The Peloponnesian War was a conflict in ancient Greece that redefined the structure of power in the Greek-speaking world. This sample essay explores Thucydides’ work “The Histories”, which is considered to be one of the first uses of scientific historical studying practices of which there are records.
Thucydides’ views about the Peloponnesian War
The Histories, a historical text, was written by Athenian Thucydides, who was considered one of the first historians to produce a book that was written using a scientific application and without reference to the gods. The Histories is written about the Peloponnesian War and the events that led to its outbreak. Thucydides was an Athenian historian who served as a general in the Peloponnesian War.
Despite his involvement in the war and his Athenian roots, Thucydides represented himself as an unbiased witness in his written work in The Histories. He breaks down the root causes of what led up to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, identifying the Ancient Greek cities and culture involved, and which cities played a major role leading to the outbreak. He identifies three major causes that contributed to the war: the dispute over Epidamnus; the dispute over Corcyra; and the dispute of the Potidaea.
Epidamnus and the city’s role in the war
Several complex events occurred in Epidamnus that resulted in what Thucydides refers to as the dispute over Epidamnus. Epidamnus was a colony of Corcyra, yet founded by the son of a Corinthian. After experiencing a period of success, Epidamnus slowly lost power and reformed government from aristocratic to democratic; the democrats revoked any respect of previous aristocrats. The Epidamnus aristocrats evacuated the city and joined forces with their foreign enemies, supporting the enemy side in a series of attacks against the new democratic city-state.
Realizing the backlash of the change in governments, Epidamnus found themselves in trouble and sought aid from Corcyra. Corcyraeans denied aid and assistance to Epidamnus, forcing Epidamnus to seek aid from the Corinthians. The Corinthians were in agreement and paired up with Epidamnus to fight against Corcyra because Corinthians thought that Corcyra did not respect them as their sister-state and believed their actions did not conform to typical Ancient Greek lifestyles. The Corinthians built a land and sea army with the help from Ambraciots, Leucadians, and native Corinthians.
Corinthian support during the Peloponnesian War
Corinthians support to Epidamnus did not settle well with Corcyra, especially after learning that an army was built in defense. Corcyraeans had a hostile response to the new allies and gathered their army to fight for Epidamnus. When Corcyra arrived to fight on Epidamnus’ land, former aristocrats who fled Epidamnus when the democratic government took control, pled with their former fellow citizens to stop the fighting and asked to be let back into the city. Epidamnus and the Corinthians declined their request.
The two sides went back and forth with offers and counteroffers, however, the Corinthians were ready to attack and repeatedly denied any offer. The denial of offers turned out to be a major mistake to the Corinthians. During the exchange of offers and while the Corinthians were preparing to fight, Thucydides states that part of the army was in Epidamnus holding citizens there as prisoners. This evidentially resulted in the victory of Corcyraeans, who gained power and control over the Epidamnus’ land and sea.
After the war was over, Corcyraean fleets started to badger Corinthian cities and their allies by starting fires and disposing waste on their land. Annoyed and frustrated with Corcyra despicable actions, Corinthians put up an army and went after the allies of Corcyra. Corcyra responded with their army and the two cities took a position for a period of time. After watching each other for an entire summer, both sides retreated. These series of events between these two mother cities are the first and primary causes that would lead to the Peloponnesian War, setting off a domino effect that distressed many city-states during that era.
The dispute over the city of Corcyra
Thucydides explains the next contributing factors for the cause of the Peloponnesian War was the dispute over the Corcyraeans. The dispute over Corcyra was a result of the dispute of the Epidamnus and leads to the dispute of the Potidaea. The Corinthians were not backing down, following the war against the Corcyraeans, Corinthians spent time and money building new ships and trained rowers from the Peloponnese to fight against Corcyra. The Corcyra never joined the Athenian League or the Spartans, which made them nervous to fight the Corinthians because they did not have enough manpower or allies.
Knowing the Corinthians might have a chance to win in a second battle, Corcyra sought the help of Athens. Ironically, Athens was already a party to the Peace Treaty of the Peloponnesian and had ties to the Corinthians because they too were involved in the treaty. Regardless of the treaty, Athens decided to hear both sides of the argument before deciding which city to side with. The hearing in Athens between the Corinthians and the Corcyraeans was a major factor in the Peloponnesian War because Athens took the Corcyraeans side and put their own city at risk and in an unsettling position.
The Coycyaeans’ role in the Peloponnesian War
After the hearing and the final outcome, all parties retreated to their land and prepared to fight. The Athenians gave the Corcyaeans the order to avoid a battle with the Corinthians- unless it was absolutely necessary. The Coycyaeans understood this order, but with the Corinthians coming up by sea to fight another battle, the Athenians had no choice but to let the Corcyraeans defend themselves (though the Athenians did not participate in the battle at first, due to the treaty).
The Corinthians had the upper hand for most of the battle but were defeated for the second time after the Athenians joined. After the battle, Corinthians sent a herald to Athens to deliver a message. The message was to remind Athens of their treaty and friendship and ask Athens not to get in their way against their enemy battles. The response from Athenians was not what the Corinthians were hoping for;
Thucydides describes Athens response to the Corinthian message,“Peloponnesians, we are not starting a war and we are not breaking the treaty. These Corcyraeans are our allies, and we came to help them.” (67).
Corinthians unwavering in support of Corcyra
It was obvious the Corinthians that Athenians were going to continue to stand by Corcyra. Greek culture demanded the city stand firm in their agreement with a fellow ally. The Corinthians then retreated back home. Though defeated, the Corinthians claimed victory for having the superior hand in the first part of the battle, and in delivering the message to Athens. The Corcyraeans also claimed victory for maintaining two wins against the Corinthians.
The result of the events with the Athenians and the Corcyraeans gave the Corinthians reason to wage war against the Athenians for breaking the Peace Treaty of the Peloponnesians. The treaty was no longer reason not to wage war since Corinthians felt that the Athenians broke that trust. The event of the hearing in Athens, the participation of Athens in the battle against former allies, and the continued defense Athens gave Corcyra after the second war were all causes that led to the to the next dispute and eventually to the Peloponnesian outbreak.
Dispute over Potidaea and the beginning of a war
The dispute over Potidaea was an outcome that resulted from the Athenians role in the war against the Corinthians and the Corcyraeans. After the battle between the Corcyraeans, Athenians, and Corinthians, many city-states became aggravated with the Athenians, and doubted the authenticity of allies, each city-state preparing to be on one side of the war. Corinthians were searching for allies to revolt against Athens; Perdicca sent agents to the Spartans and Corinth in hopes to gain alliances to revolt against Athens and Potidaea, he also reached out to the Chaleidians and the Bottiaeans to join in revolting against Athens.
It was a racing game between city-states; city-states all around Greece were experiencing extreme poverty, and preparing for war was the only way to accommodate their allies. Two major opponents that were fighting against each other due to the series of events that started when Epidamnus lost power and changed governments what the Athenians and the cities of Peloponnese (which was led by the Spartans).
The Spartans’ impact on the Peloponnesian War
The Spartans then sent out an invitation to their allies and other cities who may have a complaint against Athens to join them in a meeting and share their complaints against Athens. Many of the city-states’ top leadership and representatives showed and came forth with their points of views. Corinthians speech to the Spartans shed light on their own government, and even complains that they have reached out to them regarding the Athenians aggressions.
One Corinthian representative stated at the meeting, “Many times before now we have told you what we were likely to suffer from Athens, and on each occasion, instead of taking to heart what we were telling you, you choose instead to suspect our motives and to consider that we were speaking only about our own grievances. The result has been that you did not call together” (73).
This speech was a wake-up call for Spartans. After the meeting, the Spartans asked everyone to leave so they could discussion the decision to move forward with the war in private. After discussing in private, the allies were called back for a unanimous vote to engage in war against the Athenians. The Spartans and their allies concluded that Athens was acting aggressively and war must be initiated immediately.
The events in the disputes over Epidamnus, Corcyra and Potidaca all included a series of events that lead to one of Greece’s major changes in ancient history, the Peloponnesian War. Starting with the change in Epidamnus’ government, the partnership between Epidamnus and the Corinthians, Athens showed poor leadership traits by breaking the Peace Treaty with the Peloponnesians and forming defenses against their allies, the Corinthians motivation to continue to fight despite their loss battles against Corcyra and Athens betrayal, the continued support Athens gave to Corcyra after the Corinthians gave Athenians an opportunity to change sides, the battles involving surrounds city-states, all were causes that led up to the Peloponnesian War. The major cities that were involved and were the primary cause of the war were the two mother cities, Corinth and Corcyra, and Athens.
Rhodes, P. J.. A history of the classical Greek world: 478-323 B.C.. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Pub., 2006. Print.
Warner, Rex, and M. I. Finley. History of the Peloponnesian War. [Rev. ed. Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin Books, 1972. Print.