The Spartans warred with several of the Greek city-states that had aided the Persians. After the war Athens sent her navy to Ionia to help free the Ionian Greeks from Persian rule. They gained independence over several decades, gaining wealth in war booty.
Sparta was rocked by a severe earthquake in 462 BC, with many dead. The helots rebelled and the fewer Spartans had difficulty squashing the rebellion. They asked Athens for help. After much debate Athens decided to aid Sparta. But Sparta feared that the democratic Athens would only encourage the rebellion and changed their mind. Athens would not forget this insult.
Athens continued to get stronger through the navy’s efforts in Ionia. They continued to get more arrogant and aggressive. Athens offered the city-states a choice: either alliance with Athens, or to be conquered by Athens. To stand against Athens meant to stand with the other strong Greek city-state, Sparta. By 431 BC Sparta and Athens were at war. The Peloponnesian Wars lasted from 431-404 BC with Sparta the eventual winner.
The war booty from the war increased the corruption within Sparta. People started to covet wealth and lost their discipline. Worse, with a declining birth rate their numbers were decreasing. They only allowed children of a Spartiate to become a citizen. They had about 9000 Spartiates when they reformed in 640 BC. By 371 they only had 1000. In 371 Sparta met Thebes at the Battle of Leucra. They lost not only the war, but Messena was freed as well. Many Spartiates had turned and fled, but Sparta did not have enough warriors left so the ephors did not impose the death penalty on them. Sparta’s dominance of the battlefield had ended.
Macedonia became the next major power. Under Alexander the Great they had displaced the Persians, but they never invaded Sparta. It was not until the Romans in 206 BC that Sparta was invaded.
Sparta was acknowledged as the greatest army from the time of their reforms in 640 BC until their defeat in 371 BC. They were the first Greeks to have a professional army and had a strict code of laws. They were brave men that would never turn their back to the enemy, no matter how large the enemy.
Text of the Oracle to Sparta:
Hear your fate, O dwellers in Sparta of the wide spaces;
Either your famed, great town must be sacked by Perseus’ sons,
Or, if that be not, the whole land of Lacedaemon
Shall mourn the death of a king of the house of Herakles,
Ro not the strength of lions or of bulls shall hold him,
Strength against strength; for he has the power of Zeus,
And will not be checked till one of these two he has consumed.
Text of the Oracle to Athens:
Not wholly can Pallas win the heart of Olympian Zeus,
Though she prays him with many prayers and all her subtlety;
Yet will I speak to you this other word, as firm as adamant:
Though all else shall be taken within the bound of Cecrops
And the fold of the holy mountain of Cithaeron,
Yet Zeus the all-seeing grants to Athene’s prayer
That the wooden wall only shall not fall, but help you and your children.
But await not the host of horse and foot coming from Asia,
Nor be still, but turn your back and withdraw from the foe.
Truly a day will come when you will meet him face to face.
Divine Salamis, you will bring death to women’s sons
When the corn is scattered, or the harvest gathered in.
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