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