Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Thirty Tyrants

The Spartan terms for peace for the end of the Peloponnesean War dictated that the Athenians tear down their long walls (connecting Peiraieus to Athens), surrender all ships but twelve, allow their exiles to return, have the same friends and enemies as the Spartans, and follow the Spartans as their leaders. There were Spartan allies who wanted Athens razed, but the Ephors said no. They believed that no one should destroy a people who had given so much to the Greek culture.

Once the long walls were destroyed the Athenian assembly was asked to choose thirty men to rewrite their laws. The names of the chosen were Polychares, Kritias, Melobios, Hippolochos, Eucleides, Hieron, Mnesilochos, Chremon, Theramenes, Aresias, Diokles, Phaedrias, Chaireleos, Anaitios, Peison, Sophocles, Eratosthenes, Charicles, Onomacles, Theognis, Aeschines, Theogenes, Cleomedes, Erasistratos, Pheidon, Dracontides, Eumathes, Aristoteles, Hippomachos, and Mnesitheides. Of these men, twenty-five are obscure, three are known only by anecdote, and two were major players in the drama that would follow.

As Xenophon tells us, the rewriting of the laws bogged down almost immediately because most of The Thirty had another agenda – retribution. All agreed to hunt down and execute traitors from the Peloponnesean War, but they also schemed to take power permanently. They asked Sparta to provide a garrison to protect them until the new constitution could be established and then, with the garrison in place under Kallibios, The Thirty began drawing up a list of those who would oppose their absolute power, in order to have them killed.

Theramenes, who had been to Sparta as part of the negotiation team to end the war, opposed this step as unlawful and immoral. He demanded that The Thirty allow more participation in the Athenian government so they responded by drawing up a list of three thousand who would participate in the government. All other Athenians were disarmed and excluded from the system. Now The Thirty began their reign of terror against the rich and all who opposed them.

Kritias, the unofficial leader of the group, was again opposed by Theramenes, who was denounced and forced to take poison. This caused a general revolt that saw a rebel group located in Peiraieus defeat the army of The Thirty killing Kritias and Hippomachos. The remainder of The Thirty retreated to Eleusis and begged for Spartan help.

This time fortune favored the oppressed. Lysander, the Spartan Admiral sympathetic to The Thirty, was preparing to defend their interests when the Spartan king Pausanias overruled his attack fearing that Lysander was becoming too powerful. He also believed that blind support for the ultra-conservatives was a mistake. After a skirmish with the rebels, Pausanias decided to use them to broker a peace with Athens. In the end a new government was formed and The Thirty were banished to Eleusis.

One year after the Spartan/Athenian treaty created The Thirty, it was gone – destroyed by its oppression and ruthlessness. This same model had been employed by the Spartans in other Poleis, typically with a ten man oligarchy, but the notion of a Spartan garrison backing a group of local henchman did not go down well with the oppressed any place where it was tried.

When their war with Persia broke out in 400 B.C. the Spartans became distracted from their efforts to control Attica and, by 395 B.C, Athens had re-built the long walls, re-occupied the Aegean Islands, and launched a new navy.

One can certainly understand the Spartan position. They wanted to avoid a continuation of The Thirty year Peloponnesean War by keeping their adversaries under control. The problem was their use of a political model which worked for them but not in cultures used to wider public participation. The Spartans knew how to win wars, but not how to govern those they conquered.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Spartan Army after The Peloponnesean War

The Spartan Army at its zenith brought to battle six to ten thousand men -- Spartiates, Perioeci, and Helots. Spartiates were the true Spartan citizens who had logged twenty years in the Agoge while Perioeci were Spartan sympathizers from the cities surrounding Sparta, and Helots, of course, were the Messenian serfs who farmed for the Spartan people.

At the Battle of Platea in 479 B.C, the Spartan Army consisted of 5,000 Spartiates and 5,000 Perioeci. After the great earthquake of 464 B.C. wiped out a generation of infantry, the Spartans were forced to brigade the heterogeneous groups together to cover up the shortage of Spartiates. In spite of this loss, Sparta was able to maintain its fighting strength through the end of the Peloponnesean War. For example, at the Battle of Nemea River in 396 B.C, the Spartans fielded 6,000 hoplites.

As I have written in previous posts, the Peloponnesean War was the hollowest of victories for Sparta – perhaps the hollowest of all time. The Spartan oligarchy did not translate well to governing the conquered because the Athenians were used to the democratic style. In addition, the Spartans were heavy-handed, causing Athens to overthrow the puppet government within a year. There is general agreement that the Spartan army was degraded after 400 B.C, because the wealth and high living of Athens corrupted traditional behavior. The spoils of war funded new luxury in Sparta, encouraging class differentiation and a move away from old lifestyle. The resulting effect on the Spartan army was disinterest in the agoge and fewer Spartiates.

The date 371 B.C. marked the end of the Spartan Army as a major fighting force when it was defeated at the Battle of Leuctra. Xenophon’s casualty list shows how far the Spartans had fallen by that time. Only one thousand fifty Spartiates from the ages of 20-54 fought in the battle and four hundred of this number killed. The majority of the defeated army was Perioeci.

Following Leuctra, the Spartan Army faded from view for almost a century. The rise of Macedon under Philip led to the formation of the Corinthian League in 338 B.C, which excluded Sparta. Then, after Alexander’s death, the Macedonian Civil War reached Sparta and it was attacked unsuccessfully in 294 B.C. In 272 B.C, Pyrrhus placed Sparta under siege but had to withdraw. These Spartan armies during this time were in the majority mercenary. Sometimes Helots could buy their freedom by serving; other times Sparta advertized anyone who would fight for pay.

Starting in 236 B.C, there was an effort to return Sparta to its former glory by reintroducing the Lycurgian customs. Cleomenes was successful at dividing property so as to spread the wealth more evenly among the people, but his attempts to reestablish Spartan hegemony in the Peloponnese was cut off at Sellasia in 222 when a Spartan army of 6,000 was wiped out, forcing Cleomenes into exile.

What can we conclude about the Spartan Army during this period?

There is no question that the traditions of the agoge were degraded after Leuctra. It must have disappeared at some point because we know that Cleomenes tried to revive it in 236 B.C. It is likely that the few Spartiates and commanders retained the style of Spartan armor and weapons over time with some exceptions. Torso armor was replaced with a tunic during the fifth century. The Doru (six foot spear) was replaced by the Macedonian sarissa during the time of Cleomenes, as the Macedonian Phalanx became the accepted model for a battle formation. What the auxiliaries and mercenaries wore is unknown. Perhaps they wore whatever they owned because war was their profession and they needed to be prepared for it.

Leuctra proved that the old Spartan style of fighting was obsolete. Archers and cavalry were used effectively against them and the old Spartan adage against “fighting like women” was replaced to adapt to the new style of warfare.

This post recognizes the gamers for their interest in historical accuracy. Getting it right is always important.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Aristotle and Ancient Chemistry

Aristotle believed that earth, air, fire, and water were the fundamental elements of the universe. We scoff today at this naïve notion of the natural world, but the story beneath the story is still interesting.

In Aristotle’s time the known elements were ten:

Copper – discovered in 9000 B.C.
Lead – discovered in 7000 B.C.
Gold – discovered in 6000 B.C.
Silver – discovered in 5000 B.C.
Iron – discovered in 5000 B.C.
Carbon – discovered in 3750 B.C.
Tin – discovered in 3500 B.C.
Sulfur – discovered circa 2000 B.C.
Mercury – discovered in 2000 B.C.
Zinc – discovered in 1000 B.C.

Aristotle believed that all substances, such as the above, were made up of earth, air, fire, and water in differing proportions. Consider the burning of wood. It breaks down into fire and earth (ash). You can obtain fire from wood, but not wood from fire, so fire must be a component of wood.

He goes to great lengths in On the Heavens to derive the properties of the elements and how they are related to each other. He explains how they are subject to generation and destruction. For example, fire can be destroyed by two methods: by its contrary (water) when quenched and by itself when it burns out.

In his analysis of how the elements are generated, however, Aristotle gets off track. He proposes that the elements are either created from something incorporeal (non-material) or from themselves. He ruled out the former because it would require the space of a void to synthesize the element and voids do not exist. He simply could not accept the fact that there is space unoccupied by matter. If elements are created from themselves, how does this happen? To Aristotle, they cannot change shape so they must resolve themselves into planes. For example, when an object is burned it becomes spheres and pyramids because fire itself is spheres and pyramids. Several of the early Greek “chemists” talk about the forms of matter in geometric figures.

Yet there is still a more interesting case – that of the atomists Democritus and Leucippus. Predating Aristotle by a century, these two philosophers postulated the existence of tiny atoms that make up all substances in nature. The atoms of any substance are unique, indivisible, and infinite, the latter attribute being unacceptable to Aristotle. While he focused on the absurdity of infinite atoms, and used that to debunk the atomists theory, he never perceived how atoms could be small and in large quantity without being infinite. Man had to wait for centuries before he would be able to perfect his methods of experimentation and embrace the concepts of atomic physics.