Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Peloponnesian War - Thucydides

(This is in regards to Books VI, VII and VIII.  My previous posts dealing with Thucydides are here.  The posts specifically about the Peloponnesian War are here and here.  A timeline of the Greek conflicts and writers, which I found very useful, is here.)

The reading plan called for reading just books seven and eight, but I decided to start with six instead.  And boy am I glad that I did.  The books break down roughly like this:
  • Book VI deals with the decision to break the peace and invade Sicily.  It includes arguments both pro and con and deals with the actual invasion plans.  It follows the reaction on Sicily (especially Syracuse) and other important cities.  It ends with the a large group of Athenians and allies camped outside of Syracuse.
  • Book VII starts with the Spartan response.  It follows the Spartan soldiers who were sent to help Syracuse.  It then deals with the various battles and eventual surrender of the entire Athenian army there.
  • Book VIII deals mostly with conflicts all over the Aegean Sea.  The Spartan side would foment revolt and the Athenians would try to tamp it down.  Meanwhile the Persian king kept both sides hoping that the Persian fleet would help them.  While this was going on, an oligarchic revolt succeeded in Athens.  The book ends with the defeat of the Athenian fleet in the Hellespont.
Of the three, Book VI was easily the most interesting.  Nicias argues against the invasion.  He talks about long supply chains and lack of friendly territory to retreat to.  Most ominously, he says "I affirm, then, that you leave many enemies behind you here to go there far away and bring more back with you".  This turned out to be exactly what happened.  Athens created a powerful enemy in Syracuse and other cities.  Even setting aside the material loss, which was enormous, the invasion created suspicion among other cities that they could be next.  Suddenly, Athens faced revolt everywhere else.
The pro argument was mostly borne by Alcibiades, who made an explicitly pro-Empire argument.  If Athens could conquer Syracuse, the rest of Sicily would fall in line.  Once Sicily (which was a major grain producer) was Athenian, conquering Italy would be easy.  After Italy, they could wipe out the Peloponnesian (read Spartan) threat.  He said, "Moreover, we cannot fix the exact point at which our empire shall stop; we have reached a position in which we must not be content with retaining what we have but must scheme to extend it for, if we cease to rule others, we shall be in danger of being ruled ourselves". 
The results for Athens were disastrous.

No comments:

Post a Comment