War and Peace in Ancient and Medieval History

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  3. War and Peace in Ancient and Medieval History
  4. War and Peace in Ancient and Medieval History by Philip de Souza

Rhodes, offers a systematic look at war and peacemaking in ancient Greece from the Peloponnesian War until the rise of Macedon.


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When evidence is lacking, he clearly states so and avoids groundless conjecture. Rhodes focuses on ambiguities in treaties, in particular how participants tried to use ambiguous language in a treaty to justify actions that other states may have deemed to have been violations.

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In particular, the power players of ancient Greece Athens and Sparta, but later Thebes and Macedon tried to interpret this phrase for maximum benefit. Much of what Rhodes presents here is a careful analysis and summary of Thucydides, so there is little here that is new. Still, Rhodes careful attention to detail and citation of recent secondary literature provides a lucid summary of a period of ancient Greek history that has become popular beyond Greek history classes.


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  • The Persian king did not sign treaties. Ceremony and protocol required that he dictated them to others, even when he was forced to accept the reality of defeat. Rung traces developments from the earliest contacts to the rise of Macedon.


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    • He closes with a useful summary of how Greek ambassadors were selected, the size of embassies, the routes taken, ambassadorial reception, and the course of negotiations. Rich, does attempt to break new ground in its field. While the essay is a bit of a jump from the Greek world to the Roman world, with no consideration of the Hellenistic, it does offer an interesting contrast with the first essay, because it also examines how small, independent city-states relate to one another.

      Unlocking potential with the best learning and research solutions

      However, Rich is examining how the Romans successfully built an empire by incorporating other states in the Italian peninsula into the Roman state. Rich rejects the widespread view that all of the Italian allies were bound by treaties. His deconstruction of the prevailing view that all the non-colonial Italian allies had treaties is thorough. His argument is well-supported and well-argued, and one might hope that he goes further with his investigation.

      War and Peace in Ancient and Medieval History

      De Souza relies on basic primary sources like Cicero, Virgil Lee argues that dealings with these different enemies had certain distinctive and individual features, notably the use of written treaties in dealings with Persia, yet, there were also some shared broader features. Staying in the same period, Michael Whitby explores the role of good faith and trust in Byzantine diplomacy.

      Whitby shows how in this period diplomatic structures emerged between Rome and Persia so as to facilitate more regular and formal contacts. Catherine Holmes continues the investigation into Byzantine practices through a discussion of the diplomatic relations between Byzantium and the Islamic world during the 10th and 11th centuries, arguing that it can reveal much about frontier governance in this period.

      In the Latin East, however, France concedes that wars between men of different religions tended to have a bitter edge.

      The last two essays in this collection deal with events in the Medieval West. Richard Abels turns to a much discussed problem with wider implications, namely how peace was made between a settled kingdom and a fluid and changing group of raiders; the Vikings. Making peace with one chieftain and his men did not, hence, guard against attacks by another Viking band.

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      Abels argues that peacemaking with such foes could only be successful after a demonstration of military strength and when Viking leaders sought to redefine themselves as territorial rulers. The point is aptly proved through an analysis of agreements concluded between Anglo-Saxon rulers and Vikings between the 9th and the early 11th centuries. War and peace are familiar terms to historians, yet secondary literature is still skewed in favour of the former of these concepts. As a book dealing firmly with both of these topics, this volume will make a welcome contribution to the secondary literature.

      Indeed, there is much to commend in this collection of essays.

      War and Peace in Ancient and Medieval History by Philip de Souza

      They are clearly written, arranged in a logical manner and there is a good bibliography. Certainly, one of the strongest features of the book is the fact that each article can be easily followed by non-specialists on the subject or the period. This feature is also one of the most interesting aspects of the volume, and, I suspect, one of its more enduring characteristics, for there is a wealth of material here for the historian to ponder, and which will allow him or her to compare and contrast practices across a long time period and a wide geographical area.

      For instance, the investigations by Rung and Lee into the mechanics of diplomacy will appeal to historians of the Medieval West not just those of Ancient Greece and late antiquity. These are just three examples from a volume with 11 fine essays.