The Peloponnesian Fleet: Disputing Thucydides' Land versus Sea Dichotomy
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The clash between Sparta’s Peloponnesian League and the Athenian Delian League is considered one of the most famous events in Classical history. Lasting over two decades, the Great Peloponnesian War engulfed the greater part of the Greek mainland and Aegean, and extended to Sicily and Italy to the West, and Persia to the East. In essence, to the Hellene of the ancient world, this was a Greek World War. One of the major themes which the Peloponnesian War continuously iterated, and one which is emphasized in Thucydides’ narrative, was the dichotomy between the two πόλεις. Thucydides insinuated that the war was based on a polemic juxtaposition of Sparta, the predominant land power, and Athens, the naval juggernaut. Thucydides ultimately used the land versus sea motif to explain how the two city-states intended to fight. However, by doing this, Thucydides heavily disregarded Sparta’s maritime capabilities and even downplayed the Peloponnesian fleet’s role in the war. This paper will argue that Thucydides misconstrued the reality of the war. I believe Sparta pursued naval hegemony during the war and there is evidence for a deliberate naval program.