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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 (6 of 8)

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Off and On Again War

In 425 Sparta again invaded Attica – for the fifth time in six years. The Athenian navy subdued a fleet of enemy ships at Navarino Bay on the southwest coast of Peloponnesus and cut off a battalion of Spartans there. Feeling pressured by this setback, Sparta promised Athens peace and requested an armistice – without having consulted its allies. Cleon continued his show of toughness. He rejected Sparta's offer. He wanted to wait for Sparta's unconditional surrender and to press what he saw as his city's advantage. The Athenians took 292 Spartan captives back to Athens as hostages and warned Sparta that they would kill these hostages if Sparta again invaded Attica.

Cleon continued his hard-line ways. Believing that Sparta had been neutralized, Athens attempted a large-scale assault by land against Sparta's Boeotian allies. It was the only major use of land forces by Athens in the war, and the Boeotians defeated them. The sign of weakness that Cleon wanted to avoid was apparent to cities in Chalcidice. They resented an increase in tribute demanded by Athens. Cleon convinced an assembly to allow him to lead a force against the rebellion in Chalcidice. There, Cleon defeated some of the rebellions, but on the way to the city of Amphipolis his bravado failed him. He was killed and his army defeated.

For Athens, demonstrating toughness had not helped the city economically, and now Athens was financially exhausted. Replacing Cleon as the Athenian leader was a more moderate man, a military commander, Nicias, who was willing to end the war. Sparta wanted its hostages back, and in 421, ten years after the Great Peloponnesian War began, Sparta and Athens signed a peace treaty that included a return of prisoners and captured lands. In Athens, rejoicing erupted inspired by weariness of war. The Athenian playwright Euripides, who had also wearied of the war, wrote with enthusiasm in one of his plays: "Down with my spear! Let it be covered with spider webs!"

Allies of Sparta, namely Megara, Corinth and Elis, refused to sign the peace treaty. Desperately wanting peace, Sparta offered Athens an alliance in addition to peace, pledging that it would be an ally of Athens for fifty years. Athens accepted, and the two city-states pledged to defend each other, including Athens helping Sparta should its slaves, the Helots, revolt.

Technically, Megara, Elis and Corinth remained at war with Athens. And Corinth, which had a small empire of its own, was still competing with Athens for advantages in empire. Empire remained as a cause of war, and tensions and sporadic fighting among others continued.

Athens again employed force against rebellion by a city that was a member of its empire. That city was Scione (the western most finger of Chalcidice). Scione wanted freedom from Athenian domination. In 421, Athens killed all of that city's adult males and made slaves of its women and children. It was one of the more notorious events of the war, and as Diodotus had argued in his debate against Cleon, such action brought no advantage to Athens. Other cities that wished to be free of Athenian rule responded to Athenian cruelty at Scione with a greater determination to win their independence.

Within two years of having made peace, Sparta felt it had recovered from war. Attitudes among the Greeks had not changed enough to prevent the return of the Great War. With Athenian imperialism creating tensions and Athens interfering in Peloponnesian affairs, Sparta feared that its alliance with Athens might break down, and it renewed its ties with Corinth, Megara and Elis. Athens asked Sparta to sever its ties with these cities and Sparta refused. In 418, Athens and Sparta went to the assistance of Peloponnesian cities at war with each other, Sparta on one side and Athens on the other, and the armies of Sparta and Athens came to blows. It was the largest land battle since the beginning of the Peloponnesian War – while officially Sparta and Athens were still at peace with each other. The Spartans won easily. The Spartans felt a renewed sense of military superiority and enjoyed a new prestige across Greece.

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