History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

“Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, beginning at the moment that it broke out, and believing that it would be a great war, and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it.”

Ah, the lovely Landmark editions!  Where would I be without them?  I would have no idea the location of Thrace or Thessaly or Corinth, etc. and therefore have less of a concept of the complicated dynamics that influenced various states in their struggles to fit into the puzzle of Hellenistic supremacy!

Thucydides account of the war between Sparta and Athens falls just after the events recounted in Herodotus’ The Histories.  Athens, high on her victory over the very powerful Xerxes, king of Persia, during the Persian Wars, is feeling rather self-important and she appears to be rushing around with her forces, conquering states here and subduing enemies there.  And while Athens becomes more powerful, the Lacedaemonians of Sparta are left to conduct their somewhat mundane and traditional existence.  But Athens’ power begins to worry them and while they were allies during the Persian Wars, this brotherhood appears to be heading towards a separation that could prove bloody as well as costly.

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The Republic ~ Introduction

“Socrates: I walked down to the Piraeus yesterday with Glaucon the son of Ariston to make my prayers to the goddess.”

Well, I’ve finished History of the Peloponnesian War (except for my final post), yet I’m afraid I’m going to continue on the same track with The Republic and put a number of my readers to sleep.  But I am enjoying this history project ….. as we’ve meandered through Herodotus, then Thucydides, and now Plato, you do see changes and developments within the Greek culture and worldview that can’t be ignored.  And since our civilization, to a certain extent, grew out of it, I believe it’s valuable to learn something about that development.  I anticipate that Plato will be more interesting, but possibly more frustrating.  It doesn’t seem like it was only the ancients who wanted to strangle Socrates …..

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The History of the Peloponnesian War – Book VIII

 

Isle of Chios
Frederic Leighton
source ArtUK

History of the Peloponnesian War

Book VIII:  While Athens is paralyzed in disbelief about the catastrophic Sicilian expedition, Sparta takes advantage of their weakness and begins to foment strife among Athenian allies. They instigate revolts in Chios and Miletus, as well as other areas that pay tribute to Athens. The Athenians fight back with some success. Various battles and political strategems abound, with Alcibiades coming to the forefront, inciting unrest and disagreement wherever he goes, a result of his selfish manipulations. Finally the Peloponnesians suspect him of subterfuge as he is now tight with the Persian, Tissapherne, and the Athenians mistrust him as well. It is unclear as to whether Alcibiades’ urging is the main catalyst, but suddenly Athenian groups break from their beloved democracy and revolt against it, sending envoys back to Athens to overthrow the democracy and establish oligarchies along the way. Their actions are so ill-planned that the areas they convert are so intoxicated with their new freedom that they begin self-government and the intended plan of the reform set to them by the Athenian envoys is completely ignored.Sparta and Persia form an alliance and Alcibiades is up to his usual no-good, playing off Sparta and Athens against each other with the help of Tissapherne, the corrupt Persian governor.

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The History of the Peloponnesian War – Book VII

 

A Dream of Ancient Athens
Sydney Herbert
source ArtUK

History of the Peloponnesian War

Athenian navy, Sicily
source Wikimedia Commons
Book VII:  Gylippus has great success in Syracuse, turning the tide of the war in favour of the Sicilians, capturing outposts and generally making a great nuisance of himself.  Nicias is ill with a kidney condition and writes to Athens to send more armaments, as Alcibiades has turned traitor, Lamachus is dead and he is the only general left.  They immediately send Eurymedon with ten ships which is hardly encouraging, and Demosthenes sets to gather more reinforcements to leave in the spring.  Meanwhile Gylippus prods the Syracusans to engage the Athenians in a sea battle and although they lose, he is able to capture three forts with loads of supplies and this feat is labeled “the first and foremost cause of the ruin of the Athenian army”.  Athenians ships fail to stop other Spartan ships from leaving Peloponnese and an Athenian supply vessel is destroyed, further damaging the Athenian cause, and with a Spartan invasion at Decclea, a second war front springs up for the beleaguered Athenians.  Thucydides relates complete disbelief that, in spite of all they had suffered and the emerging war on the home front, they still stubbornly clung to their Sicilian expedition. 
 

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The History of the Peloponnesian War – Book VI

 

Ruin of Greek Theatre, Taormina, Sicily
Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller
source Wikiart

History of the Peloponnesian War

 

Book VI:  The Athenians decide to attack Sicily although ignorant of the island’s size and number of inhabitants.  Sounds like a bad idea.  Thucydides now gives a history of the people who settled the island which is very interesting, so don’t skip it if you read this book.  Lots of expelling from cities is included.  I’m amazed at how many people were often just kicked out from where they had lived for years and had to go elsewhere.  However, Thucydides relates it as an unsurprising regular occurrence, so obviously my reaction is very different than the people of that time.

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History of the Peloponnesian War – Book V

 

 

History of the Peloponnesian War

Book V:  After the armistice is concluded, Cleon, emboldened by his success in Pylos, leads an expedition through Thrace to Torone where he takes Torone, destroying some of Brasidas’ fortifications.  He makes Eion his base and Brasidas makes Amphipolis his, whereupon Cleon attacks, however in his delusions of grandeur he misjudges his ability, and tries to retreat too late.  In the fighting, Cleon is killed but his nemesis, Brasidas, is also fatally wounded.

Argos from Mycene (1884)
Edward Lear
source ArtUK

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History of the Peloponnesian War – Book IV

Pylos from the north
source Wikipedia

History of the Peloponnesian War


Book IV:  Demosthenes continues his strategies to Athens’ benefit.  There is an ironic battle between Athen and Sparta in Pylos, where Athens is fighting on Spartan land, defending it against the Spartans who are approaching by sea.  A power struggle between Creon and Nicias ensues and Creon is forced to take command of the troops against his will, after clever manipulation by Nicias, and chooses Demosthenes as his commanding officer.  The Spartans are eventually defeated with the prisoners being taken to Athens.  The Spartans try to negotiate peace but the Athenians reject the proposal, always “grasping at more.”  Nicias now leads an expedition and more Athenian battles ensue.

Athens with the Acropolis
William James Müller
source ArtUK

More battles are described covering many areas of Peloponnese and Attica.  Athens appears most of the time to have the upper hand until Brasidas, a Spartan commander, begins a march through Thessaly toward Macedon where he has been invited by its leader, Perdiccas, to help them, and surrounding areas revolt from Athens.  Brasidas is wildly successful and is only stopped from invading Eion by Thucydides (our famous author!), however most other Chalcidice territory falls into his hands.  His attacks and revolts by kingdoms continue in spite of a one-year armistice between Athens and Sparta that is agreed upon in the 9th summer of the war.  However, as some of Brasidas’ soldiers vent their anger on baggage and oxen of deserting Macedonians, a falling out occurs between Perdiccas and Brasidas, the former “beg{inning} to regard Brasidas as an enemy and to feel against the Peloponnesians a hatred which would not suit well the adversary of the Athenians.  Indeed, he now departed from his natural interst and made it his endeavor to come to terms with the latter and to get rid of the former.”  The ninth winter ends with a failed attempted by Brasidas to conquer Potidaea.

He became a target for every arrow
(Brasidas)
source Wikipedia

History of Peloponnesian War – Book III

History of the Peloponnesian War

Landscape of Attica
Nikolaos Lytras
source Wikiart

Book III:  In the summer of the fourth year, there is much action along the Ionian coastline.  Sparta also prepares to invade Attica.  Lesbos revolts from Athenian control and Mytilene follows suite and after fighting, Athenian strength prevails.  Cleon and Diodotus argue over how to treat the revolutionaries with Cleon arguing for execution.  In the end, Athens votes to spare them.

We have many descriptions of battles and states allying with one opponent or the other.  Most often the alliance was formed for self-preservation, rather than from any deep conviction, although the occasional loyalty did crop up.

The Thebans and Plataeans squabble, Sparta judges and executes the Plataeans (yes, all of them) and their city is razed.

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History of the Peloponnesian War – Book II

Peloponnese region
courtesy of Ian Gkoutas
source Wikimedia Commons

History of the Peloponnesian War

Pericles Funeral Oration (1877)
source Wikimedia Commons

Book II:  This book takes the reader from the beginning of the war to the third year in the winter season.  An altercation between Spartan and Athenian allies provides the spark for Sparta to invade Hellene lands and so the war begins, with descriptions of battle and raids and refugees. and even the great Athenian general Pericles donates his land to the Athenian government for political reasons.  His eulogy over dead fighters (his famous funeral oration) gives a particular insight into Hellenic culture and character:

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History of the Peloponnesian War – Book I

 

Confusion
Achraf Baznani
source Wikiart

I swore I would never do this again ……. After being completely drained by my The Histories posts, I made a pact with myself NOT to do the same with Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.  After all, how much brain power can one person have?  But my post for the book is getting longer and longer and longer, and honestly I’m getting more engaged with Thucydides’ narrative, somewhat dry though it may be.  I was admittedly bored until about halfway through, but now it has suddenly become interesting and I’m eager to keep reading.  So, with some renewed energy and in an effort not to overwhelm everyone (including myself!) with an hideously long book review, I’ve decided to take the plunge and travel book by book.  Most of the reviews won’t be as long as Herodotus, in fact, some will be rather short.  I’m certain everyone is sighing in relief!

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