Classical Greece - 4th Century BC - The Fall of Sparta - Foundation of A Spartan Empire

Foundation of A Spartan Empire

The subject of how to reorganize the Athenian Empire as part of the Spartan Empire provoked much heated debate among Sparta's full citizens. The admiral Lysander felt that the Spartans should rebuild the Athenian empire in such a way that Sparta profited from it. Lysander tended to be too proud to take advice from others. Prior to this, Spartan law forbade the use of all precious metals by private citizens, with transactions being carried out with cumbersome iron ingots (which generally discouraged their accumulation) and all precious metals obtained by the city becoming state property. Without the Spartans' support, Lysander's innovations came into effect and brought a great deal of profit for him - on Samos, for example, festivals known as Lysandreia were organized in his honor. He was recalled to Sparta, and once there did not attend to any important matters.

Sparta refused to see Lysander or his successors dominate. Not wanting to establish a hegemony, they decided after 403 BC not to support the directives that he had made.

Agesilaus came to power by accident at the start of the 4th century BC. This accidental accession meant that, unlike the other Spartan kings, he had the advantage of a Spartan education. The Spartans at this date discovered a conspiracy against the laws of the city conducted by Cinadon and as a result concluded there were too many dangerous worldly elements at work in the Spartan state.

In the Persian Court, Alcibiades now betrayed both: helping Sparta build a navy commensurate with the Athenian navy. Alcibiades advised that a victory of Sparta over Athens was not in the best interest of the Persian Empire. Rather, long and continuous warfare between Sparta and Athens would weaken both city-states and allow the Persians to easily dominate the Helles (Greek) peninsula.

Among the war party in Athens, a belief arose that the catastrophic defeat of the military expedition to Sicily in 415 BC through 413 BC could have been avoided if Alcibiades had been allowed to lead the expedition. Thus, despite his treacherous flight to Sparta and collaboration with Sparta and, later, with the Persian Court, there arose a demand among the war party that Alcibiades be allowed to return to Athens without being arrested. Alcibiades negotiated with his supporters on the Athenian controlled island of Samos. Alcibiades felt that "radical democracy" was his worst enemy. Accordingly, he asked his supporters to initiate a coup to establish an oligarchy in Athens. If the coup were successful Alcibiades promised to return to Athens. In 411 BC, a successful oligarchic coup was mounted in Athens, which became known as "the 400." However, a parallel attempt by the 400 to overthrow democracy in Samos failed. Alcibiades was immediately made an admiral (navarch) in the Athenian navy. Later, due to democratic pressures, the 400 was replaced by a broader oligarchy called "the 5000." Alcibiades did not immediately return to Athens. In early 410 BC, Alcibiades led an Atheneian fleet of eighteen triremes (ships) against the Persian-financed Spartan fleet at Abydos near the Hellespont. The Battle of Abydos had actually begun before the arrival of Alcibiades and had been inclining slightly toward the Athenians. However, with the arrival of Alcibiades, the Athenian victory over the Spartans became a rout. Only the approach of nightfall and the movement of Persian troops to the coast where the Spartans had beached their ships, saved the Spartan navy from total destruction.

Following the advice that Alcibiades had provided the Persian Court, the Persian Empire had been playing Sparta and Athens off against each other. However, as weak as the Spartan navy was after the Battle of Abydos, the Persian navy sought to prove direct assistance to the Spartans. Thus following the Battle of Abydos, Alcibiades pursued and met the combined Spartan and Persian fleets at the Battle of Cyzicus later in the spring of 410 BC. Alcibiades and the Athenian navy won a significant victory against the combined navies.

Agesilaus, the Eurypontid King of Sparta, employed a political dynamic that played on a feeling of pan-Hellenic sentiment and launched a successful campaign against the Persian empire. Once again, the Persian empire played both sides against each other. With access to Persian gold, the Persian Court supported Sparta in the rebuilding of their navy and supported the Athenians, who used Persian subsidies to rebuild their long walls (destroyed in 404 BC) as well as to reconstruct their fleet and win a number of victories.

For most of the first years of his reign, Agesilaus had been engaged in a war against Persia in the Aegean Sea and in Asia Minor. In 394 BC, the Spartan authorities decided to force Agesilaus to return to mainland Greece. Sparta had been attacked by Thebes and other allied Greek city-states. While Agesilaus had a large part of the Spartan Army was in Asia Minor, the Spartan forces protecting the homeland had been attacked by a coalition of forces from Thebes, Corinth, Athens and Argos. At the Battle of Haliartus the Spartans had been defeated by the Thebean forces. Worse yet, Lysander, Sparta's chief military leader had been killed at Haliartus. This was the start of what became known as the "Corinthian War." Upon hearing of the Spartan loss at Haliartus and of the death of Lysander, Agesilaus headed out of Asia Minor, back across the Hellspont, across Thrace and back towards Greece. At the Battle of Coronea, Agesilaus and his Spartan Army defeated a Theban force. For six more years, Sparta fought the allied city-states of Thebes, Corinth, Athens and Argos in the Corinthian War (395 BC to 387 BC). During the war, Corinth drew support from a coalition of traditional Spartan enemies — Argos, Athens and Thebes. However, the war descended into guerrilla tactics and Sparta decided that it could not fight on two fronts and so chose to ally with Persia. The long Corinthian War finally ended with the Peace of Antalcidas or the King's Peace, in which the "Great King" of Persia, Artaxerxes II, pronounced a "treaty" of peace between the various city-states of Greece which broke up all "leagues" of city-states on Greek mainland and in the islands of the Aegean Sea. Although this was looked upon as "independence" for some city-states, the effect of the unilateral "treaty" was highly favorable to the interests of the Persian Empire.

The Corinthian War revealed a significant dynamic that was occurring in Greece. While Athens and Sparta fought each other to exhaustion, Thebes was rising to a position of dominance among the various Greek city-states.

Read more about this topic:  Classical Greece, 4th Century BC, The Fall of Sparta

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