The Polis culture in eyes of history was a unique phenomenon that would create an inevitable war between Athens and Sparta. The culture had changed very little due to its oligarchic nature, something Athens would change as the polis became a democratic culture. As these changes in Athens progressed after the Hellenic war with Persia, the League of Delos is established to keep the Persians out of the waterways, gradually leading to Athenian imperial actions. The slow rousing Spartans on the other side would decide based on their military ties with Corinth to step forward and combat this threat to their way of life. Thus, it can be stated through the words of the Athenian, Thucydides war was inevitable between those who didn’t side with Athens.i The Polis culture would be incompatible with imperialist Athens due to its inherent nature of Phillia relations, the concept of autonomia and offensive realism. Philia would be based on family like relations where it creates a bond between both parties, be they blood related or not. Autonomia would be the ability to distribute wealth based on the city, without arbitration from another group or poleis. Offensive realism itself is the antithesis of the hoplite mode of warfare which is defensive rather than offensive.
The strong ties that bound a great deal of society together in ancient Greece would be key in understanding why Thucydides believes through the Polis culture that the Peloponnesian war was inevitable. These Philia ties that were attacked by Athenian imperialism creating an immense negative reaction throughout the Polis culture, making the defenders of freedom, Sparta their inevitable enemies. Thucydides speaks of Philia relations throughout his narrative of the wars prior to the war and during the war itself, such relations became a strong binding force making conflict inevitable. Thucydides narrates how the Corcyreans and their mother Polis come to terms as Philia Related Poleis, “They showed that their founder came from Corinth...they felt it to be a kind of duty to undertake their protection.”ii This relation of blood indicates the importance they placed upon such relations, yet their conflict carries on and Athens is involved into it. Both sides would speak to Athens, but only the Corinthians would speak of Philia, “The attitude of our colony… and we are very much beloved by our colonists.”iii Athens then would break this undeniable duty of philia due to economic gain. This is through the actions of Pericles an Athenian general who would be the spark to create the flames of war.iv Such a break in the natural state would alarm Corinth and thus they would begin to interact with Sparta to get their league to be more watchful of Athens as it encroached upon their philia relations. Kitto in his book of the greeks speaks of how through the actions of Pericles the minds of Athenians change to be more imperialistic, thus preferring economic gain over moral integrityv. This is carried through Hansen’s in his section on the state, where Athenian democracy was in its focus completely different and incompatible with the traditional archaic polis culture.vi Such a violation by the Athenians would be watched, but nothing would be done yet as they Spartans would require more than this to justify war with Athens. They desired reconciliation and would try their best to see to that, but Athens would keep pushing the boundaries.
With strong ties of Philia no longer holding as much meaning, so too did the word Nomia and its derivatives became different. Coined around this time, autonomia, which we now use as the basis for autonomy. This would be the ability to distribute based on what the city desired. Athens in Thucydides story would consistently break this through breaking the stable relations created by the polis culture. The loss of equal distribution would be when Athens pushes for resources to be given in money rather than man power and boats.vii Such tribute of monetary value was called Phoros, creating a disruption in the natural balance of social prestige in sending your poleis potential ships or hoplites. This began a slowly changing belief in the minds of the Athenians where if only they were putting their lives on the line then everyone else would be beholden to them, destroying the concept of equal distribution of responsibility and leadership within their league.viii This would be taken to the extreme when not one, but two island Poleis attempt to leave the league but are subjugated in their entirety. The first would be the Poleis of the Island of Naxos, where believing the anti-Persian league being no longer important they would try and leave, yet Athens needing the resources granted by such wealthy island dominated them.ix This destruction of the normal bonds of equal distribution and ability to leave a league whenever one felt it was needed was a change from the normal hoplite ethos to a naval ethos.x Without a normal ethos to follow, a varied route was available to the Athenians even if it would alarm and create distrust and fear from the other Poleis. Hansen supports this through the known word of Andrapodismos where one subjugates or destroys an entire population.xi Kitto sees this crushing of naxos as a validated reaction to someone trying to leave the league, which was based upon the broken balance created by payments of money rather than troops or crews for ships.xii Following this would be the island if Myliteas who would use philia and a violation of their nomia to try and sway the Spartans to act on their behalf.
The Polis culture in the eyes of the Greeks and in its inherent state would make the aggressive behavior of the Athenians seem abhorrent. This offensive realism would be caused by the attempt to use sea power as the focus for Athens over the course of the naval war with Persia. One who showcases this is the mentality of warfare changing in the eyes of the Athenian general, Pericles. His speech given to Athens to create an inevitable war with Sparta over their new ideology saying they can and will win if they focus on their new naval power.xiii With such a power they can utilize resources that the Spartans lack and don’t have to fight the Spartans in their chosen field of combat, where Athens would surely lose. Yet such realism of playing to one’s strength would cause dissonance inside the hearts of the suffering hoplites, as they would be tied to the lands they had sworn to defend over all else.xiv Yet Pericles denies them this due to his strategy which for many Greeks it was a tragedy based on Hansen’s research based on Thucydides that over half the population of Athens lived outside the polis walls.xv This means over half the population has to leave their lands and watch it burn at the hands of the Spartans while their general tells them to focus not on land, but on sea. This mental violation of the polis culture would run deep making such a war undeniable and unstoppable. Supporting this is Kitto in his statements on how relent the league’s headquarters became on the supplies from their subjugated lands, as without such supplies the war would never have lasted.xvi Such sacrifice of the traditional mode of warfare for the long out victory over Sparta as they created a defensive mentality that was incompatible with the defensive hoplite mentality. With such precautions their prestige granted by fighting on land would be replaced by the actions on sea, which would be derived from exerting control over an area of sea rather than defending what one already owned.
In the eyes of Thucydides it is obvious that the war was inevitable before it began. With change to Athenian imperialism (which he supported) the mentality that adapted with it passed the traditional hoplite mode caused a schism to start inside the hearts and minds of the Greeks. Those under Athens would suffer as their relationships with their colonies and philia was dominated by their now overseer rather than equal ally. Thus, without their equal distribution (isonomia) it soon would be apparent their need for autonomia was being crushed creating a subjugated series of poleis rather than equal partners. This is created through the change from land to sea based economics as the Dellian league desired to push Persia out of the Aegean Sea. Yet this would come with the change from giving sailors or hoplites to phoros. Sparta unable to see this happen any longer would be forced to act in the defense of Greek freedom, creating a war between Athens and Sparta that was inevitable.