council chamber. Membership of the A photograph of the remains of the Athenian Acropolis. The rocky outcrop in the middle of AthensCouncil and the other committees changed had been a citadel and a sanctuary for many centuriesevery year, which meant that there were and had several temples, Around 447 Pericles persuadedplenty of opportunities for ordinary citizens the Athenians to transform it by building a monumentalto participate in government. set of marble buildings which were to be the most magnificent in the Greek world,They served as potent Although in theory any Athenian citizen symbols of the wealth, power and pride of thewas entitled to speak out in the Assembly, in Athenians. (Ancient Art and Architecture)
Warring sides 21Sparta rigours of warfare, but still in full possession of their mental faculties. The main functionSparta was the name of the city in the of the members of the gerousia was to overseecentre of the fertile territory of Lakonia (also observance of Spartas laws and customs,called Lakedaimon). Unlike Athens Sparta particularly in relation to the upbringing andhad few monumental buildings and it was discipline of citizens. They could act as aessentially a loose amalgamation of five consultative body for the kings and thevillages. The Spartans had gradually evolved ephors on major public decisions, althougha system that combined monarchical and there is no clear evidence as to their role indemocratic elements within an oligarchy. determining foreign policy. They discussedOver the preceding centuries most of the and prepared proposals which were putGreek states had expelled their kings, or before the assembly of Spartan citizens, andreduced them to purely ceremonial they acted as a court for political trials, orfunctions, but the Spartans retained two inquests into the conduct of kings and otherkings who acted as leaders in warfare and leading Spartans. The two kings were alsoreligious matters. In most respects, however, members of the gerousia. They could exerciseSparta was a typical oligarchy, with its a leading role in its deliberations throughpublic business in the hands of a few men. informal ties of patronage and friendshipMajor decisions were referred to an assembly with its members.of adult male citizens, but there was little or An interesting difference in the way theno chance for the ordinary citizens to citizen assemblies of Athens and Spartadiscuss or debate them. They were simply operated was that, whereas the Atheniansexpected to indicate their agreement or assessed the size of a majority by countingdisagreement with what their leaders raised hands, the Spartans judged decisionssuggested. Debates on important issues were on the basis of how loudly the assembledrestricted to smaller groups of elected citizens shouted in favour of a proposal, or aofficials. Every year the Spartans elected a candidate for election. Such a method wasboard of five overseers or ephors, who had less precise and the outcome could be morewide ranging executive, disciplinary and easily manipulated by the presidingjudicial powers over all the people of magistrates. It is indicative of a strongLakonia, including the two kings. Although reluctance among the members of the rulingthey were not subject to any written laws oligarchy to allow the citizen body to haveand they had the authority to prosecute any true sovereignty over public affairs. ThisSpartan citizen, regardless of their official antipathy towards full democracy, asstatus, the ephors were only in power for a practised by the Athenians and many ofyear and they could not be re-elected at their allies, was one of the fundamentalany time. causes of tension between the two sides. The Spartans did not have a deliberativecouncil that routinely discussed all publicbusiness, as the Athenian Council of 500 did. Military hierarchiesInstead they had a council of senior citizens,called the gerousia, whose 28 members were The command structures of the two sides alsoelected by their fellow citizens for life, but reveal a lot about their different political andthey normally did not achieve this status social systems. Athenian armies were usuallyuntil they were over 60 years of age. This commanded by one or more members of ahigh age limit is not particularly surprising board of 10 generals, who were electedgiven the ancient Greeks traditional respect annually by the citizens. Successful generals,for age and experience. Men who had like Kimon or Perikles, were often re-electedreached 60 were considered to be in physical and they exploited their popularity anddecline, and so no longer suited for the prestige to play a leading role in Athenian
22 Essential Histories • The Peloponnesian Warpolitics, whereas unsuccessful, or unpopular them. Even the great Perikles suffered thegenerals would not be re-elected. The humiliation of being deposed and fined earlygenerals could be held to account for their on in the war because the Athenians did notactions by the Assembly, which sometimes regard his strategy as being successful. Theacted as a court sitting in judgment over ultimate sovereignty of the Athenian citizens over their generals tended to have anThe two men on this Spartan relief are probably citizens. inhibiting effect on their actions.The Spartans prided themselves on their constant The full Spartan army could only bereadiness to light for their crty.They were expected to commanded by one of the kings, or avalue their city and their comrades above themselves andtheir families. Until the age of 30 they did not even live in regent if the kings were unable to taketheir own homes, but stayed in their mess halls and visited command in person. The kings weretheir wives occasionally. (Ancient Art and Architecture) accompanied on campaign by two ephors,
Warring sides 23A Roman bust of Perikles based on an Athenian original. active service. The ephors could, however,Perikles was so good at persuading the Athenians to prosecute the kings before a courtvote for his proposals that the historian Thucydides felt consisting of themselves and the gerowia, ifthat although the Athens of his time was called ademocracy, in fact it was ruled by its leading citizen. they considered that they had acted(Ancient Art and Architecture) inappropriately while in command of the army. During the Peloponnesian War the full Spartan army rarely took the field.but the kings seem to have exercised Instead one of the kings led armiescomplete authority while the army was on consisting of a small proportion of Spartan
24 Essential Histories -The Peloponnesian WarThis Athenian vase depicts a soldier taking leave of his family as he goes offto war It was part of the public duty of an Athenian citizen to fight whencalled upon. Normally it was only the fairly prosperous citizens who couldafford the equipment of a hoplite.The poorer citizens were more likely toserve as oarsmen or sailors in the fleet. (Ancient Art and Architecture)
Warring sides 25citizens, along with the combined forces of allies, principally the large and populoustheir Peloponnesian League allies on island of Chios. It is unlikely that thecampaigns in Southern and Central Greece. allies regularly contributed as many asFor expeditions further afield they sent half of the soldiers involved in all themuch smaller Spartan detachments, led by military undertakings of the Peloponnesianspecially appointed Spartan officers. These War. Athens despatched troops to manymen were allowed a great deal of latitude in parts of the Greek world during the wardeciding how to conduct their operations, and often there will have been only a fewbut internal rivalries and jealousies were allied soldiers involved, mostly servingcommonplace among the Spartans. At as mercenaries.several points during the war successful Naval manpower requirements were oncommanders were refused reinforcements or a far larger scale. Few cities, even one aprevented from carrying on their populous as Athens, had the necessaryachievements because other Spartans did resources to man a large fleet, since anot want them to gain too much prestige. trireme normally required 150-170 oarsmen, plus skilled sailors and steersmen, who were especially hard to find. In 433, for example,Athenian manpower when the Corinthians were preparing a major expedition against Corcyra, theyIt has been estimated that the total number offered very generous rates of pay toof adult male Athenian citizens in 431 was potential rowers from all over the Greekaround 40,000. Of these about 1,000 were world in a desperate attempt to recruitwealthy enough to serve as cavalrymen, enough oarsmen to man their ships.which involved maintaining their own Similarly, it was vital for the Athenianshorses. Of the rest as many as 20,000 may to be able to recruit from as wide a pool ofhave been eligible to serve as hoplites, the naval manpower as possible and they had toheavily armed infantrymen who usually pay recruits well enough to prevent themformed the core of a Greek citizen army, but from deserting to the other side, orless than half of them would be called upon returning home.to fight at any one time. In practice theforces that Athens mobilised during the warwere composed of her own citizens and Spartan manpowerthose of her allies, supplemented bymercenaries. Athens commanded fleets and Male Spartan citizens (Spartiates in Greek)armies drawn from her Delian League allies were almost constantly in training asmany times during the fifth century but hoplites. They did not have any otheronly on a few occasions are we able to get a occupation and their farmland was workedclear idea of the proportions of Athenian to for them by slaves. Their training began at aallied forces involved in the campaigns of very early age, usually five or six years andthe Peloponnesian War. The most detailed continued through various stages until, at 18breakdown is provided by Thucydides when years old, they were allowed to attendhe describes the forces sent on an meetings of the citizen assembly and goexpedition to Sicily in 415. There were abroad on military expeditions. At this age5,100 hoplites, or heavy infantrymen, of they were admitted to a mess group (thewhom 2,200 were Athenian citizens, Greek word for which is syssition). Each mess750 were mercenaries from the Peloponnese, group was made up of about 15 Spartansand the remaining 2,150 were supplied by who trained, exercised, dined and foughtAthens subject allies of the Delian League. together. In theory they were all of equalThe fleet of 134 trireme warships was made status and contributed food and otherup of 100 Athenian vessels and 34 from the resources to a common stock of supplies. If
26 Essential Histories • The Peloponnesian Warthey could not afford to make their regular Messenia. These slaves were called Helotscontributions they could be deprived of their and they were the descendants of peoplefull citizen status. who were conquered and enslaved by the The total number of full Spartan citizens Spartans in a series of wars from aboutwas never very large. Even when it was at 950 to 700 BC. The Messenians proved veryits greatest extent, towards the end of the difficult to control and organised majorsixth century BC, it was probably less than revolts against the Spartans on several10,000, and by the start of the occasions. The Helots of Lakonia were lessPeloponnesian War there may have been rebellious and substantial numbers of themonly half that number of adult male citizens normally accompanied the Spartans to war,available for military service. So from where acting as baggage carriers and fighting asdid the Spartans obtain the manpower for light armed soldiers. During thetheir armies? To some extent they relied Peloponnesian War they were used asupon the non-Spartan population of oarsmen and sailors on Spartan navalLakonia, especially those men who lived in vessels. In exceptional circumstancesthe towns and villages around Sparta and Helots were equipped and trained to fightwere called the Perioikoi, which means as hoplites, on the understanding thatdwellers around. The Perioikoi lived in they would be given their freedom at theautonomous communities, some of which end of the campaign for which theywere large towns or even small cities. Unlike were recruited.the Spartans they worked for a living, as An important feature of the Spartanfarmers, traders and craftsmen. It was the system for maintaining discipline andPerioikoi who made the armour and obedience was the regular use of physicalweapons used by Spartans as well as violence. From the start of their boyhoodday-to-day items like pottery, furniture and training Spartans were beaten by their elderscloth. Usually they fought as hoplites and superiors. Spartan citizens werealongside the Spartans themselves. especially encouraged to use violence When they needed to assemble a large against the Helots. Each year the Spartanarmy to take on another Greek state, like ephors declared a ritual war on the Helots,Athens or Argos, the Spartans called upon thus justifying the killing of anythe allied states of the Peloponnesian troublesome Helots and keeping the restLeague. The nearest of these were the cities in a constant state of fear. Yet for all theirof Arkadia, the mountainous region to the heavy-handed domination and control ofnorth and west of Lakonia. The main the Helots, the Spartans could not doArkadian cities of Orchomenos, Tegea and without them. It was the labour of theMantinea were not very large, but each Helots that furnished the individual Spartanof them could easily muster several citizens with natural products for theirhundred soldiers. Larger contingents were contributions to the communal messes.contributed by more distant states like Throughout the Classical period theCorinth and Thebes. These allies probably Spartans main priority was always to keepprovided the majority of hoplites in any their dominant position over the Helots,Spartan army, especially when serving who were so essential to their own way ofoutside of the Peloponnese. life. But this was no easy task, even for men who were constantly prepared for war. The Messenian revolt of 462-456 showed howThe Helot curse fragile the Spartans control was, and the abrupt dismissal of Kimon and his AthenianThe Spartans also made considerable use of contingent indicates how sensitive Spartansthe large, publicly owned, slave population were to any interference in theirof Lakonia and its neighbouring region, relationship with the Messenians. The
Warring sides 27 This bronze statuette of a hoplite was probably made inLakonia and dedicated by a Spartan citizen at thesanctuary of Zeus in Olympia.The Spartans were famousfor their zealous observance of religious rituals. Manysimilar offerings have been found in sanctuaries aroundthe Peloponnese and elsewhere in Greece. (Ancient Artand Architecture)continual need to subjugate this conqueredpopulation was the main reason why theSpartans were reluctant to commit largenumbers of citizens to campaigns outsidethe Peloponnese. In the words of themodern scholar Geoffrey de Sainte Croix,who studied the history of thePeloponnesian War in great detail: TheHelot danger was the curse Sparta hadbrought upon herself, an admirableillustration of the maxim that a peoplewhich oppresses another cannot itself befree.
OutbreakFear and suspicion lead to warThe most immediate, short-term cause of the The other Corinthian complaint was overPeloponnesian War, according to Thucydides, Athens treatment of the city of Poteidaia.was the judgment of the Spartans, endorsed This city, located on the westernmost spur ofby their allies, that the Athenians had broken the Chalkidike peninsula, had originallythe terms of the Thirty Years Peace. A key been founded by Corinthians and stillclause was a guarantee that no state would be received its annual magistrates from Corinth.deprived of its autonomy. This did not mean It was a tribute-paying member of the Delianthat the Athenians could not demand tribute League and of great strategic importancefrom their subject allies, nor that the Spartans because of its proximity to the territory ofhad to relinquish control over the the Macedonian king, Perdikkas, who was aPeloponnesian League. Rather it meant that former ally of Athens. Perdikkas was nowno state should be deprived of the freedom to encouraging the cities of Chalkidike to revoltrun its own affairs, insofar as it had done from Athens. They had formed a league withbefore the peace treaty was agreed. The its political and economic centre atAthenians were accused of failing to respect Olynthos. The Poteidaians had been orderedthis clause by several of the Greek states. by Athens to send their Corinthian magistrates back home and dismantle their fortifications. While they negotiated withThe case against Athens the Athenians they sent an embassy to the Peloponnese and obtained an assurance fromThe Spartans were under considerable pressure Sparta that if the Athenians attackedfrom their allies in the Peloponnesian League Poteidaia, Sparta would invade Attika. Theto restrain the Athenians. In 432 they invited Athenians were fearful that they might loseall interested parties to put their case before a control of this prosperous area, whichmeeting of the Spartan Assembly. Prominent provided some seven per cent of their tributeamong the states arguing for war was Corinth. revenue, so they sent forces to lay siege toThere were two main Corinthian complaints. the city, which had been reinforced byOne was the action of Athens on behalf of troops from Corinth and mercenaries fromCoreyra (modern Corfu) against the the Peloponnese. The CorinthiansCorinthians. In 435 the Corinthian colony of complained that Athens was breaking theCorcyra was involved in a dispute with her terms of the Peace and demanded that thecolony at Epidamnos, in modern Albania. Spartans invade Attika.This dispute escalated to involve the A further complaint against Athens wasCorinthians, on the side of Epidamnos, in a made by the people of Megara, whonaval battle in 432 with the Athenians, who complained that they had been excluded fromhad made a defensive alliance with Corcyra in access to the harboursand market-place of433. Corcyra had a large navy of her own and Athens by a decree of the Athenian Assembly.the Corinthians and other Peloponnesians The purpose of what is known as the Megarianfeared that their alliance might make the decree seems to have been to put pressure onAthenians invincible at sea. They also saw the the Megarians to abandon their alliance withAthenians involvement as unjustifiable Sparta and the Peloponnesians and resumeinterference in their affairs, contrary to the their alliance with Athens, which they hadterms of the Thirty Years Peace. abandoned in 446. The Megarians territory
Outbreak 29These sketches show reconstructions of typical Athenian houses based onarcheological remains.The walls were built of sun-dried clay bricks and theroofs were covered with large pottery tiles.The windows had no glass, onlywooden shutters. Most houses were built around a small courtyard and thoseof wealthier families would usually have an upper storey. (John Ellis Jones)
30 Essential Histories • The Peloponnesian Warbordered on Attika in the east and provided simply a set of religious sanctions imposedpotential access for a Peloponnesian army to because the Megarians had cultivated someattack Athens. The exclusions from Athenian land which was supposed to be leftharbours and markets seem to have had a very untouched as it was sacred to the gods, assevere effect on Megarian trade. This is not well as some disputed territory on the bordersurprising as Athens was the largest city in between Attika and the Megarid. They alsoGreece and her commercial harbour at accused the Megarians of sheltering runawayPeiraieus was a major centre of maritime trade. Athenian slaves. Representatives from the island state ofAigina also complained that their autonomywas being infringed by Athens. Aigina had The Spartans and their alliesbeen part of the Athenian Empire since 458, vote for warbut is not unlikely that the Athenians hadrecently begun to behave more aggressively Having heard the complaints and thetowards Aiginetans for similar reasons to those counter-arguments of the Athenians, thewhich were causing them to put pressure on Spartans removed everyone except the fullMegara. The Athenians must have been Spartan citizens from the assembly place soconscious of the fact that Aigina provided a that they could discuss the matter amongpotential base for naval attacks on Athens and themselves. The vast majority of theher maritime trade. Autonomy was fine for Spartans were angered by what they hadsome of the more distant islands or cities in heard. Their allies had convinced them thatthe Aegean, but for places on their doorstep the Athenians had broken the terms of thethe Athenians preferred the same kind of close Thirty Years Peace and were acting withcontrol as the Spartans exercised over their unreasonable aggression. In consequenceMessenian neighbours. An Athenian garrison there was great enthusiasm for immediatelywas installed on the island by 432 and, declaring war on Athens. At this point onealthough the Aiginetan tribute payments were of the two kings, Archidamos, introduced areduced by over half, this meant an effective note of caution. He seems to have arguedend to the Aiginetans right to govern that it was premature of the Spartans tothemselves freely, again contrary to the key rush into war a with Athens, whoseclause of the Thirty Years Peace. extensive empire provided her with the The Athenians claimed that they had the resources to fight a protracted war moreright to do as they pleased regarding their easily than the Spartans. He pointed outempire, which they had won for themselves that Athens chief strength lay in her navalat considerable cost. They probably had not power, while Sparta was essentially a landexpected their treatment of Aigina to become power. He advised sending diplomatican issue, given the fact that in the case of missions to try to seek negotiatedSamos in 440 the Corinthians themselves had settlements of the various disputes, while atupheld the right of Athens to police its own the same time recruiting new allies,empire. In the case of Corcyra they felt that accumulating resources and preparing for athey were doing no more than responding to war in which expensive naval campaignsa defensive request from an ally, although it would be necessary to obtain victory. Heis unlikely that they entered into the alliance had to put his arguments carefully, in orderwithout some expectation of clashing with to avoid offending the Spartans sense ofthe Corinthians. They pointed out that duty towards their allies and their greatPoteidaia was one of their tribute-paying pride in their martial prowess, whilst at theallies and had been encouraged to revolt by same time pointing out to them the truethe Corinthians, who were openly fighting size of the task that lay before them.against them on the side of the Poteidaians. Thucydides version of a key part of hisThe Megarian decree, they claimed, was speech is as follows:
Outbreak 31 No-one can call us cowards if, in spite of our had broken the terms of the Thirty Yearsnumbers, we seem in no hurry to attack a single Peace.city. Their allies are no less numerous than ours Even now the Spartans were reluctant toand theirs contribute money. And in war it is the act. They sent an embassy to Athens to tryexpenditure which enables the weapons to bring to negotiate a settlement. The autonomy ofresults, especially in a conflict between a land Poteidaia and Aigina was raised in thesepower and a sea power. Let us gather our discussions, but the main sticking pointresources first and not get rushed into premature seems to have been the Megarian decree,action by the words of our allies. We shall have which the Athenians refused to rescind.to bear the brunt of it all, however things turn Eventually a Spartan envoy delivered theout. So let us consider the options in a calm message, We want peace and we want thefashion. Athenians to let their allies be free. Perikles told the Athenian Assembly that the In response to Archidamos sensible and Spartans could not be trusted to stop atcautious arguments the ephor Sthenelaidas these demands, but would try to force themappealed to the sense of outrage at the to give up more and more in the name ofAthenians high-handed behaviour and freedom for the Greeks. He encouraged theexhorted the Spartans to take decisive action Athenians to tell the Spartan envoys thatagainst them. Thucydides version of his they too should stop interfering in thespeech dismisses Archidamos concerns over affairs of their own allies, and submit theresources and emphasises the need to problem of supposed infringements of therespond decisively to the demands of Thirty Years Peace to arbitration. At thisSpartas allies: point the Spartans abandoned the negotiations. As Thucydides stressed, the For while the other side may have plenty of underlying cause of the war was Athensmoney, ships and horses, we have good allies growing power and the fear that causedwhom we cannot betray to the Athenians. Nor is among the Spartans and their allies. Nothis something to be decided by diplomacy and amount of diplomacy would change thenegotiations; its not through words that our reality of that power or the fear that itinterests are being harmed. Our vengeance must was generating.be strong and swift... So vote as befits youSpartans, for war! Do not allow the Athenians tobecome stronger and do not utterly betray your The Thebans strike firstallies! With the gods beside us let us challengethe unrighteous! The Boiotians also had grievances against the Athenians going back nearly 30 years. In spite of the fervour of his rhetoric, Plataia was the only Boiotian city which hadwhen Sthenelaidas, as the ephor presiding not joined the Boiotian League, in whichover the Spartan assembly, put the matter to the Thebans were the dominant force. It isa vote, he claimed that he could not tell not entirely surprising, therefore, that thewhether the shouts were louder for or opening encounter of the Peloponnesianagainst going to war. So he told the Spartans War was not a Spartan led invasion ofto separate into two groups and then it was Attika, but a pre-emptive strike on Plataia byclear that the majority favoured war. All that the Thebans, who were anxious to secure asremained was for the Spartans to call a much of their border with Attika as possible.congress of the Peloponnesian League to get They were acting in concert with a group oftheir allies approval for a war against the Plataians who were unhappy with theirAthenians. The vote was not unanimous, citys long-standing alliance with Athensbut the Corinthians persuaded a majority of and wanted to bring it over to the Spartanthe Peloponnesians to declare that Athens side in line with most of the rest of Boiotia.
32 Essential Histories • The Peloponnesian WarThe majority of the Plataians were unaware morning and they withdrew after beingof this plot and they were taken completely promised that the prisoners would not beby surprise. When an advance force of harmed. The Athenians were told about thearound 300 Theban hoplites entered the city attack and sent a herald to urge theand told the Plataians that they should join Plataians not to act rashly. By the time thisthe League of Boiotian cities, they were message arrived, however, the Plataians hadinitially cowed, but once they realised that gathered all their property into the city andthe rest of the Theban army had been executed their Theban prisoners. There wasdelayed by heavy rain their anti-Theban and now no doubt that the Thirty Years Peacepro-Athenian feelings reasserted themselves. was over and Plataia was reinforced by theAfter a vicious struggle at night, in the Athenians, who evacuated the women,pouring rain, which involved not just the children and men who were too old to fight.Plataian citizens but many of their women The attack on Plataia provided an earlyand slaves, 120 Thebans were dead and the indication of the level of bloodshed whichrest surrendered. The main strength of the was to become commonplace in the GreekThebans did not arrive until later the next world over the next three decades.
The fightingThe first twenty yearsThe Archidamian War whose name is given by modern historians to this part of the war.The first 10 years of conflict between Athens The Athenians also doubted their ability toand Sparta were considered by many of the defeat Sparta and her allies in a major hopliteGreeks to have constituted a separate war. At confrontation, so, at the urging of Perikles,the start of the war the Peloponnesian strategy they retreated behind their fortifications andwas to invade the territory of Attika by land, waited for the Peloponnesians to give up anddamaging crops and buildings and forcing the go home. They struck back by using theirAthenians to come out of their city and settle superior naval forces to attack the territory ofthe war in a decisive pitched battle. ThePeloponnesians were confident that they would The young man featured on this Athenian wine jug ofwin such a battle. If no such confrontation was about 430 BC is equipped with the typical large roundachieved, the Peloponnesians hoped that the shield, long spear and short sword of the hoplite. HeAthenian citizens would soon grow weary of wears no body armour, only a heavy tunic and a headband to ease the fit of his bronze helmet.The lionthe attacks and look for a settlement on terms device on his shield is a personal one. At the start of thefavourable to their opponents. For the first few Peloponnesian War most Greek cities did not haveyears the Peloponnesian army was led by the standardised symbols for their soldiers, which sometimesonly available Spartan king, Archidamos, caused confusion in battle. (Boston Museum of Fine Arts)
34 Essential Histories • The Peloponnesian WarSparta and her allies, hoping to make them arrived in Attika early in the summer, whenlose their enthusiasm for the conflict. This the crops were still a long way from ripeningstrategy could not win them the war, but it and the weather was very stormy. This made itcould prolong the stalemate and might difficult for the Spartans to feed themselvesdiscourage enough of the enemy to force while they were camped on Athenian territorythem to make peace. The strategists on both and the troops began to complain. Then newssides probably thought that there would be arrived of a serious Athenian incursion atonly a few years of fighting before a Pylos on the western coast of the Peloponnesesettlement was reached. and the whole army was withdrawn, having In fact the annual invasions of the stayed in Attika for only 15 days.Archidamian War, of which there were five A devastating plague struck Athens in 430,between 431 and 425, did not always last very with further outbreaks in 429 and 426. Thelong, nor, indeed, did they succeed in doing second year it killed Perikles himself, but evenmuch damage. Athenian cavalry harried the this misery did not convince the Athenians tolight troops on the Peloponnesian side and seek peace. If anything it probably made themeven the longest invasion, lasting 40 days in keener to cause harm to their enemies in430, failed to cause much harm. Athens could return and the scale and range of navalimport much of its food, particularly grain, counter-strikes was stepped up after Periklesvia the shipping routes secured by Athens death. The Peloponnesians themselves mademaritime empire and powerful navy. In any limited use of their naval forces, which werecase it proved difficult to assemble the principally furnished by the Corinthians. APeloponnesian forces at the right time to grandiose scheme was hatched to involve thestrike against Attikas agricultural resources, in Western Greeks of Sicily and Southern Italy inpart probably because many of the soldiers the war and create a huge fleet of 500wanted to be at home on their own farmland. triremes, but this came to nothing and theIn 429 the Peloponnesians were persuaded by Athenians took the initiative in the west bythe Thebans to make a determined attempt to sending expeditions to Sicily. They went atovercome the resistance of Plataia. The the invitation of an old ally, the city ofSpartan king Archidamos, conscious of the Leontini, which asked for their help againsthistorical significance of Plataia as the site of the larger city of Syracuse. Two smallSpartas great victory over the Persians in 479, Athenian fleets were sent to Sicily in 427 andtried to negotiate a surrender, but assurances 425, partly with the aim of disrupting grainfrom the Athenians that they would not supplies from the island to the Peloponnese,abandon the Plataians convinced those still but also with an eye towards adding as muchinside the city walls to hold out. The Spartans of the island as they could to the Athenianbuilt a circuit of wooden siege fortifications to Empire. In 424, however, the Sicilian citiesprevent any forces from getting in to relieve came to an understanding among themselvesthe 600 or so remaining people. A breakout and the Athenians returned home withoutwas achieved during a winter storm by about anything to show for their efforts.200 men, who climbed over the walls usingladders, but they could not persuade theAthenians to send a force to relieve the siege. The revolt of Mytilene and the In the summer of 426 the new Spartan end of Plataiaking, Agis, son of Archidamos, was leadinganother expedition of Peloponnesian forces The next major setback of the war for theinto the Isthmus of Corinth on their way to Athenians was a revolt in 428 on the islandAttika when there was an earthquake, which of Lesbos, led by the largest city, Mytilene.forced them to turn back before they had even The cities of Lesbos had been founders of thereached Athenian territory. In the following Delian League and their contributions to itsyear a similar expedition, also led by Agis, resources were crucial to the Athenian war
The fighting 35effort. With the exception of Methymna they saved, but Mytilene was deprived of her fleethad oligarchic governments and they decided and much of her territory.that in her severely weakened state Athens At about the same time the small garrisonwould not be able to respond effectively to of Plataia finally succumbed to starvationan attempt to break away from her control. and surrendered to the Spartans. They wereThe Athenians despatched a small army and treated very harshly on the insistence ofa fleet to blockade Mytilene, which was their neighbours the Thebans. All of the 225dependent on reinforcements and food surviving men were subjected to a trial bysupplies from overseas. The Mytileneans the Spartans, at which they were each asked:asked Sparta and the Peloponncsian League Have you done anything of benefit to thefor help and a relief force was slowly Lakedaimonians (i.e. the Spartans) and theirassembled under the command of the allies in the current war? As none of theSpartan Alkidas. The Athenians moved faster, defenders could answer yes to this question,however, sending a second fleet of 100 ships the Spartans decided that they were justifiedearly in 427, in spite of the losses caused by in executing all of them. The 110 womenthe plague. The oligarchic regime at Mytilene who had stayed behind were sold as slaves.distributed weapons to the mass of thepopulation to stiffen their defences, but thisplan backfired and the newly empowered Naval warfarecitizens demanded a general distribution ofgrain to feed the starving population. When At sea the war was fought almost entirelythis did not materialise they surrendered the between fleets of triremes. These werecity to the Athenian commander Paches, who warships rowed by up to 170 oarsmen andsent the leaders of the revolt back to Athens. manned by 30 or more sailors and soldiers. A debate ensued in the Athenian Assembly The number of rowers could be varied so thatabout the appropriate punishment for the a trireme could carry enough troops to act asMytilenean rebels. The politician Kleon an assault ship for small forces, or it could bepersuaded the citizens that an example had to used to tow and escort troop carriers if abe made of the people of Mytilene in order to larger army needed to be transported. Whendiscourage further revolts. He proposed that fully crewed the ships were dangerousall the adult male citizens should be executed offensive weapons in themselves, eachand the women and children sold into sporting a heavy bronze ram on its prow,slavery. The Assembly voted in favour of this which could damage an enemy vessels hull ifand despatched a ship to tell Paches to carry it impacted with enough force. Consequentlyout this brutal decree. The next day, however, the best naval tactics involved manoeuvringmany people realised the injustice of the behind or to the side of an enemy ship anddecision. A second meeting of the Assembly rowing hard enough to smash the ramwas called and the citizens voted to rescind against its hull and rupture it. Another, moretheir decree and only to punish those who dangerous, tactic was for the helmsman towere guilty of leading the revolt. A second steer close into the enemy on one side andtrireme was sent out with the revised orders. break off their oars, having signalled his ownIts crew rowed in shifts, not putting in to land rowers to ship their oars just before theat night, as was normal on such a voyage. vessels made contact. The triremes wereAmbassadors from Mytilene supplied them lightweight vessels that did not easily sinkwith food and drink while they rowed and when they were holed, but instead theypromised great rewards if they could make up would often remain afloat, or perhapsthe 24 hours start that the previous ship had partially submerged, and they could be towedon them. Eventually they reached Mytilene away by whichever side was the victor. Thejust as Paches was reading the orders delivered crews of damaged ships were very vulnerable,by the first ship. The mass of the citizens were however, and unless their own ships came
36 Essential Histories T h e Peloponnesian Warquickly to their rescue they might be captured, manoeuvrability of the Athenians. Afteror if the ship was completely awash with water initially losing nine ships to thisthey could easily drown. Surprisingly few overwhelming force, Phormio and hisGreeks were strong swimmers, since they did remaining commanders broke away andnot swim for pleasure. Even if there was an retreated towards Naupaktos. Theaccessible coastline close by it might be held Peloponnesians pursued, but their lead shipsby enemy troops who could kill or capture became too spread out to support each other.those men who did make it ashore. As the final Athenian ship reached Naupaktos it went behind a merchant ship at anchor in the bay and turned on the foremost of theAthenian naval superiority pursuing vessels, ramming it amidships and causing the rest to stop rowing and wait forIn 429 the Peloponnesians sent out a fleet their comrades. This decision left them sittingunder the command of the Spartan Knemon in the water and vulnerable to the swiftto challenge the Athenian squadron under the counter-attacks of the Athenians, who nowcommand of Phormio based at Naupaktos. rowed out and rejoined the battle. BecauseThis naval base was strategically located to they were now very close to the shore some ofintercept Peloponnesian fleets sailing to and the Peloponnesians ran aground, or camefrom Corinth, the Northern Peloponnese and close enough for the Messenians who wereEastern Boiotia. Phormio had only 20 ships, based at Naupaktos to swim out, some inwhereas Knemon had a total of 47, drawn their armour and swarm aboard some of thefrom Corinth and Sikyon. Nevertheless ships. The Athenians recaptured most of theirPhormio attacked and succeeded in putting own ships, which the Peloponnesians hadthe Peloponnesians on the defensive. They been towing behind them. They also took sixformed most of their ships into a circle with Peloponnesian vessels, on one of which was athe prows facing outwards, their aim being to Spartan commander called Timokrates, whoprevent the Athenians from getting behind killed himself rather than be captured by theany of them. Five of the best ships were Athenians. From this point onwards thestationed in the centre of the circle to attack Peloponnesians generally avoided navalany Athenian vessel that managed to get confrontations with the Athenians until theinside the formation. Phormios response to Athenian navy had been seriously weakenedthis tactic was to tell the commanders of his by the Sicilian Expedition. In 425, when theown ships to sail around the fringes of this Peloponnesian fleet sent to Corcyra wascircle, getting gradually closer to the recalled to assist in removing DemosthenesPeloponnesians and forcing them to back in forces from Pylos, they chose to drag theirtowards each other. Eventually, with the help ships over the narrow isthmus of Leukasof a strong early morning wind, the circle of rather than risk a meeting with the Athenianships became too tightly packed and were fleet, which was heading for Corcyra.unable to maintain their formation without Nevertheless the Athenians did not havecolliding with each other. When it was clear things entirely their own way at sea. In 429that the Peloponnesians had lost all semblance the Spartans with Knemon were invited byof order Phormio attacked, sinking several of the Megarians to transfer their survivingthe enemy and capturing 12 ships. crews to 40 ships docked at Niasia, the The superior seamanship and tactics of the Megarian port nearest to Athens. These shipsAthenians were rewarded with another could then be used to make a surprise attacksuccess soon afterwards when a larger force of on the Athenian port of Peiraieus, which was77 Peloponnesian ships drove Phormio into not well guarded. Strong winds and, inthe narrow stretch of water at Rhion, hoping Thucydides view, a lack of courage, causedto trap them against the northern shoreline, them to abandon the idea of attackingthus negating the greater speed and Peiraieus and to strike at the island of
The fighting 37 A sketch showing how the Athenian harbour at confrontation on land. Meanwhile, theMounychia in Peiraieus may have looked in the fourth Athenian generals Eurymedon and Sophoklescentury. Early on in the Peloponnesian War a daring were taking 40 ships to Sicily, via Corcyra.attempt by the Spartans to attack the harbour showedthe Athenians that they needed to fortify it.The entrance They made a detour into the area of Pylos onis narrow and there is a chain stretched across it to the western coast of the Peloponnese toprevent unauthorised ships from getting in. (J F Coates) attempt a scheme devised by the general-elect Demosthenes who was travelling with them.Salamis instead. They captured three Demosthenes plan was to turn Pylos intoAthenian ships on the north of the island a fortified post for a detachment of theand did a considerable amount of damage Messenian exiles from Naupaktos to use as abefore the arrival of an Athenian fleet and base for conducting raids againstconcerns over the state of their ships Peloponnesian territory. From Pylos theyforced them to withdraw. The episode had could easily penetrate Messenia and, withdemonstrated that Athenian territory was their ability to speak the local dialect, theiralso vulnerable to seaborne attack and steps knowledge of the land and their kinshipwere taken to close off the harbour entrances with the Messenians, they could stir upat Peiraieus and station more ships on guard trouble for the Spartans in their own backduty in the future. yard. Demosthenes seems to have had some difficulty convincing the two current generals to carry out his plan, but eventuallySpartan defeat at Pylos an improvised set of fortifications was built and Demosthenes was left there with fiveIn the spring of 425 the Peloponnesian army, ships while the rest of the fleet sailed onled by the young Spartan king Agis, again towards Corcyra.invaded Attika. They settled down to spend Initially the Spartans, did not see anythe summer devastating as much Athenian serious threat from this Athenian footholdterritory as possible and to try, once more, to on their territory, but when King Agis andforce the Athenians into a major his advisers heard the news they abandoned
38 Essential Histories • The Peloponnesian WarThis bronze hoplites helmet is in the style known as their invasion of Attika and hurried toCorinthian. Such helmets afforded good protection to the Pylos, gathering forces for a strike againstwearer, but they severely restricted vision and hearing, Demosthenes. A Peloponnesian fleet thatmaking the hoplites heavily dependent on the coherence oftheir formation. This example is inscribed with the name had been on its way to Corcyra was recalledDendas, perhaps the person who dedicated it in a sanctuary. to assist them, Demosthenes also sent forMany men preferred simpler helmets such as those seen in help and the Athenian fleet turned round atthe illustration on page 86. (Ancient Art and Architecture) Zakynthos and headed back to Pylos.
The fighting 39This fifth-century sculpture from the temple of Aphaia on Spartan attacks. The Spartans efforts took on aAigina shows the hero Herakles. recognisable by his lionskin frantic edge, with one of their triremeheadress. He is in the act of shooting an arrow from a commanders, Brasidas, putting his ship andkneeling position. Archers were often carried on warships his own life at risk by running his shipand would target the officers, steersmen, sailors andsoldiers on enemy ships. (Ancient Art and Architecture) aground inside the area fortified by the Athenians and trying to force his way onto the The Spartans were determined to remove land. He was badly wounded and lost histhe enemy before their reinforcements could shield, but his bravery earned him mucharrive. They attacked the Athenian position praise. The next day the Athenian fleet arrived,from the land and the sea for two days. They now numbering 50 vessels with the additionlanded a small force of hoplites on the island of ships from Naupaktos and four alliedof Sphakteria as part of the attempt to triremes from Chios.blockade the fort by land and sea. The The character of the confrontation changedSpartans were wary of the advantage that the dramatically once the Athenians had a strongAthenians had over them in naval naval force at their disposal. They easily droveconfrontations, and seem to have decided that the 43 Spartan ships away from theoccupying the island would restrict Athenian promontory of Pylos and onto the beaches inaccess to the bay behind and prevent them the bay, disabling some and capturing others.from putting forces in the rear of the Spartans The blockade of the fort was lifted and theown positions on land. Demosthenes beached Spartans were left camped on the mainlandhis few remaining ships and deployed their watching helplessly as the Athenians sailedcrews as makeshift infantry. He and his men around Sphakteria unopposed. The mostheld out resolutely against almost continuous unfortunate result of this reversal of fortune
40 Essential Histories • The Peloponnesian Warwas that 420 Peloponnesian hoplites and More Athenian forces came to Pylos and atheir Helot attendants were left stranded on stalemate ensued. The conditions for thethe island. Athenians were not easy, as despite being The Spartans immediately sent a masters of the sea, they did not controldelegation from the gerousia and the much of the coastline. Their fort was stillephorate to assess the situation. Their under attack from the Spartan army on theappraisal was an honest but bleak one. The mainland and Demosthenes had less thansituation was untenable for the men on 1,000 soldiers to defend it. The SpartansSphakteria because they could not be rescued offered cash rewards to anyone who wasand the Athenians could put their own prepared to dodge the Athenian triremessoldiers on the island and eventually patrolling around the island and bring foodoverwhelm them with sheer numbers. Even to the men there, either by swimming or inthat might not be necessary, however, as small boats. Enough Helots and Messenianthere was virtually no food on the island, so fishermen volunteered to maintain the foodthey might easily be starved into surrender. supply. Eventually the Athenians began toThe official delegation went straight to the feel the difficulty of supplying their ownAthenians and negotiated a truce, which forces at such a great distance and in aallowed them to get provisions to their men confined space with nowhere to beach theirand halted Athenian attacks. In return the ships in safety.Spartans surrendered what remained of their Back in Athens, Kleons arrogant handlingfleet and all the other triremes that they had of the Spartan peace envoys put the onus onback in Lakonia (a total of 60 ships), and him to find a solution. He tried to deflect itsent an embassy to Athens to discuss a full by blaming the lack of progress on the boardpeace treaty. of generals. They should make a determined These negotiations could have ended the assault on the island and kill or capture thewar, but instead they came to nothing. The men there, he said. He would have done soSpartan envoys were prepared to make huge already, if he were a general. One of theconcessions to recover their men, but they current generals, Nikias, took him at hisrefused to do so in front of a full session of word and invited him to select whateverthe Athenian Assembly, which was what the forces he required and show them how to doAthenians insisted upon. Such a public it. The mass of citizens cheered thisdisplay of weakness and humility was simply suggestion and shouted for Kleon to take uptoo much for the proud Spartans, accustomed the challenge. Kleon was trapped by the kindas they were to having their most important of crowd-pleasing rhetoric that he normallydecisions settled by a small group of senior used against others. He obtained a mixedcitizens in a private meeting. There was a force of tough, experienced hoplites from thesubstantial body of opinion in Athens that Athenian citizen colonies of Lemnos andfavoured coming to terms now, but the more Imbros, and plenty of light infantry, bothbelligerent and arrogant feelings of Kleon and peltasts (light infantryman armed withhis supporters carried the day. When Kleon javelins) and archers. He promised to destroyaccused them of lacking sincerity the or capture the Spartans in 20 days.Spartans gave up and returned home. Thetruce was over and the Spartans requested thereturn of their ships, but the Athenians held The most amazing thingon to them claiming that some of the detailsof the agreement had not been adhered to by Kleons boast that he could resolve thethe Spartans. Thus they were able to bring an situation in 20 days, coming from a manend to Spartan naval activity for the time who had never previously held any militarybeing and increase the pressure on the men command, was probably a piece of sheertrapped on Sphakteria. arrogance. However, he did have enough