The conventional wisdom is that Sparta won, because Athens ultimately surrendered and faced total destruction.
But as Robert Strassler points out in his epilogue to the Landmark edition, which I read this time, the big winner was not a belligerent. Rather, victory belonged to an observer, Persia, which stood on the sidelines and encouraged the fight, and then moved in to collect its winnings. I think too often we don’t consider that as an outcome in wars.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at email@example.com.