The Shadows of Command: Military Command in Ancient Sparta and Athens
Sand, Jordan A
In the realm of ancient military history the aspect of military command is of paramount importance. Hitherto, there has been no study of the relationship between individual military commanders and political institutions in the ancient Greek world. In the era of the Roman Republic, the study of tensions between senate and general is at the crux of understanding the Roman Republic’s method of waging war –the levels of power afforded to commanders in the field and their answerability to the Roman senate and people. In the ancient Greek world, the relationship between institutions and military commanders is of equal importance. This study will examine the interplay of ancient military commanders and political institutions at Sparta and Athens and assess the implications of this relationship for success in waging war. This dissertation will make a contribution to our understanding of political institutions and state formation, as well as military history. The political negotiation of command between individual field commanders and institutions at Sparta and Athens and the strategic implications for wartime will form a crucial part of the inquiry. Methodology includes applying modern military analytical tools to ancient battles, tactics, and strategic concepts.In 1988 Nicholas G. L. Hammond, the British historian of ancient Greece and heroic World War II S.O.E. officer, noted in his essay ‘The expedition of Xerxes’ in The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol IV 2nd ed, that the measure passed in the Athenian assembly in 487/6 BC to decide the archonship by lot changed profoundly the Athenian military command system, the nature of the Athenian generalship and the political nature of Athens. He wrote: “in the past an archon had been supported by a majority of the entire citizen population as the best man in his tribe. This measure removed one ladder of ascent to a position of exceptional pre-eminence. An immediate effect of the change in the status of the archons was to make the generalship the post most sought after by an ambitious man.” Furthermore, in 501/0 BC, the Athenian military command system transformed from single to split command. The old military command system involved the use of a single archon polemarch as commander in the field, the new system involved electing ten generals and the splitting of the previously held single command; the result was that the Athenian polemarch by 487/6 BC no longer had the military authority of a single commander. In his 1969 article ‘Strategia and hegemonia in fifth-century Athens’ in The Classical Quarterly, New Series Vol. 19, Hammond noted the reverberating effects of split vs. single command systems in successfully waging war in Athens and Sparta respectively. Hammond’s articles form the basis from which I will launch a comprehensive study of military command in ancient Sparta and Athens. Hammond shone a light upon the interplay between laws, political and military institutions and individual military command in ancient history. Despite Hammond’s lead, no historian has followed with a comprehensive study of military command in ancient Sparta and Athens. Of recent ancient Athenian scholarship, Iain Spence’s essay ‘Cavalry, democracy and military thinking’ in David Pritchard’s edited volume War, Democracy and Culture in Classical Athens highlights the subject of democratic military thinking. Pritchard’s introductory essay to the volume ‘The symbiosis between democracy and war’ also highlights the relationship between democracy and war. Pritchard touches on important points about individual military command, such as the lack of political control over military commanders before the reforms of the chief archon Cleisthenes, the ancient Athenian sixth-century statesman largely credited with the founding of Athenian democracy. He writes: “Before Cleisthenes the military campaigns of Athens were not initiated or supervised by the city’s rudimentary political institutions nor led by leaders who had been publically appointed.” But on the whole, Pritchard’s study, as well as Josiah Ober’s Democracy and Knowledge, and Ryan K. Balot’s Greed and Injustice in Classical Athens focus heavily upon cultural-military relations in Athens with an emphasis on democratic war management. While such studies possess worthwhile insights, military command as the main focus of a study in ancient military history has been sorely neglected. Biographical works of military commanders such as Donald Kagan’s Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy address aspects of military command in passing but not as the focus of the study. The most fiercely protected military position in the ancient Greek world was the Spartan kingship, which merged the dual institutions of kingship and generalship into one; only the dual Spartan kings could hold the office of the military commander-in-chief. In regards to Spartan history, the only work that comes close to examining the Spartan military commander and the mechanisms of his generalship, is Paul Cartledge’s magisterial 1987 study of the Spartan king and military commander Agesilaos, entitled: Agesilaos and the Crisis of Sparta. Cartledge has an invaluable chapter titled ‘The Generalship of Agesilaos,’ in which he examines the components at play in conducting Agesilaos’ generalship. He seamlessly weaves modern military theory from the likes of John Keegan, Michael Howard and even Napoleon with ancient authors to examine Agesilaos’ military record. I hope to build upon the study of the Spartan generalship and the strategic maneuvering of the Spartan king with the Spartan political institutions of the gerousia and ephorate. The effects of the relationship between commander/king and political institutions on Sparta’s ability to wage war will be among the questions I address. Cartledge does not note with any emphasis the importance of the single command system in Sparta. This study will address the vital importance of split vs. single command in ancient military history; the Spartan record will prove indispensible in this matter. This is a comparative ancient military history study of Sparta and Athens, and it is through the comparison that I will show the profound effects the relationship between individual military command and political institutions had on the ability of a regime to wage war and deal with crisis in the ancient world. In so doing, I hope in this study to bring the ancient military commander out of old shadows into a new historical light. Finally, and importantly, I have attempted to be as careful a student of sources as well as military matters throughout this study. At every avenue possible, Herodotus and Aristotle, the two main sources for this study, have been interrogated and reckoned with, all with the purpose of endeavouring to understand the high commands of Sparta and Athens, and the nature of high command in general.
Embargo Lift Date
Showing items related by title, author, creator and subject.
Zaidan, Mahdi (Georgetown University, 2018)Beirut and Athens’ reputation as ‘gay havens’ in comparison to neighboring countries has made them particularly attractive destinations for LGBT refugees. Upon arrival, these refugees fought hard to secure living arrangements, ...