The earliest known and longest‐lasting Greek offensive and defensive alliance. The name is modern and inaccurate, since the alliance was neither all‐ and only Peloponnesian nor a league (the members were not all allied to each other, and when no League war was in progress, members were free to carry on separate wars even with other members); the usual ancient name was ‘the Lacedaemonians (Spartans) and their allies’. In the 6th cent. Sparta used personal ties of xenia (see friendship, ritualized) to negotiate treaties of alliance with Peloponnesian cities, the first being with either Tegea or Elis. Allies swore to have the same friends and enemies as Sparta, and to follow the Spartans wherever they might lead; Sparta did not reciprocate these oaths, but did bind itself to go to the aid of an ally attacked by a third party with all strength and to the utmost of its ability. Sparta thus summoned and presided over the assembly of its allies, each of whom had one vote. Sparta could not be committed by the allies to a policy which it did not approve, but did require the approval of a majority vote of an allied congress to implement any joint policy it advocated. In war Sparta always held the command, appointed Spartan officers to levy and command allied contingents, and decided how many troops each ally must commit and the terms of engagement. In peace the League's main function from Sparta's standpoint was to act as a shield around its vulnerable domestic economic base (see helots); for the allies the benefits were less clear‐cut, except for aristocrats and oligarchs whom Sparta tended to champion, not always successfully, against incipient democratic movements. After victory over Athens in 404 a tendency to transform the League into an empire became more apparent (tribute was never directly levied on League members) and the violations of allied political autonomy more flagrant. The sharp decline in Spartiate manpower was one of the main reasons behind a reform of the organization in the early 370s, but this did not halt the disaffection which culminated in allied satisfaction at Sparta's humiliation at Leuctra in 371. Five years later, on the initiative of Corinth, always the most important single ally, the League quietly dissolved.
Subjects: Classical Studies.