Thucydides, son of Melesias

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Thucydides, son of Melesias ( /θjˈsɪdɪdz/ ; Greek : Θουκυδίδης) was a prominent politician of ancient Athens and the leader for a number of years of the powerful conservative faction. While it is likely he is related to the later historian and general Thucydides, son of Olorus, the details are uncertain; maternal grandfather and grandson fits the available evidence.

Greek language language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Athens Capital and largest city of Greece

Athens is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, with its recorded history spanning over 3,400 years and its earliest human presence starting somewhere between the 11th and 7th millennium BC.

Thucydides Greek historian and Athenian general

Thucydides was an Athenian historian and general. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the fifth-century BC war between Sparta and Athens until the year 411 BC. Thucydides has been dubbed the father of "scientific history" by those who accept his claims to have applied strict standards of impartiality and evidence-gathering and analysis of cause and effect, without reference to intervention by the deities, as outlined in his introduction to his work.

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Life and political career

Thucydides was born in the deme of Alopeke (Ἀλωπεκή) of Athens. The exact year of his birth is unknown, but his family was noble and he was a relative of Cimon, the charismatic general and leader of the conservative party. After Cimon's death, he succeeded him in the leadership of the conservatives and decided to exert a vehement opposition against Pericles, who was leading Athens at the time.

Deme Administrative unit in ancient Athens

In Ancient Greece, a deme or demos was a suburb of Athens or a subdivision of Attica, the region of Greece surrounding Athens. Demes as simple subdivisions of land in the countryside seem to have existed in the 6th century BC and earlier, but did not acquire particular significance until the reforms of Cleisthenes in 508 BC. In those reforms, enrollment in the citizen-lists of a deme became the requirement for citizenship; prior to that time, citizenship had been based on membership in a phratry, or family group. At this same time, demes were established in the city of Athens itself, where they had not previously existed; in all, at the end of Cleisthenes' reforms, Attica was divided into 139 demes to which one should add Berenikidai, established in 224/223 BC, Apollonieis and Antinoeis (126/127). The establishment of demes as the fundamental units of the state weakened the gene, or aristocratic family groups, that had dominated the phratries.

Classical Athens city-state in ancient Greece

The city of Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece was the major urban center of the notable polis (city-state) of the same name, located in Attica, Greece, leading the Delian League in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. Athenian democracy was established in 508 BC under Cleisthenes following the tyranny of Isagoras. This system remained remarkably stable, and with a few brief interruptions remained in place for 180 years, until 322 BC. The peak of Athenian hegemony was achieved in the 440s to 430s BC, known as the Age of Pericles.

Cimon Athenian statesman

Cimon or Kimon was an Athenian statesman and general in mid-5th century BC Greece. He was the son of Miltiades, the victor of the Battle of Marathon. Cimon played a key role in creating the powerful Athenian maritime empire following the failure of the Persian invasion of Greece by Xerxes I in 480–479 BC. Cimon became a celebrated military hero and was elevated to the rank of admiral after fighting in the Battle of Salamis.

Thucydides represented the thorough-going conservative party at Athens; their views are most clearly represented by "the Old Oligarch" in his Constitution of the Athenians , which has come down to us among the works of Xenophon. [1] Donald Kagan suggests that Thucydides' ultimate goal, which he could not state openly as doing so would alienate the pro-democratic majority, was to roll back the constitutional changes made by Ephialtes, reinstating the more aristocratic and conservative government that had prevailed in Cimon's day. [2]

The "Constitution of the Athenians", also known as "On the Athenian State", is a short treatise on the government and society of classical Athens. It was preserved amongst the minor works of Xenophon, though the scholarly consensus is that he did not write it. Its date and authorship have been the subject of much dispute.

Xenophon Ancient Greek historian and philosopher

Xenophon of Athens was an ancient Greek philosopher, historian, soldier, mercenary, and student of Socrates. As a soldier, Xenophon became commander of the Ten Thousand at about 30, with noted military historian Theodore Ayrault Dodge saying of him, “the centuries since have devised nothing to surpass the genius of this warrior.” He established the precedent for many logistical operations and was among the first to use flanking maneuvers, feints and attacks in depth. He was among the greatest commanders of antiquity. As a historian, Xenophon is known for recording the history of his time, the late-5th and early-4th centuries BC, in such works as the Hellenica, which covered the final seven years and the aftermath of the Peloponnesian War, thus representing a thematic continuation of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War.

Donald Kagan American historian

Donald Kagan is an American historian and classicist at Yale University specializing in ancient Greece, notable for his four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War. He formerly taught in the Department of History at Cornell University. At present, Kagan is considered among the foremost American scholars of Greek history.

Thucydides' political strength reached its peak in the wake of the First Peloponnesian War and the reorganization of the Athenian empire in the early 440s BC. Thucydides developed a new and effective political tactic by having his supporters sit together in the assembly, increasing their apparent strength and giving them a united voice. [3] Kagan asserts that this tactic helped Thucydides mount a concerted opposition to Pericles which brought to light ideological differences among Pericles' supporters. [1]

The First Peloponnesian War was fought between Sparta as the leaders of the Peloponnesian League and Sparta's other allies, most notably Thebes, and the Delian League led by Athens with support from Argos. This war consisted of a series of conflicts and minor wars, such as the Second Sacred War. There were several causes for the war including the building of the Athenian long walls, Megara's defection and the envy and concern felt by Sparta at the growth of the Athenian Empire.

In 444 BC, the conservative and the democratic parties confronted each other in a fierce battle. Though some modern scholars doubt [4] the details of Plutarch's account, according to Plutarch, Thucydides, the new leader of the conservatives, accused Pericles, the leader of the democrats, of profligacy, criticizing the way Pericles spent the money for his ambitious building plan. Thucydides managed to incite the passions of the Athenian Assembly in his favor, but when Pericles took the floor, the atmosphere immediately changed. Pericles proposed to pay for all the construction from his own purse, under the term that all these monuments would belong to him and not to Athens. The public applauded his stance and Thucydides suffered an unexpected defeat from the charismatic orator. [5] As a result of his failure in confronting Pericles, Thucydides was ostracized for ten years, in 442 BC, and Pericles once again stood unchallenged in the Athenian political arena. Plutarch relates [5] that, when Thucydides was asked by Sparta's king, Archidamus II, if he or Pericles was a better fighter, Thucydides answered without any hesitation that Pericles was a better fighter, because, even when he is defeated, he achieves to convince the audience that he won. [6]

Plutarch Ancient Greek historian and philosopher

Plutarch, later named, upon becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus, was a Greek biographer and essayist, known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia. He is classified as a Middle Platonist. Plutarch's surviving works were written in Greek, but intended for both Greek and Roman readers.

Ecclesia (ancient Athens)

The ecclesia or ekklesia was the principal assembly of the democracy of ancient Athens. It was the popular assembly, open to all male citizens as soon as they qualified for citizenship. In 594 BC, Solon allowed all Athenian citizens to participate, regardless of class, even the thetes. The assembly was responsible for declaring war, military strategy and electing the strategoi and other officials. It was responsible for nominating and electing magistrates, thus indirectly electing the members of the Areopagus. It had the final say on legislation and the right to call magistrates to account after their year of office. A typical meeting of the Assembly probably contained around 6000 people, out of a total citizen population of 30,000–60,000. It would have been difficult, however, for non-wealthy people outside the urban center of Athens to attend until payments for attendance were introduced in the 390s. It originally met once every month, but later met three or four times per month. The agenda for the ekklesia was established by the Boule, the popular council. Votes were taken by a show of hands, counting of stones and voting using broken pottery.

Ostracism was a procedure under the Athenian democracy in which any citizen could be expelled from the city-state of Athens for ten years. While some instances clearly expressed popular anger at the citizen, ostracism was often used preemptively. It was used as a way of neutralizing someone thought to be a threat to the state or potential tyrant. It has been called an "honourable exile" by scholar P. J. Rhodes. The word "ostracism" continues to be used for various cases of social shunning.

After being ostracized, Thucydides is said to have traveled to Sybaris, a city of Magna Graecia on the Gulf of Taranto in Italy, or Aegina, but this is unconfirmed. [7]

Sybaris important city of Magna Graecia

Sybaris was an important city of Magna Graecia. It was situated on the Gulf of Taranto, in Southern Italy, between two rivers, the Crathis (Crati) and the Sybaris (Coscile).

Magna Graecia Ancient Greek colonies in southern Italy

Magna Graecia was the name given by the Romans to the coastal areas of Southern Italy in the present-day regions of Campania, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily that were extensively populated by Greek settlers; particularly the Achaean settlements of Croton, and Sybaris, and to the north, the settlements of Cumae and Neapolis. The settlers who began arriving in the 8th century BC brought with them their Hellenic civilization, which was to leave a lasting imprint on Italy, such as in the culture of ancient Rome. Most notably the Roman poet Ovid referred to the south of Italy as Magna Graecia in his poem Fasti.

Gulf of Taranto bay

The Gulf of Taranto is a gulf of the Ionian Sea, in Southern Italy.

Thucydides is mentioned in the "Wasps" by Aristophanes [8] , as an example of a defendant who is silenced by the overwhelming power of his accuser's (Pericles') arguments.

While in Athens, Thucydides is also said to have accused Pericles' personal friend, Anaxagoras, of atheism and sympathy for the Persians. [9]

Notes

  1. 1 2 Donald Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, 138
  2. Kagan, The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, 136
  3. Plutarch, Pericles 11.2
  4. e.g., A. Andrewes, "The Opposition to Pericles", Journal of Hellenic Studies 98 (1978): "These chapters of Plutarch [Pericles 11-12, 14] seem to me false to the feeling of mid-century Athens about the empire...; they are no good guide to the character or policy of Thucydides" (p. 5).
  5. 1 2 Plutarch, Pericles, XIV
  6. Encyclopedia The Helios (in Greek)
  7. Encyclopedia 21st Century, Volume 18, "Thucydides" (in Greek)
  8. Loeb Classical Library 488, page 344
  9. Diogenes Laërtius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers II, 12

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