Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Archidamian War (432–421 B.C.E.)

Archidamian War (432–421 B.C.E.)



DECLARATION: Sparta declared war on Athens in 432

MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Sparta resented Athens’s
growing hegemony and high-handed treatment of allies
in the Delian League and sought to destroy Athens as its
major rival among the Hellenes.

OUTCOME: Sparta won, and a brief and uneasy peace



TREATIES: Peace of Nicias, 421 B.C.E.

In the fifth century B.C.E. the rivalry between Sparta and
Athens came to dominate the history of the Hellenes,
especially after the Greek triumphs over Xerxes in 480
and 479 (see GRECO-PERSIAN WARS). Sparta, still Greece’s
foremost land power, resented the new respect enjoyed by
Athens, now preeminent at sea. Athens had formed a confederation
of maritime states called the Delian League at
Delos in 477 (See ARCADIAN WAR). Resembling the old
Peloponnese League, the stated purpose of the compact
between Athens, the city-states of Ionia, and those of the
Aegean islands was to keep the Persians at bay in the
Aegean and to free the Ionian states still under Persian
control, but it fast became a means for Athens to expand
its influence in the region. Sparta was not only jealous of
Athens’s growing power and prosperity, it also, like many
Greek city-states, abhorred the Athenians’ increasingly
autocratic leadership of the Delian League. Athens, on the
other hand, despised the military regimentation of Spartan
life and found its brutal treatment of its war-slaves, the
helots, distasteful. The great irony of the rivalry was that
Athens, a democracy, tried to suppress the freedom of its
allies, while Sparta, a military oligarchy, became the champion
of self-determination among the city-states. When
economic rivalry led Athens to attack Corinth in the First
PELOPONNESE WAR, Sparta denounced her alliance with
Attica and joined the Corinthians.
The war convinced Athenian leader Pericles (c.
495–429) of the folly of a policy of expansion in Greece
proper because Athens simply lacked the manpower and
the money to maintain both a large fleet and a large army.
Clearly, the city’s future glory and wealth lay in overseas
trade and colonization, and Pericles built Athens’s “Long
Walls” to connect it with its seaport, Piraeus, as part of his
strategy to create a self-contained and invulnerable metro-
polis free of mainland Greece and flourishing indefinitely
by keeping command of its seaborne supply routes. By
creating a defensive rather than an aggressive posture for
Athens, Pericles hoped to remove the basis for conflict
between his city and its neighbors. It did not work; Sparta
remained jealous and, worse, saw the Long Walls as a
threat. In 432 it declared war on Athens when the latter
began economic reprisals against Corinth for its naval war
on Corcyra, a Delian League ally.
The Spartan invasion of Attica led by the tyrant Archidamus
(fl. 476–427) in 432 B.C.E. may be regarded as the
opening phase of the Second (Great) PELOPONNESE WAR
(431–404) or may be considered a war in its own right. As
such, it is commonly referred to as the Archidamian War,
and it proved initially destructive to Sparta. The Athenian
leader Pericles, recognizing that Sparta’s strength lay on
land while Athens enjoyed dominance as a sea power, had
all he could do to rein in his ground forces lest they be
destroyed in fruitless battle. Instead, Pericles launched his
fleet from Piraeus against Spartan positions on the Peloponnese
coast. An effective naval blockade was created,
which enabled a highly effective war of attrition against
the Spartans.
At this point nature intervened in the form of a plague
that swept Athens. Pericles succumbed, and Sparta seized
the initiative. It launched a successful attack on Plataea,
which fell in 427. Athens countered by capturing Sphacteria
in 425, which elicited a peace offer from Sparta. Foolishly,
the now poorly led Athenians spurned the offer, and
Sparta responded by launching a series of spectacular land
campaigns in northeastern Greece. Olynthus and other
Athenian-held cities fell to Sparta. At the Battle of Amphipolis,
in 442, the Spartans scored a signal victory, albeit
with the loss of its brilliant general Brasidas (d. 422).
Athens, however, lost its leader, Cleon (c. 422), successor
to Pericles. Cleon had stubbornly resisted any accommodation
with Sparta, and now his successor, Nicias (d. 413),
leapt at the prospect of a cessation of ruinous war. He
rushed into a hasty peace, which brought an end to the
immediate hostilities, but failed utterly to resolve the
deeper and broader conflict between the two great rival
states. This paved the way to the far more momentous Second
Peloponnese War, which would prove far more
destructive to Athens.

Further reading: Donald Kagan, The Outbreak of the
Peloponnesian War (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press,
1989). Donald Kagan, The Peloponnesian War (New York:
Viking Press, 2003).

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