Persians and Medes: Thucydides on Medizing (late-fifth century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Persians and Medes: Thucydides on Medizing (late-fifth century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 11, 2024,

Ancient author: Thucydides, History of the Peloponessian War, 1.94-95, 128-135 (link) and 3.60-68 (link)

Comments: Writing just after 411 BCE, Thucydides of Athens’ narrative incidentally provides some important glimpses into what a Greek of that time (like Thucydides) might observe or imagine about cultural encounters between members of different ethnic groups. In particular, Thucydides builds into his narrative and his constructed speeches the accusation of “Medizing” or “Medism” (Medismos, from the verbal form medizein). This is really the equivalent of “Persianizing” since Thucydides and other Greeks usually did not take time to clearly distinguish Medes and Persians (despite the fact that they had been confronting one another in war for almost a century!). This concept of Medizing (most often an accusation that could be thrown at opponents in this direction or that rather than a description) involves active engagement with Persians and Persian culture in a way that resulted in the adoption of some Persian ancestral customs and / or a tendency to collaborate with, or accept the rule of, the Persians. For Herodotos, “Medizing” most frequently refers simply to siding with, or capitulating to, the invading Persian forces (cf. Inquiries 4.144, 165; 7.138-139, 205, 233; 8.30-1347.205, 233; 9.67, 86-88); but Thucydides’ usage expands beyond this to entail the active adoption of Persian customs. For Thucydides, the accusation also implied that a particular person or civic community had shockingly abandoned their own ancestral customs (ta patria) in order to adopt the cultural practices of another people.

The concept of Medizing did not stand alone in this period, but was rather part of a larger ethnographic semantic field to express the adoption of customs viewed as foreign to one’s own ancestral customs: Lakonizing, Atticizing, Hellenizing (hellenismos), and Judaizing (Ioudaismos; link), on which also see the articles by Graf and Mason mentioned below. So, for example, Xenophon of Athens has the Athenian Kallistratos addressing the Spartans, admitting that “among the populations of all the cities, some favour you [Spartans], and some us. Within each city, some Lakonize while others Atticize” (Hellenika 6.3.14). And Isocrates can question actions which imply lack of loyalty to one’s own people: “Didn’t we choose to pursue a policy that resulted in the Lakedaimonians becoming masters of the Greeks? Didn’t they, in their turn, manage their supremacy so badly that not many years later we again gained the upper hand and became the arbiters of their safety? Didn’t the interference of the Atticizers make the cities Lakonize? And didn’t the violent behaviour of the Lakonizers force the same ones to Atticize?” (On the Peace 8.108). This mode of categorizing others’ behaviours as unacceptable continued on into the Roman era (in this case the second century CE), as Maximus of Tyre’s use of the analogy of “barbarizing” and “Persianizing” shows (link coming soon).

In the first passage below (which deals with incidents well before the Peloponessian war), Thucydides joins with those who had been rivals of Pausanias son of Kleombrotos of Sparta in sketching out a figure who betrays his own people and customs in order to actively collaborate with the Persian king Xerxes and engage in Persian practices. This is expressed in terms of “Medizing.” In the second passage, Thucydides imagines what it would be like if the Plataians and Thebans had a speech-battle (judged by Spartans) that determined the fate of Plataia in 427 BCE.  In the ostensible Theban speech, the Thebans frequently refer to the accusation of Medizing which they faced (cf. Herodotos, Inquiries 7.205, 233; 9.67, 86-88), and Thucycides has the speakers retort that the Plataians were guilty of Atticizing and turning their backs on their own Boiotian ancestral ways and allegiances. (Both Thebes and Plataia were within Boiotia in central Greece, of course).

For later authors who discuss the adoption of practices in similar terms, see the posts on 2 Maccabees with respect to “Judaizing” (link) and Ignatius of Antioch with respect to “Judaizing” and “Christianizing” (link).

Works consulted: David F. Graf, “Medism: The Origin and Significance of the Term,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 104 (1984): 15–30 (link); Steve Mason, “Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 38 (2007): 457–512 (link).


Book 1

[Pausanias’ leadership of the Greek allies]

94 Meanwhile Pausanias son of Kleombrotos was sent out from Lakedaimon [Sparta] in command of the Greeks with twenty ships from Peloponnesos, accompanied by thirty Athenian ships and a multitude of other allies. They made also an expedition against Kypros, subduing most of it, and afterwards, at the time of Pausanias’ leadership, besieged Byzantion [Istanbul], which the Persians then held, and took it. 95 But, since Pausanias had already become oppressive, the rest of the Greeks became resentful, especially the Ionians and all who had been recently emancipated from the king [the Persian Xerxes, reigning 486-465 BCE]. So they repeatedly came to the Athenians and begged them in the name of their kinship to become their leaders, and to resist Pausanias if he attempted to force them. The Athenians accepted their proposals and gave full attention to the matter with the determination to no longer put up with Pausanias’ behaviour and to settle all other matters in the way that seemed best to the Athenians.

[Spartans’ recall of Pausanias and the accusation of “Medizing”]

Meanwhile, the Lakedaimonians [Spartans] recalled Pausanias in order to interrogate him about reports they were hearing, for much wrongdoing was charged against him by the Greeks who came to Sparta, and his behaviour seemed an imitation of tyrannical power rather than the conduct of a military commander. Pausanias happened to be called before the court at the very time that the allies, except the soldiers from the Peloponnesos, had gone over to the side of the Athenians in frustration at him. Although Pausanias was held to account for any personal wrongs he had committed against individuals on his return to Lakedaimon, on the principal charges he was nonetheless acquitted of misconduct. For he was primarily accused of Medizing (medismos; or Medism) [i.e. collaborating with and/or adopting the ancestral customs of the Medes, who in this Greek context are not differentiated from Persians], and it seemed to be a very clear case. They also did not again send him out as commander; they instead sent Dorkis, together with some others, with an inconsiderable force. But the allies did not accept their leadership. Becoming aware of the situation, they went back home. The Lakedaimonians did not send out other commanders afterwards, fearing that any who went out might be corrupted, as they saw had happened in the case of Pausanias. The Lakedaimonians also wanted to be finished with the Persian war, and thought that the Athenians were competent to take the leadership and were friendly to themselves at the time.


[Pausanias’ supposed secret plans with the Persian king Xerxes]

128 The Athenians answered with the demand that the Lakedaimonians should drive out the curse of Tainaron. This was when some Helots had taken refuge in the temple of Poseidon at Tainaron, and the Lakedaimonians had recognized they were suppliants but then led the Helots off and put them to death. The Lakedaimonians believe that it was because of this crime that the great earthquake struck Sparta. The Athenians also demanded the Lakedaimonians to drive out the curse of the goddess [Athena] of the Brazen House, which came about in the following way:

After Pausanias the Lakedaimonian had been recalled by the Spartans, on the first occasion [see 95 above], from his command on the Hellespont and after he had been acquitted of wrongdoing in the trial, he was never again sent out on behalf of the People. However, on his own initiative he took a vessel with three banks of rowers (trireme) that belonged to Hermione without the permission of the Lakedaimonians. He pretended that he came to the Hellespont in order to take part in the Persian war, but he was really there to continue his intrigue with the great king [Xerxes] with the aim of becoming master of all Greece.

First Pausanias gained for himself the king’s [Xerxes] gratitude in the following circumstances, and this began the whole affair: When he was previously in that region after the return of the Greek fleet from Kypros, he had taken Byzantion, which was then in the possession of the Persians. Certain connections and kinsmen of the king were captured in the place when the city fell. Pausanias sent these prisoners back to the king without the knowledge of the allies in general, whom he led to understand that they had escaped from him. He was carrying on this intrigue in collaboration with Gongylos the Eretrian, the very man whom he had placed in charge of Byzantion and the captives. Pausanias also sent a letter with Gongylos to the king, in which the following was written, as discovered afterwards: “Pausanias, the Spartan commander, wishing to do you a favour, sends you back these men whom he took with the spear. And I make the proposal, if it seems good to you also, to marry your daughter and to make Sparta and the rest of Greece subject to you. I think I am able to accomplish these things with the help of your counsel. If any of these things pleases you, send a trusty man to the sea, and we will communicate through him in the future.” That is how much the letter disclosed.

129 Xerxes was pleased with the letter, and sent Artabazos son of Pharnakes to the sea, commanding him to take over as satrap of Daskvleion, superseding Megabates, who was governor before. Xerxes sent him with a letter in reply to Pausanias, instructing him to transmit it to Pausanias in Byzantion as quickly as possible and to show him the seal. He instructed him that, if Pausanias should give Artabazos any direction about the king’s affairs, Artabazos was to execute that carefully and loyally. On his arrival, he did things as he was told and transmitted the letter. The reply of the king ran as follows: “This is what king Xerxes says to Pausanias: With regard to saving the men taken at Byzantion beyond the sea, there is record in our house forever of the benefaction which was conferred by you, and I am also pleased with your words. Let neither night nor day cause you to miss performing what you promised me. Do no let a lack of gold and silver or the number of soldiers hinder you if there is a need for them anywhere. But transact with confidence my business and yours with Artabazos, a good man, whom I have sent to you, as will be most honourable and best for both of us.”

[Pausanias’ further “Medizing”]

130 Even though he had been held in high consideration by the Greeks before this because he had led them at Plataia, when Pausanias received this letter, he was exalted more and could no longer bring himself to live in the usual manner of his people. Instead, he dressed himself in Persian attire whenever he went out from Byzantion. Furthermore, when he travelled through Thrace a body-guard of Medes and Egyptians attended him. He also had his dining table served in Persian style. In fact, he could not conceal his real purpose, but by such insignificant actions he showed plainly what greater designs he had planned in his heart to accomplish later. So he made himself difficult to access, and indulged in such a violent temper towards everybody that no one could come near him. This was one of the main reasons why the allies went over to the Athenians.

[Second Spartan trial for “Medizing” and diverting from Spartan ancestral customs]

131 Now it was just this conduct that had caused the Lakedaimonians to recall Pausanias in the first place, when they learned of it [95 above]. On this second occasion, when he was sailing away in the vessel of Hermione without their authority, it was clear that he was acting in the very same way. After being forcibly moved from Byzantion by the Athenians and instead of returning to Sparta, Pausanias settled at Kolonai in the Troad and reports came back to the Spartan overseers (ephoroi) that he was intriguing with the barbarians and staying there for no good purpose. Then finally they did not hold back any longer, but sent a messenger with a dispatch-stick, in which they told him not to lag behind the messenger, or the Spartans would declare war upon him. Wishing to avoid suspicion as much as possible and confident that he could dispose of the charge by the use of money, Pausanias returned for a second time to Sparta. At first he was thrown into prison by the Spartan overseers, who have the power to do this in the case of the king himself. Then, after contriving to get out, he offered himself for trial to any who wanted to examine into his case.

132 In fact, the Spartans possessed no clear evidence either from his personal enemies or from the entire city on the basis of which they could with entire confidence proceed to punish a man who was of the royal family and held high office for the time being. (For as cousin of Pleistarchos son of Leonidas, who was king and still a minor, Pausanias was acting as regent for him). However, due to his disregard for appropriate behaviour and especially his imitation of the barbarians, gave them much ground for suspecting that he did not want to remain an equal in the present order of things at Sparta. And they went back into his past and scrutinized all his other acts, to see if perhaps he had in his mode of life departed from established customs.

They recalled especially that he had once presumed, on his own authority, to have inscribed on the tripod at Delphi, which the Greeks dedicated as first fruits of the spoils they had won from the Persians, the following elegiac couplet: “When as captain of the Greeks he had destroyed the Persian host, Pausanias dedicated this memorial to Phoibos [Apollo].” Now the Lakedaimonians had immediately chiselled off these verses and inscribed on the tripod by name all the cities which had had a part in overthrowing the barbarians and had together set up this offering. The act of Pausanias, however, was felt at the time to have been a transgression, and now that he had got into this further trouble, it stood out more clearly than ever as having been but a prelude to his present designs. They were informed also that he was intriguing with the Helots. This was true, for he was promising them freedom and citizenship if they would join him in a revolt and help him accomplish his whole plan. But not even then, nor relying on certain Helots who had turned informers, did they think it best to take harsh measures against him. They adhered to their usual method in dealing with men of their own class—not to be hasty, in the case of a Spartan, in adopting an irrevocable decision unless they had indisputable evidence.

But finally, as it is said, the man who was to take Pausanias’ last letter to the king to Artabazos – a man of Argilos who had once been a favourite of his and had so far been most loyal to him – turned informer. For he took fright when he called to mind that no previous messenger had ever come back again. So, having made a counterfeit seal in order to conceal his action, in case he should be wrong in his suspicion or in case Pausanias should ask to make some alteration in the letter, he opened the letter and in fact found written on the letter (as he suspected he should find something of the sort to have been directed) an order for his own death.

133 After the man showed them the letter, the Spartan overseers were finally almost convinced, but they also wanted to hear with their own ears directly from Pausanias. So in accordance with a prearranged plan the man went as a suppliant to Tainaron and set up a structure there divided by a partition. In the inner room of the structure, he concealed some of the overseers. When Pausanias visited him and asked the reason of his taking the position of a suppliant, they clealry heard everything that was said: they heard the man accuse Pausanias of having written the order about himself, reveal the other items of the plot in detail, and protest that, though he had never yet compromised Pausanias in his errands to the king, the special honour awarded him was no better than that which the common run of his servants received—to be put to death. They also heard Pausanias acknowledge these same things, urge the man not to be angry with him this time, offer him a guarantee that he might leave the temple in safety, and finally asked him to go on his way quickly and not frustrate the negotiations.

135 When the Spartan overseers had heard all the details, they returned home for the moment. However, to the degree that they now had certain knowledge, they were planning to make the arrest in the city. The story goes that when Pausanias was about to be arrested in the street, he saw the face of one of the Spartan overseers as he was approaching and realized for what purpose he was coming. The story goes that another overseer out of friendship warned him by giving a secret nod, at which point Pausanias set off on a run for the temple of Athena of the Brazen House. He reached the refuge first, as the sacred precinct was near by. Entering then into a building of no great size belonging to the temple, that he might not suffer from exposure under the open sky, he kept quiet.

[Pausanias’ attempted refuge in the temple and death]

For the moment then the Spartan overseers were distanced in their pursuit, but afterwards they took the roof off the building and, watching until he was inside and shutting off his retreat, walled up the doors. Then they surrounded the place and starved him to death. When he was about to die (imprisoned as he was in the building) they perceived his condition and brought him out of the temple still breathing. Nonetheless, he died immediately when he was brought out of the building. It was their first intention to cast him into the Kaiadas ravine, where they throw criminals. But afterwards they decided to bury him somewhere near the city. But the god at Delphi afterwards warned the Lakedaimonians by oracle to transfer him to the place where he died (and he now lies in the entrance to the precinct, as an inscription on some columns testifies), and that they should pay back Athena of the Brazen House with two bodies in place of one, since their act had brought a curse upon them. So they had two bronze statues made and dedicated them to Athena to be a substitute for Pausanias.

135 Thus it was that the Athenians, in response to the demand of the Lakedaimonians, ordered them to drive out the curse of Tainaros, seeing that the god also declared it to be a curse. But when Pausanias was convicted of intrigue with Persia in this manner, the Lakedaimonians sent envoys to the Athenians and also accused Themistokles of complicity in the plot, in accordance with discoveries they had made in connection with their investigation about Pausanias. They demanded that he be punished in the same way. . . [material omitted].


Book 3

[Setting of the Thebans’ speech in the context of five Spartan judges deciding the fate of recently surrendered Plataia with speeches by the Plataians and now the Thebans, ca. 427 BCE]

60 Thus the Plataians spoke [about their long-past alliances with other Greeks and Spartans, and the wrongs perpetrated by the Thebans]. Worrying in case the Lakedaimonians [Spartans] might be influenced by the Plataians’ plea and yield [by disallowing the Thebans to attack], the Thebans came forward and said that they, too, wished to speak. They said that, against their own judgment, the Plataians had been given permission to speak longer than necessary for answering the question. [The question put to the Plataians by the five Spartan judges was: “Have you rendered any good service to the Lakedaimonians and their allies in the present war?” (52)].

[Speech of the Thebans defending against the accusation that they Medized and accusing the Plataians of Atticizing]

When the judges assented, the Thebans spoke as follows:

61 “We would not have asked permission to make this speech if the Plataians had directly answered the question and had not turned upon us and accused us. At the same time they set up a long defence of themselves on irrelevant matters on which no charge whatever had been made against them. They also praised themselves where nobody had blamed them. But as it is, we must reply to their charges and expose their self-praise, in order that neither our baseness nor their good reputation may help them, but that you may hear the truth about us both before you decide.”

“The quarrel we had with them began in this way: After we had settled the rest of Boiotia and had occupied Plataia and other places that we gained possession of by driving out a mixed population, these Plataians refused to submit to our leadership as had been agreed upon at first. After separating themselves from the rest of the Boiotians and breaking away from our ancestral customs (ta patria), they went over to the Athenians as soon as an attempt was made to force them into obedience. In collaboration with the Athenians they did us much harm and they also suffered in return for doing this.”

62 “Furthermore, the Plataians claim that when the barbarian [Persian king] came against Greece, they were the only Boiotians who did not Medize [befriend or adopt the customs of Medes / Persians]. They especially honour themselves and slander us because of this. We say, however, that the only reason they did not Medize was because the Athenians also did not. Moreover, on the same principle, when the Athenians later assailed all Greece, they were the only Boiotians who Atticized [adopted the ways of Attica and Athens].”

“Yet consider the circumstances under which we each acted as we did. The civic organization of our city [Thebes] at that time was, as it happened, neither an oligarchy under equal laws nor yet a democracy. But its affairs were in the hands of a small group of powerful men. This is a form that is very opposed to law and the best regulated civic organization, and closest to a tyranny. These [tyrranical] men, hoping to win still greater power for themselves if the fortunes of the Mede [i.e. Persian king] happened to prevail, forcibly kept the people [of Thebes] down and brought the Mede in. The city as a whole was not in control of its own actions when Thebes took the course it did, nor is it fair to reproach it for the mistakes it made when not under the rule of law.”

“In any case, the Mede departed and Thebes obtained its lawful government. Then the Athenians subsequently became aggressive and were trying to bring not only the rest of Greece but also our country under their own sway. Owing to factions among us, they were also already in possession of most of Thebes [by about 458 BCE]. So please observe whether we fought and defeated them at Koroneia [ca. 446 BCE] and thus liberated Boiotia. Please observe whether we are now enthusiastically helping to liberate the other peoples, furnishing more cavalry and military equipment than any of the other allies. Such is our defence against the charge of Medizing (medismos; or: Medism).”

63 “We will now try to show that you Plataians have wronged the Greeks more than Thebans have and are more deserving of any punishment, however severe. You claim that you became allies and citizens of Athens so that you could obtain protection against us. In that case you should have only requested their assistance against us, instead of assisting them in their aggressions against others. Such a course was certainly open to you, in case you were ever being led on by the Athenians against your will, since the alliance of the Lakedaimonians here had already been organized against the Medes [i.e. Persians]. This is the alliance which you keep reminding us about. That would have been enough to keep us from interfering with you. More importantly that would enable you to take your own counsel without fear. No, it was willingly rather than under compulsion that you embraced the Athenian cause. You say, however, that it would have been dishonourable to betray your benefactors. But it was far more dishonourable and wicked to betray to their destruction all the Greeks, with whom you had sworn alliance, than merely the Athenians, when they were trying to enslave Greece and the others were trying to free Greece. And the pay-back you made them is not equal, nor indeed free from dishonour. For you were being harmed, as you claim, when you invoked their aid, but they were harming others when you became their helpers. And yet, surely, not to repay favours with similar favours is dishonourable. However, this is not the case when, though the debt was incurred in a just matter, it can only be repaid by doing something harmful.”

64 “You have, therefore, made it clear that even then it was not for the sake of the Greeks that you alone among Boiotians refused to Medize. Rather, it was merely because the Athenians also refused while we did not, and you preferred to act with the one party and against the other. And now you expect to be rewarded for the virtuous conduct that was due to the inspiration of others. But that is unreasonable. Since you chose the Athenians, continue to fight on their side. And do not keep reminding us of the alliance you made then, and claim that it should to save you now. For you have abandoned it and in violation of its principles have constantly aided, instead of trying to prevent, the enslavement of the Aiginetans and other members of the alliance. That, too, was not done against your will, since you then enjoyed the laws under which you have lived till now and were not, like us, under the control of another.”

“Moreover, you refused to accept the last proposal we [Thebans] made you before Plataia was invested: namely, to leave you unharmed if you would support neither side. Who, then, would more justly be hated by all the Greeks than you, who displayed your virtue in order to accomplish their injury? Furthermore, those noble qualities which, as you claim, you once displayed you have now made plain were not properly yours. Rather, your natural longings have been put to the test and shown in their reality because you have followed the Athenians when they pursued injustice. That, then, is our affirmation regarding our involuntary Medizing and your voluntary Atticizing.”

65 “As to your last charge of wrong-doing on our part – that we unlawfully attacked your city in time of peace and on a day of festival – we do not think that we are more to blame than you in this matter either. If it was of our own volition that we went to your city [Plataia], fought you, and ravaged your land as enemies, we are in the wrong. But if some of your countrymen – the leading men in both wealth and family who wanted to put an end to your alliance with an outsider and to restore you to the ancestral traditions which are common to all the Boiotians – requested our aid of their own free will, what wrong are we guilty of? For it is those who lead that break the laws rather than those who follow. But in my judgment neither they nor we did wrong. They, who are just as much citizens as you and had more at stake, opened their gates and led friends, not enemies, into their own city because they wished that the baser sort among you should not become still worse, and that the better sort should receive what they deserved, being the censors of your civic principles and not seeking to deprive the city of your persons, but rather bringing you back into a natural union with your kindred, and that without making you an enemy of anyone but restoring you to peace with all alike.”

66 “The proof that we acted in no hostile spirit is that we wronged nobody. We also made a proclamation that anyone who wished to be a citizen according to the ancestral customs (ta patria) of all the Boiotians should come over to us. And you came gladly and, entering into an agreement with us, you kept quiet at first. But later, when you became aware that we were few in number (even supposing we might seem to have acted somewhat inconsiderately in entering your town without the consent of the popular party), you did not repay us in kind, resorting to no act of violence but trying by arguments to induce us to withdraw, but you assailed us in violation of your agreement. Now as to those whom you killed in hand-to-hand conflict we are not so much grieved, because they suffered, we grant you, by a kind of law. However, regarding those whom you spared when they stretched out their hands to you, and then, though you afterwards promised us that you would not kill them, lawlessly butchered. Wasn’t that an abominable action? And after committing these three wrongs within a short space of time – the violation of your agreement, the subsequent murder of our men, and the breaking of your promise to us not to kill them if we spared your property in the fields – you nevertheless assert that we were the transgressors and you claim exemption from punishment for yourselves. No, not if these judges decide rightly. Rather, you must be punished for all these crimes.”

67 “We have discussed these matters at length, Lakedaimonians, both for your sakes and our own, in order that you, for your part, may know that you will justly condemn them [Thebans] and that we have still more justly exacted vengeance. And do not let your hearts be softened when you hear them speak of their ancient virtues, if indeed they ever had any. For virtues might result in assisting the victims who have been harmed, but virtues should bring a double penalty upon those who perpetrate a shameful action, because their offence is out of keeping with their character. And do let not their lamentation and pitiful wailing help them, nor their appeals to the graves of your ancestors and their own desolate condition. In reply, we would point out that a far more dreadful fate happened to our young men who were butchered by them, of whose fathers some died at Koroneia trying to win Boiotia to your cause, while others, left desolate at home in their old age, with far greater justice make supplication to you to take vengeance upon these men.”

“Those who experience unfair things are more worthy of compassion. But those who experience what is just like these Plataians have are, on the contrary, a reason for being happy about what happens to them. As for their present desolated condition, that also is their own fault because they voluntarily rejected the better alliance. They acted unlawfully without having received provocation at our hands, but through hatred rather than just judgment, and they could not possibly pay now a penalty equal to their guilt, for they will suffer a lawful sentence. Furthermore, they are not, as they claim, stretching out suppliant hands on the field of battle, but have delivered themselves up to justice under formal agreement. So, Lakedaimonians, vindicate the law of the Greeks which has been transgressed by these men, and grant to us who have suffered by their lawlessness a just recompense for the services we have zealously given. Do not let us be tossed aside because of their words when we plead before you, but make it plain to the Greeks by an example that the trials you institute will be of actions, not words. If the actions are good, a brief recital of them suffices. But if the actions are wrong, elaborate speeches are simply veils to hide the truth. No, if all leaders, like you in the present instance, should first state the facts briefly for all concerned and then pass sentence, there will be less seeking after fair words after doing foul deeds.”

68 That was the speech of the Thebans. And the Lakedaimonian judges decided that their question – whether the Lakecaimonians had received any benefit from the Plataians in the war – would be a fair one for them to ask. For the judges claimed that the Lakedaimonians had always urged the Plataians to maintain neutrality in keeping with the original treaty which they had made with Pausanias after the Persian defeat. Subsequently, before the siege of Plataia, their proposal to the Plataians that they remain neutral in keeping with the earlier agreement had not been accepted. So they considered themselves released from all obligations of the treaty going forward because their own intentions had been honourable, and considered that they had been wronged by the Plataians. So they caused them to come forward again, one at a time, and asked them the same question, whether they had rendered any good service to the Lakedaimonians and their allies in the war. When they answered “no”, they led them off and killed them with no exceptions.

The number of the Plataians that died was not less than two hundred, and of the Athenians who had taken part in the siege twenty-five, and the women were sold as slaves. As for the city itself, they gave occupation of it for about a year to some men of Megara who had been driven out in consequence of a sedition, and also to those surviving Plataians who had favoured the Lakedaimonian cause. Afterwards, however, they raized Plataia entirely to the ground. In the neighbourhood of the sanctuary of Hera, they built an inn two hundred feet square with rooms all around, above and below, using the roofs and doors of the Plataians’ homes for this purpose the roofs and doors. With the rest of the material inside the walls, articles of copper and iron, they fashioned couches, which they dedicated to Hera. They also built for Hera a stone temple one hundred feet long. But the land they confiscated and leased for ten years, and the Thebans occupied it. Indeed it was almost wholly for the sake of the Thebans that the Lakedaimonians in all their dealings with the Plataians showed themselves so thoroughly hostile to them, thinking that the Thebans would be serviceable in the war that was just beginning. That was the fate of Plataia in the ninety-third year after they became allies of Athens [427 BCE].


Source of the translation: C.F. Smith, Thucydides, 4 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1919-1923), public domain, adapted by Harland.

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