23 Dec Introduction to the war between Athens and Sparta (THUCYDIDES) | Part A’
1. Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the war of the Peloponnesians and the Athenians as they warred against each other, beginning to write as soon as the war was on foot; with expectation it should prove a great one, and most worthy the relation of all that had been before it: conjecturing so much, both from this, that they flourished on both sides in all manner of provision; and also because he saw the rest of Greece siding with the one or the other faction, some then presently and some intending so to do. For this was certainly the greatest commotion that ever happened amongst the Grecians, reaching also to part of the barbarians, and, as a man may say, to most nations. For the actions that preceded this, and those again that are yet more ancient, though the truth of them through length of time cannot by any means clearly be discovered; yet for any argument that, looking into times far past, I have yet light on to persuade me, I do not think they have been very great, either for matter of war or otherwise.
2. For it is evident that that which now is called Hellas, was not of old constantly inhabited; but that at first there were often removals, every one easily leaving the place of his abode to the violence always of some greater number. For whilst traffic was not, nor mutual intercourse but with fear, neither by sea nor land; and every man so husbanded the ground as but barely to live upon it, without any stock of riches, and planted nothing; (because it was uncertain when another should invade them and carry all away, especially not having the defence of walls); but made account to be masters, in any place, of such necessary sustenance as might serve them from day to day: they made little difficulty to change their habitations. And for this cause they were of no ability at all, either for greatness of cities or other provision. But the fattest soils were always the most subject to these changes of inhabitants; as that which is now called Thessalia, and Bœotia, and the greatest part of Peloponnesus, except Arcadia; and of the rest of Greece, whatsoever was most fertile. For the goodness of the land increasing the power of some particular men, both caused seditions, whereby they were ruined at home; and moreover they were plotted against by foreigners. From hence it is that Attica, from great antiquity for the sterility of the soil free from seditions, hath been inhabited ever by the same people. And it is none of the least evidences of what I have said, that Greece, by reason of sundry transplantations, hath not in other parts received the like augmentation. For such as by war or sedition were driven out of other places, the most potent of them, as to a place of stability, retired themselves to Athens; where receiving the freedom of the city, they long since so increased the same in number of people, as Attica, being incapable of them itself, they sent out colonies into Ionia.
3. And to me the imbecility of ancient times is not a little demonstrated also by this that followeth.. For before the Trojan war nothing appeareth to have been done by Greece in common; nor indeed was it, as I think, called all by that one name of Hellas; nor before the time of Hellen, the son of Deucalion, was there any such name at all. But Pelasgicum (which was the farthest extended) and the other parts, by regions, received their names from their own inhabitants. But Hellen and his sons being strong in Phthiotis, and called in for their aid into other cities; these cities, because of their conversing with them, began more particularly to be called Hellenes: and yet could not that name of a long time after prevail upon them all. This is conjectured principally out of Homer. For though born long after the Trojan war, yet he gives them not anywhere that name in general; nor indeed to any but those that with Achilles came out of Phthiotis, and were the first so called: but in his poems he mentioneth Danaans, Argives, and Achæans. Nor doth he likewise use the word barbarians; because the Grecians, as it seemeth unto me, were not yet distinguished by one common name of Hellenes, oppositely answerable unto them. The Grecians then, neither as they had that name in particular by mutual intercourse, nor after, universally so termed, did ever before the Trojan war, for want of strength and correspondence, enter into any action with their forces joined. But on that expedition they came together inasmuch as now they used the sea more.
4. For Minos was the most ancient of all that by report we know to have built a navy. And he made himself master of the now Grecian Sea; and both commanded the isles called Cyclades, and also was the first that sent colonies into most of the same, expelling thence the Carians and constituting his own sons there for governors; and also freed the seas of pirates as much as he could, for the better coming in, as is likely, of his own revenue.
5. For the Grecians in old time, and such barbarians as in the continent lived near unto the sea, or else inhabited the islands, after once they began more often to cross over one to another in ships, became thieves, and went abroad under the conduct of their most puissant men, both to enrich themselves and to fetch in maintenance for the weak; and falling upon towns unfortified and lived in by villages, rifled them, and made this the best means of their living; being a matter at that time nowhere in disgrace, but rather carrying with it something of glory. This is manifest by some that dwell on the continent, amongst whom, so it be performed nobly, it is still esteemed as an ornament. The same also is proved by some of the ancient poets, who introduce men questioning of such as sail by, on all coasts alike, whether they be thieves or not; as a thing neither scorned by such as were asked, nor upbraided by those that were desirous to know. They also robbed one another within the main land. And much of Greece useth that old custom, as the Locrians called Ozolæ, the Acarnanians, and those of the continent in that quarter, unto this day. Moreover, the fashion of wearing iron remaineth yet with the people of that continent from their old trade of thieving. For once they were wont throughout all Greece to go armed, because their houses were unfenced and travelling was unsafe; and accustomed themselves, like the barbarians, to the ordinary wearing of their armour. And the nations of Greece that live so yet, do testify that the same manner of life was anciently universal to all the rest.
6. Amongst whom, the Athenians were the first that laid by their armour, and growing civil, passed into a more tender kind of life. And such of the rich as were anything stepped into years, laid away upon the same delicacy, not long after, the fashion of wearing linen coats and golden grasshoppers, which they were wont to bind up in the locks of their hair. From whence also the same fashion, by reason of their affinity, remained a long time in use amongst the ancient Ionians. But the moderate kind of garment, and conformable to the wearing of these times, was first taken up by the Lacedæmonians; amongst whom also, both in other things and especially in the culture of their bodies, the nobility observed the most equality with the commons. The same were also the first, that when they were to contend in the Olympic games, stripped themselves naked and anointed their bodies with ointment: whereas in ancient times, the champions did also in the Olympic games use breeches; nor is it many years since this custom ceased. Also there are to this day amongst the barbarians, especially those of Asia, prizes propounded of fighting with fists and of wrestling, and the combatants about their privy parts wear breeches in the exercise. It may likewise by many other things be demonstrated, that the old Greeks used the same form of life that is now in force amongst the barbarians of the present age.
7. As for cities, such as are of late foundation and since the increase of navigation, inasmuch as they have had since more plenty of riches, have been walled about and built upon the shore; and have taken up isthmi, that is to say, necks of land between sea and sea., both for merchandise and for the better strength against confiners. But the old cities, men having been in those times for the most part infested by thieves, are built farther up, as well in the islands as in the continent. For others also that dwelt on the sea-side, though not seamen, yet they molested one another with robberies. And even to these times, those people are planted up high in the country.
8. But these robberies were the exercise especially of the islanders, namely, the Carians and the Phœnicians. For by them were the greatest part of the islands inhabited; a testimony whereof is this. The Athenians, when in this present war they hallowed the isle of Delos and had digged up the sepulchres of the dead, found that more than half of them were Carians; known so to be, both by the armour buried with them, and also by their manner of burial at this day. And when Minos his navy was once afloat, navigators had the sea more free. For he expelled the malefactors out of the islands, and in the most of them planted colonies of his own. By which means they who inhabited the sea-coasts, becoming more addicted to riches, grew more constant to their dwellings; of whom some, grown now rich, compassed their towns about with walls. For out of desire of gain, the meaner sort underwent servitude with the mighty; and the mighty with their wealth brought the lesser cities into subjection. And so it came to pass, that rising to power they proceeded afterward to the war against Troy.
9. And to me it seemeth that Agamemnon got together that fleet, not so much for that he had with him the suitors of Helena, bound thereto by oath to Tindareus, as for this, that he exceeded the rest in power. For they that by tradition of their ancestors know the most certainty of the acts of the Peloponnesians, say that first Pelops, by the abundance of his wealth which he brought with him out of Asia to men in want, obtained such power amongst them, as, though he were a stranger, yet the country was called after his name; and that this power was also increased by his posterity. For Euristheus being slain in Attica by the Heracleides, Atreus, that was his uncle by the mother, and was then abiding with him as an exiled person for fear of his father for the death of Chrysippus, and to whom Euristheus, when he undertook the expedition, had committed Mycenæ and the government thereof, for that he was his kinsman; when as Euristheus came not back, (the Mycenians being willing to it for fear of the Heracleides, and because he was an able man and made much of the common people), obtained the kingdom of Mycenæ, and of whatsoever else was under Euristheus, for himself; and the power of the Pelopides became greater than that of the Perseides. To which greatness Agamemnon succeeding, and also far excelling the rest in shipping, took that war in hand, as I conceive it, and assembled the said forces, not so much upon favour as by fear. For it is clear, that he himself both conferred most ships to that action, and that some also he lent to the Arcadians. And this is likewise declared by Homer, (if any think his testimony sufficient); who, at the delivery of the sceptre unto him, calleth him, “of many isles and of all Argos King.” Now he could not, living in the continent, have been lord of the islands, other than such as were adjacent, which cannot be many, unless he had also had a navy. And by this expedition we are to estimate what were those of the ages before it.
10. Now seeing Mycenæ was but a small city, or if any other of that age seem but of light regard, let not any man for that cause, on so weak an argument, think that fleet to have been less than the poets have said, and fame reported it to be. For if the city of Lacedæmon were now desolate, and nothing of it left but the temples and floors of the buildings, I think it would breed much unbelief in posterity long hence of their power in comparison of the fame. For although of five parts of Peloponnesus it possess two, and hath the leading of the rest, and also of many confederates without; yet the city being not close built, and the temples and other edifices not costly, and because it is but lived in by villages after the ancient manner of Greece, their power would seem inferior to the report. Again, the same things happening to Athens, one would conjecture, by the sight of their city, that their power were double to what it is. We ought not therefore to be incredulous concerning the forces that went to Troy., nor have in regard so much the external show of a city as the power: but we are to think, that that expedition was indeed greater than those that went before it, but yet inferior to those of the present age; if in this also we may credit the poetry of Homer, who being a poet was like to set it forth to the utmost. And yet even thus it cometh short. For he maketh it to consist of twelve hundred vessels; those that were of Bœotians carrying one hundred and twenty men a-piece, and those which came with Philoctetes fifty: setting forth, as I suppose, both the greatest sort and the least; and therefore of the bigness of any of the rest, he maketh in his catalogue no mention at all: but declareth that they who were in the vessels of Philoctetes, served both as mariners and soldiers; for he writes, that they who were at the oar, were all of them archers. And for such as wrought not, it is not likely that many went along, except kings and such as were in chief authority; especially being to pass the sea with munition of war, and in bottoms without decks, built after the old and piratical fashion. So then, if by the greatest and least one estimate the mean of their shipping, it will appear that the whole number of men considered as sent jointly from all Greece, were not very many.
11. And the cause hereof was not so much want of men, as of wealth. For, for want of victual they carried the lesser army, and no greater than they hoped might both follow the war and also maintain itself. When upon their arrival they had gotten the upper hand in fight, (which is manifest; for else they could not have fortified their camp), it appears that from that time forward they employed not there their whole power, but that for want of victual they betook themselves, part of them to the tillage of Chersonesus, and part to fetch in booties; whereby divided, the Trojans the more easily made that ten years resistance, as being ever a match for so many as remained at the siege. Whereas, if they had gone furnished with store of provision, and with all their forces, eased of boot-haling and tillage, since they were masters of the field, they had also easily taken the city. But they strove not with their whole power, but only with such a portion of their army as at the several occasions chanced to be present; when as, if they had pressed the siege, they had won the place both in less time and with less labour. But through want of money, not only they were weak matters, all that preceded this enterprise; but also this, which is of greater name than any before it, appeareth to be in fact beneath the fame and report, which by means of the poets now goeth of it.
History of the Peloponnesian Wars – The first book
translated by Thomas Hobbes