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478—401 B.C.




I. Introduction: The nature of the evidence. II. Population III.   Agriculture and industry IV. Commerce. V. Cost of living. VI. Money, wages and interest. VII.  Public finance



I.   Spartan leadership. II.  The confederacy of Delos. III. The rise of Cimon. IV. The achievements of the confederacy of Delos. V.    Changes in the character of the confederacy of Delos. VI. The position in the Peloponnese. Pausanias and Themistocles



I. End of the coalition. II.  The revolt of the helots and the fall of Cimon. III.  Pericles’ accession to power. IV.  Outbreak of the first Peloponnesian war. The great Egyptian expedition. V.   The battles of Tanagra and Oenophyta. VI.   The fate of the Egyptian expedition. VII.   The five years truce and the death of Cimon. VIII. The collapse of the land empire. Invasion of Attica. IX. The thirty years peace. Failure of the foreign policy of Pericles. X.   The Athenian empire at this epoch



I.  Ephialtes’ reform of the Areopagus. II.  Admission of the Zeugitae to the archonship. III. Payment for the jurors and the restriction of the franchise. IV. The development of the democracy. V. The rise of the demagogues. VI.   The DEMOS AND THE EMPIRE



I. THE ORIGIN OF TRAGEDY. II. Aeschylus: The growth of his art.  III. Aeschylus: The ORESTEIS. IV. Sophocles. V.   Euripides. VI. Comedy: Aristophanes  



I.   The tyrants of Syracuse and Acragas.     II. The FALL OF THE TYRANTS . III. The Sicel reaction. IV. Syracusan hegemony



I.   The first years of peace. II.  The Samian revolt. III.  Problems of empire. IV. Corinth and Corcyra. V.  Athenian intervention. VI.  Potidaea. VII. The decision of peace or war. VIII.    The FRONTIER INCIDENT



I. Periclean strategy. II. The plague and the fall of Pericles. III. The north-east and the north-west (430-429 b.C).    IV. The revolt of Mitylene (428-427 b.c.).   V. Corcyra, Sicily AND THE NORTH-WEST. VI.  Pylos and Sphacteria. VII. Cleon: The offensive. VIII. Brasidas: The counter-offensive. IX.  The peace of Nicias



I.  The Spartan-Athenian alliance. II. The Argive coalition. III.  The quadruple alliance. IV. The war of Alcibiades in the Peloponnese. V.  The disruption of the quadruple alliance. VI. Sparta against Argos. VII. Athens and its empire



I.  The designs of Athens in the west. II. The first expedition III. The siege of Syracuse.    IV. Gylippus and the siege   of Nicias. V. The second expedition.     VI. The Athenian disaster   



I.     The revolt of Chios. II.   The naval war in onia.  III.   The policy of Tissaphernes. IV.  Alcibiades and the Athenian revolution. V.   The four hundred. VI.  The FAILURE OF THE FOUR HUNDRED. VII. The END OF THE FOUR HUNDRED. VIII. The GOVERNMENT OF THE FIVE THOUSAND. IX. The struggle for the Hellespont. X.  The policy of Cleophon. XI.  The attempted restoration of the Athenian empire



I. Law and politics in Athens II. The dictatorship of Alcibiades III. Arginusae and the trial of the generals IV.  Aegospotami V.  The siege of Athens VI.  The oligarchy in Athens VII. fall of the oligarchy VIII. The re-establishment of Democracy



I. The reaction against the Ionian philosophy. II.    The sophists. III.    Blasphemy trials at Athens. IV. The life and death of Socrates





I. Late archaic sculpture II. Late archaic painting III. Early classical sculpture.    IV.  Early classical painting . V. Classical sculpture: (1) the second half of the fifth century. VI. Classical painting: (2) the second half of the fifth century . VII. Doric architecture in the early fifth century. VIII. Parthenon and Propylaea. IX .Ionic at Athens X.  Bassae and the Corinthian capital XI. Theatres, halls and houses












IN this volume, and in that which follows, Greece occupies the centre of the picture, and we have distinguished the present volume by the name of Athens because the political and intellectual activities of that city are the main subject of the history of the fifth century, and mattered most at the time and have mattered most to posterity.

The victory over the barbarians, which has been described in Volume IV, was an inspiration to an Athens which believed, not without reason, that she had saved Hellas by her example and her exertions. With the sense of deliverance came the sense of power, which outran the bounds that tradition had set to the ambitions of the Greek city-states. In commerce as in thought, the Athenians were ready to take and to improve the heritage of Ionia, as they were ready to challenge the primacy of Sparta in arms and policy. We begin, therefore, with an account of the economic conditions under which Athens accomplished her great achievements a nd made herself the acknowledged leader of Hellenic civilization.

The main theme of the political history of this period is the story how Athens acquired and maintained and then lost her Empire. We have to see how, first the champion and protectress of the Greeks of the Aegean seaboard, she then became their mistress. With astonishing vigour and elasticity of spirit, Athens set herself, while still at war with Persia, to turn a free alliance into an Empire and, at the same time, to grasp at the leadership of Greece proper. In the attempt to achieve this twofold purpose the Athenian state was fused into a democracy which granted to its citizens the freedom which it denied to others, and, under the guidance of Pericles, created a splendid city which compelled the admiration as well as the envy of its neighbours. The story of this attempt and of the imperialistic democracy which was at once its cause and its effect is followed by an account of the greatest contribution made by Greece to the literature of the world—the Attic Drama. In Chapter V will be found a study of the development of the dramatic art, together with an interpretation of its masterpieces, which shows It as at once the product of an age and a city and the culmination of a literary movement which has behind it the common heritage of the Greek people.

We then turn to western Greece and may contrast the dazzling progress of an imperialistic democracy with the history of Sicily during the period in which the brilliant tyranny which had saved the island from the Carthaginians declined and was supplanted by commonplace uninspired democracies.

The Thirty Years Peace, concluded between Athens and the states of the Peloponnese, marks a moment of suspense, being an endeavour to reach a modus vivendi. This endeavour, made possible by the temporary exhaustion of Athenian resources, could not be permanently successful, unless Athens was prepared to abandon the tyranny which her Empire really was, and to take her place once more in the balanced circle of Greek states. The unyielding, if unaggressive, policy of Pericles now dominated his city and in the end he guided Athens into a war which might have decided the issue favourably once for all, if he had lived to see it through.

What followed was a catena of conflicts famous by the name of the Peloponnesian War. The first stage, which we have distinguished by the time-honoured name of the Archidamian War, lasted for ten years, and ended in the Peace of Nicias which was the result of the courage and tenacity with which Athens may be said to have defeated the Peloponnesian attack. It may well have seemed to an observer of the time that the future lay with Athens, had the resources of that city been guided by prudent statecraft. But the restless genius of Alcibiades, tempted by the weakness of Sparta and the hopes of brilliant conquests in the West, lured Athens into the disastrous adventure of the Sicilian Expedition, and revived the war in Greece itself. The failure in Sicily reduced the power of Athens to the level of her adversaries’ resources, and the struggle entered on its final phase which all but broke down the Athenian democracy. The outcome was doubtful, even after the gold of Persia was cast into the scale, but at last the destruction of the Athenian fleet at Aegospotami left Athens at the mercy of her enemies.

The political history of the fifth century ends in tragedy and is often sordid, but it is the century which saw Periclean Athens as the intellectual centre of the Greek world, and witnessed the sophistic movement which led to an age of illumination. The Athens of Pericles was the Athens of Socrates. The outward setting of the intense life of the city was worthy of its culture, for triumphs of architecture displayed in material form the rigorous clarity that characterized Greek thinking and showed Athens great in art no less than in politics and literature. In the final chapter we read also of the pediments of the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina, ‘which, over a hundred years ago, opened modern eyes to the beauty of archaic sculpture', the sculptures of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, and the statues of Polyclitus. In this same chapter the painting of Polygnotus and of the Attic red-figured vases is set side by side with the masterpieces of plastic art.

Finally, this was the age made memorable to the historian by the fact that ‘with Herodotus and Thucydides History as an art was born, indeed twice-born, in romantic and in classic perfection.’ Above all, the political history of fifth-century Greece had the privilege of being interpreted to future generations by Thucydides. In his austere economy he ignores the achievements of Athens in art and literature, but one thing he could not hide, that this age had produced his own incomparable genius.


“What happened?” Such curiosity cannot be equally addressed to what happened anywhere, at any time, to anybody: it would then be so thinly spread as to disappear altogether. Eager curiosity means concentration upon an object capable of exciting our mind or moving our heart or both. Selective curiosity sometimes merges into deep emotional involvement: in the realm of secular history, such involvement is very much a function of nationality. We all attach value and meaning to some moments of our nation’s past, marked by decisive and dramatic occurrences, the recounting of which so arouses us as to draw us into the picture, quivering if impotent participants. Thus the critical times of our national history assume almost the character of personal recollections: many Americans, I fancy, have vicariously applauded the proclamation of lndependence and fought at Gettysburg.

No man can call himself a believer who is not shaken to his roots by dwelling upon the events basic to his Faith; no man can call himself a patriot who is not elated or saddened when remembering the glorious or evil days of his fatherland; in between, no man may call himself a humanist who remains ignorant of or indifferent to the major splendors or tragedies of civilization. Great tragedy befalling great splendor, that is the story of the Peloponnesian War.

The scene is a small one: Greece, studded with a great many more “states” (poleis) than we count in the whole world today. Far the largest territory was that of Sparta, containing 3,200 square miles, the next was that of Athens (Attica), barely exceeding 1,000 square miles. Corinth, which plays an important part in the tale, had a territory of 330 square miles. The citizenry of Athens was the most numerous of any: on the authority of Thucydides it is estimated at 42,000 men. Women, children, resident aliens (metics) and slaves possibly made up a total of 400,000 inhabitants of Attica. This was regarded by thoughtful men as an excessive bulk, and for a characteristic reason: it did not allow each citizen to recognize his fellows by sight. It was in any case a quite exceptionally large population, and Athens was the major town of Greece, even though it held only some 10,000 homes, each harboring a much larger, less subdivided family than ours.

These few indications warn us that we must here think in numbers very different from those to which we are accustomed. Most cities indeed counted their fighting men in mere hundreds, and a city’s contribution to a confederate army was sometimes less than a hundred. Nor should we picture Greek splendor in terms of high standards of consumption. What our economists call “private consumption” was very low: no heating, next to no lighting, very few vehicles other than ships, the same doth serving as bedsheet and as dress, frugal fare. The luxuries the Greeks enjoyed were collective: beautiful temples, strong walls (though Spartans prided themselves on needing none), and public baths to which they resorted daily. Indeed personal luxuries were regarded as bad form. The Spartans of course went to the extreme, but even the pleasure-loving Athenians stood much nearer to the Spartan model than to what they regarded as the besotting indulgences of the Asians.

The Greeks would rank low in our statistical scale of “con­sumption per head.” What they consumed with delight and discrimination was leisure: leisure spent in witty conversation, in healthy physical exercise, in watching a play, in attending an athletic contest. The famous conversations of Socrates were conducted with whomever he happened to meet in the street, and the mass amusements of the Athenians were the great plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. There was no such thing in Athens as being unfit for war service, nor was there any such thing as being incompetent to decide a political issue or a legal case. On one day the Athenian would hear out, from sunrise to sundown, the orators arguing for and against political moves and decide between them; on another day he would sit on the judicial bench with many of his fellows and they would decide civil suits. Athens had its way of life which was not the pursuit of a high standard of life but of a high standard of achievement.

In 490 b.c. the Athenians defeated at Marathon a minor Persian venture, in 480 b.c. they had to deal with an all-out effort; leaving their very homes to the invader, they crushed his forces in the bay of Salamis. Having thus saved herself, and Greece of the many cities, from Persian domination, Athens fell at Chaeronea (332 b.c.) under Macedonian domination, which embraced all Greece. Only a century and a half elapsed between glorious Marathon and disastrous Chaeronea; “the glory that was Greece” is tightly packed within that short space of time: then flourished, from Aeschylus to Aristotle, the authors who have exercised a germinal influence upon Western culture. The men who then lived in what to us is “a small town” have given us our modes of expression of human feelings, tragedy and comedy (not the novel), our canons of beauty (architecture, sculpture), our procedure of argument, abstract (philosophy) and practical (oratory). It is around Plato and Aristotle that our philosophic arguments still revolve; Demosthenes is still the model of political and legal speakers.

What happened to such people moves our hearts because of their excellence and of our debt to them; but also it excites our minds because it displays the inherent precariousness of political achievement. Men of the seventeenth century, like Hobbes, or of the eighteenth, like Burke, did not for a moment doubt that history should be learned in order to learn from history, to acquire political prudence, short of which no political system can survive.

The Peloponnesian War, related by Thucydides, is the outstanding account of political imprudence. It shattered the foundations of what we may call “the society of Greek city-states”: it so damaged relations between cities and within cities that the whole edifice creaked and slipped during the ensuing sixty years, and easily collapsed under the Macedonian push Therefore this Great War has remained for all times the classic illustration of the harm which a society of kindred states can inflict upon itself by driving its conflicts too far. The Greeks were not mild people: cities and factions were wont to clash quite roughly; but up to the Great War, prudence intervened in time; it then fell into discredit, and only fitfully recovered its sway while the prestige of ranters and “bitter­enders” established itself.

The idea of “A World Government” meets with such favor today that it is perhaps proper to stress the value of the Greek system of a great many self-governing city-states. The Greeks were well aware of another system which they had observed in Egypt and Persia. There, vast expanses of land and a great number of people lived under one government. This was to them “palatial” government. By the very nature of things, it is impossible, in a vast state, that all should participate in decision-making, and therefore understand the reasons for a decision and regard it as their very own. If and only if they so participate, they are citizens; when dimensions demand that decisions should be made in “the Palace” and conveyed to men, then they are subjects. This the Greeks held to be not only an undignified condition but a demoralizing one, as indeed the experience of the Roman Empire was to show.

Since much is made in the account of the war, of the contrast between democracy and oligarchy, it may be useful to stress that the difference between the forms of government prevailing in Greek cities was one of degree. All cities had a remnant of sacred authority: the two “kings” of Sparta still led the armies in the field (but not the fleet, which was an innovation); the archons of Athens still attended to religious discipline but had ceased to matter in politics, and Athenian generals were elected by the people. All cities had a council, “boule”: in the extreme oligarchic system it replenished itself by co-optation, in the extreme democratic system, at Athens, its members for the year were selected by lot from lists drawn up in the constituencies. In all cities, the final word belonged to the Assembly of the People, “ecclesia.” The reader will find that the decisions of Sparta, like those of Athens, are taken by the popular assembly: there the ambassadors are heard, there the reply to their requests is adopted; the reader will notice that the advice given to the Assembly of Sparta by their King Archidamus was overruled.

All political regimes of Greece involved what we call “government by discussion”; all left the final word to the assembly of citizens, which was natural enough, since there were no professional servants of the state available to carry out decisions, but only citizens themselves. There was, however, a great difference in spirit between the oligarchic system of Sparta or Corinth and Athenian democracy.

Parentage counted a great deal in all cities: even in Athens Pericles himself was responsible for a law which struck from the registers of citizens those who could not prove their descent from both an Athenian father and an Athenian mother; however their great number (4,000) testified that the citizenry had been infiltrated by metics. Not so at Sparta. The Dorians who had conquered Peloponnesia some centuries ago had kept their ranks closed against the previous inhabitants. (Incidentally this made losses suffered at war especially exhausting for Sparta.) The importance of parentage also influenced the composition and status of the Council at Sparta: it was a preserve of the “great” families, whereas in Athens it was open to all, and the Spartan Council exercised a far greater influence upon the Assembly of citizens than in Athens where it functioned as merely a steering committee.

The prestige of lineage sat well with a traditionalism, in itself much admired by some Athenians, among them Xenophon. Rightly or wrongly, Socrates, his war record notwithstanding, was deemed an admirer of Sparta, certainly some of his favorite pupils behaved as such. With Spartan conservatism went a reluctance to venture, underlined by Thucydides.

The names appearing in Athenian history point up the social contrast with Sparta. With the exception of Pericles, they are “new men”: thus Cleon, who plays such a large part, was a wealthy tanner, Eucrates, Lysicles, and Hyperbolus were substantial tradesmen, Cleophon, whose name appears late in the war, was the first artisan (he was a lyre maker) to make his mark in politics. New men of that kind helped to give Athenian policy the proud, bold, venturesome character which it de­veloped under and after Pericles. Even more ardent were the sailors of Piraeus; the port constituted the stronghold of “the left.” Plato, a conservative, was to bemoan the damaging social and political influence of the sea.

It should be remembered that, at the time of the war, even in Athens three-fourths of the citizens were landowners who commuted between their farms and the city. The stolidity of farmers prevailed in the popular assemblies of the early fifth century; but as the enemy armies despoiled the land during the Great War, the population, increasingly cooped up in the town, grew into a mood of urban nervosity. The wholesale destruction of trees for shipbuilding sealed the decline of agriculture which transformed the social character of Athens.

The Great War broke out in 432 b.c., less than fifty years after Salamis. At the time of the great Persian invasion, the Spartans at Thermopylae, under Leonidas, had displayed heroism; but the Athenians at Salamis had demonstrated effectiveness. Naturally enough, they took the lead in the sporadic conflict which was pursued against the Persian Empire: they formed and led the Delian League, commanded its confederate fleet, and took charge of its confederate finances. The money was in fact spent by Athenian stewards, the suits brought by allies against Athenians were decided by Athenian tribunals. This was not to everyone’s liking. Moreover the Athenians, flushed with pride, did throw their weight about in Greece, against the advice of Cimon, but often enough on the advice of Pericles. This explains how Sparta could play up the theme of “liberation.” As the war proceeded, military expenditures were an increasing burden upon the allies and upon the wealthier citizens of Athens, which goes a long way to explain why, in the last lap, Athens was deserted by its allies and betrayed by its rich.

Its collapse in 404 b.c. was not pitied but applauded all over Greece.

Indeed while our sympathies cannot fail to lie with Athens, we must admit that the Athenians wantonly cast away the many opportunities which were afforded to them of concluding an honorable peace. Thucydides makes it clear that while Sparta was a republic of highly trained soldiers, it had no venturesome disposition; its conservative leaders knew that the chances of war are uncertain, and they even seem to have vaguely foreseen the corrupting influence of total victory. However much we prefer the Athenians, we have to confess that their disaster was not the outcome of a premeditated aggression by Sparta but the result of their own frenzy.

This tragedy has served as a major item in the education of would-be statesmen for more than twenty-four centuries. This is justified not only by the substance of the tale but by the manner of its telling. Thucydides is a great historian, possibly the greatest that ever was. He may have lacked initiative as a general: so the Athenians judged, when they banished him for his failure to reach Amphipolis in time; but as a writer he displays exceptional vigor, drawing admirably clear pictures with great economy of words. His facts have not been shaken by modern criticism; the speeches he ‘‘quotes” are of his own composition, but it should be remembered that the speakers were, in most cases, very well known to him (the late-comers on the Athenian political scene excepted); he was well aware of their interests, feelings, motives, and these he expounds in his made-up speeches. Such speeches indeed are the highlights of the whole book.

The story is altogether a sad one and strewn with horrible episodes. Thucydides does not inject into his account a display of his emotions of sorrow, indignation, or pity; he has often therefore been adjudged insensitive. Against this opinion should be quoted the fact that Demosthenes, who was a most emotional character, is said to have copied out Thucydides six times. Indeed men who write in times of great misfortunes are least prone to make a show of their feelings: to face and chronicle bleak facts they clothe themselves in stem sobriety. This was also the case of Machiavelli, living amidst the wreck of all he cherished. Such an attitude of withdrawn dignity is misunderstood in happier days, and such men are then regarded as brutal realists, against the testimony of their unimpeachable personal conduct.

Into the tangle of events, Thucydides drives the cold steel of the anatomist, he cuts through to the essential articulations of causes and consequences. We are fortunate in having such a guide; we are doubly fortunate in enjoying a translation of his great work by so eminent a political scientist as Hobbes. Hobbes used his translation of Thucydides to train himself in political science; he stands surety to us that this book is required reading; but also we can rest assured that the Hobbesian version, an intellectual rather than a literary exercise, grasps the innermost meaning of the original.

Hobbes mentions this translation in his prose and in his verse autobiographies, both written in Latin. In the prose text, he speaks of himself in the third person, thus: “Among the Greek historians he loved Thucydides best; having achieved an English translation, little by little in his leisure hours, he gave it to the public, which received it with some applause, around the year 1628; this in order that the follies of the Athenian Democrats should be revealed to his compatriots.” In the verse autobiography, speaking of himself in the first person, he says of Thucydides: “He made me realize how silly is democracy, and how much wiser a single man is than a multitude; I translated this author who would tell Englishmen to beware of trusting orators.” These statements are clear: Hobbes learned from Thucydides to distrust Assembly rule and used Thucydides to warn his compatriots against it. This fits in with his later advocacy of monarchic government, urged, it should be stressed, in the interests of peace internal and external and of individual safety. It is a major distortion to represent Hobbes as the forerunner of totalitarianism: he wishes Authority to be unquestioned, not in order that it might serve a violent passion, but so that it could abate all passions. He conceived govern­ment not as driving men but as sheltering their various pursuits. In his eyes the uncertainty and perils attending the tussle of competing political forces was the greatest social evil.

Naturally, and legitimately, British biographers have projected Hobbes’ interest in Thucydides upon a background of waxing difficulties between Crown and Commons, which marked the end of the reign of James I and the beginning of the reign of Charles I: the Bill of Rights was passed in 1628. One may, however, conjecture that Hobbes had been impressed by the breakdown of civil order and security which had been occurring on the Continent since 1619, a drama which posterity was to call “the Thirty Years’ War,” the very name commonly applied to the Peloponnesian War. England rang in 1619 with the judicial murder of the virtuous and peace-loving Barneveldt, a victim of the fanatical war party of the United Provinces: then was the great Grotius condemned to life imprisonment from which he escaped, obtaining refuge and financial assistance from Louis XIII of France. That kingdom itself experienced civil strife; in 1620 there was a rebellion led by the Queen Mother; in 1621, the representatives of the French Protestants assembled in the fortified sea port of La Rochelle and there proclaimed a republican confederation. Worst of all was the general war which broke out within the Holy Roman Empire as a sequel to the Prague riot of 1618. The empire was in fact a complex political system of a great many practically independent states of very different dimensions. For that rea­son and also because the war between states was aggravated by conflicts within the political units, the situation must have suggested to Hobbes a parallel with the Peloponnesian disaster.

The study of history would be unnecessary for political education if the lessons to be drawn from great historic events could be summed up in a few trenchant sentences. We would then need no more than these final sentences. But political prudence does not consist in recipes which can be conveyed: it is a virtue which has to be acquired the hard way. The greatest possible economy of effort is achieved if a very competent guide takes you through the important experiences of others. He tells you just enough and not too much: why this step was taken and how it turned out to be disastrous. It is for you to think out why it turned out to be disastrous and how it might have been avoided: it is only by such personal speculation that one gains political education; in that realm, as in all others, one only learns by thinking for oneself.

The reader need not draw from Thucydides the lesson which Hobbes so tersely summed up. But what he cannot fail to learn is the inherent precariousness of the political structures which ensure peaceful and rewarding human relations. This was true of the multi-state system enjoyed by Greece before the Peloponnesian War and by Europe before 1914: the diversity of governments was no obstacle to the ease and confidence of intercourse; such great benefits can be preserved only by temperate policies, they cannot withstand the imperious upsurge of national willfulness; and the violent recasting of such a system, however alluring the ideas applied, must prove unstable and lead to renewed convulsions eventuating in general weakness and abandonment to outside control. The precariousness is true also of an alliance, such as the Delian League, assembled because Athens had demonstrated in the Persian wars her will and power to protect, and shattered when she lost that power. It is true finally of a political regime, which lasts just as long as it proves capable to bear the strains it assumes.

It is not sufficiently realized what a task it is to maintain a political structure. At times this seems easy, and therefore it also seems harmless that weak or feverish hands should be applied. But events, which may or may not be the work of these hands, occur to tax the structure. Its fragility is then revealed and men learn too late, as it topples upon them, that they should have bolstered it with firm prudence.



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