The Peloponnesian War
Sparta and Athens were in competition with each other for control of Greece. This tension would eventually intensify into what became known as the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE). Athens and Sparta were very different from each other in terms of cultural values and outlook on life. Sparta is typified by an austere, militaristic character, while Athens is remembered for being an intellectual capital with an appreciation for aesthetics. Naturally, when the two came up against each other in war, their unique advantages and disadvantages were highlighted.
Sparta’s militaristic culture was an essential part of their life and system of values. Their military was much stronger than Athens’ and had better training. This was their major advantage. As far as disadvantages, it might be hard to imagine how a militaristic city-state could possibly have any in regard to war. However, while their army was strong, their navy was not. The Athenians had the stronger navy. This meant that the Athenians could interfere with Sparta’s trade route, negatively impacting any reliance Sparta had on imported goods used in war or survival on the homefront.
Sparta and its allies were known as the Peloponnesian League. This alliance was led by Sparta and centered on the Peloponnese, which is a peninsula and geographical region in southern Greece. This region is connected to central Greece by the Isthmus of Corinth, which provided the league with most of the land powers of central Greece, including Corinth. The main victories for the Spartan army were at Plataea (427 BCE), the Battle of Amphipolis (422 BCE), and later, a victory at Sicily (413 BCE).
The Athenian army was not as strong as the Spartan army; however, its navy was far more superior. Another advantage afforded to the Athenians was that many of their allies gave them financial support. The main disadvantage for the Athenians was a plague that struck around 430 BCE. This horrible plague was responsible for killing the Athenian leader Pericles along with many other Athenians, which took a huge toll on their morale. The plague also led to social unrest and a lack of unity. Due to the uncertainty of life during the plague, law and order in Athens was compromised as it caused widespread panic.
Athens was allied with the Delian league. The Delian league consisted of most of the islands and coastal states around the northern and eastern coasts of the Aegean Sea. Athens also had several key victories in the Peloponnesian War, and were even able to suppress a rebellion on the island of Lesbos.
The effects of the war were different for Athens and Sparta. Sparta was victorious, but after so many years of fighting in intense battles, their military was weakened. They were thus left more susceptible for an outside invasion. As for Athens, their flourishing, rich culture had been wounded by defeat. Overall, the military defenses of Greece were weakened by this prolonged war.