Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War


Some consider Thucydides (thoo-SIH-dih-deez) the first historian in the Western tradition. Thucydides lived from 460-400 BCE, making him a contemporary of Socrates in Athens. He was a general in the Peloponnesian War (in which Socrates fought as a soldier), and after the war was over he started writing its history. We are reading Thucydides' account of the first year of the war.

The Peloponnesian war was fought between the city-states of Sparta and Athens. Athens surrendered in 404 BCE. As a direct result of the war, the Thirty, a group of Spartan sympathizers, governed Athens from 403-404 BCE. Democracy was reestablished in 404 BCE, and Socrates was tried and put to death about five years later, in 399 BCE.

This is history written from the losing side, which is a rare occurrence. How does Thucydides portray Athens? Does this sound like the Athens that Plato has shown us? Thucydides also writes that events are the product of human will and individual decisions and actions, not divinely ordained. He tells events in chronological order and says that he is being objective. Does this sound like the kind of history you read in school? Can we ask the same questions reading history as we do when we read philosophy?

Here is a map of Ancient Greece. You will recognize a lot of place names from this week’s readings.

Peloponnesian War