Spartan Warfare and Society in Ancient Greece

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Sparta experienced territorial expansion due to its well organized and trained army (Cartledge 3). The Spartans inhabited fertile lands located in Eurotas and Pamisos where they practiced agricultural activities (Cartledge 3). On the other hand, the Helots were pushed to marginalized lands. They were nevertheless allowed by Spartans to live semi-autonomous lives in spite of being slaves. The Spartan helots would also be allowed to serve as warriors (Whitmore 3). This paper will discuss the Spartan warfare and how it affected society in ancient Greece.

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Effect of Spartan warfare in ancient Greece

The Peloponnesian Wars and Delian League

Sparta and Athens were great Greece state that constantly went into conflict with each other. The conflict between the two states was known as the Peloponnesian War. It took place in 431-404 BC (Penfield 1).

The Delian League and the defeat of the Persians

Athens had formed a league with about 150 city states in Greece. The military alliance between Athens and other city-states was primarily formed to counter the Persian incursion. The member states had an accord that was centered on mutual defense if any member of the league came under attack. One of the crucial battles between the Delian League was fought at Eurymedon in 446 BC (Penfield 1). The Delian navy crushed the Persians (Andocides 3 5). The defeat of the Persians convinced some city-states to leave the league as they no longer saw Persia as a viable military threat (Penfield 1). Athens began to destroy the walls and confiscate ships belonging to city-states that wanted to leave the league. It also threatened to continue to tax them.

Harassment of Helots

The Spartans sought help from Athens following an earthquake that occurred in 465 BC (Penfield 1). Athens dispatched the hoplites to help the Spartans. However, due to mistrust, the Spartans decided to send the hoplites back to Athens. In the meantime, the Helots rebelled against the Spartans (Whitmore 7). The rebellion was however crashed. The Spartans decided to give the Helots assurance that they would be treated peacefully while retreating from the citadel if they agreed to move out of Sparta (Penfield 1). The Spartans did this hoping that the Helots would become scattered and lost. Unfortunately, they did not. They were settled by the Athenians at a place called Naupactus.

The Archidamian War

The 1st Peloponnesian war (The Archidamian War) occurred in 431-421 BC (Penfield 1). The Peloponnesian League was a league that bound Sparta and its allies to come to each others’ help if attacked by other city-states. The members of the league converged in 432 BC and complained that Sparta was not confronting to control and contain Athens. King Archidamius, the ruler of Sparta declared war on Athens in 431 BC. The ruler of Athens, Pericles, believed that the Spartans were inexperienced in siege warfare and hoped that they would become frustrated and surrender to Athens. The source of confidence for Pericles was that the formidable walls would make it difficult for the Spartans to make any military progress.

Pitched warfare

King Archidamius attacked Attica with an intention of defeating the Athenians. The massive number of hoplite warriors at his disposal was enough to overwhelm the Athenians through pitched warfare (Academia 10). They preferred ambush on small and vulnerable Peloponnesian forces. The Athenians avoided pitched warfare as they were numerically disadvantaged. The Spartans surrounded Athens and caused devastation to Eleusis and its vicinity (Academia 10). Avoiding pitched warfare helped Pericles to delay the battle in order to receive reinforcements by sea.

The siege of Athens by Sparta

The confidence of Athenians in defeating Sparta was eroded when a plague struck Athens in 429 BC. The plague affected the grains especially the ones originating from Piraeus. The plague coupled with the overcrowding of people originating from Attica resulted in deaths of 30,000 Athenians (Penfield 1). The plague did not spare Pericles since he also succumbed to it. The Long Wall that the Athenians trusted as a fortress became a confinement that threatened their survival. However, the Spartans retreated fearing that the plague would also affect them.  The retreat of Spartans gave the Athenians a chance to recover from their challenges.

The Athenians attacked and retook Pylos in428 BC and the efforts of the Spartans to intervene led to trapping of 400 of their hoplites and the capture of 120 of them by Athenians (Penfield 1). The Spartans began to lobby for the release of these fighters on unconditional terms. The Spartans and Athenians entered into a peace treaty called Peace of Nicias that secured the release of hoplites. The treaty was formed in 421 BC and lasted for a few years.

The rebellion of the Peloponnesian League

The Peloponnesian League that was initially friendly to Sparta became hostile. Through the support of Argos, the league joined Athens and confronted Sparta in Mantinea in 418 BC (Penfield 1). Sparta succeeded in defeating the Athens, Argos, and Peloponnese League due to its powerful hoplites trained to fight on land. Upon defeat, the Peloponnese became loyal again to Sparta.

The intervention of Sparta in Sicily

Alcibiades in 416 BC convinced Athens to capture Syracuse in order to trigger a war with Sicily. Athens hoped to defeat Sicily in order to amass adequate wealth and power to defeat Sparta (Penfield 1). Alcibiades, the mastermind of the Sicilian expedition escaped to Sparta when the Athenians decided to repatriate him on suspicion of vandalism and destruction of Hermes statues (Penfield 1). Alcibiades managed to persuade the Spartans to aid Syracuse from annihilation by Athens. The Spartans agreed and sent one of their boats to Syracuse under the command of Gylippus (Diod. 13.7). The commander managed to defeat the Athenians at Sicily. The Athenians sent reinforcements but were defeated. The Athenians tried to escape with their fleets of ships but were trapped using a metal chain that was placed at the harbor. They were forced to escape by land but unluckily they were chased and killed or starved to death in pits.

Persistent onslaught in the Ionian War

The Ionian War took place in 412-404 BC and was meant to complete defeat the Athenians (Penfield 1). The Spartans constructed a fortress in Attica to cause destruction to Athens. The fort was crucial as it made it impossible for Athenians to reach to the silver mine. Alcibiades once again fled and befriended the Persians.

The surrender of Athens and fall of Delian League

Athens decided to compel Alcibiades to return back home after promising him that the Hermes vandalism charges leveled against would be dropped. Athenians hoped that his return would be essential in helping them seek the assistance of the Persians against Sparta (Penfield 1). Alcibiades helped Athens to win major battles at seas which helped Athens to control Hellespont. However, in 406 BC, he was defeated while fighting the Spartans at Notium. At this time, the Delian League had become weakened. Lysander, a Spartan, attacked and won the battle fought at Aegospotami in 405 BC. The defeat of the Athenians led to the confiscation of their ships at Hellespont. The Spartans also laid a siege at Piraeus leading to the surrender of Athens.

Spartan hegemony over ancient Greece

After defeating Athens in 404 BC, Sparta introduced an indirect rule over the Athenians. The Spartans appointed 30 Athenians who established oligarchy and replaced democracy (Penfield 1). The Delian League was completely scrapped off. The Long Walls were also torn down hence leaving Athens defenseless to attacks from its enemies. Nevertheless, the people of Athens eliminated oligarchy and reintroduced democracy after overthrowing the oligarchs.

The rise of Thebes

The long and destructive wars that Sparta fought with Athens and its allies greatly weakened it in spite of becoming hegemony. In 371 BC, Thebes fought against weakened Sparta and defeated it during the battle of Leuctra. This led to the fall of Sparta (Penfield 1).


The Spartan warfare led to the increased disunity of the city-states that led to its persistent wars. The most notable war was fought after the Spartans attacked Athens. The war led to the defeat of Athens but unfortunately, Sparta was greatly weakened and could not be able to fight other city-states such as Thebes. Its defeat led to the rise of Thebes that exercised its rule over Greece society.

Works Cited

  1. Unconventional Warfare in the Peloponnesian War. Retrieved from:
  2. Minor Attic Orators in two volumes 1, Antiphon Andocides, with an English translation by K. J. Maidment, M.A. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1968. Retrieved from:
  3. Cartledge, Paul. Sparta and Lakonia: a regional history 1300-362 BC. Routledge, 2013.
  4. The Peloponnesian Wars. Retrieved from
  5. Diodorus Siculus. Diodorus of Sicily in Twelve Volumes with an English Translation by C. H. Oldfather. Vol. 4-8. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, Ltd. 1989. Retrieved from:
  6. Whitmore E. Helots Vs Slaves (2014). Retrieved from:
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Spartan Warfare And Society in Ancient Greece. (2019, Apr 07). Retrieved from