|A helmeted Spartan hoplite|
The historian Bettany Hughes has described the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta as one of the most pitiless wars human history has ever known. The Greeks used the term ‘stasis’ to describe it. The war was not fought between Athens and Sparta alone. Each was involved in a web of alliances with the other Greek states. The war extended from Asia Minor across the Aegean to Greece and thence to Sicily and southern Italy. Even the Persian Empire intervened and in the end its subsidies decided the struggle in favour of Sparta. The resources brought to the war by both sides were enormous. Athens fought on until it had completely exhausted its material resources. Tens of thousands, including Pericles, died of the great plague of 430-29. The war lasted an entire generation, in the course of which huge changes took place. At the end of the war there were signs of great destruction and also of intellectual crisis.
Sparta: the alternative polis
|Sparta and its Territory|
Thucydides: historian of the War
|Roman bust of Thucydides|
‘Never before had so many cities been captured and then devastated, whether by foreign armies of by the Hellenic powers themselves…never had there been so many exiles, never so much loss of life.’
Very little is known of his life. Thucydides of the deme of Halimus in Attica was the son of Olorus, whose name might be of Thracian origin. It is also likely that his mother’s family was of Thracian princely stock. In 424 he was one of the strategoi (generals) in Thrace, whose task was the defence of Amphipolis on the lower Strymon. Unable to hold the city against Sparta, he was recalled and put on trial, and his humiliating failure earned him and his family lifelong exile in Thrace.
The WarThucydides stated:
‘What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.’Sparta’s allies believed that the very existence of a powerful Athenian navy ruling over a vast empire threatened the safety and independence of the other Greek states.