Balance of power in the Peloponnese

Sat Apr 18 20:50:59 2009
The balance of power issue was a primary cause of the Peloponnesian war, but feel that the balance issue was initially between Athens and Corinth, not Athens and Sparta. Athens had their maritime empire to the East in the Aegean and Corinth faced westward toward the Adriatic. Both cities were dependent on maritime trade. I suspect both sides were looking for some kind of limited engagement, as happened at Corcyra, Potidaea or Samos. Had such a war broken out it probably would have been short and ending with a decisive naval engagement like Naupactus.

The intervention of Sparta changed the nature of the conflict. A land army fighting against a naval empire would allow the two sides to avoid a short, fast, bloody and decisive engagement (as described in Hanson’s Western Way of War) and to spend years and even decades pursuing indirect strategies, e.g., Athenian naval raids on the Peloponnese and Spartan attacks upon Amphipolis and the Thracian silver mines.

Knowing that Athens and Sparta would fight a 27 year war almost certainly influences our judgement of the events of the 430’s. Forgetting what I already know about what follows, it seems more likely that if there was to be war it would have been a Corinthian War, not a Spartan War.

Corinth was a wealthy trading city. Their seaborne trade was in competition with Athens. Corcyra was an important colony in their sphere of influence and Athenian influence in the area was obviously a threat. Other conflicts in Potidaea and Megara were more threatening to Corinth than to Sparta.

At the time it probably seemed more likely to see a naval war between Athens and Corinth–a war that might have been limited and short. The involvement of Sparta placed a land power against a naval power and allowed both sides to avoid a decisive engagement for decades.


~ by severalfourmany on April 18, 2009.

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