TCS Daily

Thucydides Today

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - July 10, 2006 12:00 AM

The lessons Thucydides offers in his History of the Peloponnesian War remain as relevant today as they did in the time of the Greek city states. With the United States working through the issues and challenges raised by its superpower status, it is perhaps timely to revisit Thucydides.

One of These Is Not Like the Other

It's worth noting that some have compared the American effort in Iraq with the disastrous Athenian expedition undertaken to subdue Syracuse. Blogger Matt Yglesias makes such comparisons here. But these comparisons don't hold up if one understands the reasons behind the Athenian failure.

One of the chief reasons for Athens's failure to subdue the Syracusans was that the former picked a fight with a people uniquely prepared to match them militarily. Thucydides makes this point exactly. In commenting on the failure of the Spartans to press their advantage after the Athenian loss of Euboea, he writes:

. . . But here, as on so many other occasions, the Spartans proved the most convenient people in the world for the Athenians to be at war with. The wide difference between the two characters, the slowness and want of energy of the Spartans as contrasted with the dash and enterprise of their opponents, proved of the greatest service, especially to a maritime empire like Athens. Indeed this was shown by the Syracusans, who were most like the Athenians in character, and also most successful in combating them.

No such symmetry exists between American forces and Iraqi insurgents. The reconstruction effort in Iraq may turn out to be a success or a failure. But the terrorist insurgents operating in Iraq are hardly "most like the [Americans] in character." They do not display any tendency to fight an American style of war successfully and their ethic of warfare is entirely alien.


The contrast between the Spartan military style and that of the Athenians and Syracusans serves as an excellent cautionary tale in the midst of the ongoing American military transformation effort.

Traditionally, the United States adhered to what is popularly called "the Powell Doctrine" which holds that in any military conflict, the United States should go into the theater of battle with overwhelming force and with an exit strategy clearly in mind. The Powell Doctrine is being supplanted by the current Secretary of Defense's "Rumsfeld Doctrine," which emphasizes nimbleness and the ability of American military forces to deploy rapidly in a theater of operations. Speed, not overwhelming force, is the defining characteristic of the Rumsfeld Doctrine and as such, the number of American troops in a theater of operations is lessened in order to be able to achieve a rapid deployment.

While overwhelming force may be necessary to secure the peace, the ability of American forces to deploy rapidly and adapt to ever-changing circumstances is a necessity. Such a policy takes into account the shifting and inconstant nature of warfare and statecraft; and it heeds Thucydides's warning that any warfighting style based on the Spartan characteristic of "slowness and want of energy" is a style that is doomed to defeat against a nimble and adaptive enemy.


It is said that nature abhors a vacuum; in political life, this is especially so. The natural abhorrence of political vacuums should be recalled in the ongoing debate over American power.

This debate pits advocates of expansive American power against various isolationists. To the extent that nature abhors a political vacuum, no geopolitical power is irreplaceable. Thus the loss of American primacy would mean that America would be replaced as a great power by some other power.

Thucydides reminds us that the Athenians faced the same issue and responded to it in rousing fashion by reminding the other Greek city-states that the loss of Athenian primacy could indeed mean the emergence of a new -- and potentially more threatening -- power.

Blogger Joshua Trevino notes as much in reproducing a speech given by the Athenians to the Spartans. As Trevino puts it:

. . . The Athenians' speech as presented by Thucydides cannot help but remind the modern reader of the American case for hegemony today. The Athenians could rightly claim to have saved the (Hellenic) world from (Persian) despotism, and hence deserved the enduring gratitude and forbearance of that world; the Athenians could rightly note that their hegemony came not by design; the Athenians could note that the burden of their hegemony was a benevolent one, especially compared to the Spartan alternative; and the Athenians could note that they were forced to defend their hegemony lest the alternatives prove the worse.

This is, of course, broadly the case for the single American superpower. Sparta and the Peloponnesians it led went to war nonetheless, as opponents of Athenian hegemony per se; and when they won a generation later, the Athenian caution came to pass. Militarist Sparta was not a fit hegemon, and it was not long before the Hellenic world was convulsed by a new rival in Thebes, irredentist Athens, Alexandrian Macedonia, and eventually Rome, which subsumed Hellenic independence for centuries to come.

In seeking to keep her empire, Athens properly appealed to self-interest, stating that "no one can quarrel with a people for making, in matters of tremendous risk, the best provision that it can for its interest." Moreover, Athens aptly pointed out that "our moderation would be best demonstrated by the conduct of others who should be placed in our position," a prediction that comes true when the fall of Athenian power serves to create a series of events that conspire to bring Hellenic independence to an end under Roman rule.

Thucydides remarked that he intended his magnum opus "as a possession for all time." In navigating the currents of 21st century geopolitics, we can still draw from Thucydides's lessons and avail ourselves of his wisdom.

Pejman Yousefzadeh is a TCS Daily contributing writer.



Powell and Rumsfeld
You mention two legs of the Powell doctrine: overwhelming force and exit strategy. The "Rumslfeld doctrine" has only one leg: nimbleness (an after the fact excuse for too few troops?). The real difference between the two "plans" is that Powell thought his through to the end while Rumsfeld neglected, even belittled, thinking ahead.

Rumsfeld the Futurist
The nimbleness characteristic of the Rumsfeld doctrine requires an overwhelming technological advantage. If the US had the required intelligence and defensive technologies to detect and neutralize explosive devices, the Rumsfeld doctrine may have proven more than adequate in Iraq. It is only now that we are beginning to effectively deploy UAV's, robotics and other technologies on the battlefield.

The "Rumsfeld Doctine", like Mr. Reagan's "Star Wars", is a bit ahead of its time.

lessons of history: Iraq and US
Speaking of history lessons, some of you may have seen Zgieb Brezezinski debate on the Lehrer report. The other speaker compared Iraq to US Civil War: North had eventual purpose of stopping oppression in the South; white Southerners tried to overthrow the new democracy created by the North after its victory; Southern tools included the KKK and civil unrest. Zgieb mocked the comparison and brought up Algiers, where France finally admitted, through DeGaulle, that the colonial era (a topic Zgieb had previously identified as relevant to Iraq) was over, and the famous Battle of Algiers movie shows how urban rebels forced the French to give up. I think the other speaker was correct in arguing that Iraq is more like the US South in 1865-plus than Algeria after WW II. I would even say that we have a chance to do better with a similar situation than the US did after 1865, since then the KKK basically won out and restored white supremacy till the 1960s. Ultimately, white Southerners stole a US election when they agreed to vote in the House of Representatives for the Democrat; Segregationist rule by Democrats continued until LBJ shamed JFK into supporting a civil rights bill by saying it was the moral thing to do (see Garry Wills book Bare Ruined Choirs and the new book on JFK and civil rights with the appropriate title Bystander [on civil rights]. LBJ actually got the big civil rights bills passed when he became President; he's famous for saying his courage4ous act would lose the South for Democrats for generations. Actually it was LBJ and the Republicans who got the bill passed; and the South remained Democrat until Nixon's Southern strategy brought in the Wallace sympathizers and the South has leaned Republican ever since. And don't forget that this idea of posse comitatus--that the US armed forces should not engage in police actions simply goes back to the election stolen by the Democrats: the price of voting for the Democrat in the House vote was that federal troops be removed from the South and that the posse comitatus law be passed. Apparently the law allowed Eisenhower to send troops into the South or use the National Guard to make sure blacks be allowed into public schools. And there is no reason in principle why federal forces or the National Guard could not be allowed to enforce the immigration laws, even though it's not being allowed at this time. After all, if it would be so terrible to have the US military enforce immigration laws, why do we let the Coast Guard enforce immigration and drug laws; and what's so different about a US military officer and a US treasury officer (e.g., enforcing drug laws or counterfeiting laws), or even the FBI?
RLA Schaefer Dubuque Iowa

Rumsfeld's Doctrine Defaults
Army weighs options for scaling back combat systems upgrade, June 9, 2006

Bracing for expected cuts in its prized program, the Army is weighing several options to scale back funding for the Future Combat Systems (FCS) over the next five years, including slowing the fielding of new equipment to combat brigades.

In recent high-level meetings, Army officials have warned that the FCS budget will be among several targets for DEEP CUTS by the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of the Secretary of Defense as part of a government-wide crackdown on spending and a feared downward slope in defense procurement dollars, said a defense source with knowledge of the discussions.

The Future Combat Systems, long a target of congressional trimming, is the most expensive technological endeavor in Army history and forms the core of the service's transformation efforts. The program, led by Boeing Co., and Science Applications International Corp., is a complex system of manned and unmanned ground and air vehicles tied together by an electronic network...

"What they're saying is that FCS, as it's envisioned, is going to be changed," the source said. "It's kind of like they're stuck with a bill for 10 dollars and they've only got five dollars in their account. THERE'S JUST NO WAY TO DO IT."

Liberal Military Expertise
It is more than a little curious that Liberals, such as Liberal Goodman, have been so critical that Rumsfeld hasn't sent more American troops into Iraq. If one is anti-war, one would think the demand would be for fewer, not more troops. Then it dawned on me what this is all about. If you look at the pattern of deaths and injuries to Americans, you realize that the majority has come from so-calle IED's buried along the major roadways in Irag. For the IslamoTerrorists, this makes sence because they could never stand up against American troops. Thus, to hurt Americans on the cheap, you simply bury your explosives until a convoy comes along and then you ignite it as you run for the hills. So, what's this got to do with the Liberal demand for more troops? The more troops you have in the war-zone, the more supplies you need to move about. The more supplies you need to move, the more convoys you need to haul it. The more convoys, the more opportunities for the bad guys to blow up the drivers and their guards. Thus, the more dead and injuried Americans. To a Liberal anti-war "warrior," this would be a good thing. Because the more American casualties, the more pressure to bring the troops home, weakening the nation's position in the Mideast and the world and giving the Republicans in the White House a black eye. Thus you see the Liberal Left taking the apparently counter intuitive stance that we need MORE troops in Irag.

The author misses the point completely
The key to Thucydides is not that Athens attacked Syracuse or that Athens was more energetic than Sparta (which it most obviously was not) but the issue was clarity in message, intentions, and action lest the Gods of war create situations not dreamed of nor intended.

Thucidides makes clear the war began because Athens sent mixed signals to the Sparata rega4rding their intentions over a minor ally who had a dispute with Sparta. Rather than clearly state they would go to war Athens sent mixed messages which were dully misinterpreted by the Spartans.

Next, Athens acted not as the result of carefully crafted and thought out analysis but as the results of the actions of one man who controlled the mob. Democracies, and Athens was a democracy, have never acted with the consistency or singleness of purpose of other forms of government.This caused it to embrace Syracuse as a target that could not have hurt the Spartans ability to wage war nor aided Athens if they won but did present the chance for a major defeat when facing an enemy of largely unknown capabilities.

The author seems to believe the Spartans were slow and lacked initiative, yet it is the Spartans that triumphed. The Athenians were more like todays Warsaw Pact than the Spartans. The Athenians caused the war by building an empire which was challenged by the Spartans. Athens had few true allies treating most as client powers why Spartas allies were united by the prospect of an Athenian empire against it. Sparta had every advantage but could never defeat "the slow and ponderous Spartans." In the end, nimbleness was displayed by the Spartans who won control of the sea and crushed Athens.

Long drawn out wars are to be avoided as war ruins all calculations. War draws all attention to the conflict allowing other players to develop alliances, technology, industry and new strategies. In the war in question 2,000 years ago, no one could have anticipated nor believed the war would be decided by one side inviting the Persi and to intervene to assist them in crushing the other power. Yet this move was descessive and help Sparta end the Athenian attempt to build an empire.

If the Bushies are guilty it is because they failed to use overwhelming force; have failed to make it clear what they intend to do and are willing to do it through half hearted and "compassionate" method of waging war; and forgetting that one doesn't care about the end game till the war is won. But paying heed to the opinions of the NY Times is a more likely scenario in waging war today than in studying why Attila cruised through the Roman empire.

I doubt one of the commenters here has ever read Thucydides
Nor any other book related to waging war.

More than that
"Next, Athens acted not as the result of carefully crafted and thought out analysis but as the results of the actions of one man who controlled the mob. Democracies, and Athens was a democracy, have never acted with the consistency or singleness of purpose of other forms of government."

Athens was driven by food shortage. The whole thing is laid out in Peter Green's "Armada from Athens".

You misconstrue the argument
What LG was talking about, of course, was that if you posit that invading Iraq and replacing its government with a pro-American installation was a GOOD idea, then there is a best way to proceed. And that the way we did choose to proceed manifestly isn't it.

As Lt. Gen. David Petraeus and retired Col. Conrad Crane put it in their new US Army field manual on counterinsurgency, "The insurgent succeeds by sowing chaos and disorder anywhere; the government fails unless it maintains order everywhere."

Secretary of Defense Donald J. Rumsfeld, a man with no military training or experience, other than a short stint in the Navy following his ROTC, decided he would overturn not only the military's Uniform Plan of Battle but the State Department's detailed recommendations for maintaining an orderly transition in Iraq following the consolidation of a successful military invasion. He threw into the trash can the collective wisdom and recommendations of hundreds of experienced military and diplomatic minds.

He then proceeded with his own idea. And not just a corollary effect but apparently the main focus of his plan to flatten the place was to destroy every functioning public activity in the country, including infrastructure like water, sewer, electricity, fuel delivery, hospitals, libraries, museums, the employment base (most employment being public sector), and every organ of government save two: oil and security-- Mukhabaraat headquarters being guarded from harm while the streets turned into chaos. The inevitable result has been the intractable mess we have on our hands today, with employment and other parameters of a functioning civil society never having gotten back to normal from our Year Zero event, back in April, 2003.

The entire store of foreign exchange in the treasury was looted and handed out on a street corner by Paul Brmer. De-Baathification proceeded so thoroughly that there's hardly a person left in the Postal Service who even knows how to deliver a letter. And so on, ad infinitum.

One would suspect that had we instead had national leaders like a Gore or a Kerry, who had seen actual wartime military conditions and thus had some feel for the scope of the enterprise, they might have been able to do a more prudent job of planning for the occupation's eventual success. As it is, three years down the road, we still have no plan, not even a clue, as to how we might restore that country to normalcy.

And these are oversimplifications
"...why(sic) Spartas allies were united by the prospect of an Athenian empire against it."

To describe Sparta's allies as united is misleading. They never hesitated to fall out among themselves when it suited their interests, as shown in just one example by the number of Sparta's allies that joined Argos during the Mantinean War between the 1st and 2nd Peloponnesian Wars.

"Sparta had every advantage but could never defeat "the slow and ponderous Spartans." In the end, nimbleness was displayed by the Spartans who won control of the sea and crushed Athens."

Again, misleading. Sparta won nothing without Persian gold paying the crews and supplying trained oarsmen from Asia Minor and the Levant. Sparta had no economy capable of maintaining a large fleet at sea. It had no trade, and it had no significant domestic industry, hence no ability to maintain a fleet. In short, Sparta was acting as Persia's proxy, a charge that was later laid against them, for his own reasons, by Epaminondas of Thebes.

"In the war in question 2,000 years ago, no one could have anticipated nor believed the war would be decided by one side inviting the Persi and to intervene to assist them in crushing the other power."

Wrong. Read Thucydides again. Both sides spent a great deal of time being concerned about Persian intentions and sent a number of embassies over the decades to try to influence them. The usual pattern was Sparta or Corinth trying to get them involved against Athens and the Athenians fending off such attempts. Athens had nothing to worry about as long as it controlled the Aegean, a condition which no longer prevailed after their best ships and crews were lost at Syracuse.

Athens was far more demanding of its alliance than Sparta
I suggest you read the account again, at the start no one expected war and Persia never entered into the equation. In fact Persia did not enter into the equation for years because it was regarded as a threat. Influence was spent on minor city states in an attempt to get them to join one of the two alliances.

Tosuggest that Sparta had no economy ignores the fact that it didn't rise to the status it had without significant economic power. Moreover, because its allies were more voin the nature of voluntary allies than Athens its trade was considerably greater than you indicate whereas its clear Athens demanded tribute and submission, hardly a situation, then as now, likely to yield significant trade advantages. What crushed Athens was the loss of its 20,000 man army at Syracuse. The fleet remained but it was useless since it had no army to convey allowing its alliances to break up once it lost the means to enforce it.

Athens nimbleness was a facade that crumbled when Sparta no longer had to divert resources to guard against naval raids. Persian intervention was useful but hardly decisive. It has the feel of Italy's opportunistic declaration of war against France in 1940 allowing it to curbattempt to slow further expansion of the Greeks in the Agean but not rolling them back or even suceeeding in its intentions of limiting Greek expanionism.

Athens reamined at war for years after the debacle but the political nature of the government caused its war aims to collapse in confusion compared to Sparta's steady adherence to its own strategy. This is a lession of the weakness of democracies which are ruled by passions and hysteria more so than dictatorships.

As usual Roy demonstrates the meaning of incoherence
Having thrashed Bremer Roy discounts State's role in the reconstruction of Iraq saying it didn't have an important enough role? Truly incoherent since it ran the show.

Roy then treats us to his illusions about flattening the places and destroying infrastructure. Yes Roy we saw cities leveled, carpet bombing, and massive civilian losses. Exactly where or what universe does Roy inhabit to make these assertions?

In typical Roy fashion the choas during the war was the fault of the US and not a result of Saddam emptying his prisons and encouraging a guerrilla war. Anyone care to guess where Roy gets his talking points? Gee Roy one wonders when Germany returned to its 1939 levels after the war. Was this the fault of the USA too?

What is instructive is the bile and hatred the Leftists of this country have preferring a US defeat to a US victory. Their ideology demands a rhetoric that never allows or considers reason or evidence if it defeats their thesis.

One would suspect if faux military experience like Gore or Kerry were substituted we'd have a military much like that of the Clinton era, demoralized and unready. The hysteria that marks Roy is apparent when he lauds Gore and Kerry;'s military experience.

Gore who spend less than 6 months in Vietnam and never saw action is protrayed as a military genius. Kerry, who has yet to release his 180, remains as far as I am aware the only man who ever received three purple hearts and never spent a day in hospital. His military exploits have been well documented and his expertise is that of a Murtha. Both of these two have the military experience and knowledge thant my son has acquired with his GI Joe collection. At least my son would never decalre unilateral surrender as these two lossers would.

When one discussion Leftist military expertise one speaks of an oxymoron.

Food shortage?
Athens suffered from no lack of food prior to the ill advised Syracuse expedition. Nations that mistake wants instead of needs often engage in disasterous adventures. Democracies because of their very nature cannot sustain long term commitments and will give up if easy success is not achieved quickly. Shortages resulted from the defection of Athens subject states following the disaster and loss of allies caused by Athens heavy handed demands.

Distruct of Athens and its motives caused its allies and subject states to look for every opportunity to change sides at the first realistic opportunity. Thus it is clear despite Athens strength it continuously lost the ability to expand its power till it was defeated.

You need to look again carefully at the passages, both in Thucydides and in Herodotus where they describe the nature of Spartan society and government. Sparta was not a trading or industrial nation in the fashion of Athens, and its total population was much smaller perhaps by as much as half an order of magnitude. Sparta did not have a professional standing military of any kind, and had no ability to pay for one. The Spartan army was in essence a militia, perhaps the best of its kind for its time the world has ever seen.

The intervention of Persia was decisive. Sparta had no ability to fund a navy without outside assistance, and its very clear from the actions of Alcibiades that the principal action Persia took was to pay for and partially man the Lacedemonian fleet. Corinth and other Spartan allies had navies during the first war, but their ability to sustain these had largely been ruined by Athens naval blockade at Naupactus, severing their overseas trade, and Athens conquest of southern Epirus during the first five or so years of the war.

Second, your characterization of the Athenian military is incomplete. It is very clear that Athens could provide a large army or a large navy but not both. The number of available citizens for muster was limited, and Athenians served both in the navy and on land in the army as the various turns in the war mandated. What is noteworthy about Syracuse is that it was the first large Athenian expedition since Pericles naval raids during the first two years of the war.

The navy did not survive Syracuse. More than 200 ships and their crews were lost along with the soldiers, and that was the real disaster. The butcher's bill for Syracuse was far higher than 20,000. 200 ships need approximately 40,000 men to man them. The fleets sent to confront Sparta and its allies in the subsequent years were either old ships dragged out of storage or new construction from green wood built in great haste and, far worse, with mostly green crews, because the veterans from the past 20 years of war had been lost at Syracuse.

This is why the Persian intervention was decisive. Athens could not be defeated and its allies could not successfully rebel as long as Athens retained its naval superiority. The first Spartan strategy to attack them in the Aegean depended upon seizing Athens allies or coercing them into switching sides. This ended in disaster at Cyzicus, where Thucydides ends. The second was a concerted effort to starve the city into submission, and this was the goal of the Aegospotami campaign which succeeded.

As to Sparta's strategy, that was by their own admission largely incoherent and inconsistent. But I'll save that for the next post.

Well done
I believe I shall stop calling LiberalGoodman "LiberalTalkingPointsMan" since Roy has now earned that honor. At times Roy almost seems coherent but this is yet another example of his insanity and/or ignorance.

His use of the term "Year Zero" in relation to what Iraq looked like in 2003 is an insult to those who suffered under the Khmer Rouge. The depths Roy will go to show off his anti-American agenda continues to amaze and disgust.

There is no evil in this world that compares to the evil of Pax Americana in Roy's jaundiced eyes. It is worth noting that leftists/liberals claim to speak out for human rights and freedoms. Just not the freedoms and human rights of Iraqis, Cubans, Afghans, Iranians, the Sudanese, Israelis, or anyone else that might require us to do some heavy lifting.

At the end of the day it comes down to Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice, and Rumsfeld being responsible for giving 50 million people the chance to build a democracy for themselves. And that fact just burns people like Roy to no end.

Yes, and a severe one at that
Athens population at the outset of the war was about half a million. It grew by about another 100,000 with the Attica rural population coming into the city during the war. Athens could not feed itself from its Attica farmland so it was heavily dependent upon imported grain. There were only a few significant sources available. First was the Black Sea and the Chersonese, and that's where most of it came from. However, it wasn't enough in bad years, could be cut by the Persians (which is why the Athenians ensured they controlled all the cities on the Dardanelles and Bosporus). They needed a supplementary source as experience had shown shortages, sometimes severe, could occur about every 5-10 years. The loss of that supply line at Aegospotami was what ended the war.

Their first attempt was by Cimon, Pericles predecessor, when Athens spent a huge amount and sentmore than 200 ships and more than 20,000 men supporting a revolt in Egypt against Persia.

It failed. The next backup source was the agricultural regions of southern Italy around and south of Naples. However, that region was devastated by a barbarian incursion during the first half of the Peloponnesian wars. The only remaining accessible source of surplus grain was Sicily, but that meant taking on Syracuse, because it exercised dominance over the Greek city states and provided support to both Corith and Sparta during the first war. Athens sent one or two small expeditions during the first war, but these were really just recon in force.

So, yes, a large part of Athens' motivation was food supply.

You are wrong to characterize distrust being solely the domain of Athens empire. The Peloponnesian League was riddled with it too. Go back to Thucydides and read the sections on the desertions of the League by Elis and the desertions at various times of Tegea and Mantinea.

Strategy shortage?
"Democracies because of their very nature cannot sustain long term commitments and will give up if easy success is not achieved quickly."

Do you really believe this?

And if so, then wouldn't it be foolish -- to put it mildly -- for any leader of a democracy to advocate a long-war wherein success could not possibly be achieved easily or quickly?

ColinH, thanks for richly informative (dare I say concise?) posts.

You are drawing the wrong conclusions
Athens was no more an industrial power than Sparta. Both states were essentially agricultural states whose industry was limited to elementary iron wokring; pottery and work working. Attens was a greater trading state because of its more extensive maritime trade routes and overseas colonies which doesn't mean Sparta lacked wither. Sparta's ability to pay for a military is largely a debator's device? What funding is required for mandatory service? Your point is therefore irrevelant.

Sparta consistently fielded armies that equalled and surpassed those of a larger Athens. This was accomplished both because of a stronger alliance system and the mandatory participation of all males in Sparta's military. How else do you explain how Sparta was able to lay waste to Athenian terrorities so consistently and compltely. I noticed you do not address this.

You again state Persia's intervention was decisive? Why? The war was over prior to the Persian intervention. With
the collapse of Athenis after Alcibades exit from the scene years before the Persian involvement one wonders how you can make such a statement?

The disaster at Syracuse did not involve the entire Athenian navy and 200 ships was but a fraction of its total fleet. But the 20,000 man army that was crushed was not only the bulk but the cream of Athenian and allied forces. After this Athen's never again had the ability to make an offensive and saw the steady crumbling of its empire. In this sense just as Stalingrad wasn't the end of Germany in WWII the final result was no longer in doubt.

Athens did attempt to rebuild its fleet, but it was the loss of its allies after Alcibades left that combined to shift the balance of power to the Sparta alliance. Persia's contribution was so spectular that Thucydides spends how many passages in describing this decisive effort? Again the war had been decided prior to the entry of the Persians with the author detailing chapters tp the war weariness and realization that stravation as the result of lost colonies, trade, and seapower was straving Athens and slowly but surely destroying them as the plague that would eventually be the result of siege and stravation.

Again, the author makes it clear that with Syracuse the Athenians had lost their naval control. This was reinforced by the revolt of its client states weary of Athenians heavy handed methods that shifted their alliegance to the Spartans and took their fleets with them, especially having seen how Athens dealt with Rhodes and other city states that didn't tow Athenian policies.
Again this is more reminiscent of the Warsaw Pact or Hitler than of what one associates with a democratic state.

Sparta's strategy consisted of picking off Athen's allies and in this they succeeded admirably. I suggest you read Keegan's work on this war which is undoubtedly the best work related to this conflict and a useful primer on the rules of war.

Its a matter of character and integrity
Society's which are unwilling to sacrifice and are lead by a class which will neither demonstrate integrity of principle nor character are unlikely to be willing to sacrifice. We see this in academic circles which condemn the military yet refuse to allow their student bodies to join ROTC; or allow military recruiters onto their campuses. When our courts equate terrorists to burglars having the same criminal rights our system no longer can hope to achieve the golas required to safeguard the nation's safety.

So long as we tolerate those who commit treason and sedition and claim its in the public's right to know how can victory or success be anticipated?

Given these constraints and the unwillingness to do what is required to achieve victory and instead listen to the craven and the faint of heart is indeed the easy and policy that one may expect from our politicans.

It is so easy to feed the crocodile and hope to be eaten last.

Athens imports were from Asia Minor and the Black Sea
You have not looked at where Athens was importing its food from and why once its trade routes to the Black Sea were cut that Athens collapsed. But first it lost its allies and supplies from Asia Minor. These came after Syracuse not with the Persian intervention, which consisted of about 150 Egyptian and Phoenican ships. Hardly more than a city like Corinth might have contributed. Syracuse was not in any stretch an active ally of Sparta but Athenian over bearing made them one. Even if Athens had secured Syracuse it would have not altered the balance of the war for at this time Athens had no food shortage. Nor did Syracuse exercise influence over Corinth or Sparta as you assert. If they did I like to know what kind of tribute those staes paid to Syracuse?

There was a constant shifting of alliances but given the socre or more of states taking p[art in this conflict over the decades this is to be expected. What is unique is that Sparta and other states were united in their mistrust of Athen's ambitions to create not a united Greece but an Athenian empire. This accounts for the greater loss of allies by Athens starting prior to Syracuse and the constant revolts against Athen's as its demands increased to offset its ever increasing losses.

Its sad
When reason is jettisoned for reasons obvious in Roy's case. Its sadder still when we are asked to be partners in the activities of people who defy the rules of civilization and seek to impose a new age of terror and barbarism. It is one thing to oppose Bush, it is quite another to aid the forces of darkness.

Does this mean the Left supports funding these programs?
I think the answer is obvious as is Hampton's lame attempt.

Going Against Their Nature
It was you who said that "DEMOCRACIES BECAUSE OF THEIR VERY NATURE cannot sustain long term commitments and will give up if easy success is not achieved quickly."

Do you understand how this statement negates the existence of a principled class?

It's as if you said, "FRONT-RUNNERS, because of their very nature cannot sustain long term committments..." but then added the caveat, "unless they're principled Front-runners." To which I have to point out the obvious -- front-runners (i.e. democracies), because of their nature, are not principled.

That's the implication you give when you use the phrase "because of their very nature"

That certainly explains the principled stance the democracies took against the *****
If true it doesn't explain the actions of Western democracies when faced with police state expansionism in the 1930s. I'll stand by what I said unless you can provide an example to demonstrate me wrong. I await your example.

With respect to the armies
certainly Sparta was able to put much larger armies into the field consistently year after year. This is because armies were based on essentially a militia call-up system with military service a condition of citizenship. It's also relatively low cost, because as you will note from T and the various other sources, the Spartan army is only in the field for 1-2 months during a year, once in spring and once in fall.

This changes dramatically with the Decelia campaign after Syracuse when Sparta places a permanent army of occupation in Attica.

However, the Athenians have most of their manpower at sea with the fleet throughout most of the war. Fleets in those times are massively more expensive operations.

Your reference to Rhodes is not relevant in making comparisons to the Warsaw Pact. The Spartans and their allies were just as brutal to Plataea at the beginning of the war as any event that occurred later. What you ignore is that after Syracuse, Athens was re-establishing control over its allies, made very clear in both contemporary sources and modern scholarship to which we have both referred, but was prevented from doing so by the Spartan navy, an institution only made possible by Persian gold and sources of manpower that Sparta did not have.

It is also very clear that, given the increased tempo of the fighting in the latter stages, the warring states were having much greater costs through the need to employ much higher numbers of mercenaries than the purely citizen armies of the early Archidamian War. Mercenaries need money, Sparta needed money and the Persians provided it. See Donald Kagan. This and only this was decisive after Syracuse.

The war was far from over after Syracuse, as the subsequent naval operations in the Aegean showed.

As to your opening remarks in the previous thread, there was simply no comparison between the economic power of Athens and Sparta. In population alone, Athens dwarfed the Spartans with a population of at least half a million and somewhere around 30,000-50,000 full citizens. Sparta by contrast was a tiny city, with less than 20,000 full citizens and a much smaller population of free residents. Moreover, about half the Spartan army had to remain home to ensure no revolt of the Messenian helots.

Sparta indeed had a strategy of picking off Athenian allies, and it did indeed succeed, but it was only made possible by Persian gold and naval manpower that Sparta could not afford.

Your statement on the Athenian navy is wrong. The 200 ships lost at Syracuse represented about two-thirds of Athens fleet, not counting about 100 others they could raise from all of their allies combined.

Of course it's been looked at
that's why modern scholarship has looked at the food supply issue. Did you read my post? Of course Athens collapsed when the Black Sea route was cut. The point being made was that the Black Sea supply wasn't sufficient; that's why Athens went to Syracuse. It needed to draw food supply from a number of sources.

As to Syracusan hegemony, there were a large number of Greek city states in Sicily and southern Italy. These were the states dominated by Syracuse, largely following the Battle of Himera against Carthage. They paid tribute to Syracuse in cash and kind.

As a Dorian city, Syracuse provided aid and assistance to the Peloponnesian League in the Archidamian War, and Thucydides notes this.

Your statement "What is unique is that Sparta and other states were united in their mistrust of Athen's ambitions to create not a united Greece but an Athenian empire." is simply and completely wrong. They were united in nothing beyond a desire to overthrow the top dog. Read T. again. Sparta was dragged into the war by Corinth and its desire to re-establish control over Corcyra. It had no particular concerns about security after the Megarean War, again read T. It is notable what came after the war. There was an immediate attempt by the Spartans to place an identical hegemony over their neighbors, resulting in the clash with Thebes and the destruction of most of Sparta's army. The Spartan hegemony was particularly brutal in many parts of Greece, which is why its duration was so much shorter than that of Athens. The attempt by you to portray the PL as some sort of alliance defending freedom is simply wrong and is borne out neither by T or any other contemporary source.

Hardly concise
but I appreciate the thanks. It is not clear to me that you can make any case for Sparta(freedom) vs. Athens(tyranny). That is essentially what this debate between myself and TJ is about. Both sides behaved in tyrannical fashion before, during and after the Peloponnesian Wars and to pretend some kind of direct link is false.

As Metternich said, empires have interests, not friends, to which I would add that this is true irrespective of their forms of government.

I think we perhaps agree on some points
Yes Athens collapsed after its Black Sea supply routes collapsed but it was on the offensive prior to this and free to conduct the largest enterprise it was ever able to mount, this does not support your contention that Athens was somehow handicapped by lack of food. If so perhaps you can show some evidence of how handicapped Athens was prior to the collapse of its supply routes and prior to its Syracuse expedition.

I misunderstood your point about Syracuse client states, I though you meant Greece, when you were obviously referring to those in Italy. My understanding is that these states were not of real significance to the war compared to those states in Asia Minor. Syracuse like most overseas colonies soon developed a very independent course of action from what their founders might have liked. I can find little evidence that Syracuse was providing more aid to Sparta than say Switzerland did to Germany in WWII.

The contention that the other Greek states were united by a jealously of Athens is both tenuous and a far reach. France may envy the US today, its hard to belive they'd side against us for that reason. The states that fought against Athens had real disagreements that they believed endangered their vital national interests. No state engages in war for reasons based on the whim of the moment.

I suggest you re read and find a quote to support such a base deduction. Sparta's short lived dominion proves the point that it resembled a NATO alliance more closely than Athens ever could hope to. No real ties united the states except their fear of Athens. Sparta's small population could not hope to seek dominion over Greece nor did it have the cultural nor military resources to suuport such an effort. Because Sparta's army was based on its citizens the army could not be kept mobilized to intimidate its neighbors. All things Athens could and did do. Your final conclusion just isn't reasonable or supported.

By the way Sparta defeat at the hands of Thebes was the result of Thebes challenging Sparta's position not the other way around.

You're getting the time line wrong
Sparta had a coherent strategy which it persued from the start, the elimination of Athen's allies and its supply lines. Athens on the other hand persued a number of strategies due to the changing character of its government and the whims of its rulers, something you seem to ignore.

I have never said Sparta had a stronger economic base than Athns, I did say Athen's power was based on trade since calling Athens an induistrial power is to mis characterize its capabilities. Comparing Athens conduct with regard to its allies to that of the Spartans just doesn't stand comparison. Any slacking on the parts of Athen's allies brought instant and terrible retribution. This was simply a policy of terror to encourage others to tow the mark. Sparta's allies did leave but Sparta did not destroy entire cities and massacre their populations as Athens did.

This is why there are defections in increasing number as Athen's ability to enforce its will collapses.

Again you contradict yourself on one hand stating that based on a smaller population Sparta raised larger armies and then on the other stating Sparta was handicapped by having to leave most of the army at home to defend against a slave revolt. The fcat is slavery did not at that time carry the same meaning as it does today and both Athens and Sparta had large slave populations.

Again you keep stating that Persian gold was vital in the collapse of Athens, yet Persia intervened late in the war. They is the equivalent of stating it was the declaration of war by Argentina in 1945 against Nazi Germany that sealed Germany's doom. Not quite. It only accelerated what was inevitable and had been for years quite evident based on Athen's harsh rule and unbending ambition.

Athen's fleet could never have comprised the majority of the alliance total in the opening stages of the war based on the battle accounts provided. The vast majority of the ships lost in the Syracuse campaign were not warships but transports since it was on land that the decisive battles were fought, not at sea.

We have some agreement
so let's see if we can narrow it in.

1) For the food situation, the best analysis I have seen was Peter Green's Armada From Athens. Out of print (what isn't on this topic), but you should find a reference on Amazon.

2) The client state locations were important. Remember that most shipping had little ability to operate much out of sight of land, and Greek merchantmen were little better (the Phoenician capabilities were another story entirely). Fleets had to virtually land every day just for water supply. So control of the southern Italian city states was vital for controlling west Med trade (i.e. Messenia). Military significance? Nothing compared to Athens great subject allies of Samos, Chios Their importance was their geography and their potential for Syracuse as sources of revenue. This was precisely the strategy adopted by Dionysus the Great about 50 years later in trying to forge Sicily and soutern Italy into one kingdom (anticipating the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies by about a millenia and a half).

With respect to Syracuse's concern, remember that the war broke out over the civil war in Corcyra. That meant Syracuse had an interest in the outcome, because Corcyra is the bridge across the Ionian Sea to Italy from Greece. The last thing they wanted was Corcyra, which had a strong navy of its own, allied to Athens.

3) Certainly the states allied with Sparta believed Athens threatened their interests, but that's all that united them. And the removal of that threat, or even its momentary alleviation broke that unity. That's why Corinth dragged Sparta into the war in the first place. It, unlike Sparta, was a trading nation. Sparta's concerns however were military, not commercial. These were largely allayed after Athens abandoned control of Megarea prior to the Archidamian War. A dominant Sparta threatened their interests too. That these allies of the Peloponnesian League had little more liking for Sparta than for Athens is shown by the Argive War. Look at all the League members lined up with Argos (and Athens) against Sparta. Hence, this is hardly an analogue to Nato.

I agree with you that Sparta's small population, not to mention its lack of a signficant economy, prevented its establishing an empire. Nevertheless, they tried it and failed disastrously. You can't conquer and maintain an empire with a militia. Not because they're not good, because they're part time.

Thebes did indeed challenge Sparta's dominance of its affairs. Look at where the battle of Leuctra took place. In Theban territory little more than a day's march from the city with Sparta attempting to re-establish its military garrison. Sparta was an invading power, and its dominance lasted far less time than Athens, because it had neither the mentality nor the economic clout to sustain anything beyond a purely military conquest and temporary occupation. Given the heavily divided nature of Sparta's monarchical government, this was inevitable.

I think we have reached agreement
I would concur on most of the points and observations you make. But I would characterize Sparta's alliance as more like NATO because it was like herding cats, and as you say once Athens collapsed the alliance broke up into new competing factions, just as we have seen with the collapse of Russia.

Athens domination of its alliance in no way resembled that of NATO, voluntary doesn't characterize it. As I said before Thebes challanged Sparta's position. Sparta had the right to maintain its garrisons, but Thebes saw itself as the new power in Greece, which it was. However no single Greek state had the power or inclination to unite Greece and it was left to an outsider to do it, or rather subdue the various states.

No, the timeline is correct
and Sparta did not evolve a coherent strategy until at least the seizure of Amphipolis by Brasidas. Sparta was incapable of picking off Athens allies except those accessible by land. So for most of the Archidamian War, Sparta was confined to largely futile ravaging in Attica. Its attempt to do so after Syracuse also ended in disaster at Cyzicus, as I reminded you in an earlier post. The backbreaker, the only thing that mattered, was cutting the Black Sea link. That was done with a fleet provided by Persian money and hired manpower.

There is certainly no contradiction in what I have said. Athens had a much larger absolute population and of full citizens, but Sparta could put a larger army in the field, because you did not have to pay them on campaign. It was part of the call up. Athens however, had to maintain a navy, and that's far more expensive and costly in both money and manpower. Think about it; Athens maintained a fleet of 200-300 ships each year; that's 40,000-60,000 men; a full 10 per cent of its population with much of it on foreign (meaning outside of Piraeus) station. A huge expense compared with a militia army making two short campaigns a year.

As to slavery, surely you understand the distinction between the institutional slavery that existed generally and the helot system prevailing over Messenia. The fact was that keeping Messenia suppressed required a significant portion of the Spartan citizenry to remain at home. As Sparta's citizenry shrank over time, this became more and more difficult, until Epaminondas restored Messenia and kicked out the Spartan occupiers.

Your last para is wrong. The ships supplied by allied nations have been reasonably well documented in terms of their treaty obligations. The 300 ship navy Athens retained was little more than the city had available at Salamis a generation before. Contrary to what you claim, the vast majority of both the invasion fleet and the reinforcement fleets were warships. Remember, in ancient warfare, oarsmen were soldiers, and vs versa.

The statement about Argentina is obviously silly. Argentina was a trivial power compared to any of the major world war 2 combattants, whereas Persia was immeasurably larger than any of the major participants in the Peloponnesian Wars.

Let's merge all these thoughts into this thread
I agree that Sparta led an alliance of self interest, as you say, much like herding cats, whereas Athens much more resembled an empire, fully centrally directed. Let's agree that neither really resembles Nato because neither was driven by any higher principle than self interest. As you suggested elsewhere, France is highly unlikely to turn on the U.S. the way Sparta's allies did, because like the U.S. (bear with me now) France, like the other western democracies is driven by higher principles. We like to highlight in this forum on the great differences the U.S. has with countries like France, but when you run down the full list of issues, the differences are relatively few, compared to the areas of agreement.

What's interesting was the long term results for the combattants. Both sides were devoured by Macedon and later Rome. However, Athens carried on for centuries (its famous agility and flexibility?) as one of the leading cities and commercial centres of the world. Sparta however was essentially erased from existence during Agis's revolt against Macedon.

The Nature of Democracies
"Democracies because of their very nature cannot sustain long term commitments and will give up if easy success is not achieved quickly."

It's obvious to me now that you really DON'T believe what you first claimed to be true. I didn't believe it either, which prompted me to ask the question in the first place. Democracies, by nature, ARE NOT intrinsicly weak-willed -- democracy, after all, is just a form of government.

Stating that personnel who manned ships were the equivalent of hoplites shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how war was waged in those times. Soldiers had to be trained to fight in the formations required, to use their weapons effectively and to respond promptly. The men who manned and fought ships were armed and fought differently.

You misstate what I said about Argentina, Persia's entry into the war in no way changed the balance of power, It had as much impact as Aregentina's entry.

Thanks for providing an example demonstrating your point
I rest my case. Its so much easier when you don't have to provide evidence.

That's the disagreement
and this debate will have to rest until either of us brings references to the table about the importance or lack thereof of Persia's entry.

Your welcome
I agree that your WWII example disproves your initial contention -- that "Democracies because of their very nature cannot sustain long term commitments and will give up if easy success is not achieved quickly."

Yes, Great Britain (a democracy) DID sustain a very long, difficult, and costly war whose outcome for a time was gravely in doubt.

Yes, you were wrong to state democracies by nature were weak.

to my post, if you get a chance, look at Lionel Casson's 1971 Princeton book Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World. It has some on the interchangeability (for lack of a better word) of army and fleet personnel during the ancient Greek wars.

Thanks for the recommendation
I'll take a look at it but somehow doubt that given the nature of warfare that there was anything like the degree of interchangability that was tro exist in later centuries.

I'll stand by my statement
The Democracies refused to act when they could finally had war thrust upon them and even so did so with a half heart.

Please explain why Britain declared war on Germany and not the USSR for the same actions?

For The Record
This was the actual statement, as posted:

Subject: Food shortage?
Date/Time: 11 Jul 2006, 12:04 PM

Athens suffered from no lack of food prior to the ill advised Syracuse expedition. Nations that mistake wants instead of needs often engage in disasterous adventures. DEMOCRACIES BECAUSE OF THEIR VERY NATURE CANNOT SUSTAIN LONG TERM COMMITMENTS AND WILL GIVE UP IF EASY SUCCESS IS NOT ACHIEVED QUICKLY. Shortages resulted from the defection of Athens subject states following the disaster and loss of allies caused by Athens heavy handed demands.

Distruct of Athens and its motives caused its allies and subject states to look for every opportunity to change sides at the first realistic opportunity. Thus it is clear despite Athens strength it continuously lost the ability to expand its power till it was defeated.

Never let the facts stand in the way of your thesis!
You were asked a direct question that should prove the point. Unable to respond is a de facto response in the affirmative. I'll accept that.

Its nice to see you actually posted my statement reinforcing that position.

Another recommendation
You might be interested also in Donald Kagan's recent work on the Peloponnesian War. Google the two names and you'll get an Amazon reference if you don't have it now. He's got a lot of stuff about the importance of the Persian support following the failure of the first Spartan naval campaign after Syracuse, starting about p. 330.

As to interchangeability (bad word but I don't have a good substitute), the first time I ran across that was reading Peter Green's Armada from Athens. He notes the first Syracusan expedition under Nicias. The Athenians went ashore south of the city and thoroughly thrashed the Syracusan army that came out to meet them. He makes the point that the army on land were serving as rowers in the fleet, that they were veterans and had been doing this for years.

Thanks good recommendation
I've read all of Kagan's books and think he's one of the best author's out there today.

No disagreement from me on this one either. I haven't read all or even most of his works, but I have been highly impressed with those I have. What I particularly appreciate are his efforts to get beneath the surface of events and to relate them to other political or military events.

Something else we can probably agree on is that Thucydides is probably the world's first real historian as we understand the term today. No attempt to portray an event as mythic or to incorporate elements of high drama such as Herodotus, but rather a simple laying out of facts and their causes as he understands them. Hardly surprising then that he was so influential on Romans coming later such as Tacitus. I'm also making the presumption that we've both read and like Xenophon's Anabasis.

Anyway, I still think that Thucydides is such a good work that it should still be taught in school as literature if nothing else. I agree with your last comment in this forum, that few if any posters here have likely read him.

I do enjoy Tacitus and Herodotus, though I find Tacitus something of a gossip and phrone to the mud slinging more common today than one would expect of a historian but he was writing not as an historian but to influence the people of his time. I did enjoy Xenophon but not as much as Tacitus. The classics aren't taught in the US any more at least not at the secondary level. The US Naval War College requires study of Thucydides. Most students use a landpower vs seapower approach but the issues of unintentional consequences and the improtance of logistics and leadership are better areas for exploration. It would be interesting to see a study of the Napoleonic era focusing on theallied powers and their strategies.

LG reinvents history, again
Anyone who thinks they can plan a military campaign through to the end, before it even starts, is delusional.

Nimbleness has been the operating presumption of the US military for the last 30 years. Predating Rumsfeld.

Mark, LG does it in his sandbox with his toy soldiers all the time
Course his minders won't let LG out of his straitjacket.

Nibleness is over rated, but the US has the world's greatest ability to project power that the world has ever seen.

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