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THUCYDIDES, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war in which the Peloponnesians and
the Athenians fought against one another. He began to write when they first took up
arms, believing that it would be great and memorable above any previous war. For he
argued that both states were then at the full1 height of their military power, and he saw the rest of the Hellenes either
siding or intending to side with one or other of them.
No movement ever stirred Hellas more deeply than this; it was shared by many of the
Barbarians, and might be said even to affect the world at large.
The character of the events which preceded, whether immediately or in more remote
antiquity, owing to the lapse of time cannot be made out with certainty.2 But,
judging from the evidence which I am able to trust after most careful enquiry3, I should
imagine that former ages were not great either in their wars or in anything else.
The country which is now called Hellas was not regularly settled4 in ancient times5. The people were migratory, and readily left their homes
whenever they were overpowered by numbers.
There was no commerce, and they could not safely hold intercourse6 with one another either by land or sea. The several tribes cultivated their own
soil just enough to obtain a maintenance from it. But they had no accumulations of
wealth, and did not plant the ground; for, being without walls, they were never sure
that an invader might not come and despoil them. Living in this manner and knowing that
they could anywhere obtain a bare subsistence, they were always ready to migrate; so
that they had neither great cities nor any considerable resources.
The richest districts were most constantly changing their inhabitants; for example, the
countries which are now called Thessaly and Boeotia, the greater part of the
Peloponnesus with the exception of Arcadia, and all the best parts of Hellas.
For the productiveness of the land7 increased
the power of individuals; this in turn was a source of quarrels by which
communities8 were ruined,
while at the same time they were more exposed to attacks from without.
Certainly Attica, of which the soil was poor and thin, enjoyed a long freedom from
civil strife, and therefore retained its original inhabitants.
And a striking confirmation of my argument is afforded by the fact9 that Attica through immigration
increased in population more than any other region.
For the leading men of Hellas10, when driven out of their own country by war or
revolution, sought an asylum at Athens;
and from the very earliest times, being admitted
to rights of citizenship, so greatly increased the number of inhabitants that Attica
became incapable of containing them, and was at last obliged to send out colonies to
The feebleness of antiquity is further proved to me
by the circumstance that there appears to11 have been no common action in Hellas before the Trojan War.
And I am inclined to think that the very name was not as yet given to the whole
country, and in fact did not exist at all before the time of Hellen, the son of
Deucalion; the different tribes, of which the Pelasgian was the most widely spread, gave
their own names to different districts. But when Hellen and his sons became powerful in
Phthiotis, their aid was invoked by other cities, and those who associated with them
gradually began to be called Hellenes, though a long time elapsed before the name
prevailed over the whole country.
Of this Homer affords the best evidence;
for he, although he lived long after the Trojan War, nowhere uses this name
collectively, but confines it to the followers of Achilles from Phthiotis, who were the
original Hellenes; when speaking of the entire host he calls them Danaans, or Argives,
Neither is there any mention of Barbarians in his poems, clearly because there were as
yet no Hellenes opposed to them by a common distinctive name.
Thus12 the several Hellenic tribes (and I mean by the term Hellenes
those who, while forming separate communities, had a common language, and were
afterwards called by a common name)13, owing to their weakness and
isolation, were never united in any great enterprise before the Trojan War.
And they only made the expedition against Troy after they had gained considerable
experience of the sea.
Minos is the first to whom tradition ascribes the possession of a navy.
He made himself14 master of a great part of what is now termed the Hellenic sea;
he conquered the Cyclades, and was the first coloniser of most of them, expelling the
Carians and appointing his own sons to govern in them.
Lastly, it was he who, from a natural desire to protect his growing revenues, sought,
as far as he was able, to clear the sea of pirates.
For in ancient times both the Hellenes, and those Barbarians, whose homes were on the
coast of the mainland or in islands, when they began to find their way to one another by
sea had recourse to piracy. They were commanded by powerful chiefs, who took this means
of increasing their wealth and providing for their poorer followers.
They would fall
upon the unwalled and straggling towns, or rather villages, which they plundered,
maintained themselves chiefly by the plunder of them; for, as yet, such an occupation
was held to be honourable and not disgraceful.
This is proved by the practice of certain tribes on the mainland who, to the present
day, glory in piratical exploits, and by the witness of the ancient poets, in whose
verses the question is invariably asked of newly-arrived voyagers, whether they are
pirates15; which implies that neither those who are questioned disclaim, nor those who are
interested in knowing censure the occupation.
On land also neighboring communities plundered each other;
and there are many parts of
Hellas in which the old practices still continue, as for example among the Ozolian
Locrians, Aetolians, Acarnanians, and the adjacent regions of the continent.
The fashion of wearing arms among these continental tribes is a relic of
their old predatory habits.
For in ancient times all Hellenes carried weapons because16 their homes were undefended and intercourse was unsafe;
like the Barbarians they
went armed in their every-day life.
And the continuance of the custom in certain parts of the country indicates that it
once prevailed everywhere.
The Athenians were the first who laid aside arms
and adopted an easier and more
luxurious way of life.
Quite recently the old-fashioned refinement of dress still lingered among the elder men
of their richer class, who wore under-garments of linen, and bound back their hair in a
knot with golden clasps in the form of grasshoppers;
and the same customs long survived among the elders of Ionia, having been derived from
their Athenian ancestors.
On the other hand, the simple dress which is now common was first worn at Sparta;
there, more than anywhere else, the life of the rich was assimilated to that of the
The Lacedaemonians too were the first who in their athletic exercises stripped naked
and rubbed themselves over with oil.
But this was not the ancient custom; athletes formerly, even when they were contending
at Olympia, wore girdles about their loins,
a practice which lasted until quite lately,
and still prevails among Barbarians, especially those of Asia, where the combatants in
boxing and wrestling matches
And many other customs which are now confined to the Barbarians might be shown to have
existed formerly in Hellas.
In later times, when navigation had become general and wealth was beginning to
accumulate,17 cities were built upon the sea-shore and fortified; peninsulas too were occupied
and walled-off with a view to commerce and defence against the neighboring tribes.
But the older towns both in the islands and on the continent, in order to protect
themselves against the piracy which so long prevailed, were built inland;
and there they
remain to this day.
For the piratical tribes plundered, not only one
another, but all those who, without being seamen, lived on the sea-coast.
The islanders were even more addicted to piracy than the inhabitants of the mainland.
They18 were mostly Carian or Phoenician settlers.
This is proved by the fact that
when the Athenians purified Delos19 during the Peloponnesian War and the tombs of the dead were opened, more than
half of them were found to be Carians. They were known by the fashion of their arms
which were buried with them, and by their mode of burial, the same which is still
practised among them.
After Minos had established his navy, communication by sea became more general.
For, he having expelled the marauders20 when he colonised the greater part of the islands,
the dwellers on the sea-coast began to grow richer and to live in a more settled
manner; and some of them, finding their wealth increase beyond their expectations,
surrounded their towns with walls.
The love of gain made the weaker willing to serve the stronger,21 and the command of wealth enabled the more powerful to
subjugate the lesser cities22.
This was the state of society which was beginning to prevail at the time of the Trojan
I am inclined to think that Agamemnon succeeded in collecting the expedition, not
because23 the suitors of Helen had bound themselves by oath to Tyndareus, but because he
was the most powerful king of his time.24
Those Peloponnesians who possess the most accurate traditions say that25 originally Pelops gained his power by
the great wealth which he brought with him from Asia into a poor country,
whereby he was enabled, although a stranger, to give his name to the Peloponnesus; and
that still greater fortune attended his descendants after the death of Eurystheus, king
of Mycenae, who was slain in Attica by the Heraclidae. For Atreus the son of Pelops was
the maternal uncle of Eurystheus, who, when he went on the expedition, naturally
committed to his charge the kingdom of Mycenae. Now Atreus had been banished by his
father on account of the murder of Chrysippus. But Eurystheus never returned; and the
Mycenaeans, dreading the Heraclidae, were ready to welcome Atreus, who was considered a
powerful man and had ingratiated himself with the multitude. So he succeeded to the
throne of Mycenae and the other dominions of Eurystheus. Thus the house of Pelops
prevailed over that of Perseus.
And it was, as I believe, because Agamemnon inherited this power and also because he
was the greatest naval potentate of his time that he was able to assemble the
expedition; and the other princes followed him, not from good-will, but from fear.
Of the chiefs who came to Troy, he, if the witness of Homer be accepted, brought the
greatest number of ships himself, besides supplying the Arcadians with them.
In the Handing down of the Sceptre he is described as
“The king of many islands, and of all Argos.”
But, living on the mainland, he could not have ruled over any except the adjacent
islands (which would not be 'many') unless he had possessed a considerable navy.
From this expedition we must form our conjectures about the character of still earlier
When it is said that Mycenae was but a small place, or that any other city which
existed in those days is inconsiderable in our own, this argument will hardly prove that
the expedition was not as great as the poets relate and as is commonly imagined.
Suppose the city of Sparta to be deserted, and nothing left but the temples
and the ground-plan, distant ages would26 be very unwilling to believe that the power of the Lacedaemonians was at all
equal to their fame.
And yet they own two-fifths of the Peloponnesus, and are acknowledged leaders of the
whole, as well as of numerous allies in the rest of Hellas.
But their city is not built continuously, and has no splendid temples or other
edifices; it rather resembles a group of villages like the ancient towns of Hellas, and
would therefore make a poor show.
Whereas, if the same fate befell the Athenians, the ruins of Athens would strike the
eye, and we should infer their power to have been twice as great as it really is.
We ought not then to be unduly sceptical. The greatness of cities should be estimated by their real power and not by appearances.
And we may fairly suppose the Trojan expedition27 to have been greater than any which preceded it, although according to Homer, if
we may once more appeal to his testimony, not equal to those of our own day. He was a
poet, and may therefore be expected to exaggerate;
yet, even upon his showing, the
expedition was comparatively small.
For it numbered, as he tells us, twelve hundred ships, those of the Boeotians28 carrying one hundred and
twenty men each, those of Philoctetes29 fifty; and by these
numbers he may be presumed to indicate the largest and the smallest ships;
else why in the catalogue is nothing said about the size of any others?
That the crews were all fighting men as well as rowers he clearly implies when speaking
of the ships of Philoctetes;
for he tells us that all the oarsmen were likewise archers.
And it is not to be supposed that many who were not sailors would accompany the
expedition, except the kings and principal officers; for the troops had to cross the
sea, bringing with them the materials of war, in vessels without decks,
built after the old piratical fashion.
Now if we take a mean between the crews, the invading forces will appear not to have
been very numerous when we remember that they were drawn from the whole of Hellas.
The cause of the inferiority was not so much the want of men as the want of money;
the invading army was limited, by the difficulty30 of obtaining supplies, to such a number as might be expected to live on the
country in which they were to fight. After their arrival at Troy, when they had won a
(as they clearly did, for otherwise they could not have fortified their camp),
even then they appear not to have used the whole of their force, but to have been
driven by want of provisions to the cultivation of the Chersonese and to pillage.
And in consequence of this dispersion of their forces, the Trojans were enabled to hold
out against them during the whole ten years, being always a match for those who remained
on the spot.
Whereas if the besieging army had brought abundant supplies, and, instead of betaking
themselves to agriculture or pillage, had carried on the war persistently with all their
forces, they would easily have been masters of the field and have taken the city; since,
even divided as they were, and with only a part of their army available at any one time,
they held their ground.
Or, again, they might have regularly invested Troy, and the place would have been
captured in less time and with less trouble.
Poverty was the real reason why the achievements of former ages were insignificant, and
why the Trojan War, the most celebrated of them all, when brought to the test of facts,
falls short of its fame and of the prevailing traditions to which the poets have given
Even in the age which followed the Trojan War, Hellas was still in process of ferment
and settlement, and had no time for peaceful growth.
The return of the Hellenes from Troy after their long absence led to many changes:
quarrels too arose in nearly every city, and those who were expelled by them went
and31 founded other cities.
Thus in the sixtieth year after the fall of Troy, the Boeotian people, having been
expelled from Arnè by the Thessalians, settled in the country formerly called
Cadmeis, but now Boeotia:
a portion of the tribe already dwelt there, and some of these had joined in the Trojan
In the eightieth year after the war, the Dorians led by the Heraclidae conquered the
A considerable time elapsed before Hellas became finally settled; after a while,
however, she recovered tranquillity and began to send out colonies.
The Athenians colonised Ionia and most of the islands; the Peloponnesians the greater
part of Italy and Sicily, and various places in Hellas.
These colonies were all founded after the Trojan War.
As Hellas grew more powerful and the acquisition of wealth became more and more
rapid,32 the revenues of her cities increased, and in most of them tyrannies were
they had hitherto been ruled by hereditary kings, having fixed prerogatives.
The Hellenes likewise began to build navies and to make the sea their element.
The Corinthians are said to have first adopted something like the modern style of
and the oldest Hellenic triremes to have been constructed at Corinth.
A Corinthian ship-builder, Ameinocles, appears to have built four ships for the
he went to Samos about three hundred years before the end of the Peloponnesian33 War.
And the earliest naval engagement on record is that between the Corinthians and
which occurred about forty years later.
Corinth, being34 seated on an isthmus,
was naturally from the first a centre of commerce;
for the Hellenes within and without the Peloponnese in the old days, when they
communicated chiefly by land, had to pass through her territory in order
to reach one another.
Her wealth too was a source of power, as the ancient poets testify, who speak of
“Corinth the rich”
When navigation grew more common, the Corinthians, having already acquired a fleet,
were able to put down piracy;
they offered a market both by sea and land, and with the
increase of riches the power of their city increased yet more.