17 June 2008

The Peloponnesian Wars

The Peloponnesian Wars

Because Persia was a threat to small independent-spirited Greece, the Greek city states decided to form a confederacy called the Dorian League. Each of the Greek states; Athens, Sparta Corinth, Delos and many others, would still have there own individual government and freedoms. Yet in matters of trade, war and public funding they would consult each other. Athens was the most important city state having power and influence; however the League was named after Delos where the treasury was kept.

After Persia suffered defeat in 468 B.C., the Greeks bethought themselves safe and wished to dismantle the League. But Athens had grown power hungry. She had benefited greatly during the wars with Persia by using the extra money to build up her temples and walls. Athens was also the one who had built and controlled the Greek navy which won victory over the Persians in the battle of Salamis. Now dismayed at the thought of loosing her high seat of power, the Athenians used their navy to turn on their countrymen. Thus the Peloponnesian Wars began.

Staged in two phases, from 431-404 B.C., the civil war raged on. With it came hardships and plague. Athens won the first stage after a long hard siege, but lost the second when she overreached her arm.

The first stage began and ended with the great Athenian politician, speaker and general Pericles. Elected tyrant during the wars early years, Pericles was an eloquent man and strong leader. When faced with siege he did not flinch, knowing that Athens ports could stay open thus supplying the city with food indefinitely. For two years Athens held out valiantly.

Outside the walls of Athens camped a new confederacy, the Spartan League. As its name indicates the Spartans were the Leagues strongest players. They were angry with the thought of becoming a part of Athens Empire and violently opposed it. They had always been a warrior city-state, with warriors raised from infancy to know the art of war and defend Spartan rights.

Meanwhile the Athenians held out tolerably well with their navy supplying food and products. Then Providence decreed an unforeseen turn and plague struck the city: one third of its population died including Pericles. This was disheartening to the Athenians who never fully recovered. It seemed an omen of foreshadowing doom, eventually the Athenian Empire must crumble.

Still the Athenians did what they could. New Tyrants ruled one after the other, but none of them compared to Pericles. Indeed most of them were foolish and wanted only popularity with the people rather than making wise decisions for the war. Eventually under one of these tyrants Athens attacked the city of Melos, a city in league with the Spartans: and put to death every man of fighting age while enslaving the women and children.

For a time it seemed that this act of brutality had brought victory to Athens. She regained much of her former strength and the first phase of the Peloponnesian wars came to an end. But then Athens decided she wanted to control a city called Syracuse in Sicily, by doing so she would gain access and control of all the Greek colonies and trade. Essentially she would become the only power and win the war. The second phase was ushered in.

This second phase lasted thirteen years, and they were draining years for Athens. Before two had even passed she lost an army and two large flats. Now was when they needed their strong leader Pericles, but he alas was dead!

Amazingly Sparta at this point was so intent on defeating Athens that she was willing to turn to the Greeks old enemy Persia for help. In return for money, which Sparta wanted to build a fleet, Sparta promised to give Persia the Greek cities of Ionia. How fickle politics are! What began as a united effort to drive Persia from its stronghold in Ionia, ended in Persia being handed the bloodied cities in return for money. Mineral for the blood of patriots and rivalry for the land of brothers.

With its fleet built Sparta headed to the seas, hoping to gain victory on water where they had not on land. Athens must have must have been alarmed, for she had but one fleet left at this time. Yet it was impossible to back down, so the battle ensued. Sparta won at last and Athens was forced to give up her territories, dismiss her armies and crawl home to lick her wounds.

What meanwhile were the other smaller, but still significant city states thinking? They rejoiced at Athens defeat, hoping for rest and renewed peaceful trade. Happily they concluded prematurely that they were free to govern themselves as they wished.

Yet while the Peloponnesian wars finally ended, the Greek people still could not claim peace. One threat precedes another and now Sparta was not willing to up her luxurious hold on the other city states, which now included Athens. This threat was far worse than the other for Sparta was a harsh totalitarian society, which no one wanted in power.

And so the city states once again formed a confederacy, this time without a notable name. Together they waged war on Sparta, eventually defeating her and gaining some much needed respite. Now the city states had come full circle, they were back were they started nearly thirty years later. The major civil wars were over for a time.

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