“Assess which city holds the greatest responsibility for causing the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War.”
The Peloponnesian War that occurred from 446 to 399 BC transpired mainly due to Corinth, Sparta and Athens. Corinth holds accountability for the city’s interference with Athens’ affairs and because of their threat to Sparta. Sparta is partly responsible because of it gave into the demands of its allies. The third city to bear responsibility is Athens, who showed aggressive imperialistic behaviour and dealt harshly with its ally. The city that holds the highest responsibility out of Corinth, Sparta and Athens for the Peloponnesian War is Sparta.
Corinth holds the least responsibility, as its interference in Athens’ and Sparta’s affairs mainly contributed to the short term causes of the war, not the long term ones. After Corinth’s defeat against Corcyra, Corinth spent the following two years building up their navy to 95 triremes and posing a threat to Corcyra. Corcyra as a neutral state was within its rights to send embassies to Athens asking for help, and Athens defensive alliance that was formed complied with the Thirty Year Truce. Corinth’s continuation to hassle Corcyra, hold a grudge against Athens and later use this alliance as an excuse to break the Thirty Years Truce for helping the Corcyraens, is a major part in the short term causes of the war. The incident regarding Potidaea was also a part of the short term causes. Although Potidaea was founded by Corinth, it was part of the Delian League and paid tribute to Athens, and was therefore considered as one of Athens’ allies. According to Thucydides, Athens was fearful Potidaea would revolt, so Athens demanded they banish the Corinthian magistrates, pull down their fortifications and send hostages to Athens. Corinth later did encourage Potidaea to revolt, promising that Sparta would support them if and when they revolted. This emboldened Potidaea resulting in the refusal of Athens’ demands and then was subsequently attacked by Athens. Corinth escalated tensions between Sparta and Athens, complaining to Sparta enthusiastically and threatening to change allegiances if Sparta did not act. Corinth also impelled Spartan allies to go to war against Athens. Corinth was affected by Athens’ growing power, modern historian Dianne Hennessey suggests that ‘any expansion of Athenian trade west of the Aegean would bring it into competition with Corinth, an important ally of Sparta’. These incidences led to the breakdown of the peace and leaves Corinth as the main offender for the short term causes of the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War.
Sparta perpetrated many offenses, leading to the outbreak of the Greek civil war. Many historians agree with Thucydides belief that Athens’ growing power alarmed Sparta and made Sparta feel threatened- this was an underlying factor to the occurrence of the war. Modern historian M. Laister agrees with Thucydides, stating Sparta was ‘uneasiness over the Athens’ continuing thirst for expansion’.
When it was called to vote within the Peloponnesian League, Sparta voted that the Thirty Years Truce had been broken by Athens even though technically Athens had not impeded on the Truce’s boundaries. They later refused arbitration for the Athenians and broke the truce themseves
ATHENS ‘ Corcyra’s plea for help to Athens was within the boundaries of the Thirty Years of Peace treaty. The defensive alliance formed between Corcyra and Athens would only be in effect if Corcyra was directly attacked. The battle of Sybota in which Corinth would have won with their larger naval force, became a draw. According to Thucydides, this was Corinth’s first cause for war against Athens. T