History of the Peloponnesian war

The basic cause of the Peloponnesian Wars was the growth of the Athenian Empire, and the development of Athenian control over the commercial and political life of the Aegean. Athens allowed free trade in the Aegean by her consent. Athenian agents decided the destination of every vessel that left the grain ports of the north. Athens defended this domination as a vital necessity as she was dependent upon imported food and was determined to guard the routes by which that food came.

The sums that the Ionian cities had contributed for defense against Persia were used for the adornment of Athens and periodically the assessment for Athenian services grew until it was some 460 talents (millions) per year.
Athens reserved to Athenian courts the right to try all cases, arising within the Confederacy, that involved Athenian citizens. If any city resisted it was reduced by force; so Pericles with efficient dispatch suppressed rebellions in Aegina (457), Euboea (446) and Samos (440).

Between 431 and 404 BC the Greek world was convulsed by the monumental confrontation of Athens and Sparta. Most of the Greek states were involved as allies of one or the other superpower, and the war produced suffering on a scale previously unknown to the Greeks. By the time the war ended. Athens had been defeated, her navy destroyed, and her empire dissolved..

Main Source: Thucydides (c. 460-400 B.C.), History of the Peloponnesian War


  • Son of aristocratic Athenian
  • Early discerned the importance of the Peloponneian War
  • Commanded Athenian fleet off the Thracian coast but failed to prevent the capture of Amphipolis which was besieged by Spartan Brasidas — failure resulted in his exile until 404 when he was recalled
  • History covers three phases of war
    • First Phase — 431-421 B.C. ending with Peace of Nicias
    • Sicilian expedition of Athenians — 415-413 B.C.
    • Last phase — 413-404 B.C. — history breaks off in 413 B.C.


  • Focused on military side of war
      • Straightforward, compact, dry prose
      • Avoided digressions
      • Chronological approach by campaigning season
      • Research based on own experience, eyewitness accounts (some conflicted and had to be weighed)
      • Lengthy speeches — composed by Thucydides to conform with what was probably said, based on his own recollections or those of others.
      • Didactic
  • Background

“By the second half of the fifth century BC, Athens and Sparta had emerged as the two most powerful states in Greece. Although formerly allied against the Persians, the two superpowers of ancient Greece had followed very different courses in their development.” [Jeremy McInerney]

    1. Athens

  1. Ionian
  2. Represented commercial tradition and sea power
  3. Represented democratic government — rapidly becoming more democratic with aristocratic Areopagos losing its importance, the archonship being opened to any citizen and a wide range of governmental officials being paid.
  4. Empire rich and powerful but too far flung — include all of Attica, Argos (in Peloponnesus) Euboea, Thessaly, Ionian coast, Aegean island states
  5. Athenian values
  1. patriotism
  2. appreciation of beauty
  3. independent thinking
  4. persuasive speaking
  5. participation in public affairs
  6. creativity
  1. Athenian style or character
  1. innovative
  2. fast moving
  3. adventurous
  4. daring
  5. prompt
  6. desirous for gain
  7. ambitious
  8. opportunistic
  9. restless
  1. Athenian imperialism: Athens was democratic but overtly imperialistic
    1. Athenian navy dominated the Aegean and ensured the military dominance of Athens in the islands and on the coast of the Aegean
    2. Athens exacted tribute from the allied states, and it dispatched governors, garrisons and tax collectors throughout the Delian League
  1. Creation of Themistoclean Wall
    1. Six feet wide; sixteen feet high; circuit about 4 miles
      1. Sparta opposed the building of walls
    1. Themistocles went to Sparta as an ambassador — assured Spartans that wall was not being built but would have to wait for other ambassador arrived until negotiations could proceed
    2. Meanwhile the whole Athenian population including women and children
    3. When other ambassadors arrive, the wall was high enough and Themistocles told the Spartans that Athens was now a peer of Sparta and would set its own policy
  1. Port of Piraeus
    1. Moved port to more easily defended Piraeus
      1. Built about it a stone wall seven miles in circuit — wide enough for two wagons on top (14 to 15 feet wide) — better constructed than wall around Athens
      2. Built moles to protect three harbors at the Piraeus
      3. The Piraeus became haunt of the metics
    1. Laied out in parallel streets
  1. Long Walls built in 458 under Pericles
  1. Disadvantage of two walled cities
    1. Connected the two cities with “Long Walls”
    2. First long walls incorporated Phalerum as well as The Piraeus
    3. Later a new Middle wall was built paralleling the North Wall
    4. Four and one-half miles: 550 feet apart

Delian League

Confederation of Greek states under Athenian leadership with original headquarters at temple of Apollo in Delos. The first Delian League, 478-404 B.C., was formed with Ionian cities to oppose Persia. After the successful conclusion of the Persian Wars, it was transformed into an Athenian maritime empire that lasted until Sparta won the Peloponnesian War (404 B.C.). After Conon reestablished Athenian naval power at Cnidus (394 B.C.), a new league emerged (378). This lasted, with Athenian-Theban quarrels, until dissolved by the victory of Philip II of Macedon at Chaeronea (338 BC.).

Each ally to contribute money or ships according to ability

    • Money should be deposited by Hellenic treasurers in Temple of Apollo at Delos
    • Annual congress of all deputies in which each state had an equal vote
    • Athenian delegate was chairman of annual congress and could procure votes of smaller states
    • Athens guaranteed the sovereign independence of each state (good excuse for interference
    • No state might withdraw from League without consent of all (Athens had excuse to forces to remain in)
    • Athens as leader was to assess the requisite money or ships each year and act as collector and executor of decrees of league
    • 460 talents per annum
    • Most allies found it more convenient to contribute money than to furnish ships or troops
    • By 445 only a few larger states such as Samos, Chios, and Lesbos built their own ships
    • By 445 B.C. — more than 200 cities in the League
    • Athenian popular court became the court of appeals for cases between the allied states or their citizens — some states had to refer all capital offenses to Athens
    • 469 Naxos and in 465 Thasos tried to withdraw from Confederacy — Athens sternly subjected them
    • Athens encouraged democracy
    • 454 Treasury transferred to Athens “for safekeeping”
    • Pericles appropriated funds of Delian League treasury to beautify Athens
    • In transforming the free confederacy into an empire Athens violated not only honor but the most fundamental principal of Hellenic political life: the sovereignty of the polis — Athens gain the reputation as the “Enslaver of Hellas”

“Already in the early 470s Athens had based on Delos a new alliance or league of cities … with a common treasury filled by taxation and a common military policy determined more and more by Athens. The increasing domination of the Athenian fleet was a development made possible by the victory at Plataiai [and Mycale].”

“Step by step, Athens itself became a fortified city, and a great military power. In 475 Eion, the strongest Persian position west of the Hellespont, fell to Kimon son of Miltiades…; then the priate island of Skyros fell. That cleared a route to the timber, the silver and perhaps the gold which were coming out of Thrace. Kimon went on to bring the Lycian and Carian cities of southwest Asia Minor back into the sphere of Greece and to complete the liberation of the Greeks from Persia with a victory by land and sea at once, at the Eurymedon estuary in southern Asia Minor in about 468 B.C.

When any city seceded from the Delian league, a severe sanction was automatically applied, as if the offense were desertion to the Persians. Karystos in south Euboea was brought into the league by force, the loyalty of Naxos was forcibly renewed, and when Thasos rebelled against Athenian control of a gold mine on the mainland, Thasos was defeated at sea, her fleet confiscated and her city walls pulled down in 463 B.C. Thasos had appealed against Athens to Sparta, but the Spartans were busy murdering their own rebellious serfs.”

Athens “decided which states should supply money for the war against Persia and which should provide ships. The purpose of the league was to take revenge for what they had suffered by ravaging the Great King’s territory.” [Thucy. I.96.]

Ionian cities on the west coast of Anatolia, the Hellespont and the Propontis, and most of the Aegean islands formed the nucleus of the alliance. Chios, Samos, Lesbos, and dome of the other states with a naval tradition provided ships. The remainder brought annual tribute to the treasury on Delos. Every member took an oath of loyalty which was permanently binding.

    1. The Athenians suppressed revolts by allied states and often seized land in allied territory which was handed over to Athenian colonists : cleruchs
  1. Decree to tighten up collection of tribute
  2. Made Athenian coinage obligatory on all allies
  3. Weights and measures obligatory on all allies
  4. Garrisons
  5. Freedom-restricting treaties: “The people of Chalkis are to swear as follows: I shall not revolt from the people of Athens in any way or by any means whatever, either in word or in deed, nor shall I follow anyone who revolts; and if any person causes a revolt, I shall denounce him to the Athenians… and I shall be as good and honorable as ally as I am able…”
  6. Imposed democratic constitutions
  7. Egyptian (459 B.C.)
    1. 200 galleys in Cyprian seas invited to Egypt by Inaros, a Libyan who was leading revolt in lower Nile against the Persians
  1. Xerxes had been murdered — Artaxerxes now ruled
  2. First occasion where Greek fleet was used for offensive operations outside of Aegean waters
  3. Sailed up Nile — took Memphis except for citadel — “the White Castle” which withstood a siege of 2 years
  4. 456 Artaxerxes sent large army and Phoenician and drove Greeks out of Memphis and out to land between the Nile and western channel
  5. Greeks were blockaded for 18 months
  6. Persians drained the canal and left Greek ships on dry land
  7. Persians marched overland
  8. Greeks burned ships and marched to Cyrene
  1. Cyprian expedition
  2. By the time war broke out, Pericles could say openly what was obvious — Athens possessed an arche, an empire embracing most of the Aegean
  3. Allies gained
  1. Relative peace
  2. Suppression of piracy
  3. Greater trade opportunities
  4. A measure of justice
  5. Democratic government for those favoring democracy over aristocratic government
  1. Founded Amphipolis — strategic junction on the north Aegean coast road
  2. Alliances with poleis in Sicily and Italy
  3. Established Thourioi, open to all Greeks, in Magna Graecia

“The next ten years were the hinge of the century…. Athens was ascendant, and between 463 and 454 she came close to supremacy.”

The Persians had been greatly weakened, and the Phoenicians had suffered in that process. Carthage confronted aggressive Greek cities in the West. “

The Athenians driven on by an amazing energy, were asserting a supremacy that no one city could sustain, and even though the sea was theirs, with its commerce, the mines and the green riches of the earth, they could no more finally dominate the eastern Mediterranean than the Spartans could: the Spartans were to the Athenians in the end what the Greeks were to the Persians.”

    1. Sparta

    1. Dorian
    2. Represented static, conservative oligarchic and aristocratic city-states
    3. Values: justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude, frugality, patriotism, physical and mental toughness
    4. Power based on landed wealth and professional army which outnumbered the Athenian army 3 to 1
  1. Peloponnesian League was more populous than the Athenian empire
  2. Spartan domain was more compact and loyal — included all of Peloponnesus, except Argos



  1. League states were not subject to tribute, but they paid into a collective war fund
  2. Primarily an alliance of land powers and did not emphasize naval supremacy
  3. Allies included Thebes and Corinth
  4. Spartan power was partly balanced by powerful and hostile neighbor, Argos



Τηε Peloponnesian League

Loose military alliance led by Sparta and formed c. 550 B.C. (Boeotia, Phocis and other states were allies of the league). Formed by Sparta after its victory over Argos, it included all Peloponnesian states except Argos and Achaea. It was a loose confederacy whose members committed themselves to supply military contingents in the common interest. Meetings were held at Sparta, and each member sent representatives. Corinth readily joined for Corinth was a natural enemy of Argos, while her commercial rival, Aegina, was a friend of Argos. Megara was also enrolled. Athens became a member for a brief period c. 510 B.C.

Spartan-dominated military alliance. Based on treaties between Sparta and other Peloponnesian States negotiated initially in the 6th century B.C. and then fashioned into a permanent alliance just before 500. Sparta held command in war and summoned and presided over the assembly of allies. Only after the majority of the assembly where each ally cast one vote, had agreed to a proposal for war could Sparta demand the support of all parties.

Sparta itself may not have cast a vote in the Assembly but exercised considerable influence over its decisions by its power to refuse to call a meeting except to consider proposals that it approved. When no League war was in progress, the members could carry n separate wars even with each other. Thus the League could not support every allied State in war.

To secure defense against aggression from the League as such, it was necessary to first convince Sparta and next the Assembly. Athens, at the time of its surrender in 404, and subsequently other allies were forced to accept treaties pledging complete obedience on matters of war and peace. Gradually the League evolved toward an empire but the process was not concluded before the collapse of Spartan power and the League’s dissolution in 366 B.C.



6. Spartan style or character



a. Conservative

b. Prudent

c. Reluctant to act

d. Procrastinating



    1. Preliminary events — major causes — growing tensions between Athens and Sparta in the years following the Persian Wars –“In 464 B.C. Sparta was bleeding; the Messenians had rebelled, a little force of Spartans had been cut down and the allies were summoned to besiege Ithome, the ancestral stronghold of Messenia …. Among others, Kimon of Athens went to help with 4,000 men, but he was insultingly sent home. In 461 Kimon was ostracized.



    1. First armed conflict between Athens and Sparta — the first Peloponnesian War of 460-446 — coincided with Cimon’s departure from Athens and the ascendancy of Pericles. Athens allied … with Argos, in a diplomatic move against Sparta. In 459 Megara, in the course of a quarrel with Corinth, left the Peloponnesian League and accepted the alliance of Athens.
    2. Corinth was provoked in many ways, economically in the western Mediterranean and closer at home in the Gulf of Corinth by the Athenian seizure of Naupaktos from Lokria. It was at Naupaktos that Athens installed the Messenian exiles. A war followed which was fiercely fought, but on which the details are obscure. At the same time Egypt rebelled against the Persians, and the Athenians were called in to support the rebellion.
    3. That war dragged on (456-454), and it ended badly [for Athens] with the Persians back in control, the Athenians staggering home, and Phoenician ships in the Nile delta defeating an Athenian fleet. But meanwhile Aegina had finally fallen, and in 456 paid its tribute to the Delian league.”
  1. Tanagra, 457 –“In 457 Athenians fought against a Spartan army at Tanagra. The Spartans were now reacting with defensive aggression and had sent an expedition of great size into Boeotia to strengthen Thebes as a counterweight to Athens. About 1,500 Spartans and 10,000 allies fought and won, though not overwhelmingly, against 14,000 Athenians, 1000 Argives and some allies. Thessalian cavalry also fought, appearing for Athens but changing over to the Spartan side. The battle of Tanagra is a measure of how far things had gone. State confrontation had once been unusual, conflict had been parochial or a matter of family; now it was league against league
  2. “In 454 BC, at the time of the failure in Egypt, Athens removed the treasury of the Delian league from the ancient holy island to the city of Athens.
  3. When Cimon returned in 451,Athens reversed course again, signing a five-year armistice with Sparta
  4. Following Cimon’s death in Cyprus, his anti-Persian policy was abandoned and the party favoring war with Sparta regained ascendancy in Athens — In 449 B.C. Pericles negotiated peace with Artaxerxes, the successor to Xerxes. At once, the pressure of the Persian war being lifted, the more ambitious acquisitions of the Delian league began to disintegrate. In 447 Boeotia was lost, then Phokis and Lokris. Megara and Euboea rebelled with Spartan help.”
  5. Megaran revolt was successful
  6. Revolt of Euboea against Athens 446 B.C.



  1. Euboea supplied wheat to Athens — considered vital
  2. Sparta supported Euboea
  3. Athens crushed revolt



  1. Placed garrisons in Euboea similar to those in Thracian Chersonese
  2. Sent cleruchies
  3. Athens “reduced the tribute of her allies, surrendered Achaea, Troizen and the ports of Megara, and obtained a treaty of 30 years with the Peloponnese in 446, jst as Argos had done five years before.



  1. Established new colonies — sponsored rebuilding of Sybaris — Herodotus moved there
  2. Inside the Delian league, Athenian policy was … toughening. In about 450, poor settlers from Athens took over land in Naxos, Adnros and perhaps elsewhere. In 447 a strategic settlement in the Chersonese and others in Lemnos and Imbros secured the Black Sea route. It was the cities on that route that were now rich; Lampsakos paid to the league twice as much as Ephesos. These settlers were socially and economically promoted by their landholdings, and paid taxes and military service to Athens”
  3. “Athenian coinage was compulsory throughout the league. The Athenian imperial policy, in Thrace and elsewhere was that of Perikles, whose chief political opponent Thucydides (not the historian, but related by marriage to Kimon) was ostracized in 443. A glorious public building policy also belonged to the 440s. Athens was now well fortified…. Glorified with works of art, and within limits directly democratic. Money was plentiful, prices were rising. The rich Thracians and the Macedonians still barred the land route north into Europe. But by sea, eastward and westward, the Athenians were active, and although Egypt, the Persians and the Phoenicians still guarded Africa, Athens did trade with North African cities.”
  4. Samian revolt



    1. Quarrel with Miletus — Athens awarded land to Miletus
    2. Samos refused to accept
  1. Pericles sailed in with 44 ships, threw out oligarchic government and established democracy
  2. Installed a garrison
  3. Took 100 hostages
  4. Samians rose again — rebellion — oligarchs came home and handed over the garrison to the Persian governor of Sardis –suppressed by Athens–sent 200 ships for nine months to blockade the city
  5. Samians had appealed to Sparta for aid
  6. Sparta summoned a council of the Allies
  7. Corinthians prevailed upon the Spartans to hold back
  8. Friction continued — Samians were fined 1000 talents and had to give up warships
  9. Destruction of city walls of Samos



“Resistance to Athenian policy came from nearly every state in Greece. Boeotia fought off Athens in 447. Some subject cities and others that feared subjection, appealed to Sparta to check Athenian power. The Spartans were not eager for war; but the old racial antipathy between Dorian and Ionian inflamed them — and the Athenian habit of establishing democracies in their dependencies was a threat to Spartan aristocracy.”” [Nordland notes]



Cimon: successor to Themistocles. His policy was to make war on Persia and maintain friendship with Sparta. He was ostracized in 461. The son of MiltiadesCimon initially showed little promise. His grandfather had been nicknamed ‘Simpleton’, and he was supposed to have inherited a poorer with than that of the ordinary Athenian.

He developed a reputation of being fond of the wine cup and leading a disorderly life. He lacked a liberal education and some referred to him as a Peloponnesian rather than an Athenian — an allusion to his lack of cultivation. Nevertheless he was recognized as honest and forthright. He lived with his stepsister Elpinice, and they both affected Lacedaemonian manners. Aristides seems to have discerned his military ability and to have introduced him to public life.

His simplicity, geniality and lavish hospitality rendered him popular, and his military successes confirmed his influence. The two guiding principles of Cimon’s policy were prosecution of the war against Persia and the maintenance of good relations with Sparta.

He upheld the doctrine of dual leadership: Athens should be mistress of the seas, but should recognize Sparta as the leader of the continent. His sympathy with Sparta and his connections there became an important political fact, and undoubtedly helped to postpone a rupture between Athens and Sparta.



Kimon (Cimon) (died 450 B.C.) was related to one of the most powerful aristocratic families in Attica, the Philaids. From his father, Miltiades, he inherited an aggressively anti-Persian sentiment and from his mother, Hegesipyle, he possessed connections with Thrace and the Chersonese. The historical tradition depicts him as a “conservative” pro-Spartan leader from the hoplite class who opposed the more “radical” leaders of the “naval mob” such as Themistocles, Ephialtes, and Pericles. However, Cimon commanded the naval expeditions which helped create the Athenian empire.

After the departure of the Persians from Greece in 479 B.C., Cimon commanded the Greek expeditions to Cyprus and Byzantium, where he expelled the Spartan Pausanias who was suspected of seeking peace with Persia. He also expelled the Persian general Boges from Eion, thus preventing the Macedonian king Alexander I from establishing his authority over Thrace.

The colonization of Scyros and the transfer of the bones of Theseus to Athens in 476 enhanced his reputation. He also systematically attempted to depict his father’s victory at Marathon as much more glorious than the naval victory at Salamis. T

his helped him to eliminate ThemistoclesCimon also probably commanded the expedition against Naxos, which made an unsuccessful attempt to defect from the Delian League in 470/468 B.C. Subsequently under his leadership the Greeks inflicted a decisive defeat on Persian land and naval forces (destroyed or captured 200 ships) at the river Eurymedon (Kopru River in Turkey) (between 469 and 466) , expelled Persian garrisons from the Chersonese, and besieged Thasos for two years (465-463).

At Battle of Eurymedon in Pamphylia in 468, Cimon found the Persian army and fleet. He destroyed or captured 200 Phoenician ships. He sealed Caria to Pamphylia for Athenian federation. The loot taken here helped finance the south wall of the Long Walls linking Athens with the Piraeus.

In 462 Cimon persuaded the Athenians to permit him to lead an expedition to help Sparta suppress an uprising of Messenian helots, which began after an earthquake in 464 (had left 5 houses standing) and lasted for nine years. The rebel helots had annihilated in battle a company of 300 Spartans and took refuge on a steep hill in Messenia. Cimon asked “Will you stand by and see Greece lamed of a leg?” Cimon took 4000 Athenian hoplites to assist Sparta in suppressing the rebellion. The Spartans did not appreciate the Athenian presence in the Peloponnese, and soon ‘invited’ Cimon and his troops to depart. This proved to be a severe blow to Cimon’s prestige.

On his return to Athens he proved unable to revoke constitutional reforms proposed by his rival Ephialtes, and in 461 the conflict resulted in Cimon’s ostracism. The story that he helped Athens at the Battle of Tanagra in 458 is probably untrue. He was recalled after perhaps only five years of exile (probably a reaction to the Athenian disaster in Egypt in 454). In c. 450 he negotiated a five-year peace with Sparta and then commanded a final expedition against the Persians in Cyprus. There he died while laying siege to Citium. He was the father of Lacedaemonius. [Bowder, ed., Who Was Who in the Greek World, p. 78.]

A barbarian prince who had formerly supported the Persian cause abandoned his ally and came to Athens, seeking to place himself under Cimon’s protection. To ensure his welcome he brought two vessels, one filled with gold pieces and the other with silver, and placed them before Cimon’s door. Cimon looked at them and smiled. “Would you prefer to have me as your mercenary or as your friend?’ He asked.

“As my friend,” replied the man.

“Go,” said Cimon, “and take these things away with you. For if I am your friend, your money will be mine whenever I have need of it.”




  1. Agonistic climate of Greek culture — agon = conflict, competition



  1. Ancient Greeks emphasized eris — viewed life as a perpetual zero-sum struggle for advantage
  2. One Socratic interlocutor in The Republic defined justice as doing good to one’s friends and evil to one’s enemies
  3. Warfare among Greek states was the natural condition, peace was exceptional
  4. Peloponnesian War was exceptional only in that it was truly international — involved most of the Greek states separated into two large blocks



  1. Spartan concern about growing Athenian empire —– Periclean imperialism and economic dynamism — according to Thucydides, the growing power of Athens alarmed the Spartans This he wrote was the truest cause of the war. “A new generation of Spartans wanted to restore the power of Sparta. They had a grudge against Athens for having built up an empire which overshadowed the loose hegemony Sparta held over the Peloponnesus.” [Nordland notes]



  1. Makes a persuasive case — contemporary of events he described
  2. He was an Athenian general and knew many of the participants personally
  3. Concerned with understanding the underlying tensions and conflicts that made the war, in his view, inevitable
  4. High-handed actions of Athens in enforcing adherence to the Delian League and its recent attempt at creating a land empire made Athens appear as an enslaver of Greek liberties [Nordland notes]



“Surrounded by enemies abroad and at home, Pericles worked for peace and prepared for war. Nevertheless, he sent envoys to all the Greek states inviting them to an Hellenic Conference which would seek a peaceful solution. Sparta refused to attend, feeling her acceptance would be construed as an acknowledgment of Athenian hegemony, and at her secret suggestion so many other states rejected the invitation that the project fell through.” [Nordland notes]



  1. Catalyst for the war was Corinth



  1. Wealthy polis located at the strategically important isthmus, where trading routes from all points converged. Corinth had close commercial ties with colonies on the western coast of Greece, traded with Italy and Syracuse — The Gulf of Corinth served as a marine avenue between East and West — a ship railway (wooden rails) spanned the Isthmus of Corinth — teams of oxen pulled ships across the isthmus
  2. Corinth and Corcyra feuded over Epidamnus (433 BC)



  1. Corinth — pro-Sparta — Epidamnians sought aid from Corinth in a rebellion against Corcyra
  2. Democratic Epidamnus had attacked its neighbors and exiled Epidamnian nobles
  3. Epidamnus was a colony of Corcyra but Corinth had chose oecist of Epidamnus
  4. Epidamnian democrats appealed to Corcyra for aid and were refused — The oligarchy which ruled Corcyra was sympathetic to Sparta but there was a considerable democratic element which favored joining the Delian Leage.
  5. Delphi oracle advised Epidamnus to seek Corinthian aid
  6. Corinth sent aid — Corcyra represented a threat to Corinthian commercial interests
  7. Corcyra demanded that Corinthians cease aid to Epidamnus
  8. Corinth refused
  9. Corcyra attacked Epidamnus
  10. Corinth prepared to attack Corcyra
  11. Negotiations — Corinth refused to negotiate under pressure and Corcyra pledged to end siege if Corinth evacuated Epidamnus — negotiations failed
  12. War between Corcyra and Corinth
  13. Corcyrans won first naval battle but lacked allies
  14. Corinth prepared for a major war and lined up allies
  15. Corcyra — allied with Athens — hoped to gain support for its efforts against its rebellious colonists at Epidamnus — alliance joined two of the three largest navies in the Greek world — ominous development for Corinth. Corcyrans asked help of Athens — pointing out that a war with the Peloponnesian League was bound to occur and that it would lend her sizable fleet to assist Athens in such a war.
  16. Corinth pleaded with Athens not to interfere pointing out that it had restrained Sparta when the Samian revolt had occurred
  17. Speech of Pericles decided vote of the ecclesia — he had made up his mind that war was inevitable and threw his support to the Corcyraeans
  18. Athens intervened in a major battle of Sybota on the side of Corcyrans — forced Corinthians to withdraw
  19. In 432 B.C. the Athenians ordered the city of Potidaea to dismantle part of its walls and dismiss its magistrates. Potidaea was an Athenian ally and a Corinthian colony — located in Chalcidice peninsula — not far from canal Xerxes had dug



  1. Founded by son of Periander in 7th century
  2. Under Persian control at start of 5th century
  3. Revolted after Battle of Salamis — member of Delian League — supplied ships and then money
  4. Remained loyal to Corinth
  5. Athens concerned about threat if Macedonia seized Potidaea.
  6. Concerned that Potidaea might become Corinthian base threatening Athenian trade routes to Black Sea — Athens demanded that Potidaea abandon its pro-Corinthian magistrates
  7. Potidaea rebelled



  1. Athens took two years to suppress the revolt



  1. Besieged by an Athenian force
  2. 1,600 Corinthians hoplites came to aid of Potidaeans
  3. Potidaeans defeated in battle
  4. City fell to Athenians in 430
  5. Sparta had pledged to fight if Athens attacked Potidaea



  1. Megarian Decree also provoked hostilities — Athens barred the people of Megara from the Athenian market and the ports in the Athenian empire. “Megara had revolted in 446 against their “ally” Athens. Athens had made peace allowing for Megaran autonomy but picked a quarrel — accusing Megarians of sacrilege — for tilling some frontier land dedicated to Demeter. As punishment for this alleged sacrilege Athens had closed her ports and markets to Megarian merchants and compelled all her subject allies to do the same. This destroyed half of Megaraian commerce at one blow. Megara sent repeated emissaries to beg the aid of Sparta.” [Nordland notes]



  1. Attempt to compel the Megarians to become members of the Athenian empire
  2. If Megara became tribute-paying ally, it would have access to imperial markets
  3. Megarian decree suggests Athenain effort to create a trade zone embracing the entire Aegean
  4. Not really an issue for land-based Sparta but a real matter of concern for Corinth
  5. Seen as step in Athenian effort to dominate markets in the Aegean, northwest Greece and Magna Graecia





“Thus the coming of war awaited some provocative incident. In 435 Corcyra, a Corinthian colony … joined the Athenian Confederacy. An indecisive naval battle took place between Corcyra and Athens against Megara and Corinth. Pericles then ordered all Megarian products excluded from the markets of Attica and the Empire. Megara and Corinth appealed to Sparta….” [Nordland notes] Sparta decided for war and issued an ultimatum, which Athens refused. War resulted.

  1. Corinth urged Spartan ally to declare war on Athens — addressed Spartan apella — Duty of a leader to lead and procrastination would be to advantage of Athens
  2. Athenians made case before Spartan apella
  1. Earned right to empire and deference — previous exploits
  1. Faced Persians single-handedly
  2. Salamis prevented Persians from taking Peloponnesus
  3. Fought instead of fleeing after Athens had been burned
  4. Empire formed initially from fear
  5. Empire formed because allies request Athens to lead
  6. Once Sparta and its allies became hostile — no longer feasible to abandon empire — fear, honor, interest
  7. Stronger states should dominate weak states
  8. Athens had treated its imperial subjects relatively well
  9. Ruler is always resented
  10. Sparta would be even more resented than Athens should it become the leader

“We have done nothing surprising, nothing contrary to human nature, if we accepted leadership when it was offered and are now unwilling to give it up. There are three very strong reasons why we should not do so, honor, fear, and self-interest. Nor are we the first people to be in this position: it has always been a law of human society that the weak are controlled by the strong.” [Thucy. I.76.]

  1. Archidamus warned Spartans to consider decision to go to war very carefully
  1. War would be long
  2. Theater of hostilities would be distant
  3. Athens had superior navy
  4. Athens was well prepared
  5. Athens had superior financial resources
  6. Athens had large population
  7. Athens had many allies — most were islands which would be difficult to seize or support in case they rebelled
  8. Athens can import food

Archidamus II: Eurypontid king of Sparta, 476-427 B.C. During the earthquake of 464 B.C. he saved Sparta by leading the army to face a potential helot attack. He played a major role in the suppression of the helots at Ithome. During the diplomatic activity preceding the Peloponnesian War (the first 10 years of which are named after him), Archidamus urged restraint; he was a xenos (guest-friend) of Pericles. In 431, 430 and 428 he led invasions of Attica, and in 429 directed operations against Plataea.

  1. Sthenelaidas argued for war
  1. Allies must not be sacrificed to Athens
  2. Duty to assist allies — cannot betray friends
  3. Honor
  4. Must oppose aggressors
  5. Athenian actions against Persia not relevant
    1. Apella voted for war –War broke out when Athens rejected the ultimatum of Spartans — that Athens should “restore their autonomy to the states of Greece.” — Pericles replied that Athenians would give independence to their allies when Sparta gave independence to her cities.
    1. Pericles did not particularly want the war but the oligarchs had been attacking him and he was forced to seek the support of the city masses, the artisans and commercial men who did want war and expansion [Nordland notes]
  1. Pericles advised Athenians on how to win the war
  1. Come within the walls — avoid pitched battle with Spartan land army
  2. Use fleet to keep allies loyal
  3. Rely on fleet to bring in grain
  4. Use fleet to attack Sparta’s allies
  5. Do not venture to expand the empire

“It is unwise to go out of the city and fight a pitched battle. Instead, they should come inside the walls and guard them. The fleet, in which their strength lay, was to be thoroughly fitted out. The allies, too, should be kept under firm control, since Athens depended on the income from their contributions. It was, he argued intelligent planning and adequate finances which usually led to success in war.” [Thuy. II. 13]

“Nearly all Greece ranged itself on one side or the other. Every state in the Peloponnesus except Argos supported Sparta; Athens on the other hand had the half-hearted help of the Ionian and Euxine cities and the Aegean isles. The Athenian fleet laid waste the coastal towns of the Peloponnesus, while the Spartan army invaded Attica, seized the crops, and ruined the soil. Pericles called the population of Attica within the walls of Athens, refused to let his troops go out to battle, and advised the excited Athenians to bide their time and wait for their navy to win the war.” [Nordland notes]

“This policy seemed cowardly to some and it hard on the farmers to leave their homes, shrines, vineyards, fields to the torch of the Spartans.”

  1. Sparta had no navy but Corinth’s; it had the best disciplined army with 2,000 cavalry and 30,000 infantry (counting helots and periocoi). There was neither a state income nor a surplus.
  2. Athens had 300 ships besides those of Corcyra, Chios, Lesbos. It had 6,000 talents in reserve and an annual income of 1,000 talents of which 600 came from tribute.
  1. 1200 cavalry
  2. 1800 foot arc hers
  3. 13,000 hoplites

Pericles: (d. 429 B.C.), son of Xanthippus (commander of the victorious Geek forces at Mycale in 479 B.C.), was the most prominent Athenian leader in the 5th century. At the peak of his power in the 440s and 430s he was effectively the ruler of Athens, so much so that the period of his pre-eminence became known as the Periclan Age. Throughout his life he displayed conspicuous dignity and aloofness, and his eloquence, sagacity, uprightness and patriotism won for him the admiration of his fellow citizens.

He was directly responsible for the rebuilding of the Parthenon and other temples on the acropolis after the end of the war with Persia and together with his second wife Aspasia, he was the focus of Athenian intellectual life. Among his many close friends he counted Sophocles, Herodotus, Phidias and Protagoras.

He helped extend the Athenian empire and bore some responsibility for provoking the Peloponnesian War.

Two teachers exercised great influence on Pericles. These were the Sophist and musician Damon and the Ionian philosopher Anaxagoras. He first appeared on the Athenian scene in 472 when he provided the chorus for Aeschylus’ trilogy which included The Persians. 

As a young man in 463 he attempted to prosecute Cimon for taking bribes from Alexander I not to invade Macedonia. His feud against the Comnids was hereditary for Pericles’s father, Xanthippus, had prosecuted Cimon’s father Miltiades in 489. Pericles’s antagonism to Cimon aligned him with Ephialtes and other opponents of the aristocratic Areopagus.

In 457 they managed a reform which gave all hoplites access to the archonship and other offices. Bur he was by no means the only prominent leader in this period. The generals Leocrates, Myronides and Tolmides (all Pericles’s seniors) also bore considerable responsibility for the costly expansion that took place in this period. One by one these rivals were discredited or died.

Although Pericles was present at Athenian defeats kike Tanagra (457), he was not associated with the disaster of the Egyptian expedition in support of Inarus dring 454. He appears to have commanded a flotilla in the Corinthian gulf in that year.

The crisis atmosphere following that disaster is probably the context of his personal proposal to recall Cimon. It is not clear what Pericles’s role was in the negotiations which led to the so-called Peace of Callias (son of Hipponicus) with Persia.

Some evidence suggests that in 449 he proposed a general peace congress for all the states which had fought against Persia. Peace called the reconstruction of Athenian shrines (largely at the expense of its allies) under Pericles’s supervision.

The following years witnessed the elimination of rivals: Tolmides, killed at Coronea in 447, and Thucydides, son of Melesias, ostracized in 443. In 446 Pericles distinguished himself by harshly suppressing a rebellion in Euboea, and by preventing the devastation of Attica by the Spartans through persuasion or bribery.

A thirty-year’s peace gave Athens a free hand to focus on suppressing additional revolts among its allies such as Samos, Melissus, and Byzantium, 441-439.

Pericles may have supported a consistent policy of westward expansion leaving the Greek mainland to Sparta. But Athenian alliances with Sicilian cities such as Segesta, and especially the aid given to Sybaris in 447, leading to the new establishment of Thurii in 444, and the Athenian-Corcyran alliance in 433, one of the proximate causes of the Peloponnesian War, need not be interpreted as part of such a strategy. 

Pericles has been charged with seeking war with Sparta, perhaps as a means of eliminating Corinth from western export markets or to restore the moral fiber of the Athenian citizenry. He may merely have recognized that Sparta would not tolerate Athenian imperialism indefinitely.

But it seems that in the late 430s there was increasing resentment among younger potential rivals such as Cleon that Pericles’s preeminence presented an obstacle to their own ambitions.

Prosecutions were brought against several of Pericles’s associates including his wife, Aspasia, and his close friend the sculptor, PheidiasAlcibiades may have advised Pericles to seek war in order to avoid an investigation by his critics into his misuse of public funds.

Pericles believed that Athens would attain its objectives in a war with Sparta by simply avoiding defeat and demonstrating that Sparta lacked the power to destroy Athenian hegemony of the Aegean.

Consequently he assured that Athens possessed adequate funds to maintain its navy long before the outbreak of hostilities in 431 and he avoided any major confrontation with the Spartans on land.

This policy increased his unpopularity, and he was voted out of office when the plague struck in 430. Although re-elected in 429, he died of the plague soon after. [Bowder, ed., Who Was Who in the Greek World, pp. 156-157.]

During the Peloponnesian War an eclipse occurred when Pericles was about to set out to sea. As the pilot was too terrified to perform his duties, Pericles stepped forward and covered the man’s head with his cloak. “Does this frighten you?” he asked. “No,” said the pilot. “Then what difference is there between the two events,” inquired Pericles, “except that the sun is covered by a larger object than my cloak?”


    1. Mother, Agariste, was granddaughter of Cleisthenes
    1. Family of Alcmaeonidae
    2. Father Xanthippus: 479 held high command at Mycale; had prosecuted Miltiades in 489; had beed ostracized in 485 — after Pausanias had left, Xanthippus had besieged and taken Sestos on the Hellespont. He brought back to Athens the elegant trophies of the cable of hemp and cable of papyrus of Xerxes’s bridge across the Hellespont
    3. Education
      1. Damon — music
      1. Zeno — the Eleatic
    1. Anaxagoras — great influence — taught of world-mind or nous — all life was one life — nothing perished and nothing was born — world mind gave order to matter (original chaos of seeds). “The sun is a red-hot mass many times larger than the Peloponnesus.” The moon is an incandescent solid receiving light from the sun.
  1. Calm — haughty appearance — no demagogue — dignified — contrast to genial Cimon — Pericles the democrat was aloof; Cimon the oligarch liked to mix with the people
  2. Held office of strategos several times
  3. Most influential speaker in the ecclesia
  4. Democratic leanings — much opposed to Spartan oligarchic system
  5. Earthquake in Sparta and Cimon’s mission to aid Spartans gave Pericles political chance
    1. Spartans ordered the Athenian army home after several months
    2. Ephialtes had argued that it would be better if Sparta had been destroyed
  6. Imperialism
    1. Made alliance with Megara — formerly in Peloponnesian League — dispute with Corinth — placed city under Athenian protection
    2. In 459 — repulsed Corinthian attacks
    3. 458 — Battle of Aegina — naval battle — Athenians took 70 ships, landed on island and blockaded city
    4. 457 — submission of Boetia — except Thebes, Phocis, Locris
    5. 455 — Naupactus on Corinthian Gulf — controlled western shore — made alliance with Athens (prompted by Corinthian raid on Achaea)
    6. 447 — Athenian army marched into Boeotia to quell an insurrection — Athenian army surrendered in a body at Coroneia — price of ransom was the evacuation of Boeotia
    7. New of Coroneia prompted revolts in Phocis, Locris and Euboaea and Megarians massacred an Athenian garrison
    8. Spartan army penetrated into Attica as far as Eleusis
  1. Course of the War

     —”During the subsequent Archidamian War, the Spartans invaded every year and laid waste the countryside of Athens. Each summer, the Athenians would pack their bags, collect their sheep, and come inside their walls, watching the Spartans destroying their crops and cutting down their trees and vines.”

    1. First Phase, 431-421 B.C.

    1. First blood was shed at Plataea. A small Theban force seized the town by treachery. But the Plataeans regrouped and recovered the town, massacring the Thebans. The result was a siege that eventually caused the destruction of the city
    2. Corinth and Sparta marched into Attica, 431
    3. People of Attica withdrew within “Long Walls“–siege — farmers slept in temples; huddled with few household furnishing — became homesick, worried, distrustful of city-dwellers
  1. Pericles did not call ecclesia into session for fear of a riot or vote leading to violent action
  2. Athenian navy swept seas and plundered coast of Peloponnesus
  3. City of Potidaea fell to Athens & citizens were expelled.
  4. Funeral Oration of Pericles — delivered by Pericles on the occasion of a pubic funeral for the Athenian men who had died in the war in 431 B.C. “No finer expression of the ideals of democracy exists than the famous Funeral Oration delivered by Pericles in honor of the Athenians who fell fighting Sparta during the first year (431 B.C.) of the Peloponnesian War. … it is considered one of the greatest speeches in literature. Pericles appeals to the patriotism of his listeners, confronted by the crisis of a great war, by describing the superior qualities and advantages of their democracy as a heritage won for them by their ancestors and worthy of any sacrifice to preserve. He emphasizes as the outstanding feature of their democracy — and, … of any democracy — the harmonious blending of opposite, tendencies in politics, economics and culture which it contains. This is perhaps the finest expression of the Greek ideal of a mean between extremes. All this is described in sharp contrast to the rigid totalitarianism of Sparta, which regulated every detail of the citizen’s existence. It is to be noted that an outstanding example of this happy blending of control and freedom in all phases of life was the Athenian acceptance of the leadership of Pericles as the recognized superior individual voted into power by the people to ‘lead them’ as Thucydides noted, ‘instead of being led by them. Pericles extends the same argument, that order and liberty are compatible, to justify the existence of the Athenian Empire, which had emerged after the Persian Wars to fill the vacuum left by the failure of Spartan leadership in Greek affairs.
  5. It had unified and brought peace and prosperity to half of the Greek world, but it was at present under attack by Sparta and its allies as the ‘tyrant city’ that had extinguished the liberties of many Greek states and was now threatening the remainder. 
  6. Perilces’ reply to this charge is an idealized rationalization of the need to replaced the anarchy of narrow city-state ‘nationalism’ with an international organization under Athenian leadership in order to achieve the political and economic well being.
  7. The goal sought is freedom from fear and want, and such is the meaning of Pericles’ inspired conception of Athenian imperialism: ‘We are alone among mankind in doing men benefits, not in calculations of self-interest, but in the fearless confidence of [bringing] freedom. In a word I claim that our city as a whole is an education to Greece.’”

At this occasion ‘the dead are placed in coffins of cypress wood, one coffin for each tribe. There is one empty litter decked with a pall for all whose bodies are missing. These chests are conveyed by hearses to the public cemetery outside the walls. When the remains of the dead have been placed in the earth, some man of high repute delivers an oration over them. Pericles was chosen in 431.” 

  1. Reminded the people of the nature of Athenian civilization — He appealed to patriotism. His survival depended on his ability to unify the Athenians. “Pericles’ speech is one of history’s finest statements of an organization’s shared values and beliefs — its culture. It demonstrates that establishing a strong corporate culture (in both modern and ancient societies) requires two things. First, a leader must determine what it is that makes the organization different. Second, he or she must effectively and eloquently communicate that difference to the organization’s members.”
  2. Emphasized the antiquity of Athenian tradition. He pointed out that Athens from it its long and proud tradition had evolved a constitution which was something entirely new — a step ;in building a case for what made the organization different. The Athenian constitution had not been borrowed from another polis but instead was one that others sought as a model.
  3. The Athenian government, according to Pericles had a number of virtues
  1. Rule of the many instead of the few
  2. Equal justice
  3. Recognition of excellence
  4. Mobility based on merit
  5. Opportunity to participate in government regardless of economic means

Pericles praised democracy for leaving each man free to behave as he chooses, for considering men equal and giving the poor man a chance to govern if it is considered he can help the city, for leaving their city free to foreigners and hiding nothing, for believing in the good things of life, in festivals, joy and refinement, for not training themselves for war as the Spartans did and yet fighting just as bravely when war came.

  1. Athenian democracy encouraged thought before action. Informed decisions resulted from discussion and deliberation


d. Outlined the ideal Athenian

  1. harmony
  2. wholeness
  3. public-spirited
  4. loyal
  5. self-reliant
  6. resourceful
  7. enterprising
  8. versatile
  9. refined — but not extravagant
  10. knowledgeable without being efeminent
  11. individualistic
  12. freedom-loving
  1. Focused on four cultural characteristics that made Athens unique
    1. He first exalted the positive aspects of Athenian life — its openness, its democratic style, and its optimistic estimate of man’s capabilities and potentials. He made it clear that membership in the Athenian organization was supremely valuable: Athenian citizenship was the greatest prize a person could gain; the constitution of Athens was not a mere collection of legalisms but a mode of life.. He underscored the importance of democracy, job selection and promotion based solely on merit, and the primacy of individual dignity
    2. In words strikingly suggestive of the “work hard, play hard” of modern corporate cultures, Pericles next emphasized the importance of just having a good time
  1. Pericles gave his listeners further cause for pride in their organization (polis) by reminding them that Athens was an opinion leader, an innovator. Athens did not emulate its competitors. Indeed it set the standard that others followed…
  2. Finally, in an eloquent summation of Athens’ corporate culture (culture of the polis), Pericles emphasized the balance achieved between the individual and organization.
  1. Pericles speech reflected humanist ideas of the Greeks [humanism — the character of quality of being human; a system or attitude in thought, religion, etc. in which human ideals and the perfection of personality are made central. Study of the classics, philosophy, literature, oratory, linguistics, history, the arts. Devotion to human interests (as distinguished from divine) or with those of the human race. Devotion to those studies which promote human culture: literary culture, history, grammar, rhetoric, poetry, oratory, linguistics, the arts]
  1. Man has the ability to reason
  2. Man has the ability to govern himself
  3. Man can appreciate art and beauty
  4. Man can perform physical feats with grace and skill
  5. Man can face danger with courage
  6. Man can make decisions



Argued that ideal society was one that encouraged man to develop the full range of his potential

  1. Urged Athenians to seek balance and moderation in all things
  2. Propaganda
  1. Praised the political, military and cultural life of Athenians to arouse their patriotism
  2. Implicit defense of his own policies
  3. Greatly over-exaggerated and misrepresented the positive aspects of life in Athens — “Athens was not the home of freedom and equality hymned by Pericles. One third of her population were slaves and formed no part of the citizen body. True, the life of an Athenian domestic slave was better than that of a Spartan helot. Plato, a generation after Thucydides, says satirically that in democracies slaves are as free as their owners; but as he goes on to complain of the freedom of domestic animals in a democracy, it is difficult to take him very seriously. Demosthenes, a generation later still, congratulates the Athenians on their mild treatment of slaves. The fact remains that slaves were liable to be bought and sold, to be flogged at the will of their owners, to toil under hard conditions on the land or in the mines or workshops, and to give evidence under torture if a litigant required it and their owner agreed. No less excluded from citizenship were the many aliens who settled at Athens to trade, and who were debarred from naturalization by a law of Pericles restricting the franchise to men of Athenian descent on both sides.
    1. Athens was the “school of Hellas” — the superiority of Athenian model was present for all to see and imitate
    2. No Homer was needed to record the greatness of Athens — the city’s accomplishments were memorials to its greatness
    3. Those who died defending Athens were true heroes; “To die bravely in the face of the enemy is glorious and the final consummation of individual manliness. The heroes in Homer also knew the sweetness of life, but their fear of the reproaches of others was greater than the fear of death, and honor was the sweetest thing of all. So it was with these Athenians…. But this personal glory, real as it is, differs in an important respect from the glory sought and won by Achilles or by Hector. These Athenian dead are more than heroes and the reason is that they were, as Pericles says, ‘worthy of their city.’ It would be easy, he points out, to show how necessary it is to defend oneself against the enemy’s attack; but the conduct of these men goes beyond this. They were not merely defenders; they were lovers of Athens.”
    4. Duty of those Athenians who survived the dead to toil on behalf of the city
    1. Pericles claimed that “heroes have the whole earth for their tomb.” — Glory is recognized and remembered by everyone throughout the world
  1. Pericles argued that a state should never “decline the dangers of war” — anything worth having is worth sacrifice
  1. Plague in Athens — Pericles died — deprived Athens of competent commander who combined good generalship with cautious policy



  1. Probably caused by simultaneous epidemics of influensa and toxic shock syndrome — caused by a form of the Staphyloccus bacterium. Normally a skin-dweller in low numbers, the bacterial, which secrete a toxin, can cause disease if allowed to grow to large numbers, which can happen if they get under the skin. Athenians, debilitated by severe flu, succumbed to “staph” infections through small cuts or in irritated nasal passages. A key clue in identifying the disease was the gangrene, which caused victims to lose fingers, toes and other body parts. Victims of the staphylococcus suffer fever, low blood pressure, a rash and occasionally gangrene. Since no rash was reported in the Athenian victims, then the bacterial might have infected the Athenian victims through breaks in their skin.
  2. Symptoms included high fever, hoarseness, blister, amnesia, and peripheral gangrene
  3. “Plagued” Athens for five years



Pericles “calculations were strategically sound but they ignored a factor that almost decided the conflict. The crowding of the city led to a plague which killed a fourth of the soldiers and many civilians. Pericles lost his two legitimate sons, his sister, and a younger son. When he had to lay a wreath on the dead, he did something he had never done in public — he wept. The people, desperate with the combined sufferings of epidemic and war accused Pericles of responsibility for both. Cleon and other indicted him on the charge of misusing public funds (embezzlement). His accounts were examined for 15 years. He could not account for some 10 to 20 talents which he had probably used as bribes to the Spartan kings ; he was convicted and fine $600,000 . He was recalled back to office the next year but died within a few months” of the plague. [Nordland notes]

Assembly by special law granted citizenship to his son by Aspasia; he too was called Pericles

No political heir left capable of guiding and restraining Athens.

Aspasia: a hetaira (euphemistic term for ladies of easy virtue who were protected from being classed as mere prostitutes by their personal accomplishments and/or the social milieu in which the moved) mistress of Pericles and then his wife from 450 to 445 B.C. Born in Miletus, she married the widowed Pericles c. 450 B.C. She possessed philosophical interests and was highly regarded by Socrates and his circle. Her friendship with Socrates caused her to be remembered and written about by his followers, including Antisthenes, Aeschines, and Plato. As the wife of the leading citizen of Athens, she suffered unfounded abuse and ridicule by comic dramatists. Aristophanes parodied her political influence in the Acharmians

Eupolis in Demes called her a hetaira. Some attributed to her the responsibility for Athenian intervention on behalf of her native Miletus against Samos in 441-440. Some charged her with convincing Pericles to provoke the war with Sparta, more specifically the Megarian Decree discriminating against Megarian trade in 432 B.C. As resentment against Pericles increased n the 430s, Hermippus accused her of impiety and procuring but Pericles defended her passionately and successfully.

After Pericles’s death in 429 she associated with Lysicles, a popular leader who himself was killed in 428. The son of Aspasia and Pericles, also named Pericles could not participate in civic affairs for a long time because Pericles’s own law defined citizen as a person, both of whose parents were Athenian citizens. He eventually became a citizen by special enactment and subsequently a general at Arginusae in 406. He along with the other strategoi were executed by the Athenians after that battle.



    1. Cleon replaced Pericles — brash, ambitious, aggressive — abandoned Periclean policy.

Pericles’ successor was Cleon, the dealer in leather, who was an able demagogue eloquent, unscrupulous, and corrupt. Cleon had ability which was proved in 425 when he took charge of a siege on the Spartan Army — which no admiral had been able to carry. He carried through the attack with a skill and courage that forced the Lacedaemonians to an unprecedented surrender. Sparta, humbled, offered peace and alliance in return for the captured men but Cleon’s oratory persuaded the Assembly to reject the offer and continue the war — and continue it at the expense of tribute exacted of the subject cities. When Mytilene rebelled and declared Lesbos free,

Cleon moved that all adult males in the city be put to death, but the Assembly had second thoughts and settled for 1,000 leaders. Cleon redeemed himself by dying in battle and the Spartan leaders was killed in the same battle.

Sparta, left leaderless in the face of a threatened Helot revolt offered peace and Athens, for once taking the advice of the oligarchic leaders, signed the Peace of Nicias (421) in which they pledged alliance and friendship for 50 years.” [Nordland notes]

  1. Naupactis — [Nordland notes] Athens had naval base to watch the gulf



    1. Commander of Athenian fleet at Naupactis was Fomion
    2. Fomio developed new naval tacks
    3. Had 20 triremes each manned with 30 marines or a full crew of 300 men per ship if rowers and officers were counted
    4. Ships beached and men slept and ate on shore
    5. Fomion had job of controlling the waterway to the West
    6. Sparta launched a joint land and sea operation to gain control of West — Corinth provided ships — designed to sweep Athenian influence from western Greece and confine Athens to Attica alone
    7. Corinthian admiral launched the expedition with untrained civilian crews on triremes built in imitation of Athenian triremes — training oarsmen took a long time
    8. Corinthian ships would be facing an Athenian fleet with professional crews
    9. Athenian crews — In Athens all men were expected to carry out their military duty in accordance with their income — 500-bushel men were officers; 300 bushel men were hoplites; 200 bushel men (the Zeucatae), the farmers, served as Hoplite, only the Thetes, the landless poor, served as the light-armed infantry or oarsmen. The Athenian crews had been trained from youth to serve in the fleet. The state built and furnished triremes but wealthy men also expected to furnish and man triremes (called Triarchs)
    10. As Corinthian fleet proceeded down the Gulf of Corinth, Formio appeared and paralleled — faced the Corinthian fleet
    11. Corinthian admiral made fatal mistake of running from the enemy — encumbered with troop transports — carried infantry of Sparta and Peloponnesian League — unsure and untrained personnel
    12. Corinthians ducked into friendly port of Rhium (down the straits from Naupactis) and next day he put out to sea and tried to get mend across the Gulf to land them on the other side — amphibious landing.
    1. Formio made contact with Corinthians were half-way across
    2. Corinthian admiral (more an infantry officer than a sailor) formed an infantry formation — put transports in middle and put triremes around them with beaks facing out — unwise maneuver
    1. Formio rowed in circle, decreasing the circumference of the circle
    2. Corinthians backed until confused with transports and when so linked could not strike out
    1. Formio drove his triremes on top with ram.
    1. Formio gave signal — by speaking trumpet (no flag symbols) — rammed flagship with Corinthian sea commander on board
    2. Rammed and sank 20 Corinthian vessels right away — hit them and their planked ship sides opened up
    3. Boarded and captured 12 ships with their crews and dragged off as prizes
    4. Fifteen warships escaped by outrunning the Athenians — the rest were transports
    1. Formion returned to Naupactis with prizes
    2. Sparta was humiliated and collected triremes from all its allies and for the first time the Spartans built their own fleet
    3. Spartan sea commander — inexperienced but attacked Naupactis with new fleet of 77 triremes
  1. Formion, because of Athenian politics had not received reinforcements — Athenian fleet consisted of only 20 warships
  2. Cut off Athenian fleet from Naupactis — crews escaped overland — 9 ships captured on beach
  3. Spartan fleet of 20 ships realized the need to pursue the remaining 11 Athenian vessels — pursued them into Naupactis harbor.
  4. Athenian ships decided that attack was best defense — rammed leading Spartan ship amidship — flagship — Spartan admiral felt disgraced and fell on his sword
  5. Spartan contingent hesitated and 10 other Athenian ships sailed out and destroyed the whole Spartan squadron
  6. Athenian fleet returned to where Corinthians were looting the beached ship and recaptured the other nine Athenian ships
  7. Beginning of real naval science — From this the Athenians developed two naval maneuvers called the Copeclus and the Deeclus — in the 1st — tried t to maneuver the enemy into surf — pushed there and ships swamped and could ram when ships filled with water — had to have a heavy wind. 2nd was the used more frequently — did not ram enemy ship, rammed the oars — sailed — allowed port oars to drag. A ship coming through at about 11 knots — the butts of the oars broke the necks of the oarsmen — a whole portside engine became helpless — then swung around and rammed in the stern and the enemy ship would open up and sink — sailors left to drown



  1. Thucydides — deeply affected by death of Pericles and Plague



    1. The death of Pericles suggested to Thucydides the passing of all that was finest in Athens. The physical suffering of the Plague presaged the moral breakdown that Athens would undergo
  1. Thucydides artfully suggests this shift n Athens’s fortune by juxtaposing two important sections of his work



  1. Funeral Oration of Pericles
  2. Description of the Plague
  3. The first of these rightfully stands as the clearest statement of the Athenians’ sense of their own accomplishments. The second is a ringing denunciation of human bestiality.
  4. After the death of Pericles, a new generation of leaders emerged in Athens, hungry for power and unscrupulous. Foremost among these was Cleon , son of Cleaenetuswho led the Athenians to victory at Pylos, bringing to a close the first phase of the war. Other democratic leaders included Eucrate, Lysicles and Hyperbolus.






“The assembly was increasingly dominated by the city masses, who cast their vote for the last speaker to gain their ear or for the demagogue who would offers them the biggest sop. Cleon, the leather merchant, fanned the growing hysteria. The farmers, both large and small, wanted peace. But the mercantile and artisan classes and the city masses had much to gain by empire and little to lose by war.” [Nordland notes]




  1. Mitylene revolted, 428 — ruthlessly suppressed — “In 428 Mytilene, chief city of Lesbos revolted against the heavy taxes which Cleon had put on the League cities. Cleon urged a policy of frightfulness — that they should be made a terrible example. Thus the assembly voted that all adult males be killed and the women and children sold into slavery. But some had second thoughts and the order was rescinded — but the walls were torn down, ships seized and the lands given to Athenian” cleruchs. [Nordland notes] —
  2. Sparta sent a fleet but was ineffective and democrats revolted from within Mytilene, resulting in the surrender of the city to Athens
  3. Mitylene event one example of internal revolution in many states — democratic factions appealed to Athens or the oligarchs appealed to Sparta
  4. 427 Revolution on Corcyra — Athenian and Peloponnesian ships battled outside the harbor



  1. Corcyran democrats and aristocrats fighting in city
  2. Democrats eventually won
  3. Went to temple of Hera — aristocrats had sought sanctuary
  4. 50 persuaded to submit to trial — “They then condemned every on of them to death. Seeing what was happening,, most of the other suppliants killed each other in the temple; some hanged themselves on trees, and others found other means of committing suicide” [Thucydides]
  5. Massacre followed — lasted several days — “Men were often killed on grounds of personal hatred, or else by debtors because of the money that they owed. People went to every extreme. Fathers killed sons; men were dragged from temples or butchered on the very altars; some were actually walled up in the temple of Dionysus and died there.” [Thucydides]



  1. Athenian victory at Sphacteria — 425 B.C. — “In 427 some Athenians returning from a small expedition to the relief of the Leontini against Syracuse took refuge from a storm at Pylos on the Messenian coast. Demosthenes (no relation to the orator) saw the advantage of the place against Sparta and therefore left a small garrison.
  2. The Spartans blockaded the invaders and stationed a force on the island of Sphacteria. But then the Athenian fleet arrived and was able to dominate the bay, marooning the 420 Spartan soldiers on Sphacteria.
  3. Sparta at once offered peace in return for the soldiers abut Cleon , backed b y the masses, refused except on impossible terms. He wanted to take full advantage of Sparta’s predicament at Sphacteria. He rose in the ecclesia and said that if Athens had men for generals they could take Sphacteria and capture the Spartans on it. If he, Cleon, were general, he claimed, he could do it himself within 20 days. Cleon criticized Nicias for his delay in capturing the besieged Spartans. Cleon was put into command. He lacked military knowledge but selected Demosthenes, who was still at Pylos to help him. A fire burned the woods on Sphacteria.
  4. The forest had given cover to the Spartans. Thus ironically Cleon succeeded in his assault against the half-starved Spartans. Then an astounding event occurred. The Spartans surrendered. Of the 420 heavy infantry, 292 remained alive. Spartans were supposed to conquer or die. Cleon brought the 292 captives to Athens, 120 of whom were Spartiate citizens. This was the turning point in the first period of the war. Athens used Pylos as a base for raids; Sparta kept asking. But emboldened by their success Athens ‘ war party now undertook more aggressive land expeditions.” Policy of frightfulness Nordland notes]
  5. In 424 the Athenians with Nicias as general seized Cyhthera, about six miles south of Laconia — raids on Laconian coast increased; Sparta was alarmed at prospect of helot revolt
  6. Corcyran democrats executed Corcyran Oligarchic opponents
  7. Won the Megarian port of Nisaea, which had been lost by the Thirty Years’ Peace — then dreamed of regaining hostile Boeotia
  8. Spartan Brasidas defeated Athenians in Boeotia, 424 — major Spartan victory at Delium — in this battle Socrates fought as a hoplite and saved the young Alcibiades from death.
  9. Athens suffered defeat at Megara — 424
  10. Athenian fleet under command of Thucydides was defeated at Amphipolis — Brasidas led an army of 1,700 infantry to Thrace where he joined Macedonians to encourage revolt among the Athenian cities of Chaldice, and won the key city of Amphipolis which commanded the gold mines of Thrace.



    1. Cleon killed–peace party gained influence
    1. Brasidas killed — Sparta left ‘leaderless’ with the threat of a helot revolt — peace party gained influence

Brasidas (d. 422 B.C.) was the most capable Spartan general during the early stages of the Peloponnesian War. He distinguished himself in 431 B.C. by courageously repelling an Athenian attack on the town of Methone in Laconia. In 424 he prevented an Athenian assault on Megara and combined diplomacy and military skill in a successful expedition to Macedonia where he won over cities from their allegiance to Athens. His greatest prize was Amphipolis, where in 422 he took a handful of helots and mercenaries and defeated an Athenian army under Cleon’s command. 

  1. Athens loses timber resources and gold mines
  2. The Athenian assembly, exasperated at the loss, banished Thucydides, who was in command of a fleet in the region for failing to save the city



Brasidas was a Spartan with a flair for diplomacy and an effective speaker. He promised in the name of Sparta that he would not interfere with the political constitution of any city she might help to free from Athenian domination. He liberated a number of cities. At last he reached Athens’ most valuable possession on the northern coast of the Aegean, Amphipolis, which commanded the timber and gold and silver resources of the area. He took Amphipolis before Thucydides, who was at Thasos could arrive with his fleet. Thucydides became an exile. In 422 Cleon persuaded the Athenian ecclesia to let him go to Thrace. He took 1,200 heavy infantry, 300 horse from Athens and more troops from allies. In his eagerness, Cleon led his troops too close to the city walls. Brasidas made a sudden sally; Cleon’s troops panicked and he was killed. But Brasidas was wounded and died soon thereafter. With Cleon and Brasidas dead, Athens and Sparta negotiated a peace “to be binding for fifty years.”




12. Peace of Nicias, 421 B.C. — Athens had suffered a great drain of money and the subject states were under double tribute and in a dangerous temper




  1. Both sides gave up all lands gained in war
  2. Sparta and Athens agreed to 50-year alliance
  3. Sparta failed to consult its allies and they were not signatories
  4. Amphipolis and Pylos were retained by Sparta
  5. Nothing had been settled in the trade conflict between Corinth and Athens
  6. Both sides failed to uphold provision on returning the lands they occupied



Peace of Nicias

In 421 B.C. arranged by Athenian statesman, Nicias, was a truce in the Peloponnesian War which was to be annually renewed. Pleistoanax was the other main negotiator. The term was for fifty years. Athens pledged to return all posts which it had occupied during the war: Pylos, Cythera, Methone, Atalanta, and Pteleon in Thessaly. Athens insisted upon retaining Sollion and Anactorion and the port of Nisaea.

The Spartans agreed to restore Amphilpolis and to relinquish Argilus, Stagira, Acanthus, Scolus, Olynthus, Spartolus, which ere to be independent but also pay tribute to Athens, according to the assessment of Aristides. Moreover, the fortress of Panacton on Mt. Cithaeron,, which the Boeotians had recently occupied, was to be restored to Athens.

Certain towns in Athenian possession, eg. Torone, were to be left to the discretion of Athens. All captives on both sides were to be liberated. The common temples of Greece were to be free to al. Delphi and its temple were to be autonomous. Controversies were to be settled legally. The inhabitants of any city handed over to the Athenians could become Athenian allies if they so desired. Meayberna, Sane, and Singe were to be independent.

    1. Second Phase, 421-404 B.C. — Hostilities resumed in 421 B.C.



  1. Split in Athens



    1. Conservative under Nicias
  1. Popular Democrats under Alcibiades (elected strategoi, 420 B.C.)



    1. Quarrel between Sparta and Argos — Athenians aided Argos — “When the Spartan league dissolved, Corinth, Mantinea and Elis allied themselves with Argos. In 419 Athens allied herself also with Argos, and with Elis and Mantinea for 100 years. This new alliance then moved together to attack Epidauros: Sparta supported Epidauros and the war was on again (although nit was not formally renewed until 414). Its first great battle was at Mantinea in 418 B.C.; the Spartans won, and the Athenians temporarily lost all their new-found allies at a stroke.”
    2. Spartans defeated Athenians at Mantinea, 418 — collapse of Athenian-Argos alliance — some Peloponnesian states had taken the Peace of Nicias as a sign of weakness on the part of Sparta. Argos, Elis and Mantinea therefore entered into an alliance against Sparta.
    3. Ostracism of “original” Hyperbolos — one of the more offensively demagogic politicians
  1. Melian revolt suppressed by Alcibiades — 416 B.C.



  1. Men executed
  2. Women and children sold into slavery
  3. Thucydides represented the Athenian ambassadors as saying: that the reason for their action was that might is right: “Of the gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a necessary law of their nature they rule wherever they can. And it is not as if we were the first to make this law, or to act upon it… all we do is to make use of it, knowing that you and everybody else, having the same power as we have, would do the same as we do.”
  4. Athens resettled the island with 500 outsettlers



The leaders of Melos faced a terrible choice: have their countrymen die as free men or live as slaves. The powerful Athenian generals and their fleet of thirty-eight ships carrying heavy infantry and archers waited at the shore of Melos ready for action as the Melians deliberated.

“The Peloponnesian War but for the last six years the two great feuding empires headed by Athens and Sparta had avoided open hostile action against each other. Ten years into the War they had signed a treaty of peace and friendship; however, this treaty did not dissipate the distrust that existed between them. Each feared the others’ hegemonic designs o the Peloponnese and sought to increase its power to thwart the others’ ambitions. Without openly attacking the other, each used persuasion, coercion, and subversion to strengthen itself and weaken its rival. This struggle for hegemony by Athens and Sparta was felt most acutely by small, hitherto ‘independent’ states who were now being forced to take sides in the bipolar Greek world of the fifth-century B.C. One such state was Melos.”

“Despite being one of the few island colonies of Sparta, Melos had remained neutral in the struggle between Sparta and Athens. Its neutrality, however, was unacceptable to the Athenians, who, accompanied by overwhelming military and naval power, arrived in Melos to pressure it into submission. After strategically positioning their powerful fleets, the Athenian generals sent envoys to Melos to negotiate the island’s surrender.”

“The commissioners of Melos agreed to meet the envoys in private. They were afraid the Athenians, known for their rhetorical skills, might sway the people if allowed a public forum. [It is not known “what constitution prevailed at Melos. Even in a close oligarchy, such as Melos appears to have been, questions of war and peace were usually referred to a popular assembly of some kind. The Melian leaders plainly did not trust the populace to support their stubborn and dangerous policy. Donald Kagan, The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition, Cornell University Press, 1981, p. 149.]

The envoys came with an offer that, if the Melians submitted and became part of the Athenian empire, their people and their possessions would not be harmed. The Melians argued that by law of nations they had the right to remain neutral, and no nation had the right to attack without provocation. Having been a free state for seven hundred years they were not ready to give up that freedom. Thucydides … captures the exchange between the Melian commissioners and the Athenian envoys:

The Melians pointed out that, on the contrary, it was to the interest of all states to respect the laws of nations: ‘you should not destroy what is our common protection, the privilege of being allowed in danger to invoke what is fair and right….’ They reminded the Athenians that a day might come when the Athenians themselves would need such protection.”

But the Athenians were not persuaded. To them Melos’ submission was in the interest of their empire and Melos.

“The envoys then left the conference giving the Melians the opportunity to deliberate on the Athenian offer and decide the best course for them to follow.”

“The Melians decided to stand by the position they had taken at the conference with the Athenian envoys. They refused to submit, placing their faith in the gods and the Lacedaemonians. Though they asked the Athenians to accept their neutrality and leave Melos, the Athenians started preparations for war.”

“In the war that ensued the Melians were soundly defeated. The Lacedaemonian help never materialized and there was no divine intervention. The victorious Athenians showed no mercy, killing all adult Melian males and selling women and children as slaves. Subsequently, Melos was settled by five hundred Athenians and it became an Athenian colony.”

“… startling is the manner and content of the Athenians’ argument. In language that is cruelly blunt, they point out that the disparity in power between Athens and Melos renders all discussion of justice or injustice irrelevant, for in the reality of human affairs discussions of this kind only arise when equality of power prevents one side from imposing its will on the other.

When asked to consider the possibility of divine retribution, the Athenians respond with a remarkable statement: ‘As to the divine favor we do not think we are at a disadvantage …. For of the gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a necessity of their nature they always rule wherever they have the power.’”

“The dialogue form, the abstractness of the discussion, and the frank immorality of the Athenian arguments have provoked questions about the authenticity of Thucydides’ account. Scholars have doubted that he had access to reliable sources, but he could easily have learned what was said from the Athenian participants and even from those Melians who escaped the mass execution that consumed their fellow citizens.

The problems of the dialogue’s style and structure are not difficult to resolve, but it is not easy to ascertain the motive for their selection. Although the Melian Dialogue is not a verbatim record of the proceedings, but a shortened, stylized, and dramatically heightened account, it can, nonetheless, be faithful to the general sense of what was actually said.

What has aroused the doubts of the skeptics is the content of the dialogue itself, the hard, merciless arguments put forth by the Athenians. Surely neither the Athenians nor any one else could have spoken so, without any attempt at self-justification or palliation. The skeptics maintain that the dialogue cannot have taken place as reported and conclude that it must be a Thucydidean invention.”

“Such skepticism is unjustified. We must remember that the discussion took place in private among small numbers of officials, not in a public forum. In such circumstances frankness is more common. Nor were frankness and toughness necessarily out of lace in the practical mission undertaken by the Athenian ambassadors. Their purpose was to convince the Melians to surrender without fighting, and they may have hoped to achieve this more readily by menace than by any other device.

Such an approach, at any rate, was perfectly in keeping with their recent harsh treatment of Scione; where the policy of mild treatment of fractious allies had been abandoned in favor of rule by terror. … the blunt, hard language of the Athenians is not unique to their dialogue with the Melians. Both Pericles and Cleon had been willing to term the Athenian Empire a tyranny in public speeches, and the Athenian spokesman in Sparta in 432 used language not unlike that found in the Melian Dialogue…”

“For all these reasons we need not doubt the authenticity of the dialogue in its essentials, but the question remains: why did Thucydides choose to report it in this unique way? …” Some claim Thucydides attributed such language to the Athenians as revenge against the polis that sent him into exile. “Some modern scholars suggest that Thucydides intended the Dialogue to show the moral decline of the Athenians in the course of the war. Others, on the contrary, think that he has taken the opportunity to illustrate an unpleasant, but important, side of human behavior. Another interesting interpretation is that Thucydides uses the Dialogue as an opportunity to wrestle with the problem of empire and morality, an issue which he never fully resolves.

“… Presumably he reports the discussion at Melos because some such debate took place, and its importance caught his attention. It is also possible that some of the ironies in the situation appealed to him. Melian resistance to the Athenian demands was based on the Melian conviction that since their cause was just, the gods would protect them, on their confidence that the Spartans would come to their aid, and on their hope that in some unaccountable way fortune would bring success to their efforts despite Athens’ superior power.”

The Athenians dismissed casually dismissed the argument that the gods protected the just. “In a similarly pragmatic way they also dismissed the prospect of Spartan intervention. The Athenians acknowledged that the Spartans practiced virtue at home, but added that ‘most blatantly of all men we know, they believe that what is agreeable is noble and what is expedient just. But this disposition does not favor your unreasonable expectation that they will save you.’

The Athenians asserted that the Spartans, more than anyone else, were moved to action only when convinced that they were superior in power, ‘so that it is not likely they will cross over to an island so long as we control the sea.’ The Melian expectations would all be proved false while the Athenian predictions would be borne out be events.

The Athenians expressed a similar contempt for the Melians’ reliance on hope, but these remarks have an ironical ring for us and for Thucydides. Less than a year after these events at Melos, the ill-fated Athenian expedition sailed for Sicily. Perhaps Thucydides wished to dramatize the condition of post-Periclean Athens, which could give such sound advice to other in one year and grossly ignore it in her own undertakings the next.” [Kagan, The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition, pp. 151-152.]

Alcibiades: c. 450-404 B.C. Athenian statesman. Leader n the struggle against Sparta in the Peloponnesian War, he was defeated at Mantinea (418 B.C.). He promoted the Sicilian campaign (415 B.C.), but was accused (probably falsely) of sacriledge and was called home for trial. Instead he fled to Sparta (where he counseled Agis I), then to Persia. Back in Athens after 411, he won a naval victory (410) but Athenian forces were defeated at Notium (406) by Lysander, who procured the murder of Alcibiades (then in exile).




  • Sicilian Expedition (Syracuse), 415-412 B.C.)



    1. Proposed by Alcibiades; opposed by Nicias — Alcibiades argued that if Syracuse fell, all the western Mediterranean would also fall into the lap of Athens and the splendor of Alcibiades Athens would far outshine that of Pericles
  1. In 427 Sicily, imitating the mainland had divided into warring camps, one led by Dorian Syracuse, the other by Ionian Leontini. Leontini had sent Gorgias to Athens to seek help, but Athens had been then too weak to respond
  2. Aimed to expand Athenian empire — “hoped to conquer the island — never reflected that they were entering on a struggle as arduous as the Peloponneisan War.” In 416 Segesta dispatched envoys to Athens to say that Syracuse was planning to subjugate all Sicily, make the island Dorian in government, and supply food and money to Sparta .



  1. Help ally, Segesta — “The weaker Egestaians call upon the Athenians for help, exemplifying the Thucydidean dictum that the weak need to help of the strong, and they invite the very domination against which they later chafe.” [McInerney] The Egestaians sent an embassy to Athens requesting aid in a war with neighboring Selinus about disputed land. Selinus took Syracuse (a colony of Corinth) as an ally and reduced Egesta to dire straits. If Syracuse was allowed to continue to destroy allies of Athens, they would gain the whole of Sicily and assist the Dorians against Athens. Athenians voted to send envoys to see whether they (Egestaeans) really had the money to pay the Athenians as they had been promised and to report on the state of the war. The envoys returned to Athens with 60 talents of silver being a month’s pay for the 60 vessels which they hoped to obtain from Athens. They also claimed that there was plenty of money in Egesta. —
  2. Defeat and incorporate Syracuse — Even more typical is Thucydides’ emphasis on false pretenses and true motives. The Athenians say they will help the Egestaians because they are related to them, but in fact the real reason, as Thucydides says on more than one occasion, is that the Athenians were ambitious to conquer the island because they believed it was fabulously wealthy.” [McInerney]
  3. Another side of Thucydides’ account — as literary artist he “framed the Sicilian Expedition in much the same way that a poet would have written a tragedy. Just as in a Euripidean play, there is a psychological drama played out as a conflict between diametrically opposite characters, here Nicias and Alcibiades” are the protagonists [McInerney]



    1. Nicias is the voice of reason, common sense, and sober judgment, whose advice echoes the words of Pericles when he says a man should not try to acquire a second empire before he has secured his first.” [McInerney] — Nicias pointed out that the diversion of a significant part of the military and naval resources to a distant theatre would make Athens vulnerable to attacks by her enemies in Greece — also distant expeditions are by nature more expensive than those sent against neighbors
    2. Alcibiades is ambitious for command. His position among the people, says Thucydides, led him to indulge his tastes beyond his means. Alcibiades is, in fact, the very spirit of Athens unrestrained: he embodies what Athens can be when there is no restraining influence upon the great leader.” [McInerney]
    1. Nicias argued against the expedition: he admonished them: “I tell you that in going to Sicily you are leaving many enemies behind you and seem to be bent on bringing new ones hither. You are perhaps relying upon the treaty recently made, which if you remain quiet may retain the name of a treaty; … But if you meet with any serious reverse, your enemies will be upon you in a moment. … we… cannot lose a moment in avenging the wrongs of our allies the Egestaeans, while we defer the punishment of our revolted subjects…. Sicily is a populous and distant country, over which, even if we are victorious, we shall hardly be able to maintain our dominion…. The Hellenes in Sicily will dread us most if few never come; in a less degree if we display our strength and speedily depart; but if any disaster occur they will disperse us and be ready enough to join the enemies who are attacking us here.”

“It is our duty to expend our new resources upon ourselves at home, and not upon begging exiles… who find it expedient only to contribute words, and let others fight their battles; and who if saved, prove ungrateful; if they fail, as they very likely may, only involve their friends in a common ruin.” He closed by remarking: “I dare say there may be some young man here who is delighted at holding a command… and wants to make something out of his command which will maintain him in his extravagance. But do not you give him the opportunity of indulging his own magnificent tastes at the expense of the state.”


    1. Alcibiades replied: “… general sentiment honors such magnificence… There is some use in the folly of a man who at his own cost benefits not only himself but the state.” He excused himself for the failure of the Arcadian league. “did I not, without involving you in any great danger or expense, combine the most powerful states of Peloponnesus against the Lacedaemonians, whom I compelled to stake at Mantinea all that they had upon the fortune of one day? And even to this hour, although they were victorious in the battle they {Spartans] have hardly recovered courage.” let us make the voyage … that we may … either acquire empire over all Hellas, as in all probability we shall, … or may at least cripple the Syracusans, whereby both ourselves and our allies will be benefited …. A state which is accustomed to activity would very quickly be ruined by a change to inactivity….”
  1. Nicias shifted tactics. To discourage the ecclesia, he demanded more ships and men than had been proposed or which Athens was likely to be willing to supply. “Men of Athens, as I see that your are thoroughly determined to go to war, I accept the decision, and will advise you accordingly…. The cities which we are about to attack are … powerful and independent…. Against such a power more is needed than an insignificant force of marines…. To be driven from the island or to send for reinforcements, because we were wanting in forethought at first would be disgraceful. To his dismay, the ecclesia enthusiastically voted for them. The Athenians decreed that the generals should be empowered to act as they thought best n the interest of the state respecting the numbers in the army.
  2. Expedition composed of



  1. 134 triremes
  2. 40,000 troops
  3. To be commanded by Alcibiades, Nicias and Lamachus — told to assist Egesta. If this did not demand all their military strength, they were empowered to restore the Leontines and generally further Athenian interests in Sicily.



    1. Recalled on charges of vandalizing statues of Hermes — the Herms were blocks of stone carved at top into a bust of the god and left uncarved in lower portion except for the genitals. They stood before doorways of home and temples and around the agora. The sacrilege was taken as an evil omen for the great expedition — on the night before the expedition was to depart, the Herms were found mutilated and with their privates chopped off — such a deed instilled fear into the Athenians and evoked a feeling of outrage and foreboding, not only concerning divine retribution but also regarding the presence of such perpetrators in their midst
    2. Rewards offered for desecrators
    3. Some metics and servants gave information about other statues profaned and that the mysteries had been mocked by drunken young men
    1. Alcibiades was implicated — wanted to clear himself and offered to stand trial before he sailed but enemies wanted him to sail, so they could stir up public against him without fearing his replies — by allowing Alcibiades to sail, his enemies avoided the wrath of the troops who unanimously backed him
    2. Reputation for pranks, stories of sexual adventures before and after his marriage to Hipparete (which led to divorce), his bizarre taste in clothes, drinking bouts — led to popularity with many but inclined others to believe the worst
    3. Rumors that Alcibiades conducted mock religious ceremonies relating to the Eleusinian Mysteries — suggested capacity for religious profanation
    4. Culprits never identified with certainty — generally believed that they were members of a club whose leader was Euphiletus and whose members may have represented the entire political spectrum from oligarchs and tyrant-haters to ambitious democrats and genuine patriots — each of whom acted for different reasons in order to abort the expedition and disgrace Alcibiades
    1. Sailed with fleet of 150 triremes and 4,000 hoplites and many allied troops — great competition to make these the finest ships. At the moment of parting spirits revived at the sight of the armament in all its strength. No armament so magnificent or costly had ever been sent out by a single Hellenic power… future success seemed justified.. “Silence proclaimed by the sound of a trumpet … and all with one voice before setting sail offered up the customary prayers … on each deck both officers and men, made libations…. After sailing out for some distance in a single file, the ships raced with one another as far as Aegina; thence they hastened to Corcyra, where the allies who formed the rest of the army were assembling.”
    2. Ships raced with each other as far as Aegina
    3. Hysteria continued back in Athens — new evidence turned up — suspects rounded up and some executed
    4. Swift galley Salaminia sent to bring back Alcibiades from Sicily He got aboard, but when ship stopped at Thuri he escaped
    5. Could justify flight by claiming that his opponents did not represent the will of the Athenians but only a few individual enemies set on his downfall
    6. Fled to Sparta — caught a trading ship to Cyllene, a port in the Peloponnese
    7. Athenian Assembly passed a sentence of death on him and confiscated all of his property
    8. Remained in Sparta for 3 years — advice altered the course of the war
    9. Urged Sparta to attack Attica and send aid to Syracuse and to take over silver mines of Attica. He advised them to capture an Attic town whose possession should give Sparta military command of everything in Attica but Athens (Deceleia) and to take control of the silver mines at Mt. Laurium — made Athenian tenure of own land insecure and forced dependence on command of sea
    1. Alcibiades took up Spartan way of life — eating coarse food and wearing rough tunic, taking daily baths in the cold Eurotas River
    2. While King Aegis was away, Alcibiades courted his wife, Timaea — birth of a son about 10 months after the departure of King Agis on a campaign aroused his suspicion and eventually his wrath
    3. Aegis returned and was outraged — Alcibiades heard that orders had been sent for his murder
  1. Alcibiades escaped and joined the Persian admiral Tissaphernes at Sardis
  2. Persuaded Tissaphernes that Sparta had built a fleet of 100 ships and had the initiative and that it was time for Persia to help Athens
  3. Informed Athenian fleet stationed at Samos of his success with Tissaphernes and pledged help from the Persians on condition that Athens recalled him
  4. Persuaded Tissaphernes to announce that Persian aid would be extended only if Athens became an oligarchy — signal to oligarchic clubs to increase their clandestine activities — led to an almost bloodless coup in 411 — recall of Alcibiades — did not return immediately
  5. Oligarchy short-lived
  6. Needed to show restored democrats that he was indispensable



“Ironically, because of a mysterious episode in Athens on the eve of the expedition, Alcibiades never made it to Sicily, and soon after he defected to Sparta.” [McInerney]

The fleet met a chilly reception from Greek cities in Italy. When the Athenians arrived at Segesta, they found the city, which had offered to pay for their services, did not have the money. Nicias suggested that they parade their power and go home. Lamachus suggested that they attack Syracuse at once, for she had not completed her preparations (he was right). Alcibiades wanted to try to raise allies before striking, and his plan was adopted, and thus the fleet lost about a year before it settled down to attack Syracuse.

“… in Sicily, nearly the whole island came to the aid of Syracuse. Then the Spartan fleet came up and bottled the Athenian ships in the harbor of Syracuse. The surrounded Greeks fought bravely but surrendered and were sent to die at hard labor in the quarries.” [Nordland notes]




    1. Thucydides’ account begins with the capture of some smaller Sicilian cities and the defeat of the largest Sicilian army at Syracuse n the winter of 415. But gradually the Syracusans grow in confidence, and we watch the Spartan general Gylippus become more daring. The entire focus of the campaign narrows down to the one position that must be taken, the high ridge of Epipolae, above Syracuse.” [McInerney]

When Nicias finally decided to act against Syracuse, he took the heights overlooking the walled city and harbor and began to seal off Syracuse from the rest of the island with a wall (summer 414). The wall extended from the Bay of Thapsus, north of Syracuse, where his own fleet was stationed, to the Great Harbor of Syracuse, south of the city. He wanted to cut off Syracuse from help by land and from as much of the harbor as possible. The Syracusans started building counterwalls, which the Athenians attacked and threw down, but in these skirmishes Lamachus was killed.

Morale was sinking in Syracuse and some had begun to consider surrender, when Gongylus, a Corinthian captain reached Syracuse with news that Corinthian ships and a Spartan general were on their way. Gylippus, the Spartan, collected a land force in Sicilian cities and marched overland to Syracuse. As Nicias had not finished his walls, Gylippus got into Syracuse. The Spartans at once led the Syracusans into battle and drove the Athenians behind their fortifications.

Now the battle became a wall-building race. Both sides made attacks but Gylippus prevailed. Seizing the rocks which the Athenians had gathered for continuing their wall, the Syracusans built a wall of their own which cut across the path of the unfinished Athenian rampart. Sparta also sent 600 hoplites from Peloponnesus and Boeotia.


Nicias had built three forts on a point called Plemmyrium, south of the Great Harbor, but a land and sea assault by Syracuse captured Plemmyrium and the supplies stored there. The Athenian fleet fell back on the Northern shore of the harbor, near where their north-south wall reached the water’s edge. Worse yet, the Syracusian ships strengthened their prow so that advancing headlong they could stave in the weaker bronze beaks of the Athenians. Thus, they won some naval skirmishes.


Nicias suddenly realized that “We who were the besiegers have become the besieged. Our ships have been at sea so long that their timbers have rotted.” He begged Athens for recall or another force.

Athens sent a second armada of 73 triremes and 5,000 hoplites plus light infantry. A new commander, Demosthenes, urged the Athenians to attack immediately Gylippus’ counter wall, and complete their own wall. If the attack failed, Athens should withdraw back to Athens with the army and fleet. Staking all, the Athenians attacked at night on the wall but in the darkness they panicked and were driven back with heavy losses.


Nicias delayed the retreat. He did not want to face the Athenian assembly and an eclipse had spooked the Athenians who considered it an ill omen. Meanwhile Gylippus recruited more from Sicily and obtained fresh infantry from Peloponnese. More and more Athenians suffered from illness. At last, Nicias agreed to withdraw. But his soothsayer had declared that they should wait “thrice nine days’ before departing.

The Syracusans got wind that the Athenians planned to depart. They saw in the intention of the Athenians to depart a confession that they were no longer superior and decided to compel them to fight at sea. A massive land and sea battle resulted. Syracuse committed 76 ships and the Athenians 86. There was little room for maneuver in the Great Harbor. The Athenians were defeated as they did not have as much room to maneuver with their long light beaks against the short, heavy beaks of the Syracusans. On land the Athenian general Eurymedon was killed and the Athenians were driven back into the marshy northwest corner of the harbor.

Having won somewhat of a victory, the Syracusans lost their fear of the Athenians and began to close the mouth of the harbor (about a mile wide) with merchant vessels, triremes, etc. The Athenians had to break through this to escape. They made the breakout attempt with 110 ships.


Nicias gave his crews an inspiring speech: “there are no ;more ships … in the dockyards of the Piraeus, no more recruits fit for service. In the event of victory your enemies here will instantly sail against Athens … on you hangs the whole state and the great name of Athens.”

The Syracusans came from all sides. The ensuing battle was terrible and confused as the triremes scrambled for position in the confined space of the harbor. Men on the decks fought with javelins, arrows, and stones when the vessels came close to each other. In the end the Athenians gave way. The Syracusans pursued their foe and drove them back to the shelter of their own wall. The crews of the remaining sixty Athenian ships rushed on shore. Such panic had never been experienced before by an Athenian army.

  1. Sparta sent aid to Syracuse under Gylippus — “For the next two campaign seasons, both sides build and sap a succession of walls across the ridge in order to gain the upper hand. So critical is it that in 413 the Athenians dispatch an entirely new fleet even at a time when the Athenians were faced with a permanent Spartan garrison at Deceleia, twenty miles north of Athens. The war was coming down to this one battle for the heights above Syracuse.” [McInerney]
  2. Athenian fleet was destroyed in harbor by combined Sicilian-Spartan fleet — “The climax comes n a night in the summer of 413, when Demosthenes leads an attack that ends in disaster, as the Athenians rush about, dazed and confused in the darkness” [McInerney]



  1. The Syracusans recover their old confidence, while the Athenians are racked by doubt and dissension. Demosthenes thinks they should cut and run; Nicias thinks they should stay and take their chances
  2. Gradually, as sickness from the marshy terrain decimates the ranks of the Athenians, they decide to leave. Fatefully, an eclipse takes place, leading most of the men to urge the generals to wait.
  3. In the delay that follows, the Syracusan fleet sails up and seals off the harbor to prevent the Athenians from escaping. The Athenian ships sent out to lift this blockage are defeated, and the Athenian mood grows increasingly frantic.
  4. Finally, in one desperate engagement fought on land and sea, most of the
  5. Athenian fleet is destroyed as the army looks on



“Everything for the Athenians depended on their fleet, and their fear for the future was quite indescribable. As they watched the even balance of the battle, the struggle going on and on with no final decision, their bodies swayed to and fro, reflecting the great fear in their minds. They felt huge terror, for they were perpetually on the verge of escape or destruction. In this same Athenian army, as long as the sea-battle was indecisive, all kinds of shouting could be heard, groans of ‘we are losing’, cries of ‘we are winning’ — all the various noises that a great army in its great danger was driven to make. The same sorts of feelings were hared by the crews of the ships, too, until in the end, after the battle had lasted a long time, the Syracusans and their allies clearly routed the Athenians and fiercely, with loud shouts and cheers, drove them to the land.” [Thucy. VII. 71]




    1. The Athenians, shocked, forget even to ask for their dead to bury
    2. The army slowly breaks camp, hoping to march out of Syracuse, but the disorder that has threatened them disrupts the retreat; the army splits into two groups, harassed by the Syracusans
    3. The Syracuseans sailed back in triumph to their city. The Athenians could not be persuaded to try to escape again by sea at daybreak, even they the Athenian fleet numbered 60 ships compared to 50 by the Syracusans. They were determined to escape by land
  1. Hermocrates, the Syracusian suspected this and could not arouse the Syracusians to block their path that night as they were ore interested in victory festivals.
  2. Sent supposed traitors to Athenian camp with word that the Syracusians had blocked the roads and that the Athenians would be better advised to wait and make thorough preparations and depart by day
  3. On the third day the Athenians the Athenian army began to move, leaving wounded and the dead unburied
  4. About 40,000 Athenian and allied forces attempted a break out in despair — “They had come intending to enslave others, and they were going away in fear lest they would be themselves enslaved.”
  5. Syracusans positioned to harass the retreating Athenians using cavalry and light-armed infantry
  6. Syracusans had gone on before and blocked pass where the road ascended a steep hill — drove Athenians back
  7. The column led by Nicias is cut to pieces — When the army of Nicias reached a river, the Syracusans saw their chance. “No sooner did they reach water than they lost all order and rushed in; every man was trying to cross first… they fell one upon another, and trampled each other … pierced by their own spears. … The Syracusans stood upon the further bank of the river, which was steep, and hurled missiles from above.
  8. while the last 6,000 men under Demosthenes surrender. Most would die in the quarries at Syracuse. Syracusans offered terms: ‘no one was to suffer death, either from violence or from imprisonment, or from want of bear means of life.”



f. Athenian troops made slaves in Syracuse mines and quarries




    1. 7,000 captured
  1. Nicias was executed



  1. Demosthenes had been sent with reinforcements but was executed after attempt to retreat failed
  2. As Thucydides described it, the Athenians had been incompetently led while the Syracusans were effectively led. The Athenians were also undermined by their own greed and hubris
  3. Some Athenians survived — despite rations of one-half pint of water and a pint of food a day while they worked in the quarries
  4. “Fleet and army perished from the face of the earth; nothing was saved, and of the many who went forth, few returned home. Thus ended the Sicilian expedition.”



“some Athenians were saved because of Euripides. For the Sicilians, it seems, were more fond of his poetry than all the rest of the Greeks who lived outside Greece itself. This is the reason, people say, why many of the survivors, when they got home, went to see Euripides to thank him. Some of them explained that they had been set free when they had taught their masters all they could remember of his poetry. Others said that they had been given food and water in their wanderings after the battle because they recited some of his lyrics.’ [Plutarch, Nikias, xxix]

“These disasters broke the spirit of Athens. Nearly half the population was now enslaved or dead. The funds that Pericles had accumulated were gone; the colonies, seeing Athens weakened, refused further tribute; her allies abandoned her. In 413 Sparta renewed the war, took the silver mines where 20,000 slaves revolted and joined the Spartans. Syracuse sent an army to join the attack; the Persian king, seeing an opportunity to avenge Marathon and Salamis, provided funds for the growing Spartan fleet, on the shameful understanding that Sparta would assist Persia in regaining mastery over the Greek cities of Ionia.” 




    1. Many Athenian tributaries revolted and sought Spartan assistance
    2. Spartan occupation of Decelea and closure of Laurium silver mines and defection of 20,000 slaves — 413 B.C. — “The Spartan army was now impregnably dug in, in Attica and 20,000 slaves had run away. The silver mines at Laurion, Athens chief source of revenue was in Spartan hands. Their whole empire was rising in revolt. Athens was shaken by a revolution, which for a short time toppled the democracy.
    3. Coinage from gold borrowed from temple dedications and in copper thinly plated with silver
    4. Thracian soldiers were brought to Athens and then sent home again for lack of pay — landed in
    5. Boeotia on their return and slaughtered men, women and children
    6. Persian activity on Spartan side
    7. 411 Council of 400 (oligarchy) took power in Athens — tyranny for 3 months
    8. Sparta too slow to take advantage
    9. Democracy re-established
    1. Alcibiades led Persian fleet to victory at Battle of Cyzicus(410)
    1. Alcibiades then campaigned for another 3 years and won control over the Hellespont for Athens — then he returned — warmly received — all seemed forgiven — not so
    2. 407 Tissaphernes by royal edict yielded his satrapy to Prince Cyrus — came under the influence of the Spartan admiral Lysander
    1. Alcibiades focused on raising money to pay his crews
    2. Antiochus, friend of lieutenant of Alcibiades — foolishly engaged Lysander and was defeated
    1. Alcibiades exiled again
  • Treaty of Miletus



    1. Between Sparta and Persia
    2. Negotiated by Alcibiades
  1. Sparta agreed to stay out of Anatolia
  2. Persia gave Sparta money for a fleet and agreed that Sparta should have a free hand in the Aegean
  3. Sparta agreed to recognize Persian claims to any territories previously ruled by any Persian kings



“But Athens stood off her enemies for 10 years more. The government was put on an economical footing; a new fleet was built. But just as recovery seemed assured, the oligarchic faction revolted, seized the government and set up a supreme Council of 400.

Once in power, the oligarchs sent envoys to make peace with Sparta, and secretly prepared to admit the Spartan army into Athens. The sailors in the navy were disinfranchised along with many others & these threatened a revolt; the new government took to its heels and the democrats restored the old constitution. Alcibiades had secretly supported the oligarchic revolt, but now the re-empowered democracy, perhaps ignorant of these intrigues, called him home with a promise of amnesty.

He took charge of the fleet at Samos and speeding through the Hellespont destroyed a Spartan fleet at Cyzicus, captured Byzantium and restored Athens’ control of the food supply from the Bosporus. Sailing back south he defeated another Spartan squadron.

But Athens, while celebrating his victories, neglected to send him money to pay his crews. Leaving the greater number of his ships near Ephesus in command of one Antiochus, with strict instructions to stay in port, he went to raise his own funds in Caria. Antiochus left his haven and challenged a Spartan fleet and most of the Athenian ships were captured. The Assembly censured and removed Alcibiades from command — and he now fearing both Athens and Sparta fled to Bithynia.”

“Led by second-rate men the Athenian fleet sailed north to meet the Spartans under Lysander in the Sea of Marmora. From his hiding place in the hills Alcibiades saw the Athenian ships take a strategically bad position; he risked his life to warn the Athenian admirals — but they wouldn’t take his advice and the next day all but 8 of the 208 Athenian ships were taken.”

Alcibiades sought refuge in Phrygia with the Persian general Pharnabazus who assigned him a castle. But the Persian King, persuaded by Lysander, ordered Pharnabazus to kill his guest. Two assassins besieged Alcibiades in his castle and set fire to it; he came out naked and desperate where he was shot down by arrows and javelins. He died at the age of 46, the greatest genius and most tragic failure in the military history of Greece.” [Nordland notes]




  1. Aristocrats gained control in Athens — coup in 411



  1. Executed democratic leaders
  2. Built new fleet



  1. Athenian fleet defeated Spartans at Cyzicus, 410 B.C.–aided by Alcibiades — Alcibiades took charge of the fleet at Samos, and moved into action. Speeding through the Hellespont, he met and completely destroyed a Spartan fleet, captured Chalcedon and Byzantium and thereby restored Athens’s control of the food supply from the Bosporus. Returning to Athens he was welcomed as a hero in 407. But the Athenians failed to give him money to pay his crews.
  2. Persian-Spartan alliance [Cyrus the Younger and Lysander] — 408 B.C.



  1. Sparta and allies stayed out of Anatolia
  2. Persia gave Sparta a fleet of warships



  1. Spartan fleet defeated by Athenians at Notium, 407 B.C.–retake Chalcedon and Byzantium (aided by Alcibiades) — fleet paid for by melting down gold images and utensils) Alcibiades fled to Persia (resided on Propontis)
  2. Desperate, the Athenians ordered the gold and silver in the statues and offerings on the Acropolis be melted down to finance a new flotilla of 150 triremes and offered freedom to those slaves and citizenship to those aliens who would fight for the city
  3. Athenian navy won battle of Argunusae (south of Lesbos), 406 — eight leaders were executed for failing to rescue drowning sailors — one of those executed was son of Pericles and Aspasia — fleet paid for by melting down dedications on Acropolis
  4. A few days later the Assembly repented, and condemned to death those who had persuaded it to execute the generals
  5. Athenian demagogue Cleophon rejected Spartan offer of peace



  1. Led by second rate men, the Athenian fleet sailed to meet the Spartans under Lysander in the Propontis —
  2. Lysander won with new fleet secured from Persia



Lysander: (d. 395 B.C.) was the most capable Spartan naval commander and statesman in the final years of the Peloponnesian War. He defeated the Athenian fleet off the coast of Asia Minor in 407 B.C. and two years later he brought a victorious conclusion to the conflict by defeating the Athenians in the Hellespont at the Battle of Aegospotami. In 404 B.C. he forced Athens to surrender and imposed an oligarchic government. The Spartan government disapproved of his arrogance and lack of scruples and then helped restore Athenian democracy. Desirous to enhance his influence in Sparta, he supported the succession of Agesilaus II as king hoping to make him a puppet. Agesilaus, however, proved to be independent and competent. In 395 with the outbreak of war with Boeotia (Corinth and Thebes), Lysander took command of a Spartan army but was killed in an assault on Haliartus. [Microsoft Encarta 96 Encyclopedia]

Lysander did not belong to either Spartan royal family but he claimed descent from the Heracleidae. In 408 BC he became the chief admiral of the Spartan Aegean fleet, which had suffered a disastrous defeat by Alcibiades at Cyzicus in 410. He secured the cooperation of Cyrus the Younger who had been sent by Darius II to take general command of Anatolia. With Persian aid, Lysander defeated the Athenians at Notium, which led to the downfall of Alcibiades.

Then his successor Callicratidas met defeat at Arginusae, and Lysander became adviser to Arcus, the Spartan admiral for 403-404. Lysander blockaded the Hellespont, then caught the Athenian fleet off guard at Aegospotami and annihilated it. During the winter of 405-404 he blockaded Athens and negotiated the city’s surrender with Theramenes. He then installed the pro-Spartan oligarchy known as the Thirty Tyrants under Critias.

Building on his reputation for bringing about the defeat of Athens, Lysander was able to install many of his friends as ‘harmosts’ who ruled the member states of the former Athenian empire through oligarchic committees of ten (decarchies). He also received semi-divine honors as a hero. Thus he provoked considerable opposition in the Spartan government.

By the end of 403 the Spartans allowed democracies to be re-instituted in Athens and elsewhere. Lysander attempted, but failed, to have the Spartan constitution amended so as to have an elective kingship. Subsequently in 399 he successfully managed to have Agesilaus installed as king instead of his brother Leotychidas. In 396 Lysander accompanied Agesilaus to Anatolia, but nevertheless he was losing political influence. When the Corinthian War broke out in 395, he commanded a Lacedaemonian force operating against Boeotia, but he was killed at Haliartus. [Bowder, Who Was Who in the Greek World, p. 136.]


C. Final Days




    1. Battle of Aegospotami, 405 B.C. –Decisive defeat of Athens
    2. From his hiding place in the hills Alcibiades saw that the Athenian ships had taken a perilous position, but they did not heed his advice — Alcibiades offered sound tactical advice to Athenian generals and perhaps some cavalry — Athens refused both
    3. Athenians offered battle for 4 days, but Lysander refused awaiting his chance
    4. On the 5th day, as the Athenians were disembarking for their evening meal, he made a surprise attack — all but 20 of the Athenian ships had to be scuttled or were taken and Lysander ordered the execution of 3000 Athenian captives
    5. The Persian satrap Pharnabazus, persuaded by Lysander, ordered his general at whose castle Alcibiades had taken refuge, to kill his guest. Two assassins, the brother and uncle of Pharnabazus and a small contingent, besieged him in his Phrygian castle, set fire to it. Alcibiades came out desperate offering to fight for his life. But before his sword could touch the assassins, they had pierced him with arrows and javelins.
    6. Took his head back to Pharnabazus
    1. Assessment — Alcibiades ignored the Delphi maxim of “Nothing in excess” or “observe moderation in all things.” Instead he saw no limits to his ambitions and tolerated no impediments to them: legal, moral or religious. The masses adored him but also distrusted him because he held their cherished institutions in contempt. Thus his opponents, men of lesser ability and demagogic, could charge him with attempting to become a tyrant.
  1. Lysander absolute master of the Aegean — sailed from city to city, overthrowing the democracies
  2. Entered the Piraeus unopposed — blockaded .
  3. Siege of Athens 405-404 B.C. — Athens resisted for three months until food was gone
  4. Sparta imposed a peace, ended war, 404 B.C.



  1. Tore down Long Walls — to music of flutes
  2. Recalled the oligarchic exiles
  3. Surrendered all but 8 of the surviving Athenian ships
  4. Pledge to support Sparta actively in any further war



Lysander now overthrew the democracies that Athens had set up and set up oligarchic governments subject to Sparta. After 3 months of siege, Athens surrendered to him. He said he would not destroy the city that had done so much for Greece but he demanded the leveling of the Long Walls, the recall of the oligarchy and the surrender of all but 8 of Athens’ ships. Supported by Lysander, an oligarchic Council of Thirty, led by Critias, ruled Athens. They plundered property, exiled 5,000 democrats and put 1,500 to death. As a result of their harsh rule, they were overthrown and the democracy was restored in 403.” [Nordland notes]

  • Results of the Peloponnesian Wars

      1. Severe punishment of Athens and permanent but gradual decline of the polis
    1. Political revision in Athens



  1. Forced to recall all exiled political leaders who had opposed imperialism
  2. Forced to accept pro-Spartan government



    1. Period of Spartan hegemony in Greece



  1. Took over all former Athenian possessions
  2. Sparta controlled Athenian foreign relations



    1. Decline of Greek polis as a political organization



    1. Leagues and empires replaced the concept of the polis
  1. Period of warfare, alliances, breakdowns in alliances, new coalitions
  2. Resignation and disillusionment began to replace civic pride and loyalty
  3. Opened door to foreign conquest



  • Thucydides and the Lessons of History
    1. Thucydides attempted to analyze the Peloponnesian War in such a way that it would teach his audience about fundamental truths of history. For Thucydides, the war was both an event that needed explanation, and also itself an illustration of the laws of history
    2. Before Thucydides, Herodotus had articulated the idea of history as research into the causes of notable events but for Herodotus history still included heavenly intervention, cosmic justice, and divine retribution. His concern was to tell a good story
    3. For Thucydides history was the sober and scientific — no stories to entertain, only accounts of events to illustrate the way human affairs always follow the same patterns.



  1. Weakness invites the domination of the stronger
  2. Power always seeks to increase
  3. Necessity is the engine of history
  4. Leaders must impose their will on those they lead



    1. Scientific History



  1. As a member of the Athenian elite, Thucydides was well educated. He was familiar with the latest developments in education, oratory, logic, and science. His intellect was shaped in the climate of intellectual ferment that characterized Athens in the mid to late fifth century.
  2. With prosperity in Athens came a traffic in ideas, in teachers, and in philosophers who also poured into the imperial city including: Gorgias of Leontini, whose lessons in rhetoric emphasized oppositions — antitheses Protagoras of Abdera, who claimed that “Man is the measure of all things. Hippocrates, the founder of scientific medicine






  1. Thucydides shows many of the hallmarks of training in this sophistic tradition






    1. Conclusion



  • The war continued until 404 and Thucydides lived to see its end. He left a work of astonishing subtlety and complexity, one that applied the most rigorous standards of historical analysis and yet told a story as dramatic and tragic as any Greek drama.
  • What Thucydies left was a potent vision of history in which individuals both expressed the spirit of their times and shaped the events of their time. It is a psychological reading of history that looks for the underlying causes behind the politicians’ excuses, and yet it turned on missed opportunities and bad calculations.
  1. Thucydides was never quite able to reconcile the demand for clear understanding with the need to produce an artful, elegant story. That is the historian’s dilemma. [McInerney]