The Peloponnesian War: History, Cause & Result

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  • 0:00 Background of the War
  • 1:21 The Conflict and Its Causes
  • 4:21 Consequences and Results
  • 5:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrew Peterson

Andrew has a PhD and masters degree in world history.

The Peloponnesian War was a protracted conflict amongst the city-states of Classical Greece. The war is largely known for the famous struggle between the two dominant Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta.

Background of the War

The Peloponnesian War was a general conflict between the rival city-states of Greece that lasted from 431-404 BCE. Classical Greek civilization did not have a central government or ruling empire but was instead made up of small, independent communities called city-states. Such a system led to political fragmentation, rivalry, and eventually, war. Athens, Sparta, Thebes, and Corinth are examples of some of the more famous city-states of this period and were among the main actors in the Peloponnesian War.

The city-states of Greece governed themselves and were highly competitive with one another when it came to trade, warfare, cultural influence, politics, and even sporting competitions. These tensions eventually led the two dominant city-states of Sparta and Athens to go to war in 431 BCE. Soon thereafter the other major city-states of Greece were drawn into the conflict.

The Peloponnesian War gets its name from the Peloponnesus, which is the southern peninsula of Greece where much of the conflict took place. Much of what we know about the Peloponnesian War comes to us from the Greek historian Thucydides who lived through the war and composed a history of the conflict.

The Conflict and Its Causes

There are a number of factors that led to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war. Firstly, the political structure of classical Greek society was itself a cause of war. With many independent city-states competing for resources and cultural influence, war was always a danger. Secondly, the alliance known as the Delian League had brought the city-states of Greece into an uneasy military alliance that many members began to resent over time.

The Delian League was an alliance formed after the Persian Wars (500 - 479 BCE) as a means to deter future attacks on Greece from the mighty Persian Empire. Athens became the natural leader of the Delian League since it had the largest navy with which to combat Persian advances. The other city-states of Greece paid tribute to Athens to help support the military coalition. As a result, Athens enjoyed a great deal of prosperity under the Delian League. However, this ultimately worked to foster animosity towards Athens and can be counted as a major cause of the war.

The third cause of the Peloponnesian War was likely due to Sparta's rebellion. War really wouldn't have been possible at all if Sparta had not risen to challenge Athenian hegemony. The Peloponnesian War was underway once Sparta and its allies moved to challenge Athens.

Although there were many actors and city-states involved, the Peloponnesian War formed around two distinct rival sides: one led by Sparta and the other led by Athens. Fighting took place throughout Greece and the Aegean Sea and even impacted areas as distant as Sicily. Athens and Sparta were both able to rely upon a number of allied city-states, which meant that the war spread throughout Greece.

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