Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Pelopnnesian War the "unsavory" Truth (Read All About It) : Reflections

I have to confess I am not the same wargamer I once was after I finished reading big T's (Thucydides) "History of the Peloponnesian War". No it did not break my spirit because it was a big book, quite the contrast in fact. As I read more I rather got into it. However I was expecting to be uplifted, as I was after reading Big H's (Herodotus) "The Histories", but quite unexpectedly I felt unclean, as my values and perceptions had been radically changed. On reflection the "good guys" of the Persian Wars now looked rather "bad", in fact everything looked tacky, tardy and amateurish.

Originally I though the Persian Wars were where it was "at" in the ancient Greek period, but the Peloponnesian War is now the point of fascinating interest to me. Previously I had shunned it as a triviality or something I would like to rather forget about, as it seemed a case of two good friends fighting needlessly (Athens v Sparta) but I see now that I had it all wrong. In many ways it seem to be the defining moment in Greek history and a game changer in the conduct of war. The length of the war meant that hostilities were passed down through generations, with 'old scores' to settle which had faded from living memory, but used as excuses for action by the opportunistic figures of influence. The Greek reasoning often was caught up with the notion of "rank" among City States which often defied the pragmatics of winning a war in the most effective fashion (please see Song of Wrath for further details as this really needs to be read with the benefit of a professional author to do the concept justice)

It seems the factions of City States and alliances had more than enough potential to produce a pre-WWI wrecking scenario, but the seedy shifting nature of subterfuge between so called 'allies' was unbelievable in scale and duplicity. Another startling feature was the lack of "large battles" (Delium 424 and First Mantinea 418 BC) meant that is was a succession of short to medium size hoplite battles, ideal it has to be said for wargaming actions. To this end I am using "The Peloponnesian War", a solitaire game from Victory Games, as a further learning tool and source for tabletop battle generation.


John Lambshead said...

I suspect future historians will set questions for their students comparing the P. Wars with the 20rh C. German Wars.

Shaun Travers said...

The Peloponnesion War is definitely not a very "clean" war. Politics rules on both sides. And the period after is just as interesting and has my favorite ancient leader - Philip II - in it. I have the Victory Games game for over 15 years - I got it out once and played a turn and then went on holidays and could not get back into it. A game on my list to play.

Peter Douglas said...

I suggest Donald Kagan's "A War Like No Other" for a modern take on an ancient war.

Prufrock said...

That game's on my want list. I don't know if I'd ever play it, but I'd like to at least get the option to refuse myself!

I completely agree that reading about the war makes you feel a bit unclean. Self-interest, greed, betrayal, hubris; it's all there and just about everyone has at least one terrible character flaw!

Perfect for wargaming, really :)

Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

Thanks gents, I thought I was in a minority reading about the Pel War, so thank you for your comments ;)

I am so close to starting playing the Pel War by Victory Games (I had to print it out from my electronic copy which is a bit of a faff) but I have been distracted by another VG called Tokoyo Express :)

Note: PD
I have read Kagan's (one volume) Pel War and found it essential before I started the Big T, the other book you mention seems to be VD Hanson's which I have read first but confess I need to go back and really read again "with new eyes"

The book I am half way through at the moment is "Song of Wrath" by Lendon and although only takes the first part of the war is a good read (with plenty of map snippets)

The book I will get next is Green's Armada to Syracuse (his Persian War but was the best I have read so far)

Peter Douglas said...


Quite right it is Hanson that I was thinking of. Speaking out my backside with out fact checking again.