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(The GREEKS at WAR (494 to 371 BCE – continued)

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The GREEKS at WAR, 494 to 371 BCE (4 of 8)

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Road to the Great War

On-again, off-again little wars among the Greeks continued, with Athens fighting to maintain its power and status. Athens intervened in disputes to its north, in Boeotia, where bad governing by democrats had brought rebellion and the return of oligarchs to power. A Boeotian force defeated an Athenian force of a thousand Athenian volunteers, led by men who had mistakenly believed that their small force could subdue the rebellion.

More trouble arose for Athens. In 446, cities on the peninsula-like island of Euboea, to the east of Athens, joined the revolt against Athenian domination. The Athenian leader Pericles was worried about the example that rebellion would set for others in the Athenian empire, and he sent an army and navy to Euboea to crush the rebellion. This inspired still more trouble as the city of Megara, a little northeast of Athens, disliked what it saw as Athenian bullying and joined the anti-Athens rebellion. Pericles withdrew from Euboea to fight Megara. An army of the Peloponnesian League, under a Spartan king, Pleistoanax, responded by invading Attica, but after laying waste to some countryside it withdrew.

Pericles and an army of five thousand infantrymen supported by fifty ships returned to Euboea and subdued the entire island. Athens expelled the inhabitants of Histiaea, in the north of the island, and it sent settlers in their place. But trouble for Athens continued, which Athen met with some success. In 441, Samos, off the coast of Asia Minor, tried to secede from the so-called Athenian alliance. Samos appealed for help from Sparta and the Persians. Sparta remained passive and Persia remained fearful of the Athenian navy. By 339 the Athenian navy was able to blockade Samos and starve it into submission. Samos surrendered its navy. Its defensive walls were torn down. It was forced to pay Athens reparations with money and land. And its oligarchs were exiled and replaced by democrats.

Next came a conflict between Corinth and its colony at Corcyra, an island and city off the northwestern coast of Greece. Corcyra was challenging Corinth's trade monopoly in northwestern Greece and was hampering Corinth's trade with Sicily and southern Italy. In 435 the navies of Corinth and Corcyra battled each other near Corcyra. Corinth lost fifteen ships and some prisoners to Corcyra. Corcyra sold some of the Corinthians into slavery, and Corinth began organizing a bigger attack against Corcyra. To protect itself, Corcyra appealed to Athens and Athens became involved: it accepted Corcyra as an ally. The Corinthians again sailed for Corcyra, with a larger force than before, but victory was snatched from them as the great Athenian fleet appeared. Hatred for Athens among the Corinthians rose to a new high, and the Great Peloponnesian War was a bit closer.

Cities in Chalcidice disliked the extension of Athenian power into their area, and they were ready to support Corinth against Athens. Athens saw revolt coming in one of its subject-ally cities in Chalcidice – Potidaea – and, to prevent the spread of revolt, Athens demanded that Potidaea dismantle its defensive walls and give to Athens some Potidaeans as hostages. Instead, Potidaea sought support from Corinth and the Peloponnesian League. Corinth joined Potidaea and some cities in Chalcidice and Boeotia joined the revolt against Athens. All of Sparta's allies that had grievances against Athens were aroused. Corinth appealed to Sparta, suggesting that if Sparta would not fight for its allies then its allies would seek leadership elsewhere. A meeting of the Peloponnesian League was called, and Sparta sent someone to consult with Apollo at Delphi. The Great War was closer still.

The city of Thebes desired a solid front against Athens, and it sent a delegation and a small force to its neighboring city: Plataea. Violence ensued. Many Plataeans fled to Athens for safety, and Athens sent troops to Plataea. To the enemies of Athens, events at Plataea were a signal for war. Sparta, meanwhile, was encouraged by the Oracle at Delphi, who stated that Apollo was on its side, that if Sparta made war with all its might it would win.

The year was 431 BCE, described by some as the end of Greece's Golden Age. Sparta and its allies invaded Attica, announcing that they were fighting against Athenian imperialism for their independence and for the liberty of Greeks.

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