|Fig.1: The Battle of Mrs. Hutchinson's Geometry Class, circa 6th Period.|
While Ancient Greece was never a single political entity, since it was composed of city-states who preferred to do their own thing, inter-Greek fighting really wasn't too big of a problem before 500 BC. If two city-states had a disagreement, there might have been some minor skirmishing, maybe some destruction of agriculture, and at the very worst an extremely heated game of Mario Kart, but never a full-blown war. The Persian invasion in the early 5th century BC changed the way the Greeks fought: they were forced to band together and kill their enemies on a large scale. This was rather traumatic at first for those young innocent Greeks, but they soon became hardened to the gruesome realities of war, and were chopping out the entrails of felled Persians like men in no time. Of course it was only a matter of time before the Greeks would use this style of warfare on each other. And no one wanted to be around when it was time for it to go downtown like that! (That's what the kids are saying nowadays, right?)
|Fig.2: The Delian League was Athens' dominant |
seaward empire, even though it sort of looks like the
X-ray your dentist shows you when you have cavities.
This put the Delian League in competition with the already-established Peloponnesian League, based in the Peloponnesus on the southern Greek mainland. The dominant power of Peloponnesian League was the city-state of Sparta. Now, I know you're expecting me to make some dumb 300 reference, like how Spartans enjoy kicking people into bottomless pits while letting them know of their current location, but that's just too easy and overdone. I'm far more topical than that (which will be undermined one I make a lame Battlestar Galactica joke). Anyway, many city-states opposed to Athens' bullying rallied around Sparta and the Peloponnesian League; indeed there were some skirmishes between the two from 460-445 BC in what historians like to call the "First Peloponnesian War," but this was just an appetizer to what was to come. The Delian and Peloponnesian Leagues signed a Thirty Year Peace in 445 BC, but immediately Vegas began taking bets as to how long it would actually last.
|Fig.3: Mean Girls is considered one of |
the best documentaries detailing the
prelude to the Peloponnesian War.
For being one of the most crucial wars in ancient history, it sure got off to a slow start. Athens was hit by a really bad plague in 430 BC, killing around a third of their population; this included the prominent statesman Pericles, who claimed he had a secret master plan for beating the Spartans all along, but didn't tell anyone that he hid it in his top-right sock drawer. You would think that Sparta would have taken advantage of this major setback in Athens, but just the opposite: Spartans were worried that if they invaded Attica (the region home to Athens), they would get all of Athens' yucky plague germs, and in turn spread it in the Peloponnesus. So it was Athens' boogery grossness that saved them from getting their butts kicked right off the bat, which was not the case for me in fourth grade when I had that weird fungus on the whole left side of my face. Yeah, let's not talk about it.
|Fig.4: Helots were often given an excessive amount of |
alcohol to demonstrate its negative effects to the Spartan
youth. Nowadays, we have the cast of Jersey Shore to
teach us that lesson.
This back-and-forth lasted ten whole years, until Athens and Sparta decided to take a break and figure out where this war was going. The agreement they came up with in 421 BC was called the Peace of Nicias after the Athenian general who negotiated the terms, because the Peace of Pleistoanax (after the Spartan king present on the other side) would have been too silly-sounding and hard to pronounce. Terms of the treaty included a prisoner exchange, the return of all lands captured during the war, an indefinite period of peace, and a provision to make each other breakfast-in-bed in alternating weeks. It was doomed from the start because many of Sparta's allies, like Corinth and Megara, never agreed to the Peace (calling Sparta names like "softipants" and "wussykins" for laying down their arms), and continued the war against Athens. Ironically, the largest land battle fought in Greece during the war (Battle of Mantinea, 418 BC) occurred during this supposed time of "peace." That's the worst peace I've heard of since the Cylons used the forty-year interwar period to prepare for their nuclear attack on the Twelve Colonies! (I warned you that lame BSG reference was coming.)
Of course, this isn't the end of the story. Yes, Virginia: the Peloponnesian War had only begun, and it was about to get really bloody. So please forgive me while I dangle a massive cliffhanger in front of you, and tell you to look out next week for Part Two!