The Peloponnesian War Summary of Battles and Betrayals: The Sicilian Expedition can be found HERE.
The year is 413 BC and the battle between Sparta and Athens continues to rage. The war, which saw a brief 6 year peace, is now back on after Athens’ bitter defeat in Sicily. The Spartans had sent aid to their allies on the island, but that did not fully satiate their desire for domination.
Sparta wanted to do more … they wanted to destroy Athens.
This brings us to the second segment of the Peloponnesian war. The Spartans still had their secret weapon, Alcibiades, the former Athenian General who was charged with religious crimes. Alcibiades, knowing Athens’ weakest points, convinced Sparta to build a fortification in Decelea, a strategic post right outside of Athens. This would prevent all overland shipment to the Athens, forcing the city to get their supplies by boat, which was much more costly.
This additional expense was then combined with the nearby disrupted silver mines and the 20,000 freed Athenian slaves, resulting in a serious economic crisis for Athens. Their treasury and emergency reserve fund of 1,000 talents was swiftly dwindling away. Their only remaining course of action was to raise taxes or tributes from their allies, which wasn’t a popular decision.
At this point, both parties pumped more troops and ships into Sicily. The Corinthians, the Spartans, and others in the Peloponnesian League all sent reinforcements to Syracuse. The Athenians, however, did not withdrawal. Instead, they brought their own additional men, around 5,000 troops and another hundred ships. It didn’t do the Athenians any good.
The Spartan hero, Gylippus, won all the land wars in Sicily and smartly advised the Syracusans to build a navy, in case the Athenians wanted to escape. Sure enough the Athenians tried and were defeated. Eventually the entire Athenian fleet was destroyed and virtually the whole army sold into slavery.
This was Athens’ lowest moment. Everyone believed her empire was over. Her best men had already died or defected and she was without money, strength or moral. Clearly the Athenians had overestimated their own abilities and were now about to face the truth of their limits.
But Athens didn’t die. Even though her allies revolted against her, the treasuries were empty, and the Syracuences were on the offense with a ship to attack, aided by support in Persia… Athens still had a few things working on her side.
For instance, the other side was slow in bringing their ships to the Aegean. Some of their allies returned with hopes of protection and the Persians were slow in furnishing the promised funds. In addition, Athens had a backup plan. In a prudent moment, she had saved some money and 100 ships for a rainy day.
These were immediately released.
With these ships out warring, the Athenian government was taken up by an oligarchical revolution, run by 400 men. Peace was finally possible. The fighting fleets now based on the island of Samos, however, did not recognise the new rulers and the possibility of a ceasefire. In fact, in 411 BC they engaged the Spartans at the famous Battle of Syme. The runaway fleet then appointed Alcibiades as their leader and continued the war until the Athenian democratic government was reinstituted.
Even though Alcibiades was condemned as traitor, he was still influential in Athens. He wanted to restore democracy in a diplomatic manner. So he managed to persuade the renegade ships to not attack Athens, but instead turn their weapons on the Spartans in the battle of Cyzicus. Finally the Athenians had a turning point, they obliterated the Spartan fleet. This helped to re-establish the financial basis of the Athenian Empire.
Between 410 and 406 BC, Athens managed to actually win battles, recover territory and resurrect their fiscal stability. Almost all thanks to Alcibiades.
This happy Athenian moment did not last long.
Though it would not at first appear to be the case, things went back to bad at the naval battle of Arginusae. The Athenians actually won, losing only 25 ships compared to Sparta’s 70. Unfortunately the weather was so bad that the Athenians did not finish off the Spartan fleet, nor rescue their stranded crew. This lead to a very controversial trial which ended with the execution of the Athens’ six top naval commanders. This action depleted the navy’s intelligence, experience and moral.
Then the Spartans promoted a new general, Lysander. He was navy-savvy and a diplomat who cultivated fresh relations with the Persians. In 405 BC, Lysander initiated a cunning attack on Hellespont, the Athenian bread basket, which if destroyed, would threatened widespread starvation.
The Athenian fleet had no choice but to engage in battle and they were crushed.
Eventually, after facing starvation and disease from the never ending siege, Athens surrendered in 404 BC. The defeat was immense. The city was stripped of its walls, its fleet, and all of its overseas possessions. In addition to this, Corinth and Thebes required retribution, demanding that the city be destroyed and all the people enslaved.
Sparta, Athens’ arch-enemy, then did something very remarkable.
Instead of continuing with their warlike ways, Sparta announced their refusal to destroy a city that had previously done so much good. They would take Athens into their own system and ultimately save it from the other city-states, revealing the clemency of the Spartans once and for all.
“The Peloponnesian War Summary of Battles and Betrayals: Athens’ Last Stand” was written by Anya Leonard