The Peloponnesian War: Behind the Scenes

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Jarod Bleibdrey, M.S.C.J

January 20, 2013

As humans have evolved into vast, complex civilizations, a growing trend became notable to mankind, which was corruption. Speculating that Herodotus was the first true historian, and Thucydides was the second, then the Peloponnesian War would be the first form of government corruption in which war became inevitable. At this point, the war varies in perception of the two great alliances, and why the war was even fought. This essay will demonstrate how the Peloponnesian War stood as a great example of how superpowers become thrust into battle with one another, based upon corruption, vast difference in lifestyles, and the urging from smaller entities. Focus will be on how both Athens and Sparta’s political, social and diplomatic systems forced them into battle, but the battles themselves are of little concern in this essay. It was the “behind the scenes” events that can best explain and summarize the war. With the focus laying upon the causes of the war, it becomes important to remember that, what began as a great alliance, turned into the devastation of Greece and allowed the conquest of Philip of Macedonia to commence.

Let us begin with the culture of Athens and Sparta, in an attempt to explain the vast contrast within the two city-states. The Spartans were obsessed with their military superiority, while the Athenians were interested in comfort and culture. Granted, the Athenian Navy was the strongest maritime force of the age, but more on this when we get to corruption. The culture of Athens and Sparta was different to their core; everything from political to daily living conflicted, causing them to become competitive and distrustful of each other. The Spartan government was a very complex structure, which consisted of a dual monarchy, a warrior assembly (apella), a council of elders (gerousia) and the ephors. Herodotus claims that the two royal families of Sparta, which consisted of the Agiadai and Eurypontidai families, shared a common ancestry and could trace their lineage back to Herakles himself. Thus making the royal families by blood lines, which would be unable to be displaced, as opposed to that of military power, which could be overthrown. The kings were limited in their power as they only held command of the military. They had no influence in the laws which were left to the apella, gerousia and ephors. The apella was composed of every Spartan warrior who had reached the age of thirty. The apella’s primary functions included electing members for the gerousia, and the ephors. The apella held the ultimate power on matters of legislation and policy. The manner in which they voted was through a process of acclamation. Above the apella was the gerousia, which consisted of the two kings and twenty-eight members of Spartan warriors who had reached the age of sixty. The members elected into the gerousia served a life term, and could only be removed by the ephors. The true nature of the gerousia is unknown, but Herodotus wrote the gerousia could serve as a court to hear capital cases. The last political body of the Spartans and possibly the most important is that of the ephors. The five ephors were freely elected each year and attended much of the daily business of Sparta. Each month the kings and the ephors would exchange oaths, to which each pledged to uphold the position of the other. The ephors were the true controlling body of the Spartans, and thus resembled an oligarchy rule. It was this oligarchic rule of the ephors which insisted on the agoge, and placed Sparta into a militaristic focused city-state. The government in Athens followed a very different course than Sparta. Athenian citizens had the duty to vote or hold office. During the 6th century B.C., Athens instituted a unique form of government in which the citizens had a direct say in the election of leaders. This early form of democracy was lead by Cleisthenes who created the...
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