In the early fifth century BC, Greece consisted of many city-states allied in various factions or leagues. The alliances between these cities are difficult to understand. The alliances created a patchwork where everyone was close to an enemy. This is important to remember when seeing the distance between Athens and Sicily. Many of Athens' enemies were closer than Sicily and much more dangerous.
In the late sixth and early fifth centuries BC, the Delian League, under Athenian leadership was the supreme sea power. Desiring additional power, Athens converted the Delian League into its own naval empire (Zook). This led to the period known as the Golden Age of Athens and their most expansionist era.
At the beginning of the war, Athens controlled the sea, but Sparta had a far superior army. Athens signed a treaty with one of Corinth's colonies. The following year, Athens simply took over a second Corinthian colony. Corinth, an ally of Sparta, asked for help in halting the Athenian aggression. This, combined with an Athenian embargo on commerce from a different Spartan ally, led to negotiations to mediate the dispute. When negotiations failed, Sparta declared war on Athens.
From 431 to 425 BC...
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...med control of all Greek states in Asia and the rest became autonomous. (Winks)
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