Friday, January 6, 2012

The Cause's of the Great Pelopennesian War

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Many a wars have been fought throughout history with many underlying causes. These causes of war are kindling to a fire that only requires a spark to light. The start of the Peloponnesian war is such a war that started with a spark by Corinth, Sparta’s ally in which they battled Athens and the Delian League. The Peloponnesian War was fought primarily between the Delian League which was led by Athens who was in opposition to the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta, fighting for the supremacy of Greece. If we look into the future by about twenty-five hundred years, a modern example of this type of war was the fight between the different alliances during World War One. During World War One France, Russia, Great Britain and the United States of America were known as the Allies who were fighting the Alliance of the Central Powers which was led by Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bulgaria and Turkey.


Many wars in history have been started as a result of alliances with other countries and people of the World. One of the most famous wars in man’s history was World War One from 114 to 118. One of the underlying causes of this war was started primarily due to the competition between world powers to increase their country’s spheres of influence on the world and also to gain valuable territory. With unclaimed land around the world decreasing every day, it was only a matter of time before countries in search of new land, and growing imperialistic views would come to blows.


In 114, Arch Duke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was assassinated by a terrorist group called the Black Hand, in Serbia. The Austro- Hungarian Empire would eventually declare war on Serbia and a domino effect would now be started. Germany would choose to back the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russia and France decided to back Serbia and so on until the majority of the World was divided up into the two alliances. The assassination of the Arch Duke became the finger that pushed over the first Domino. This was the perfect excuse these world powers needed to show one another who was the perennial superpower. By the time the Domino effect ended, the whole world was at war with one another as a result of the imperialistic climate of the world at this time.


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The superpowers in 114 believed that this war would be very short and that the victors would gain large amounts of territory along with wealth. This was also the case almost twenty-five hundred years ago, in which the Delian League led by Athens fought the Peloponnesian League which was led by Sparta.


Prior to the Peloponnesian War in the fall of 47 B.C. the Greek mainland was under siege by the Persian Empire. Sparta and Athens, two of Greece’s most powerful city-states would join together to crush this invasion of their homeland. In doing so, this would mark the last time for many years that the Athenians and Spartans would join hands in battle (Meir, 1, p. 4).


Prior to the Persian invasion, Sparta and Athens coexisted with one another leaving each other and their allies alone. Both Sparta and Athens had two very different philosophies on life and military strategy. The Athenians believed in democracy and in their navy, while Sparta believed in their oligarchy and their land-based military. Once the Persians were defeated, almost by default, the two powerful city-states became opponents to one another without engaging in any form of aggression towards one another.


After the Persian Army was defeated on mainland Greece, Athens chose to keep fighting and to expel the Persian threat from the Aegean Sea. In doing this, Athens became very rich with their new empire and became a naval superpower almost overnight. The seeds of war were now planted for the future between Athens and the Peloponnesian League. For the next forty-eight years the Spartans and Athenians consolidated their own respective power bases along with their allies. Throughout these years, there was on many occasions, hostilities shared between these two superpowers and their allies, which would eventually reach its breaking point when the Peloponnesian War started in 41 B.C.


The Peloponnesian War’s cause was the growing threat of the imperialistic views of the Delian league with their large navy. Thucydides believed that Athens eventually was going to become stronger than Sparta and that the only way for Sparta to curb Athens growing power, was to go to war before they became too powerful (Meir, p. 46). Another cause of the Peloponnesian War was the way in which Pericles led Athens prior to war. The major cause of the Peloponnesian War was the way in which Corinth helped to push the Peloponnesian League to war with the Delian League (Charles & Fornara, 14, p. 1).


Prior to the Peloponnesian War, Athens and the Delian League were pursuing an imperialistic attitude by expanding into the Aegean Sea and throughout the Mediterranean region. The citizens of Athens and their allies were becoming very enthused with the idea of becoming a powerful empire. With their citizens supporting their government, Athens began to try to gain territory on mainland ancient Greece and additionally they wanted to acquire territory out side of the Aegean Sea, such as the Greek city-states Magna Graecia in present day Sicily and southern Italy (Boatswain & Nicolson, 15, p.54). The Spartans and the Peloponnesian League became very nervous with Athens and the Delian Leagues expansionists policy. They felt that if the Athenians were not put into their place, they would tip the balance of power in the Aegean. As the Athenians became more powerful, the Spartans and their allies such as Corinth began feeling vulnerable to attack and conquest by their adversaries in the region of the Aegean Sea.


In 45 B.C. Thucydides said that the Athenians helped the Megarians in their war with Corinth. With Athens willingness to help out the Megarians during their war with Corinth, it helped create a rift between Athens and Corinth, two very similar city-states that were primarily known for their naval power (Kagan, 16, p. 4). Eventually Athens and the Delian League would again meddle in Corinthian affairs which caused the rift to spread them even further apart and ultimately helped lead them to the Peloponnesian War.


In 4 B.C. Corinth and one of her colonies named Corcyra began to argue with each other over one of Corcyra colonies, Epidammos, now known as Durres off of present day Albania. The main cause of the dispute between Corcyra and her mother city Corinth was a difference in political ideology. In the colony of Epidammos a dispute had arisen between the democrats and the oligarch factions. At the time of the infighting Corcyra’s navy was one of the most powerful navies in their local region but they could not match Corinth’s resources in war. If they lost their battle with Corinth they would then lose their independence from Corinth and all her colonies. Therefore they had to ask for outside help from a neutral party, such as the Athenians and the Delian League.


Initially when Corcyra asked for Athens help in dealing with the Corinthians, Athens did not pay too much attention to them. After they heard Corcyra’s pleas for help, the Athenians decided to give the Corinthians time to state why they could not become involved in this dispute. The Corinthians only main point was that should the Athenians become involved in this dispute, they would be breaking their thirty year peace agreement (Meir, p. 446).


After listening to the arguments of the Corinthians and the pleas of Corcyra, along with considering the positive and negative ramifications in helping the Corcyraeans, the Delian League and Athens decided it would be in their best interest to help the city-state of Corcyra (Boatswain & Nicolson, p.55).


The Athenians knew that if they were to help Corcyra that they would be breaking the thirty years of peace treaty, however after considering both cases the positives gains in helping Corcyra outweighed the negatives consequences by a long shot. By helping the Corcyra, the Delian League hoped to gain a new source of grain from Sicily and southern Italy. If the Athenians won, they would then be in a position to halt any grain shipments to any of their enemies on mainland Greece. Along with cutting the rival city-states out of grain from Corcyra they would also have an advantage in having them as an ally because of her strong navy and the strategic location of the island in which Corcyra was inhabited. The strategic importance of Corcyra was that it was a starting point for sailing west into the Mediterranean Sea and would be useful in controlling the western trade routes from Ancient Greece. When the battle between Corcyra and Corinth finally did take place, the Athenians were unable to stop the Corinthians from winning but they thwarted them from reaping the spoils of their victory by preventing them from acquiring all of Corcyra’s resources (Meir, p. 447).


The animosity between Corinth and Athens did not begin as a result of the Corcyra affair, but was started during the first Peloponnesian War. Corinth’s tactical location on the two seas put the powerful city-state into a position to become a commercial trading powerhouse in ancient Greece because of they had access to the western and eastern trade routes. But during the first Peloponnesian War, the Corinthians sided with the weaker Aeginetans, and thus became Athens enemy due to this alliance. Athens countered the Corinthians by allying themselves with Achaea and taking over control of Naupactus, known as the ‘Athenian Gibraltar’. With Athens and the Delian League controlling the ‘Athenian Gibraltar’ they now had the possibility of curtailing the Corinthian expansion into the east who were unable to challenge the Athenian dominance in the Aegean Sea. Now the Corinthians would only be able to trade in the Ionian Sea without confrontation from the Athenians (Bengtson, 188, p. 15).


Another turning point that leads to the cause of the Peloponnesian War was the Athenians actions towards Potidaea. Potidaea was a colony originally founded by Corinth, but was now a member of the Delian League. In 4 B.C. Poitdaea was rumored to be defecting from their alliance with the Athenians and the Delian League. As a result of this rumor,


“The Athenians demanded that the Corinthian colony take down their fortifications facing Pallene, the side from which Athenians could attack; that it delivers hostages into the care of the Athenian keeping; and that it dismiss the Corinthian Magistrate and refuse to accept others in the future” (Meir, p. 448).


The outcome of these demands caused the people of Potidaea to ask the Spartans to invade Attica if the Athenians were to lay siege to Potidaea. Along with this plea for help, the Corinthians sent over two thousand volunteer soldiers to help to defend the colony from any aggression from Athens and her allies. When the Athenians finally attacked the colony of Poitdaea this gave Corinth the excuse that they needed to ask for Sparta and her allies to declare war on Athens and the Delian League as they had broken the thirty year peace treaty. The Spartans did not want to make any decision on war with Athens until they had inquired with the Oracle of Delphi. The end result of this inquiry with the oracle helped to persuade Sparta to declare war on Athens and her allies (Bengtson, p. 16).


Prior to the start of the Peloponnesian war the people of Corinth were thinking of expanding their territory throughout the Mediterranean Sea, but their only problem was Athens. The only way that Corinth could increase their wealth and territory would be if Athens was conquered and their territory was integrated with that of Corinth’s (Meir, p. 447).


The most important contributing factor to the Peloponnesian War was the aggressive competition between Corinth and Athens. Athens was the king of the hill at that moment in time and the only way that Corinth was going to become the trade leader in ancient Greece was for Athens to fall. Prior to the hostilities between the Peloponnesian League and the Delian League the Spartans were not afraid of Athens or even concerned with their imperialistic ambitions. But once Corinth threatened to break their alliance with Sparta if they did not declare war on Athens, the safety of Sparta from sea strikes from their enemies became very important. The Spartans were manipulated and coerced into declaring war against Athens and the Delian League by Corinth due to the threat of her leaving the Peloponnesian alliance (Meir, p. 455).


Prior to the Peloponnesian War even beginning, Pericles the leader of Athens; had reached the conclusion that Attica and Athens had reached their limit on their sphere of influence. Pericles and Athens began to realize that they must consolidate their territory. One of the main reasons Pericles decided it was time to consolidate their territory was so that the thirty years peace in which they had signed with Sparta and her allies would last the entire thirty years. The Athenian philosophy regarding other peoples of ancient Greece was not necessarily peace loving, but they as well knew the cost of war and torment that would occur to the peoples involved. Thucydides reports Pericles saying, “Anyone who has a choice and lives well would be foolish to start a war” (Meir, p. 45).


Pericles believed that a war was the last straw; he also felt that since the Corcyra incident between Athens and Corinth that a war was going to take place in the near future. With the aspiration of the city-state of Corinth to increase their own sphere of influence, this would seriously aggravate other powerful city-states such as Athens. For Corinth to increase their own expansionist policy that would mean they would probably be encroaching on Athenian territory in the Mediterranean Sea (Meir, p. 454).


In 4 B.C. Thucydides believed that the legislation passed known as the Megarean decrees was the immediate cause of the Peloponnesian War. The Megareans were neighbor to Attica on their western side but they also were by traditionally allied with Corinth. This decree’s implication on Megara is unclear on the consequence that Athens had imposed. Since the Corinthians were allies with Megara this was seen as more provocation for an armed conflict (Boatswain & Nicolson, p. 56).


The main causes of the Peloponnesian War could have been averted if not for the growing expansionist period in the region and the leadership of Athens. With Corinth trying to expand their own sphere of influence in the Mediterranean Sea and with Pericles attitude and Athens powerful navy; trouble was beginning to brew between the two city-states.


Corinth having realized that it could not just sit back and watch the Athenian empire grow larger, because the more powerful they grew the more venerable the Peloponnesian League would be to future aggression. According to Thucydides, “the Corinthian’s told the Spartans somewhat later on that one cannot cling to the old ways when dealing with an innovative city like Athens (Meir, p. 447). With Athens imperialistic attitude and involvement in the Corcyra, and Poitaea affairs, this enraged the Corinthians and gave them more fuel to stoke their hatred of Athens. When Pericles and the Delian League pass the Megarean decree this became the time when Corinth would finally be able to draw Sparta and the rest of the Peloponnesian League to untie against the Delian League. If anything is certain,


“Pericles did not seek the war, although he certainly did not avoid it once the rupture seemed irreparable and when events permitted no other choice to the Attica statesmen without a deep and pointless humiliation for Athens. The flames of the great war were kindled by the discord between the commercial powers, Athens and Corinth (Bengtson, p. 15).


Pericles could not back down from the challenge from the Peloponnesian League without looking weak to his own people of Attica. With all of the embarrassing defeats that Corinth suffered by the hands of Athens,


“it was clear to the entire world who wanted the war. Corinth and her allies were the ones who swept Sparta along by threats that help would be found elsewhere- an allusion Argos, who did not belong to the Peloponnesian League”(Bengtson, p. 17).


Throughout history, it says that Sparta and Athens were the two chief combatants who instigated the Peloponnesian War, but after all of the research and evidence I believe that the two chief instigators were Corinth and Athens. If Athens was defeated then Corinth would then be able to take Athens role as perennial commercial power. Corinth and her oligarchy government were trying to replace the Athenians democratic government with this war. Even with all of the causes of this war nobody in the end turned out to be the ultimate victor except the Persian Empire. The Peloponnesian War in ancient Greece marks it as one of the most influential points in her history, other than that of the military campaign of Xerxes against Greece.





Bibliography


Bengtson, Hermann, (188). History of Greece From the beginnings to the Byzantine Era. Ottawa University of Ottawa Press.


Boatswain, Timothy, & Nicolson, Colin, (15). A Traveller’s History of Greece. New York Interlink Publishing Group, Inc.


Charles, A. & Fornara W., (18). Peloponnesian War. Encyclopedia Britannica (Vol. 15, pp. 1). Chicago Encyclopedia Britannica.


Kagan, Donald, (16). The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. London Cornell University Press.


Meir, Christian, (1). Athens. New York Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Co.








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