The History of the Peloponnesian War

My hasty, amateur summary.

The Peloponnesian War

By Thucydides. He was a military leader in the war.

Time: about 431-404 B.C.

Combatants:

Sparta had a mighty land army. Form of government: Big-shots, the wealthy governed. This is known as oligarchy. They trained their people in military ways from birth. Their living was made for them by slaves who outnumbered the free men nine to one.

Athens had a mighty navy. They controlled most of the shoreline communities and islands of the Aegean Sea. That sea is in the north Mediterranean. Rich. They imported lots of food and got money tribute from all their territories. Form of government: democracy. Everyone voted and had a voice. The Golden Age, with Pericles as the first citizen, brought many artistic and cultural achievements such as the teachings of Socrates and other philosophers, theater, literature and architecture.

Fifty years prior to the start of the war, united Greeks had humbled the haughty, rich, powerful Persians who had invaded. They were proud of that.

Cause of war: Spartans didn’t like Athens exporting democracy everywhere. Spartans’ and their allies’ oligarchies were in danger. Jealousy. Fear of the other side gaining supremacy. Allies being put down.

Athens looked invincible. They thought their supply of food made it impossible for Sparta to starve them out.

Big disasters for Athens: Hunkered inside city walls in the first few years of the war, having brought people from their farms and lands surrounding the city, they became subject to disease that ran rampant and killed about one third. Later, about ¾ way through the war, they attacked Sicily. They lost big there.

In the end, rich, mighty Athens lost.

It was a victory for Sparta, but both it and Athens lost because of the loss of men and money.

It didn’t take long for the Macedonians under Philip to take over Greek, Spartan and Athenian, regions. Philip’s son, Alexander, then took over practically every place known to man.

This book, though tedious at times, contains much wisdom. The author thinks it can help predict the future. Learning of human behavior and national affairs is instructive for large policy questions as well as personal development and correction. I’m very glad I persevered through all 550 pages of the Strassler edition. Its maps and other study aids were immensely helpful.

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