Here’s the quiz for the final chapter of Thucydides. I’d like to have a separate discussion of some of the appendices to accompany the final test that will be posted next Saturday. In the meantime, do discuss away:
The Landmark Thucydides 8.1 to 8.109
For those who wondered how I could possibly write in TIA that the death sentence imposed on Socrates by the Athenians was justified, this chapter should suffice to explain quite a bit.
I’m quite a bit late in chiming in here on chapter seven, but it’s my blog so I’m going to go ahead and do so. While I find the political speeches and the section on revolution to be the most insightful parts of the history, the chapter on the Sicilian Expedition is easily the most fascinating to anyone with even the slightest interest in wargames.
The first thing that leaps out at one is the fact that what is quite clearly a major invasion has somehow come to be characterized as an “expedition”. Just as we are expected to cheer for the Romans, we are supposed to cheer for the noble and intellectual Athenians, who would never to anything so vulgar and grasping as to “invade” a rich and prosperous land. They’re just attempting to spread democracy around Greece and Italy, some 2,400 years in advance of the neocon world democratic revolution. It’s intriguing to note that not even the pretension to be altruistically spreading democracy under the force of arms is new.
The second thing that is striking is the very crude state of siege warfare at this point in time. Sparta has been staring helplessly at the walls of Athens for some time, in Syracuse, the landside circumvallation of the city is assumed to be its death knell by both sides. The frantic wall-building on both sides seems a little strange, especially the notion of a perpendicular wall as a serious counter-measure, but then, without any reasonable siegecraft, it would have amounted to an effective land-sea blockade.
As for the omens, I tend to doubt that they played as big a part in Nicias’s decision to delay the Athenian departure once Demosthenes’s attack failed as is customarily supposed to be the case. It seems pretty clear that Nicias had good cause to believe that returning to Athens would probably end in a death sentence for him, as he later makes his preference in this regard quite specific. So, the omens strike me as much more of an excuse to justify his stupid and selfish decision to keep the expeditionary forces at Syracuse, especially given the not-entirely-serious manner with which many Athenians customarily practiced their religion, to say nothing of giving the reported fifth column more time to work inside the Syracusan walls. There is little doubt that the Spartans, on the other hand, really did take their ceremonies and omens very seriously indeed, considering how many times they sacrificed the initiative because of an ill-timed earthquake on the peninsula.
The most important lesson of the Sicilian Expedition, in my opinion, is the way it shows how foreign military adventures tend to weaken a powerful empire rather than strengthen it. How many powerful military nations have fallen after engaging in aggressive action? Expanding empires tend to be marked by smaller forces carving up huge chunks of land almost haphazardly, as the British did in India, the French in Africa and the Spanish in South America. But massive military actions seem to often be the prelude to a collapse, often in connection with the failure of the aggression.
This does not bode well for the current USA, given its shaky economic position and the multiple military occupations in which it is engaged around the world.