The First Peloponnesian War

The first Peloponnesian war started when Corcyra (Corfu), which was having a conflict with Corinth (its Mother City), asked Athens for help. Athens agreed and both sides signed a defensive treaty.

First Peloponnesian War

** The image above shows "Pericles' Funeral Oration" by Philipp Foltz
Philipp Foltz, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When Corcyra attacked Corinth, Athens was there to help. Corinth also felt threatened by the attempts of Athens to expand itself. Corinth asked Sparta for help in this dispute with Athens. The power of Sparta was dependent a great deal on the wealth of Corinth. However, Sparta had an important decision to make before rallying to the cause of Corinth.

If Sparta did join the war against Athens, there was a potential problem of a revolt among the helmots. However by not joining the war, the Peloponesse League was in danger of ending collapsing. This in turn could lead to Argos, the arch enemy of Sparta, starting its own Anti-Peloponesse League.

Sparta eventually decided to join the war, using as its reason the fact that they wanted to end Athens domination of Greece and act as a liberator for all of the Greek people. When war did break out, both sides believed that it wouldn’t last for long. On land Athens knew that it was no match for the mighty Spartan soldiers. However on sea, it was a different story, with Athens unrivaled for its naval power. Attica was abandoned and all its inhabitants moved to protection behind its forceful walls.

Food and supplies was to be imported by the fleet to the people of Athens. The fleet would also be responsible for attacking and harming the enemy as much as possible. It was also hoped that by the fleet of Athens being so close to the Peloponesse, the helmots might be encouraged to revolt once more against the Spartans.

In the eyes of Athens, all it had to do to win the war was to survive it. Not only did Athens have enough resources to finance the war, it also had a great defensive barrier in the walls around Piraeus and Athens, whereas Sparta had neither. The overcrowding of Athens lead to an outbreak of the plague which killed at least a third of the population, including Pericles. After the death of Pericles more aggressive tactics were preferred in the war with Sparta.

After several years of battles in which both sides saw heavy losses and deaths of important figures, Sparta and Athens decided that they should look towards a peaceful settlement of the war. In 421 BC a truce was declared between the two, which became known as the Peace of Nicias.

In truth both sides accomplished nothing during the war. Athens however saw the result of the war as its victory as Sparta had not been able to destroy the empire of Athens.