During the history of Greek city state several cities had emerged as most powerful and largest ancient greek city states: Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes.
These cities dominated affairs of Greek City States.
Hegemony of Athens
In 480 BC, Greek city states defeated the Second Persian invasion of Greece.
After this war, Athens led the coalition of Greek city-states in an attack on Persian territories in the Aegean and Ionia.
Athens aggressive war against Persia made it a dominant power. Soon, Athens started dominating other city-states.
In fact, Athens increasingly became an empire.
Later Athens tried to bring all of Greece under its control and formed a coalition with its allies called Delian League. This period in history of Greek city state is called Athenian Empire.
Sparta remained outside this league and formed its own coalition against Athens called Peloponnesian League.
At this point rivalry began to develop between Athens and Sparta, which led to Peloponnesian War.
The Peloponnesian War was fought by Delian League, led by Athens, and the Peloponnesian League, led by Sparta.
The ensuing 27 years war was intermittently fought by Athens against Sparta, Corinth and a number of other states.
In 405 BC, Battle of Aegospotami effectively ended the war as it resulted in destruction of Athens’s fleet by Spartan Navy.
Athens surrendered in the following year. Soon Spartan army occupied the Athens.
Sparta allies Corinth and Thebes demanded that Athens should be destroyed and all its citizens should be enslaved, but Sparta refused.
Hegemony of Sparta
Victorious Sparta now occupied a hegemonic position over Greece.
Soon Spartan started violent interventionism in Greece and Asia Minor upset its former allies, especially Thebes and Corinth who had financial interested in these places.
This resulted in Corinthian War which pitted Sparta against a coalition of Thebes, Athens, Corinth and Argos, backed by Persian Empire.
This war helped Athens in regaining its power and it started dominating sea.
Spartans were strong on land but lacked powerful navy.
The allies were unable to defeat Spartan phalanx in the field.
However, through their unbreakable alliance, they prevented Spartans from moving at will through central Greece.
Alarmed by these Athenian successes towards the end of the conflict, the Persians stopped backing the allies and began supporting Sparta. Some of the allies of Athens also defected to Spartan side.
This defection forced the allies to seek peace. The King’s Peace, also known as the Peace of Antalcidas, was signed in 387 BC, ending the war.
This peace treaty affirms Sparta’s hegemonic position in the Greek political system.
The war also marked the resurgence of Athens. This war helped Athens in rebuilding its walls and navy. Soon Athens began the process of rebuilding its oversea empire.
The Corinthian War was succeeded by the Theban–Spartan War of 378–362 BC, in which Sparta would finally lose its hegemony, this time to Thebes.
Hegemony of Thebes
In 378 BC, Greek city State of Thebes under the leadership of Epaminondas revolted against Sparta by expelling Spartan garrison. He also successfully repelled Spartan offensives.
Epaminondas using his clever tactics crushed the invincible Spartan army at Leuctra in 371 BC. This battle ended the Spartan hegemony and started Thebes’s hegemony over Greece.
After Leuctra, Sparta continued to fight Thebes and its allies for its very existence.
However Sparta suffered another defeat against Thebes nine years later in 362 BC at the Battle of Mantinea. Though Thebes won but its leader Epaminondas was killed in this battle.
Soon warring sides signed a peace treaty. However, Sparta refused to sign this peace treaty.
So, the war ended with destruction of power of Sparta which was now isolated and permanently weakened.
One unintended consequence of this war was weakening of Athens.
Earlier Athens was able to keep together its alliance mainly due to fear of Sparta.
However with Sparta permanently weakened alliance with Athens again looked unattractive to its allies and they decreased their contribution to alliance which fund Athenian army and Navy.
Soon, Athenians found it difficult merely to finance their own navy, let alone that of an entire alliance, and so could not properly defend their allies.
Thus, the tyrant of Pherae was able to destroy a number of cities with impunity.
From 360 BC, Athens lost its reputation for invincibility and a number of allies (such as Byzantium and Naxos) decided to secede.
End of Hegemony
With Sparta and Athens permanently weakened and despite the victory at Mantinea, Thebans abandoned its policy of intervention.
The idea of hegemony disappeared.
From 362 BC onward, there was no longer a single city states that could exert hegemonic power in Greece.
The Spartans were greatly weakened. The Athenians were in no condition to operate their navy, and after 365 BC Athens didn’t even has any allies.
Thebes could only exert its dominance on land and had the means to defeat Sparta and Athens.
However Thebes was not a major power in sea, so it was unable to dominate trade route and overseas colonies.
Thebes tried to maintain its position but within few years completely dominated by the rising power of Macedon.
The kingdom of Macedonia under its capable king Philip II (father of Alexander the Great) came to dominate Ancient Greece.
The Macedonian hegemony over Greece was secured by their victory over a Greek coalition army led by Athens and Thebes, at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC.
Further, the conquests of Persia by king Philip II son Alexander the Great, widened Greek horizons and made the traditional Greek city state obsolete.
Athens remained a wealthy city with a brilliant cultural life, but ceased to be an independent power.