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A complicated, partially ideological political conflict between Spartan-ally Corinth and her neutral daughter city and strong naval power Corcyra led to Athenian involvement in Sparta's realm. Corcyra appealed to Athens for help, offering to Athens the use of its navy. Corinth urged Athens to remain neutral. But since Corcyra's navy was powerful, Athens was concerned that it would fall into Spartan hands and disrupt whatever fragile balance of power the city-states were maintaining. Athens signed a defense-only treaty and sent a fleet to Corcyra.

A battle of words

Athens now knew that direct battle with Corinth was inevitable. Potidaea was part of the Athenian empire, but also a daughter city of Corinth. Athens feared a revolt, with good reason, since the Potidaeans had secretly acquired a promise of Spartan support, to invade Athens, in violation of the 30 years treaty.

Athens' former ally, the polis Megara, had allied with Corinth at Sybota and elsewhere, and Athens, therefore, put a peacetime embargo on Megara. Historians are not clear on the embargo's effects, some saying that Megara was merely made uncomfortable, while others claim that it set the polis on the brink of starvation. The embargo was not an act of war, but Corinth took the opportunity to urge all allies disaffected with Athens to pressure Sparta now to invade Athens.

History of the Peloponnesian War | Five Books Expert Reviews

There were enough hawks among the ruling bodies in Sparta to carry the war motion. And so the full-fledged Peloponnesian War began. Share Flipboard Email. Table of Contents Expand.

The Peloponnesian War: Causes of the Conflict

Importance of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides on the Cause of the Peloponnesian War. Athens and the Delian League. Sparta's Allies. Sparta Insults Athens. Athens Gains an Ally and an Enemy. Thirty Years' Peace. His sharp analysis of the kind of forces that stir popular sentiments and drive collective decision making still resonates in the modern world. Nonetheless, his programmatic prediction proved right.

When Thucydides set out to compose his work, the writing of warfare was already a notable tradition launched with a bang by the legendary Homer about three centuries earlier. In his epic poem Iliad , Homer related the story of the Trojan War as an epic battle involving gods and humans alike. He was followed years later by Herodotus who gave an account of the Persian Wars, similarly rich in iconic battles and larger-than-life personalities on both sides of the conflict.

With Thucydides, the writing of war took a new direction.

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In contrast to the wars of Homer and Herodotus, the armed conflict that concerned Thucydides was fought primarily among Greeks. Thucydides focused on offering a strong and authoritative account of the war, its causes, and behind the scenes negotiations. To this end, he largely left out the gods and religious explanations more generally — although there is still more religion in Thucydides than one may think. Instead, he offered a deep analysis of human factors and motivations.

Although Thucydides was aware that all authors exaggerate the importance of their topic, he still felt inclined to make a case for his:. And this war — even though men always consider the war on hand the most important while they are fighting but once they have ended it are more impressed by ancient ones — will nevertheless stand out clearly as greater than the others for anyone who examines it from the facts themselves. The reasons he gave were three-fold: the Peloponnesian War was fought between two cities at the height of their power; these powers went into conflict prepared; and most of the Greek world and beyond was subsequently drawn into the fighting.

What stands out throughout is the sharpness with which Thucydides reports.

History of the Peloponnesian War

In contrast to Herodotus, he no longer includes alternative viewpoints and traditions but offers a strong, singular explanation of events. Yet the authorial voice Thucydides created in the History should not belie the fact that he engaged in his very own forms of make—believe.

Brief history of the Peloponnesian War

Through the speeches, in particular, Thucydides offers evaluations of events and situations in a voice other than his own. Interspersed throughout the History, they provide a commentary on the events from the perspective of the historical actors. Yet Thucydides himself apparently saw no problem; there was no conflict between his aim to tell what really happened and his use of speeches, although he did find the subject important enough to warrant an explanation:.

Insofar as these facts involve what the various participants said both before and during the actual conflict, recalling the exact words was difficult for me regarding speeches I heard myself and for my informants about speeches made elsewhere; in the way I thought each would have said what was especially required in the given situation, I have stated accordingly, with the closest possible fidelity on my part to the overall sense of what was actually said.

Lawlessness, disregard for custom, egotism and a general lack of order in the face of death took hold of Athens. Time and again he shows that in extreme situations, it is human nature to diverge from ideals that are otherwise firmly held. In these moments, the anthropologist and humanist in Thucydides comes to the fore. Recent scholarship has highlighted this dimension of his work.

Even though the main focus in his History remains on warfare and the geo-political deliberations that inform it, there is more on human nature and culture in this work than one may think.

The History of the Peloponnesian War | Study Guide

And, more frequently than not, Thucydides extends his sharp analysis from politics and warfare to the human and cultural factors driving human history. The same sharp analysis runs throughout the work. The Mytilenean Debate revolves around whether the Athenians should revoke their decision to annihilate the entire western Ionian city of Mytilene in retaliation for a revolt.

Thucydides has two main speakers set out the case. However, despite Thucydides' lack of trust in information that was not experienced firsthand, such as Homer's, he does use the poet's epics to infer facts about the Trojan War. For instance, while Thucydides considered the number of over 1, Greek ships sent to Troy to be a poetic exaggeration, he uses Homer's Catalog of Ships to determine the approximate number of Greek soldiers who were present.

Later, Thucydides claims that since Homer never makes reference to a united Greek state, the pre- Hellenic nations must have been so disjointed that they could not organize properly to launch an effective campaign. In fact, Thucydides claims that Troy could have been conquered in half the time had the Greek leaders allocated resources properly and not sent a large portion of the army on raids for supplies. Thucydides makes sure to inform his reader that he, unlike Homer, is not a poet prone to exaggeration, but instead a historian, whose stories may not give "momentary pleasure," but "whose intended meaning will be challenged by the truth of the facts.

The first book of the History, after a brief review of early Greek history and some programmatic historiographical commentary, seeks to explain why the Peloponnesian War broke out when it did and what its causes were. Except for a few short excursuses notably 6. While the History concentrates on the military aspects of the Peloponnesian War, it uses these events as a medium to suggest several other themes closely related to the war.

It specifically discusses in several passages the socially and culturally degenerative effects of war on humanity itself. The History is especially concerned with the lawlessness and atrocities committed by Greek citizens to each other in the name of one side or another in the war. Some events depicted in the History , such as the Melian dialogue , describe early instances of realpolitik or power politics. The History is preoccupied with the interplay of justice and power in political and military decision-making. Thucydides' presentation is decidedly ambivalent on this theme.

While the History seems to suggest that considerations of justice are artificial and necessarily capitulate to power, it sometimes also shows a significant degree of empathy with those who suffer from the exigencies of the war. For the most part, the History does not discuss topics such as the art and architecture of Greece. The History emphasizes the development of military technologies. In several passages 1. The History places great importance upon naval supremacy, arguing that a modern empire is impossible without a strong navy.

He states that this is the result of the development of piracy and coastal settlements in earlier Greece. Important in this regard was the development, at the beginning of the classical period c. In his emphasis on sea power, Thucydides resembles the modern naval theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan , whose influential work The Influence of Sea Power upon History helped set in motion the naval arms race prior to World War I. The History explains that the primary cause of the Peloponnesian War was the "growth in power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta" 1. Thucydides traces the development of Athenian power through the growth of the Athenian empire in the years BC to BC in book one of the History 1. The legitimacy of the empire is explored in several passages, notably in the speech at 1. The subsequent expansion of the empire is defended by these Athenians, " The Athenians also argue that, "We have done nothing extraordinary, nothing contrary to human nature in accepting an empire when it was offered to us and then in refusing to give it up.

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The Spartans represent a more traditional, circumspect, and less expansive power. Indeed, the Athenians are nearly destroyed by their greatest act of imperial overreach, the Sicilian expedition, described in books six and seven of the History. Thucydides correlates, in his description of the BC Malian Gulf tsunami , for the first time in the recorded history of natural science , quakes and waves in terms of cause and effect.

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Thucydides' History is extraordinarily dense and complex.