Thucydides- ancient Greek General and Historian


Thucydides (born circa 460 BC and died circa 395 BC) is an ancient Greek general and historian. He is considered by many scholars to be the first to use rigorous methodology in the presentation of history.

Thucydides Picture

Very little is known of his life beyond a few glimpses provided by what he writes in his own text. At some point he contracted the plague, but recovered. He owned gold mines in Thrace (modern day Hungary). He served as an Athenian general in Thasos during 424 BC.

His work “The History of the Peloponnesian War” (431-421 and 421- 404) is his only surviving work. He was not only a historian of the conflict, but he fought in it.

He was the commander of an Athenian fleet against the Spartan invasion of Thrace in 424-423 B.C. His failure to defend Amphipolis from conquest by the Spartan General Brasidas resulted in his exile for 20 years.

While in exile in Athens, he decided to write about the history of the war. His account, his divided into four sections and eight books: an account of the Ten Years War (431-421 B.C.- Books 2 to 5.24), the interwar period (421-415 B.C.- Books 5.25- 116), the Sicilian Expedition (415 B.C.- 413 B.C.- Books 6 & 7), and the so called Decelian War (413B.C. – 411 B.C.- Book 8).

It was clearly written or heavily edited after the conclusion of hostilities in 404 BC, but nevertheless ends mid-sentence during the summer months of 411 BC. No one knows why.


Thucydides tells the reader that he began his work sometime after the war began. Much of it is written in the character of eyewitness accounts. The twenty years in Thucydides telling, describes in arc of political and moral decline for Athens. Athens is defeated in Sicily.

This long war had all the social and economic impact of World War I and II in the modern age. The death toll was high and the war stretched into several generations.

The real accomplishment of Thucydides work is his attempt to be as truthful as possible. He wanted his history to be a scientific study of men at war. His writings was not about assigning blame but an exploration in studying power and the workings of man. He believed this to be the true purpose of history.

His work of history is a military record without social or political commentary apart from war. Much of the history is told through speeches.

Pericles’ Funeral Oration

The most famous passage of Thucydides; history is the funeral eulogy by Pericles. In it, he describes the moving ideals of Athenian democracy versus the harsh world of the Spartans.

In 431, shortly after the Peloponnesian War had broken out, Pericles delivered his famous speech. It is to commemorate those troops who had fallen in battle. It was recorded, and may have been rewritten by Thucydides.

It is one of the primary sources on which our understanding of ancient Athens is based. It provides a unique insight into just how Athenian democracy understood itself.

In the speech Pericles relates the special qualities of the Athenians. The speech redefined many traditional Greek virtues in a radically new light.

Historical Impact

Throughout history Thucydides’ text has been used by all the great empires as a learning tool. From the Romans to the British Empire in the 19th Century Thucydides was taught as a key text to understand the power and warfare.

His work became the standard by which all recorded history was later judged. Many historians compare Pericles’ Speech to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Whether Lincoln was inspired by Pericles no one really knows.

Thucydides Statue
Statue of Thucydides

Most striking of all, both speeches conclude by challenging the living to live up to the standard set by the fallen. “So dies these men as became Athenians,” says Pericles. “You, their survivors, must determine to have as unaltering a resolution in the field.”

I think Lincoln expresses that thought better: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion.


Herodotus- The First Historian


Herodotus was the first real historian. A lot of what we know about Ancient Greek History came from him. Let me tell you an awesome story.

The First Historian

Herodotus (circa (c) 484-425 BC), Greek historian, is called the Father of History. He wrote “The Histories” (also called The History) considered as the founding work of history in Western literature. It is the first true history in recorded history.


It predates Thucydides (born circa 460 BC and died circa 395 BC) and his work “The History of the Peloponnesian War” (431-421BC and 421- 404BC).

“The Histories” was written (450c-429BC). It was his life’s work. It is the earliest extensive historical inquiry. At this point in Greek history we start to see literary works written in prose.

The work outlines the Greco-Persian Wars. It talks about the failed invasion of the Persian Empire into Greece, which ended in 479 BC.

Herodotus the man

He was born c. 484BC in Halicarnassus (modern day Bodrum, Turkey). He was in Asia Minor (Turkey) when the Persians were coming from when they attacked Greece. His perspective is interesting.

Herodotus Statue
Herodotus Statue

He is sympathetic to both sides in the wars, this duality is reflected in his writings. He is not seen as a “pure Greek” like the Athenians and Spartans.

He immigrated to Athens, where he taught. Finally, he moved to Thurii (in Southern Italy). The bulk of “The Histories” were written in Athens.

He is known as “The Father of History” but also been called the “Father of Lies” by both Plutarch and Cicero.

The Works

The works are divided into nine books. It was meant to one continuous work. It was organized into 9 pieces by later editors.

They were originally divided into 28 “logoi.” Each “logos” or pieces are designed as lectures to be given in public. Each sermon takes about three hours to recite.

This was exciting stuff in Ancient Greece. Whole days were spent listening to public lectures and learning. It was their version of TED Talks, lol!

He begins by tracing the history of the Greco-Persian interactions and climaxes at the Battles of Plataea and Mycale. No one is sure when the works actually start.

Some scholars say it dates the war as far back as 550BC. He doesn’t use dates. He ends up in 479BC when the Greeks are expelled the Persians.

Outlines of the Histories

Book 1

  • King of Lydia 1 (716BC-547BC)
  • The story of King Croesus- He conquers the Greek in Asia. He is defeated by Cyrus (560BC-546BC).
  • The Life Story of Cyrus the Great (? -530BC)

Book 2- This is the most famous of the books

  • The Land of the Egypt- Tells the physical description of Egypt.
  • Egyptian Customs and Society
  • History of Egypt and Min to Sethos (c 3000- 690BC) – Most of the information he collected came from local legends from Egyptian priests.

His descriptions of the pyramids and the great labyrinth. He describes them in detail and how they were built. He tells the stories of the Egyptian kings, queens and courtesans.

The pyramids were ancient even in his day.

Book 3

  • Tells the Persian king Cambyses’ expedition to Egypt. He aligns himself with the Arabs -which offers Herodotus an opportunity to digress on their customs and habits-, defeats the Egyptians at Pelusium (530-522BC)
  • Spartans make war on Polychaetes of Samos (525BC)
  • Magi Revolt, Persian Smerdis’ Reign, Darius Ascension (522-521BC) – Magi begins the invasion in Greece.
  • Reign of Darius with descriptions of his realm (521-486BC)

Book 4

  • Description of Scythia (modern day Ukraine) and Scythians
  • Darius’ Expedition to Scythia (513BC)
  • Libya and the Persians

Book 5

  • Darius’ European Campaign and Hellespont, Thrace (512-511BC)
  • The Ionian Revolt (499-494? BC)

Book 6

  • Kleomenes, King of Sparta, Aegina, Athens (521BC)
  • Marathon Campaign (490BC) – The Battle of Marathon took place in 490 BC, during the first Persian invasion of Greece. It was fought between the citizens of Athens, aided by Plataea, and a Persian force commanded by Datis and Artaphernes.
  • The battle was the culmination of the first attempt by Persia, under King Darius I, to subjugate Greece. The Greeks perform a double envelopment of the Persians.

Book 7

  • Details the Persian King Xerxes preparations for battle and his march to Greece (484-480BC)
  • Maneuver to the north; The Battle of Thermopylae (480BC)

Book 8

  • Naval Battles of Artemisia (480BC)
  • Battle of Salamis (480BC)

Book 9

  • Battle of Plataea (479BC)
  • Battle of Mycale (479BC)

The battles were on the same day. The Persians are defeated and leave.


Throughout “The Histories” Herodotus is extremely descriptive of the geography of what is called the “barbarian lands.” It is debated among scholars whether he was a geographer or historian.

To him history means inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation. He was obsessed with the study of the past, specifically how it relates to humans.

He traveled extensively. Many of his descriptions come from second hand sources. He details it in his writing.


Herodotus as “Philobarbaros” (barbarian-lover)

Herodotus is criticized for not being pro-Greek enough. This suggests that Herodotus might actually have done a reasonable job of being even-handed as an historian.

Greek culture was extremely xenophobic during the time of Herodotus. If you don’t speak “Greek” you are considered a barbarian of a savage culture.

It is very unusual not only to describe the barbarian culture and lands. Herodotus writes with very prejudice. Herodotus is “open minded” sees culture as a construct- this is unique in his time.

Herodotus the Credulous

“The Histories” contains some passages of rather ridiculous descriptions to modern readers. He borrowed information to write his stories. But most of his descriptions of Egypt are dead on.

Essential Reader

“The Histories” is the primary text for the Persian invasion of Greece 500-449BC.

It tells the story of one of the famous last stands in history- the Battle of Thermopylae (480BC). The movie “The 300” is based on this battle. It is an overdone epic, but it does a great job of detailing the warrior culture of Sparta.

It tells the story of the Battles of Plataea (479BC), Mycale (479BC) and Marathon (490BC). It gives detailed descriptions of “barbarians” cultures in and around Ancient Greek.

Herodotus Legacy

He is a key figure in the emergence of civilization. He was not a politician and but a writer. He shares the honor with Augustus and Constantine the Great. He wrote of one of the most important texts of all times. He is justifiably called “The Father of History.”







Greeco-Persian Wars


“The 300” is an epic movie that is based on real events. The story centers of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC during the Second Greco-Persian War. The battle is described by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus.

King Leonidas

Although a bit over the top the film delivers a few important messages. One is that war is the ultimate exchange of cultures. It is the extreme sharing of ideas, beliefs and ultimately men at war.

Leonidas (played by Gerard Butler), standing on a mountain of dead Persians, replies laconically to the Persian king Darius, “We’ve been sharing our culture with you all morning.”

In that movie and in history the Greeks represent the rational Western democracy fighting a desperate battle against the tyranny of eastern (read: Oriental) fundamentalism.

To the diehard fanatics of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) this fight is the other way around. Arab Islamic culture is steeped in oral history and tradition, today’s battle for the Middle East is simply another round in a long war. How did we get here?

The Greeks

Greece was the birthplace of western civilization. For a 1,000 years, this strong and charismatic people devised the most advanced technological feats the world had ever seen to that point.

A new generation of thinkers appears. Much of Western philosophy finds its basis in the thoughts and teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. A new understanding emerges and a way to look at the world is formed.

Great feats of technology were created. How these people moved truly gigantic stones and created great works of marble is an ancient miracle.

Technological wonders were fueled by leaders who united a people and launched them to point of the empire.

This brilliant burst of culture and creativity would fall victim to savage battles that would pit brother against brother. It would be a duel to the death that would lead to the end of a golden age.

The Greek City-States

In Greece a number villages started to band together. It was done in part for protection and in part for more organized trade. Once a group of villages came together they formed a city-state.

There were hundreds of city-states in ancient Greece. Some were large and some were small. Each had its own army in the form of a local militia. Some were large enough to have a navy.

Each had its own traditions. All of them were linked by language and culture. Not too different than the way the British and Americans see one another today. To quote Winston Churchill, “Two people separated by a common language.” There were more similarities than differences.

The citizens of the area identified with their city-states. They would say there were from their geographical city-state. All though they all spoke the same language and worshipped the same gods.

The largest and most powerful of the city-states was Athens.

They banded together to fight when threatened by an outside force. Later they would band together to fight each other.

The Persian Empire

Started by Cyrus the Great in 559 BC the Persian Empire rose of out of the grasslands of what is modern Iran. Persia was the superpower of its day. Enormously wealthy and self-confident it dominated the world.

It spread from Pakistan in the east, west to through Central Asia, to Macedonia in the north to Egypt in the south. It was home to 20 million people out of a time when the world population was estimated at 100 million. Persia was the most multi-ethnic and multi-cultured empire the world had ever seen.

Persian Life

The Greeks thought the Persians were barbarians. In reality, the Persians were quite advanced and civilized. They built roads, brought peace to far-flung parts of their empire ensuring fair trade. They introduced the first coinage system to the world.

Persian aristocracy lived by knightly virtues of chivalry and courage. Where they differed from the Greeks was that they were ruled by an autocracy. The Persians called their king, “One King” or “Great King.” He and he alone governed all of the provinces of this vast empire.

Greek Ideals

The Greek city-states had a touchy relationship with each other. Like arguing brothers, they often fought over the smallest details. But when threatened, they came together. Brother, can fight brother, but no outsider fights a brother alone.

They shared a strong kinship of a strong democratic spirit. These ideals permitted open debate and favored representative government based on majority rule. They saw the greatest threat to this way of life as being ruled by one king. It was an idea of freedom they were willing to die for.

The Stage is Set

The differences of view of philosophy and political viewpoint set the two cultures on a collision course. As the Persian Empire continued to expand it started to look towards the Greek city-states.

The wars would last over 50 years.


War as a Cultural Exchange


I love military history. What started as a simple hobby has become the passion of my life. I started college hoping to be a pre-MED student, but the math was too hard. I kept rounding out my schedule with history classes and the rest as they say is “history” (pun, intended).

Military history (read: war) can be seen as a rather perverse and not very much encouraged pursuit of study. I just started a hectic self-study (read: self-inflicted) reading and studying program to make me a better writer, soldier and person.

Some Observations

I am convinced that the “cement” that holds history together is war. It is the “walls” and “foundation” of the house of time. Through wars we see social changes, large technological leaps and entire civilizations become different.

For instance, in the first decade of this century, American life is radically different due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not the first time.

The American Civil War began as a rural war, but by the end the Union progress and innovations turned the US into an industrial superpower. This would progress through the world wars.

The Causes of War

Over the years all the reasons to conduct a war have changed little throughout the American socialist, Pitirim Sorokin estimated that England has been at war, since the Norman Conquest, for more than fifty years of each century. Russia and Spain have only slightly better records.

Noted British military historian, Liddell Hart says that wars are linked to the economies of the nation’s fighting. He writes that war is only “personal” in the sense of the personalities of leaders in of that country. It has certainly done a lot things to our own economy. Money is power after all.

Cultural Exchange

War is a reflection of the society that engaged in it. War can be seen as the ultimate “cultural exchange program. As we see in Leonidas laconic reply to Darius’ offer of surrender in the movie ‘300,’ “We’ve been sharing our culture with you all morning.” War is a study of culture in the extreme.

It is a curious exchange that affects both sides of a war. Prolonged warfare causes nations to begin to resemble the enemy. Don’t think so?

At Waterloo we see both the British and Prussians adopting French tactics at this point in the last great battle of the Napoleonic War. Irregular, guerilla fighters adopt military ranks as Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara did fighting in Cuba as Marxist revolutionaries. Regulars adopted the “hearts and minds” tactics of the successful insurgent as we did in the Surge in Iraq in 2008.

The American experience in World War II against the German Army allowed for a revival in American military doctrine in the early 80’s based on heavy weapons platforms and a war in the desert.

The American AirLand Battle Doctrine has many elements the German Blitzkrieg strategy used to conquer much of Europe in the 1940. This doctrine adoption allowed for the short, decisive campaigns of Desert Storm and the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Success in Battle

Battle is a confrontation of technologies, an amassing of men and machines. Great military leadership is neither a skill nor an art, but more like the game rock, paper and scissors. Success in battle is a combination of skill and luck.

The trick is bringing the forth the weapons and tactics that defeats the enemy at the right time. Most military professionals spend a lifetime studying for that test, and it never comes.

When history has recorded an army that has unprepared for war, it hardly ever mentions a force unready for battle. It always refers to men who are prepared to meet a different sort of opponent.

Tactical Genius

Hiltaire Belloc defined tactics as, “…the maneuver of men after contact with the enemy.” Tactical genius is a combination of personality, intelligence and the skill of the commander. Strategy, he said, is concerned with bringing armies into action in a fashion best calculated to give them an advantage.

Battle is both strategic and tactical combined with a little luck, both good and bad. Great commanders are able to create a tactical advantage with strategic intention. What defines truly great commanders in history is the ability to have the determination to fight, to employ tactics in battle to ensure victory. They do all they can to stack the odds in their favor before they even reach the battlefield.

The initiative and resolve of the commander play a decisive part in the ultimate success. The great commander wins by making the best use of his available resources, engaged the enemy with a positive willingness to fight and win. This is the essence of tactical genius.



The Army’s School for Advanced Military Studies (SAMS)


I always wanted to command an Infantry Company in combat. I thought it was the pinnacle of an Infantry Captain’s destiny. I went to Iraq in 2005 with the 42nd Infantry Division, a storied and proud unit of the New York National Guard.

The unit had fought with distinction in both world wars and being among the first responders during 9/11. But when I reported in to the unit in the summer of 2004, it was light years from where I wanted to be.

America was In Iraq trying to put a country back together after overthrowing a long standing dictator. In the summer of 2004 at Fort Drum, the home of the 10th Mountain Division- the most deployed unit in the army, the war was seen as long overdue.

I was an Active Duty Infantry Captain assigned to the mighty 10th Mountain Division, the workhouse of the 18th Airborne Corps. I volunteered to go to the cold, isolated post of Fort Drum, NY to make sure I went to war. Instead, I was assigned to a National Guard unit about to head to Iraq. Worst yet, I was on staff.

If I had controlled my own fate, I would have been at that moment, in the first year of the occupation of Iraq, blazing across the desert atop an Infantry Fighting Vehicle, raining hate and discontent on Islamic insurgents near some unpronounceable Iraqi village.

I would be wearing the Combat Infantryman’s Badge that I would have earned leading my company to glory while defending America from evil and smiling from ear to ear like a kid who just scored a date with the prom queen.

Instead, I was assigned to a National Guard Division Staff. One of many Captains assigned the boring job of studying maps and giving recommendations to the G3, the Operations Officer, making coffee and useless PowerPoint Slides. I knew it was an assignment I would be bored to death with.

Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Michael Hamlet

LTC Mike Hamlet was another active duty “augmentee” assigned to the 42nd Infantry Division. He was mischievous and charming in equal measure. He was a charismatic jokester who loved telling Monty Python jokes.

Hamlet was 45 years old and had a large forehead, a receding hairline that was cut into a high speed high and tight, and a thick muscular torso that looked like he did dips and pull-ups all day. He came to us with a very impressive resume.

As a platoon leader he had jumped into Panama with the 82nd Airborne Division in 1989. As an Infantry Company Executive Officer, he had spent five freezing months in the Saudi Arabia desert waiting for the ground offensive in Desert Storm. He said of the experience, “All that waiting only to have it be over in less than 4 days.”

Throughout the 1990’s as a Captain and a Major he had split his time between various hardworking units in the army. The 82nd Airborne Division he was a Company Commander in Bosnia. The 101st Airborne Division as a strategic planner. When he said, “planner” my young, impressionable mind thought, “Now there is a job I wouldn’t brag about?” How wrong I was.

Command and General Staff College

In 1993, after returning from Bosnia, as a senior captain Hamlet had been chosen to attend the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. It is where the Army sends the top 50 percent of its officers for advanced training.

Although the school is usually reserved for Majors, but Hamlet one of a handful of officers selected to go early. It was here that Hamlet’s career took on a new direction.

The school followed a 10 month long curriculum that schooled the Majors on strategy and doctrine. Hamlet ate the teaching at the school up. He ended up graduating first in his class, ahead of more than a thousand other officers, most of them already majors.

School for Advanced Military Studies

Hamlet’s instructors took notice of his agile mind and his ability to help his classmates through teamwork and encouragement. He was asked to stay on for an additional year that would immediately follow the 10 months he had spent at CGSC.

The course he volunteered for was called the School for Advanced Military Studies (SAMS). It is the army’s intellectual version of the Army’s Ranger School, a two month commando course which is famous for pushing its students to their absolute physical limits.

By design SAMS would provide a broad, deep military education in the science and art of war at the tactical and operational levels beyond CGSC in terms of the theoretical depth and application.

Huba Wass de Czege

In 1981, then a Lieutenant Colonel, Huba Wass de Czege published an article that examined the conventional military education approach of mid-career field grade officers. The paper created a debate over the CGCS curriculum. It was the genesis for SAMS (Olson, 2012).

Huba Wass de Czege, an Army officer descended, unusually enough, from Transylvanian nobility, had served as a captain and major in Vietnam. As a Lieutenant Colonel, in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, he observed the Army’s premier warfighting manual FM 100-5, “was confined to the science of tactical engagements only,” (Ricks, 2012).

The manual was an attempt at putting the army back on its feet again after an exhausting decade in Vietnam.

Wass de Czege had been pondering the Army’s lack of strategic ability for more than a decade, since he was a young Army officer “on a hill in Vietnam wondering why all the field grade officers above me hadn’t a clue about what they were sending me out to do,” (Ricks, 2012).

In January 1982, Wass de Czege was selected to attend the Army War College. He applied and was selected to be an Army War College Fellow with duty at Fort Leavenworth.

During his Fellowship year, he researched and wrote a thesis that documented the need for an additional year of intermediate level education for staff officers within the Army.

His thesis said, “For nearly ten years we have attempted to train CGSC [Command and General Staff College] graduates of the ‘First Battle’ and for virtually nothing beyond that yet-to-occur confrontation.”

They did so by designing a second year of intense academics designed to address the previous year’s shortcoming and move a small group of students into a higher level of knowledge and capability.

Fulfilling a Gap

SAMS fills a critical niche in the Army. When implementing change, the rule must be “first” do no harm.” However, as the Army executes is final missions in Afghanistan and begins a new mission in Iraq, SAMS planners are at the forefront of these efforts.

The US is the sole superpower in the world. The international environment will continue to be uncertain. Ill-defined threats that elude the state

Today’s leaders cut their teeth in the cold war, in the contest between nation-states. They’re not comfortable with thinking that the world’s greatest power can be threatened by a couple of Arabs with long beards, squatting around a desert campfire in Afghanistan. It doesn’t register in their state-centric paradigm of a uniformed enemy.

During the first decade of the 21st century, the US Army force structure struggled with changing from a military trained to carry out short and decisive conventional operations against a uniformed enemy in formations. It fought Desert Storm remarkably well, but almost failed to carry out a counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq.

It is highly probable that the US military will continue to be called upon to conduct short duration operations that entail high risk. As the future unfolds the military may not fit the contingency, and forces will need to be tailored, formed, and trained to execute specific missions.

This will require an officer corps, and especially planners, that are mentally flexible, comfortable with developing technology, and educated across the breadth and depth of military art and science (Olson, 2012).


Olson, S. E. (2012). A Comparative Study of the Advanced Military Studies Program and the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies. Leavenworth, KS : School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College.

Ricks, T. (2012). The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. New York: Penguin Books.