The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War

The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War

Copyright Date: 1969
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 420
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    The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War
    Book Description:

    The first volume of Donald Kagan's acclaimed four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War offers a new evaluation of the origins and causes of the conflict, based on evidence produced by modern scholarship and on a careful reconsideration of the ancient texts. He focuses his study on the question: Was the war inevitable, or could it have been avoided?

    Kagan takes issue with Thucydides' view that the war was inevitable, that the rise of the Athenian Empire in a world with an existing rival power made a clash between the two a certainty. Asserting instead that the origin of the war "cannot, without serious distortion, be treated in isolation from the internal history of the states involved," Kagan traces the connections between domestic politics, constitutional organization, and foreign affairs. He further examines the evidence to see what decisions were made that led to war, at each point asking whether a different decision would have been possible.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6721-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
    D. K.
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Abbreviations and Short Titles
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Thucydides began to write a history of the war between the Athenians and the Peloponnesians because he expected that it would be “great and most worthy of the telling.”¹ He was not disappointed, for in duration, extent, fierceness, and significance it surpassed all previous Greek wars. It was the “greatest upheaval that had come to the Greeks, to some portion of the barbarians, one might even say to the greater part of mankind.”² From our viewpoint it was something even more; it was the crucible in which the life of the polis was tested.

    Even by ancient standards, the city-states...

  6. Part One The Alliance System and the Division of the Greek World

    • 1. The Spartan Alliance
      (pp. 9-30)

      The Peloponnesian War was not fought by individual Greek states but by two great coalitions, the Peloponnesian League and the Athenian Empire. In some important ways the two were similar, each providing an example of what has been called an “Alliance Under a Hegemon.”¹ Each was “an alliance of a leading state with a number of others, not limited in time or by any specific aim, implying a leading position of the one state in war, and soon also in politics, loosely organized at first, but clearly an attempt at a unit transcending the single state.”² But in many crucial...

    • 2. The Origins of the Athenian Empire
      (pp. 31-48)

      The Athenian Empire resulted from Sparta’s unwillingness or inability to extend her power, influence, and responsibility to the Aegean and its borders after the Greek victories at Plataea and Mycale in 479. Those victories had not ended the war against Persia, for the Persians could come again. Even if this were ruled out, the agreements made by the Greeks at the congress of 481 called for continued joint activities against the Persian Empire. That congress created a confederation of Greek states that greatly influenced the formation of the Delian League, which became the Athenian Empire, and we must examine its...

    • 3. Sparta after the Persian War
      (pp. 49-56)

      The Spartan decision to abandon the leadership of the Aegean campaign against Persia had not been taken lightly. An unfortunate combination of circumstances had brought it about, and we may be sure that it left many Spartans dissatisfied. The Persian War had brought Sparta power, influence, and respect unprecedented among the Greek states, but it had also produced a formidable rival to its unique position of leadership. It had offered tempting opportunities for an extension of Spartan influence and power as well as a chance to gain great wealth, but it also brought the prospect of heavy military responsibilities far...

    • 4. Athens after the Persian War
      (pp. 57-74)

      In Athens there had been no opposition to participation in the Delian League and to continued war against Persia. Themistocles, his political opponents Aristides and Xanthippus, and the rising young politician Cimon all played a leading role in the foundation and early growth of an active policy in the Aegean. If Themistocles was the father of the naval policy, it was Aristides who won over the allegiance of the allies and presided over the formation of the league and the assessment of the tribute, Xanthippus who took command of the first campaigns in the Hellespont, and Cimon who vigorously led...

  7. Part Two The First Peloponnesian War

    • 5. The War in Greece
      (pp. 77-97)

      Within two years of Cimon’s exile the Athenians were allied with a state that had rebelled from the Spartan alliance and was engaged in combat with several Peloponnesian states. The First Peloponnesian War was on. After the Spartan rejection of Cimon’s troops it could scarcely have been avoided. It is interesting to apply Thucydides’ judgment of the “truest cause” of the later war to the outbreak of this one. “I think that the truest cause but the one least spoken of was that the Athenians had grown powerful, which presented an object of fear to the Spartans and forced them...

    • 6. The Crisis in the Aegean
      (pp. 98-119)

      The disastrous defeat of the Egyptian expedition seriously challenged Athens’ hegemony in the Aegean. The Athenian response took them a long way towards converting their hegemony into frank and open domination. Thucydides is tantalizingly silent on the details of the transition from the Delian League to the Athenian Empire, but we are able to fill in some of the gaps by using the evidence of ancient inscriptions. With their aid we can piece together the steps in the evolution of the Athenian Empire and flesh out the bare statements of the ancient authors.

      In the early 450’s, Athens was fighting...

    • 7. The End of the War
      (pp. 120-130)

      For the time being at least, the imperial part of Pericles’ policy was going well. The other half, relations with Sparta, was not equally successful. In 449, soon after their rejection of Pericles’ invitation to the Panhellenic Congress, the Spartans embarked upon the so-called Sacred War, in which they took control of the temple of Apollo at Delphi away from the Phocians and turned it over to the Delphians.¹ The Phocians were allies of Athens by virtue of a treaty concluded in 454/3. It is likely that they had gained control of the sanctuary because of this alliance and the...

  8. Part Three The Years of Peace

    • 8. Athenian Politics: The Victory of Pericles
      (pp. 133-153)

      One of the great dangers to peace in a world divided into mutually suspicious powers is political instability within each state. We have seen how internal political conflicts in both Athens and Sparta contributed to the outbreak of the First Peloponnesian War. If a renewal of that war was to be avoided, each side must pursue a steady policy of restraint and mutual reassurance, and such steadiness is very difficult to achieve under any constitution. It was the good fortune of Athens, however, that within a few years after the conclusion of peace, she attained a degree of political stability...

    • 9. Athens and the West: The Foundation of Thurii
      (pp. 154-169)

      Although the Athenian Empire lay to the north and east, Athens was not altogether uninterested in the west. As we have seen,¹ there were rumors that Themistocles had ambitions of western expansion, and it is not too much to believe that at the height of their success the more sanguine Athenians may have cast covetous eyes on the wheat fields, harbors, and precious metals of the Greek cities of Sicily and southern Italy. In the year 458/7, at any rate, when the victorious Athenians had not yet been sobered by the Egyptian disaster, they concluded a treaty with Egesta in...

    • 10. The Samian Rebellion
      (pp. 170-178)

      Late in the summer of 440 a war broke out between Samos and Miletus over the control of the town of Priene.¹ The quarrel presented a difficult imperial problem to the Athenians. Samos was a completely autonomous state, paying no tribute, one of only three states that possessed a navy, and that a very powerful one. Her constitution was oligarchic. Miletus, on the other hand, had revolted in the 450’s and been subdued. It paid tribute and had been deprived of a navy. A few years earlier, in 446/5, a second rebellion resulted in the establishment by Athens of a...

    • 11. The Consolidation of the Empire
      (pp. 179-192)

      The rebellions of Samos and Byzantium demonstrated that the imperial reorganization of 443/2 had not been completely successful. They had been accompanied by troubles in Thrace and defections in Caria. During 440/39, the years of the rebellion and siege, several Carian towns had already disappeared from the tribute lists. Caria had always been a difficult region to control because of its remoteness and because many of the towns were inland and practically within the Persian Empire. The revenue from these Carian towns was not great, and the cost of coercing them was hardly justified. At the same time, Caria had...

    • 12. Athenian Politics on the Eve of the War
      (pp. 193-202)

      The frankness, even bluntness, with which Pericles addressed the Athenians in the months before the war broke out and in the period of the war before his death bears testimony to the special position he had in their regard. This position he held because they respected and admired him for his political, military, and aesthetic achievements, for his long experience, and for his remarkable incorruptibility. Most important, the political situation in Athens gave him a very secure base of power.

      When the crisis at Corcyra erupted, Pericles stood without a rival. The opposition on the right had been leaderless for...

  9. Part Four The Final Crisis

    • 13. Epidamnus
      (pp. 205-221)

      It is not uncommon for great wars to arise from incidents in remote places. The Second Punic War broke out as a result of a quarrel over the unimportant Spanish town of Saguntum. The Great War of 1914 was the consequence of an assassination in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo. But Saguntum was located near the frontier between Carthaginian territory and an area under Roman protection. Bosnia was in a region which had long been the subject of dispute between Russia and Austria, and it is common to speak of the Balkans as a cockpit where several wars had taken...

    • 14. Corcyra
      (pp. 222-250)

      The Corinthians had sent their troops to Epidamnus overland by way of Apollonia because they expected trouble from Corcyra, and their expectations were justified. The Corcyreans were prepared to stand aside and let the Epidamnians destroy one another, but they could not allow the Corinthians to establish themselves in a colony belonging to Corcyra. When they learned that garrisons and new settlers had arrived and that the Epidamnians had given the colony over to Corinth, they were annoyed. Their angry response showed. their customary arrogance and their failure to appreciate the seriousness of the Corinthian undertaking.

      As we have seen,...

    • 15. Megara
      (pp. 251-272)

      After the news of Sybota and the Corinthian seizure of Anactorium reached Athens, the chances of conflict were greatly increased, and the Athenians were compelled to take steps in case war should come. The policy of Pericles was to make Athens ready for war with Corinth but to avoid any step that might involve Sparta or make Athens guilty of a technical breach of the peace.

      Perhaps Athens’ most vital resource in a war was money, so Pericles took steps to see that the Athenian treasury would be full if and when war came. We have the stone containing the...

    • 16. Potidaea
      (pp. 273-285)

      Certainly the most clear-cut instance of Athenian preparation for a war with Corinth after the Battle of Sybota was the ultimatum the Athenians delivered to Potidaea. The Potidaeans, who lived on the isthmus connecting the peninsula of Pallene with the Chalcidice bordering on Thrace and Macedonia, were in the anomalous position of being tribute-paying allies of Athens, but at the same time loyal colonists of Corinth who received annual magistrates from the mother city. In the winter of 433/2, perhaps in January, the Athenians ordered them to pull down the city walls on the side of Pallene, to give hostages,...

    • 17. Sparta
      (pp. 286-316)

      The Athenian siege of Potidaea further angered the Corinthians and intensified their haste to bring Sparta into a war against the Athenians. Corinthian citizens were in the besieged city, and at any moment it might surrender, exposing the loyal colony of Corinth to Athenian vengeance. The Corinthians hurried to their Peloponnesian allies, urging them to go to Sparta. Among those who sent delegates were the Aeginetans, who did so secretly out of fear of Athens. They immediately joined the Corinthians in persuading the others who had come that Athens had broken the treaty.¹ It is worth emphasizing that even at...

    • 18. Athens
      (pp. 317-342)

      Between August of 432 and the Theban attack on Plataea that began the war in March of 431, the Spartans sent no less than three embassies to Athens claiming to offer means of avoiding the war. Such offers would in any case be very suspect, coming as they did from a state and an alliance that had already agreed on a war against Athens. That suspicion is not diminished for us by the way in which Thucydides reports the purpose of the missions: the Spartans sent them “so that they might have the best possible pretext for war if the...

  10. Part Five Conclusions

    • 19. The Causes of the War
      (pp. 345-356)

      It was Thucydides who invented the distinction between the underlying, remote causes of war and the immediate causes. In his history of the Peloponnesian War he considered the immediate causes, which in fact went back almost five years before the actual commencement of hostilities, to be far less important than the more remote cause that arose from the growth of the Athenian Empire almost fifty years before the start of the war. Thucydides’ view that the war was the inevitable consequence of the growth of that empire, its insatiable demand for expansion, and the fear it must inspire in the...

    • 20. Thucydides and the Inevitability of the War
      (pp. 357-374)

      Our investigations have led us to conclusions that differ from those of Thucydides and the majority of modern scholars. That is a sobering thought, for perhaps it is only arrogance and a peculiar perversity that have led to such conclusions. A glance at the history of the question, however, may acquit us of these charges, for over the years Thucydides’ account of the causes of the war has been found unsatisfactory even by those who accept his explanation.

      One of the keenest analyses of the problem was made by Eduard Meyer,¹ who finally decided that Thucydides was correct. But his...

  11. Appendixes

    • A. The Willingness of the Members of the Delian League to Accept Athenian Leadership
      (pp. 377-378)
    • B. The Historicity of Diodorus’ Account of the Spartan Assembly in 475
      (pp. 378-379)
    • C. Chronology of Events between ca. 470–453
      (pp. 379-380)
    • D. Reconstruction of the Athenian Tribute Lists
      (pp. 380-381)
    • E. The Papyrus Decree
      (pp. 382-382)
    • F. The Foundation of Thurii
      (pp. 382-384)
    • G. Athenian Actions in the West between the Wars
      (pp. 384-386)
    • H. Athenian Treatment of Byzantium
      (pp. 386-387)
    • I. The Date of Pericles’ Pontic Expedition
      (pp. 387-389)
    • J. The Site and Date of Brea
      (pp. 389-390)
    • K. The Date of the Battle of Poteadia
      (pp. 391-392)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 393-404)
  13. General Index
    (pp. 405-412)
  14. Index of Ancient Authors and Inscriptions
    (pp. 413-417)
  15. Index of Modern Authors
    (pp. 418-421)