Thursday, July 9, 2009

Short Update: The Peloponnesian War

Two weeks and a day until we leave. Today I finished reading The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan. As I stated in Tuesday's blog, it was a relatively slow read in comparison to Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, lacking the action and surprise that I'd previously enjoyed. Nevertheless, it was very informative and interesting.

Kagan recounts the events of the Peloponnesian War in full detail, using Greek historian Thucydides as his primary source. For those unfamiliar with the war, the two great powers of the time (431-404 B.C.) are Sparta and Athens--two Greek "empires" who soon wage a war of nearly thirty years. While the Spartans are often seen as a tough, militarily superior people, many do not know of their deep anti-war sentiment. Yes, the Spartans, though trained from birth to fight for and defend their city, dislike the idea of actually going to war.

To keep it simple and brief, the war begins with an almost certain Athenian win, only to have the tables turned by their failed invasion of Sicily. Helped by the Persians, the Spartans destroy Athens' military, forcing them to surrender.

Two traits I frequently found present in Sparta, Athens, and their allies were disloyalty and lack of integrity--the reverse of the qualities portrayed by Genghis Khan's commanders and followers. Like The Art of War says,--and I mentioned this in my previous blog as well--"Success depends on the troops' loyalty." Because the Spartans, Athenians, and their allies lacked this, they are often seen struggling for support and power, unlike the successful Genghis Khan.

Kagan also provides analyses for the choices that many leaders made, answering several questions that readers may ask: Why were these choices made, and at what cost? However, Kagan also leaves some choices unanalyzed, and some questions unanswered. In doing so, readers are compelled to think like military strategists and historians--something I found fun (and difficult) to do.

Tomorrow I will be on to my 8th book, On War. I'm planning to finish this by Monday or Tuesday night. Adios until then.

1 comment:

  1. Stephanie,

    One of the best parts of being associated with this program is that I can learn about so many subjects without having to actually do the reading. ☺

    We’ve all heard stories about the Athenians and the Spartans from the time we were children. Stories about the great Spartan warrior culture, Helen of Troy and the Trojan Horse, the philosophical Athenians…But now I’m learning things I didn’t know about.

    I had never heard that the Spartans were averse to war. As a matter of fact, that’s the farthest from what I would have expected.

    What really perplexes and even bothers me is that just a few short years after all of Greece fights the mighty Persian Empire under Xerxes to prevent being taken over and ruled by a foreign power, you tell me that the Athenians forge an alliance with the Persians to battle the Spartans.

    I can easily see, now, about this lack of loyalty that you wrote about earlier.