Ursula Lagger

 

War is a topic which is dealt with in all literary genres of the Ancient World. In quantity, it takes up a large part of all the conserved texts. One should, however, not be tempted to impute to ancient man to have understood war as normal conditions, and peace only as its short interruption. The texts rather demonstrate that war was present all the time because of many signs, and that peace as an idea was also omnipresent and thus was to be achieved or to be preserved. In order to achieve this, sometimes war was also accepted as a means to an end, always, however, as a state which could be overcome – and never was it described positively. Some passages from the works of Thukydides, containing different argumentations for and against entering a war, are the starting point for an investigation of how peace was used argumentatively for getting a military campaign accepted. Apart from historians and poets, the writers of both tragedies and comedies, but also philosophers dealt with the topic war and peace in Ancient Greece. Thus, they reflected a discussion process which they themselves influenced in this way, and which found expression in numerous comments. These were no matter of exclusively theoretical considerations of some intellectuals, because these topics were of great interest for large parts of the population; they reflected the concerns and dreads of the people and were taken up reflectively. As the decision of war or peace was not in the hands of some few, but was made by a large part of the male population integrated into the discussions concerning the political decision-making process, the politicians of that time had to use and influence the public mood of the masses in order to achieve the desired result. The justifications and arguments for planned military actions were different before every war, and the respective underlying reasons as well, which reached from the desire for spoils and revenge to striving for hegemony. Time and again, Thukydides has the speakers appeal to the emotional world of the listeners. Here it is made clear to them that with the planned war a life in peace can be achieved, that only with this war a peaceful life can be achieved. The decision over the war was in the hands of the citizens of Ancient Athens, who identified themselves with and over their polis. If the arguments were plausible and the citizens voted for a war, the same men went to war together with their sons, after having voted on their own fate. In the socio-political discourse as well as in imagery and metaphor, war played an important part and was essential for the self-image for the citizens of Athens. Especially the elites were keen on military success, which they could display in public and also meant protection of their status – opportunities which did seldom arise in times of peace. War for the sake of peace was an argument which reflected equally the needs and desires of many, and which appeared to satisfy them.