The World of Socrates
War and Politics in Classical Greece: The
Conflicts with the Persian Empire. Around the year 500
B.C.E. as you know both Athenian democracy and the Spartan
city-state had established themselves, but they were by no means
completely stable societies, especially not in the case of Athens where
Cleithenes had only recently implemented the last democratic
reforms. It was just at this time that the Greek city-states
faced a great political and military challenge, maintaining their
independence from the gargantuan Persian empire that was right on their
doorsteps in Anatolia. By the mid-6th century B.C.E. as Athens
was moving towards its last set of democratic reforms, Persia took over
the Greek-settled cities of Asia Minor (Anatolia) along its Aegean
coast. With help from the Athenian navy these cities then
revolted successfully (though only temporarily so) in 499 B.C.E.
To punish Athens for her assistance to these rebellious cities the
Persian emperor Darius ( 558-486 B.C.E., r. 522-486 B.C.E.) invaded
Attica in 490 B.C.E., confronting the Athenian city-state and its
allies at Marathon (Sparta, which had the best land-based forces,
stayed home perhaps due to a rising of the helots). The Greeks won this
battle, but this was only round one, for in 480 B.C.E. Darius's
successor Xerxes (~521-465 B.C.E., r. 486-465 B.C.E.) invaded Greece
again, although his approach to the Greek mainland was from the north
at the pass of Thermopylae. The Spartan king Leonidas and his
crack unit the Hippeis along
with allies from Thebes and Thespia among other places attempted to
hold this narrow and very defensible position against Darius's
numerically superior forces and did so successfully until a traitor
betrayed them by showing the Persians a way to outflank the Greeks'
position. This resulted in a heroic but ultimately unsuccessful
last stand by the Spartans and their allies.
With this victory, the Persians found the way to Attica and to Athens
open and they proceeded thence, sacking and burning the city. But
meanwhile the Athenian navy defeated the Persian navy a few months
later in 480 at the Battle of Salamis and then, in 479, a combined
Greek army including Spartans and Athenians defeated the Persians at
the Battle of Plataea.
and Politics in Classical Greece: The Peloponnesian Wars.
The victory over the very power Persian empire might have been an
opportunity for further development of pan-Greek institutions and
identity, but it did not turn out that way. Sparta returned to
its own affairs (they feared external involvements that might distract
them from monitoring the helots and their revolt c. 464-460?
B.C.E. would seem to bear out their caution here) and the Athenians
took over sole leadership of the defensive league that was to raise
money for and coordinate the ongoing efforts to defend Greece against
further Persian incursions. Known as the Delian League, this
organization had its treasury on the island of Delos and used
contributions from the member city-states to pay for collective
defense. The problem was that the Athenians were seen as and
actually did make use of monies from the Delian League to support
public works projects in Athens itself that did not benefit other
city-states. The Athenians also began to build up an empire with
the result that the city-states of Corinth and Sparta began to worry
about the ultimate end of Athenian designs.
As a result two groups of cities, one led by Sparta the other by
Athens, formed and started to fight one another. The first
conflict was c. 457-452/451 B.C.E. and is sometimes called the First
Peloponnesian War. It ended in a draw and an uneasy truce of five
years and then a cold peace that lasted until 431 B.C.E. when the first
half of the Peloponnesian War, the Archidamian War (431-421
B.C.E.) was fought and ended in a draw. The Spartans won the
second half of the conflict, the Decelean War (413-404 B.C.E.)
and, thus, the war as a whole.
The Consequences of the Peloponnesian Wars: The Spartan Empire
and the Decline of the Greek City-States. The Spartan military
leader who was decisive in Sparta's defeat of Athens was
Lysander. Lysander won a battle near Notium in 406 B.C.E.;
obtained the support of the Persian Viceroy Cyrus the Younger, and was
instrumental at the Battle of Aegospotami, which resulted in the
destruction of the Athenian fleet in 405 B.C.E. With the Athenian
fleet destroyed, Athens could no longer secure its grain supply and it
surrendered in 404 B.C.E.
Lysander then went from city-state to city-state among Athens's former
allies and installed Spartan governors or harmosts with
Spartan garrisons and, in some cases, Spartan-friendly ruling groups
known as decarchies. The Spartans also collected tribute
from the defeated city-states. In Athens, however, Lysander's
policies resulted in the reign of the Thirty Tyrants who ruled with a
heavy hand and provoked a rebellion that only the Spartan army under
Lysander and the king of the Agiad House Pausanias could put
down. Pausanias compromised with the supporters of democracy and
put aside the Spartan-installed rulers of Athens. Although not
everyone in Sparta approved of Pausanias's agreement with Athenian
democrats, over the long run Lysander's empire could not survive even
with the support of Sparta's other royal house the Eurypontid House
(Agis II r. 427-399/398 B.C.E. & Agesilaus II (444-360, r.
399/398-360 B.C.E.). Thus, by staying behind when the democratic
leadership left Athens during the reign of the Thirty Tyrants, Socrates
was taking a chance. And when the democratic opposition returned
to power, Socrates found himself in trouble. The divisions within
Athens after the Pelopennesian Wars should also be seen as reflective
of a larger problem across all of Greek society. The
Peloponnesian Wars had exhausted the Greek city-states and by 350
B.C.E. many of them were in decline and unprepared to defend themselves
against their expanding neighbor to the north, the Macedonian kingdom.
I. War and Politics in
Classical Greece, c. 500-400 B.C.E.