The starting point of the Peloponnesian War was the expansion of Athenian power, especially as it began to extend into the Greek west and Sicily. Corinth, strategically placed on the route northwest was feeling increasingly vulnerable, and when the Athenians and Corinthians clashed diplomatically over the island of Corcyra (Corfu) the spark was ignited. The Corinthians threatened to leave the Peloponnesian League unless the leaders of the League, the Spartans, were willing to go to war against Athens. It had long been Spartan practice to maintain its security with a cordon of loyal oligarchies. Sparta viewed Athens, a newly formed democracy, where culture and philosophy flourished, with absolute distrust. The final straw was when Athens sought to destabilize Sparta’s ally, Megara, by introducing an embargo on Megaran trade. In 431 BCE the Spartans took up the Athenian challenge when Thebes, a Spartan ally, attacked Plataea, an ally of Athens. The conflict that now unfolded would be fought all over the Greek world, and would cause widespread death and devastation. When Athens finally surrendered in 404 BCE and accepted short-lived rule by a Spartan oligarchy, it was no longer a dominant player in the Mediterranean, and the golden age of Athenian democracy had come to an end.
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