Ancient Greek History
As the leader of Athens during the Peloponnesian War, it was Pericles responsibility to develop an overall strategy for the waging of the war. The strategy he developed played on Athens strengths and the weaknesses of the Spartans. Thucydides, in The Peloponnesian War, praised Pericles strategic ability stating “when war broke out, he also he seems to have rightly gauged the power of his country.”
(Strassler 1996, 127) Athens was primarily a sea power, and so Pericles placed his faith in the Athenian fleet. Instead of confronting the Spartans on land, Pericles called for all Athenians to enter the city and wait. He knew that the Spartans could never undertake a successful siege of Athens because of the “long walls” which connected the city to the sea. As long as the fleet kept the city supplied, they could outlast the Spartans.
While Thucydides was clearly a supported of Pericles and his strategic decisions, his plan did have a few drawbacks. First of all, concentrating the large number of people in the city of Athens caused a plague which created misery and chaos within the city itself. Unfortunately, Pericles was one of the first victims of the plague and his strategy of outlasting the Spartans was abandoned after his death. By avoiding a land battle with the Spartans, Pericles strategy was effective, however it was not considered “honorable” by many of the more aggressive Athenians. They felt that by refusing to fight the Spartans, Pericles strategy was cowardly. After his death of Pericles, his successors gave in to the more aggressive elements and neglected to maintain his strategy, leading Athens into disaster. Many who experienced it, including Thucydides himself, viewed Pericles strategy, and “the neglect of it as the cause of the disaster.”
(Cawkwell 1997, 56)
The Athenian Ecclesia, or “Assembly” was the primary democratic institution in Athens during the “Golden Age of Democracy.
” The Ecclesia was held on the Pnyx, and “was open to all Athenian citizens of eighteen years of age and above.”
(Buckley 1996, 190) But in the year 411 this institution was tricked into voting itself out of existence in favor of an Oligarchy. 400 Athenians conspired with the exiled Alcibiades to make the Ecclesia believe that if Athens changed the type of government it had, it would receive aid in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta. The members of the Ecclesia were told that “the Persian treasury would be thrown open to them on condition, and only on condition, that they would relinquish their democracy.”
(Grote 1900, 8) The war had been waged for more than 20 years and Athens had suffered major defeats just the year before, therefore the Athenians believed that they would be defeated without the support of the Persians.
Aristotle once said that the Greeks, in the wake of their victories in the Persian Wars, “put their hand to every sort of learning, making no discrimination between them but seeking to advance further in all.”
(Aristotle and Lord 1984, 238) The result was the “Sophists,” who were members of an intellectual and political movement that sought to teach people how to perform their duty to the state, and at first were seen as teachers of virtue. But over time, they expanded their teachings to a variety of subjects including nature, rhetoric, and politics. Because they taught on a variety of subjects, they were not considered philosophers, and thus could collect fees for their teaching. In effect, the Sophists were the first practical teachers in ancient Greece, and, because politics was the most popular career in ancient Athens, what they taught was meant to aid Athenians in political life. “The Sophists have.