Peloponnesian War Analysis Essay

The Peloponnesian war was a war of ancient Greece, (431 BC-404 BC) fought between the leading city-state of Athens and Sparta, along with their allies, resulting in the transfer of hegemony from Athenian to Sparta. The fundamental cause of the war was the Spartan fear of Athenian imperialism. These two powers have asymmetrically different military strengths. The Athenians and their allies relied on its Navy, while Sparta and their alliance relied on a strong army. Pericles led the Athenians and Archidamus led Sparta. Plague struck Athens in 429 BC, killing Pericles.

Cleon came to power in 428 BC and convinced Athenian to massacre the rebellious Mytilene. Nicias comes to power after Cleon’s death and he was a mastermind behind the Peace of Nicias. Both Sparta and Athens agreed to accept the Peace of Nicias in 421 BC. However, the major Spartan allies were discontented with what was agreed upon. The Athenians also criticized Nicias for the conclusion of a peace that they believed brought little advantage for the country. For this and many other reasons, it becomes evident that the treaty was unsatisfactory for both parties.

Consequently, Athens wished to cancel the treaty and looking forward to expand and secure her empire. They began new attacks on adversaries, including the 415 BC expedition to Sicily. The purpose of this paper is, therefore, to identify and analyze the motivation behind the planning for and execution of the Athenian expedition to Sicily and its ends-ways-means congruence. The paper also assesses how the Athenian leaders evaluated risk and lastly offers the author’s personal reflection on why did the expedition ultimately failed.

The Sicilian expedition was the result of Athenian ambition to seek more expansion by advocating an offensive strategy. Athens had already been involved in the Sicilian affair in the earlier war to protect the Ionian against the Dorian cities. The recent expedition was the extension of their initial interest as Selinus quarreled with its neighbor Egesta. Syracuse came to help Selinus and Egesta applied to her old ally, Athens. The Athenians agreed to send a force to Sicily, ostensibly to protect Egesta, but obviously to subduing and controlling the whole Island of Sicily to secure their interests mainly the commercial sea line.

The other aim was to strengthen themselves with the resources from the allies for a future attack on the Peloponnesus. They were also lured by the Egestean false promise to pay what the war could cost. The end-means of the Athenian strategy in the Sicilian expedition was not well matched. Though they tried to formulate objectives and a ways-means balance, the leaders were wholly ignorant of the size of the Sicilian Island, the distance from Athens, the affiliation of the inhabitants of Sicily, the fortification and military power of Syracuse and the balance of their own military power.

The Italian cities rejected an alliance with Athens and refused their markets. The Athenian power was surpassed by the Sicilian military power, particularly, the Syracuse cavalry. They wanted to establish a universal empire, a broad end, but insufficient means were made available. Thus, dependence on Egesta’s false promise left the Athenians handicapped on the battleground. The supply from back home took time until the Athenian reconsidered the ways and means; this gave the enemy time, and Athenian inaction led Syracuse to supplement and strengthen their power, and encouraged them to attack Athens.

The Athenian strategy did not support to achieve their objectives. From the beginning, there was no agreement on the plan among the generals, especially on the strategies employed, and the number and kind of forces required for the mission. Alcibiades, who was gifted with important qualifications of courage, eloquence, and talent, was driven by his own ambition seeking personal glory. He undermined the enemy’s power and purposed his plan of action, recommending to approach the other cities in Sicily and arranging alliance with the Athenian side.

Lamachus advocated attacking Syracus directly while they were unprepared, but later he sided with Alcibiades when he saw that no one supported his idea. Nicias argued not to attack Sicily. He reasoned that it would divide and weaken the Athenian power. He proposed instead, to sail to Salinas, either to compel them by force or by agreement, then display power and return home. None of the generals could succeed their plan because of the inadequate means available and misperception of their enemy. Hence none of the objectives were achieved. The Athenians also failed to make a pragmatic risk assessment.

They tried to look at the matters through public assembly, where the selected generals forwarded their opinion and the majority voted for a decision. The procedure was part of the value of Athenian democracy, but they were unable to fix its problems. They decided to send the army led by only three generals without an analysis of the risks and lacking adequate means. They could not anticipate Spartan interference. The plan was simply ambiguous so that it was thwarted by the united Sicilians with Spartan interference and an attack on Attica. This leads the Athenian army to a catastrophic defeat.

This was a risk that the Athenians failed to consider when they undertook the expedition. In the author’s view, there were many of the problems that contributed to the failure of the mission. Primarily, Athenian power had already suffered from the war, the plague, and a drained treasury. Uprising among allies and defeat at Amphipolis put the Athens in a disadvantageous position. Cleon decisively defeated in his advance to Amphipolis by exposing the unarmed right side of his army to the enemy and by poor military initiatives that morally affected the Athenian soldiers.

This image also leads the Spartan to undermine the Athenian power. Secondly, Nicias and his generals started the new expedition without having sufficient knowledge of the enemy and a viable military plan. In this case, the ends means balance was not established. Thirdly, the Athenian lost their best general. Alcibiades fled to Sparta revealed the Athenian plan and assisting the enemy. He might have been successful with his prudent military genius, had the Athenians had not recalled him back for trial of the charge of the sacrilege.

Fourthly, the military leadership was placed in the hands of Nicias, who from the beginning opposed the expedition and whose plan was different. He argued that the expedition required huge resources if Athens wanted to win. Nicias could only had won if the Athenians had enough reinforcements on time, but distance made the supply very difficult and gave the enemy time to prepare. The Athenians failed to block enemy reinforcement from the Peloponnesus, because the Athenians had no reserve force. Hence, they bogged down in myriads of challenges since they failed to anticipate the risk of logistics in living off the country.

Finally, Lamachus’ proposal was offered the greatest chance of success had the Athenians agreed to attack Syracuse by surprise, but it was an opportunity that Athens lost. To the contrary, the Syracuse prepared and take a surprise attack against them. In general, the Sicilian expedition was the most dangerous decision taken by the Athenians. It ended with failure and weakened their power, depleted their treasury, and lastly led them to the final defeat. Thus, the Athenian did not achieve their objectives of expansion even though they followed an offensive strategy.