The Peloponnesian War (Part One)

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Nov 10 2007 12 mins   5
The Peloponnesian War was fought by Athens and Sparta in the late 5th century BC. It was an epic war between two superpowers, and the similarities to the Cold War are numerous. Since most people know about the Cold War, since it was so recent, I will summarize this episode via comparisons between it and the Peloponnesian War.

This first episode covers the beginning through the Amphipolis Campaign/Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Participants:
  • Athens/United States: wealthy, democratic, powerful navy, supported by numerous smaller states (Delian League/NATO)
    • Initially led by Pericles/FDR: rulers during the expansion of their respective nations' geopolitical status
  • Sparta/USSR: communist, totalitarian, powerful army, supported by numerous smaller states (Peloponnesian League/Warsaw Pact)
    • Initially led by Archidamus II/Stalin: rulers during the expansion of their respective nations' geopolitical status
  • Thebes/China: Weaker third power allied with Sparta/USSR
  • Persian Wars/WWII: Sparta/USSR and Athens/USA were originally allied in the fight against Persia/Axis
  • Pentecontaetia/Berlin Blockade: Sparta/USSR and Athens/USA skirmish briefly over intermediate territory (Corinthian Isthmus/Germany)
  • Archidamian War/Korean War: Sparta/USSR engages in a land war with Athens/USA over intermediate territory (Corinthian Isthmus/Germany). Results in a stalemate.
  • Pylos Campaign/Suez Crisis: Athens/USA intervenes in territory close to Sparta/USSR in order to gain an economic and political advantage.
  • Amphipolis Campaign/Cuban Missile Crisis: Sparta/USSR sneaks into the Athens/USA sphere of influence and creates an outpost.
  • Aegean Sea Propaganda Campaigns/Third World War: Sparta/USSR provides support to revolutions in Athens/USA's sphere of influence.
  • Sicilian Expedition/Vietnam War: Athens/USA attempts to contain Sparta/USSR's sphere of influence and fails miserably (loses lives and money).
Where the analogy fails:
  • Sparta launches a successful, massive land invasion against Athens (Problem: USSR never fought USA over Europe). Decisive victory at the Battle of Mantinea
  • Sparta destroys the entire Athenian Navy at the Battle of Aegospotami (Problem: USSR never defeated the American Navy decisively)
  • Athens surrendered to Sparta (Problem: The US won the Cold War)
So, the analogy isn't perfect, but it is still accurate in most respects. After the Peloponnesian War, Thebes (the former third power) swept down and became the new superpower (over both Sparta and Athens), just like China seems to be becoming now (over the US).

For more information, read: History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

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