The Life of Thucydides and the Impact of His Work: History of Peloponnesian War

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Introduction

“I have written my work, not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time” (Thucydides, 2006) which was the first work in history of human kind to record political and moral analysis of a nations war policies. Writing history during and before the period of Thucydides, it was considered to be leisure work and generally history was more of a hobby but writing history became profession for Thucydides as he was send to exile for 20 years on failing a military expedition. His works were amazing and it is widely used and acknowledged by everyone even till this day. His works were accurate because all his works were derived from reliable source and he witnessed the outbreak of Peloponnesian war and wrote about it, thus his writing turned out to be a master piece. Despite of his work being criticized by historians, he is considered to be one the famous historian of all time as he was the one to introduce first analytical, scientific method and political realism in history which is practiced by historians of present days and often his books are used as a reference.

Early Life

Though Thucydides is referred to be famous historian of all time but his early life could not be determined from his works. It is believed that he was born around 450B.C to an Athenian Father and a Thracian mother at place called Alimos in Greece. Though he had Thracian race from his mother’s lineage but was Athens citizen. He was depended to his gold mine which was his financial background.

In 424, he was given command of fleet, but was sent on exile for twenty years on failing military expedition to Amohipolis. He wrote “it was my fate to be an exiled from my country for twenty years after my command at Amohipolis; and being present with both parties ( Athens and Sparta), and more especially with the Peloponnesian by reason of my exile, I had leisure to observe affairs more closely” (Thucydides, 2006). It was in these twenty years of his exile he worked on history gathering information and writing what he observed. He had listened to other speeches on the history of Persians war which was in Athens. Unlike Herodotus he had been much more subjective to define a theme and maintain a chronological frame work.

History of Peloponnesian War

In his opening line, Thucydides said that he wrote about the Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta, “beginning at the moment that it broke out, and believing that it would be a great war and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it” (Thucydides, 2006). Athens had very strong sea power and democratic political system and worthy leadership, thus Athenians force was formidable. Sparta was in Peloponnese, Greece. Its government followed strict militarism thus they had the most powerful land force. According to Thucydides the attack on 430 was because Spartans feared Athens power.

In ten years of war Spartans dominated with land force and Athenian dominated in naval force. In 422, Athenian general Cleon made an attempt to retake Amophipolis which was lost to Spartans and was the main reason for Thucydides exile. During this incident Athenian could not retake Amophipolis with death of their leader Cleon and Spartan general Brasidas was also dead, thus the war was immediately stopped in Amophipolis leading to signing of treaty known as “Peace Of Nicias.” With signing of this treaty Amophipolis was returned to Athens and in return Athenians was made to release the prisoners taken at Sphacteria. War had come to end, but six years later Athens attacked Syracuse, which was ally of Sparta through naval force. But Athenians were chased by combined force of Sicilian and Spartan. Thucydides asserted that, “They were destroyed, as the saying is, with a total destruction, their fleet, their army, everything was destroyed and few out of many returned home.”

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Ending of “History of the Peloponnesian wars” has revolts, revolutions and Spartans gained the momentum in the war and were superior to Athens. Spartans under Lysander at Aegospotami crushed Athens in series of battle, thus Athens surrendered to Sparta in 404.

Content of the Book

Thucydides wrote the “History of Peloponnesian War” not in forms of sub topics but as a single whole. Subchapters came later with coming of new edition of the book by other historians. It is narration of political events which describe the events of war. The motive of Thucydides to write this book was he believed that this war would be the greatest that the Hellas ever saw, measured not by the victories, but by the “unprecedented suffering.” He wanted his work to be a master piece that will be used by people for prosperity in future. “Methodonkapital” informs us about the method used by Thucydides to write history. He wrote the book by rectifying his sources and comparing it. It is also known that Thucydides did not write everything that his eye witness told but he mentioned only important notes. Through his works we can know how Persian War resulted to Athens dominance over Spartans. Athens started subjugating cities to colonies thus this lead Spartan and their allies to be suspicious and later it became the main reason for the outbreak of the Great War in history known as Peloponnesian war.

Through the narration, the most recurrent element is the “liberty of Hellas”, for the sake of every actor does what it does. Liberty is the keyword for the justification of the war waged, utilized by both sides. Athenians portray themselves as the savior of the liberty of the Hellas in the war against the Persians, hence legitimizing their authority over the other Greeks. Spartans on the other hand, made their duty as the defender of the Greeks liberty against the crescent power and tyranny emperor of Athens. In other hand, liberty was made motto of the day and in the same manner it is justice and democracy in justifying political actions.

Epiphany of Thucydides

He was well known for his scientific approaches in studying history. It is not that he wanted to write history rather some moments had played an important role in his life. He failed to safe guard the city of Amiphilos from force of Spartan, thus he was blamed and was send to exile for 20 years where he opted to move from place to place and write about what was happening which became a master piece known as “History of Peloponnesian War.” Amiphilos incident turned out to be a turning point in his life because if he was able to protect Amiphilos from Spartan’s power, he would have continued as a military general and might not have written “History of Peloponnesian War”. Furthermore, his scientific study in history was also started as he was exiled from Athens for twenty years and he had the opportunities to witness and write about the war from both side.

Contributions and Impact of Thucydides Work

He was known for “farther of scientific study” throughout the world since his way of writings touches more on political aspects and his work on Peloponnesian war has got standard accuracy and scope in writing history and he paved way towards scientific study as well. He brought the idea of systematic writings in more profound way where he said that Peloponnesian war was the result of systematic change brought by the rising power of Athens that made Sparta fear. He wrote in a systematic change in the control of the international political system. His writing has impact on early cold war years and the polarizations of the cold war period; that policy maker compares Americans power to that of Athens glory. Moreover, he plays high value on eye witness data and he writes about events in which he probably took part.

Conclusion

Thucydides learned a lot from Herodotus as a result he was able to step forward scientific history where he became an ancient Greek author. By looking at the quality of his method, that is by bringing together the element such as objectivity, source criticism, causality, humanism, factuality, methodology silence and scrupulous data collections. He was first person to write historiography.

This book Peloponnesian war concludes with the Athenian surrender to Spartan in 404 BC. And Thucydides work on Peloponnesian war has shown different and unique way of writing history. In this writing on Peloponnesian, he basically writes about the rising power against Spartan that lead to outbreak of war. This book was even used by military and policy framers in this recent time as it includes various event of political and comprises nation’s war policies.

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