Thucydides – History of the Peloponnesian War, Book 1, Chapter 1 – The State of Greece from the earliest Times to the Commencement of the Peloponnesian War

Thucydides – History of the Peloponnesian War, Book 1, Chapter 1 – The State of Greece from the earliest Times to the Commencement of the Peloponnesian War

  1. Thucydides began writing about the war as soon as it started, thinking people would want to know the facts. The war had all “Hellens” (Greeks) choosing sides. This was the biggest thing ever in Greece & elsewhere.
  2. In old times, the settlement of “Hellas” (Greece) started through migration of many peoples. They often abandoned their homes when larger & stronger tribes force them out of the area. They were forced to so because they had no freedom of movement on the sea or on land. They had little means beyond food for daily sustenance. They thought that one place was as good as any other & moved when they had to. Because of this, they never built cities. Rich soiled usually meant frequent change of masters. They often had had larger-than-life figures & nasty political factions. Those with poor soils had relatively quiet lives. Many victims of war sought refuge in Attica. It got so bad they had to establish colonies in Ionia.
  3. Before the Trojan War, there was no common action in Greece. If fact, before Hellen, the area didn’t even have a common name. When Hellen got powerful in Phthiotis, & got allies, they got the name “Hellenes”. Homer never refered to the Greeks as “Greeks”. They were called Danaans, Argives & Achaeans. He didn’t even use the term “Barbarian” because they didn’t even mark off Greece from the rest of the world. Once the Hellenes could speak with one another, they became “Greeks”.
  4. The first person to have started a navy was Minos & he became master of the sea. He established colonies, expelled Carians, & sending his own governors. He also suppressed piracy to establish his revenue streams.
  5. Many sea coast people became pirates out of need or greed. They’d find coastal cities without walls – small villages, etc. & raided them. At the time, there was a source of pride in being a pirate.
  6. Even today, some Greeks carry around arms – an old custom coming from the days when piracy was still a serious problem. The whole of Greece did so once because they had to defend themselves from the very real threat of piracy. The Athenians were the first to stop this practice. Men there began to live an easier & more luxurious lifestyle. This spread to the Ionians. However, the Spartans developed a more modest lifestyle, requiring the rich to assimilate with the poor. They even got naked when exercising, rubbing oil on themselves & wearing “modern style” Pro Wrestling belts while fighting. Even today in Asia a belt is offered as a prize.
  7. Later sailing & ports, as well as a greater supply of capital, lead to the development of walled coastal cities for commerce & defense. Older towns had been built away from the coasts to avoid piracy.
  8. The islanders – Carians & Phoenicians – were big-time pirates. During the Peloponnesian War, the purification of the island of Delos had all graves there dug up & more than ½ of the dead were Carians. You could identify them because they were buried with their weapons. As soon as Minos built his navy, travel by sea was easy because he colonized islands & took care of the pirate problem. The accumulation of capital allowed larger cities to swallow up smaller ones. Then the Greeks waged was on Troy.
  9. Agamemnon was able to build an army by his own city’s strength. Pelops had come from Asia with so much money that he was able to build his own country named after him. Each descendant was able to expand the land’s military & political power, as well as wealth. Also his navy was 2nd to none. He couldn’t dominate neighboring islands without it.
  10. This expedition reveals what things were like in earlier expeditions. Mycenae was small but nobody would say it wasn’t well armed. If you measured Sparta by its temples & public buildings, you would say it’s poor. But it controls 2/5 of the Peloponnese & lead the rest of the others. But if you looked at Athens & its temples & buildings, you’d think it were twice as powerful as it is. But from Homer’s poems, you would see that ships’ rowers doubled up as warriors. Many also served as bowmen. They had to carry all their arms on board, & they had no decks to their ships.
  11. Comparing to Homer’s time, the number of troops was much lower then than now, mostly due to lack of money than lack of men. But most of the men were involved in cultivation & piracy to feed & fund the rest of the army. With a lot of the army on these expeditions, those numbers near Troy were smaller. Had they all been assembled & fighting, they could have easily defeated the Trojans in less time & with less trouble. Money was the main reason for this.
  12. Even after the Trojan War, there was far too much commotion for the Greeks – they didn’t have the quiet required to grow. So many Greeks ended up arriving home late, causing many revolutions. Many citizens of these cities ended up being exiled & founded colonies. Boetians had been driven out of Arne into Boetia. 20 years after Troy, the Dorians & Heraclids were masters of the Peloponnese. All these disruptions caused removals & colonies afterwards. Athenians went to Ionia & islands. Peloponnesians went to Italy & Sicily.
  13. As Greece grew powerful, the object became to increase wealth, & the states’ revenues grew. This led to tyrannies as a development beyond hereditary monarchies. They fitted out fleets. Corinth was the first to build galleys. Corinth had always been a commercial hotspot being on the Isthmus between Attica & the Peloponnese. This traffic was on land. Once commerce developed on the sea, Corinth had land & sea commerce. By the reign of Cyrus of Persia, Ionia developed a neighbor, later to be used by Cambyses to conquer many islands. The Phocaeans established the colony of Marseille & defeated the Carthaginians at sea.
  14. Those were the strongest navies but they were all made up with 50-oar boats & long boats with very few galleys. It was only just before the death of Cambyses that the Sicilians got galleys. But the mainland Greece had penteconters throughout the Persian War. Only towards the end did Themistocles convince Athens to fight with galleys with decks at Salamis.
  15. The small power of state navies was strong enough to maintain revenues & dominion over the seas. Small islands were easily conquered. Land wars disappeared & most navies were used over distant expeditions. The only land fight was skirmishes on the boarders. No single Greek state could emerge. Small, temporary alliances would occur during wars & then they’d fold.
  16. Some obstacles to national growth occurred. The Ionians clashed with Persia after he dethroned Croesus & took over all lands up to the Aegean Sea. He only left the islands & Phoenicians navies to be dealt with.
  17. The tyrants were only working for their own benefit. Only their personal safety mattered. They did have dealings with neighbors but that was all. Sicilian tyrants, however, were able to accrue wealth & power on a large scale, something the Greek tyrants could never do.
  18. Then the Athenian & Greek tyrants were defeated by the Spartans. Sparta had had its factions & problems but maintained good laws & freedom from tyrants. This stability allowed them to run the affairs of others. Only a few years after did the Athenians fight the Medes at Marathon. During the ensuing war, the Spartans commanded the Greek army. The Athenians had to vacate their city & fight the Persians on the seas. At the end of the war, Athens stood as the major naval power & the Spartans as the land power. This balance continued until the Athenians & Spartans had a row, forcing the rest of Greece to take sides.
  19. The Spartans didn’t demand tributes from allies but established subservience by establishing oligarchies. Athens took allies’ ships & imposed taxes on them except Lesbos & Chios. Both sides found a lot of strength in alliances, so long as they were maintained.
  20. The details are fuzzy. Most people go along with what tradition has told them. The Athenians believe Hipparchus was tyrant when he fell when the real power behind him was Hippias. Other Greeks have crazy ideas as well, even in contemporary history. They believe the Spartan kings get 2 votes when they only get 1 each. Nobody even tries to find out the real truth.
  21. I’ve done my own research & I feel comfortable telling. I’m not repeating legends or poetry. I won’t exaggerate for the sake of a good story.
  22. Speeches given are reported – some before the war, some I’ve heard myself. Some I got from others. It’s hard to get them verbatim, so when possible, I’ve asked them what they said. I try to use as many primary sources as possible to ensure accuracy. I’ll leave romance out of it even if it makes things less interesting.
  23. The Median War was decided by 2 sea battles & 2 land battles. The Peloponnesian War was long. So many cities have been wiped out & so much death based on factions. The war was begun by the Athenians & Peloponnese by the end of their 30 year truce after the conquest of Euboea. I’ll get to why they broke the treaty. But ultimately the cause of the war was the Spartans were alarmed by the growing power of Athens.

Author: knowit68

Leave a Reply