From the legendary tales of the Trojan War up to the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great, warfare played a central role in ancient Greek history and society. This module allows you to examine ancient Greek warfare from a range of different sources and angles (military, political, social, economic, cultural, and religious), to work with written and material evidence from the Classical Greek period in particular, and to assess the preliminaries, events, and conclusions of major wars, as well as studying the wider impact of warfare on ancient Greek society.
The history of the Classical fifth century BC was dominated by two wars: the Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian War. Culminating in the battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis, the Persian Wars and their commemoration loomed large in Greek history and culture for many centuries. They contributed to the self-definition of Greeks vs. others; led to the rise of the Athenian Empire; and Alexander the Great would later set out on his conquest as a Greek war of revenge against the Persians. The Peloponnesian War, on the other hand, centred on the conflict between two Greek city-states, Athens and Sparta. Their lengthy period of strife reshaped the balance of power in the ancient Greek world, and led to the downfall of the Athenian empire.
The two wars are the main focus of the works written by Herodotus and Thucydides – the former known as the ‘father of history’; the latter praised for his strict historical standards and considered one of the founding fathers of political realism. Both authors exerted a significant influence on the writing of history more broadly, and a study of their works not only offers an opportunity to learn about Greek history, warfare, and society in the fifth century BC, but also provides a direct encounter with two of the earliest known historians. The module combines their historical accounts with documentary sources for Greek warfare and society as well as material evidence (including artistic representations of warfare and the study of archaeological sites). In the final part of the course, attention will be paid to the reception of ancient Greek warfare until the modern day.