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The War between the Athenians and the Peloponnesians Essay



The Peloponnesian war that lasted for 27 years began on 431B.C. The war involved Athens and Sparta, which were the two powerful states in Greece. The Spartans were the key leaders of the Peloponnesians, and they fought the Athenians because of bitterness. Interestingly, the Athens and the Sparta had a very powerful relationship initially, and they even cooperated in the Persian war. After the Persian war, Sparta had supreme power that enabled the cooperative group to obtain victory in the wars that occurred between 480 B.C and 479 B.C. However, the cooperation never lasted for long as the states decided to take different routes.

The Spartan leaders decided to break out of the group and handle their matter differently. Similarly, the Athenians took a different path. The separation drew a large gap between the two states; as the Athenians progressed to have economic and political empowerment, the Spartans struggled to have a strong military group. According to Thucydides, this was the major cause of the war between the Athenians and the Peloponnesians. Various theories try to interpret the factors that lead to the Peloponnesians war. In most of the theories, it is evident that the Athens refused to negotiate and live in peace with the Spartans. This paper will give a detailed description of the various theories that explain the cause of the war between the Athenians and the Peloponnesians.

The Athenian wall

After the Athenians separated with the Spartans, they desired to have defined territories of their land. They were eager to lead the Aegean campaign that was interested in streamlining the territory issues in Asia and Aegean. They built their walls to mark their territories, and they became more active in supporting the Aegean campaign. The Athenians had a squadron of very strong men who made it impossible for enemies to attack their urban centre. The massive wall made of stone was impregnable, and no Spartan would dare come anywhere near the territory. Not even the current siege machines could broach into the walls that surrounded Athens’ urban center. A broad corridor of approximately seven kilometers was constructed from the entrance to the harbor. In case of any war, the Athenians would ship food to their people in their countryside, Attica, through their fortified port.

Essentially, the Athenians were ready for anything, as they had reserved large amounts of money to help them in doing anything that they wanted. The Athenians no longer feared the Spartans, and they would sometime initiate surprise attacks against their Spartan enemies from the sea. In case the Spartans responded by attacking them, they would hide behind the walls.

Firstly, the whole issue of building the Athenian wall was against the wish of the Spartans. The surprise attacks and the tricks of hiding behind the mighty wall were very disgusting. Therefore, animosity developed between the Athenians and the Spartans in a progressive manner. The Athenian emperor was arrogant because of the power that it had obtained from its economic activities. In 460 B.C., the Spartans attempted to invade into the territories of the Athens, but an earthquake prevented then. The incidence triggered a rebellion, and the Spartans organized to fight the Athens in a surprise attack. The Athenians responded by setting their 4000 men to fight the Spartans who had ill intentions. When things became worse, the Athens sent their militaries to fight the Spartans and before long, the Peloponnesian war began.

The trade sanctions

In the 430s, a hot debate arose on how the Athenians and Spartans should treat the allies of the other side. The two states centered their dispute on how one state should trade with allies of the other state. One of the city-states that caused violent disputes was Megara, an ally of Sparta. Moreover, Potidaea, which was a former ally of Athens, had also raised violent disputes as it sought help from Sparta’s ally, Corinth. Ever since the two states broke, their rivalry grew because of petty issues.

Citizens from both nations were great business competitors who could battle over customers. However, it was evident that Athens had more economic empowerment than Sparta, thus, it would always reap massive profits in any place that it set its business. To protect their business territory, the Athenians prohibited the state of Megara from trading in the Athenian empire harbors. This scenario was a severe blow for the citizens of Megara who relied on trade income. Essentially, Athenians allegedly accused the Megara citizens of encroaching into their sacred land that was located along the border of the two states.

The Athenians also acted against Potidaea for retaining its ties with Corinth. Potidaea could always seek for help from its founder, Corinth, and the Athenians were not happy with the scenario. Since Corinth was an ally of Sparta, Athens was in a rebellion with Potidaea. The state threatened to block its erstwhile colony with the Potidaea if it continued relating with Corinth. Corinth was very annoyed with the Athenians for they were dictating the lives of other people. Earlier on, Athenians had supported the Corcyra city-state that had quarrels with Corinth. The Corinthians felt that Athens was taking advantage of its economic and financial power to overrule other states.

Essentially, no nation should dictate the activities or decisions of other nations. Athens was blackmailing Potidaea and Megara to stop their collaboration with Sparta, and Corinth could not take it anymore. The Corinthians and the Spartans decided to join hands against Athens. The Spartans issued a warning to the Athenians that their actions towards Potidaea and Megara were inhuman, and they would revenge through war. The Corinthians had a powerful naval force and together with the Spartans, they battled against the Athens.

Disputes over power

From a critical point of view, the trade sanctions disputes occurred because of power issues. The Spartans felt that they were more powerful than the Athenians were because they invested heavily in harsh military trainings. However, the Athenians slowly gained superiority because of their economic empowerment. The Spartans would not risk by allowing the Athenians to have the supremacy to control other states. They controlled the members of the Peloponnesian league, and if the Athenians continued with their supremacy, they would overthrow the Spartans using long distance weaponry. The fact that the Athenians were cooperative threatened the Spartans that they would end up forming a strong team that would end Spartans’ custom of interfering with the freedom of most states. On the other hand, the Athenians were also in desperate need of the power to maneuver across nations.

Therefore, Pericles ordered his male citizens to reject the Spartan demands. The Athenian leader ordered his men to be prepared to fight in case a dispute arose between them and the Spartans. According to Pericles, giving in to smaller demands would open the way for the rivals to ask for greater demands in the future. The leader insisted that the men should stand firm and deal with the Spartans at an equal level, where, they would make negotiations instead of receiving demands.

The rival’s ambition to have the power to maneuver in every nation, and the fear of the Spartans was the key issue that caused the battle. Sparta could not afford to allow the Athenians to have the freedom to control their ally states, as they were very strong rivals. The war broke because none of the two states was ready to step down for the other. According to the Athenian men, stepping down would be a way of agreeing to slavery and they were not ready for it. On the other hand, the Spartans had dictated states for too long, and there were not ready to surrender to the Athenians. The two states could not settle into an agreement, and they resolved in a fight. From this point of view, the disputes over power had a significant contribution to the initiation of the war between the Athenians and the Peloponnesians.

The Delian league

Through hard work and dedication, the Athenians were slowly growing into prosperity. Therefore, most of the states in the Mediterranean region accepted Athens’ ruling. Within no time, Athens became the leader of the Delian league and Spartans shivered with fear. The Athenians upgraded the Delian league and changed the league’s name to Athenian Empire. They spend the league’s money carelessly without caring of what citizens of other city-states would say. At some point, some nations tried to break away from the Athens’ control but that could not inflict them. In fact, Pericles could punish city-states that opposed the Athens.

The Athenians were swollen with pride, and at one time, they wanted to drive the Persians from their land. Athens naval power strengthened over time and they attacked the Persians repeatedly. Finally, the Persians gave up, they freed from Greece, and the Athenians took their land. That action angered the Spartans, but they simply took no action. Athens continued being arrogant to its neighboring states, and it developed trade rivals with Potidaea and Megara.

To settle down the matters, Athens and Sparta signed a thirty-year contract to maintain peace. However, Samos, an ally of Athens, breached the contract and the Spartans decided to keep calm. The cold war continued and thereafter, the Athens made an alliance with Corcyra and other states that produced agricultural products in plenty. At that point, things became worse because Corcyra and Corinth were enemies.

On the other hand, Corinth and Sparta were allies, and the whole issue endangered the food supply to Sparta and its allies. At this point, the Spartans would not take it anymore. They could not afford to starve because of the Athenians, therefore, Spartans, Corinthians, and all their allies took their arms to battle against the Athenians and their allies. Megara and Aegean had allied with the Athenians unwillingly, and they had the chance of joining the Spartans and battling against the Athenians. Magara took part in the war to revenge on the adverse sanctions that forbade them from trading with the Athens. The war started like a little matter of revenge, but it overstretched to take about 27 years.

The growth of the Athenian empire

As soon as the Athenians broke their relationship with the Spartans, Athens became an ionic state. Democracy prevailed, and every Athenian was obligated to work hard and be involved in any productive activity. With that in mind, parents nurtured their children in an upright manner, and the entire population comprised of intellectuals. Athenian leaders ordered that military training should focus on young adults. Essentially, it was compulsory for men aged 18 and above to undertake some military training. Thereafter, the duly trained men would carry on with the training as they protected the Athenian emperor until the age of 60.

On the other hand, Sparta turned out to be a Dorian state with narrow-minded people. A very powerful empire controlled the entire state, and everyone worked in isolation. The desire to have a powerful army obliged the rulers to subject young boys into harsh military training. At the age of seven, boys would undergo very harsh military training conditions, and they would act as slaves in the military until the age of 30. After 30 years, the males would graduate from being boys to men who are old enough to marry.

A critical comparison of the two nations after they broke their union clearly indicated that the Athenians would conquer the Spartans economically and politically. With time, Athens overgrew Sparta, and it became a very powerful state. The Spartans started feeling insecure as they thought that the Athens would finally dominate the military. The naïve Spartans felt that the Athenians would grow to have some political power that would enable them to overrule the entire Greece city-states. With the thrilling economic status of the Athenians, their products were highly selling. The Athenians had the privilege of selling their products in all major city-states but the Spartans were not comfortable, as they felt threatened.

The Spartans knew that the only way to bring down the Athenians is through initiating a war that would disintegrate their economic activities. When the war broke, some Athenians freed to Attica to save their lives. The Spartans invaded the Athenians’ countryside land and destroyed everything. They did this intentionally to provoke the Athenians and trigger them to respond through war.

Pericles was the Athenian leader at that time. Although he ordered people to ignore their property and seek refuge, very few Athenians were ready to give up on their independence life. They preferred to fight the Spartan invaders and save their land instead of acting in cowardice. They could not just sit back and watch as the Spartans ravaged their property that they had obtained through much effort. The Athenians gathered in the streets and organized to fight back the Spartans. They blamed Pericles for his cowardice, and before long, the battle became serious.

Athens trading powers

The Athenians focused on producing the best products to trade; therefore, their products reigned in all markets in the entire Greece city-states. The Spartans would not compete with the Athenians in trading their pottery products, as the Athenian’s pottery was highly demanded. The Athenians even traded their products in Italy and Corcyra. They had the most admirable trading skills, and once customers purchased their products, they made more orders. The Spartans realized that the Athenians would soon control the eastern and western trade, whereas, they could have nothing to show. The high quality Athenian products would enable them to experience monopolistic profits while the Spartans’ products could net sell. The Spartans felt that war could be the only way to bring down the Athenians.

The human nature and behavior

Most human beings have the innate trait of being overconfident wherever they have some form of power. The Athenians slowly grew into powerful people and they started breaching contracts with Sparta without caring. They could plan for surprise attacks on the Spartans for no viable reason, and the unprepared victims would suffer considerably. The fact that the Athenians were powerful economically made them to blackmail other feeble states. Megara and Aegean had unwillingly joined the Athenian ally because they wanted to continue obtaining favors from Athens at all cost. Later on when the Corinthians and Spartans took arms against Athens, Megara and Athenians joined them. Naturally, timid people are swayed into joining powerful groups of people depending on the circumstance.

The Spartans always believed that they had the best warriors as they trained their boys from a young age of seven. They had all the courage to fight, as their consciousness could not allow them to submit to the demands of the Athenians at all cost. Moreover, the bitterness that occurs in some people when they see others prosper may have triggered the Spartans to settle for war so that they could have an opportunity to destroy the Athenians’ property. Naturally, most human beings cannot just sit back and watch as their enemies destroy their property that they earned through hard work. That is the core reason as to why the Athenians fought back the Spartans and their allies. All these incidences happen in the daily lives of human beings. Therefore, the Peloponnesian War might have happened because of the human nature to respond to phenomena.


From the discussions, it is evident that the Spartans planned the Peloponnesian war because of jealously. They were bitter of the wealth, prestige, and the powers that the Athenians possessed. They intruded into the land of the Athenians to trigger them into getting into war, and indeed, their plans were successful. In the second year of war, a plague wiped out most of the Athenians in the army, including Pericles, and that enabled them to win the battle. The Athenians tried their best to defeat the Spartans without success. Most Athenians lost their life during the war, but the remaining ones kept on fighting until the last minute when they surrendered.

At the end of the day, the Athenians lost their property, their political peace, and they lost their economic strength. The Spartans won the war and became the ruling state. However, the war demolished the economy, and Greece became very poor thereafter. This is the saddest incidence that can ever happen in the contemporary world. Enlightened people should learn to adopt new technologies and new ideas to grow and be at par with developed nations. The Spartans should have “stolen” the ideas of the Athens instead of fighting them, destroying wealth, and inviting poverty. Otherwise, planning a war may never work, as it is an outdated practice in the contemporary world. Indeed, instead of enabling people to realize power and prestige, wage war plays a significant role in welcoming poverty.

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"The War between the Athenians and the Peloponnesians." IvyPanda, 18 May 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/the-war-between-the-athenians-and-the-peloponnesians/.

1. IvyPanda. "The War between the Athenians and the Peloponnesians." May 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-war-between-the-athenians-and-the-peloponnesians/.


IvyPanda. "The War between the Athenians and the Peloponnesians." May 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-war-between-the-athenians-and-the-peloponnesians/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "The War between the Athenians and the Peloponnesians." May 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-war-between-the-athenians-and-the-peloponnesians/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'The War between the Athenians and the Peloponnesians'. 18 May.

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