Lives And Works Of The Historians – Thucydides
July 10, 2017 4:20pm CST
Thucydides c.460-c.395 BC was a general, writing about a thirty year conflict he was caught up in himself as a leading military general, serving Athens. His work, The Peloponnesian War, stays closely on the topic of warfare and political statecraft. He does not get side-tracked by irrelevant side-stories. He does not draw in any stories about the gods at all. He captured the uneasy tensions of Athens and Sparta, growing in power and economic need side by side. Tensions were high but both sides were trying to avoid outright war. The atmosphere was akin to that of The Cold War between America and Russia. Sparta had a formidable land army, while Athens had a stronger navy. War erupted when Sparta learned that Athens was trying to establish treaties with other neighbouring but so far neutral states like Argos and Megara. Sensing trouble, the main Athenian general, Pericles, who Thucydides revered, started a series of swift naval attacks on Spartan territory. Pericles started building a vast wall round Athens, to fortify the city state against direct land attack and invasion from Sparta. The problem was that the wall not only kept the enemy out, it also bottled the Athenians in, creating much over-crowding, and plague swept through the city. Among the 30,000 killed was Pericles himself. Thucydides caught the plague too, but he survived it. For a time the plague halted the war as Spartan soldiers revolted when ordered to even get near potential plague carrying opponents. With weaker leadership, the Athenian generals found themselves sent out on increasingly badly planned campaigns, and when they failed, generals were executed or sent into exile. This increasingly left the defence of Athens in the hand of the next best man for the job. Thucydides was ordered to go and help liberate the Athenian citizens under Spartan siege on the island of Amphipoles but they surrendered before Thucydides even got there and when he came home empty handed, he was cast into exile as if the fall of Amphipoles was his fault. As a free non-soldier, he was able to travel through regions occupied by the Spartans and see the ongoing war from their point of view too. Also, his neutrality enabled him to be highly critical of the Greek politicians, though he was never bitter about things. Athenian power was whittled away as the war continued. Though he lived to see the final collapse to Spartan rule, Thucydides was still about four year short of writing up the end of his book when he died himself. More than any, his work became a template for history writers to follow; factual, earnest, chronological, avoiding sensationalism or mythical asides, and random side-excursions. Thucydides had a genuine fascination to learn how and why the conflict developed and went how it ran. But not only is his work subjective, it is unlikely it would have been possible without drawing on direct personal experience. Most later historians would not be writing about events and people they knew – much of Thucydides’s presentation is actually reportage – seen by its later readers as history. The war was over, and Athenian power itself was largely at an end by the time Thucydide’s history was released. Arthur Chappell
6 people like this
11 Jul 17
You write very well and make it as interesting as Discovery channels. Much of history gets colored. It becomes difficult to believe. There is some history which itself is disputed. And other that creates historic disputes in modern times..reporting is an art that it does not take wars to future and does not create any either. Nowadays everything is so bad.