The Heroic Roles In The Defeat Of Athens And Sparta

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After heroic roles in the defeat of the Persians (480-479 B.C.), for the next half-century, Athens and Sparta assumed preeminence among the city-states, and their rivalry slowly led to the long-expected showdown. Thucydides, a contemporary historian, believed that the war broke out because of Spartan fear of the rising power of Athens, whose empire and capital increasingly isolated less imaginative and less adventurous rivals. Both were unusually powerful, atypical–and antithetical–Greek states that could afford to ignore the old rules of infantry warfare. Supported by nearly 200,000 Helots (serfs) who worked the farms of Messenia and Laconia, the Spartans fielded professional hoplites, year-round infantry not subject to the normal restrictions …show more content…
Nurtured on the tribute of vassal states in the Aegean, Athens did not mothball its triremes; instead, they became a “benign” police force of sorts for its Greek subject allies overseas. Like the Spartans, imperial Athens too saw little need to limit warfare to a single afternoon, or indeed, given the success of its evacuation before Xerxes and subsequent naval response, to risk at all its hoplites in defense of the farmland of Attica. The majority of its citizens were not infantrymen and increasingly saw the navy as the bulwark of radical democracy.Abandoning its countryside to Spartan invaders (431-425 B.C.), Athens understandably refused pitched battle with the crack hoplites of the Peloponnesian and Theban alliance. The strategy of attrition adapted by the Athenian leader, Pericles, depended on increased importation of food and material into the port at Piraeus, all the while sending out Athens’s magnificent fleet to stabilize its maritime empire and to prevent Peloponnesian infiltrations, forgoing major land engagements at all costs. Sparta found its old strategy of ravaging cropland discomfortingly ineffective: its hoplites in Attica could neither draw the Athenian army out nor reduce the city economically. …show more content…
Unable to replace the manpower losses from the plague and the disaster at Sicily, the Athenian army and navy were routinely now outnumbered by the combined alliance of Sparta, Thebes, and Syracuse. Persian subsidies to this Peloponnesus-led coalition for the first time surpassed the financial reserves of Athens. After the final Athenian sea defeat off Aegospotami, the Long Walls down to the Piraeus were razed, and a Spartan garrison occupied the city.Nearly three decades of constant fighting left Athens bankrupt, exhausted, and demoralized. But Sparta and its allies were in no position to maintain an even harsher military hegemony over Greece. In the detritus of the Peloponnesian War, the agrarian fighting of the old polis was ended. Warfare now meant expansion of conflict onto a variety of costly and deadly new horizons, where past protocol meant little. The Greek genius was freed to apply capital, technology, and manpower to war without ethical restraint, but in the process the old idea of a city-state was lost. I

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