Athens/Sparta Relations

Dear Yr 12 AH students,


On Friday you were asked to read and make notes on the "Relations between Athens and Sparta', p171 to 185.

 The following assignment, from page 186 of Bradley completes this "topic" for you.




Athens' Relations with Sparta and the Peloponnesian League: 461 – 445 BC.



Megara and Aegina.

1)    Megara joined the Athenian alliance in 459 because she was at war with Corinth over their border.

2)    Athens gained the great advantage of Megara's two harbours, especially Pagae on the Corinthian Gulf which allowed a direct connection to Naupactus (see below). This measure of control in the Gulf opened trade routes in the West to Athens. Further, control of the Megarid gave Athens a strong frontier against the Peloponnesians.

3)    This had a negative impact on Corinthian / Athenian relations as Athens was directly threatening Corinth's trade routes to Magna Graecia and the very security of her borders.

4)    Aegina was an ancient enemy of Athens and had, as a member of the Pelo. League, joined Corinth and Epidaurus in opposing Athenian expansion in the Peloponnese and in trying to regain Megara for the Pelo.League. This was the beginning of "The First Peloponnesian War (459-446)". – Ehrenberg p.216; Hammond p.292.

5)      The war in the Megarid "… was a new offence to Corinth" – Bury & Meiggs p.218

6)    Aegina was eventually defeated and forced to join the Delian League, paying an annual tribute of 30 talents.



Central Greece

1)    Sparta crossed the Corinthian Gulf to Central Greece to protect their "motherland" Doris against the Phocians.

2)    Her real aim was to renew her alliance with Thebes, creating a powerful force on Athens' northern frontier. Ehrenberg says the Spartans also conspired with Athenian exiles seeking to destroy the democracy.

3)    Fear of a Spartan invasion of Attica led the Athenians to meet the Spartans at Tanagra in 457. Athens lost when the Thessalian cavalry changed sides: there were heavy losses on each side.

4)    This Peloponnesian success was short-lived. The Spartans quickly marched home and, 2 months later, Athens defeated the Boetians at Oenophyta.

5)    This victory gave Athens control of most of Central Greece, except Thebes,

making her mistress of the whole area with both of her neighbours (Megara and Boeotia, except for Thebes itself) now her subjects. [See Bury page358, paragraph 3]



1)    Athens gained significant naval and trade benefits from the settlement of the Messenians at Naupactus. Having a loyal stronghold which dominated the Corinthian Gulf allowed her more freedom in her contacts with the Western Greeks as well as a base for future attacks on the Peloponnesian coasts and Corinthian ships.

2)    Sparta was not directly affected by this settlement of the rebel helots at Naupactus. In fact she benefited from having them removed from Messenia. Indirectly, she was affected because of the constant complaints of a vital member of their League, Corinth, which may explain her expedition to Doris (see above).

3)    Corinth, dependant on her foreign trade and, hence, her control of the Corinthian Gulf, had her very existence threatened by Athenian presence at Naupactus, especially after the settlement of the anti- Spartan, pro-Athenian Messenians there.



The Peloponnesian Coasts 

1)    From 455 to 453 Athens waged war against the Peloponnesians through naval attacks onharboursand by winning allies along the southern coast of the Gulf (Achaea). The first was led by Tolmides, a later one by Pericles. (This is the first mention Thucydides makes of him.) See B & M p.221 or Hammond p.294 for details – Athens could now sail in the Corinthian Gulf with a sense of dominion. Further East, the capture of Troezen on the Saronic Gulf made it into a virtual Attic lake.

2)    By c.450 BC Corinth was in a position of great danger: - Megara, on her northern border, was in Athenian hands;        - Aegina, on her NE border, was defeated and her fleet was in Athenian possession;     -Troezen, on the NE Peloponnesian coast, had been captured by Athens;      - the coastline of the Corinthian Gulf was mostly under Athenian control: Corinth was almost surrounded.




Alliances in the West

No details in Ehrenberg, B & M, Buckley or French: clearly such alliances threatened Corinth's influence in the area and her prosperity through competition for trade.




Five-year truce

1)    (p224 Ehrenberg) Sparta, still weak from the 464 earthquake and subsequent helot revolt, would have been happy to conclude a truce with Athens, particularly as she had made a thirty-year peace with her traditional enemy, Argos in 452-1.

2)    Athens too was in need of peace, if only to allow her to meet a renewed threat from Persia. Her allies in Caria and Ionia were most concerned: some states seem to have stopped paying tribute, too. Note that after her success in dealing with this threat Athens' concluded a peace with Persia: her resources may well have been stretched.




Loss of Athens' Land Empire

1)    In 447 the Boetian "allies" revolted and destroyed the Athenian army at Coroneia. With no armed forces in Central Greece Athens would have been unable to keep Phocis and Locris in the alliance.

2)    These losses weren't of great consequence to Athens but they now had a powerful enemy on their northern border again.

3)    The Spartan king Pleistoanax helped Megara to revolt by invading Attica – he was careful to avoid battle as the five year truce had not yet finished. This revolt was not disastrous for Athens – the revolt of Euboea was of far greater concern (Ehrenberg,p.227) – but it did severely limit Athens' affairs with the Western Greeks. Also, Megara now became one of Athens' bitterest enemies, as the brutal nature of the revolt attests. These revolts seem to have been synchronized as Megara only revolted once Pericles had crossed to Euboea to put down the revolt there.

4)    See 3) above to see Sparta's role in the revolt of Megara.



The Thirty Years Peace, 445

1)    In this treaty each side recognized the other's sphere of influence-Sparta on land, Athens at sea - and control of their "allies". Neither was to admit into her alliance an ally of the other (as had happened with Megara).

2)     Very little of Athens' land empire was left: she retained Naupactus but little else on the mainland, having to surrender Nisaea, Pagae, Achaea and Troezen. The loss of the Megarid, which provided security against the Spartan army as well as ports linking Athens to the Corinthian Gulf, was a serious blow.

3)     This would have pleased Corinth as the threats to her territory and her trade links to the West were now much reduced. Her distrust, even hatred, of Athens remained and was a major cause of The Peloponnesian War of 431.

4)     For "balance of power" see 1) above.

5)    The peace lasted a little less than 15 years. 


K. Morgans for 12AH 2013