But the Athenian infantry, which has the reputation of being very weak, has been deliberately so constituted: they consider that they are weaker and fewer than their enemies, but they are stronger, even on land than such of their allies as pay the tribute, and they think their infantry sufficient if they are more powerful than their allies.
Besides, there is the following accidental circumstance which applies to them: subject peoples on land can combine small cities and fight collectively,1
but subject peoples at sea, by virtue of being islanders, cannot join their cities together into the same unit. For the sea is in the way, and those now in power are thalassocrats. If it is possible for islanders to combine unnoticed on a single island, they will die of starvation.
Of the Athenians' subject cities on the mainland, some which are large are ruled because of fear, and some small are ruled because of actual need; for there is no city which does not have to import or export, and these activities will be impossible for a city unless it is subject to the rulers of the sea.
Moreover, the rulers of the sea can do just what rulers of the land sometimes can do, -- ravage the territory of the stronger.2
For wherever there is no enemy (or wherever enemies are few), it is possible to put in along the coast and -- if there is an attack, -- to go on board one's ship and sail away; one who does this is less badly off than one who comes to help with infantry.
Further, the rulers of the sea can sail away from their own land to anywhere at all, whereas a land power can take a journey of only a few days from its own territory.3
Progress is slow, and going on foot one cannot carry provisions sufficient for a long time. One who goes on foot must pass through friendly country or else fight and win, whereas it is possible for the seafarer to go on shore wherever he has the stronger power...this land, but to sail along the coast until he comes to a friendly region or to those weaker than himself.4
Further, the strongest land powers suffer badly from visitations of disease on the crops, but sea powers bear them easily. For the whole earth does not ail at the same time, so that from a prosperous land imports reach the rulers of the sea.
If there should be mention also of slighter matters,5
first, by virtue of their naval power, the Athenians have mingled with various peoples and discovered types of luxury. Whatever the delicacy in Sicily
, the Peloponnese
, or anywhere else, -- all these have been brought together into one place by virtue of naval power.
Further, hearing every kind of dialect, they have taken something from each; the Greeks rather tend to use their own dialect, way of life, and type of dress, but the Athenians use a mixture from all the Greeks and non-Greeks.
The Athenian populace realizes that it is impossible for each of the poor to offer sacrifices, to give lavish feasts, to set up shrines, and to manage a city which will be beautiful and great, and yet the populace has discovered how to have sacrifices, shrines, banquets, and temples. The city sacrifices at public expense many victims, but it is the people who enjoy the feasts and to whom the victims are allotted.
Some rich persons have private gymnasia, baths, and dressing-rooms, but the people have built for their own use many wrestling-quarters, dressing-rooms, and public baths. The rabble has more enjoyment of these things than the well-to-do members of the upper class.
Wealth they alone of the Greeks and non-Greeks are capable of possessing. If some city is rich in ship-timber, where will it distribute it without the consent of the rulers of the sea? Again if some city is rich in iron, copper, or flax, where will it distribute without the consent of the rulers of the sea? However, it is from these very things that I have my ships: timber from one place, iron from another, copper from another, flax from another, wax from another.
In addition, they will forbid export to wherever any of our enemies are, on pain of being unable to use the sea. And I, without doing anything, have all this from the land because of the sea; yet no other city has even two of these things: the same city does not have timber and flax, but wherever there is flax in abundance, the land is smooth and timberless. There is not even copper and iron from the same city, not any two or three other things in a single city, but there is one product here and another there.
Furthermore, every mainland has either a projecting headland or an offshore island or some strait, so that it is possible for a naval power to put in there and to injure those who dwell on the land.6
But there is one thing the Athenians lack.7
If they were thalassocrats living on an island, it would be possible for them to inflict harm, if they wished, but as long as they ruled the sea, to suffer none, -- neither the ravaging of their land nor the taking on of enemies. As it is, of the Athenians the farmers and the wealthy curry favour with the enemy, whereas the people, knowing that nothing of theirs will be burnt or cut down, live without fear and refuse to fawn upon the enemy.
Furthermore, if they lived on an island, they would have been relieved of another fear: the city would never be betrayed by oligarchs nor would the gates be thrown open nor enemies invade. (For how would these things happen to islanders?) Besides no one would rebel against the democracy, if they lived on an island; as it is, if there were civil strife, the rebels would place their hope in bringing in the enemy by land. If they lived on an island, even this would be of no concern to them.
However, since from the beginning they happen not to have lived on an island, they now do the following: they place their property on islands while trusting in the naval empire and they allow their land to be ravaged, for they realize that if they concern themselves with this, they will be deprived of other greater goods.8
Further, for oligarchic cities it is necessary to keep to alliances and oaths. If they do not abide by agreements or if injustice is done, there are the names of the few who made the agreement. But whatever agreements the populace makes can be repudiated by referring the blame to the one who spoke or took the vote, while the others declare that they were absent or did not approve of the agreement made in the full assembly.9
If it seems advisable for their decisions not to be effective, they invent myriad excuses for not doing what they do not want to do. And if there are any bad results from the people's plans, they charge that a few persons, working against them, ruined their plans; but if there is a good result, they take the credit for themselves.
They do not permit the people to be ill spoken of in comedy, so that they may not have a bad reputation;10
but if anyone wants to attack private persons, they bid him do so, knowing perfectly well that the person so treated in comedy does not, for the most part, come from the populace and mass of people but is a person of either wealth, high birth, or influence. Some few poor and plebeian types are indeed abused in comedy but only if they have been meddling in others' affairs and trying to rise above their class, so that the people feel no vexation at seeing such persons abused in comedy.
It is my
opinion that the people at Athens
know which citizens are good and which bad, but that in spite of this knowledge they cultivate those who are complaisant and useful to themselves, even if bad; and they tend to hate the good. For they do not think that the good are naturally virtuous for the people's benefit, but for their hurt. On the other hand, some persons are not by nature democratic although they are truly on the people's side.
I pardon the people themselves for their democracy. One must forgive everyone for looking after his own interests. But whoever is not a man of the people and yet prefers to live in a democratic city rather than in an oligarchic one has readied himself to do wrong and has realized that it is easier for an evil man to escape notice in a democratic city than in an oligarchic.