This Week’s Book Review – Sparta’s Second Attic War

Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.

Book Review

A War Easier to Start than End

By MARK LARDAS
August 30, 2020
Sparta’s Second Attic War: The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta, 446-418 B. C,” by Paul A. Rahe, Yale University Press, 2020, 408 pages, $40.00 (hardcover)

Professor Paul Rahe, of Hillsdale College, is writing a multi-volume study of Sparta’s grand strategy during the Fifth Century BC. The first book “The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta: The Persian Challenge” looked at Sparta during the Persian War.

“Sparta’s Second Attic War: The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta, 446-418 B. C,” by Paul A. Rahe continues his study of the Peloponnesian Wars. The third volume in the series, it examines the second phase of the war between Sparta and Athens, fought between 431 and 421 BC.

The book picks up where his previous volume, Sparta’s First Attic War leaves off, in 446 BC. It covers more than the active phases of the war. Rahe examines the build-up to the active war and its immediate aftermath, including Sparta’s victorious war with Argos and her allies in 418 BC.

Rahe traces the long deterioration of the Thirty Years Peace treaty ending the First Attic War. Both sides infringed on its terms, yet Rahe shows how Athens led Sparta to actually start a new war, in violation of the terms of the truce. Truces are broken with impunity today. Rahe shows how violation of the Thirty Years Peace put Sparta on the moral defensive during this war, causing the Spartans to question the wisdom of starting a new war. Spartans viewed Sparta’s failure to defeat Athens in the war’s opening years and subsequent Spartan setbacks as proof of the gods’ displeasure with oath breakers.

By refusing to fight a land battle for Attica when the Spartans ravaged it in the war’s opening year, Athens denied Sparta a quick victory – or any traditional means of beating Athens. Other Athenian military innovations kept Sparta on its back foot. Rahe shows how Sparta regained the initiative using similar unorthodox tactics, especially in Thrace against Athenian allies and colonies there.

Rahe also demonstrates how wars are more easily started than ended. He shows why the war continued despite attempts on both sides to end it. The sides were so evenly balanced neither could subdue the other, but the advantage kept abruptly switching. Neither side was willing to seek peace while it had an advantage. It lurched on for ten years, exhausting both sides.

Scholarly, yet written for general audiences, “Sparta’s Second Attic War” offers an accurate and approachable account of this phase of the Peloponnesian Wars. It is a worthwhile reading for anyone interested in the subject.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.
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One thought on “This Week’s Book Review – Sparta’s Second Attic War”

  1. “By refusing to fight a land battle for Attica when the Spartans ravaged it in the war’s opening year, Athens denied Sparta a quick victory”

    Consider Germany versus USSR during the winter of 1941.  Results are more important than means.  If “hearts and minds” matter, bombard the enemy with visas and rolls of 3-ply toilet paper.

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