Peloponnesian War

B.C. 460 to 404
Sparta and Allies — versus — Athenian Empire

First Pelopponesian War and 'Thirty Years' Truce — B.C. 460-431     Archidamian War — B.C. 431-421     
'Fifty Years' Truce (Lasted 5) — B.C. 420-416      Sicilian Expedition — B.C. 415-413      Ionian War — B.C. 410-404     

The Peloponnesian war was a series of battles between Athens and an alliance of Greek cities which resisted her domination, which began around 460 BC and continued until the fall of Athens in 404. The later campaigns, which began after Sparta officially declared war on Athens, are the most well-known, and 431 is often cited as the beginning of the war, but the conflict between the two cities states and their allies began almost as soon as Athens recovered from the Persian war, and started to aggressively build up a powerful naval empire. Unlike the Persian Wars, which involved a few very large scale, pitched battles with conclusive outcomes, the Peloponnesian was a war of attrition, lasting for generations. There were many defeats but few decisive battles or lasting victories, and all of Greece was weakened as a result.

The broad cause of the war was the fact that the wealth and growing influence of Athens was threatening the city-states who desired to stay independent of the Athenian controlled Delian league. The politics were of course, complicated by the fact that some mainland cities had colonies which were under Athens' sway and other cities had ancestral enemies who had chosen opposing sides in the war in order to carry on their hostilities. In some cases, cities attempted to rebel from their war-time alliances and were harshly repressed. And even in cases where the alliances held firm, the citizens of the city-states were often split in their sympathies. So although there were large scale principles and strategies involved, local politics factored greatly in the actual course of events. The course of the Peloponnesian Wars occurred as follows:

First Peloponnesian War, and "Thirty Years" Truce : B.C. 460-431

peloponnesian war
In 460 BC Athens made an alliance with Megara and Argos, cities near the Isthmus of Corinth. This alliance threatened the cities of the Peloponnese. After several battles, which involved the island city of Aegina, and several cities in Boeotia, a truce between the Athenian and Peloponnesian League was concluded. The peace was quickly broken, however, by a revolt in Boeotia, which, according to the terms of the peace, had become part of the Delian league. In 447 BC Boeotia bolted from the Delian league and won its independence at the battle of Coronea. Phocis, and Locris, the northern neighbors of Boeotia also abandoned the league. A revolt in Euboea was repressed by Athens. Finally, a "Thirty-Years" peace was negotiated with Sparta.

The negotiated peace between Sparta and Athens lasted only fifteen years, and during that time, there were several battles, including the revolt of Samos from the Delian league (441 BC ), and a conflict between Corinth and Corcyra (435 BC ). Sparta refused to get involved in these matters, but when Potidaea revolted from Athens, Sparta reluctantly declared the peace broken, knowing that war with Athens would be a difficult undertaking.

DateBattle Summary
459 BC  
Battle of Halieis (First Peloponnesian ) Athenians victory
Fought B.C. 459 between the Athenians, and the combined forces of Corinth and Epidamnus. The Athenians were victorious.
458 BC  
Battle of Aegina (First Peloponnesian ) Athenians victory
Fought B.C. 458, between the Athenian fleet, and that of Aegina, aided by the Peloponnesian States. The Athenians were victorious, capturing 70 ships, and landing they invested Aegina, which fell into their hands after a siege of a little less than two years.
458 BC  
Battle of Cecryphalea (First Peloponnesian ) Athenians victory
A naval action, fought B.C. 458 between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, in which the latter were victorious.
457 BC  
Battle of Tanagra (First Peloponnesian ) Spartans victory
Fought 457 B.C., between the Spartans, and their Peloponnesian allies, and about 14,000 Athenians and others, including a body of Thessalian cavalry. The battle was stubbornly contested, both sides losing heavily, but the desertion during the action of the Thessalians turned the scale, and the Spartans were victorious, though at a cost which deterred them from their intended attack upon Athens.
457 BC  
Battle of Oenophyta (First Peloponnesian ) Athenians victory
Fought B.C. 457, between the Athenians, under Myronides, and the Thebans and other Boeotian states. The Boeotians were totally defeated, and were in consequence compelled to acknowledge the headship of Athens, and to contribute men to her armies.
447 BC  
Battle of Coronea (Ionion War ) Boeotian victory
Fought B.C. 447, when an Athenian army under Tolmides, which had entered Boeotia to reduce certain of the Boeotian towns which had thrown off their allegiance to Athens, was encountered and totally defeated by a largely superior force of Boeotians. Almost all the surviving Athenians were captured, and, to secure their release, Athens resigned her claims over Boeotia.
435 BC  
Battle of Ambracian Gulf (Thirty Year Truce ) Corcyrea victory
Fought 435 B.C. when a Corinthian fleet of 75 ships attempted the relief of Epidamnus, which was besieged by the Corcyreans and was defeated with heavy loss by 80 Corcyrean triremes.
433 BC  
Battle of Sybota (Thirty Year Truce ) drawn battle victory
Fought 433 B.C., between a Corinthian fleet of 150 sail, and a Corcyrean fleet of 150 sail, aided by 10 Athenian triremes. The Corcyrean right wing was defeated, and would have been destroyed, but for the assistance of the Athenians, and the arrival of a reinforcement of 20 Athenian ships caused the Corinthians to retire. The Corcyreans offered battle on the following day, but the Corinthians declined. Both sides claimed the victory, but the advantage lay with the Corinthians, who captured several ships.
432 BC  
Siege of Potidaea (British Offensive ) Athenians victory
This city was besieged by a force of about 3,000 Athenians, B.C. 432, and was defended by a small garrison of Corinthians, under Aristaeus. The town held out until the winter of 429, when the garrison surrendered, and were permitted to go free.

Short Biography
Archidamus Spartan King during the early years of Peloponnesian War. Sought peace with Athens, but was forced into the war.
Pericles Athenian statesman during Golden Age of Athens. Made Athens cultural center of Greece.

Story Links
Book Links
Age of Pericles  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Thebans Attack the Plataeans  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor

Story Links
Book Links

Archidamian War : B.C. 431-421

Archidamus was the Spartan king who had declared the peace broken with Athens. His strategy was try to lure the Athens into a ground battle, because it was impossible to surmount the great walls of Athens. Pericles was the leader of Athens, and his strategy was to avoid a large scale ground battle with the allies, and harass the Peloponnesian trade and coastal villages. To this end, Archidamus marched into Attica, burned and razed the fields, and laid siege to Plataea, a loyal Athens ally. Most of the population of Attica retired behind the great walls, causing over-crowding and a terrible plague but Athens neither surrendered, nor sent any force to relieve the siege of Plataea.

Sparta encouraged Athens' allies to revolt, and several did, including Lesbos. In 425 BC there was an engagement on Pylos, where 120 Spartans were captured and held hostage. At this point, Sparta sued for peace, but it was rejected by the war-like Cleon of Athens. Brasidas was a Spartan general who then emerged with plan to focus the war efforts on Athenian colonies in Thrace, and to build up Sparta's navy. He was successful on all fronts, until he was finally killed, along with Cleon, at the Battle of Amphipolis. With both the Spartan and Athenian war-hawks out of the way, Sparta and Athens negotiated a "Fifty Year Peace".

DateBattle Summary
429 BC  
Battle of Naupactus (Archidamian War ) Athenians victory
Fought 429 B.C. between 20 Athenian ships, under Phormio, and 77 Peloponnesian ships, under Cnemas. The Athenians were entrapped by Cnemas at the entrance to the Bay of Naupactus, and 9 of his vessels driven ashore. The remaining 11 fled towards Naupactus, closely pursued by the Peloponnesians, when the rearmost of the flying Athenians suddenly turned, and rammed the leading ship of Cnemas' squadron. The pursuers hesitated, and the rest of the Athenians then returned, and gained a complete victory, taking 6 ships, and recovering 8 of the 9 which had run ashore.
429 BC  
Siege of Plataea (Archidamian War ) Spartans victory
In 429 B.C., this city, held by a garrison of 400 Plataeans and 80 Athenians, was besieged by the Spartans, under Archidamus. All the useless mouths were sent out of the place, only 110 women being retained to bake bread. The garrison repulsed numerous assaults, and the siege soon resolved itself into a blockade, but provisions becoming scarce, an attempt was made to break through the enemy's lines, which half the garrison succeeded in doing, with the loss of one man. The remainder held out till 427, when being on the verge of starvation, they surrendered. The survivors were tried for having deserted Boeotia for Athens, at the outbreak of the war, and 200 Platroans, and 25 Athenians were put to death.
429 BC  
Battle of Corinth (Archidamian War ) Athenians victory
Fought B.C. 429, between 47 Peloponnesian ships under Cnemus, and 20 Athenian triremes under Phormio. Phormio, who was blockading the Gulf of Corinth, allowed Cneaus to pass into the open sea, and when disordered by the heavy weather prevailing, he attacked and completely defeated the Peloponnesians, capturing 12 ships.
428 BC  
Siege of Mytilene (Archidamian War ) Athenians victory
This city, which had revolted against Athens, was invested in the autumn of 428 B.C. by the Athenians, under Paches, with 1,000 hoplites and a fleet of triremes. A feeble attempt at relief by a Peloponnesian squadron, under Alcidas, was unsuccessful, and in May, 427, the city surrendered, and all the male inhabitants were condemned to death. In the end, however, only the leaders of the revolt were executed.
426 BC  
Battle of Olpae (Archidamian War ) Athenians victory
Fought 426 B.C., between a small Athenian force, under Demosthenes, and a force of Ambraciots, with 3,000 Spartan hoplites, under Eurylochus. Demosthenes gained a complete victory, by means of an ambuscade, and Eurylochus was slain.
425 BC  
Battle of Pylos and Sphacteria (Archidamian War ) Athenians victory
The promontory of Pylos, which is separated by a narrow channel from the island of Sphacteria, was seized and fortified by an Athenian force under Demosthenes, B.C. 425. Here he was besieged by the Spartans under Thrasymelidas, with a land force and a fleet of 43 ships, the crews of which occupied Sphacteria. Demosthenes repulsed an attack on Pylos, and Eurymedon, arriving with 50 Athenian vessels, defeated the Spartan fleet, and blockaded Sphacteria. After a protracted siege, the arrival of reinforcements, under Cleon, enabled the Athenians to land 14,000 men in the island, and the garrison, reduced from 420 to 292, surrendered.
424 BC  
Battle of Delium (Archidamian War ) Thebes victory
Fought B.C. 424 between the Athenians under Hippocrates. 17,000 strong, and the Boeotians under Pagondas, 18,000 strong. The armies met on a plain before Delium, and after an obstinate encounter, in which the Thebans on the right overpowered the Athenians, while their left attack was repulsed, the appearance of a large body of cavalry on their flank alarmed the Athenians, who broke and fled. Hippocrates fell in the battle.
422 BC  
Battle of Amphipolis (Fifty Year Truce ) Spartans victory
Fought March 422 B.C. between 1,500 Athenians, with a contingent of allies under Cleon, and the Spartans, 2,000 hoplites, besides light armed troops, under Brasidas. Cleon advanced to attack Amphipolis, but finding the garrison preparing for a sortie, wheeled about and commenced to retreat. He was at once assailed by Brasidas, and his left fled without striking a blow. The Athenian right and centre offered some resistance, but in the end were routed with heavy loss. Both Brasidas and Cleon fell, the latter while fleeing from the field.

Short Biography
Archidamus Spartan King during the early years of Peloponnesian War. Sought peace with Athens, but was forced into the war.
Agis II King of Sparta during the later years of the Peloponnesian War.
Brasidas Eloquent Spartan general, turned tide of Peloponnesian War in Sparta's favor. Died at Amphipolis.
Pericles Athenian statesman during Golden Age of Athens. Made Athens cultural center of Greece.
Demosthenes Important Athenian general in the Peloponnesian War. Perished at Syracuse.
Cleon War mongering politician, opposed Sparta's peace proposals.
Nicias After death of Pericles, emerged as leader of peace party. Led disastrous Sicilian Expedition.
Thucydides Historian of Peloponnesian War. An Athenian general sent into exile after he failed a mission.

Story Links
Book Links
Fate of Plataea  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Peace Maker in  Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition  by  Alfred J. Church
Beginning of the Peloponnesian War  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Attica Is Invaded by the Spartans  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Siege of Plataea  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Sentence of Death  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Brasidas Loses His Shield  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Brasidas the Spartan  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Amphipolus Surrenders to Brasidas  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Envoys of Life and Death  in  Historical Tales: Greek  by  Charles Morris
Defense of Plataea  in  Historical Tales: Greek  by  Charles Morris
Struggle Between Athens and Sparta  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan

"Fifty Years" Truce (lasted 5) : B.C. 420-416

The largest land battle of the Peloponnesian War, at Mantinea, occurred during the "Peace of Nicias", or "Fifty Year" Truce. This came about after several of Sparta's allies, unhappy with the terms of the truce, revolted from their league, and allied themselves with Athens. These included Argos, Mantinea, and Arcadia. Sparta invaded Mantinea and won a decisive victory, forcing these cities to return to the Peloponnesian league. Another atrocity that occurred during this peace was the Athenian massacre of Melos, for their revolt from the Delian league.

DateBattle Summary
418 BC  
Battle of Mantinea (First Peloponnesian ) Spartans victory
Fought B.C. 418, between 10,000 Spartans and Tegeans, under Agis, and an equal force of Athenians, under Lathes and Nicostratus. The Spartan left was completely routed, but the Athenian centre and left failed to withstand the Spartan attack, and but for the defeat of Agis' left wing, would have been surrounded and captured. In the end the Spartans gained a signal victory. Larches and Nicostratus both fell in the action.

Short Biography
Agis II King of Sparta during the later years of the Peloponnesian War.

Story Links
Book Links
Socrates' Favorite Pupil  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber

Sicilian Expedition : B.C. 415-413

Sicilian Expedition
The ill-fated Athens expedition to Syracuse was unquestionably the turning point of the Peloponnesian War, because its end result was to drastically weaken Athens' navy. A Greek colony on Sicily had asked for Athens' assistance, and since Athens did not want to provoke Sparta by expanding their territory on the Greek mainland, the opportunity to attempt to conquer Sicily was irresistible. Athens sent all of her finest ships and sailors on the expedition, under the command of Alcibiades, who soon deserted, and Nicias, who was never in favor of the expedition and overly cautious in his leadership. The siege of the city was ineffective, especially after Gylippus, a Spartan General, arrived to organize defenses. After a year, more of Athens' best generals arrived with reinforcements, but by that time, the Syracuse defenses were impassable. Soon after the arrival of the second fleet, the Athenians were soundly defeated, loosing their entire navy and 50,000 men.

DateBattle Summary
415 BC  
Siege of Syracuse (Thirty Year Truce ) Syracuse victory
Siege was laid to this city by the Athenians, under Alcibiades, Lamachus and Nicias, who with a fleet of 134 galleys, took possession of the harbour and effected a landing in the autumn of 415 B.C. Alcibiades was soon recalled, and Lamachas killed in a skirmish, while Nicias proved weak and incompetent. The siege works were not pressed and in the following year, Gylippus of Sparta succeeded in getting through the Athenian lines, and bringing a considerable force to the aid of the Syracusans, capturing at the same time the advanced positions of the besiegers. Early in 413, Demosthenes arrived from Athens, with a fleet of 93 triremes, and made a desperate attempt to recover the lost ground. He was, however, totally defeated, and in a series of sea-fights which followed, the Athenian fleet was completely destroyed. This disaster forced the Athenians to raise the siege, and was, in addition, a death-blow to the naval supremacy of Athens.

Short Biography
Gylippus Lead the resistance in Syracuse that defeated Athenian forces during Peloponnesian War.
Alcibiades Controversial statesman and general of Athens, who betrayed the city, then returned as hero.
Lamachus Admiral who with Nicias and Alcibiades led the Sicilian Expedition. Died in early combat.
Nicias After death of Pericles, emerged as leader of peace party. Led disastrous Sicilian Expedition.
Demosthenes Important Athenian general in the Peloponnesian War. Perished at Syracuse.

Story Links
Book Links
Fatal Expedition  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Statesman and Citizen in  Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition  by  Alfred J. Church
At Syracruse in  Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition  by  Alfred J. Church
Greek Colonies in Italy  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Alcibiades  in  Famous Men of Greece  by  John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland
Alcibiades, and the War between Athens and Sparta in  Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men  by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Nicias  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Siege of Syracuse  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Sicilian Expedition  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan

Book Links
Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition  by  Alfred J. Church

Ionian War : B.C. 410-404

The fighting after the Sicilian Expedition was primarily naval, since by this time Sparta's naval capabilities were comparable to Athens. Sparta also made an alliance with Persia which gave it a decisive upper hand. Alcibiades returned to fight for Athens, and Lysander was put in command of Sparta's fleet. Finally, in 405 BC , Athens fleet was caught unaware off the coast of the Hellespont and defeated. At that point Athens' harbor was blockaded and the city was starved into submission.

DateBattle Summary
411 BC  
Battle of Cynossema (Ionion War ) Athenians victory
Fought 411 B.C., between 86 Peloponnesian ships under Mindarus, and 76 Athenian triremes under Thrasybulus and Thrasyllus. The Athenian centre was broken, but, in the moment of victory, Thrasybulus fell upon the Peloponnesian with the right wing, and totally routed them, while Thrasyllus on the left also drove off his adversaries, after hard fighting.
410 BC  
Battle of Cyzicus (Ionion War ) Athenians victory
Fought 410 B.C., when Alcibiades, with 86 Athenian ships, surprised the Peloponnesian Admiral Mindarus, who was besieging Cyzicus, and, after a hard fight, totally defeated him. Mindarus was slain, 60 triremes were taken or destroyed, and the Peloponnesian fleet was practically annihilated.
407 BC  
Battle of Notion (Ionion War ) Spartans victory
Fought B.C. 407 between the Peloponnesian fleet, under Lysander, and the Athenian fleet of Alcibiades, which was lying at Notion. Alcibiades was not present during the action, which was the result of a surprise, and the Athenians were defeated with a loss of 15 ships.
406 BC  
Battle of Mytilene (Ionion War ) Spartans victory
A naval action fought B.C. 406, between 140 Peloponnesian vessels, under Callicratidas, and 70 Athenian triremes, under Conon. Conon was defeated, with the loss of 30 ships, the rest of his fleet being driven into Mytilene, where it was blockaded.
406 BC  
Battle of Arginusa (Ionion War ) Athenians victory
Fought B.C. 406, between 150 Athenian triremes under Thrasyllus and other generals, and 120 Peloponnesian ships under Callicratidas. The Peloponnesians were routed, with a loss of 70 vessels, sunk or taken, and Callicratidas slain. The Athenians lost 25 ships with their crews, and the generals were brought to trial for not having taken proper steps to rescue the men of the disabled ships. They were convicted, and six of them, including Thrasyllus, executed. This victory temporarily restored to Athens the command of the sea.
405 BC  
Battle of Aegospotami (Sicilian Expedition ) Spartans victory
Fought B.C. 405, between 180 Athenian triremes, under Conon, and 180 Peloponnesian ships under Lysander. The Athenian fleet was lying at Aegospotami, opposite Lampsacus, where Lysander was stationed. For four days in succession the Athenian admiral crossed the straits, and endeavoured, but in vain, to bring on a general action. On the fifth day Lysander waited till the Athenians had returned to their anchorage, and then, making a sudden dash across the straits, caught them unprepared, and seized all but twenty ships, putting to death all the Athenians who were captured. This disaster destroyed the naval power of Athens, and was soon followed by the end of the Peloponnesian War.

Short Biography
Alcibiades Controversial statesman and general of Athens, who betrayed the city, then returned as hero.
Conon Leading General of Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War.
Lysander Spartan naval Commander who defeated Athens in Peloponnesian War.
Callicratidas Spartan commander during the late Peloponnesian War. Sought peace, distained alliance with Persia.
Thrasybulus General of Athens, and democratic statesman. Led several naval battles in the late Peloponnesian War.

Story Links
Book Links
Arginusae in  Callias—The Fall of Athens  by  Alfred J. Church
Aegos Potami in  Callias—The Fall of Athens  by  Alfred J. Church
Last Struggle  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Eye of Greece  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Three Powers  in  Tales of the Greeks: The Children's Plutarch  by  F. J. Gould
Man with Many Faces  in  Tales of the Greeks: The Children's Plutarch  by  F. J. Gould
Death of Alcibiades  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Lysander  in  Famous Men of Greece  by  John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland
Alcibiades  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Lysander  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Antiochus Disobeys Alcibiades  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Fall of Athens  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan

Book Links
Callias - The Fall of Athens  by  Alfred J. Church

Image Links

Destruction of the Athenian Army at Syracuse
 in Greatest Nations - Greece

He became a target for every arrow.
 in The Story of Greece

The multitude saluted him with loud acclamations.
 in The Story of Greece

Map of Pylos and Sphacteria
 in The Story of the Greek People

Map of the Expedition to Sicily
 in The Story of the Greek People