Essay 11c Part 2

War Prevented Ancient Populousness

February 11, 2020

There are commonly compensations in every human condition. These are not always perfectly equal, yet they restrain the prevailing principle.

The ancient republics were almost in perpetual war. It was a natural effect of:

  • their martial spirit,
  • their love of liberty and mutual emulation, and
  • that hatred among neighbouring nations
  • the equality

1. Martial Spirit

Now, war in a small state is much more destructive than in a great one because:

  • all the inhabitants, in the former case, must serve in the armies
  • the whole state is frontier, and is all exposed to the inroads of the enemy.

The maxims of ancient war were much more destructive than those of modern, chiefly by the distribution of plunder by its soldiers.

The private men in our armies are such a low set of people. Anything added beyond their simple pay breeds:

  • confusion and disorder among them, and
  • a total dissolution of discipline.

The very wretchedness and meanness of the soldiers of modern armies render them less destructive to the countries which they invade.

One instance, among many of the deceitfulness of first appearances in all political reasonings. battles were much more bloody, by the very nature of the weapons employed in them.

The ancients drew up their men 16 to 50 men deep, which made a narrow front. It took a lot of time for the outcome of battles to be decided, that outside parties could join in.

Our modern engagements are but partial rencounters because of:

  • the long thin lines required by fire-arms, and
  • the quick decision of the fray

These enable the general, who is foiled in the beginning of the day, to withdraw most of his army, sound and entire.

The battles of antiquity had a fury unknown to later ages because of their:

  • long duration
  • resemblance to single combats

The fear of becoming the slaves of their enemy urged them to fight on.

Tacitus tells us that in civil wars, the battles were the most bloody because the prisoners were not slaves. The inhabitants of besieged cities in ancient history would rather murder their wives and children and rush onto the enemy to a voluntary death hoping for revenge on them. Greeks and barbarians have often fought so furiously.

Plutarch says that the wars in Greece were carried on entirely by inroads, robberies and piracies.

Such a method of war must be more destructive in small states, than the bloodiest battles and sieges.

In the laws of the 12 tables, two-years possession formed a prescription for land and one year for moveables. This shows that Italy then had less order, tranquillity, and settled police than what the modern Tatars have.

Demetrius Poliorcetes and the Rhodians agreed that:

  • a free citizen should be restored for 1,000 drachmas,
  • a slave bearing arms for 500.

2. Love of Liberty

It is very difficult to exclude faction from a free government both in ancient and modern times.

3. Hatred among neighbouring nations

In ancient history, when one party prevailed, they immediately:

  • butchered all of the opposite party who fell into their hands, and
  • banished those who escaped their fury.

There was no process, no law, no trial, no pardon. In every revolution, up to nearly half of the city was slaughtered, or expelled.

The exiles always joined foreign enemies, and did all the mischief possible to their fellow-citizens until they could take full revenge by a new revolution.

These were frequent in such violent governments, the disorder, diffidence, jealousy, enmity, which must prevail, are not easy for us to imagine in this age of the world.

The two revolutions in ancient history that did not involve great massacres and assassinations were:

  1. The restoration of the Athenian Democracy by Thrasybulus, and
  2. The subduing of the Roman republic by Cæsar.

Thrasybulus passed a general amnesty for all past offences. He first introduced that word, as well as practice, into Greece. Lysias’ orations say however that the chief offenders were tried and executed.

Cæsar’s clemency was much celebrated. But it would not be so much applauded today. He butchered all of Cato’s senate when he became master of Utica. Cato’s senate was not the most worthless of the party.

People were extremely fond of liberty. But they seem to not have understood it very well.

When the 30 tyrants first established their dominion at Athens, they began seizing and executed all the spies who had been so troublesome during the Democracy. Sallust and Lysias say that

Every man rejoiced at these punishments; not considering, that liberty was from that moment annihilated.

He concludes his pathetic description with a refined and solid observation:

“In these contests, the dullest, most stupid, and had the least foresight commonly prevailed. They knew their weakness and dreaded to be defeated by their smarter opponents. So they went to work quickly by the sword and got the start of their antagonists who were forming fine schemes for their destruction.”

Dionysius the elder butchered in cold blood over 10,000 of his fellow-citizens. Agathocles, Nabis, and others were even bloodier.

The attrocities, even in free governments, were extremely violent and destructive.

  • At Athens, the 30 tyrants and the nobles, in a year murdered, without trial, around 1,200 people, and banished above the half of the citizens that remained.
  • In Argos, near the same time, the people killed 1,200 of the nobles. Afterwards, their own demagogues, because they had refused to carry their prosecutions farther.
  • In Corcyra, the people killed 1,500 of the nobles and banished 1,000.

These numbers are surprising because of the extreme smallness of these states. But all ancient history is full of such instances.

Alexander ordered all 20,000 exiles to be restored throughout all the cities. It means that more over 20,000 were slaughtered and massacred.

Isocrates said to Philip:

It would be easier to raise an army in Greece at present from the vagabonds than from the cities.

Xenophon, in the Banquet of Socrates, gives us a natural unaffected description of the tyranny of the Athenian people.

Charmides says:

“I am much happier in my poverty than in my wealth, as I was more secure, freer than a slave, received court than to pay court, trusted than suspected. Formerly, I was obliged to caress every informer, some tax was continually laid upon me. and it was never allowed me to travel, or be absent from the city. At present, I am poor but I look big and threaten others. The rich are afraid of me, and show me civility and respect. I am become a kind of tyrant in the city.”

In his pleadings, Lysias very coolly speaks of the maxim of the Athenians to execute some of the rich citizens and foreigners for the sake of the forfeiture whenever they wanted money. He never intended to blame nor provoke them since they were his audience and judges.

To the Athenians, a man was either a citizen or a foreigner. A man should either impoverish himself, otherwise the Athenians would impoverish him. Lysias gives a pleasant account of an estate laid out in the public service. Over 1/3 of it is in raree-shows and figured dances.

Before the introduction of republics, the ancient Greek democracies, mixed monarchies, and tyrannies were very unsettled. Isocrates says that only Athens could show a succession of kings of five generations.

4. Their love of equality

The equal division of property among the brothers in private families contributes to unsettle the state.

The universal preference given to the elder by modern laws encreases the inequality of fortunes. But it accustoms men to the same idea in public succession and cuts off all claim and pretension of the younger.

The new settled colony of Heraclea fell immediately into faction. It asked help from Sparta, who sent Heripidas with full authority to quiet their dissentions. He executed around 500 of the citizens.

This is a strong proof how deeply rooted these violent maxims of government were throughout Greece.


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