Causes and Impacts of the Peloponnesian Wars

Examine the Causes and Impacts of the Peloponnesian Wars

The Peloponnesian War was warfare engaged in archaic Greece between Athens and Sparta, which at the time were the two most influential city-states in archaic Greece (431 to 405 B.C.E) (Kagan, 2013). This warfare moved power from Athens to Sparta, causing Sparta to become the most dominant city-state in the province. The conflict was mainly characterized by two seasons of violent engagements disconnected by a six-year ceasefire (National Geographic, 2020). This research paper will analyze the sources and repercussions of the Peloponnesian Wars, and its effects on city-states. 

Sources and Effects of Peloponnesian Wars

Causes of the War

Primary sources of the war: a few city-states worried that Athens had an insatiable longing for influence and status; Athens had built a naval empire under the leadership of Pericles, and a few Athenian colonizers relocated to neighboring city-states (Lazenby, 2004). Thucydides wrote History of the Peloponnesian War at the beginning of 411 B.C.E. (Rhodes, 2009). Thucydides fought alongside the Athenians. He argued that economics and a rivalry in political power were the major causes of the Peloponnesian Wars instead of the kidnapping of Helen of Troy (blossomed in 12th Century BCE) and the retaliating evils by the Greeks who opposed Troy. Sparta was worried about the increasing abilities and potential of the Athenian empire (Smith, 1840).    

The war started after the Persian Wars concluded in 449 BCE. Both powers tried to concur on their particular scopes of control. This conflict caused hostility and war. Moreover, Athens’s aspirations resulted in tension in Greece. The evident differences in Athens and Sparta was another catalyst that led to the start of the war. Another cause of the war was the fact that Greece had won its war with Persia. The Greeks had come together following the direction of Sparta and Athens to beat the Persians, which was the most formidable empire in Asia in those days (Daily history, 2019).    

Athens had risen within a relatively short time from a city into an empire that was an important trading and naval power in Greece. It controlled the trade routes in the eastern Mediterranean. Its rapid rise into the most developed military empire in the region unsettled the conventional balance of power. Sparta was the best military power in the region for decades. The origin of Sparta’s military domination was its well nurtured and dreaded army, also known as the Spartan Hoplite (Lazenby, 2004).

The rise of Athens signified that there were now two important powers in the region. Both of them had a system of friendly associations throughout the Greek world. The Greek world became detached into Spartan and Athenian camps. Both camps had different areas where they could exercise their control. The Greek islands and the Greece coast were under the leadership of Athens. Peloponnese was led by Sparta. Regardless of this, Sparta dreaded Athens, and its closest associate Corinth emboldened it to raid Athens (Daily history, 2019).         

Corinth compelled the Spartans to attack Athens in 440 BCE, but the Spartan Kings were careful to avoid it since they were still trying to contain an uprising on the island of Samos at that time (Rhodes, 2009). On the other hand, the Thirty Years Peace was experiencing mounting pressure. In the Spartan assembly, they were frightened at the advancement of Athenian influence. Athens’s influence increased while at the same time the pro-war groups grew in Sparta. They claimed that the Spartans attack on Athens was inevitable, otherwise the latter would become extremely powerful (Kagan, 2013). The dread of Athens progressively made the Spartans get ready for war, although there is no proof that the Athenians were prepared for war with Sparta or its associates. Apart from this, a few Athenians felt that it was their right to a vast empire due to their part in beating the Persians. They worried that Sparta was not baseless (Daily history, 2019).  

Thucydides pointed out that Sparta’s dread of Athens was the eventual reason for the war. Based on Thucydides, the rise of the influence of Athens, and the panic it brought in Sparta, the war was unpreventable (Lazenby, 2004). Thucydides held the view that the Peloponnesian War was unavoidable due to the fact that when an emerging power is challenged by another power, both of them will engage in war to safeguard their interests. Other scholars have also countered that war was unavoidable between the most powerful powers in Greece. Even now in international relations, the rise of an empire will cause conflict with a conventional power. There were distinct differences between Sparta and Athens. Athens had a democratic system of governance, while Sparta’s leadership was led by the military. Some city-states were not happy with how Athens spent Delian League money. A few of them even tried to separate themselves from the leadership of Athens. Pericles also penalized city-states that defied Athens (Daily history, 2019).  

Impacts of the Peloponnesian War 

The war went on for more than 27 years. Sparta and its associates gained victory in 404 BC and as a result, it became a naval power (Kagan, 2013). On the other hand, it resulted in the downfall of Athenian marine and political control in the Mediterranean. Urban areas and agricultural produce were ruined and thousands of Greeks lost their lives. Every Greek city-state endured military and economic losses. King Phillip II of Macedon assumed office in 359 BC. The permanent impacts of the war were that it dwindled the influence and unity of the Greeks for many years, ultimately giving the Macedonians a chance to overpower them in the mid-14th century (Lumen Learning, 2018).

Athenian nationals responded to their defeat by condemning the leadership style of their democratic leaders such as Cleophon and Cleon. In 404 BCE, the Spartan infantry supported the uprising, placing a pro-Spartan oligarchy in Athens known as the Thirty Tyrants. Lysander, a Spartan admiral, assisted them to position the Thirty Tyrants as an administration for a duration of 13 months (Lumen Learning, 2018).

Some outcomes of the Thirty Tyrants regime were the death of five percent of Athenians, seizure of private possessions, and the exile of democratic adherents. The Thirty chose a council with a membership of 500 to perform judicial roles that previously were a preserve of the public. Notwithstanding, 3,000 Athenian men were selected by the Thirty to join the Athenian administration. They were granted permission to carry weapons, live in the city, and authorized to attend judicial trials. The list of these men would be regularly edited and only the most loyal to the present government were selected since most Athenians did not support the Thirty Tyrant’s reign (Lumen Learning, 2018).

Because those who opposed their rule were heavily punished, few people attempted to oppose it. With time, the Thirty increased the amount of violence and brutality resulting in increased resistance to their rule. A group of those who had been exiled led by Thrasybulus, who was a former trierarch in the navy led the resistance formed resistance groups. After a few years of antagonism between the Thirty and these exiled groups, the Thirty’s regime was ousted. The outcome of this was that the 3,000 administrators were given amnesty by Athens. However, the governing Thirty and their associates were denied amnesty. In the aftermath, Athens sought to get back from the turmoil brought about by the Thirty Tyrants in the decades that followed (Lumen Learning, 2018).

One of the outcomes of the wear is the change of Sparta from a continental civilization to a naval power. During its peak, Sparta overthrew many Greek states, such as the Athenian noble navy. At the end of the 5th Century, Sparta’s accomplishments in opposition to the Athenian empire and its capability to raid Persian territories in Anatolia resulted in an era of Spartan rule. However, its season of dominion was temporary (Lumen Learning, 2018).      

Were they Ultimately Good for the City–States or Pave the Way for their Collapse?

The Peloponnesian wars led to the collapse of Athens and the rise of Sparta. Many cities in Athens were destroyed. On the other hand, many cities in Sparta begun to thrive (Lazenby, 2004). Athens relocated its inhabitants within the boundaries of its walls. Congestion in the city resulted in outbreaks of communicable diseases. Many inhabitants (almost a third) including Pericles lost their lives as a result of the outbreaks. None of the Greek city-states was weakened or negatively affected by the war. The Greeks lost the little trust they had for each other and it became hard for them to achieve unification. In the city-states, many lives and property were lost (Rhodes, 2009).        


This research paper analyzed the sources and repercussions of the Peloponnesian Wars, and its effects on city-states. The major parties in the Peloponnesian Wars were Athens, Sparta, and their allies, who were fighting for power. The three primary reasons for the war were the fact that Athens had established maritime dominion; its ambition was to control the Greek region, and some people shifted their homes to nearby cities. Similarly, the riches, status, administration, and influence of Athens made many cities to envy it. The war resulted in the establishment of the Thirty Tyrants regime which caused the loss of many lives and property in Athens because of their brutality. In the end, the wars significantly contributed to the collapse of Athenian city-states.   

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