Ancient History Greece in Conflict- Theme 6 Notes

Theme 6- The importance of Xenophon and Thucydides in our understanding of the Greek world


As an aristocratic Athenian Thucydides had a large role in the politics and running of the city of Athens due to his money and influence (due to his family history) and was elected as general the highest political office in Athens in the time period. He begins his history of the Peloponnesian war by detailing his methods and approach to writing the history of the war. These are essential to us in understanding and analysing the reliability of his work. He states that “people inclined to believe the first story they hear” and states that using his methods he didn’t just do this but investigated the issues and events further. Thucydides in general is perceived by modern historians to be largely reliable however the one of the issues of Thucydides in terms of reliability is the speeches and he acknowledges this in the introduction as well. The other major issue with Thucydides is his sometimes blatant bias towards certain individuals simply because they have the same ideology or because they don’t have the same ideology. One example of this is Nicias, a pro-Periclean politician, who Thucydides “least deserved to come to such an end” when he wrote about his execution at the end of the disastrous Sicilian Expedition in 413 BC.     

Thucydides account starts in terms of years in 479 BC with the Pentecontaeteia (the build-up and reasons for the declaration of war on both sides) and ends in 411 BC with an Athenian naval victory. Thucydides details events that happened on both sides of the war both Athenian and Spartan sides. It is questionable however the information he presents us on Sparta as Spartan society was extremely closed and nobody could just walk in and find out what was going on. However what isn’t questionable is his insight to the Athenian mind-set throughout the early years of the war up until his exile from Athens in 424 BC after a military failure in Amphipolis. His exile was served in the region of Thrace of which Amphipolis was a major city. It is also presumably where he wrote the book.

Thucydides work is extremely important for understanding the Greek world in the 5th century BC as it covers the majority of the time period and if Thucydides did indeed follow the procedure he stated that he did in the introduction to his book it is likely that most if not all of the information in Thucydides has merit and is accurate.   Thucydides also in his exile was witness to the Spartan tactics and Spartan occupation in Thrace however his recording of certain Spartan speeches most notably perhaps the Debate at Sparta is questionable for its reliability however he implies the reason that he had the information and it is reliable by stating that there was an Athenian delegation in Sparta at the time and presumably it is this delegation he spoke


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