Peloponnesian War Lesson for Kids: Summary & Facts

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The two most powerful cities in Greek history, Athens and Sparta, fought one another in the Peloponnesian War 2,500 years ago. Learn about the origins and consequences of the war in this lesson.

Big City Rivalries

Imagine that Los Angeles and New York City decided that they had had enough of one another and were going to fight a war. Everyone in the United States would have to be on one side or the other since they're the two biggest and most powerful cities around. It may sound silly today, but in ancient Greece the cities of Athens and Sparta went to war and dragged all of Greece in with them. They fought a war called the Peloponnesian War (Peloponnese means the southern part of Greece) for 27 years. The war changed ancient Greece and is remembered today as one of the most important conflicts in history.

With Us or Against Us

Athens and Sparta weren't always enemies. They fought together against the Persian Empire and formed an alliance, or friendship, to defeat the invading Persians. However, after the Persian Wars the alliance broke down. Athens had become an empire, extending its power over many parts of Greece and modern-day Turkey, including the hundreds of islands in the Aegean Sea.

Map of Athens
Athenian empire

Sparta and Athens didn't want to fight one another, but neither wanted the other to become so strong that they controlled all of Greece. The Peloponnesian War broke out in 431 BC when Athens began to interfere with Sparta's allies, provoking Sparta to fight.

The War Begins

The Spartans were famous for their military skills. Sparta raised its boys to be warriors from a young age, and Spartans believed it a great honor to die for their country. But Athens had a very strong navy, or fleet of warships. This meant that Sparta had the advantage on land and Athens had the advantage at sea. Athens decided it was best to build a giant wall around their city so that Sparta's soldiers could not attack, and fight with their ships. While this kept Athens from being attacked, it also resulted in a terrible plague because everyone was stuck close together. As many as a third of all Athenians might have died of sickness.

Acropolis of ancient Athens
Athenian Acropolis

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