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Sources of Strife betweeen Athens and Sparta

The sources of the strife1 between these two major powers of the Greek mainland are significant for an understanding of the history of the Athenian Golden Age because that greatest era of Athens' prosperity and cultural achievement came to an end as a result of the terrible defeat inflicted on Athens by Sparta and its allies in the Peloponnesian War. Sparta, dominated politically by a conservative oligarchy2 that was always suspicious of change, had already become concerned by the end of the sixth century by the development of greater democracy at Athens under the leadership of Cleisthenes after 507. The Spartan leaders feared that the increasing democratization of Athenian government under the reforms of Cleisthenes3 would lead Athens to contest Spartan predominance in Greece. After seeing the military power, epecially the navy4, that Athens marshalled against the Persian army, the Spartan leaders increasingly saw Athens as more than just a theoretical threat to their state's dominance. The majority of men at Athens reciprocated this feeling of suspicion and feared the Spartan army, Greece's most formidable infantry force, as a threat to their international ambitions and security. The allies of Athens and Sparta also contributed signficantly to the friction between the two powers by complaining to their respective leaders about real and imagined grievances against the other leading state.

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