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Diplomacy and War in the Ancient World

IWP 696
2 credits

This seminar ventures a historical review of diplomacy, foreign relations, and war in the ancient world, focusing on an interdisciplinary, comparative analysis of select case studies from various chronological periods, ancient cultures, and states in the region of the Mediterranean and the Near East. This comparative survey will involve a challenging synthesis of diverse evidence, including ancient literary sources (from translation), such as Hittite and Egyptian records, Greek and Roman inscriptions, accounts of ancient historians (Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius, Plutarch, Arrian, Diodorus), as well as relevant archaeological and iconographical evidence.

Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians and Mycenaeans in the second millennium BC, Greeks and Persians, Athenians and Spartans, Romans and Carthaginians in later historical periods formed bilateral agreements, signed international treaties, designated spheres of influence, forced vassal states on tribute, imposed trade embargoes, appointed ambassadors, exchanged royal letters and gifts, plotted political assassinations, unleashed piratic raids, and waged war in a remarkable analogy with modern diplomacy and world politics. Power dynamics emerge from the political interaction of states revealing historical conditions, the importance of statecraft, and intriguing patterns of uniformity and variation in societal behavior and political strategy. Analysis of military tactics of great battles in antiquity (Trojan War, battle of Kadesh, Persian Wars, Peloponnesian War, Alexander’s Persian Expedition, Punic Wars) will highlight the key role of statesmanship and examine the dynamics between war and diplomacy.

Finally, we will discuss the application of ethics in the use of power, the concepts of justice and power in diplomacy, and the morality of war. “War is a violent teacher,” remarks Thucydides, stating in the Melian Dialogue a fundamental principle of power politics: “right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”