Rise and Fall of Sparta

Sparta was the only city left at the end of the Peloponesse was who were in a fit enough state to take over as leader of Greece.

The Rise and Fall of Sparta

** The image above shows the Siege of Sparta
By Jean-Baptiste Topino-Lebrun (1764-1801) ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

However, instead of liberating the other Greek city states from the domination of Athens and the Delian League as it had promised, Lysander set about installing obligarchies. These were when the governments were run, not by elected politicians, but by people who had vast amounts of wealth.

This led to the city states dividing the general population. It became simply a case of the rich and the poor. Sparta’s lack of experience in having leadership of Greece began to show, and many other citites began to realize that Sparta’s promise of liberating all Greeks would simply never materialize.

Many of Sparta’s allies, especially Corinth and Thebes believed that they were being neglected, and not profiting from Sparta’s victory over Athens. Sparta was quick to realize that in order to gain the trust and confidence of the other cities, they would have to show that they were trying in the best interest of all Greeks. King Agesilaus of Sparta set about this with a change of position towards Persia.

He decided to try and free the Greek colonies in Asia Minor, which had subsequently been handed back to Persia. Once again, Persia appeared in the picture. During a huge battle, the Peloponesse fleet was destroyed by Persia, ironically by those who had financed it in the first place. After this, Persia had no trouble in getting other Greek cities to side with them. As well as Athens Argos, Corinth and Thebes also joined. Persia, which had previously been financing Sparta now did the complete opposite and was sending funds to Athens.

The war which followed was the Corinthian war, and by the end, Sparta was exhausted by it both mentally and financial. Persia switched its funding once again, and sent assistance to Sparta. What Persia was doing with this was trying to keep a balance of power. It didn’t want another alliance, such as the Delian League to spring up again and cause a possible threat to Persia.

Thebes revived the Boeotian League and was becoming a serious threat for Sparta. Athens, meanwhile, started to work on reviving its own empire through the Secondary Athens Naval Confederacy, which was a new league of the states in the Aegean. Athens validation for this league was firstly to stop Sparta dominating all of Greece, and secondary, to restore the ideas of freedom and democracy.

Sparta, who had been granted autonomy through the Peace Of Antacidas, or the Kings Peace, was more aggressive in its approach towards other cities. It could claim that it was acting in accordance with the peace treaty in that it was stopping movements, which were against the main beliefs of peace itself.

The years 378 to 371 BC saw the battle of Leuctra take place between Sparta and Thebes. The outcome of this battle sent shockwaves throughout the Greek world. Under the command of Epaninondas who was a much respected genereal, the invincible army of Sparta was defeated by Thebes. After a while the city of Messenia was refounded under the political order of Thebes, who was now acting as leader of Greece. This led to Sparta being reduced to nothing more than second-class rated city. Sparta’s power and influence had all but disappeared.

The Battle for Power

With the disintegration of Sparta, Thebes and Athens were left to fight over who should fill the space. Both cities wanted to establish new territory in the north, but both were counter-acting each other. If one side couldn’t gain the territory and influence it wanted, it would stop at nothing to prevent the other side from being successful.

In another twist, Athens formed an alliance with Sparta, and the two fought a great battle with Thebes at Mantinea in 362 BC. Though once more, Thebes was the victor, her leader Epaminondas was killed. With his death, the power and influence Thebes once had started to deteriorate.

Greece remained leaderless, and it seemed that those who wished to take control over her were unable to do so. Athens, Sparta and Thebes were all in no state to take control over Greece, as each had their own internal problems; Sparta being deplinished of power and strength, Athens suffering problems arising from the Second Athens Naval Confederacy, and Thebes without its leader Epaminondas.

These cities were all incapable of leading Greece, and it became very obvious that unless a form of government was established which would preside over all of the city states, then Greece would actually start going backwards, where different city states would attack each other in order to gain overall power.

There was a bright side however. A new power was brewing in the north - Macedon. And it was from here that a new age for Greece would begin.