TIMELINE OF WORLD HISTORY
 

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The Ancient World

ca. 2500 B.C. - 900 A.D.
 

 

 


Classical Greece from the Culture of the Polis

to the End of Independence
 



8TH-3RD CENTURY B.C.
 

 


The Peloponnesian War


Athens's abandonment of its previous alliance system led to conflict with Sparta. Its ruthless expansionism led to the Peloponnesian War on the periphery of the Greek world.
 

In 464 B.C., Sparta suffered a severe earthquake followed shortly afterwards by a helot revolt.

An appeal to Athens for help was answered in 462 by Athens's leading statesman and military leader, Cimon, who dispatched 1 hoplite troops to the aid of Sparta.

The democratic forces in Athens used Cimon's absence, and the crushing defeat of his troops suffered at the hands of the helots, to implement a radical change in policy.

3
Cimon was banished by ostracism, and Athens left the anti-Persian alliance with Sparta in 461.

The Delian League was then created, and other states were forced to join and support Athenian expansionist designs. The first inconclusive military conflict with Sparta was settled by a peace treaty in 446-445 B.C., in which both powers agreed not to extend their influence and to allow the neutral Greek states to remain aloof. In the years that followed, however, Athens continued to extend its influence while Sparta sought to maintain the status quo. Thus, the peace became increasingly unviable, and the move to armed conflict-was swift.

The devastating 2 Peloponnesian War between the two most powerful city-states began with a flare-up on the fringes of the Greek peninsula between minor powers. However the two giants, Athens and Sparta, were quickly drawn in by their conflicting alliances.

5
Corinth and Corcyra were quarreling over the possession of their common colony Epidamnos (modern Durres) on the Adriatic Sea.

Corcyra, a neutral power, then sought an alliance with Athens, and Athens—wanting to extend its sphere of influence to include the Adriatic coast—agreed. In 433 B.C. the first clashes occurred at sea, between Athenian and Corinthian ships. In 432, Athens imposed a blockade on Corinth's ally Megara and its Pontian colonies, whereupon Corinth and Megara, both allies of Sparta, pressed for support. After some hesitation, Sparta declared war on Athens in the summer of 432, citing the breach of earlier peace treaties.


1 Greek warrior wearing light armor, greaves and helmet with a shield
and javelin



3 Clay shard inscribed with the name of Cimon,
who was banished under the ostracism law
 


2 Two hoplites greet each other
before entering battle,
Peloponnesian War, marble relief,
ca. 420 B.C.

 


5 Corinthian helmet

 
 
 

 
 


The Course of the War
 

The first phase of the Peloponnesian War was confused, with neither side gaining a decisive advantage. However, once Sparta concluded an alliance with the Persians, Athens was caught on the defensive and ultimately had to capitulate.
 

The Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) drew most of the surrounding states into one camp or the other. In the first phase (431-421 в.с), Athens, under Pericles, with its powerful navy, fought defensively on land and offensively at sea. Sparta, under Archidamus II, with its formidable warriors, concentrated on the land war in 431-427 and ravaged Attica in 425. Ultimately the two powers' differing strengths brought the first phase of the war to a stalemate. Pericles' successor, Cleon, continued Athens' imperialistic policies. After gaining an impressive naval victory over Sparta near the island of Sphacteria in 424, he gambled away the chances for a peace agreement by
making excessive demands. Negotiations only became possible once Cleon fell in battle at Amphipolis in 422.

The peace faction in Athens came to power under Nicias and managed to conclude the Peace of Nicias with Sparta in 421 в.с. This restored the territorial boundaries to their pre-war locations. Nonetheless, the main powers' allies continued the conflict.

In 420 the pre-war faction, led by 7 Alcibiades, regained power in Athens and formed an alliance with Sparta's archenemy, the city 4, 6 Argos.


7 Alcibiades, marble bust


6 Foundation of the Heraion of Argos

 

 


4 Athenians and Corinthians in battle near Potidaea, 431 в.с.


This did not prevent the letter's defeat by Sparta in 418.

In 415 B.C. a new phase of the war began, as the theater of conflict shifted to 9 Sicily.


9 The Battle of Syracuse, Sicily, 413 B.C.


However, in 413 the war once again returned to Attica. Athens's situation seemed perilous when Sparta allied itself with the Persians, who supplied large amounts of gold to finance the construction of a Spartan fleet.

10
Alcibiades was able to defeat the Spartans and the Persians in 411 at Abydus and in 410 at Cyzicus.


10 Alcibiades' victory over the Spartans


However, the Athenian naval defeat at Notium in 407 made it evident that the powerful city-state was militarily and financially exhausted.

The destruction of the mighty Athenian fleet by the Spartans at Aegospotami in 405 B.C. proved decisive.

The Spartan admiral 8 Lysander was able to blockade Athens and force the city to capitulate.


8 Lysander orders the walls of Athens to be torn down


Athens's dominions were reduced to Attica and Salamis, and it was forced to dismantle its fortifications and relinquish its fleet to the Spartans. The balance of power had shifted; Sparta was now supreme in Greece.

 
 
 

Peloponnesian War

Peloponnesian War, (431–404 bc), war fought between the two leading city-states in ancient Greece, Athens and Sparta. Each stood at the head of alliances that, between them, included nearly every Greek city-state. The fighting engulfed virtually the entire Greek world, and it was properly regarded by Thucydides, whose contemporary account of it is considered to be among the world’s finest works of history, as the most momentous war up to that time.

The Athenian alliance was, in fact, an empire that included most of the island and coastal states around the northern and eastern shores of the Aegean Sea. Sparta was leader of an alliance of independent states that included most of the major land powers of the Peloponnese and central Greece, as well as the sea power Corinth. Thus, the Athenians had the stronger navy and the Spartans the stronger army. Further, the Athenians were better prepared financially than their enemies, owing to the large war chest they had amassed from the regular tribute they received from their empire.

Athens and Sparta had fought each other before the outbreak of the Great Peloponnesian War (in what is sometimes called the First Peloponnesian War) but had agreed to a truce, called the Thirty Years’ Treaty, in 445. In the following years their respective blocs observed an uneasy peace. The events that led to renewed hostilities began in 433, when Athens allied itself with Corcyra, a strategically important colony of Corinth. Fighting ensued, and the Athenians then took steps that explicitly violated the Thirty Years’ Treaty. Sparta and its allies accused Athens of aggression and threatened war.

On the advice of Pericles, its most influential leader, Athens refused to back down. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute failed. Finally, in the spring of 431, a Spartan ally, Thebes, attacked an Athenian ally, Plataea, and open war began.

The years of fighting that followed can be divided into two periods, separated by a truce of six years. The first period lasted 10 years and began with the Spartans, under Archidamus, leading an army into Attica, the region around Athens. Pericles declined to engage the superior allied forces and instead urged the Athenians to keep to their city and make full use of their naval superiority by harassing their enemies’ coasts and shipping. Within a few months, however, Pericles fell victim to a terrible plague that raged through the crowded city, killing a large part of its army as well as many civilians. Thucydides survived an attack of the plague and left a vivid account of its impact on Athenian morale. In the meantime (430–429), the Spartans attacked Athenian bases in western Greece but were repulsed. The Spartans also suffered reverses at sea. In 428 they tried to aid the island state of Lesbos, a tributary of Athens that was planning to revolt. But the revolt was headed off by the Athenians, who won control of the chief city, Mytilene. Urged on by the demagogue Cleon, the Athenians voted to massacre the men of Mytilene and enslave everyone else, but they relented the next day and killed only the leaders of the revolt. Spartan initiatives during the plague years were all unsuccessful except for the capture of the strategic city Plataea in 427.

In the next few years the Athenians took the offensive. They attacked the Sicilian city Syracuse and campaigned in western Greece and the Peloponnese itself. In 425 the picture was bleak for Sparta, which began to sue for peace. But led by Brasidas, hero of the Battle of Delium, a Spartan force gained important successes in Chalcidice in 424, encouraging Athenian subject states to revolt. In a decisive battle at Amphipolis in 422, both Brasidas and the Athenian leader Cleon were killed. This set the stage for Cleon’s rival Nicias to persuade the Athenians to accept the Spartans’ offer of peace.

The so-called Peace of Nicias began in 421 and lasted six years. It was a period in which diplomatic maneuvers gradually gave way to small-scale military operations as each city tried to win smaller states over to its side. The uncertain peace was finally shattered when, in 415, the Athenians launched a massive assault against Sicily. The next 11 years made up the war’s second period of fighting. The decisive event was the catastrophe suffered by the Athenians in Sicily. Aided by a force of Spartans, Syracuse was able to break an Athenian blockade. Even after gaining reinforcements in 413, the Athenian army was defeated again. Soon afterward the navy was also beaten, and the Athenians were utterly destroyed as they tried to retreat.

By 411 Athens itself was in political turmoil. Democracy was overthrown by the oligarchical party, which was in turn replaced by the more moderate regime of the Five Thousand. At the end of 411 the rebuilt Athenian navy, fresh from several victories, acted to restore democratic rule. However, the democratic leaders refused Spartan peace offerings, and the war continued at sea with the Spartan and Athenian fleets trading costly victories. The end came in 405 when the Athenian navy was destroyed at Aegospotami by the Spartan fleet under Lysander, who had received much aid from the Persians. The next year, starved by an impenetrable blockade, Athens capitulated. Athens’ defeat was perhaps the worst casualty in a war that crippled Greek military strength, and thus the most culturally advanced Greek state was brought into final eclipse.

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The Greek Historian Thucydides

Thucydides, the Athenian historian and onetime general, is the
main source of information for scholars about the various phases of the war between Sparta and Athens.

Between 431 and 411 B.C., he wrote
The History of the Peloponnesian War in eight books, a meticulous account of events.

This strategist of Athens was defeated by the Spartans near Amphipolis in 424 and was forced into exile for 20 years. The historian Xenophon took up where Thucydides left off and provided us with the final phase of the war (411-404 в.с.) in his Hellenica.


Thucydides, sculpture

 

Thucydides

Greek historian

born 460 bc or earlier?
died after 404 bc?
 

Main
greatest of ancient Greek historians and author of the History of the Peloponnesian War, which recounts the struggle between Athens and Sparta in the 5th century bc. His work was the first recorded political and moral analysis of a nation’s war policies.

 

Life
All that is certainly known (perhaps all that ancient scholars knew) of Thucydides’ life is what he reveals about himself in the course of his narrative. He was an Athenian, old enough when the war began to estimate its importance and judge that it was likely to be a long one and to write an account of it, observing and making notes from its beginning. He was probably born, therefore, not later than 460—perhaps a few years earlier since his detailed narrative begins, just before 431, with the events which provoked the war. He was certainly older than 30 when he was elected stratēgos, a military magistrate of great importance, in 424. Hence, he belongs to the generation younger than that of the Greek historian Herodotus.

His father’s name was Olorus, which is not known as an Athenian name; Olorus was probably of Thracian descent on his mother’s side. Thucydides was related in some way to the great Athenian statesman and general Miltiades, who had married the daughter of a Thracian prince of this name. He himself had property in Thrace, including mining rights in the gold mines opposite the island of Thasos, and was, he tells us, a man of influence there.

He was in Athens when the great pestilence of 430–429 raged; he caught the disease himself and saw others suffer. Later, in 424, he was elected one of the 10 stratēgoi of the year and, because of his connections, was given command of the fleet in the Thraceward region, based at Thasos. He failed to prevent the capture of the important city of Amphipolis by the Spartan general Brasidas, who launched a sudden attack in the middle of winter. Because of this blunder, Thucydides was recalled, tried, and sentenced to exile. This, he says later, gave him greater opportunity for undistracted study for his History and for travel and wider contacts, especially on the Peloponnesian side—Sparta and its allies.

He lived through the war, and his exile of 20 years ended only with the fall of Athens and the peace of 404. The time and manner of his death are uncertain, but that he died shortly after 404 is probable, and that he died by violence in the troubled times following the peace may well be true, for the History stops abruptly, long before its appointed end. His tomb and a monument to his memory were still to be seen in Athens in the 2nd century ad.


Scope and plan of the History
The History, which is divided into eight books, probably not by Thucydides’ design, stops in the middle of the events of the autumn of 411 bc, more than six and a half years before the end of the war. This much at least is known: that three historians, Cratippus (a younger contemporary), Xenophon (who lived a generation later), and Theopompus (who lived in the last third of the 4th century), all began their histories of Greece where Thucydides left off. Xenophon, one might say, began the next paragraph nearly as abruptly as Thucydides ended his.

So it is certain that Thucydides’ work was well known soon after publication and that no more was ever published other than the eight books that have survived; it may reasonably be inferred from the silence of the available sources that no separate section of the work was published in his lifetime. It may also be inferred that parts of the History, and the last book in particular, are defective, in the sense that he would have written at greater length had he known more and that he was trying still to learn more—e.g., of internal Athenian politics in the years of “uneasy truce.” His existing narrative is in parts barely understandable without some imaginative guesswork.

It may be assumed, then, that there are three fairly definable stages in his work: first, the “notes” he made of events as they occurred; secondly, the arrangement and rewriting of these notes into a consecutive narrative, as a “chronicle,” but by no means in the final form that Thucydides intended; thirdly, the final, elaborated narrative—of the preliminaries of the war (Book i), of the “Ten Years’ War,” and of the Athenian expedition to conquer Sicily. Thucydides supplemented his note stage throughout the project; even the most elaborated parts of the History may have been added right up to the time of his death—certainly many additions were made after the war was over.

All this is significant because Thucydides was writing what few others have attempted—a strictly contemporary history of events that he lived through and that succeeded each other almost throughout his adult life. He endeavoured to do more than merely record events, in some of which he took an active part and in all of which he was a direct or indirect spectator; he attempted to write the final history for later generations, and, as far as a man can and as no other man has, he succeeded.

It is obvious that he did not rush his work; the last of the complete narrative (stage three, above) took him to the autumn of 413, eight and a half years before the end of the war, the last of stage two, to six and a half years before. During these last years he was observing, inquiring, writing his notes, adding to or modifying what he had already written; at no time before the end, during all the 27 years of the war, did he know what that end would be nor, therefore, what would be the length and the final shape of his own History. It is evident that he did not long survive the war since he did not leave any connected account, even at stage two, of the last six years. But in what he lived to complete, he wrote a definitive history.
 


Character studies
Besides the political causes of the war, Thucydides was interested in and emphasized the conflict between two types of character: the ever-active, innovating, revolutionary, disturbing Athenians and the slower-moving, more cautious Peloponnesians, especially the Spartans, “not excited by success nor despairing in misfortune,” but quietly self-confident. Thucydides was not really concerned with individuals but rather with the actions, sufferings, and the characters of states (“the Athenians,” “the Syracusans,” etc.); but he did understand the significance of personalities. Besides depicting by their words and deeds the characters of some who influenced events—such as Cleon, the harsh demagogue of Athens; Hermocrates, the would-be moderate leader in Syracuse; the brave Nicostratus; and the incompetent Alcidas—he goes out of his way to give a clear picture of the characters and influence of four men: Themistocles (in a digression, the Athenian hero of the Second Persian War), Pericles, Brasidas, and Alcibiades. All four of them were of the active, revolutionary type. Pericles of Athens was indeed unique for Thucydides in that he combined caution and moderation in action and great stability of character with a daring imagination and intellect; he was a leader of the new age. During the war each of them—Pericles and Alcibiades in Athens, Brasidas in Sparta—was in conflict with a conservative, quietist opposition within his own country.

The conflict between the revolutionary and the conservative also extended between the generally daring Athenian state and the generally cautious Peloponnesians. It is a great loss that Thucydides did not live to write the story of the last years of the war, when Lysander, the other great revolutionary Spartan, played a larger part than any other single man in the defeat of Athens. This defeat was, in one aspect, the defeat of intellectual brilliance and daring by “stolidity” and stability of character (this last the quality most lacking in Alcibiades, the most brilliant Athenian of the second half of the war); but it was largely brought about by Brasidas and Lysander, the two Spartans who rivaled the Athenians in daring and intellect.


Study of the war’s technical aspects
Thucydides was also interested in the technical aspect of the war. The most important problems in the war, besides protecting food supplies during land fighting, centred around the difficulties and possibilities of war between an all-powerful land force (Sparta and its allies) and an all-powerful naval force (Athens). Thucydides also studied the details of siege warfare; the difficulties of the heavily armed combat in mountain country and of fighting against the fierce but unruly barbarians of the north; an army trying to force a landing from ships against troops on shore; the one great night battle, at Syracuse; the skill and the daring maneuvers of the Athenian sailors and the way these maneuvers were overcome by the Syracusans; the unexpected recovery of the Athenian fleet after the Sicilian disaster—in all these aspects of the war he took a keen professional interest.

In Thucydides’ introductory pages on the early history of Greece he lays much stress on the development of sea trading and naval power and on the accumulation of capital resources: they help to explain the great war between a land power and a sea power.


Style and historical aims
Thucydides was himself an intellectual of the Athenian kind; markedly individualistic, his style shows a man brought up in the company of Sophocles and Euripides, the playwrights, and the philosophers Anaxagoras, Socrates, and the contemporary Sophists. His writing is condensed and direct, almost austere in places, and is meant to be read rather than delivered orally. He explains in a scientific and impartial manner the intricacies and complexities of the events he observed. Only in his speeches does he sometimes fall short of the lucidity of the narrative prose; his fondness for abstract expressions and the obscurity of his rhetorical antithesis often make the passages difficult to understand.

In a prefatory note near the beginning of the History, Thucydides speaks a little of the nature of his task and of his aims. It was difficult, he says, to arrive at the truth of the speeches made—whether he heard them himself or received a report from others—and of the actions of the war. For the latter, even if he himself observed a particular battle, he made as thorough an enquiry as he could—for he realized that eyewitnesses, either from faulty memory or from bias, were not always reliable.

He wrote the speeches out of his own words, appropriate to the occasion, keeping as closely as possible to the general sense of what had actually been said. He could never have omitted them, for it is through the speeches that he explains the motives and ambitions of the leading men and states; and this, the study of the human mind in time of war, is one of his principal aims. (The omission of speeches from the last book is a great loss and is caused, no doubt, by the difficulty he had in getting information about Athens at this period.) He avoided, he says, all “storytelling” (this is a criticism of Herodotus), and his work might be the less attractive in consequence;but I have written not for immediate applause but for posterity, and I shall be content if the future student of these events, or of other similar events which are likely in human nature to occur in after ages, finds my narrative of them useful.

This is all that he expressly tells of his aim and methods. Moreover, in the course of his narrative (except for the pestilence of 430 and his command in 424) he never gives his authority for a statement. He does not say which of the speeches he actually heard, which of the other campaigns he took part in, what places he visited, or what persons he consulted. Thucydides insisted in doing all the work himself; and he provides, for the parts he completed, only the finished structure, not the plans or the consultations.


Authority of his work
He kept to a strict chronological scheme, and, where it can be accurately tested by the eclipses that he mentions, it fits closely. There are also a fair number of contemporary documents recorded on stone, most of which confirm his account both in general and in detail. There is the silent testimony of the three historians who began where he left off, not attempting, in spite of much independence of opinion, to revise what he had already done, not even the last book, which he clearly did not complete. Another historian, Philistus, a Syracusan who was a boy during the Athenian siege of his city, had little to alter or to add to Thucydides’ account in his own History of Sicily. Above all, there are the contemporary political comedies of Aristophanes—a man about 15 years younger than Thucydides with as different a temper and writing purpose as could be—which remarkably reinforce the reliability of the historian’s dark picture of Athens at war. The modern historian of this war is in much the same position as the ancient: he cannot do much more than translate, abridge, or enlarge upon Thucydides.

For Thucydides kept rigidly to his theme: the history of a war—that is, a story of battles and sieges, of alliances hastily made and soon broken, and, most important, of the behaviour of peoples as the war dragged on and on, of the inevitable “corrosion of the human spirit.” He vividly narrates exciting episodes and carefully describes tactics on land and sea. He gives a picture, direct in speeches, indirect in the narrative, of the ambitious imperialism of Athens—controlled ambition in Pericles, reckless in Alcibiades, debased in Cleon—ever confident that nothing was impossible for them, resilient after the worst disaster. He shows also the opposing picture of the slow steadiness of Sparta, sometimes so successful, at other times so accommodating to the enemy.

His record of Pericles’ speech on those killed in the first year of the war is the most glowing account of Athens and Athenian democracy that any leading citizen could hope to hear. It is followed (in, of course, due chronological order) by a minutely accurate account of the symptoms of the pestilence (“so that it may be recognized by medical men if it recurs”) and a moving description of the demoralizing despair that overtook men after so much suffering and such heavy losses—probably more than a quarter of the population, most of it crowded within the walls of the city, died.

Equally moving is the account of the last battles in the great harbour of Syracuse and of the Athenian retreat. In one of his best-known passages he analyzes by a most careful choice of words, almost creating the language as he writes, the moral and political effects of civil strife within a state in time of war. By a different method, in speeches, he portrays the hard fate of the town of Plataea due to the long-embittered envy and cruelty of Thebes and the faithlessness of Sparta, and the harsh brutality of Cleon when he proposed to execute all the men of the Aegean island city of Mytilene. Occasionally, he is forced into personal comment, as on the pathetic fate of the virtuous and much-liked Athenian Nicias.

He had strong feelings, both as a man and as a citizen of Athens. He was filled with a passion for the truth as he saw it, which not only kept him free from vulgar partiality against the enemy but served him as a historian in the accurate narrative of events—accurate in their detail and order and also in their relative importance. He does not, for example, exaggerate the significance of the campaign he himself commanded, nor does he offer a self-defense for his failure. Characteristically, he mentions his exile not as an event of the war but in his “second preface”—after the peace of 421—to explain his opportunities of wider contacts.


Subsequent fame
The story of his later fame is a curious one. It has been mentioned above that in the two generations after his death three historians began their work where he had left off; but, apart from this silent tribute and late stories of his great influence on the orator Demosthenes, Thucydides is nowhere referred to in surviving 4th-century literature, not even in Aristotle, who, in his Constitution of Athens, describes the revolution in Athens in 411 and diverges in many ways from Thucydides’ account.

It was not until the end of the 4th century that the philosopher Theophrastus coupled Thucydides with Herodotus as a founder of the writing of history. Little is known of what the scholars of Alexandria and Pergamum did for his book; but copies of it were being made in considerable numbers in Egypt and so, doubtless, elsewhere, from the 1st to the 5th century ad. By the 1st century bc, as is clear from the writings of Cicero and Dionysius (who vainly disputed his preeminence), Thucydides was established as the great historian, and since that time his fame has been secure.

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