Second Peloponnesian War

The Second Peloponnesian War, often referred to simply as “The Peloponnesian War,” was an epic struggle between the city-state of Athens and it’s aggressor, the Peloponnesian League. The War lasted from 431 to 404 BC, and signified the end of a long-lasting struggle between two cultures.


In the year 446, at the end of the First Peloponnesian War, Athens signed a treaty with the Peloponnesian League. The treaty, known as the “Thirty Year Treaty,” stayed in effect for just under half its intended duration. That treaty recognized the empire of Athens, including the Aegean Sea, with tributary states on the coasts and islands. Sparta lay claim to the land states in central Greece.

Fighting Begins:

The treaty held until 433. In that year, the island of Corcyra sought to throw off their Corinthian overlords, and appealed to Athens for help. Recognizing the opportunity for an ally in the western sea, Pericles convinced the Athenian assembly to send ships to aid.

In 432, the Spartans sent an envoy to Corcyra to demand the withdraw of the Athenian ships. A diplomatic stalemate ensued until 431 when Thebes, one of Sparta’s allies, attacked one of the Athenian states, Plataea. This began the first of three stages to the Second Peloponnesian War, known as the Archidamian War, which would last from 431 to 421.

Major Battles:

During this first stage of the Second Peloponnesian War, Athens maintained some success. The Spartan King Archimedes II lay siege to the city of Plataea, and the Athenians were able to hold out there until 427, when the city fell. It was during this time that a revolt, incited by the Spartans, took place at Mytilene.

The Athenians were able to successfully put down that revolt. From 427 until about 424, the Athenians made additional progress both into the Peloponnese via sea and into Italy via land. This success, however, ended with the Athenian attempt to recover Amphipholis. The Athenians were defeated at Amphipolis in 422, and signed the Peace of Nicas to save face and keep from losing allies. It was also during this stage that Pericles died, in 429. He was succeeded by Nicias.

The second stage of the Second Peloponnesian War lasted from 421 to 413, and saw battles in Syracuse and Sicily. During this time, Corinth attempted to build coalitions among the states against Athens, and Alcibiades betrayed Athens to the Spartans. During the Battle of Mantinea, Argos, which had been courted by both sides, lost the bulk of their military and then became an ally to Athens. This is also the phase at which, thanks to new Athenian allies in the Peloponnenese, Athens was able to bring the fight home to Sparta, forcing the Spartans into battles on their home territory.

The Battle of Aegosotami was a naval battle toward the end of the third stage of the Second Peloponnesian War. In this battle, the Athenian naval superiority was lost as Sparta was able to use gold, sent from the Persian king Cyrus, to build a fleet rivaling the Athenian. The battle ended tragically for the Athenians. After this battle, Persian officially entered the contest and threw its naval support behind Sparta, hastening the inevitable end of the conflict.

The Conflict Ends:

The conflict ended suddenly in 405. The remaining Athenian fleet was caught unawares at Hellespont and destroyed. This signified the first time in a century that Athens did not have control of the Aegean. Sparta blockaded land routes, thus preventing resupply to Athens. By 404, Athens capitulated.


Sparta offered Athens reasonable terms, given the time. No soldiers were slaughtered, and no temples were razed. The Athenian Long Walls, as well as the defenses of the Piraeus, were demolished. These two structures had long been a thorn in the side to Sparta. The Athenians acknowledged Spartan rule just for a single year, until a democratic faction was able to regain control of the city because of the injustice of the Sparta-backed Athenian oligarchy that had been put in place.