Book Review: The Attack on Troy by Rodney Castleden

The Attack on Troy by Rodney Castleden endeavors to give a “true” account of the Trojan War. Some 3500 years ago, Agamemnon, high king of Mycenae and Hegamon of the Greeks lead the combined might of the Greek city-states in a war against the city of Troy which was near the Bosporus in Anatolia (modern day Turkey). This conflict gave rise to two of the first and greatest works in Western literature; The Iliad and The Odyssey. In this work, Castleden reviews and reconsiders all the available evidence to ascertain the historical truth of the Trojan War.

Castleden does not shy away from departing from The Iliad when its account of the conflict is evidently unlikely. But even then, Castleden still explains how the fantastical elements in Homer match with the facts. For example, the open actions of the Olympian gods cannot be more than fiction, however, without a doubt the warriors on both sides of the conflict prayed to those gods, and even thought that the gods were on their side, or against them, and acted according to that belief.

Further, Castleden explains that the Trojan Horse as it is described in The Iliad is nothing more than a bit of poetic license on the part of Homer. However, there still is a seed of truth in the story; that is to say, that large siege engines, particularly siege towers were in use throughout the Near East and Mediterranean world at this time. These siege towers were basically mobile platforms that would be wheeled into place against the besieged city’s walls and a ramp lowered to disgorge soldiers to attack the walls. With the ramps lowered these towers resembled a horse’s head. Thus a possible true explanation of the Trojan Horse.

Castlesden investigates even the minor details, such as where the Mycenaeans and their allies, actually landed, beached their ships and built their camp. Castlesden’s examination of the literature is through. He also uses the current available archeological evidence to create a plausible history of the war. Further he examines the battle tactics and the equipment used by both sides.

The book is well written. The prose is clear and jargon-less. Castleden sensibly proposes two likely explanations how well the Iliad matches with history: a minimalist view, which sees the smallest possible connection between the fact of the war and the fiction of Homer. He also gives the maximalist outlook, which is that Homer was basically writing history when he composed The Iliad.

Overall, the book is accessible to any and all readers that are interested in the subject of the Trojan War and ancient history.

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The Age of Pericles


The Age of Pericles

The Age of Pericles overlaps handily with two different but concurrent phases of the City of Athens. First was the aggressive Imperial phase of Athenian foreign policy; the other was the flowering of creativity and commerce sometimes referred to as the Athenian Golden Age. If is fair to say that Pericles helped define and drive the former while benefiting from the latter.

It was during the age of Pericles that the former Delian League became the Athenian Empire. Originally established after the Second Persian War to protect Greece from further Persian aggression and eject Persian forces from the Aegean Sea and Ionia. The Delian League was originally headquartered on the island of Delos, but Athens was without a doubt its leading state. However and soon, the Delian League changed into the Athenian Empire. The treasury was moved from Delos to Athens and states were no longer allowed to leave at will. Further, while contributions at the start of the League could either be men and ships or money, in the Imperial phase they were only money. Meaning tributary states were now paying for the military forces which suppressed them. Also, it was this tribute that paid for Athens strong military and defense establishment, such as the Long Walls that would give them the ability to have an aggressive foreign policy, defy Sparta and lead to the Periclian polices which resulted in the Peloponnesian War.

The cultural flowering that took place during the Age of Pericles has no clear source. Although my favorite theory is that as the concept of freedom and democracy spread throughout all the classes in Athens that it also freed the minds of men to question, think and create. After all Socrates was a humble stonemason. Aeschylus the playwright, was of the old nobility, but still worked the land as a vintner. The famous Parthenon was built on the Acropolis at the behest of Pericles. It was also during this age that Aeschylus, often called the Father of Tragedy, along with Sophocles and Euripides, wrote and had produced their famous plays. However, it should never be forgotten that the famous playwrights saw themselves as citizen of Athens first and their works, however brilliant, were designed to edify other citizens.   The best example of this is Aeschylus’ grave inscription, supposedly written by the great man himself:

“Beneath this stone lies Aeschylus, son of Euphorion, the Athenian,

who perished in the wheat-bearing land of Gela;

of his noble prowess the grove of Marathon can speak,

or the long-haired Persian who knows it well.”

Even Pericles himself saw himself as citizen and hoplite. Even though he was of the Pentacosiomedimni class, he was sculpted with a Corinthian hoplite helmet on his head.

Greece and Roman and the Modern West

I am a “Man of the West”. I live in a Western country and speak a Western language. So this week I chose to address the following question:  What are the Greeks and Romans relationship to our civilization?  I am trying to illustrate that our current Western civilization has a direct and close relationship with the Greeks and Romans. You can’t swing a metaphorical cat without hitting some idea, concept or paradigm that came from the Greco-Roman world.  In many ways large and small, obvious and subtle we live in a world that grew from these ancient cultures.  I have selected to highlight, admittedly superficial, examples of how the Greco-Roman world affected our current world in politics, the military, the arts and religion.  I have also selected sources outside of the Roberts’ text, in support of the theme and also to demonstrate that Roberts’ shows no obvious bias and fits in the major historical stream regarding this question.

In the political realm the language and many of the ideas of government and politics came from Greece and Rome. The concepts of democracy, oligarchy, tyranny, even the very word “politics” (derived from the polis, or the city-state), all come from Greece. (Roberts, 104) A further example is that the American Founding Fathers consciously copied the Roman Republic during the founding of America (Schlesinger, 5).  It is no accident the upper house of Congress is called the Senate.

Militarily, the Western idea of a trained and disciplined military, while rediscovered by the Dutch Counts of Nassau in the 1500’s are based on writings of Roman military authors like Aelians and Vegetius (Parker, 20-21) Further, the paradigm of a relatively small, professional, long-service, government supported and equipped military, which most Western countries follow, comes from the reforms in the Roman Army of the counsel, Gaius Marius. (Cowley and Parker, 89).

Linking the two aforementioned concepts of democratic-republicanism is civic militarism, in that the citizenry, not a ruling elite or a tyrant, both governs and defends the state. Civic militarism was ‘invented’ by Athens and Sparta (Porter, 17). While this ideal faded in the 20th century, (Black, 12), echoes of it continue on into the 21st century; for example the American military expedites citizenship for resident aliens serving as members (Lee). And as we are continually reminded by TV and radio ads, the law still requires eighteen-year old men to register for the draft. It is no accident that registering for the draft, reaching voting age and becoming a fully legal adult all take place at age eighteen. Adulthood confers not just the right to vote, but the potential obligation to fight for the state. The ancient Greeks hoplites would have understood this relationship very well (Roberts, 104).

In cultural areas: the Greeks invented theater; specifically: “Thespis impersonated a character in dialogue with the chorus, and so invented true drama,” (Hadas, 6). Also it has been argued that Homer wrote the first novels (Fitts, backpanel) by composing the Iliad and the Odyssey, although that honor might go to much older the Epic of Gilgamesh.

There can be no argument that, for good or ill, Christianity has had and continues to have a major influence on Western civilization even into the 21st Century.  Indicative of the influence of the Hellenistic and Roman world on this very Western religion are the facts that the New Testament was first written in Greek.  The apostle (Saint) Paul sat astride both the Jewish Diaspora world and Greco-Roman world.  He was a product the yeshiva and the gymnasium, (Cahill, 118) and wrote in Greek, the language of the educated people in the Roman Empire. It is also an important fact that both Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome (Roberts,138-139).  Also the Roman Catholic headquarters continues to reside in Rome (Vatican City), and further, the organization of the Church was taken directly from the political organization of the late Roman Empire.

I could go on and on.  Philosophy and logic, rational history and geography, science and math were all essentially invented or highly refined by the Greeks and then passed on to the modern world through the Romans (Roberts 117-118).

In conclusion, it may be said that the Greeks and Roman influence on Modern Western civilization is a literally incalculable. In short, the Greco-Roman world gave birth to Western civilization in all its glory and with all its failings.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Black, Jeremy. War in the New Century. London, Continuum Press, 2001

 

Cahill, Thomas. Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus. Oxford, Lion

Hudson Plc, 2002.

 

Fitts, Dudley. Homer’s Odyssey. New York, NY: Signet Classics, 1999.

 

Hadas, Moses. Greek Drama. New York, NY Bantam Classics, 1983.

 

Lee, Margaret Mikyung. Expedited Citizenship Through Military Service: Policy and Issues,

Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/ RL31884.pdf.

 

Parker, Geoffery. The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-

            1800 2nd Ed. New York, NY; Cambridge University Press 1996.

 

Porter, Bruce. War and the Rise of the State: The foundations of Modern Politics. New York,

NY: The Free Press, 1994.

 

Roberts, J. M. A Short History of the World. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993.

 

Schlesinger, Arthur. The Cycles of American History. New York NY: Mariner Books, 1999.

Book Review: The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization by Victor Davis Hanson

Doctor Hanson in his boo,: The Other Greeks proposes an interesting thesis. That thesis is that while it is true that the Ancient Greeks originated many of the concepts of the Western World such as drama, history and philosophy as well as the very ideals of democratic government and civic militarism, but it also gave us the concept of the freeborn yeoman farmer and that, if fact it was these men in the middle, the hoi mesoi, that made the flowering of the city-state possible by growing the food and fighting the wars.

The work under review can be considered the final and culminating book of Hanson’s ancient Greek society trilogy. The other two works are Warfare and Agriculture in Ancient Greece and The Western Way of War. In this final work, Hanson explores how the Greek farmers or georgoi, developed and shaped what later became known as Classical Greek society. This work, of course stands on its own, but it would edify the reader to have some familiarity with the earlier two works to see how Hanson’s ideas have grown and developed.

The author contends that the agrarian basis of Classical Greece has been long ignored by mainstream Classists. In a takedown of the ivory tower academic that professes to know all about Ancient Greece, Hanson says: “Many successful American PhD candidates in Classics can still review the difficult odes of Pindar. . . Few know when olives, vines or grain were harvested” (P. 7). Hanson, the son and grandson of California farmers, has a unique point of view on agriculture and how the ideal of the family farm influenced Greek society and still continue to influence the wider, modern Western world.

For Hanson, the men in the middle, or as the great Athenian lawgiver Solon called them the zeugitai, or “yoked men”, the word likely has two meanings, first that these men could afford a yoke of oxen to plow their fields and second that they would be “yoked” together in the phalanx fighting as hoplites, were the group that made the flowering of civilization in the Classical period possible. However, the rough and ready farmers hardily despised and avoided the actual “city” part of the city-state as much as possible.

Like his other works this one is supposedly written for a popular audience, yet the prose is neither fully colloquial nor fully scholarly but falls in the middle. Hanson also includes many personal stories about his experiences as a contemporary American farmer to draw parallels between modern and ancient rustics. These interpolations further dilute the book as a purely scholarly work. The book has an extensive end notes and bibliography, as well as a chapter by chapter supplementary bibliography as well as an extensive Index Locorum. With all that being said the Bachelors and Masters level student would find the book useful and interesting for an exploration of Greek life outside of the city, as well as perhaps, a starting point for research on the discussed themes.

The book is divided into three main sections. Part One “The Rise of the Small Farmer in Ancient Greece” has four chapters. In these four chapters Hanson discusses the rise of the small, diversified farms after the fall of the Mycenaean Palace culture and the subsequent interregnum. These small freeholders produced a new, very Greek concept, the city-state or Polis. Hanson sees these poleis as socially flexible, largely equalitarian and anti-elite. Using Book 24 of Homer’s Odyssey which describes Laertes’ farm as a primary source Hanson delineates the six main features of these new independent farms: (1) permanent homes for the farmers on the freeholding, (2) private irrigation to water diverse crops, (3) cheap labor, (4) crop diversification that spreads the workload over the whole year and reduced the risk associated with monoculture, (5) new crops that allowed the cultivation of previously marginal land and (6) localized processing and storage making the farmer more self-sufficient. Hanson goes on to describe the growing political and social clout of these new middling farmers and how it affected the poleis. Lastly, in “The Way of the Framer” Hanson really shines when he details the daily struggle and challenge of the georgoi, but not forgetting how bigoted and narrow minded these fellows could be in their thinking.

Part Two: “The Preservation of Agrarianism” the author explores how these new and growing of class yeomen rustics affected the economy, politics and military organization of the Greek world. Hanson argues that the hoi mesoi, all being near peers in economic and social power and unified by the common ideal of hard work and rough egalitarianism worked together to preserve their unique social, political and economic position. This concept of working together, being “yoked together” as it were, extended from the political into the military realm. The citizen hoplite in the phalanx is a direct and perfect expression of this ideal. In short, wars were about land to farm and therefore only land owning farmers should do the fighting. Fighting and farming are intimately linked. The phalanx was approximate to the grid of roughly equal farms. When the average georgoi bothered to look around, the farmer that worked the next plot over, also stood next to him in formation and sat next to him in the assembly. Even the language of war is the language of farming; “’horns’ of ‘yoked’ men who ‘threshed it out’” in battle (p. 241).

Lastly in this section Hanson tells us for the hoi mesoi the best thing about hoplite warfare was its low cost. Arms and armor were expensive, but not overly so. Campaigns, such as they were, were short and limited to the summer when farming work was at its ebb. The hoplite didn’t train, so no long period away from home was required like in modern military life and the chance of getting killed in battle was only about 10%, nearly negligible compared to working long, hard hours with dangerous farm equipment and large animals.

Section Three: “To Lose a Culture” details the decline of Greek agrarianism with the concurrent decline of the city-state. No social system lasts forever. Hanson describes under what conditions the social contract both within the city-state and between the various poleis began to breakdown as trade grew, the underclass, or thetes, began to make demands of and get political concessions from, the powerful zeugitai class. Further, warfare began to change, starting with the Persian Wars and accelerating with the long Peloponnesian War. Now campaigns were long, with sieges and naval warfare coming to predominate over the simple one- day hoplite battles. As these changes happened the landless began to take up more of the burden of fighting, especially in the vast Athenian navy and as light fighters; archers and javelin men, and so made further economic demands, such as pay for military service and demanding still more of a voice in the government. For Hanson, this radicalization of democracy spelt the end of the Classical agrarian based poleis. The last chapter, rightly called an epilogue, restates the main points of the book, offers what Hanson thinks are the fundaments of Western Civilization that grew from Greek agrarianism and lastly offers a paean to the American family farm as it fades in the face of new economic realities.

While The Other Greeks is noteworthy and important for its discussion of previously overlooked aspects of Greek life in the poleis period, it is far from a prefect work. The most glaring flaw is Hanson’s claim that nearly all aspects of Greek society in the poleis rose from agrarianism. He seems to go out of his way to ignore any contradictory evidence that other things might have had at least some influence.

Just three examples of these should suffice: First, except for a single throwaway line, he seems to ignore the large number of tyrants that arose in the Sixth century BCE in the city-states and how they helped in reducing the old aristocracy in the face of the new yeoman farmers, often by leading the new hoplite kakoi into battle against the horse riding agathoi. Second, when discussing hoplite battle Hanson concludes that “nerve” was the primary morale factor in getting citizen hoplites to fight and this “nerve” came from being a middling farmer among middling farmers with the same ideology. This statement completely disregards the military predominance of Sparta during the Archaic and Classical Periods. Thirdly, in his discussion of the economics of warfare he complete ignores the affects of trade on the subject, for it would be fair to say that Athens would not have been the Classical Athens we know were it not for its large commercial fleet and trading routes.

Ultimately, The Other Greeks is well worth the time it takes to read such a large work. While it does suffers somewhat from Hanson’s single-mindedness as to his themes and evidence and also from its half-popular, half-scholarly approach to the subject. Hanson’s writing style is surprising clear and rather concise given the breath of the thesis. The well-informed casual reader and the student of Greek and military history would find it valuable and informative.

Book Review: The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece by Victor Davis Hanson

For Professor Hanson, two activities dominated the lives of the Ancient Greeks; farming and fighting. In his later book, The Other Greeks, Dr. Hanson, now a fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University and conservative political writer, explores the former. In this book, The Western Way of War, Dr. Hanson, explores the latter. In the work under review the author asks and attempts to answer a basic question; what was battle like for the Ancient Greek hoplites? In the course of answering that question he also explores what motivated the Greeks to march out and fight, how did the ancient Greeks themselves view battle and how did the Classic Greek concept of battle affect how the West thinks about war and fighting? It would not be too much to say that this work, while complete and capable of standing on its own, represents the middle volume of a trilogy, sandwiched by Hanson’s Warfare and Agriculture in Ancient Greece and The Other Greeks.

Self-consciously borrowing a page from famed military historian, John Keegan, who wrote the introduction, Hanson uses a structure similar to the one used in the The Face of Battle. First, he eschews discussions of grand strategy and tactics and focuses as much as possible on what the experience in battle was like for the individual infantryman. The man, who stood in the blazing Mediterranean sun, covered nearly in head to toe in heavy bronze armor, shouldered his spear and lumbered out to kill, or be killed, by opponents what were very much like him. Relying as much as possible on primary sources Hanson describes the ordeal of the hoplite and the burden of his armor. Further, he details whom he fought with and against and how he was organized. He further discusses the morale and motivations of the ancient Greek citizen-soldier. He details as much as possible the experience of actual hand to hand combat in the densely packed ranks of the phalanx and lastly the horrible aftermath of dealing with the dead and wounded of battle.

The author further makes the strong point of the association of soldiering and citizenship. How important being a citizen hoplite was to the ancient Greeks is pointed out by Hanson’s quote of the grave inscription of Aeschylus, the father of Greek Tragedy, where no mention of his many awards for his dramas is made, instead it says: “of his noble prowess the grove of Marathon can speak, or the long-haired Persian who knows it well.” This only refers to his service as a hoplite at the Battle of Marathon, as if his writing was of no import. To the Greeks and for Hanson, citizenship in the City-State is based on the ability to arm oneself and fight; nothing else.

To Hanson, the Western way of war is simply this: to fight a short, decisive battle that reaches a conclusion. No maneuvering, ambushes or deceptions for the Ancient Greeks, instead they suited up in their armor, picked their massive hoplon shields and marched out to fight a short, bloody battle that would settle the war, and then they matched home again to either acclaim or derision based on whether they won or lost. Herodotus speaking through the Persian commander, Mardonios called that kind of war “senseless” and yet as the author reminds the reader, that “senseless” method of battle dominated the world for 2,500 years.

The introduction, two prefaces (one for this edition and one from the first edition) and Part One of the book informs the reader that the work is “interesting and important” and why. These parts also discuss the lack of interest most classicists have shown in the actual conditions of hoplite battles. They also give a general account of the development of warfare in the Greek agrarian social structures. Lastly, the sources of information, primarily ancient, regarding the topics, are discussed.

Part Two of the work describes the physical and mental conditions that each hoplite had to endure even before the first blow was struck. Part Three explores the whys and wherefores of the hoplites “will to battle.” The ‘how” of commanders and the generals inspiring and leading their soldiers. Also discussed is the “regimental system” of the city-states citizen hoplite; how the men were surrounded and supported by their family and friends during the fight. Also discussed in detail are the effects of alcohol, even to the point of drunkenness, on men before battle. This part also features much comparing between hoplites and later soldiers to help demonstrate the universality of experience in infantry battle, but also is used to show the close relationship to Greek hoplite battle and subsequent Western style fighting. Also he discusses the ideals that drove the Greeks to fight as they did, the primary one being that “No man should give way to another.”

Part Four delineates in almost crushing detail the sequence of events that was a hoplite on hoplite battle in Ancient Greece. Hanson’s focus here is on the actions and reactions of the individual in the midst of the kill or be killed conflict of a phalanx versus phalanx battle. For all the detail given in this part of the book, it is also the most exciting section for the average reader.

Part Five: “Aftermath” is a reminder that the battle doesn’t end when one side withdraws. Hanson describes what happened to the wounded and the dead and the battles aftermath, weeks and even months after the last blow is struck. In the brief epilogue, Hanson returns and explores some of the issues he raised in chapters one and two. That is to say, he again addresses in what way the Greeks really developed a Western way of war and what was the connection between soldiering and citizenship.

While supposedly written for a popular audience, the prose is dense and academic and while Hanson does not use the standard Turabian foot note system, what he does use is a variation of the American Psychological Association or Modern Language Association styles for direct quotes and for his primary ancient sources. He also includes a significant chapter on his sources, as well as a long supplementary bibliography and a lengthy Index Locorum of primary sources. This book is therefore betwixt and between when it comes to the target audience. Hanson assumes that his reader has a relatively large amount of prerequisite knowledge about the Greeks and warfare, which may not be true for the casual reader, and yet it is not exhaustively foot noted as a true scholarly work would be. In fact, the work reads like a doctoral dissertation that edited and rewritten for a general audience. Not that is a bad thing, but neither does it fit comfortably in either category. Certainly this book would be interesting and useful to the well versed amateur military or Greek historian and the bachelors’ level or masters’ level students of Greek history.

Of course, the book is not perfect. Hanson has taken on a difficult task, to discuss classic hoplite battle in the age before most written sources were penned. He is forced to rely on archaeology, iconography and to extrapolate backward in time from the written sources available, for example when using sources like Thucydides, Herodotus or Xenophon, he acknowledges that they are writing from the very end of the era of his inquiry. Further, Hanson also used ancient sources that are some five centuries removed from the Classical era; in point of fact, such works become almost secondary source material, rather than primary ones. Yet, Hanson depends on these less than direct sources.

The other fault, although not a fatal one, in the book is that Hanson places far too much on the paradigm of decisive infantry battle as THE Western way of war. The Western way of war does indeed exist, the ideas that wars should be short and decisive and fought by citizens invested in the outcome of the war. But that idea also includes the use of advanced technologies to both protect from harm and inflict harm on soldiers. It also supposes highly disciplined and trained and well supported soldiers that respond to a central state authority. None of these are mentioned in the book and yet they are also part and parcel of the Western way of war. In short, while decisive infantry battle is indeed part of the model for Western warfare it is not the only part.

In conclusion, the book: The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece received well deserved raved reviews on its release. The book is indeed interesting and well written, despite it neither “fish nor fowl nor good red meat”  style, nor its approach to the supposed target audience. In fact, removing the strictures of strictly academic style improved the work and the assumption of intelligence and some background knowledge on the part of the interested reader is also a benefit. Any student studying Greek history, military history or Western civilization would benefit from reading this work.

 

The Four Social Classes of Ancient Athens

According to the Laws of Solon, in Athens there were four citizen classes.  Each class had special public and martial tasks.  There were two non-citizen classes; the metic class, or resident aliens, and, of course, slaves. Social mobility was official discouraged. A child was considered the class of their father and stayed in that class their whole lives.

Women were not considered citizens, no matter which class they belonged to.

The upper class in Athens was the Pentacosiomedimni, or the 500 measures providers.  The Pentacosiomedimni were the richest group in the city, with their lands that produced 500 measures of either fruits, grains, wine or olive oil per year.  This class had the greatest political power in the city. A member of the Pentacosiomedimni could serve on the supreme council of state: the Areopagus.  Militarily, only a member of this class could be elected as one of the ten strategoi, or generals.  Also, only one of the Pentacosiomedimni could be selected to be a captain of one of the 300 Athenian Navy triremes and would also be responsible for the maintenance of the ship and its crew.  This particular military duty was so expensive that the selected man would be relieved of all other civic responsibility and other taxes for at least a year.  This class would also serve as a cavalryman, or hippias, and in some cases, such as Pericles, even “went hoplite” by fighting as a heavy infantryman or hoplite.

The next richest class was the Hippada Teluntes, or horse breeders, sometimes called the Knights.  This class had enough income to support a horse, or at least 300 measures of agricultural goods per year. Politically, they could also serve on the Areopagus, like the Pentacosiomedimni, but could not be selected as a general.  Militarily, this class served as cavalrymen, or hippias, or as hoplite infantry, if they wanted.

The next class was the Zeugitai, or yoked men. The Zeugitai had to have at least 200 measures of agricultural produce per year and could afford a yoke of oxen to plow their fields. This group had their own governmental body, the Council of the 400. This body had veto power over the decisions of the aristocratic council of state, much like a lower house in a two house legislature.  The Zeugitai were the hoplite class. They provided their own heavy shield and armor and fought in the ranks of the phalanx.  The name ‘yoked men’ name could also come from their military duty of hoplites, as they were ‘yoked together’ in the phalanx.

The last citizen class was the Thetes, which produced below 200 measures of goods per year and were usually craftsmen or day laborers.  Civically, the Thetes were forbidden from holding any political office. However, they could sit in the Popular Assembly, which could discuss and decide only on certain internal issues.  Further, they could elect local officials, but not serve as these officials, and they served on the juries for any public trials.  Militarily, the Thetes served as light infantry, since they could not afford to buy the hoplite panoply.  They were the slingers, archers and javelin men. They also served as rowers in the Athenian navy.

A special note on Metics: They were generally urban tradesmen or traders.  Some of them became wealthy. In the extreme circumstances of the Peloponnesian War, Metics were allowed to buy the hoplite weapons and armor and to serve guarding the walls of Athens.

Sources:

Plutrach, Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans: Solon.

G. E. M. De Ste. Croix, Athenian Democratic Origins and Other Essays (Oxford; Oxford University Press, 2004).

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War

Ancient Sparta according to the Greeks

It is one of the ironies of history that we know so much about the Spartan city-state, since the Spartans wrote nothing.  All our written sources about Sparta were written by outsiders, primarily Athenians.  So anything written about Sparta is by its nature an “outsiders” view.

How any other Greek city-state’s citizens thought and felt about Sparta was directly related to how often they were attacked by the Spartan army.  For example Argos and Thebes were subjected to multiple invasions over the course of time and came over time to hate and resent the Spartans. Whereas cities allied to Sparta in the Peloponnesian League, such as Corinth and Elis looked much more favorably on Sparta, since they received security and protection from outside attack by being allied to the militaristic Sparta.

It is therefore odd that the ancient writer Xenophon of Athens clearly admired Sparta, even though he had fought against the Spartans in the last stages of the Peloponnesian War.  He resided in Sparta after that war.  His sons were sent through the Agoge; the rigorous Spartan school system that trained the awesome Spartan warrior.

It was the large, well trained and fearsome Spartan Army that caused many of the other cities to fear and hate Sparta. However, it was also this military machine that many cities admired. After all, only Sparta had the armed might that could enforce the every four years ceasefire for the Olympic Games.   Further, when all of Greece was threatened by the Persian Empire, it was to Sparta that the other free cities turned to lead the combined resistance to that invasion.

Much of the loathing of Sparta also came from its system of helotage.  In that system, Messenian helots were essentially agricultural serfs, tied to the land and supporting Spartan warriors.  The Theban general, Epaminondas hated the helotage system and was the first general to invade the Spartan homeland and free the Messenians.

Another irony of the Spartan system is that some other Greeks such as Aristotle thought the Spartan were soft because of the way they treated their women.  In other Greek cities, women were very much second class people. They could not own or inherit land, they were not taught to read, write or do any math.  Generally they were completely separated from men other than their husbands, fathers and sons.  In Sparta, women while not equals to men were certainly better off than their sisters in the rest of the Greek World.  In Sparta, women were educated much like the Spartan men.  Women learned to read, write and do sums, so they could manage the home while the men were off fighting.  Further Spartan women were given physical education. They would often compete in the nude with the boys in foot races and wrestling.  They also wore their tunics so they could move freely; this earned them the name disparaging “thigh-flashers.”

It is fair to conclude that the feelings of ancient Greeks about Sparta are mixed to say the least.

Sources:

http://people.uncw.edu/deagona/amazons/spartanwomen2.htm

http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/bl/bl_text_xenophon_lacedaimonians8.htm

http://classics.mit.edu/Plutarch/