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Melian Dialogue and Honor

In 416 BC Athenians set out to conquer the island of Melos. They offered
the Melians an ultimatum: surrender or face destruction. The Athenian
emissaries met with the Melian rulers. Thucydides recorded the dialogue in
his "History of the Peloponnesian War.

The Athenians argued that you know that right is only in question
between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak
suffer what they must (cynicism as far as it can go!)

The Delians said that we would show ourselves great cowards and
weaklings if we failed to face everything that comes rather than submit to
slavery.

The Athenians countered: do not be led astray by the false sense of


honorthis thing called dishonor, has led men, still being able to see the
dangers ahead of them, to surrender to an idea, while in fact they have
fallen voluntarily into irrevocable disaster.

This notion of honor, invoked by the Delians and ridiculed by the


Athenians, is indeed the outstanding value in which soldiers- and in fact
whole communities- are instilled and for which they will fight, as Prof.
Centero argues. Honor emphasizes the need to keep allegiance to what is
due and right, an unquestioning obligation to always live by these rules,
no matter the consequences.

In terms of feelings, its the absence of self reproach, in most cases


requiring the ultimate sacrifice. This is exactly what the Delians felt and
did. They rejected the ultimatum and faced death and enslavement.

Funeral Oration and Citizen Army

Pericles Funeral Oration, dedicated to soldiers fallen in battle, was


delivered at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War. As
Thucydides recorded it in his famous History of the Peloponnesian War
Pericles chose to honor the dead by glorifying their city of Athens, whose
citizens they were.

The glorification comes as an immediate result of the fact that Athens was
o Democratic city, as opposed to the oligarchic regime of the opponent
city of Sparta.

Democratic value for the Athenians is the advancement in public life falls
to reputations for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to
interfere with merit, as in contrast happened in Sparta. Poor citizens and
rich ones alike, could lay claim to a public office in Athens.

As we know there are two completely different models of military in the


ancient world: the citizen soldier army model (ancient greek cities and
early Roman Republic) and the slave armies (Persian Empire).
Serving in the military is part of the price of citizenship and serving in the
military also allows one to become a citizen, as Prof. Centero noted.

So both cities, Athens and Sparta, had armies of citizen soldiers, with a
small component of slaves in auxiliary services. Athenian soldier was
motivated by the democratic values of his native city, while the Spartan
soldier was motivated by the privileges of his citizen status, opposed to
tens thousands of helots (slaves).

Both armies were associated with a single weapon: a javelin or a sword, in


the cavalry or in the infantry.