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History of the Peloponnesian War

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Tenth-century minuscule Manuscript of Thucydides's History

The History of the Peloponnesian War tells the story of the Peloponnesian War in Ancient Greece. It was written by Thucydides, an Athenian general who served in that war. The war was fought between the Peloponnesian League (led by Sparta) and the Athenian league (led by Athens). The war lasted more than 20 years.

Many historians regard this History of Thucydides as one of the earliest scholarly works of history.

Historical method

Thucydides' History made a number of contributions to early historiography. Many of his principles have become standard methods of history writing today, though others have not.


One of Thucydides' major innovations was to use a strict standard of chronology, recording events by year, each year consisting of the summer campaigning season and a less active winter season. As a result, events that span several years are divided up and described in parts of the book that are sometimes quite distant from one another, causing the impression that he is oscillating between the various theatres of conflict. This method contrasts sharply with Herodotus' earlier work The Histories, which jumps around chronologically.


Another feature of the work is that Thucydides writes dozens of speeches of the most important figures who were engaged in the war. Thucydides heard some of these speeches himself but some of the speeches he wrote without knowing exactly what was really spoken.[1]

Neutral point of view

Thucydides wanted his writings "to last for ever" (1.22.4). Therefore he tried to be as neutral as possible though as general of Athens that was difficult for him.[2]

Role of religion

The gods play no active role in Thucydides' work. This is very different to Herodotus, who frequently mentions the role of the gods. Instead, Thucydides regards history as being caused by the choices and actions of human beings.

The History concentrates on the military aspects of the Peloponnesian War, but it uses these events as a medium to suggest several other themes as well, for instance to show effects of war on humanity itself. For the most part, the History does not discuss topics such as the art and architecture of Greece, but speaks of the development of military technologies rather often.

Illustration of a Greek Trireme

The History explains that the cause of the Peloponnesian War was the "growth in power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta" (1.23.6). The Spartans represent a more traditional and less expansive power.


Thucydides almost never names his informants. This is in contrast to Herodotus, who frequently mentions multiple versions of his stories and allows the reader to decide which is true.


Thucydides' History has been enormously influential in both ancient and modern historiography.

Outline of the Work

  • Book 1
    • The state of Greece from the earliest times to the commencement of the Peloponnesian War, also known as the Archaeology. 1.1-1.19.
    • Methodological excursus. 1.20-1.23.
    • Causes of the war (433-432 BCE) 1.24-1.66.
    • Congress of the Peloponnesian League at Lacedaemon. 1.67-1.88
      • The Speech of the Corinthians. 1.68-1.71.
      • The Speech of the Athenian envoys. 1.73-1.78.
      • The Speech of Archidamus. 1.80-1.85.
      • The Speech of Sthenelaidas. 1.86.
    • From the end of the Persian War to the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, also known as the Pentacontaetia. 1.89-1.117.
      • The progress from supremacy to empire.
    • Second congress at Lacedaemon and the Corinthian Speech. 1.119-1.125.
    • Diplomatic maneuvering. 1.126-1.139.
    • Pericles' first speech. 1.140-1.145.
  • Book 2 (431-428 BCE)
    • War begins with Thebes' attempt to subvert Plataea. 2.1-2.6.
    • Account of the mobilization of and list of the allies of the two combatants. 2.7-2.9.
    • First invasion of Attica. 2.10-2.23.
      • Archidamus leads the Peloponnesian army into Attica. 2.10-2.12.
      • Athenian preparations and abandonment of the countryside. 2.13-2.14.
      • Excursus on Athenian synoikism. 2.15-2.16.
      • Difficult conditions in Athens for refugees from countryside. 2.17.
      • Archidamus ravages Oenoe and Acharnai. 2.18-2.20.
      • Athenian fury and anger at Pericles. 2.21-2.22.
    • Athenian naval counter-attacks along coast of Peloponese and islands. 2.23-2.32.
    • Pericles' Funeral Oration. 2.34-2.46.
    • The plague of Athens. 2.47-2.54.
    • Second invasion of Attica and Athenian naval counter-attacks. 2.55-2.58.
    • Pericles' third speech, defending his position and policy. 2.59-2.64.
    • Thucydides' estimate of Pericles' qualities and the causes for Athens' eventual defeat. 2.65.
    • Diplomacy and skirmishes in Thrace, the islands, and the Northeast. 2.66-2.69.
    • Fall of Potidaea. 2.70.
    • Investment of Plataea. 2.71-2.78.
    • Naval victories of Phormio in the Northeast. 2.80-2.92.
    • Threat of raid on the Piraeus. 2.93-2.94.
    • Thracian campaign in Macedonia under Sitalces. 2.95-2.101.
  • Book 3 (428-425 BCE)
    • Annual invasion of Attica. 3.1.
    • Revolt of Mytilene. 3.2-3.50.
      • Speech of Mytilenian envoys to Sparta at Olympia, asking for help. 3.9-3.14.
      • Sparta accepts Lesbos as an ally and prepares to counter the Athenians. 3.15.
      • Mytilene surrenders to Athens despite Spartan support. 3.28.
      • Mytilenian Debate. 3.37-3.50.
    • Fall of Plataea. 3.20-3.24, 3.52-68.
      • Some Plataeans escape. 3.20-3.24.
      • Plataea surrenders. 3.52.
      • Trial and execution of the Plataeans. 3.53-3.68.
        • Speech of Plataeans, 3.53-3.59.
        • Speech of the Thebans. 3.61-3.67.
    • Revolution at Corcyra. 3.70-3.85.
      • Thucydides' account of the evils of civil strife. 3.82-3.84.
    • Athenian campaigns in Sicily. 3.86, 3.90, 3.99, 3.103, 3.115-3.116.
    • Campaigns of Demosthenes in western Greece. 3.94-3.98, 3.100-3.102, 3.105-3.114.
    • Spartans establish Heracleia in Trachis. 3.92-3.93.
    • Athenians purify Delos. 3.104.
  • Book 7 (414-413 BCE)
    • Arrival of Gylippus at Syracuse
    • Fortification of Decelea
    • Successes of the Syracusans
    • Arrival of Demosthenes (general)
    • Defeat of the Athenians at Epipolae
    • Folly and obstinacy of Nicias
    • Battles in the Great Harbour
    • Retreat and annihilation of the Athenian army


  1. In Thucydides' words: "what was called for in each situation" (1.22.2).(Donald Kagan, "The Speeches in Thucydides and the Mytilene Debate," Yale Classical Studies (1975) 24:71-94.)
  2. Ernst Badian argues Thucydideshad a pro-Athenian bias. (Ernst Badian, "Thucydides and the Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. A Historian's Brief" in Conflict, Antithesis and the Ancient Historian, ed. June Allison, (Columbus 1990), pp. 46-91.)

Internet Sources

Secondary Sources

  • Connor, W. Robert, Thucydides. Princeton: Princeton University Press (1984). ISBN 0-691-03569-5.
  • Hornblower, Simon, A Commentary on Thucydides. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon (1991-1996). ISBN 0-19-815099-7 (vol. 1), ISBN 0-19-927625-0 (vol. 2).
  • Hornblower, Simon, Thucydides. London: Duckworth (1987). ISBN 0-7156-2156-4.
  • Orwin, Clifford, The Humanity of Thucydides. Princeton: Princeton University Press (1994).
  • Romilly, Jacqueline de, Thucydides and Athenian Imperialism. Oxford: Basil Blackwell (1963). ISBN 0-88143-072-2.
  • Rood, Tim, Thucydides: Narrative and Explanation. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1998). ISBN 0-19-927585-8.
  • Strassler, Robert B, ed. The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War. New York: Free Press (1996). ISBN 0-684-82815-4.