The Spartan way of war

Victor Davis Hanson // The New Criterion

Sparta’s check of imperial Athens in the inconclusive so-called First Peloponnesian War (460–445 B.C.) foreshadowed a remarkable subsequent twenty-eight-year growth in Lacedaemonian power and influence. At the war’s end, Sparta had established itself as the only impediment left to an increasingly Athenian Greece.

Fourteen years later, a second, and far deadlier, Peloponnesian War broke out. The continuing, hard-fought Spartan upswing was capped off by her dramatic victory at the Battle of Mantinea (418 B.C.), which saw Sparta prevail over Athens—Sparta’s chief Peloponnesian rival—and surrogate Athenian allies. That battle mostly ensured that Sparta would not lose in any renewal of the stalemated Second Peloponnesian War.

The Spartan surge between 446 and 418 B.C. is the theme of Paul A. Rahe’s fourth volume on Sparta’s history, its culture, and its rivalries with democratic Athens, entitled Sparta’s Second Attic War.1 His envisioned hexalogy will eventually cover three centuries of Spartan growth, dominance, and gradual decline. The final two books will presumably be devoted to the last fourteen brutal years of the Peloponnesian War (a proposed volume 5, 418–404/3 B.C.) and the post-war decades of Sparta’s unilateral but shaky dominance, and her eventual decline (volume 6, 403–362 B.C.).

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