Book Review: Thucydides on Strategy: Grand Strategies in the Peloponnesian War and Their Relevance Today

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by Athanassios Platias and Constantinos Koliopoulos,

Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. xiv, 198. . Chron., append., notes, biblio., index. $17.99 paper. ISBN: 0190696389

Ancient Principles for Modern Strategy

If any were ever written, no ancient work on strategy survives. That does not mean the ancients did not understand strategy.  In this work, Greek university professors Koliopoulos and Platias argue that a coherent theory of strategy can be found in Thucydides, one applicable not only to the “Golden Age of Greece” but more broadly down to the present.

In one sense, this is not a radical notion, as Thucydides is required reading in most war colleges. What the authors have done, however, is to elicit the strategic concepts that can be found in Thucydides by a careful analysis of his text.

In their opening chapter, the authors warn that they are not going to rehash the history of the Peloponnesian War, and then go on to define and differentiate policy, grand strategy, and strategy, and discuss their methodology. They follow with a chapter on the causes of the war within the political and strategic environment of the times. They then give us chapters on the evolution of Athenian strategy and Spartan strategy.

The authors argue that, at the onset of the war the Athenians had a coherent grand strategic vision, developed by Pericles, which likely would have brought them victory. It was, however, a concept that required a Pericles at the helm. Following his death Athenian leadership strayed from his vision and they floundered from quick fix to quick fix until defeat, a conclusion with which it is hard to disagree.

In contrast, the Spartans began the war with a poor strategic vision, rooted in their traditional conservative view of “foreign affairs”, primarily maintaining domination of the Peloponnesus. Initially unable to cope with Pericles’ strategy, they were able to cobble together effective responses to later Athenian blunders a win the war.

In their final chapter, and an accompanying appendix, the authors compare the strategic concepts found in Thucydides with those of Sun-Tzu and Clausewitz. The make an effective case that Thucydides’ vision was equal to theirs, by demonstrating that he understood virtually all of the strategic concepts that are today considered commonplace.

Thucydides on Strategy is an important read for students of the Peloponnesian war, and perhaps even more so for students of strategy.

 

Note: Thucydides on Strategy is also available in hard cover and several e-editions
 
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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   


Buy it at Amazon.com




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