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Peloponessian War

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Peloponessian War

The Archidamian War is name of the first part of the Peloponnesian War. This was the great war between Athens and Sparta. It is named after the Spartan king Archidamus II. This war started in 431 and ended in 421, with something that came close to an Athenian victory and a Spartan defeat. However, Athenian diplomatic mistakes, Spartan stubbornness, and a disastrous Athenian attempt to overpower the island of Sicily were enough to change the balance of power, so that Sparta got a second chance in the Decelean or Ionian War.

The Archidamian War did not start without serious disturbances in the Greek balance of power. In 433, Athens had concluded an alliance with Corcyra, and had started to besiege Potidaea. This threatened to reduce Corinth, until then an important city, to a third-rank power. To Sparta, this was dangerous: it needed the Corinthian navy.

The Spartans started to fear that Athens was becoming too powerful but still tried to prevent war. Peace was possible, they said, when Athens would revoke an economical decree against Megara, a Spartan ally. The Athenian leader Pericles, refused this, because Sparta and Athens had once agreed that conflicts would be solved by arbitration. If the Athenians would yield to Sparta's request to revoke the Megarian Decree, they would in fact allow Sparta to give orders to Athens. This was unacceptable, and war broke out between two regional empires: Athens and its Delian League, and Sparta and its Peloponnesian League.

When Sparta declared war, it announced that it did so to liberate Greece from Athenian oppression. And with some justification, because Athens had converted the Delian League, which had once been meant as a defensive alliance against the Persian Empire, into an Athenian empire.

To achieve victory, Sparta had to force Athens into some kind of surrender; on the other hand, Athens simply had to survive the attacks. Pericles' strategy was to evacuate the countryside, leave it to the Spartans, and concentrate everyone in the city itself, which could receive supplies from across the sea. Cattle, for example, could be kept on the isle of Euboea. As long as the "Long walls" connected the city to its port Piraeus, as long as Athens ruled the waves, and as long as Athens was free to strike from the sea against Sparta's coastal allies, it could create great tensions within the Spartan alliance.

War broke out when the Thebans, without declaration of war, attempted to capture Plataea during a nightly attack. If it had succeeded, Theban armies could easier move to the Peloponnese, and Peloponnesian armies would have been capable of marching to Boeotia. However, the operation was a failure, and Plataea was to be a major bone of contention for some time.

In 431 and 430, the Spartan king Archidamus II invaded Attica and laid waste large parts of it. At the same time, the Spartans tried to send an embassy to Persia, which, however, failed to achieve its aim. It appears that almost immediately, embassadors were sent to Persia.

The Athenian admiral Phormio retaliated with attacks on the Spartan navy. However, it soon became apparent that Pericles' strategy was too expensive, and the Athenian leader was deposed. Worse was to come, because in 429, a terrible plague took away about a third of the

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