The Peloponnesian War – Strengths and Weaknesses

The Peloponnesian war had lasting, traumatic effects for Greek society, breaking any chance of a unified Greek state that could stand together against invaders, which ultimately left the door open for Macedonian control.  Although the conflict lasted for 28 years, and caused huge economic, political, and societal problems for both Athens and Sparta as well as their numerous respective allies.[1]

Throughout the war, the weaknesses displayed by both sides seem to point to the very same values that were examined in previous readings.  The Greeks were proud, and valued honor almost above all else.  This value system allowed for the Athenians to repeatedly refuse Sparta’s offers of peace after major defeats, and it also encouraged Athenians to keep fighting and for Spartans to press on long after the conflict should have ended.[2]  In this regard, the weaknesses of the various Greek city-states would be viewed as strengths in other circumstances.[3]

The military revolution referred to the fact that a new phenomenon was sweeping Greece, and while Sparta especially had focused all of their time and energy on creating a strong heavy infantry, changes were coming that would make their brute strength less imposing.[4]  After 28 years of nearly continuous warfare, the Greek countryside was filled with men who were essentially mercenaries, willing to fight for whoever was willing to pay them with little if any allegiance to a polis or city state.[5]  These men could be hired for valuable flaking maneuvers all the way through the ranks from light infantry to generals.[6]

In addition to the roaming mercenaries for hire in an environment that bred distrust and suspicion, the Peloponnesian war had demonstrated that while hoplite armies had once seemed unbreakable, they had their share of weaknesses as well.  These weaknesses encouraged military development and allowed the increased use of light infantry or peltasts, which had effectively decimated a hoplite army under Iphicrates in 390 BC.[7]  While these innovations were forward-thinking and arguably necessary for a time of such turmoil, they went against the practice of Greek culture and history as military service was no longer necessarily attached to both citizenship and land ownership.[8]

[1] Thomas R Martin, “An Overview of Classical Greek History from Mycenae to Alexander,” Tufts University, accessed June 22, 2016, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0009%3Achapter%3D12

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] D. Brendan Nagle, The Ancient World, a Social  and Cultural History eighth edition (Boston: Pearson, 2014), 102.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

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