The Peloponnesian War.


This is a brief account of the Peloponnesian War. I tried to put into perspective by using popular culture references like movies and books.

The hardest thing is the names. This is where most folks get lost. But hold fast, we are going to be looking at some other exciting times in history. My job is to lead us through this rabble of dates and times to show us how it’s all tied together.

We looked at the two most exciting books of the ancient world- ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey’. We had to see how recorded history started and why these two great works matter to men fighting and dying in these wars.

Literature (movies, art and books) all our expressions of a national identity and culture they represent. This will be important down the road as we look at why the Islamists attacked us. What is going on today in Iraq and Afghanistan and what it means for us.

I am afraid our involvement in that part of the world is far from over. Understanding it is important. I will inch us there a day at a time in less than 1,000 words each day.


The incomplete text written by Thucydides recounts the history of the Peloponnesian war. It famously ends mid-sentence in 411 BC, several years before the conclusion of the war.

Thucydides Picture

Explanations of the names

Lacedaemon- the capital was named Sparta. Lacedaemon has too many syllables so the stoic warriors of Lacedaemon were forever known as Spartans. That is why their symbol is the Greek alphabet “Lamda” on their shields in the movie “The 300.”


Many of the Greek city-states warriors were named after their capitals. The largest city was Athens. So, all the tribes that fought on one side in the Peloponnesian war were the Athenians and the other side was the Spartans.

In the classical tale ‘The Illiad’,the Greeks are often referred to as “Achaeans,” the name of a large tribe occupying Greece during the Bronze Age.

It just makes it easier to keep track of the largest armies. Much like the Allies (Britain, United States) and Axis (Japan, Germany, Italy) in World II. There were actually large confederations of states in all these wars, but you would lose the reader by making it too complicated.


Before the Peloponnesian war Sparta and Athens had been respective allies in a long struggle (499-488 B.C.) against the Persian Empire.

An alliance of Greek city-states fought in the movie “The 300” at the Battle of Thermopylae was. King Leonidas led the alliance of Sparta against the Persian Empire of Xerxes I. The battle took place over the course of three days during the second Persian invasion of Greece in August or September 480 BC, at the narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae (‘The Hot Gates’).

King Leonidas

Simultaneously the naval battle at Artemisium featured in the sequel to “The 300” took place. The Persian invasion was a delayed response to the defeat of the first Persian invasion of Greece, which had ended by the Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC.

Xerxes had amassed a huge army and navy, and set out to conquer Greece. The Athenian general Themistocles (hero of the second movie) had proposed that the allied Greeks block the advance of the Persian army at the pass of Thermopylae. At the same time, the Greeks blocked the Persian navy at the Straits of Artemisium.

Victory, however glorious it was, brought dissent.

The Peloponnesian War

Fought in Greece the Peloponnesian war lasted from 431 to 404 BC between the Athenian empire and the Peloponnesian League- an alliance of city-states led by Sparta (Lacedaemon).

Peloponnesian War

50 years before the outbreak of hostilities in 431 BC, the city-state of Athens had accumulated enormous monetary reserves and extensive political influence in the Aegean region and beyond.

Athens’ political supremacy led to empire. Her traditional enemies viewed Athenian ascendancy with suspicion. Opposition to Athenian centered on Sparta, the nucleus of the Peloponnesian League.

For several years political tensions mounted. Diplomatic failures occurred until hostilities broke out. The war sputtered into life. Athens and Sparta took opposing sides in several minor local outbreaks. Over several years Sparta’s superior land forces conducted annual destructive invasions of Attica (an administrative region that encompasses the entire metropolitan area of Athens, the capital of Greece).

Athens’ superior naval forces conducted constant raids along the coast of the Peloponnesus (a large peninsula and geographic region in southern Greece where Sparta is). The war rapidly spread into adjoining geographical areas.

First Phase

The first phase of the Peloponnesian war, ranging from 431 to 421 BC. Marked by a series of destructive but inconclusive engagements. It concluded in an uneasy armistice. This phase of the war is sometimes referred to as the Archidamian war and concluded with the Peace of Nicias.

Both belligerents continued intense political and diplomatic maneuvering, accompanied by occasional minor military actions. Within a few months, the Peace of Nicias began to disintegrate.

Second Phase

In 415 BC, when Athens launched a massive military attack upon Syracuse in Sicily. Due to various factors, including an incompetent leader, the Athenian attack proved disastrous.

Most of the Athenian armed forces were annihilated in 413 BC. This second phase of the Peloponnesian war, thus resulted in a decisive and irreversible setback for Athens.

Third Phase

The third phase of the Peloponnesian war, ranging from 413 to 404 BC, is often referred to as the Decelean War, or the Ionian War. During this period Sparta gained help from Persia and successfully encouraged many Athenian subject cities to revolt.

The net result was a gradual but inexorable undermining of Athenian political power. It marked a remarkable decline in Athens’ naval military power. Following a disastrous defeat at Aegospotami, Athens surrendered.

The net effects of the war included widespread economic depression, the transfer of effective political leadership from Athens to Sparta, and the establishment of far-ranging political systems which endured many minor civil wars for the next several decades.

The results: The technologies employed in warfare were revolutionized. Historians nearly universally agree that the Peloponnesian war marked the end of the Golden Age of Greece.

Peloponnesian War Slide

The Odyssey and PTSD


Today we will get right down to the meat of second greatest works of fiction of all time.


‘The Odyssey’ is one of two major ancient Greek poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to ‘The Iliad’. The poem is a fundamental part of the modern Western canon.

Odyssey Book Cover

The Story

The story centers on the Greek hero Odysseus and his journey home after the fall of Troy. From ‘The Iliad,’ we learn what a crafty and brave commander that Odysseus is. The Trojan Horse was his idea, and he led the raid into Troy.

It takes Odysseus 10 years to get home after the 10 year long Trojan War. They think he is dead because he has been gone so long. His wife Penelope and 20 year old son Telemachus must deal with a group of unruly suitors. If they marry Penelope they become King of Ithaca and gain her riches.

Penelope has remained faithful to Odysseus while he was gone. Telemachus hates the suitors and only wants his father, whom he has never met, to return home.

The majority of the story center on the choices that Odysseus muse make to get home. Themes throughout the book are the influence on events of choices made by women and slaves not just fighting men.

Odyessey map
The Journey of Odysseus

The beautiful nymph Calypso holds Odysseus captive on her island Ogygia. Athena, Odysseus’ strongest supporter among the gods, resolves to help him. Poseidon, the god of water, tries to kill him at every turn.

The story is really about the journey itself. ‘The Iliad’ took place on the battlefield while ‘The Odyssey’ takes place on fantastic islands and foreign lands. ‘The Odyssey’ is a tale of wandering.

In the end, Odysseus arrives back home. Using his wits he outsmarts all the suitors and reunites with his family.

Odysseus and PTSD

After the Trojan War, Odysseus sets off on his journey back to Ithaca. He survives encounters with the Lotus Eaters and Sirens only to face his ultimate challenge: the homecoming. Homer’s epic poem can tell us about how soldiers cope when conflicts end.

Homer’s ‘The Iliad’ is the first and the greatest poetic account of the first type of war: war on the battlefield that takes place far from home. But it is ‘The Odyssey’ that takes on the second kind: the war of the homecoming.

Even in antiquity the idea of reintegration was an issue for soldiers. There are some real lessons in ‘The Odyssey.’

There is a new account of the travails of the returning warrior, to state it brutally: it means coming “out of one war into another.” That next war may be the longest one of all. That is why “The Odyssey’ is the perfect vehicle to use to explain it PTSD. It is a long wandering to a happier place- An odyssey for happiness and to come to terms with your wartime experiences.

‘The Odyssey’ is a poem that we tend to remember as the hero’s colorful, salt-caked adventures on the high seas. In his adventure he encounters witches, nymphs and Cyclopes, and a journey to the land of the dead.

Through it all, his shrewd mind and fast wits he outsmarts the terrors in his path. He strives for a decade to reach his home after the sack of Troy. He drags his crew bodily away from the island where the inhabitants gorge themselves on the memory-wiping, pleasure-giving lotus. This is a metaphor for drugs or alcohol. Anything that makes a veteran forget his pain.

He withstands the ruinous song of the Sirens, who long to lure him to his death, by having himself lashed to the mast by his crew. This is a metaphor for suicide when the pain becomes too much to bear.

Odysseus is the original unlikely survivor, the man who always struggles free of the car crash and walks clear of the wreckage as the flames curl out. He constantly is beset by grief in the loss of his friends. His journey home never seems to end.

Just as he thinks he is about to get home another tragedy happens. More of his friends die and he continues to grind on. Throughout the tale you can tell it wears on the brave warrior.

The Story of the Second War

‘The Odyssey’ is the second war: the war of the homecoming. As Odysseus struggles to return home, he outwits the terrors in his path. His journey home never seems to end. Tragedy after tragedy happens. More of his friends die, but he continues to grind on. Knowing good men died while you lived. At times, it is almost unbearable.

This is a type that runs through storytelling from archaic Greece to Hollywood. Look at Sandra Bullock’s character in the blockbuster “Gravity.” I know what is like to live with this pain. Knowing good men died while you lived. At times, it is almost unbearable.

What to do?

The essence of the story is that of a veteran combatant who, after a long absence, must find his way back. Back home into a household, he finds threatened by outside forces and dangerously altered while he was gone.

Odysseus is at first unrecognizable to his wife. He comes back “a different person” – literally. He has disguised himself and assumed a false name. Most military spouses will understand the metaphor of the warrior utterly changed by war.

The necessary process of recognition and reintegration is accomplished, but only violently and painfully. And so, ‘The Odyssey’ speaks so urgently to our times.

‘The Odyssey’ invites us to ask important questions, as all great literature does.

Remember Odysseus name in Greek means, “man who suffers.”

Can soldiers ever, truly, return home? Will they “recognize” their family, and vice versa? Can they survive not just the war itself, but the war’s aftermath? Will they, in some dread way, bring the war home with them? The Odyssey says: you thought it was tough getting through the war. Now, see if you can get through the homecoming.

So are the experiences of these two, man and wife, Odysseus and Penelope are intertwined. They are made the same by the poet. There is recognition of the importance of this – the equality of experience and of pain – among the long-enduring wives in the David Finkel’s book “Thank You for Your Service.”

One in particular identifies the possibility of healing in her husband’s coming to see that, “…he could tell her anything about the war, anything at all. That she wanted to hear it. That she could take it.”

At the end of the poem, Odysseus and Penelope go to bed, they loosen their limbs in love, and tell each other stories about the war.

In the end, it is possible to come home. But you must first realize you are different, the times have changed and in recognizing this you can heal.

The Odyssey



Visiting French Lick, Indiana

Military history is what I know and love, but my second favorite thing is travel. I love telling you about neat places and interesting people I met.

French Lick, IN- June 6, 2015

I visited a beautiful place in Southern Indiana.

I love Indiana. Folks in the Hoosier State are highly law-abiding citizens who at the same time are a happy-go-lucky, easy going folks. They wave to you as you walk down a country road or get over from the passing lane to let you drive by.

Hoosiers remind me of Oregonians. They have a value system developed around a strong work ethic, modest integrity and helping others. Maybe it’s due to large agriculture communities and not so long ago both places were the edge of frontier life.

There is a practicality, piety and a reverence for military service. People in both places feel a strong moral obligation to help their neighbors and want to be involved in their community.

French Lick and West Baden in the heart of southern Indiana are the best embodiment of this way of life. With its mineral water baths that were rumored to cure darn-near anything, people flocked from all over the country to vacation here.

Rich clients that included Al Capone and several Presidents had a casino, live performances and horseback riding to keep them busy. There was a bank and stock brokerage on-site so business men could continue to work while on vacation.

Southern Indiana

All of northern and central Indiana is flat as a board, perfect for growing corn, soybeans and the raising of pigs and cows. About 30 miles south of Indianapolis the land begins to get hills as you push south into Kentucky. The hills aren’t big, but they are constant.

The scenery is majestic and the people are colorful. In the center of all this character in southern Indiana beauty of big trees and rolling, green hills is French Lick.

West Baden Hotel

The jewel in the crown of French Lick and is the West Baden Springs Hotel. The hotel went from being called the “8th Wonder of the World” to total disrepair.

A fire destroyed the original hotel in 1901, it was the Walt Disney World of its time. It was rebuilt in less than a year, but the stock market crash of 1929 cleared the hotel out almost overnight.

The hotel was sold to the Jesuits for $1 in the 1930’s and was a seminary until the 1960’s. For a stint it was a private college until 1989 it was closed for safety reasons.

Starting in the late 1990’s there was a $600 million renovation. Now the place feels like it did in the roaring 20’s. With the added amenities you get a world class resort.

It has a 100 feet tall and 600 feet diameter awe-inspiring atrium. It is jaw-dropping, mind-blowing, people stopping to stare beautiful. It is unparalleled in its majesty.

Palm trees grow here and birds have free range and on a sunny day, you will think you are in the middle of a sunny Italian countryside. It is a beautiful in photos, but so much better as an experience in-person. Balcony rooms make you feel like you can touch the sky.

French Lick Springs Resort

A mile to the west of the West Baden Hotel is the French Lick Springs Resort Spa. Time seems to slow as you enter the Crystal Lobby, it is like taking a step back in time.

There is a veranda with a golden banister and the crystal chandeliers cast the perfect light on the softly colored, Italian marble. It made me think of the Grand Ballroom in Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”

The last scene is a Norman Rockwell dream of summer in Indiana: the girlfriend and I are sitting on the front porch of the hotel in white, creaking rocking chairs. We can hear the tittering of lazy summer sprinklers that accents the smell of fresh cut grass, we are sipping sweet tea chilled by ice making the glass sweat.

We hear the laughter of children playing in front of us, and behind us is a small old-time jazz band belting out a familiar but forgotten tune. We watch a horse-drawn carriage go by with the driver giving a tour of the place.

The last soft streaks of the setting sun disappear over the horizon. It has been a great day.

The Spartans and the Battle of Thermopylae


This is where stuff begins to get exciting. In the intro to the Greco-Persian wars we examined the concept of East versus West. We are watching this unfold today from 9/11 although way to Iraq today. But first we need to examine the subjects and battle of the movie “The 300.”

King Leonidas

East versus West

For 2,500 years there has been a “clash of civilizations” between the East and the West. It has been a battle of ideas and beliefs. It began with ancient Greece- the ancestors of Western Democracy and Persian Empire- the ancestors of ISIS, Al Qaeda and the modern Middle East.

History swept to Rome, which is credited for the modern concepts of citizenships and the rule of law. Although Christianity was born in the East it changed by the time it arrived in the West.

Religion was used as a tool by the West to attack the East during the Crusades. This transformed the relationship between the East and West into one of competing religious beliefs. The secular against the sacred, ideas of the new world and modernity against those of old beliefs and ancient customs.

The West seeks to spread democracy, but runs into the secular values of the East. This was why airplanes were flown into buildings in New York City. This is why America invaded Iraq in 2003. This is what happening in today in Iraq with ISIS. How did this begin and why?

The Spartans

The Spartans are a difficult people to understand. They were superb warriors who played a crucial role in protecting Greek democracy, their own society was inward-looking, caste-bound, highly stratified, and unsociable (Cummins, 2009).

A group of villages formed a single city-state city called Sparta in the 8th Century BC. Once they had enough human agricultural resources their strange and disciplined civilization developed.


They were three layers of their society. At the top were Spartiates- they could vote and they made up the officers of the Spartan army. Next were the Perioikoi or “Neighbors”- free men who could not vote marched with the Spartans and acted as NCOs. At the bottom were the Helots, a workforce of farmers and their children.

In Stephen Pressfield’s historical novel “Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae” the story unfolds in flashback. Xeo, the hero, is a Helot a gravely injured Spartan squire who tells the tale of the epic battle.

He tells about the extraordinary discipline of the Spartans. Any infant boys with deformities are left in the hills to die of exposure. At age seven Spartan boys enter a brutal training program. They are starved and beaten so they learn to forage and steal.

This is what waited for the Persians when at the pass at the “Hot Gates” of Thermopylae.


The Greeks thought everyone who wasn’t Greek a barbarian. The two cultures were on a collision course.

In 500BC, the Persians invaded some of the Greek city-states in Asia Minor (now Turkey) to discourage Greek colonies from revolting against their Persian overlords. The war lasted six years. It left the Persian King Darius determined to seek revenge on the Greeks.

First Greco-Persian War- Marathon 490BC

The first Persian invasion of Greece happens in 490BC. In Athens the decision is taken to send an army to confront the Persians, rather than concentrate on the defense of the city.

At Marathon 10,000 Greek hoplites confront perhaps 25,000 Persians. The Battle of Marathon took place was fought between the citizens of Athens, aided by Plataea, and a Persian force commanded by Datis and Artaphernes.

The battle was the culmination of the first attempt by Persia, under King Darius I, to subjugate Greece. The Greeks perform a double envelopment defeating the Persians.


Persian King Darius dies in 486BC. His son, Xerxes (featured as the “God King” in “The 300”) prepares for battle and his march to Greece (484-480BC). He not only wanted to punish the Greeks for their upstart victory at Marathon, but he also to use Greece as a launching point for a larger push to the west (Cummins, 2009).

For the invasion Xerxes amassed the largest force of men and ships ever assembled, he sets out to conquer Greece. At the same time he sends an army of Carthaginians to overrun Sicily. The plan was to have the two forces open the gates to wealth and control the western Mediterranean.

Second Greco-Persian War- Battle of Thermopylae

“The Histories” by Herodotus is the primary text for the Persian invasion of Greece 500-449BC. It tells the story of one of the famous last stands in history- the Battle of Thermopylae (480BC).

The movie “The 300” is based on this battle. It is an overdone epic, but it does a great job of detailing the warrior culture of Sparta. The three day battle of Thermopylae was a critical contest in Xerxes’ massive invasion of Greece (Bradford, 1980).

Almost the only way for Xerxes’ army to reach central Greece was via a narrow pass between the mountains and the sea, at a place called Thermopylae, meaning “hot gates,” for its sulfurous springs (Cummins, 2009). Leonidas and his band of three hundred Spartans and eight thousand other Greeks arrive ahead of the Persians.

The Battle

With the roar of the sea in the background and the rotten egg smell of the sulfur springs the Spartans prepared for battle. Leonidas-whose name means “lion-like” and was rumored to be descended from Hercules- took command.

He directed the defense and barked orders with the urgency of both anger and desperation. He knew the Persian war machine was coming. The battle would make them legends.

On the first day the Spartans spitted the Persians on spears and hacked them down with swords. They baited the Persians forward by pretending to fall back only drawing the Persians further into the pass before falling them in mass.

On the second day Leonidas was faced with a decision to turn back and leave the pass to Xerxes or to die with honor. He sent back his entire army except his 300 Spartans, 900 Helots, and 400 Thebans who choose to stay (Cummins, 2009). His men combed their long hair, sharpened their swords and prepared for glory.

On the third day Leonidas fell and a fierce struggle began over his body. The Greek force drove off the enemy four times, killing numerous noble Persians, including two half-brothers of Xerxes (Cummins, 2009).

Surrounded on a small hilltop the Greeks made their last stand. “In this place,” writes Herodotus, “they defended themselves to the last, with their swords, if they still had them, and if not, even with their hands and teeth,”

map of the battle of Thermopylae

Unable to defeat them in hand-to-hand fighting the Persians drew back and killed the defenders with arrows.

Cost of Victory

Even though the Persians won the Greeks had won the psychological battle. The Greek stand of a few hundred men against hundreds of thousands of Persians was powerfully symbolic. The Greek forces at Salamis and Plataea followed the inspiring example of Leonidas and defeated Xerxes.

Xerxes was almost driven mad by the outcome of the battle.

The death of Leonidas and his three hundred men…was seen at the time for what it was: a torch, not to light a funeral pyre, but to light the heretofore divided and irresolute Greek people (Bradford, 1980).

Had there been no stand at Thermopylae, it was almost for certain that central and southern Greece would have fallen to Xerxes.

The bloody stand made by Leonidas and his small band Spartan army has become the very emblem of patriotism, courage and sacrifice (Bradford, 1980).



Bradford, E. (1980). Thermopylae: The Battle For The West . Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press .

Cummins, J. (2009). History’s Greatest Wars. New York : Crestline Publishing .

Herodotus (Author), J. M. (2003). The Histories, Revised (Penguin Classics). New York : Penguin Classics.

Pagden, A. (2008). Worlds at War: The 2,500 Year Struggle Between East and West. New York: Random House Publishing.