Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome

By Victor Davis Hanson | Go to book overview

3.
Why Fortifications Endure:
A Case Study of the Walls of Athens
during the Classical Period

DAVID L. BERKEY

THE HISTORY OF ATHENS during the classical period of Greek history is closely related to the building and rebuilding of the city's walls, as well as the extension of its defensive perimeter along the border of Attica. With every phase of construction, the walls transformed the landscape and symbolized Athenian power, both at its peak and at its nadir.1 Thousands of Athenian citizens and slaves constructed these walls and forts, many of whom toiled incessantly at moments of danger and uncertainty in the polis's history. Throughout the classical period, their construction was a critical public works project of great political and strategic significance to Athens. In our contemporary era of sophisticated technology, fortifications seem to remain ubiquitous, and they reappear in new and innovative forms even as each new generation of military strategists seems to dismiss their utility. A review of the century-long history of Athenian fortifications illustrates why walls endure, and how construction practices evolve over time to meet new diverse military and political agendas.

These grand investments of the city's resources, both human and material, in the defense of Athens are associated with some of the city's most prominent politicians and military commanders, in particular Themistocles, Pericles, and Conon. Following a time of both crisis and triumph at the end of the Persian Wars, Themistocles began the enlargement of Athens's defenses and positioned the city to become the foremost naval power in the Greek world. In the following decades,

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