As one of the forbears of democracy, Athens was an illustrious city-state in Ancient Greece that especially gained prominence after the Greeks united twice to defeat the Mighty Persian Empire in less than two decades. While Greece was at this time divided into several city-states surrounded by agricultural land, these states nevertheless had some ties to one another and this was proven when the several states promptly united to defeat their common enemy. Athens was an ambitious city and after the defeat of the Persians and relative internal stabilization sought to expand her territory by conquering other city states and bringing them under Athenian rule. However, Athens was not the only city-state that had emerged as powerful after the Persian wars. Inspired by a history of astute military discipline and strength, the self-sufficiency of her people and the stability of her oligarchic government, Sparta was the perfect challenge to Athens claim to supremacy among the Greek states. Indeed, Sparta had long claimed to be the leader of the Greeks. The clash between these two city-states, and by extension between democracy as represented by Athens and Oligarchy as represented by Sparta set the stage for a tumultuous period in Greek history known as the Peloponnesian Wars.
Thucydides, an Athenian General who became exiled in the course of the war, was the primary historian who recorded the events of this war while at the same time giving his insights into the war and the state of mind of the combatants. Thucydides was a critic of the war, and in his narration, he laments of how the war had changed the Greek people and how the revolution after revolution that was spawned by the war are brutal cruel and inhumane (Thucydides, History ex. 3.82 ). Thucydides laments that since the war began, standards had changed for the worse in Greece. For example, he laments that in times of war, acting rashly without giving thought to the consequences was considered as courage while stopping to think about the future was cowardice (Thucydides, History ex. 3.82). Thucydides claims that the parties that were the major combatants in this war were not morally nor conscientiously motivated but were rather being driven by an insatiable greed for power and self-aggrandizement (Thucydides, History ex.3.82). As a result of these developments of war and the resulting revolutions throughout Greece, Thucydides notes that there is a general decline of character throughout the Greek world (Thucydides, History ex. 3.83). Thucydides complains that the war changed how the Greek people looked at the world and the simple outlook that they had on life which made them so noble a people was now discarded into two ideologically hostile sides which viewed each other with suspicion (Thucydides, History ex. 3.83). Thucydides is against the war, and in section 3.83 he laments that it is near impossible to restore things to the state they were before the insanity of war disrupted them.
Thucydides 2017, History of the Peloponnesian War extract, Trinity College Foundation Studies, Melbourne.
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