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How Athens Lost Second the Peloponnesian War

Updated on December 26, 2016
Pericles, great Athenian statesman and general
Pericles, great Athenian statesman and general

Athens was one of the powerhouses of Ancient Greece. There’s a reason everyone talks about Athens, while no one talks about Corinth. Athens had the democracy, the math, and even an army. So how was it defeated in the Second Peloponnesian War? Athens had the smart people, but what they did will leave you scratching your head.

Who Defeated Athens?

In the Second Peloponnesian War, Athens and its allies were fighting against the military juggernaut that was Sparta.

So What Exactly Happened?

Athens spent most of the war licking its wounds. Their expedition into Sicily was a disaster, the mines that were funding their war efforts were raided, and Sparta’s allies were engaging them in constant skirmishes. To make things even doomier and gloomier, during the Sicilian expedition, their navy was routed and their soldiers were either dead or being forced to work in stone quarries. Sparta was coming, and Athens was helpless.

Athens, however, managed to survive, and defeated Sparta in several battles. It was at the battle of Arginusae, though, where the tables began to turn on Athens.

When Athens heard that a Spartan fleet was coming, they hastily scraped together a navy manned by conscripts from all walks of life. Against all odds, Athens was victorious. Their ragtag sailors beat the experienced Spartan navy.

This Is Where It Gets Funny

Well, relatively funny.
Well, relatively funny. | Source

Victory does not come without a price. 25 Athenian warships either sank or were otherwise in no condition to make the journey home. The 8 generals of the fleet attempted to rescue the crews of the warships when their efforts were thwarted by a storm. The crews perished, and Athens was livid.

Despite the fact that they had won the battle, Athens, in one of the most hilarious overreactions in history, had 6 of the 8 generals executed for not rescuing the men even though they would not have been able to without destroying more of the navy. With 6 generals executed and the other 2 in hiding, there was no one left to command the Athenians. Those who could would not after witnessing such a devastating blow to their morale. Athens tried to make things right by executing the people who had the generals executed in the first place, but the damage was done.

When the Spartans attacked again, they soundly beat Athens at the Battle of Aegospotami and effectively ended Athens’ reign as the top dog of the city states.


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