Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Long Walls

Long Walls

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Long Walls'
Start a new discussion about 'Long Walls'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
The Long Walls in Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

, were walls built from a city to its port, providing a secure connection to the sea even during times of siege. Although long walls were built at several locations in Greece—Corinth
Corinth
Corinth is a city and former municipality in Corinthia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Corinth, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit...

 and Megara
Megara
Megara is an ancient city in Attica, Greece. It lies in the northern section of the Isthmus of Corinth opposite the island of Salamis, which belonged to Megara in archaic times, before being taken by Athens. Megara was one of the four districts of Attica, embodied in the four mythic sons of King...

 being two of the best known examples—the phrase "long walls" generally refers to the walls connecting Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 to its ports at Piraeus
Piraeus
Piraeus is a city in the region of Attica, Greece. Piraeus is located within the Athens Urban Area, 12 km southwest from its city center , and lies along the east coast of the Saronic Gulf....

 and Phalerum. Those walls were constructed in the mid 5th century BC, destroyed by the Sparta
Sparta
Sparta or Lacedaemon, was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece, situated on the banks of the River Eurotas in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. It emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. From c...

ns in 404 BC after Athens' defeat in the Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BC, was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases...

, and rebuilt again with Persian support during the Corinthian War
Corinthian War
The Corinthian War was an ancient Greek conflict lasting from 395 BC until 387 BC, pitting Sparta against a coalition of four allied states; Thebes, Athens, Corinth, and Argos; which were initially backed by Persia. The immediate cause of the war was a local conflict in northwest Greece in which...

. They were a key element of Athenian strategy, since they provided the city with a constant link to the sea and prevented it from being besieged by land alone.

The original walls of Athens had been destroyed by the Persians during the occupations of Attica
Attica
Attica is a historical region of Greece, containing Athens, the current capital of Greece. The historical region is centered on the Attic peninsula, which projects into the Aegean Sea...

 in 480 and 479 BC, part of the Greco-Persian Wars
Greco-Persian Wars
The Greco-Persian Wars were a series of conflicts between the Achaemenid Empire of Persia and city-states of the Hellenic world that started in 499 BC and lasted until 449 BC. The collision between the fractious political world of the Greeks and the enormous empire of the Persians began when Cyrus...

. After the Battle of Plataea
Battle of Plataea
The Battle of Plataea was the final land battle during the second Persian invasion of Greece. It took place in 479 BC near the city of Plataea in Boeotia, and was fought between an alliance of the Greek city-states, including Sparta, Athens, Corinth and Megara, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes...

, the Persian forces that had invaded Greece in 480 BC were safely removed, and the Athenians were free to reoccupy their land and begin rebuilding their city. Early in the process of rebuilding, construction was started on new walls around the city proper. This project drew opposition from the Spartans and their Peloponnesian allies, who had been alarmed by the recent increase in the power of Athens. Spartan envoys urged the Athenians not to go through with the construction, arguing that a walled Athens would be a useful base for an invading army, and that the defenses of the isthmus of Corinth
Isthmus of Corinth
The Isthmus of Corinth is the narrow land bridge which connects the Peloponnese peninsula with the rest of the mainland of Greece, near the city of Corinth. The word "isthmus" comes from the Ancient Greek word for "neck" and refers to the narrowness of the land. The Isthmus was known in the ancient...

 would provide a sufficient shield against invaders; however, despite these concerns the envoys did not strongly protest and did in fact give advice to the builders. The Athenians disregarded the arguments, fully aware that leaving their city unwalled would place them utterly at the mercy of the Peloponnesians; Thucydides
Thucydides
Thucydides was a Greek historian and author from Alimos. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC...

, in his account of these events, describes a series of complex machinations by Themistocles
Themistocles
Themistocles ; c. 524–459 BC, was an Athenian politician and a general. He was one of a new breed of politicians who rose to prominence in the early years of the Athenian democracy, along with his great rival Aristides...

 by which he distracted and delayed the Spartans until the walls had been built up to such a height as to be defensible.

In the early 450s BC, fighting began between Athens and various Peloponnesian allies of Sparta, particularly Corinth
Corinth
Corinth is a city and former municipality in Corinthia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Corinth, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit...

 and Aegina
Aegina
Aegina is one of the Saronic Islands of Greece in the Saronic Gulf, from Athens. Tradition derives the name from Aegina, the mother of Aeacus, who was born in and ruled the island. During ancient times, Aegina was a rival to Athens, the great sea power of the era.-Municipality:The municipality...

. In the midst of this fighting, Athens had begun construction of two more walls between 462 BC and 458 BC, one running from the city to the old port at Phalerum, the other to the newer port at Piraeus. In 457 BC, a Spartan army defeated an Athenian army at Tanagra
Battle of Tanagra
There were two Battles of Tanagra of importance in ancient Greek history. See:*Battle of Tanagra *Battle of Tanagra...

 while attempting to prevent the construction, but work on the walls continued, and they were completed soon after the battle. These new walls, the Long Walls, ensured that Athens would never be cut off from supplies as long as she controlled the sea.

In Athenian strategy and politics


The building of the Long Walls reflected a larger strategy that Athens had come to follow in the early 5th century. Unlike most Greek city states, which specialized in fielding hoplite
Hoplite
A hoplite was a citizen-soldier of the Ancient Greek city-states. Hoplites were primarily armed as spearmen and fought in a phalanx formation. The word "hoplite" derives from "hoplon" , the type of the shield used by the soldiers, although, as a word, "hopla" could also denote weapons held or even...

 armies, Athens, since the time of the building of her first fleet during a war with Aegina
Aegina
Aegina is one of the Saronic Islands of Greece in the Saronic Gulf, from Athens. Tradition derives the name from Aegina, the mother of Aeacus, who was born in and ruled the island. During ancient times, Aegina was a rival to Athens, the great sea power of the era.-Municipality:The municipality...

 in the 480s BC, had focused on the navy as the centre of its military. With the founding of the Delian League
Delian League
The Delian League, founded in circa 477 BC, was an association of Greek city-states, members numbering between 150 to 173, under the leadership of Athens, whose purpose was to continue fighting the Persian Empire after the Greek victory in the Battle of Plataea at the end of the Greco–Persian Wars...

 in 477 BC, Athens became committed to the long term prosecution of a naval war against the Persians. Over the following decades, the Athenian navy became the mainstay of an increasingly imperial league, and Athenian control of the sea allowed the city to be supplied with grain from the Hellespont and Black Sea
Black Sea
The Black Sea is bounded by Europe, Anatolia and the Caucasus and is ultimately connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas and various straits. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Sea of Marmara, and the strait of the Dardanelles connects that sea to the Aegean...

 regions. The naval policy was not seriously questioned by either democrats or oligarchs during the years between 480 and 462 BC, but later, after Thucydides son of Melesias had made opposition to an imperialist policy a rallying cry of the oligarchic faction, the writer known as the Old Oligarch would identify the navy and democracy as inextricably linked, an inference echoed by modern scholars. The long walls were a critical factor in allowing the Athenian fleet to become the city's paramount strength.

With the building of the Long Walls, Athens essentially became an island within the mainland, in that no strictly land based force could hope to capture it. (In ancient Greek warfare, it was all but impossible to take a walled city by any means other than starvation and surrender.) Thus, Athens could rely on her powerful fleet to keep her safe in any conflict with other cities on the Greek mainland. The walls were completed in the aftermath of the Athenian defeat at Tanagra
Battle of Tanagra
There were two Battles of Tanagra of importance in ancient Greek history. See:*Battle of Tanagra *Battle of Tanagra...

, in which a Spartan army defeated the Athenians in the field but was unable to take the city because of the presence of the city walls; seeking to secure their city even against siege, the Athenians completed the long walls; and, hoping to prevent all invasions of Attica, they also seized Boeotia, which, as they already controlled Megara, put all approaches to Attica in friendly hands. For most of the First Peloponnesian War
First Peloponnesian War
The First Peloponnesian War was fought between Sparta as the leaders of the Peloponnesian League and Sparta's other allies, most notably Thebes, and the Delian League led by Athens with support from Argos. This war consisted of a series of conflicts and minor wars, such as the Second Sacred War...

, Athens was indeed unassailable by land, but the loss of Megara and Boeotia at the end of that war forced the Athenians to turn back to the long walls as their source of defense.

The Middle Wall


During the 440s, the Athenians supplemented the existing two Long Walls with a third structure. This "Middle Wall" or "Southern Wall" was built to mirror the original Athens-Piraeus Wall and was constructed to be another wall connecting the asty to Piraeus. There are many known possibilities for the purpose of the Middle Wall, such as: it was thought to have been built as a back-up defense in case someone penetrated the first Athens-Piraeus Wall. This was proven false however due to the construction of the wall. Its main access points were built so that it would withstand attacks only from one direction and that side faced Phaleron. By the time the Middle Wall was built, in the mid-fifth century, the importance of the Athenian ports had changed. Piraeus had become the principal economic and military harbor, while Phaleron had begun to lapse into obscurity. This development will have caused a reevaluation of the fortification system which secured Athens' connection with its ships.
After the naval challenges of 446 BC, Athens was no longer the complete dominant power of the sea, so they built the Middle Wall as a backup structure for the Athens-Phaleron Wall. The distance between the two original (phase Ia) walls left a substantial amount of room for amphibious invasions along the coast, and with this new wall, Athenians could retreat within the more narrow area of the two Athens-Piraeus Walls.

In the Peloponnesian War


In Athens' great conflict with Sparta, the Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BC, was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases...

 of 432 BC to 404 BC, the walls came to be of paramount importance. Pericles
Pericles
Pericles was a prominent and influential statesman, orator, and general of Athens during the city's Golden Age—specifically, the time between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars...

, the leader of Athens from the start of the war until his death in 429 BC in the plague that swept Athens, based his strategy for the conflict around them. Knowing that the Spartans would attempt to draw the Athenians into a land battle by ravaging their crops, as they had in the 440s, he commanded the Athenians to remain behind the walls and rely on their navy to win the war for them. As a result, the campaigns of the first few years of the war followed a consistent pattern: The Spartans would send a land army to ravage Attica, hoping to draw the Athenians out; the Athenians would remain behind their walls, and send a fleet to sack cities and burn crops while sailing around the Peloponnese. The Athenians were successful in avoiding a land defeat, but suffered heavy losses of crops to the Peloponnesian raids, and their treasury was weakened by the expenditures on the naval expeditions and on import of grain. Furthermore, a plague ravaged the city in 430 BC and 429 BC, with its effects being worsened by the fact that the entire population of the city was concentrated inside the walls.

The Athenians continued to use the walls for protection through the first phase of the war until the seizure of Spartan hostages in 425 BC,during the Athenian victory at Pylos
Battle of Pylos
The naval Battle of Pylos took place in 425 BC during the Peloponnesian War at the peninsula of Pylos, on the Bay of Navarino in Messenia, and was an Athenian victory over Sparta...

. After that battle, the Spartans were forced to cease their yearly invasions until 413 BC, since the Athenians threatened to kill the hostages if an invasion was launched.

In the second phase of the war, the walls again became central to the strategy of both sides. The Spartans occupied a fort at Decelea
Decelea
Decelea , modern Dekeleia or Dekelia, Deceleia or Decelia, previous name Tatoi, was an ancient village in northern Attica serving as a trade route connecting Euboea with Athens, Greece. The historian Herodotus reports that its citizens enjoyed a special relationship with Sparta. The Spartans took...

 in Attica in 413 BC, and placed a force there that posed a year-round threat to Athens. Athens was also weakened from the disastrous conclusion of the Sicilian Expedition and began to modify their walls in the summer of 413 BC and ultimately abandoned the Athens-Phaleron Wall, focusing on the two Piraeus Walls. In the face of this army, the Athenians could only supply the city by sea. The Long Walls, and the access to a port that they provided, were by now the only thing protecting Athens from defeat. Realizing that they could not defeat the Athenians on land alone, the Spartans turned their attention to constructing a navy, and throughout the final phase of the war devoted themselves to trying to defeat the Athenians at sea. Their eventual success, in the victory at Aegospotami
Battle of Aegospotami
The naval Battle of Aegospotami took place in 405 BC and was the last major battle of the Peloponnesian War. In the battle, a Spartan fleet under Lysander completely destroyed the Athenian navy...

, cut the Athenians off from their supply routes and forced them to surrender. One of the most important terms of this surrender was the destruction of the long walls, which were dismantled in 404 BC. The peace treaty that was reached in the same year also provided the termination of Athens' naval power. Xenophon tells us that the long walls were torn down with much jubilation and to the song of flute girls.

Rebuilding of the Long Walls


Following their defeat in 404, the Athenians quickly regained some of their power and autonomy, and by 403 BC had overthrown the government that the Spartans had imposed on them. By 395 BC, the Athenians were strong enough to enter into the Corinthian War
Corinthian War
The Corinthian War was an ancient Greek conflict lasting from 395 BC until 387 BC, pitting Sparta against a coalition of four allied states; Thebes, Athens, Corinth, and Argos; which were initially backed by Persia. The immediate cause of the war was a local conflict in northwest Greece in which...

 as co-belligerents with Argos
Argos
Argos is a city and a former municipality in Argolis, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Argos-Mykines, of which it is a municipal unit. It is 11 kilometres from Nafplion, which was its historic harbour...

, Corinth
Corinth
Corinth is a city and former municipality in Corinthia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Corinth, of which it is the seat and a municipal unit...

, and Thebes. For the Athenians, the most significant event of this war was the rebuilding of the Long Walls. By 395 BC the rebuilding of the fortifications had begun and according to Conon
Conon
Conon was an Athenian general at the end of the Peloponnesian War, who presided over the crucial Athenian naval defeat at Battle of Aegospotami; later he contributed significantly to the restoration of the political and military power.-Defeat at Aegospotami:Conon had been sent out following the...

, the walls had reached their final stages by 391 BC. In 394 BC, a Persian fleet under the Athenian admiral Conon
Conon
Conon was an Athenian general at the end of the Peloponnesian War, who presided over the crucial Athenian naval defeat at Battle of Aegospotami; later he contributed significantly to the restoration of the political and military power.-Defeat at Aegospotami:Conon had been sent out following the...

 decisively defeated the Spartan fleet at Cnidus
Battle of Cnidus
The Battle of Cnidus , was a joint Athenian and Persian operation against the Spartan naval fleet in the Corinthian War. A combined Athenian-Persian fleet, led by the former Greek admiral Conon, destroyed the Spartan fleet led by the inexperienced Peisander, ending Sparta's brief bid for naval...

, and, following this victory, he brought his fleet to Athens, where it provided aid and protection as the Long Walls were rebuilt. Thus, by the end of the war, the Athenians had regained the immunity from land assault that the Spartans had taken from them at the end of the Peloponnesian War. The rebuilt walls stood for many years, unchallenged, and were never mentioned to have been incorporated in Athens' defense planning until after the 340s BC.

The Long Walls in the 4th Century BC


From the Corinthian War down to the final defeat of the city by Philip of Macedon
Philip of Macedon
Philip was the name of several Macedonian monarchs:* Philip I of Macedon * Philip II of Macedon , ruled 359-336 BC, father of Alexander the Great* Philip III of Macedon , ruled 323-315 BC...

, the Long Walls continued to play a central role in Athenian strategy. The Decree of Aristoteles
Decree of Aristoteles
The Decree of Aristoteles is an inscribed treaty dating to 377BC. It describes the formation of the Second Athenian Confederacy, a league set up in response to the increasingly aggressive and dominant behaviour of Sparta towards other Greek states in the decades preceding this.-References:*Greek...

 in 377 BC reestablished an Athenian league containing many former members of the Delian League
Delian League
The Delian League, founded in circa 477 BC, was an association of Greek city-states, members numbering between 150 to 173, under the leadership of Athens, whose purpose was to continue fighting the Persian Empire after the Greek victory in the Battle of Plataea at the end of the Greco–Persian Wars...

. By the mid 4th century, Athens was again the preeminent naval power of the Greek world, and had reestablished the supply routes that allowed it to withstand a land-based siege. The Long Walls had become obsolete and the length and location of the structures rendered them dangerously vulnerable to the advanced siege techniques of the day. The Athenians began to strengthen their urban defense systems by rebuilding the Long Walls again to be able to withstand contemporary methods of assault in 337 BC. The new walls included attributes such as substructures built of cut blocks and possibly even roofs above the walk-ways. However, the Athenians were not in the position to use the new Long Walls until Alexander the Great's death in 323 BC. By this time Athens' navy had been crushed in the Lamian War
Lamian War
The “Lamian War”, also referred to as the “Hellenic War” and the “War against Antipater”, was fought by the Athenians and their Aetolian, Locrian, and Phocian allies against the Macedonians in Thessaly during the winter of 323–322 BC...

 and they became subordinate to the Macedonians and the use of the Long Walls in a naval strategy was ruled out. Macedonian leaders controlled cities on both sides of the Long Walls and they had little use for these fortifications, thus the mid-fourth century Long Walls were never actually employed.

Sources

  • G.E.M. de Ste. Croix. The Origins of the Peloponnesian War. Duckworth and Co., 1972. ISBN 0-7156-0640-9
  • Fine, John V. A. The Ancient Greeks: A Critical History. Harvard University Press, 1983. ISBN 0-674-03314-0
  • Hornblower, Simon and Spawforth, Anthony ed. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-19-866172-X
  • Kagan, Donald
    Donald Kagan
    Donald Kagan is an American historian at Yale University specializing in ancient Greece, notable for his four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War. 1987-1988 Acting Director of Athletics, Yale University. He was Dean of Yale College from 1989–1992. He formerly taught in the Department of...

    . The Peloponnesian War. Penguin Books, 2003. ISBN 0-670-03211-5
  • Kagan, Donald
    Donald Kagan
    Donald Kagan is an American historian at Yale University specializing in ancient Greece, notable for his four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War. 1987-1988 Acting Director of Athletics, Yale University. He was Dean of Yale College from 1989–1992. He formerly taught in the Department of...

    . The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. Cornell, 1969. ISBN 0-8014-9556-3
  • Conwell, David H. Connecting a City to the Sea: The History of the Athenian Long Walls. Brill NV, 2008. ISBN 978-90-04-16232-7

External links