Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History

By Sarah B. Pomeroy; Stanley M. Burstein et al. | Go to book overview

7
GREECE ON THE EVE OF
THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR

Avoiding war was particularly important when the Greeks had such precious achievements to protect in so many areas. From Sicily to Anatolia, remarkable temples to the gods proclaimed the grandeur of Hellenic civilization under the open sky. Greek ships plied the seas in all directions, enabling men and women hundreds of miles away to exchange their wares and profit from a wide variety of resources and skills. Novel experiments in government were in progress. The same diversity that fostered the dynamic creativity of the Greeks, however, also fragmented their world. The world of the polis, moreover, was in many ways a narrow one. Despite the growth of what the Greeks called democracy, ultimately each polis was grounded in the rule of an elite of free men over everyone else; and the inability of the poleis to get along boded ill for the future of Greece. Inevitably, prospects for the future were clouded by intermittent suspicions that the peace between the Athenian and Spartan camps might not endure.


SOURCES FOR GREECE ON THE EVE OF THE WAR

The principal source for the decades that preceded the outbreak of the great war between Athens and Sparta is Thucydides' History. Thucydides served as a general in the war and wrote the history of the period from 479 to 411 BC, though his account of the years before 433 is not as detailed as his narrative of the war itself and the tensions that immediately preceded it. A good number of inscriptions survive, although nowhere near as many as we would like. Diodorus' Library of History remains useful. Though he was not a great historian and does not add to our understanding of the war when he is using Thucydides as his only source, Diodorus did sometimes draw information from other writers. Plutarch is helpful as well; biographies like that of Pericles incorporate a great deal of information from fifth- and fourth-century historians whose work is lost. All the intellectuals who have left records of their thoughts, from the historian Herodotus to

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