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The Peloponnesian War

An overview of the Peloponnesian War, including the Archidamian War, the Athenian attack on Syracuse, and the Decelean War.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] As we've already seen, the 5th Century BCE starts off with Athens and Sparta and various Greek city-states fighting on the same side against the Persian invaders. But as we saw in the last video, as soon as the Persians are dealt with, tensions start to rise between Athens and Sparta and their various allies. Sparta gets worried that the Athenian Navy is looking maybe a little bit too strong, they were decisively important in the Second Persian Invasion, and they build this Delian League, whose purpose is to go on the offensive against the Persians, but more and more so it was starting to look like an Athenian empire. And a lot of this you can imagine, it's like a game of Risk. The more you take over, the more resources you have, the more that you can build more ships and have more soldiers so that you can take on even more. So as Sparta and Athens are starting to become more and more rivals, Sparta's getting insecure about Athens' influence and their resources, and their military power. And we even saw it in the last video, you have an earthquake in Sparta, potentially right around the same time that Sparta was planning an invasion of Athens, leaving the Spartans vulnerable. There's a Helot uprising, these Spartan slaves. The Athenians send Hoplites to apparently help the Spartans but the Spartans are suspicious of it and they send them back. And then it culminates with the skirmish you have between Megara and Corinth, which were historically two Spartan allies, but Athens decides to take sides, gets an alliance with Megara, and that's one thing too many for the Spartans, and so they declare war, and you have what's called the First Peloponnesian War. But that's not the Peloponnesian War, that's the first time that you start having very open conflict between the Spartans and the Athenians. And these conflicts last for, on the order of about 15 years, and they're ended with what's called the Peace of 30 Years. But as we will see, this Peace of 30 Years only lasts about 15 years. And the whole time, tensions continue to arise. The Delian League, or you could call it the Athenian power, the Athenian empire I should say, is getting more and more powerful. The Athenian Navy is getting more and more powerful. And once again, things culminate, and now this is the beginning of the actual Peloponnesian War, the thing that people are referring to when they talk about the Peloponnesian War. In 431 BCE, the King of Sparta is convinced or is, I guess you could say he is influenced to, even though he himself was somewhat skeptical of the idea, he decides to invade Attica. Attica's something you'll hear a lot about. It is this region right over here, this little out-jutting of land, that Athens is on. And this first phase of the Peloponnesian War is called the Archidamian War, named for the King of Sparta who somewhat reluctantly decides to invade Attica. And so that's stage one, Archidamian War. And the Archidamian War, its essential ingredients are you have Sparta with its dominant army going and having repeated attacks onto Attica, and the Athenians with their dominant navy going and having raids throughout the Peloponnese and along the Aegean Coast. So here you have the Athenians, let me do the Athenians and the Spartans in two different colors, actually. So here you go. Let's do the Spartans in this red color, attacking Attica with their army, and now let's have the Athenians with this light blue color coming here and attacking various points, various points on the Peloponnese and in the Aegean, further extending their influence. Now that first phase ends, and it goes on for quite a bit, it goes on for about 10 years, ends with the Peace of Nicias, but as you will see and that was actually intended to be a 50-year peace, but you'll see it doesn't last long at all. The skirmishes continue, and in 415, the Athenians say hey, we want to extend our power. Remember, it's like this game of Risk, the more city-states you take over, the more citizens that you're able to tax, the more soldiers you will have, the more wealth you will have, the more shipbuilding capability you will have. So the Athenians get this great idea to sail all the way to Syracuse and just to be clear where Syracuse is, Syracuse is over here on the coast of Sicily. Now this is a long distance in this ancient world. They get this idea to sail all the way to Syracuse to try to take it over, and essentially to extend their empire. So this right over here is in 415, this long voyage to take over Syracuse, and it is disastrous. The fleet that tries to go is able to be destroyed, and they get the folks in Syracuse are able to get the assistance of the Spartans, and so that Greek fleet is destroyed. And this is often viewed as the second phase of the Peloponnesian War. And so this is the Attack at Syracuse. Attack at Syracuse, the failed attempt of the Athenians to get Syracuse, to get Syracuse. And this is a two-year period of time, because once again, this is no joke to send your navy and to try to get at Syracuse. And then that takes us into the third phase, the third phase of the Peloponnesian War, let me scroll this over a little bit. The third phase is often called the Ionian War. Ionian War. Ionia is this region that's now in modern day, off the coast of modern-day Turkey. You have many of the city-states that were part of this Athenian empire, they're starting to revolt. You can imagine that the Spartans are trying to help those revolts because they're trying to get the Athenians wherever they are. This is often also called the Decelean War. Decelea, I'm probably not pronouncing it well, is a little village right over here at the top of Attica, and it was a strategic location that went over to the Spartans and that's where the Decelean War gets its name. But over the course of this third phase, the Spartans get help from the Persians. Remember this was their enemy, they had unified the Spartans and Athenians had unified against the Persians, but some time has passed. We're now 70 or 80 years later, and the Spartans say hey, we want to win this thing decisively. They get the help of the Persians and finally in 405 BCE there's decisive naval battle at Aegospotami, and I'm sorry to all of you Greeks out there that might be listening, I know my pronunciation is not perfect or close to perfect, but this is a decisive victory right over here for the Spartans. They're able to destroy the Athenian Navy, and that causes, that's the decisive victory, and then in 404, this is in 405, in 404, the Athenians surrender and the famous Peloponnesian War is over, the Spartans are victorious. But it's not a great victory because as you can imagine, you have towns that have been destroyed, large parts of Greece have been weakened, and it leaves the whole area open to attack from others. And as we will see in the next century, in the 4th century, we have Phillip of Macedon, or Macedon depending on how you want to pronounce it, who's able to use that vulnerable, and the Macedonians or the Macedonians they are related to the Greek people, but he's able to use that vulnerability that happens over the course of the 5th century to attack the city-states of Greece, but he actually is able to unify them.