Peloponnesian Domination Wars

This web page has been set up as we have received some emails in the past asking us to clarify the aggression between Sparta and Argos and their involvement in dominating the Peloponnese. We have come to believe that there is a unhealthy public belief that Sparta and Argos had always been at war from when they had settled in the Peloponnese.

c1100 B.C. The Dorian Invasion

A series of waves of heavy immigration takes place by a people who identify themselves as Dorian, they claim decent from the mythical hero Hercules and have moved down from the north and into the Peloponnese. Once in the Peloponnese over time they split into three distinct waves, but all of them displace the aboriginal people and set up their own city-states. It doesn't seem that a wide whole-sale massacre took place, but that the inhabitants were displaced and seemed to be condemned as second-class citizens.


The three waves are:

  • Argos
  • Sparta
  • Messini

776 B.C. Messinia and Elis

Elis, in the north-west of the Peloponnese has a favourable link with Messinia. Elis held the sacred position in Greece of being the area that held the Olympic Games every 4 years beginning in 776 B.C., and at least from that time Messinia and Elis seemed to get on well together, many of the early Olympic Game winners came from Messinia so the two city-states worked together, and later on when the Messinian Wars took place between Messinia and Sparta many Messinia's fled to Elis as a haven from the war.
This link is important as the Olympic Games were held not by the aboriginal people of Elis but from a class of citizens that came with the Dorian invasion, linking the two city-states even closer.

The Messinian's should be seen as expansionists , they are eager to trade and deal with foreigners. This can be seen as they establish ports at Kalamata and Kyparissia and fortify the area by establishing a strong point at Pylos. The Messinias are excellent farmers and produce a large amount of crops especially olive oil which has always been a high export earner.
This should be compared to the development of Sparta, they failed in trade compared to Messinia, and are seen by the Greek world as 'the worst governed people in Greece'.
It should now start to become clear why friction begins to appear between Messinia and Sparta. Messinia is on friendly terms with Elis and going to war with Sparta seems reasonable as they are the worst governed people and being expansionists are hungry to gain more land.
There are different reasons given by ancient writers why war between Messinia and Sparta began, but the real reason looks simple enough, Messinia wishes to expand, and Sparta finds themselves disorganised and without allies.
It is at this time around c743 B.C. that the First Messinian War brakes out between the two of them and continues on in one form or another through into the Second Messinian War c600. B.C.

c600 B.C. The Messinian Wars and Argo Expansion

With the outbreak of the Messinian War between Messinia and Sparta, Sparta finds itself in complete turmoil and Lycurgos from Sparta gets from Delphi the 'holy' approval for his agenda to create a military state out of Sparta. He is allowed to put in place a wide range of sweeping new laws that create Sparta into a full time military compound. All full-blooded Spartanites are not allowed to work in any trade and their full time job becomes the military. Foreigners are frowned upon and discouraged from arriving at Sparta and it finds itself with nothing to trade with and does not want it's citizens tempted by the outside world.

With Messinia and Sparta now preoccupied with their wars the King of Argos by the name of Pheidon, turns tyrant and takes complete control of all facets of the government. It might be hard to understand how someone goes from being a King into being a tyrant , but if you wish to understand how that came be done, read here.
Pheidon, champions the underprivileged and strips the autocracy of it's wealth and power. His first port of call is to unite the area immediately around Argos and becomes their ruler. He takes over east of Argos and this allows him to trade with the island of Aegina. It is at Aegina that Pheidon is said to have 'created the first coins', which seems more likely to mean the first coins made in mainland Greece, as the first coins ever made seem to have occurred at Phoenicia, who are also a major exporter and seafaring people, so a link can been seen between itself and the seafaring exporters of Aegina.
Herodotus, also states that Pheidon takes over the southern area of the Peloponnese at this time as well, though many today doubt that this happened, but that is not important to us here, what is important is that Argos was on a definite expansion of the Peloponnese, and at this time seemed to be able to go it successfully.
Pheidon even seems to be caught up with the troubles at Corinth, but instead of trying to come to the aid of the working class, he champions the autocracy that have been oustouted from Corinth, we are not sure how Pheidon's army would have taken this, them being the working class as well.
His boldest move though is he invades the area of Elis and comes to the aid of the poor by ousting the Dorian autocracy in the region and installing the indigenous people into power, Pheidon is even said to have presided over an Olympic Games once, before ultimately installing the indigenous people to be in charge of the Olympics and giving them more rights. Pheidon's Peloponnesian domination has become widespread and it is at this time that Argos is said to be 'the most powerful city-state in Greece'.

546 B.C. Spartan - Argos aggression

With Argos influence very strong in the Peloponnese and Sparta finally getting the upper hand over Messinia reducing the population to helots. Sparta comes to the conclusion that if Argos is not kept in check it's growth will end up swallowing up the entire Peloponnese and Sparta will end up facing the entire force of Argos on her doorstep, to make matters even worse Argos starts to help out Messinia where it can, undermining Sparta's influence there. We therefore should not find it surprising that Sparta ultimately comes to friendly terms with Corinth, who is still holding out against Argos influence, especially as Corinth and Aegina are in direct competition with one another for seafaring trade routes.
The conclusion is that Sparta made numerous attempts to negotiate or threaten the tiny city-state of Tegea, while it lies somewhat between Argos and Sparta it had by this time been allowed to stay autonomous from the two, but it's location lies on the road between the two so both find it desirable to have influence with it.
Every effort was thwarted by tiny Tegea who seemed to play their hand so that both Argos and Sparta vied for their influence. Pottery from Argos was found in Tegea, and to a smaller extent from Sparta also, so it seemed they had no problem trading with them, though by 560 B.C. Sparta tried to invade and destroy them at the Battle of Tegea, but failed. Still, Sparta was still strong enough to march out into Elis and restore the Dorian's autocracy back as Olympic officials again. By 546 B.C. however, the tension between Argos and Sparta became such a state that they fought the Battle of Champions. The fact that 300 of the best warriors from Argos and Sparta marched out and fought rather than the entire force of the armies, to us, shows that the battle was a kind of 'sporting' affair, almost like the battle was an 'Olympic event', best team wins.

So, the 546 B.C. Battle of Champions is the first recorded hostilities recorded by ancient writers between the city-states of Argos and Sparta, and their hostilities didn't start from 'time immortal' or from thousands of years in the past. This battle was just the first of a long line of hostile actions between the two, both eager to destroy each other for Peloponnesian influence , this is why their hostile actions are considered part of the Peloponnesian domination wars.





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