Peloponnesian War - A Strategy Comparison


War - A Strategy Comparison

"Just before the Peloponnesian War began,

Pericles of Athens and King Archidamus of Sparta provided net assessments
of the comparative strengths and weaknesses of the two sides. Evaluate
their projections."

A study of the strategies and projections
of King Archidamus of Sparta as compared to those of Pericles of Athens
reveal Archidamus' understanding of the "superiority of land power as a
basis for success at sea" in the ancient Mediterranean - as well
as Pericles' naiveté as to this tenet.


The Peloponnesian War between the city-states
of Athens and Sparta (and their respective allies) lasted from 431-404

BC. Conflicts between the two cites dated back further, however,
with skirmishes from 460-445 effectively ending in a draw. Major
fighting in the Peloponnesian War occurred from 431-421 and ended in Athenian
victory. Renewed conflict raged from 413-404, ultimately concluding
in Spartan victory.

An understanding of these very different
cultures is illustrative of their leaders' ultimate strategies and projections
before the conflict. At the time of the war, Greece was divided into
two great alliances. Sparta dominated the Peloponnesian League, an
alliance in the Peloponnese region. These "allies" included small
states close enough to the militant Sparta to be easily controlled; stronger
(and more remote) states over which Sparta still had considerable influence;
and the truly strong, independent cities of Thebes and Corinth.

Spartan dominance rose from its unquestionable
position as the preeminent continental army of the region. The farming
and manual labor of the city was provided by slaves, which freed the male
citizens to serve in the army. Spartan boys were all trained to serve
in the military as professional soldiers, with individual and family needs
subordinated to the needs of the state.

The Athenian Empire was a more voluntary
alliance of city-states that were impressed by the Athenian Navy's prowess
in the Persian War and were willing to pay for its protection. Athens
used this revenue to further improve its navy, as well as improve its own
infrastructure and defenses. Included in these improvements was the
construction of large walls around the city and down to the port at Piraeus,
home of the Athenian Navy.

The open Athenian democracy stood in stark
contrast to the strict oligarchy of Sparta. A political, philosophical
and cultural center, Athens' power and prosperity depended on its command
of its great maritime empire, which was centered on the Aegean Sea.

Its navy grew along with the alliance.

There was an increasing concern in the

Peloponnesian League that Athens' rapid growth was an opportunistic exploitation
of Athenian allies and a direct threat to the League. Well-founded
or not, these fears came to a head in 432, when Spartan allies lobbied
hard for the League to check Athenian growth by declaring war. At
these debates, a Spartan ally from Corinth chastised the perceived aggressive
expansion of Athens, stating "(Athenians) are by nature incapable of either
living a quiet life themselves or of allowing anyone else to do so."

Spartan Strategy

It was at this point in the debates that

Sparta's King Archidamus revealed his wisdom in both politics and war fighting.

Noting Athens' naval superiority and expansive financial resources, he
was fully aware that a conflict could not end quickly. "I fear,"
he explained, "that it is more likely that we shall be leaving (this war)
to our children after us." Archidamus knew well the tenet proffered
by the great Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu centuries before, who
stated, "Victory is the main object in war. If this is long delayed,
weapons are blunted and morale depressed. When troops attack cities,
their strength will be exhausted." A protracted campaign would
not be good for Sparta.

A delay in actually beginning warfare,
however, would aid the Spartan cause. Archidamus proposed drawing
out diplomatic efforts at reconciliation in order to buy time for preparations.

He then proposed courting new allies with the specific goal of increasing
naval and financial resources. He was keenly aware that the
mightiest army in the world could not win without naval support.

Archidamus did not suppose that he could
match the Athenian Navy, however, no matter how many new allies Sparta
courted. His strategy instead was to use his army to dominate Athenian
allied cities and take all Athenian land outside the walled city of Athens
- in effect, hold it hostage. He would then use his navy to block

Athens' main external source of grain supplies from Crimea.

Corinthian allies proposed additional tactics, including the establishment
of fortified camps on seized Athenian lands and fostering revolts among

Athenian ally cities, which would choke off revenue to the war chest.

War was still not Archidamus' hope, and
his suggestion for extensive diplomatic efforts at resolution was not purely
tactical stalling. Indeed, envoy after envoy was sent to