Greek History in the years immediately after the Peloponnesian War is no longer dominated by the two super-powers, Athens and Sparta. Cities which in the fifth century had been constrained by them acquired independence; groups of small cities, such as Arcadia and Boiotia, co-ordinated their actions to become significant players in inter-city politics. Areas in which the city was not highly developed, and particularly Thessaly and then Macedon, were sufficiently united by energetic rulers to play a major role in the politics of mainland Greece, and the manipulation of relations with Persia preoccupied much of Greek diplomacy. This society gave rise to the political theorising of Plato and Aristotle.
The absence of dominant cities in the fourth century is paralleled by the absence of a single dominant source. Students of this period have at their disposal two works which imitate Thucydides, Xenophon’s Hellenica and the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia, pamphlets and speeches by Isokrates and Demosthenes aimed at influencing Athenian politics, specialist studies of military matters, such as Aeneas’ Poliorcemata, and of particular cities, such as Xenophon’s account of the Spartan Constitution, and an abundance of epigraphic material. The compilations of later historians and biographers, such as Diodorus and Plutarch, who worked from earlier texts now lost to us, provide further information: through these later works we have access to contemporary accounts of high quality that illuminate the history of such places as Thebes and Syracuse.
The wealth of varied information, the multiplication of sources, and the need to weave together the stories of many different cities, present a challenge quite distinct from that offered by earlier periods of Greek history. The importance of the events of the period for our understanding of Plato and Aristotle, on the one hand, and of the history of Greek art, on the other, ensures that the complexities of the study bring ample rewards.