Ancient Greece: A Sketch of Its Art, Literature & Philosophy Viewed in Connexion with Its External History from Earliest Times to the Age of Alexander the Great

By H. B. Cotterill | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR (431-404)

SECTIONS: THUCYDIDES: SOPHOCLES, EURIPIDES, ARISTOPHANES: DEMOCRITUS, THE SOPHISTS, SOCRATES: SCULPTURE

IN 445 a Thirty Years' Peace had been concluded between the Athenians and the Peloponnesians, who had been in a state of almost continuous hostility for about fifteen years. This peace had lasted only some twelve years-- those years during which the Parthenon and the third Long Wall of Athens and the docks and marts of the Peiraeus were built--when events occurred that led to the declaration of war by Sparta. The conflict lasted for about twenty-seven years. After the first ten years of ineffectual warfare, consisting mainly of such reprisals as were possible between a maritime and a land power, a respite was given by the Peace of Nicias ( 421), but the break was so short that, with Thucydides, we may regard the war as scarcely interrupted. Hostilities were soon renewed. Had the Athenians remained true to the policy of Pericles and renounced all ambitious attempts to increase their oversea empire, they might have retained their maritime supremacy; but, under the influence of such demagogues and adventurers as Cleon and Alcibiades, they embarked on the disastrous Sicilian expedition ( 415), by which, and by the revolt of almost all their allies, their power was fatally undermined and rapidly sank, until Sparta, which had built ships and had even stooped to solicit the powerful aid of Persia against the 'enslaver of Greece,' crushed the Athenian fleet at the battle of Aegospotami, captured Athens, razed her Long Walls, and put an end to her empire ( 404).

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