On this day in 404 BCE, the Peloponnesian War ended. The war was a series of battles that took place between the years 431 and 404 BCE, contested between the Athenian Empire and the Peloponnesian League, a coalition led by the Spartans. On 25 April 404 BCE, the Spartan army led by General Lysander defeated the Athenians and brought the war to a close.
During this period of history, Ancient Greece consisted of a number of separate city-states, each with their own political ideologies and military forces. The two largest states towards the latter stages of the fifth century BCE were the Athenians, head of the Delian League, and Sparta, leaders of the Peloponnesian League.
The Peloponnesian War began as a result of the breach of the Thirty Years’ Peace treaty that Athens and Sparta had agreed in order to end conflict in 445 BCE. Despite its name, the treaty had been only partially observed for 13 years before being breached when Athens attacked the colony of Potidaea, an ally of Sparta.
Historians often dissect the Peloponnesian War into two or three separate stages of conflict. The first, known as the Archidamian War (431-421 BCE) began with Sparta occupying Athens’ surrounding areas, a tactic which attempted to nullify their formidable naval power. However, Athens itself was largely untouched by the Spartan army, which was forced to retreat due to an outbreak of plague in the city. Despite further smaller battles, the warring factions signed another truce in 421 BCE.
The second stage of the war ignited after six years of relative peace, when Athenian forces embarked upon the Siege of Syracuse on the island of Sicily. The Syracusans were of Dorian ethnicity, like the Spartans, who responded in order to protect their allies from the attacking Ionian rivals.
Having thoroughly defeated Athens in Sicily, Sparta fortified the area of Decelea on the outskirts of Athens in order to stem trade routes and to disrupt their silver mines—one of Athens’ most lucrative sources of finance. The Spartan army and their growing naval fleet had Athens surrounded and they were eventually destroyed upon attempting to flee the onslaught.
However, this heavy defeat did not completely crush Athens and its troops were able to rally sufficiently until 404 BCE, when they were outmaneuvered by the relentless Spartan army, led by general Lysander. It was under Lysander’s cunning strategic order that the Spartan navy sailed to Hellespont, which was then the source of Athens’ grain, destroying Athenian ships and successfully stopping food supplies to the city. Faced with starvation, Athens was forced to surrender.
General Lysander and his fleet then sailed to Aegospotami where the remaining Athenian ships had gathered and in the ensuing battle, destroyed the Athenian navy. This proved to be the conflict’s decisive battle.
The Athenian statesman Theramenes was forced to begin negotiations with Lysander in light of their defeat. After three months, an agreement was reached at Piraeus and the capitulation of Athens was ordered, crowning Sparta victorious and bringing an end to the Peloponnesian War.