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PSC 303: International Relations

Student outlines: Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War (ca. 400 BC)

and Clausewitz, “Limited Aims” From On War
Compiled by Prof. Jeremy Lewis, Huntingdon College, Revised 19 Feb. 2009.
Maps, ancient and modern | Pericles' Funeral Oration | Mytilene Debate | Melian Dialogue & Map

Simple maps of the Aegean sea and Peloponnesian islands.
First, in ancient times:

Sparta's land empire, backed by a strong army, is shown in purple in the southwest.
Athens' Delian league is shown in orange, around the Aegean sea and serviced by its formidable navy.
Mytilene is at the eastern end of Lesbos island, facing modern Turkey.
The Melian dialogure refers to Melos, an island southeast of Sparta (or Lacaedemon).

The Athenians and Spartans tried to pressure city-states into joining their own trading empires.
Pericles led the Athenians to wall off their city and its port, Piraeus, to live off imported foods.
Unfortunately, plague killed a quarter of the crowded population -- worse devastation than they faced in battle.
Gradually, the democratic Greeks turned more ruthless in war and diplomacy.
Eventually, democracy was overthrown by the revolt of oligarchs.

The modern Peloponnese, Greece and Turkey.

Europe, with Peloponnese in bottom right corner.
Both Greece and Turkey are part of NATO; Greece is a member of the EU
and Turkey has applied for membership.

Pericles’ Funeral Oration (431 B.C.)
by Louise Grant, 2005

v     Suspicious and fearful of Athenian power and wealth, the Spartans of Greece were not happy.
   (Sparta is in the southern part of the Greek mainland.)  The Athenians themselves had become
   chauvinistic and power hungry, and seemed ready to begin to reassert their power on the mainland
   of Greece.
v     In 431 B.C, Sparta’s fear of the growth of power by Athenians resulted in what we know as, The
   Peloponnesian War.

Pericles’ Funeral Oration (431 B.C.)

   v     At the end of the first year of war, the Athenians held, as was their custom, an elaborate funeral
      for all those killed in the war.
   v     The Funeral Oration (a formal speech, especially one given on a ceremonial occasion) over the
      deceased soldiers was delivered by a politician and general, namely, Pericles.
   v     The Funeral Oration is the classic statement of Athenian ideology, containing practically in full,
      the sentiment felt by most Athenians towards the fallen soldiers.
   v     If this speech were to be given today in 2005, its sentiments of justice, democracy and
      patriotism would be relevant.
   v     Some of the key issues of Pericles’ Funeral Oration are and I quote:
   v     “I shall begin by speaking about our ancestors, since it is only right and proper on such an
      occasion to pay them the honor of recalling what they did…the empire we have now, was not
      without blood and toil they handed it down to us of the present generation.”
   v     “Let me say that our system of government does not copy the institutions of our neighbors.  It is
      more the case of our being a model to others.”
   v     “Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of
      the whole people.”
   v     “And, just as our political life is free and open, so is our day-to-day life in our relations with each other.”
   v     “There is a great difference between us and our opponents, in our attitudes towards military security.”
   v     “Our city is open to the world…this is because we rely, not on secret weapons, but on our own
      real courage and loyalty.”
   v     “When the Spartans invade our land, they do not come by themselves, but bring all their allies
      with them; whereas we, when we launch an attack abroad, do the job by ourselves.”
   v     “We regard wealth as something to be properly used, rather than as something to boast about.
      As for poverty, no one need be ashamed to admit it:  the real shame is in not taking practical
      measures to escape from it.”
   v     “We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own
      business; we say that he has no business here at all.”
   v     “We are capable at the same time of taking risks and estimating them beforehand.  Others are
      brave out of ignorance; and, when they stop to think, they begin to fear.”
   v     “We make friends by doing good to others, not by receiving good from them.”
   v     “This, then, is the kind of city for which these men, who could not bear the thought of losing her,
      nobly fought and nobly died.”
   v     “I have sung the praises of our city; but it was the courage and gallantry of these men, and of
      people like them, which made her splendid.

Pericles’ Funeral Oration (431 B.C.)
Mindy Bevan, 2003

In Ancient Greece it was common to give an impressive funeral speech in honor of all of the city’s fallen soldiers. This Funeral Oration was given by Pericles’ and recorded by the famous Greek historian Thucydides, in Athens.  The speech highlights Athens democracy and how they are set apart from the surrounding empires.  Although this speech is approximately 2500 years old, it is still very applicable to current democracies.  I believe that Pericles could give the same speech today and be noted as patriotic.  The following are some of, what I felt, to be the most important parts of his speech.

“Our system of government does not copy the institutions of our neighbors.”
“Called a democracy because power is in the hands not of the minority but of the whole people.”
-Importance of ability over class membership. (217)
-Difference between us and our opponents, is our attitude towards military security.
-Our city is open to the world, no periodical deportations, because we do not rely on secret weapons but on our own real courage and loyalty.
-None of our enemies have been faced with our entire force because we have divided attention.
“We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is minding his own business, we say that he has no business here at all.”
“The man who can most truly be accounted brave is he who best knows the meaning of what is sweet in life and of what is terrible, and then goes out undeterred to meet what is to come.”
“We make friends by doing good to others, not by receiving good from them.” (218)
“I wanted to make it clear that for us there is more at stake than there is for others who lack our advantages.”
-Translation found in the Huntingdon College Liberal Arts Symposium Justice Book.

The idea that the Athenians are able to put aside their petty wants and strive for the greater good of the city is a central theme of the speech. Bound together by bonds of mutual trust and a shared desire for freedom, the people of Athens submit to the laws and obey the public officials not because they have to, as in other cities, but because they want to. Athenians had thus achieved something quite unique - being both ruled and rulers at one and the same time. This had forged a unique type of citizen. Clever, tolerant, and open minded, Athenians were able to adapt to any situation and rise to any challenge. They had become the new ideal of the Greek world.

The Mytilene Debate: (427 BC): Cleon's argument
Amanda Spiegel, 2005
The Mytilene Debate details Cleon and Diodotus’ opposing views of punishment for the city of
Mytilene. The ancient debate is recorded by the Greek historian Thucydides. Although this
debate occurred during 428 BC, its opposing views relating to war personalities today.
-The Mytilene Debate occurs during the Peloponnesian War (around 428 B.C.)
--Athens and Mytilene were initially allies in the Peloponnesian War until the Mytileneans revolted
and become allies of Sparta.--Athens retaliates to the revolt by imposing a naval blockade
around the island of Lesbos.
--Mytilene requests assistance from Sparta, the help does not come on time, and citizens of
Mytilene criticize their military leaders, and surrenders to Athens.--Athens gains control over the
city of Mytilene.
--The citizens of Athens debate over the punishment for the citizens of Mytilene.
--Athens initially supports Cleon and his argument to “kill all the men, and enslave the women
and children.” A ship is sent to execute and capture the citizens of Mytilene.
--Athens holds another debate and citizens question if they were too harsh, Cleon sticks to his
harsh punishment of universal death penalty but Diodotus promotes the killing of the military
leaders. Athens reconsiders and chooses to endorse Diodotus’ punishment for the Mytileneans.
--A second ship is sent to Mytilene and saved the citizens, but punished the military leaders of
the revolt to death.
-states that “democracy is not capable of ruling empire.”
-argues that first instincts are the best to seek justice, stating “causing a delay which is all in favor
of the guilty, by making the sufferer proceed against the offender with the edge of his anger
blunted; although where vengeance follows most closely upon the wrong, it best equals it and
most amply requites it”
-uses emotion to try and persuade the audience, arguing that there was no reason for the
citizens of Mytilene to revolt, “to act as these have done, this is not revolt—revolt implies
oppression; it is deliberate and wanton aggression; an attempt to ruin us by siding with our
bitterest enemies; a worse offense than a war undertaken on their own account in the acquisition
of power”
-Stresses that the Mytileneans are a threat in the future, and that they should be suppressed now
as an example to the rest of the Athenian empire to prevent against future rebellions.
-believes “reversing your first decision, or giving way to the three failings most fatal to
empire—pity, sentiment, and indulgence.” And all of those reveal weakness in strength.
-Speech concludes with “Do not, therefore, be traitors to yourselves, but recall as nearly as
possible the moment of suffering and the supreme important which you then attached to their
reduction; and now pay them back in their turn, without yielding to present weakness or forgetting
the peril that once hung over you. Push them as they deserve, and teach your other allies by a
striking example that the penalty of rebellion is death. Let them once understand this and you will
not have so often to neglect your enemies while you are fighting with your own confederates.”

Selections from Diodotus's argument
selected by Jeremy Lewis

On the second day of debate
"haste and anger are... the two greatest obstacles to wise counsel...."

"The good citizen ought to triumph not by frightening his opponents but by beating them fairly in argument" (book 3, 3.42.5).

"All, states and individuals, are alike prone to err, and there is no law that will prevent them; or why should men have exhausted the list of punishments in search of enactments to protect them from evildoers?" (book 3, 3.45.3).

The question was not so much whether the Mytilenians were guilty as whether Athenians are making the right decision for themselves.

Diodotus questioned one of Cleon's main arguments, whether the death penalty is really a means of deterrence from revolt or just the opposite.

He finished by asking Athenians to fundamentally question what is right and just and look to moderation rather than aggressive punishment. He urged the Athenians to spare the Mytilenians in an effort to create an alliance.

The Melian Dialogue
Rick Riley, Spring 2009

-Melos was a colony of Lacedaemon who was an enemy of Athens.
-Athenians sent a large force on more than 30 ships to take Melos.
-The Melians had been neutral in the Lacedaemon, Athens conflict.  But, when the Athenians threatened to conquer them, they resisted.
-Athenians sent diplomats to persuade Melians to surrender and become a colony of Athens.

-The Melians made sure the negotiations took place in a private meeting instead of having them done in front of the people.  This was so the Athenians could not use rhetoric to get the people from being deceived by the Athenians.
-Athenians accuse Melians of doing them harm, being a colony of their enemy, Lacedaemon.
-The conference turns into a frank discussion of interests
-the Athenians said that the Melians could choose safety or destruction.
-The Melians responded by saying that their actions now would lead to heavy revenge against them when their empire fell.
-Athenians respond saying that they don’t fear the end of their empire.
-Athenians say that if the Melians submit, that the Athenians would have an interest in the preservation of the Melians.
-Melians ask what would be the advantage of submitting to the Athenians.
-Athenians respond saying that if they submit that they would not suffer total destruction.
-Melians then ask why the Athenians can’t respect the Melians neutrality.
-Athenians say that the Melians are much weaker than themselves and that they only leave alone the strong.
-Melians say that the Athenian policy is dangerous and will set all neutrals against them.
-Melians say that they will do all in their power to remain free, it would be cowardice to submit to the Athenians.
-Athenians say that this would be true if Melians were equal to the Athenians, but the Athenians tell the Melians that it is a question of survival or destruction not honor and shame.
-Melians say that the fortunes of war could turn against the Athenians and that the Lacedaemonians would come to their aid.
-Athenians say that the Lacedaemonians will only help if it is in their best interest, the Melians cannot trust the Lacedaemonians.
-Melians respond saying that if Lacedaemon doesn’t respond, that it will discredit them and aid their enemies.
-The Melians and Athenians then debate which is more militarily vulnerable.
-The Athenians warned the Melians telling them not to be blind in judgment and not to be to prideful to surrender.
-Athenians withdraw from conference giving Melians time to reconsider.
-Eventually, Melians refuse to submit but offer for the Athenians to respect their neutrality.
-Athenians lay siege to Melos, the Melians had a few minor victories and the Corinthians declared war on Athens.
-The Lacedaemonians intended to invade Argive territory, but didn’t for superstitious reasons.
-Athens eventually defeated the Melians and Killed all adult males and sold women and children as slaves.

The Melian Dialog (416 BC)
By Claire Fox, 2005

     Peloponnesian War – between Sparta and Athens
     Melian Dialog – between Athenians and Melians.

     Athenians came to Melos to ask the Melians to join them in the Peloponnesian War. The Melians
     want to stay neutral. The Melian Dialog is the conversation between the Athenians and the
     Melians over this issue.

     The Melians will not allow the negotiations to be public.

        The Melians believe that if they are proved to be right it will result in war. If they give in they will
     become slaves.

     The Athenians say that the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. This is
     why they are seeking an alliance with the Melians.

     The Melians say that the Athenians do not want to talk about what is right, but only of their

     The Athenians say that it would be in both of their interests if they ruled the Melians.

     The Melians say that they simply want to stay neutral, but this does not satisfy the Athenians since
     they feel that their people will see this as a sign of weakness and fear on the Athenians part.

     The Athenians believe that the Melians should just give in, because they are much smaller and
     weaker than the Athenians.

     The Melians believe that the gods will grant them fortune, because they are “just men fighting
     against unjust”. They also believe that the Lacedaemonians (their colonizers) will come to their

     The Athenians believe that the gods will look favorably on them, because the gods as well as men
     rule wherever they can, and this is just what they are doing. They also believe that the Melians are
     being naïve in relying on the help of the Lacedaemonians. They say that the Lacedaemonians only
     travel by sea, and they only attack when they have many allies. This condition is not fulfilled at this

     The Athenians continue to say that they believe the Melians are being foolish. They say that it
     would not be dishonorable for them to submit. The choice is between war and security, and they
     would gain more than they would lose by submitting. The Athenians believe that “those who do
     not yield to their equals, who keep terms with their superiors, and are moderate towards their
     inferiors, on the whole succeed best.”

     The Melians remain resolute that they will stay neutral. They believe that it is right and just for
     them to do that, and that the gods will assist them as well as their colonizers, the Lacedaemonians.

     The Melians and Athenians then became hostile. The Melians were forced to surrender, and the
     Athenians killed many men, and sold the women and children as slaves. They then sent colonists
     to Melos and inhabited it themselves.

     Examination of the rights of states.
      Melos-independence, neutrality
      Athens- pragmatism, demands of war, rights of power

     Melians were concerned with justice, fairness, and honor. They were quite idealistic. The
     Athenians were concerned with their interests, and felt justified in their actions because it was the
     right of a strong nation to rule.

     Still relevant today.

Melian Dialogue, (ca. 416 BC) from The Peloponnesian War
by Elizabeth McLain, 2003.

The Athenians come to Melos to ask the Melians to join them in the Peloponnesian War. They have remained neutral thus far and intend to do so. The Melian Dialogue recalls the conversation between the Athenians and the Melians over this debate.
  • The Melians won’t allow the Athenians to plead their case before the people and are quick to judge them.

  • Clausewitz, “Limited Aims” From On War
    Rick Riley, Spring 09


    -In this Chapter Clausewitz discusses a situation in which the ultimate aim of war (“Overthrow of the enemy”) is not a realistic possibility.
    -The goal in this situation could be either moderate gains of your opponent’s territory or the defense of your own country until better times.
    Offensive or Defensive war:
    -Defensive:  When you are waiting for more favorable times.
    -Offensive:   Taking advantage of the present moment.  Should take the offensive when your opponent’s future is looks brighter while yours looks to be getting worse.
    -Third and most Common Situation:  This occurs when neither side has definite aspects for their futures.  In this situation, the one with positive goals is the aggressor.  The aggressor wants the end the war quicker.
    Strength of forces as a decision making factor:
    -In the above scenario the strength of either side was not taken into account.
    -Test Scenario:  Small state v.s. much larger foe.
    each year, the smaller state’s situation getting worse.
    Clausewitz argues that they must attack to either end the war quickly before worse times come or to gain some advantage in which it can maintain itself.  Quick war is always best for the small state in this situation.
    -Clausewitz says that attacking is not absurd in this situation, thus upholding the above model of decision making.
    -If it is certain that the large state will attack, Small state should prepare for a defensive war to gain an initial advantage.  In this situation, time is not a disadvantage.
    -political object, extent of enemy’s demands, and political relation are the biggest influences on the conduct of war.