Review of International Studies (2012), 38, 661–682 doi:10.


6 2011 British International Studies Association First published online 21 Feb 2012

Thucydides, amended: religion, narrative, and IR theory in the Peloponnesian Crisis

Abstract. Most of our knowledge of the Peloponnesian War comes from the text of Thucydides’ History, yet IR scholars are strangely credulous when evaluating Thucydides’ pronouncements. I explore what Thucydides does not tell us, and suggest that his text obscures important information regarding the outbreak of the war. Thucydides has a secular bias which leads him to discount the Spartan religious self-narrative, but by attending to this schema, in which Sparta sees itself in the role of the pious defender of moderation pitted against the corrupt Athenians, we gain a richer understanding of the chain of events that led to war. Contemporary scholars have too readily adopted Thucydides’ perspective on this issue, but by assessing Thucydides’ data using insights drawn from contemporary cognitive theories of narrative and image we see that misperceptions based in the conflicting Athenian and Spartan narratives played an important role in the escalation of the crisis. Stefan Dolgert is Assistant Professor in the department of Political Science at the University of Connecticut. He has also been a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Toronto, and writes on the relationship between sacrifice, animality, and citizenship. His recent publications include ‘Species of Disability’ and ‘Sacrificing Justice: Suffering Animals, the Oresteia, and the Masks of Consent’, both in Political Theory.

Everyone likes cottages and most people like industry, but no academic wants to be classified as working in a ‘cottage industry’. Nowhere is this truer than in the cottage industry surrounding the question of whether Thucydides was a realist or not, as it has now become as common to chide those who dabble in the question as it once was to criticise those who assumed Thucydides was the original realist.1 Robert Keohane, for example, had asserted that Thucydides was the first to set out the basic maxims of political realism: ‘(1) states (or city-states) are the key units of action; (2) they seek power, either as an end in itself or as a means to other ends;

* The author would like to acknowledge the valuable insights provided by three anonymous reviewers, and also the painstaking commentary and criticism of Timothy Ruback. His critique was nuanced, pointed, and witty, and immeasurably enriched my argument. 1 Robert Keohane, ‘Realism, Neorealism and the Study of World Politics’, in Robert Keohane (ed.), Neorealism and its Critics (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1986), pp. 1–26; Daniel Garst, ‘Thucydides and Neorealism’, International Studies Quarterly, 33 (1989), pp. 3–27; Michael Clark, ‘Realism Ancient and Modern: Thucydides and IR’, PS, 26 (1993), pp. 491–4; Laurie Bagby, ‘The Use and Abuse of Thucydides in International Relations’, International Organization, 48 (1994), pp. 131–53; Steven Forde, ‘International Realism and the Science of Politics: Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Neorealism’, International Studies Quarterly, 39 (1995), pp. 141–60.



Stefan Dolgert

and (3) they behave in ways that are, by and large, rational, and therefore comprehensible to outsiders in rational terms.’2 In response to this kind of thinking David Welch semi-seriously enjoins International Relations (IR) theorists to cease reading Thucydides,3 and Timothy Ruback thoughtfully argues that our constant recourse to Thucydides serves more as a device to police the boundaries of the IR community than as a means of enhancing our ability to explain the dynamics of war and peace.4 Welch and Ruback’s cautionary tales are surely onto something about the ‘use and abuse of Thucydides’,5 but this may not exhaust the usefulness of exploring Thucydides’ History. Significantly, though, we should be asking more about what Thucydides himself takes to be his subject matter – the war between the Athenian Empire and their opponents, the Peloponnesian League led by the Spartans – rather than the text that he left to posterity. That we have so often conflated these two kinds of questions: (1) what happened in the war? and (2) what does Thucydides say? is hardly difficult to understand. Thucydides is, after all, our primary source for the war, and so we must say something about him even when we do not mean to, or even if that is not primarily what we intend – our access to the war is, for better and worse, fundamentally mediated by Thucydides. This fact of historiography, coupled with the rhetorical mastery displayed in Thucydides’ text, has allowed the text to take the foreground while the war has receded into the background.6 This is true even among IR scholars who are professionally trained to treat all forms of evidence with a healthy dose of scepticism, yet who evince a strange credulity when examining Thucydides’ pronouncements. To give one recent example: ‘It is widely believed that Thucydides’ rendering of the speeches should be considered historically accurate . . . Thus Thucydides’ penchant for accuracy and his interest in the psychological causes of political decisions make his presentation of historical data ideally suited to our purpose . . . to show the extent to which actors’ motives, as presented by Thucydides, need to be taken into account.’7 While some classical scholars consider Thucydides’ rendering of the 28 speeches in his text to be largely accurate, though more in the sense of ‘what was appropriate to the situation’ (as Thucydides himself says at I.22) than literally true, there is also substantial scepticism on the issue of Thucydides’ reliability as a source of data.8 Imagine for a moment that in the far-off future only Robert McNamara’s or Donald Rumsfeld’s memoirs survive to document the history of the Vietnam War or Operation Iraqi Freedom;
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Keohane, ‘Realism’, p. 8. David Welch, ‘Why International Relations Theorists Should Stop Reading Thucydides’, Review of International Studies, 29 (2003), pp. 301–19. Timothy Ruback, ‘Ever Since the Days of Thucydides: The Quest for Textual Origins of IR Theory’, in Scott G. Nelson and Nevzat Soguk (eds), Modern Theory, Modern Power, World Politics: Critical Investigations (Surrey: Ashgate, 2010). Bagby, ‘Use’, p. 131. Ruback and others scholars inspired by the writings of Jacques Derrida might be inclined to argue that my distinction here is specious – everything is a text, war included. By this they mean that nothing in the world comes to us without interpretation – even the most prosaic facts do not speak for themselves but must be interpreted by speech acts in an interpretive community. See Ruback (2010) and Alkopher (2005) for interesting pushback on my interpretation. William Chittick and Annette Freyberg-Inan, ‘Chiefly for Fear, Next for Honour, and Lastly for Profit: And Analysis of Foreign Policy Motivation in the Peloponnesian War’, Review of International Studies, 27 (2001), p. 73, emphasis added. Simon Hornblower, ‘The Religious Dimension of the Peloponnesian War, Or, What Thucydides Does Not Tell Us’, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 94 (1992), pp. 169–97; Gregory Crane, Thucydides and the Ancient Simplicity (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998).

a Rumsfeld. continues to focus on the contending theoretical perspectives (realist. but what if Thucydides’ reliability is exactly the problem? What if the war he shows us is the reflection of his own mirror-image. more importantly. While this enacts a kind of performative contradiction. or liberalism if he were also just wrong about the facts? One has to assume that Thucydides knows what he’s talking about in order to for it to matter whether he is closer to Wendt or Morgenthau. He criticises ‘the vulgar’ for ‘accepting readily the first story that comes to hand’ since they make no effort to investigate the truth of historical matters for themselves (I. as in a funhouse mirror that transforms our own smallish countenance into a gigantic and powerful image with the air of authority that we crave.9 Thucydides does not even bother to hide his partisanship. M. NY: Cornell University Press. but the point is that as a story. It is surely an irony of history that most contemporary defenders of Thucydides are themselves unlikely to investigate the entire array of available material on the Peloponnesian War. Croix. Most contemporary IR readings of the History ignore its highly politicised context. in which this article finds itself an ambivalent participant. at least in the sense that such an inquiry is neither neutral nor unmotivated. The Thucydides cottage industry.10 We seek a reflection of our own views in Thucydides. constructivist.11 But would we be so concerned about his realism. but to say that with no other primary texts to rely upon one has no means of judging whether one is reading a Thucydides. but it had been thought for centuries that this methodological critique was serving a partisan political purpose. which in this case happens to be: Thucydides’ History. but amplified.20). his own self-narrative that craves confirmation from the authority of the ‘facts’ of the world. etc. Instead they accept ‘the first story that comes to hand’ about the conflict. about how we think about war and peace today. or something else entirely. constructivism. and.23) is precisely referencing the issue of Pericles’ responsibility and Thucydides’ intention to refute this criticism. since his statement that the ‘real cause I consider to be the one which was formally most kept out of sight’ (I. perhaps because. a McNamara. de Ste. and a highly partisan one at that. This too is ideological in its own right.) of the author as if that is the primary problem to be solved. 1972). Even in the Hellenistic period readers of Thucydides were hardly so generous. amended 663 would they be considered unimpeachable witnesses? This is not to make a partisan point here. just as we look to him craving authority for our own views? What then are we missing when we think about the Peloponnesian War. we go looking to Thucydides more for our own ideological purposes than to learn about the causes of war and peace. when we adopt this Thucydidean mantle? 9 10 11 G. Even the title of this article continues the cottage industry pattern. it requires that we read it critically rather than credulously. reaffirming Thucydides’ authoritative presence even as it attempts to move away from the exclusive focus on the figure of the author. Yet this state of affairs is largely accepted in the IR scholarship on Thucydides. in contradistinction to Thucydides’ cautionary note. as Welch and Ruback suggest. I think it defensible to the extent that ‘the Thucydides Function’ continues to be an important aspect of contemporary IR scholarship. .Thucydides. Of course this ‘story’ is important since it provides a great deal of the information that we have about the war. as it became conventional to read his text as a highly partisan defence of Pericles’ leadership against the common charge that it was Periclean policies that caused the war. E. The Origins of the Peloponnesian War (Ithaca.

Review of International Studies. Thucydides and Athenian Imperialism (Oxford: Basil Blackwell. With this additional information I hope to provide a richer explanation for the outbreak of the war.12 This is an issue that Thucydides slights13 and which modern IR scholars have also tended to downplay. ‘Thucydides and Divination’. Hornblower.664 Stefan Dolgert My purpose in this article. far from being a trivial matter. 26 (1979a). This is not to say that states are unaffected by security concerns.15 Recent scholarship has uncovered a cultural and religious background that Thucydides studiously fails to mention. and that this in turn is provided by a 12 13 14 15 Narrative in Thucydides has not been ignored. Thomas Heilke. Powell. This is not to say that religion is the only factor that Thucydides misses or slights. pp. Powell. We will see that. pp. but we do not have to reach any particular conclusion regarding his motivation. Hornblower. 119–47. ‘Religious’. ‘Religion’. American Political Science Review. First. Thucydides. ‘Religion in Thucydides’. Thucydides Mythistoricus (London: Edward Arnold. NJ: Princeton University Press. religion is an important factor in the outbreak of open war in 431 BCE. both from within his text and from other surviving historical evidence. ‘Religious’. one that links it more centrally to the dangers we face in the contemporary international clash of religious and secular national narratives. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies of the University of London. Robert Connor. Historia. 51–67. and primarily. but for which we actually have a fair amount of information. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association. pp. specifically the religiously charged embassies that the Spartans send to Athens between 433–31 BCE). In the particular case of the Peloponnesian War religious norms and beliefs have gone largely unexamined. Jacqueline de Romilly. and Happenstance: Thucydides’ Tale of Brasidas’. but it is one that has become particularly salient for contemporary international politics. . Opening up this question moves me to my secondary purpose. Narrative. Croix. Jordan. 116 (1986). generally ignores them. which is to connect this less-visible understanding of the causes of this paradigmatic war with contemporary literature on how state behaviour is influenced by narrative. The two primary candidates are: (1) his political and ideological loyalty to Pericles and the Athenian Empire. See Francis Cornford. David Bedford and Thom Workman. See Ste. but scholars have emphasised the way in which Thucydides as author employs narrative to convey his purposes rather than the narrative scripts that influence the actions of his protagonists. 45–50. pp. 1984). 15–31. and (2) his basic secularism that is hostile to the ‘superstitions’ held by ‘the vulgar’. Boromir Jordan. Thucydides. W. 1963).14 What matters is that we attend to the war itself rather than Thucydides’ authoritative presence. but which has yet to trouble the general IR consensus on Thucydides’ purported rationalism and realist pedigree. 28 (1979b). not the least of which would be the defence of Pericles (since Pericles too slights religion. but rather that decisionmakers’ perceptions of the meaning of survival is partially determined by the way that they understand their state’s identity. A. Thucydides (Princeton. 169–97. C. ‘Religion and the Sicilian Expedition’. and that we begin to treat Thucydides with the healthy scepticism that we bring to any other analyst of data on the causes of war. 1907). Thucydides may have had any number of reasons for discounting the importance of religion. pp. pp. I want to reopen the discussion about the causes of the Peloponnesian War by examining the place of religion and religious narratives in the escalation of the crises that immediately precede it. Crane. in addition to arguing for a more careful reading of Thucydides. Origins. 121–38. ‘Realism. ‘The Tragic Reading of the Thucydidean Tragedy’. is twofold. 98 (2004). 27 (2001). A. C. largely because our primary source for the war. and when he does consider them he dismisses them as pretexts for self-interested power seeking rather than as actual causes of action.

Cambridge Review of International Affairs. pp. says plainly that ‘no concession to the Spartans’ should be contemplated because ‘war is a necessity’ (I. ‘Engaging the Narrative in Ontological (In)security Theory: Insights From Feminist IR’.126). Pericles. 697–728. 523–40. pp. 49 (2005). pp. Robert Jervis. Darfur. both in terms of what it leaves in and what it leaves out about religion. Kaplowitz. I. as I will discuss later in the article. 22 (2009). counterfactually and therefore tentatively. James Voss. 403–33. 39–82. ‘Images’. 51 (2007). 21 (2000). 715–37. ‘Making’. Steele. NJ: Princeton University Press. By understanding the influence of conflicting narratives in the origin of the Peloponnesian War we can see not only that the war was not inevitable. Steele.Thucydides. Charlick-Paley and Sylvan. 41 (1997). amended 665 narrative structure. and ‘‘Reflexive Discourse’’ in International Politics’. pp. Political Psychology. 901–25. Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton.17 I will briefly discuss each pole of this emerging consensus separately. Socialpolitik’. Noel Kaplowitz. ‘Use and Evolution’. image.20 As we shall see from the analysis of Thucydides’ text. pp. rather than dismissing it as mere pretense (as Thucydides himself does). ‘Making’. Hermann et al. MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. and cognitive processing. pp. ‘National Self-Images. schema. 901–25. in the event of her paying no attention to them’ (I.140. Perception of Enemies.16 There appears to be an emerging consensus across the realist/ constructivist divide that ‘national narratives’ are important factors in understanding the behaviour of foreign policy decision-makers and that scholars need to attend to images of self and other in international actors’ discourse. ‘Making Words Matter: The Asian Tsunami.19 There are important differences between the two traditions. 403–33. 39–82. ‘National’. 11 (1990). ‘Images in International Relations: An Experimental Test of Cognitive Schema’. Richard Hermann. ‘This interval was spent in sending embassies to Athens charged with complaints. but for my purposes it is more important to see the common focus on the way that the behaviour of states and their leaders is influenced by the cognitive processes of decision-makers. pp. that had the Athenians taken the religious dimension of the Spartan national narrative seriously. The implication of this conclusion is far from merely antiquarian. but that Athenian misperception of Spartan motivation played a role in the outbreak of the hot war in 431 BCE. or between secular actors with divergent religiously inflected national narratives.18 while constructivists tend to draw more from humanistic and sociological sources in their analysis of discourse.22 the war was perhaps avoidable. and the social construction of reality. ‘Social’. . pp. in order to obtain as good a pretext for war as possible. Richard Ned Lebow. Tonya Schooler. International Studies Quarterly. 697–728. and Conflict Strategies: Psychopolitical Dimensions of International Relations’. Will Delehanty and Brent Steele. ‘The Social (and Religious) Meanings that Constitute War: The Crusades as Realpolitik vs. as it suggests that contemporary international disputes between secular and religious actors. prophasis. ‘The Use and Evolution of Stories as a Mode of Problem Representation: Soviet and French Military Officers Face the Loss of Empire’. pp. norms. Alkopher. in his speech to the Athenian Assembly on the occasion of the final Spartan embassy before the beginning of hostilities. heuristics. and Joseph Ciarrochi. pp. identity. the conflict between the Athenians and Spartans is as much a disagreement over religiously inflected national narratives as it is a struggle over raw material interests. pp. Between Peace and War: The Nature of International Crisis (Baltimore. The term usually translated as ‘pretext’.21 In my conclusion I will suggest. pp. as Pericles and Thucydides’ narration seem to suggest. Tanya Charlick-Paley and Donald Sylvan. International Studies Quarterly. Political Psychology. 1976). may benefit 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 Brent Steele. and that these processes in some way involve the imputation of meaning in the world via narrative structures. 715–37. however. Tal Alkopher. stories. is more ambiguous than is generally understood.. 901–25. 1981).144). International Studies Quarterly. since scholars from the realist tradition tend to use terms derived from rational choice and the psychology of decision-making such as operational code.

pp. did Greek religious narratives and beliefs play in the origin of the Peloponnesian War? (2) What does this tell us more generally about the place of narrative schemata in the cognition of foreign policy actors. Jervis. national leaders are influenced by the (auto)biographical narratives of their nation. pp. it is to this discussion that I now turn. Mayanthi Fernando. 190–222. ‘National’. they may also be able to learn that what they take to be aggressive and ‘pretextural’ posturing by their opponents is instead a product of sincerely-held religious beliefs. Perception. ‘The War in Iraq and the Academic Study of Religion’. pp.24 But more promisingly. ‘Globalization’. and religious narratives may present particular challenges on this score. pp. 39–82. and how might this affect ‘perception and misperception’ in international crises? While I am primarily interested in the first of these questions. and are not the possession of any single camp or clique. Academy of Management Review.27 Recent scholarship has refined the earlier idiographic case-study model by specifying that foreign policy actors use a schema. At a minimum. 23 24 25 26 27 Kaplowitz. International Studies Quarterly. ‘Globalization and Religious Nationalism: Self. 76 (2008). Steele. Alexander George. though as I will also indicate in the conclusion. Had the leaders of Britain and France.23 and even when they engage in intentionally deceptive or manipulative speech acts they may nevertheless be constrained to honour commitments made (or at least appear to honour them) if their opponents take them seriously. 37 (2010). they would likely have escalated conflict earlier than 1939. ‘Religiosity and Ethical Behavior in Organizations: A Symbolic Interactionist Perspective’. they continued to misrecognise how dissimilar were Hitler’s values from theirs. 844–73. The emerging realist/constructivist synthesis I mention above will allow us to see that religion and narrative are salient factors to scholars of widely divergent methodological traditions. Sometimes conflict may result from precisely the recognition of a deep incompatibility between one’s own national narrative and the script of one’s opponent. Alkopher. though only in part. and subject to revision. pp. it will be helpful to discuss the theoretical background to ‘national narratives’ in the second question before getting back to Thucydides. and the Search for Ontological Security’. Of codes and constructions Since the 1960s IR scholars have produced an enormous body of literature on the connection between the cognitive processes of decision-makers and foreign policy outcomes. 13 (1969). Between Peace and War. Catarina Kinnvall.666 Stefan Dolgert from taking seriously what appears to be ‘mere rhetoric’ in the discourse of their opponent. 901–25. 741–67. 77–97. pp. Kinnvall.25 Opponents who are merely indicating strongly held preferences based in a desire for ontological security may be amenable to dispute resolution that does not involve open warfare. recognised the deep divisions between their narratives that privileged peace and limited foreign policy objectives and those of Hitler. Identity. a ‘cognitive structure that represents knowledge about a concept or type of stimulus. this does not necessarily make for a world of Polyannas and sunshine. Journal of the American Academy of Religion. . As it was. 199–200). Gary Weaver and Bradley Agle. 19–35. 741–67. American Ethnologist. ‘The ‘‘Operational Code’’: A Neglected Approach to the Study of Political Leaders and Decision-Making’. 715–37. pp. ‘Making’. ‘Reconfiguring Freedom: Muslim Piety and the Limits of Secular Law and Public Discourse in France’. pp. beginning a current with Leites’s ‘Operational Code’ that became a torrent after Jervis’s seminal 1976 book. pp. for instance. Political Psychology. pp. 27 (2002). 25 (2004). Ira Chernus. ‘Social’. if any.26 My questions in sum can be phrased: (1) What role. resulting in the outbreak of war at a much later (and less favourable) time for them (see Lebow.

Tetlock. ‘Image Theory. p. Political Psychology. Ibid. Shana Levin. for instance. but the schema organises the new information in biased ways. 13 (1992). We should also be careful not to create a fixed divide where the terrain is much more fluid. Social Identity. pp. existentialist psychology. 17 (1996). scholars of a more constructivist bent have also been using narratology to evaluate the behaviour of states and policymakers.37 and may sometimes also use a particular narrative as a strategic 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 Hermann et al. 149–70. literary theory.Thucydides. See Philip Tetlock. ‘Good Judgment in International Politics: Three Psychological Perspectives’.. Psychological research into the reasoning of international decision-makers that distinguishes between integrative and cognitive complexity. scholars have also become interested in concepts that seem ‘fuzzier’ and more suited to humanistic research.29 and that these clusters act as filters in the processing of information – new data must first pass through the schema in order to be used by the decision-maker. 523–40. heuristics. Michele Alexander. ‘Images’. and posits that states. 26 (2005). each with their own corresponding narrative. Steele. J.28 by which they process and incorporate new information as they make decisions. 525. and feminist IR. is methodologically rigorous but also incorporates qualitative insights. there is general agreement that ‘many individual cognitive items are organised into larger knowledge clusters’.. ‘Churchill’s Cognitive and Rhetorical Style: The Debates over Nazi Intentions and Self-Government for India’. Philip Tetlock and Anthony Tyler.31 and image theory now attempts to include the larger framing provided by narrative into discussions of the specific effects of particular images on the cognition of the decisionmaker. Though there are semantic distinctions in the literature over what exactly a schema is and how it functions.30 As Hermann et al.’35 There are multiple national narratives which may be framing a leader’s decisions and we cannot simply assume a simple story of cause and effect. ‘Engaging’. 517–39. 697–728. say: ‘The importance of metaphors.32 While realists and rationalists look to psychology and cognitive science for their models of decision-making. Hermann et al. States too experience the anxiety produced by the lack of a coherent framework of reality as a threat to their existential security. Ibid. ‘Use and Evolution’. pp. Charlick-Paley..34 and these policies are made meaningful by their insertion in a larger narrative that situates the state in the world: ‘The biographical narrative represents the best approximation of what a state’s actions mean to its sense of national ‘‘self ’’. Delahanty and Steele. pp. p. ‘Images’. and P. Political Psychology. . While most of the current research on the psychopolitical structure of decision-making is rooted in contemporary cognitive science and adopts a methodology suited to positivism. ‘Making’. ‘Engaging’. 27–45. Henry. Delahanty and Steele. pp. and Social Dominance: Structural Characteristics and Individual Motives Underlying International Images’. 406. 911. analogies. p. and even story lines or scripts in organizing cognition has been recognized and explored’. ‘Judgment’. 517–39. pp. pp. 407. Political Psychology. 523–40.36 Leaders themselves are also not always consistent in terms of how they think and talk over time. amended 667 including its attributes and the relations among these attribute’. p. pp.33 To avoid this anxiety they ‘generate routine foreign policies that help to reproduce a state’s conception of Self-identity’. like individuals. seek to maintain the continuity of their identity over time. since nations have multiple political traditions to draw on. Ontological security theory (OST) merges insights drawn from sociology.

‘Images’. 19–35. This traditional interpretation is largely accepted by most IR scholars. ‘War’. Even this scattered information reveals that religious 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 Anna Tsing. p. Hermann et al. Stephen Silliman. ‘Reconfiguring’. and that his omissions on the topic should lead us to question whether more religious data lies beneath his narrative than we would have thought. Jordan. Self and Others (London: Tavistock. Chernus. 2005). pp. Ethos. Gavan Duffy and Brian Frederking. pp. 844–73. Military Metaphors in Real and Imagined Indian Country’. ‘War’. including: Hornblower.45 and Steele’s use of ‘ontological security’ is itself based in existentialist psychoanalysis.39 Scholars who concentrate on this implicit use of narrative have also drawn attention to the connection between political narratives and religious role identity. pp. ‘Reconfiguring’. Laing. I begin by laying out what Thucydides himself asserts to be the real cause of the war. 19–35. I am trying to establish that Thucydides has a peculiar bias against reporting religious data. pp. I will then proceed to examine the desultory religious information not specifically related to the origin of the war that Thucydides provides us. The ‘Operational Code’ approach. as when Iraqi insurgents were cast as ‘evildoers’ or ‘Indians’ by the George W. Origins. 325–47. International Studies Quarterly.42 While there are many salient differences between approaches that draw rather directly from contemporary cognitive science43 and those social constructivists who pull mainly from the sociological tradition. this script may also involve attributing enemy-role characteristics to other states or political actors. the current ‘return to narrative’ of the two branches of IR theory can also be seen as a kind of homecoming to a common point of origin. . pp. pp. ‘The Narrative Organization of Collective Memory’. 901–25. and Ste. and will behave in part according to the attributes they ascribe to their particular role. American Anthropologist. pp. ‘Old West’. 110 (2008). 53 (2009). 237–47. 844–73.S. ‘Making’. ‘Religion’. In effect. 1969). Silliman. 237–47. in effect enlisting them as characters in a play within the heads of the first state’s decision-makers.46 It is true that contemporary psychology has moved far from its roots in psychoanalysis. ‘The ‘‘Old West’’ in the Middle East: U. Bush administration. ‘Changing the Rules: A Speech Act Analysis of the End of the Cold War’. 190–222. ‘Operational Code’. James Wertsch. I will also argue that the inclusion of this additional data casts the religious evidence Thucydides does provide us in a very different light.668 Stefan Dolgert tool38 though at other times the narrative is employed subconsciously. 403–33.. George. NJ: Princeton University Press. Weaver and Agle. pp. pp. even of the constructivist stamp. Croix. I will then proceed to assess the character of Thucydides as a historian with respect to his proclivity to ignore or slight the religious dimension to the facts that he relates.41 Moreover.44 their common origin in psychoanalysis makes the effort to highlight the ‘narrative connection’ less quixotic than it might appear. For this additional data I will rely on a number of historians who have sifted the non-Thucydidean evidence. though now with an appreciation that methodological pluralism can be a strength rather than a sign of lack of rigour. Still. D. and it will therefore serve as the jumping off point for the rest of my analysis. Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection (Princeton. 120–35. 77–97. ‘Religiosity’. Steele. pp. R. Fernando. 36 (2008). is grounded in the psychoanalytic theory of personality. pp. and a number of paradigms are distinctly hostile to the seemingly unscientific aspects of psychoanalysis. ‘Religious’. which is in many ways the grandfather of contemporary cognitive models. ‘Social’. Alkopher. Chernus. pp. 715–37. Fernando.47 Given this bias.40 Leaders may see themselves as playing a role in a religiously inflected dramatic narrative.

for instance – but this is unsurprising given that actors’ differing cognitive schemata will involve distinct evaluative criteria. 2003) – and that this in itself makes his History implicitly religious despite Thucydides’ overt rationalism. Religiously-inclined actors will need to enact roles in a sacred drama (Weaver and Agle. 51–67. Whether the conjunction between their speech and action comes from a deeply rooted spirituality is beyond my ability to determine. We are not required to make judgments about the depth of the Spartans’ conviction. (I. that no one may ever have to ask the immediate cause which plunged the Hellenes into a war of such magnitude. which led to the dissolution of the treaty and the breaking out of the war. 77–97) since that is the way they see the world (Kaplowitz. I will at last get to the origins of the war. The religious variable that I argue for will not be relevant in many cases – it is probably irrelevant in the case of World War I. since narratives with differing evaluative criteria are prone to lead to misunderstanding and conflict (Lebow. This does not lessen my general claim for the importance of narrative. Thucydides). it is well to give the grounds alleged by either side. ‘Religiosity’. pp. All references to Thucydides’ History will take this form: Book X. While I agree with the first observation. pp. though at some times it can have this more narrow meaning. . The Greek term prophasis has a number of connotations that differentiate it from the scientific sense of cause and effect.Thucydides.48 Following this. in 411 BCE. Bedford and Workman. please see the second appendix to Clifford Orwin’s The Humanity of Thucydides. and breaks off abruptly in the twenty-first year of the war. which had ended the ‘first’ Peloponnesian War in 445 BCE: 48 49 50 51 It has been noted that Thucydides’ narrative has a generally tragic quality – see Cornford. I answer by placing first an account of their grounds of complaint and points of difference. the second does not follow. Richard Ned Lebow. Between. made war inevitable.23)51 He also reiterates this point somewhat later in the first book of his history. ‘National’. The growth of the power of Athens. It is worth quoting his most famous statement at some length: To the question why they broke the treaty. Interests. and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon. when Athens was compelled to surrender to Sparta. but this does not mean that it is still ‘really’ religious (Crane. and Orders (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. however. though he considers that religion is a tool of propaganda rather than a genuinely held belief in both cases. 432 BCE that the Athenians had broken the ‘Thirty Years Treaty’. The History comprises seven books.49 Thucydides on the causes of the war 50 Thucydides’ statement at the end of the ‘archaeological’ section of his first book on the origin of the war would seem to place him squarely in the realist camp. 199). Just what Thucydides means by ‘cause’ is subject to debate. Still. but agents with more secular worldviews will have no such motivation. The war continued until 404 BCE. 39–82). For a useful discussion of this point. Chapter Y. Thucydides’ tragic vision is a secularised version of an originally religious tradition. ‘Tragic’. though Thucydides does not emphasise the point. and it heightens the salience of understanding what kind of narrative one’s opponent possesses. Thucydides. after the Spartans voted in July. since what we will see is that in both word and deed they follow (in part) the roles outlined by a religious narrative of their city. Thucydides acknowledges a religious aspect to each of these missions. The Tragic Vision of Politics: Ethics. and discuss the religious significance of the two Spartan peace embassies that immediately preceded the opening of hostilities. but settling this question is not requisite for a narratological assessment of their actions or the origin of the war. amended 669 norms do indeed play a causal role during the war. The real cause I consider to be the one which was formally most kept out of sight. p.

steles (a kind of pillar upon which public transactions were recorded).670 Stefan Dolgert The Lacedaemonians voted that the treaty had been broken. by commencing the present war. but that the time had come for them to throw themselves heart and soul upon the hostile power. 2008). and there are serious problems with relying primarily on a single source for any research. Romilly Thucydides. a perilously arrogant justification. or at least that Thucydides himself does not believe it. 169–97.’55 Hornblower overstates the problem somewhat. and they should leave little doubt as to why Thucydides is taken to be the father of political realism. ‘Religious’. John Zumbrunnen. Silence and Democracy: Athenian Politics in Thucydides’ History (University Park. and the commencement of hostilities in the present war (from 480/79 to 432/1 BCE): During this interval the Athenians succeeded in placing their empire on a firmer basis. though fully aware of it. In short. pp. and in the present instance being hampered by wars at home – until the growth of the Athenian power could no longer be ignored. Hornblower. and remained inactive during most of this period – being of old slow to go to war except under the pressure of necessity. as because they feared the growth of the power of the Athenians.88) Finally. and the Corcyraeans’ reference the coming war and the need for Athenian power to deter Sparta.54 Simon Hornblower puts the dilemma thusly: ‘we can often do no more than correct Thucydides out of Thucydides. But that is a rare luxury. Hornblower. and advanced their own home power to a very great height. Croix. not so much because they were persuaded by the arguments of the allies. Jordan. Our justification for doing this.52 What Thucydides does not tell us We are caught in an ‘evidence trap’ when attempting to find alternative explanations for the Peloponnesian War. The Corinthians allude to this cause in both of their speeches. pp. the Athenians themselves try to play on the Spartans’ fear in their speech at Sparta. 605–18. tablets. seeing most of Hellas already subject to them. American Political Science Review. consists in the little that we think we know about Greek religion. 169–97. it seems that everyone is talking about the growth of Athenian power and the fear that it engendered in the Spartans. Historiography. and their own confederacy became the object of its encroachments. Thucydides sums up the results of the fifty years between the victories over Persia. we choose to play up what he chose to play down. ‘Religion’. pp.56 This evidence can be used to check or corroborate 52 53 54 55 56 There is one peculiarity about Thucydides’ pronouncement on the ‘truest cause’ being the one least seen/discussed. 1970). if they could. in the form of newly discovered ancient papyri (written texts). If we were to use just Thucydides’ text to evaluate this statement we would have to conclude that it was absolutely false. PA: Pennsylvania State University Press. since we have over the course of the past hundred years accumulated a substantial amount of secondary documentary evidence. Archidamus obliquely refers to it before the Peloponnesian Congress. and that war must be declared. Occasionally we can point to an item of non-Thucydidean evidence as a control on Thucydides. p. Donald Kagan. . Hornblower. The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War (Ithaca. That is. and pottery. (I. The Lacedaemonians. Ian Lustick. opposed it only for a little while.118) These are the three most direct statements made by Thucydides regarding the causes of the war. ‘History. 170. ‘Religious’. NY: Cornell University Press. and break it. ‘Religious’. 90 (1996). They then felt that they could endure it no longer.53 Thucydides is our primary source for the war. (I. coins. and Political Science: Multiple Historical Records and the Problem of Selection Bias’. 119–47. pp. Origins. Ste.

Even Francis Cornford. Thucydides slights the amphictiony in a way that both earlier and later Greek historians (like Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus. which lasted from 462/1 BCE until the signing of the Thirty Years Peace in 445 BCE. Hornblower. and decisions were passed by simple majority rule. ‘Religion’. respectively) did not. He adduces numerous examples. and against the documentary evidence. the reason why we hear so little in the Thucydides period about struggles for control of the great sanctuaries lies in Thucydides’ narrow view about the kind of thing that mattered. though Thucydides fails to tell us about it. 147). 169–97. 180. whether intentionally or not. but that the period covered by Thucydides should happen to be the only period when such control [of the amphictiony] did not matter? Or is it not more plausible that. and on both occasions it was a threat to her status in the Delphic amphictiony that prompted her to send out armies into the field. p. As Hornblower asks: Is it credible that such things should matter in the archaic age and again in the Hellenistic. Thucydides). where Athens had organised 57 58 59 Ernst Badian. But Hornblower argues that Athens too has religion in mind. p. and the Ancient Historian (Columbus. In 426 BCE. the anomaly is merely apparent.. and we also have the writings of a number of other ancient historians whose narratives differ in part from his version of events. pp. 46–91. . Though one scholar contends that for Thucydides ‘religion is the underlying fabric which holds human society together’ (Jordan. Thucydides mentions none of this in his treatment of this prelude to the main war. Delos was the site of the origin of the Delian League. `-vis Thucydides’ reportage. and which led Paul Veyne to conclude that the ‘most surprising feature of Thucydides’ account is that one thing is missing: the gods of the time’. The amphictiony was something like a democratic assembly – the cities which were represented there each had one vote. considers him to be a basically secular thinker (Cornford. OH: Ohio State University Press. ‘Thucydides and the Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War’. These differing stories can be checked against each other. ‘Religious’. and after a devastating plague had wracked Athens proper. ‘Religious’. as I would prefer to suggest. Conflict. Hornblower alleges that Sparta’s role in the war is inexplicable without reference to the Delphic amphictiony. and that it does not go far toward explaining Athenian actions.Thucydides. Allison (ed.58 While one might certainly argue that these Spartan actions are motivated more by politics than religion. 1990). in the midst of the war.). and due to the nature and prejudices of our main source? That is. pp. in J.57 Simon Hornblower has shown that Thucydides fails to explain a substantial aspect of the war due to these oversights. 180–2. who highlights the connections between Thucydides’ narrative and Greek religious tragedies. Hornblower. Thucydides neglects to inform his reader about the religious aspects to the ‘first’ Peloponnesian war. amended 671 Thucydides’ account. the Athenians undertake a purification of the island sanctuary of Delos. which was something akin to a pan-Hellenic religious council that oversaw the operation of the all-important religious sanctuary at Delphi (from whence spoke the oracle of Apollo – famed among other things for saying that Socrates was the wisest of the Athenians).59 One might suspect that this lacuna is limited to Spartan motivations. This vantage allowing us to gain critical distance vis-a allows us to see what Ernst Badian has termed Thucydides’ ‘contempt for established Greek religion’. In the first war Sparta directly acted against Athens only twice. Ibid. among which I will cite only two. this is distinctly a minoritarian position. Antithesis. First. pp.

As Hornblower. though in Thucydides’ case the peculiar status of his text makes this more difficult to apply. which involved not only settling colonists there. In 426 the Athenians undertook a costly purification of Delos. that ‘rough master’ 60 61 62 Ibid. Hornblower contends that Athens’ action can be best explained by attending to the religious significance of Delos: Athens was attempting to recover from a devastating plague whose origins were believed to be sacred in nature. and on most of these occasions he does not bother to dismiss the religious element as a mere pretext. and that we have ignored this largely because of Thucydides’ influence. 605–18) provides a quantitative approach to correcting for the biases of historians.. pp. Badian. which Hornblower summarises as ‘a religious war for the hearts and minds’ of the Greeks. to be discussed below). the Athenians could hope to gain the favour of other cities by honouring a sanctuary that was revered by all. such a venture is worth pursuing as a corollary to the approach I am using here. 197. .60 While one might again question whether the Athenians were motivated more by power than piety. The issue of Thucydides’ reliability is distinct from the importance of religious narrative in the Peloponnesian War. and my contention that we need to treat Thucydides as an unreliable or hostile witness in religious matters does not rely upon the causal role of religion in the war. however. and Veyne have shown us. This does not necessarily require that we take a prior position on the salience of religious national narratives. That said.. p. the point is that Thucydides leaves us in the dark about these very important matters. but an extensive religious festival that required a substantial financial outlay. and while he often ignores the religious dimension of the events of his narrative. it may not be possible to correct for the systematic biases this causes by quantitative means alone.61 We are able to better assess the credibility of what Thucydides actually does say about religion when we bear in mind these interpretive caveats. He gives us numerous examples of ‘pious’ conduct in the midst of the brutality of the war. The most significant aspect of this pious conduct is that it occurs in the midst of war. Ibid. Given that Thucydides is the primary source upon which so many secondary sources rely (almost exclusively).672 Stefan Dolgert the coalition of cities in their continuing war against Persia. and the members of this league later became the (somewhat unwilling) members of the Athenian Empire. In addition to healing herself of the plague.62 What Thucydides tells us about religion Though Thucydides does not consider religion or piety as one of the true or real causes of the war. perhaps to the detriment of his own causal account of the war. 195–6. Though ultimately I will claim that religious narratives influenced the perceptions of the Spartan leaders (especially) on matters of foreign policy. we have to treat his presentation of the religious data of the conflict with a healthy dose of scepticism. he also provides us with a wealth of evidence about the religious affairs of his day. pp. this is analytically separable from the general methodological caution needed in using Thucydides as a source of data. as he does when he relates the first Spartan peace embassy to Athens (the Cylonian Affair. Ian Lustick (‘History’. and as a pan-Hellenic sanctuary Delos was dear to the hearts and minds of many Greek cities.

I attempt to ‘correct Thucydides out of Thucydides’. ‘Thucydides on Ripeness and Conflict Resolution’. amended 673 (III. For him it is enough to know that the Athenians 63 64 65 66 67 Bagby.65 and much of the motivation to end the ‘Archidamian’ phase of the war (from 431–22) stems from the Spartan belief that the reversals they have suffered to that point are punishments from the gods for impiety. even when the lives of its soldiers are at stake. Second.18). Crane.64 First.66 Thucydides also gives us evidence of Spartan piety in the speech of the ephor Sthenelaidas at the Peloponnesian Congress.Thucydides. Thucydides shows us Greeks. he shows us the behaviour of the Spartans at war. VII. and the actions of the general Nicias at Syracuse in 413 which led. They also turn back several armies from campaigns. in part.23 or elsewhere.89. and halt military conduct on at least three separate occasions (mentioned in Thucydides at III. when the soothsayers find the sacrifices to be unfavorable (V. pp.95. Sthenelaidas bluntly claims not to have understood ‘the long speech of the Athenians’ but argues that they have nowhere denied their guilt in harming the allies of Sparta (I. By this I mean that the actions of the Greeks do not ‘maximize self-preservation and security through the pursuit of power’. Thucydides shows the Athenians to be susceptible to pious actions in war. to the destruction of the entire Athenian expedition to Sicily. and in general they are reluctant to fight on holy days or in the sacred month of Karneus (V. as stated above.82). both Spartans and Athenians. VI. 134. Jordan.54. International Studies Quarterly. The Spartans conduct the war as if their gods watch every move. Thucydides shows us multiple instances of Spartan piety in their actual conduct of the war. While the speeches in Book I have described the Spartans as pious and fearful of reckless action. Here.63 and that instead we see them sacrificing these ends to the dictates of what they believe to be a higher law – the laws of the gods of their city. Steven Forde. Thucydides. 48 (2004).67 Archidamus advises moderation in moving toward war with the Athenians. though they do not enter into his broader explanation of causation in I. 170. and in the Spartan actions surrounding the oracle at Delphi. Sthenelaidas gives a masterful rhetorical performance in a brief and explicitly anti-rhetorical reply to the Spartan king Archidamus and the Athenian envoys to the Congress.9).128). Hornblower.54.116). ‘Religious’. I will highlight two areas that Thucydides makes particularly prominent. p. Orwin. They believe that earthquakes are signs. V.6) when earthquakes strike. ‘Religion’. though perhaps not to the extent that the Spartans are. Throughout the war. Thucydides shows us a Sparta that does not act solely according to the dictates of realpolitik. They are convinced that the great earthquake at Sparta (which occurred before the war began) was caused by their massacre of serf suppliants at a temple (I. behaving in ways contrary to the dicta of rationality and power maximisation. and VIII. 124–5. V.73. and they believe that their setbacks in the early phase of the war were due to their violation of oaths that they had pledged to the Athenians (VII. Humanity.55. pp. VIII. ‘Use and Abuse’. . who themselves trumpet their prior military exploits as well as the power that they currently wield as a way of deterring a Spartan military response. p. He gives us at least two notable occasions of Athenian piety: the trial and recall of Alcibiades in 415 BCE on charges of impiety. 177–95.86).

was juxtaposed to the role of an antagonist played by Athens. victory would be theirs. In the Corinthian speeches at Sparta and in Sthenelaidas’ speech before the Congress we see how Athens is described as fitting this role. and piety. 741–67. and neither allow the further aggrandizement of Athens. in which Sparta played the role of the disciplined and pious observer of the old ways. ‘Globalization’. grasping for more than one can hold. which casts the Athenians as impious aggressors who not only must be opposed from self-interest. and sophrosune (self-control. what is even odder is that Thucydides himself seems to attribute these same characteristics to Athens.’69 This narrative. pp. and. but with the gods let us advance against the aggressors’ (I. Efforts to improve one’s material lot were disparaged as hubris – considered an attempt to transcend human limits and become like the gods – and behavior that was dangerous to the individual and community alike. ‘War’. Therefore he enjoins the Spartans: ‘Vote therefore. You will not be the first to break a treaty which the god. This is a narrative of civic religious purpose in which Spartan national identity is inseparable from their concept of the sacred and the roles they believe it to entail. ‘Religiosity’. ‘Thucydides’.71 but the upshot of this description 68 69 70 71 Weaver and Agle. and see Chernus. pp. 844–73.70 Thucydides depicts an avaricious Athens as the logical outcome of the geopolitical conditions set out in the ‘Archaeology’ that begins his text. pp. Crane. but that he frames the entire matter of the dispute with Athens in terms of honour. It is significant not only that he refers to the gods’ approbation in the final sentence of his speech. As Lebow puts the ‘stereotype’ of the Spartans: ‘The Spartans represent the traditional way of life based on subsistence agriculture in which apragomosune and hesuchia (rustic peace and quiet) were the highest goals to which people could reasonably aspire. . whether invoked or uninvoked’ (I. . they received from him the answer that if they put their whole strength into the war. Tragic.68 In the Spartan relationship to the oracle at Delphi we see further evidence of this. and the promise that he himself would be with them.674 Stefan Dolgert are acting unjustly and that they require punishment. Steven Forde. Kinnvall. 177–95. as it is reported.86). While there are tensions between these three concepts for Sthenelaidas they are linked together by his notion of Spartan identity. . 158. but also acceptance of one’s fate) is the highest form of wisdom. p. for war. Orwin. judges to be violated already’ (I. Moderation and piety were crucial to the identity of the role the Spartans allotted themselves. but richly deserve punishment.123). as the honor of Sparta demands. they still convoke another assembly of their allies. but these traits were defined in opposition to pleonexia – seen as greediness. justice. at which the Corinthians directly refer to the embassy to Delphi in their attempt to persuade the Spartans to fight: ‘the god has commanded it and promised to be with us . Lebow. though without applying moral condemnation as do the Peloponnesians. There was no escaping the cruelty of life. Humanity. pp.118). Lacedaemonians. 77–97. We can abstract from these discussions a generalised form of the Spartan national narrative and its religious bases. Apollo’s blessing given. Thucydides. Thucydides tells us that even after deciding that war with the Athenians was justified the Spartans ‘sent to Delphi and inquired of the god whether it would be well with them if they went to war. nor betray our allies to ruin. on the religious narratives of the Bush administration. in advising us to go to war. and the desire to take what belongs to others.

Thucydides critically notes that Nicias was ‘overaddicted’ to divination. who was to be the general in charge of the Sicilian expedition. refused from that moment even to take the question of departure into consideration. took place. (VII. merely on such grounds. Tellingly. ‘accused of sacrilege in the matter of the mysteries and of the Hermae’ (VI. Nicias’ decision. Most of the Athenians. and they were on the point of sailing away. and Nicias. indicates that they were not immune to the ordinances of their gods. Thucydides himself supplies us with the religious motivation that partially causes the disaster. Thucydides highlights Athenian examples of the efficacy of religious ideas mainly when things go wrong – perhaps as a subtle way of indicating that. and in the face of imminent defeat. to the extent that ‘divination and practices of that kind’ (VII. when an eclipse of the moon. and of Nicias. When faced with a life or death decision in which their rational self-interest dictates immediate flight. they do attest to the power of religious ideas to influence Greek state behaviour. the Athenian army is exhausted and near defeat. we can see the Athenian mindset through the actions of the Athenian soldiers in Sicily. After two years of fighting at Syracuse. the largest overseas military expedition ever undertaken to that date by Athens or any other state. . though more as a result of superstitious panics than as a normal pattern of conduct. While neither of these cases reflects a general religious autobiographical narrative for the Athenians. the small religious statues that protected the homes of Athenians. which was then at the full. the Athenians instead listen to their gods. even the relatively secular Athenians are susceptible to religious norms. Most dramatically. and the entire expedition of fifty thousand men is lost. even in the most notoriously secular state of the era. amended 675 is that it accords with the Spartan self-narrative of Athens as an impious malefactor in need of correction. Though Thucydides tells us that Alcibiades was also feared because he might be a threat to the democracy. the city was scandalised by the desecration of the Hermae. who was somewhat overaddicted to divination and practices of that kind. and Thucydides gives us no reason to doubt that many indeed believed him guilty of it. however. the general who ends up presiding over the Sicilian adventure. and suspicion fell on Alcibiades. Though he refuted the charges at the time and the expedition was allowed to begin its journey to Sicily.Thucydides. deeply impressed by this occurrence. That said. then. and we have seen how loathe he is to supply the religious dimension to anything. now urged the generals to wait. but he also tells us that it was not merely Nicias’ whim that was at issue: the majority of the soldiers were also persuaded that the lunar eclipse was portentous. On the eve of the preparations for the Sicilian expedition. the army sat motionless for 27 days. until they had waited the thrice nine days prescribed by soothsayers. they can only result in disaster. The army prepares to evacuate Sicily: All was at last ready.53). Many of these were damaged in one night. Alcibiades was later recalled and forced to flee Athenian jurisdiction. his recall was legally based on a charge of impiety.50) Shortly thereafter the Athenians are defeated in battle.50) do make their way into political deliberations. That the Athenians could recall the man they believed to be one of their best generals. was a widely popular one that met with the approval of the religious authorities as well as the army at large. With one voice.

demanding that the Athenians ‘leave the Hellenes independent’ (I. and Thucydides tells us exactly what he believes they are up to: ‘They were actuated primarily.126). telling us that Sparta spent its time ‘sending embassies to Athens charged with complaints.676 Stefan Dolgert Beyond Thucydides I: Cylon. son of Xanthippus.139).126). by a care for the honor of the gods. which related to an Athenian act of sacrilege from the sixth century BCE in which suppliants at a temple were massacred. Thucydides is sceptical about the purpose of these missions. in the event of her paying no attention to them’ (I. 142–3. suggest that Pericles and Thucydides may have seen what they wanted to see rather than what was actually in the mind of their opponent. The information that Thucydides reveals about the Spartan national character. and leaving little room for compromise. was connected with the curse on his mother’s side. So Thucydides claims that the Spartans use a religious argument for irreligious purposes. but they also knew that Pericles.127). and then again under compulsion by the Spartan king Cleomenes (at a time when Sparta exercised hegemony over Athens) by expelling the bones of the descendants of the perpetrators. ‘Religion’. and the curse of the Brazen Goddess The war does not begin immediately after the Spartans and their allies vote that it should be commenced. and that the embassy cloaks its attempt to weaken Pericles in the garb of pious rhetoric. the second embassy seems intended as a partial gesture of 72 Jordan. and they thought that his banishment would materially advance their designs on Athens’ (I. who also were killed against religious custom. Now the Spartans were demanding a third atonement. They demand that the Spartans themselves drive out not just one. and in that time the Spartans send three embassies to the Athenians. but two curses. Beyond Thucydides II: the Megarian Decree While the third Spartan embassy to Athens took the form of an ultimatum. in order to obtain as good a pretext for war as possible. once by exiling the perpetrators of the murders. Suffice it to say that the Spartans ordered the Athenians to ‘drive out the curse of the goddess’ (I. First. Athens had publicly atoned twice previously for this act. But are these embassies merely pretexts which obscure the true cause of the war? Or are they ‘ancient curses which were clearly taken seriously and were themselves regarded as sufficient casus belli ’?72 There is no need to elaborate the details of the first embassy as Thucydides relates it.128). Taenarus. pp. Almost a year elapses. . The Athenian retort is similarly described by Thucydides as a religious covering for political machinations. coupled with the repeated Spartan actions that accord with a religious national narrative. the temple of the Brazen Goddess (1. It is difficult to say whether the Athenians are responding seriously to the Spartan demands – would they have actually de-escalated the crisis had Sparta made atonement as demanded? – but we have reason to be wary of Pericles’ and Thucydides’ scepticism about the sincerity of Sparta. as they pretended. Second. the Spartans must atone for a similar massacre of suppliants at the temple of Poseidon at Mount Taenarus. the Spartans are accused of impiety relating to the violation of another sanctuary.

he argues that the war can be understood as the result of the commercial competition between Athens and Corinth for the markets and resources of Italy and Sicily. excluding the Megarians from use of harbors in the Athenian empire and Athens’ market’ (I. Ibid. excluding one small member of the Spartan alliance from some Athenian markets. M.74 Many scholars. While he contends that Athens felt it had to punish Megara lest other states believe that they could assail Athenian allies with impunity. amended 677 conciliation. This battle did not breach the peace between Athens and Sparta. he fails to ask why the other cities that participated in this battle 73 74 75 Kagan. as having been frightened into obedience in the first instance’ (I. Kagan and others claim that it was designed as a moderate measure by Pericles. According to Cornford. 265–6.. This last point was most important. and revoke the Megarian Decree. and of harboring her runaway slaves’ (I. and most consider that it occurred sometime in 433 or 432 BCE. So while Pericles thinks his audience may believe this is potentially a minor affair. have been so important. so much so that Sparta demanded its revocation as the sole condition to avoid war. but it stopped short of actual hostilities with the Peloponnesian League. contend that Athens. he claims it will set a precedent of appeasement for the Athenians. The Spartans demanded that Athens lift the siege of Potidaea (a colony of Corinth. Many even believe it occurred decades before 432 BCE. there is an important religious dimension to the embassy. Cornford’s Thucydides Mythistoricus. Why should this decree. including Kagan. pp. according to Thucydides. Ibid. Megara was a minor member of the Peloponnesian League. at least according to the assessment of Donald Kagan. was trying to punish Megara for its participation in the Battle of Sybota. when he quotes Pericles’ speech in reply to the Spartan demands: ‘I hope that none of you think that we shall be going to war for a trifle if we refuse to revoke the Megarian decree . in that it acted as an economic weapon to damage the wealth of Megara. see F.75 But Kagan’s thesis leaves at least one question totally unexplored. Corinth goaded Sparta into starting the war because it was losing its quest for economic hegemony in the central Mediterranean.. Outbreak. though it comes from the side of the Athenians on this occasion. pp. 251–72. and it was not alleged in any of the complaints that the Spartans leveled against the Athenians. But why did Athens enact this decree in the first place? Scholars differ over this point.139). you will instantly have to meet some greater demand. this trifle contains the whole seal and trial of your resolution. who will then be constantly in the position of weakness in their negotiations with the Spartans. He first merely states the Athenian complaint against Megara: ‘she accused the Megarians of pushing their cultivation into the consecrated ground and the unenclosed land on the border. If you give way. but he leaves much unsaid. He later gives us a little more insight. 322–56. even including the question of the date of the decree. though the evidence seems to weigh against this conclusion. as the Spartans made clear: ‘Above all. recognise the independence of Aegina (another city-state subjected to Athenian rule in the decade before the outbreak of the war).73 Again. leading to the outbreak of a 27 year war? Thucydides tells us a little.Thucydides. For the primary interpretation of the decree as an economic measure.140). another member of Sparta’s Peloponnesian League). and that the Athenians refused to budge at all. it gave her most distinctly to understand that war might be prevented by the revocation of the Megarian decree. pp. . .139). . where the Athenians and their Corcyraean allies fought against the Corinthians in 433 BCE. and Pericles in particular.

Leucas. and these later events are relevant to the period of 432 BCE ‘because they show the Athenians intensely concerned about a Megarian intrusion upon the hiera orgas (sacred ground). p. several years later the atheist Diagoras had been accused of the same charge for writing a book that attacked an Athenian mystery cult. the Athenians of the fifth century had already shown themselves capable of acting on the basis of religious concerns.78 This view of Ste.76 Second. According to Ste. Pausanias the ancient geographer claimed that ‘the Megarians who had cultivated the sacred land could never appease the wrath of the goddesses at Eleusis’. Outbreak. Ibid. If she were trying to send a message. and Kagan in particular is sceptical of his conclusions. 254. but none were the subject of economic retaliation by Athens. What evidence can we muster for this? First. leading Ste. and Anactorium were also involved. a major power second only to Sparta and Athens. de Ste. the purpose of the decree may not have been economic at all. the same actions by the Megarians nearly a century later. and were not trying to gain political control of her’. in 352 BCE. as we have seen. among which was the cultivation of sacred ground. as she could easily have enacted the same measures against the other minor (non-Corinthian) cities. Croix’s is not uncontroversial. Elis. the Athenian answer to the Spartan embassy in Thucydides tells us that the Athenians had several complaints against the Megarians. In 438 the philosopher Anaxagoras has been charged with asebeia (impiety) and had fled Athens. Croix leads us to see. Origins. Kagan. but might have been just what Thucydides tells us (if allusively): it was intended to punish a religious offense committed by the Megarians against the Athenians. not unreasonable in the circumstances. made with the deliberate intention of picking a quarrel with the Megarians and providing a pretext for the exclusion decree. Ibid. as does Kagan.79 But while we may doubt that the decree was exclusively religious in nature. Athens took no action against the other four cities who fought against her. While measures against Corinth. and prepared even to take vigorous military action to stop it. taken against men who were genuinely believed to be guilty of a form of asebeia. A clue to why only Megara felt Athens’ wrath can be found in the decree itself. the Athenians became enraged at Alcibiades for his alleged role in the desecration of the sacred statues that adorn Athenian homes. 255. Corinth. pp. 76 77 78 79 Ste. of a religious offense against the Two Goddesses’. and in 415 BCE. p. led Demosthenes to refer to them as ‘the accursed Megarians’. singling out Megara was probably not the best means of doing so. E. Finally. M. ‘as a measure. As G. 251–72. Ambracia. . at a time when they clearly had no reason to provoke Megara needlessly and no ulterior strategic designs against her.678 Stefan Dolgert were not the targets for similar economic measures. Croix to conclude: ‘We cannot simply assume that the Athenian complaint about cultivation of the sacred land at the time of the Megarian decree was a trumped-up charge.. Croix. Croix.’77 He goes on further to say that the decree should be viewed. would have raised the spectre of an all-out war between Athens and the Peloponnesians. we know that religious matters played an important if undetermined part in these Athenian decisions on the eve of the war.

That this fits 80 81 Charlick-Paley and Sylvan. ‘Use and Evolution’. but as Kagan notes.Thucydides. It is also not necessarily the case that Pericles would have been eliminated as a political force had the Athenians responded positively to this embassy. competitive. pp. this would have caused him some political embarrassment. While the first. How to assess the relative weight of religious narratives as a cause in the origin of the Peloponnesian War? That the Spartans feared Athens is surely true. and even then the Spartans were slow to move. ‘National’. 39–82. and Pericles did not pursue any aggressive policies toward the Spartan alliance. That is. it should be clear that I have not refuted. interest.81 It is not that actors do not seek power. 697–728. may have been highly politicised. it was only after the actions of the Athenians could be taken as a breach of the treaty. Kaplowitz. the other Greek cities) actually believed them. and in both of these embassies religious matters were crucially important. given his family connection to the curse. we cannot discount the fact that the Spartans framed their case in religious terms. Since the Spartan demand was left (deliberately?) vague. they frame the issue in terms that are congruent with their earlier belief – that Athenian impiety is the cause of the present discontent in Hellas. nor have attempted to refute the portion of the realist assumption that power. and perhaps. and rationality matter. but that these motives cannot be understood without reference to the narrative structure in which they take place. Recall that Sthenelaidas and his ‘war party’ in Sparta had already framed the issue at the Peloponnesian Congress in terms of Athenian injustice. . after the first Peloponnesian War and the signing of the Thirty Years Peace) was actually stable. and these stories use stereotypical images of self and other as a way of determining the salience and significance of events. only requesting that the Athenians ‘drive out the curse of the goddess’.127). the Greek culture of argument required that grievances receive some justification from the religious sphere. and in how that data is incorporated into instrumental plans to achieve their purposes.80 Actors interpret the world through stories. even if this were the result of the Athenians responding affirmatively to the demand. Athenian power in the years 445–31 BCE (that is. Even in the most political matters. depending on the particular framework that the actor possesses. as Thucydides simply asserts (I. pp. Perhaps the Spartans were intent on removing Pericles from power. profit. Still. and these appeals would hardly have been necessary unless many in the audience (in this case. this does not lessen the importance of the Spartan religious narrative. These narrative structures place the self as the protagonist in a world that is variously hostile. the rational pursuit of power and interest takes place within a framework or schema that is not itself subject to purely rational adjudication. Twice they afforded the Athenians the opportunity to avoid war. regarding the curse of the Goddess. in the embassy. If Sparta decided on war. and security. here again. or cooperative. amended Weighing religion 679 How are we to assess the implications of these findings? First. Narrative plays a crucial role in how actors interpret new data that they receive about the world. we have no compelling evidence other than Thucydides’ statement that Periclean banishment was the only possible outcome. However. effective political rhetoric had to appeal to the religious conscience of its audience.

Athens took its religious obligations very seriously. Ibid. Indeed. ‘Religiosity’. Croix. .87 But on this occasion. which is why his recourse is to claim that appeasing the Spartans 82 83 84 85 86 87 Ste.86 war was unavoidable because the causes were too deep. means that from 461–04 the Athenians and Spartans were engaged in a ‘hot’ war for 36 of 58 years – a powerful testimonial to enduring hostility. Weaver and Agle. per Pericles’ advice. and they may have led it down a path to war with Sparta when this was far from what was wished. though considerations of power and interest were clearly at play as well. and religious norms were important among these. as Ste. ‘Religion’. there was a good possibility that war could have been avoided. Pericles too seems to believe that this particular crisis is susceptible to de-escalation. but we should not allow his blindness to be our own. particularly if the dispute over Megara was more about conflicting religious rather than secular narratives? Perhaps. ‘Thucydides’. to brook more than a momentary pause in the momentum towards open conflict. the fact that it takes place in the shadow of the ‘First’ Peloponnesian War. In particular. they might have been severely restricted in terms of the concessions they could make to Spartan demands. pp. whether as a single war or as two discrete events. there were powerful reasons for friction between the rising power of Athens and the status quo hegemony of Sparta that would have continued to exist whether Athens conceded this point or not. as even Thucydides seems to recognise. Pericles may have urged war at this point based on purely political grounds. Alkopher. from 461–45 BCE. as Forde has said. pp. 177–95. Forde. Conclusion So could the war have been avoided. If the Athenian action against Megara was sacred rather than secular. In the second embassy religion again was crucial.680 Stefan Dolgert with Sparta’s perception of its security interests is not in doubt. Jordan. Thucydides.83 and may have felt themselves unable to simply back down since more was at issue for them than ‘mere’ politics – religious self-identity entails different role expectations regarding the expected duties of the believer84 that may prove less tractable than disputes that involve merely instrumental goods. Origins. Yet the emphasis placed by Thucydides on the outbreak of the conflict between 433–31 indicates that he and his contemporaries gave special consideration to the importance of the crises in this period.85 In short: there were many causes of the Peloponnesian War. Cornford. pp. 119–47. as Thucydides tells us. though on this occasion it was the Athenian rather than the Spartan religious narrative that was in play. confirms both of these images and brings the Greek world one step closer to total war. but it is equally the case that the dominant view in Sparta sees Athens through the image of an unjust and impious aggressor. The Athenian response. This raises an important counterfactual question: what if the Athenians had taken the Spartan embassies as sincerely intended? Would the war have still occurred? As I have indicated. 77–97. ‘Social’. no matter how we interpret the war from 431–04 BCE. Croix has shown. too intractable.82 Athenians other than Pericles and Thucydides were as likely to view themselves as the protagonists in a sacred drama as the Spartans. 715–37. pp.

. who rules over a loose confederation of city-states partially because of her strength.. to the possible detriment of Athenian martial and civic pride. as we can see in Pericles’ three speeches to the Assembly. Henry. In Sparta’s narrative her leaders see her as a moderate. Sparta’s leaders see her role as one of preserving the traditional balance between the various city-states. But how do you convince someone that you are not their mortal enemy when the structure of their commitment to this belief is not materially rational. if you will. Hermann et al. and Pericles’ and Thucydides’ judgments are confirmed. Imagine that Pericles or Archidamus were to adopt the perspective that I am 88 89 See Crane. and P. since a revision entails something entirely different from. but a fundamental existential danger. at least to some extent. as we have seen in the cases of Alcibiades. traditional hegemon. contravenes both Hellenic and Spartan norms in its naked assertion that justice is only what is in the interest of the stronger. pp. 26 (2005). Shana Levin. and Megara. unquiet Athenians. They are less immediately revisable. But surely there is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy here. but is based on a psychological schema which interprets information through already-prescribed roles in which you have been placed in a ‘barbarian’ or ‘enemy’ or ‘degenerate’ position?89 So from this perspective a crisis like that of 433–31 does not appear particularly amenable to nonviolent resolution. since for him war is inevitable. are not simply a minor irritation or aberration to be avoided. who ‘take no rest for themselves and give none to others’. and also partially because of the sanction granted to her by the traditional pan-Hellenic sources of religious authority. Michele Alexander. but it is the one that Pericles and Thucydides assert as the defining criterion for their version of Athenian identity.88 The ‘Athenian Thesis’. convincing a materially rational opponent that you do not pose a threat to them. at least at the present moment. partially because of her virtue. This is not Pericles’ version of the Athenian national narrative. These conflicting narratives are both more and less amenable to amelioration than a rational conflict over material interests. there is a religious Athenian narrative as well (in the actions against Megara. by contrast. in accord with broad norms of pan-Hellenic intersubjectivity. Allowing nuclear inspectors to your missile and production facilities is one way of demonstrating. There is. So then we have two scripts. 27–45. Political Psychology. for example). Nicias. but that it is advantageous to fight Sparta in 431 because friction will continue. 403–33. though not for the reasons that either believed. Though as I have also noted. sees herself as a new kind of power. This is not the only narrative available to the Athenians. two narratives in conflict. or this story of stories. and her narrative. In this narrative the unruly. however. and Social Dominance: Structural Characteristics and Individual Motives Underlying International Images’. say. that you do not pose a material danger to your purported enemy. Thucydides.Thucydides. that justice consists in a state attempting to expand as much as its capacities allow. places her in the role of antagonist to almost all traditional Greek notions of justice and piety. pp. but it attests to the plural political traditions upon which leaders may draw for mobilising constituents and justifying their actions. another side to the story. Thus it appears that Pericles believes not so much that war is inevitable. J. If Pericles does not successfully argue for war in the Assembly he seems to believe that war will not come. and that the weaker should naturally submit to the stronger. since the war becomes inevitable in and through the actions of a man who says that the war is inevitable. ‘Images’. Athens. of course. ‘Image Theory. amended 681 will only lead to further demands for appeasement from them. Social Identity.

and the way that these factors intertwine in multiple-actor settings to create. their underlying psychological bases. Understanding the narrative of your opponent does not necessarily make war less likely. but also for the narrative role which his city is assigned in the other city’s selfnarrative.682 Stefan Dolgert arguing for. it bears stating that in many ways the causes of this archetypal war are still an open question. though it is at this point that Pericles makes his first appearance in Thucydides’ narrative and persuades the Athenians not to compromise. He could have chosen to demonstrate Spartan power to Athens in more materialist terms. but he could also have lowered the religious stakes by shifting to making more materialist demands in his negotiations. though this likelihood stems from not from material causes but from the narrative scripts in play. and de-escalate international crises. and carefully examine his opponent not just for the material threat they pose. Reading Thucydides with a more jaundiced eye is one way to begin this task. especially the connections between cognitive narrative structures.139). as one way of speaking his adversary’s language. In short. was due to his belief in the ‘Athenian Thesis’ which dictated that states must expand or die. and if you misunderstand the other’s goals from the beginning you are unlikely to find common ground. by contrast. because he believed war to be inevitable. but it does provide another lens for the foreign policy leader. there is no way to argue conclusively that the Peloponnesian War would have been avoided had either set of foreign policy decision-makers taken into account the narrative of their opponent. and thereby gives her a set of tools that she otherwise has no access to. This points to the need for further empirical research to specify how religious national narratives operate. The best that can be said at this juncture. I think. is that if the war could have been avoided. but it is really just an opening move in a very long campaign. While I have argued throughout that it is religion in particular that forms the backbone of the Spartan and Athenian national narratives. if such a thing exists. such an outcome would have been unlikely absent the recognition by one party or the other that they were cast in the role of an existential threat by their foe. Had Archidamus understood that Pericles interpreted the Spartan embassies are mere pretexts. and not just from the threat to his city’s identity that the other poses. Our ‘cottage industry’ would be much better off if we focused on refining answers to this question. Adopting such a view would have presented each with a number of options. the Spartan king could have availed himself of other options. and that such role attribution probably did make conflict inevitable. That he did not. their susceptibility to strategic manipulation. Negotiation is unlikely to work unless you understand what your opponent actually wants to gain or fears to lose. could also have taken steps to avoid the war by viewing Athenian actions through the pietysensitised eyes of the Spartans. Pericles. Arguably this was what occurred in the third Spartan embassy. particularly those that intersect religious identity with narrative. though some of these might have made war as likely an outcome as happened in the actual crisis. In the case of the Peloponnesian War this could include operational code analysis of speeches. . as well as testing the specific utility of Ontological Security Theory versus other contending frameworks. Such a schema certainly makes war into a likely outcome of any crisis. that he saw the religious grounds for the embassies as irrelevant or worse. escalate. rather than simply finding ever more clever ways of interpreting what Thucydides the author was up to. in which only the ‘freedom of the Hellenes’ was requested (I.

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