The traditional time 5th - 4th front century J. - C.

© Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
The Parthenon was built in eleven years, from 447 to 438, on the site of a building destroyed at the time of the bag of the Acropolis into 480, during the medic wars.

The traditional time, considered as the golden age of Greek civilization (O C century-Iv E century), will join together all its particular stories in a common destiny.

Medic wars

Ve century opens however on the threat of the Persian expansion. The Greek cities of Asia, encircled by the Persian Empire, finally accepted the domination of the winner, when a revolt, on the initiative of Millet in 499, causes the call to the cities of clean Greece, which hardly feel interdependent. Only Athens and Erétrie (which respectively provide twenty and five boats) send a forwarding and set fire to Sardes, one of the capitals of the Large King, into 498. The Persian Empire however remains intact, Milet is taken soon and ransacked, the cities of Ionie must be subjected.   Then Darius decides to invade Greece. In 490, it subjects the islands, plunders Erétrie, reduced its inhabitants in slavery and unloads in Attic, north of Marathon. Athens faces, only supported by some Platéens (10 ' 000 men against the 20 ' 000 combatants of the Large King). Persians must take again the sea and their losses are very heavy.  
Union of the cities
Whereas Athens prepares actively on a probable return of Persians by the construction of a fleet, it is necessary to wait summer 481 so that the other cities react to the danger (Xerxès, which succeeded his/her Darius father into 486, prepares then on ground and sea a considerable offensive). The will of resistance however is far from being unanimous: certain cities, like Thèbes, refuse to fight; others, like Sparte, would prefer to ensure the defense of the Peloponnese on the isthmus of Corinth. Finally, the command of the common forces is entrusted to Sparte, whose army is most powerful. However, in spite of the heroic resistance of king de Sparte, Léonidas, in Thermopyles, the army of Xerxès advances until in Attic. In same time, its fleet is on the point of occupying the roads of Phalère. At this point in time Thémistocle, by the trick, succeeds in attracting part of the enemy fleet close to Salamine, where takes place the decisive battle (480). The following year, in Platées in Béotie, the remainder of the army of Persians is beaten, and their fleet undergoes, off the Asian coasts, of ultimate defeats.  
The Greeks are aware to have gained an immense victory. Linked for the first time under the same command, the free Greek cities triumphed over the imposing forces of the Large King, the Hellenism of barbarian monarchy.  

Athenian hegemony

The alliance shown vis-a-vis the Persian danger does not survive the victory; this one, initially and especially Athenian, marks the beginning of a process which, in a few decades, will make to city attic the mistress of the Aegean world.   Sparte sees with concern the hegemony of Athens developing in Egée, and what one can regard as the first Peloponnesian War bursts when the Athenian city claims to control part of central and septentrional Greece. The conflict is completed into 446 because of the multiple interior problems encountered by each city.
Athens and Sparte sign a joint peace thirty years but Péloponnésiens fear the development of the Athenian power.

The Peloponnesian War

Thus, in 431, Athens is seen confronted with almost all continental Greece except Argiens and the Achaens remained neutral in the Peloponnese like in central Greece.


Périclès considers the confrontation inevitable and the moment seems to him favorable; it is certain to quickly gain the victory by a maritime action, Athens being in strong position. The city seems to be an impregnable fortress open on the sea. In fact, resistance péloponnésienne appears stronger than envisaged, and Athens is cruelly weakened by an epidemic of plague which costs the life Périclès (429).  

Cléon the Demagog

Cléon the Demagog, his substitute, is beaten in Platées (427), but gains in Sphactérie (425). The Spartans reorganize their army then and carry the combat to Thrace (424), where they beat the Athenians in front of Amphipolis.
On the death of Cléon, in 422, the conservative party and pacifist imposes Nicias; it signs, into 421, the peace which bears its name, envisaging the return to the former positions for fifty years.


Alcibiade directs the Athenian policy then and concludes an alliance with Argiens, which had been beaten by Sparte with Mantinée, in 418. Alcibiade launches out then in the adventurous forwarding of Sicily (415-413), which ends in the victory of Athenian Syracuse and the destruction of the army and the fleet. This disaster causes the defection of several allies of Athens, whereas Sparte is combined in Persia in return for the towns of Ionie and important subsidies.

Bloodless Athens

After serious interior disorders (oligarchical revolt, the Council of the Four hundreds, 411-410), Athens knows a short rectification and gains some victories. The return of Alcibiade (407) and the victory in the islands Arginuses (406) enabled him to restore the situation.  But, in 405, the new Athenian fleet is again destroyed, with the mouth of Aigos Potamos, by Lysandre, which puts the seat in front of Athens.
It is bloodless and demoralized Athens which continues the war. Exhausted by the famine, the city goes without condition into 404. The winners impose hard conditions to him: destruction of the fortifications, the dissolution of the maritime Confederation and introduction of an oligarchical government, the tyranny of the Thirty, supported by a garrison Spartan.

Crises of IVe century

The war is a disaster, and that as much for Athens that for all Greece. Sparte had fought “to return to the Greek cities their freedom and their autonomy”: the first consequence of its victory is the return of the Greeks of Asia Mineure under the Persian domination (in return for gold which had driving license to him the war). Not only the other cities underwent heavy losses, but still the interior disorders were nourished of a conflict whose political character gradually continued: vis-a-vis Athens, rampart of the democrats, Sparte indeed seems the support of the oligarchs, where who they are.  
Plots, seditions, massacres became currency according to Enée the Tactician. Even Sparte, the victorious one, lost, in addition to number of its hoplites, a little its heart and, in any case, of the austerity which made its force. Its more faithful admirors (such Xénophon or Plato) will denounce this new love of the richnesses like person in charge of its decline.

Fainding of the equality between citizens

Significant measurement: in 400, the law of Epitadeus authorizes the free provision of the cléros (batch of ground cultivated by the hilotes and affected with the citizen by the State). This law ratifies, in fact, an evolution of manners: the citizens had more equal only name! The plot of Cinadon, in 397, slack at the great day the dissatisfaction with the “inferiors” and, if it fails, it announces the revolutions of the III E century.   Fights between the rich person and the poor, the aristocrats and the democrats, of the revolts burst here or there: massacres of the rich person by disinherited in Corinthe into 392; scytalism with Argos in 370, where the poor strike to blows of stick (scytale) nearly 1500 rich person and share their goods. Perhaps one exaggerated this “crisis of the city”, perhaps especially one did not notice enough that, paradoxically, it is the large one overcome, Athens, which - probably thanks to its found democratic regime - avoids the confrontations more the violent ones.  
It does not remain about it less than the Peloponnesian War was used as catalyst with the solvent tendencies which threatened the city; one sees, for example, to flower again tyrannies which had accompanied the crisis by the archaism: that of Denys the Old one, in Sicily, as of 405; those of Euphron with Sicyone, Cléarque in Asia Minor or, in Decay, that of Mausole, true precursory of the Hellenistic monarchs.  
Ceaseless internal conflicts

The IV E century is as disturbed by the continual combat as are delivered the most important cities - Sparte and Athens of course, but also Thèbes - to claim with the command in Greece: enough strong to conquer hegemony - with the need with the assistance for Persians -, they are too weak to preserve it.
With 404 to 355, the history swarms thus with inversions of alliances and more or less wide conflicts.  Sparte well quickly loses the confidence of the Greeks, and the peace of the King (386), which makes of the Persian sovereign Antalcidas the referee of the fights between the cities, seems with all a treason. Its domination, moreover, is done very hard quickly. Weakened by the social disturbances, Sparte cannot prevent Athens from creating a network of alliances, and the decree of Aristotélès (377) reconstitutes soon a new maritime confederation. Like the first, and in spite of the precautions taken (guaranteed autonomy of the cities), it will be completed by a revolt of the allies (357-356).  
Balance one moment restored between Sparte, mistress of Peloponnese, and Athens, in charge of its empire maritime, is broken by Thèbes, which, initially entered Athenian alliance, plays its own game and gains over Sparte, which will not be concerned any, the victory of Leuctres (371). In Mantinée (362), Thébains carry it again, and if the death of Epaminondas - it was killed at the time of an attack - mark the end of the expansion thebaine, the peace, concluded into 361, devotes the collapse of Sparte (it loses Messénie, in its possession since the archaism).

Torn Greece

Exhausted, the country must face the new danger threatening its freedom: Philippe, king of the Macedonians, became, with the margins of the Greek world, the chief of a powerful kingdom and organized well. He undertook a slow but sure progression towards the east (Thrace), where since Ve century Athens had interests; and towards the south, where the possession of Thessalie will enable him soon to control the access roads to Greece. It even succeeds, into 346, to enter to the council amphictyonic which managed the sanctuary of Delphes. Then only the isolated voices which, such that of Démosthène, denounced the danger Macedonian find some echo. A coalition is formed which gathers around Athens part of the cities péloponnésiennes and Thèbes. The military effort is important but without hope: Philippe, winner with Chéronée (338), in Béotie, becomes the referee of the destinies of the Greek world.
The league of Corinth
It is the conclusion of a congress convened by the Macedonian and joining together in Corinthe all the cities; this treaty of alliance joins together most cities and of the people of Greece around Philippe, his hêgêmon. She proposes to carry out against the Barbarian (the king of Persians) a war of revenge and conquest. It is Alexandre III the Large one who, after the assassination of his father, in 336, will take again this intention and the width will give him that one knows. The Greek cities, as for them, consequently and for always, lost their independence. It is allowed to wonder whether these fights for hegemony, in which they had become exhausted, were only the expression of their will for power or if they also proceeded of the more or less clear conscience of a need: that to widen the framework of the city, become too exiguous and unsuited.  
It is one of the major ironies of the history to note that the Greeks, wearied by fratricidal fights, gave a sovereign Macedonian - and consequently, for them, a semi-Barbarian - the possibility of carrying out this unit, then with his/her son to take again the fight against the Barbarian