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How did the use of Mercenaries contribute to the decline of the Greek citizen-soldier during the Hellenistic period?

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AH7301        Student No. 061867039        28th March 2011

How did the use of Mercenaries contribute to the decline of the Greek citizen-soldier during the Hellenistic period?

The modern conception of a mercenary soldier denotes that of a person who hires himself out to take part in armed conflict in exchange for money. Ironically, the Ancient Greeks did not have a specific word that was the equivalent of our modern understanding of the word ‘mercenary’ (Worthington 2005), yet there is plenty of evidence to attest to the existence of mercenaries in ancient times and nowhere is this more applicable than in Ancient Greece. Mercenaries existed in Archaic and Classical Greece but became more prominent during the end of the Classical period and extending into the Hellenistic era (Hanson 2006: 572). This era also saw the decline in the traditional agrarian based hoplite warfare as the city-states looked for ways to compete and protect themselves in the Hellenic theatre against the quite considerable armies that the Diadochi could raise. Given that these armies included large quantities of mercenary soldiers, could we therefore argue that traditional citizen-soldiers were killed of because of the prominence of mercenaries? I should like to explore this topic by looking at the conditions of mercenary service and why people entered into it as well as the state of citizen-soldiers during the period.

It was quite common for many scholars and thinkers of the time to look down upon mercenary service. Plato expressed dismay that of their use in military service (Pl. Leg. 697e); Aristotle thought that the citizen-soldiers were braver than their professional mercenary counterparts (Nich. Eth.) and Diodorus thought they were greedy (Diod. 16.42.9). Many contemporary sources of the time portray the mercenary in a negative light. To many Greeks, the mercenary was a foreigner and he was perceived to be dangerous. Mistrust was thrust upon him because what he represented ‘conflicted with the ideal of the citizen-soldier-landholder of the Classical polis’ (Trundle 2004: 165). Many of these contemporary thinkers harked back to an earlier time, where warfare was more idealistic. The vast quantities of mercenaries being hired shows that these classical ideals had been dropped – but why were there so many?

One often assumes that people entered it out of necessity, because they were poor, but was the promise of plunder enough to draw people in? Antiphanes’ play The Solider gives the impression of a mercenary enticed by eastern luxury (Kassel and Austin, vol. 2, frag. 202). Certainly, employers used plunder from ravaged lands to pay their mercenaries – Telesphorus collected fifty talents to pay his troops from ravaging Olympia (Parke 1933: 222).Alongside plunder was the promise of pay; this was supposed to be regular but it was very often irregular (Trundle 2004: 80). Given this irregularity of payment, we may be permitted to assume that the regular pay might not necessarily have been the primary motivation for the mercenary.

Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that mercenary wages were extremely low at the end of the fourth century BC, just as living costs were apparently rising (Parke 1933: 231-3; Griffith 1935: 273, 298). Under Alexander the Great, allies earned no more than one drachma per day and perhaps we can assume that mercenaries were paid the same (Parke 1933: 233); the standard mercenary wage was four obols per day (Parke 1933: 233). That said, they were plenty of other little bonuses to service. For instance, employers provided their soldiers with food while it was common for new recruits to be given an initial signing-up fee (Trundle 2004: 84, 91); recruits who showed bravery and fitness were rewarded (Trundle 2004: 97).

However, the vast numbers that entered mercenary service must surely mean there were other motives (Trundle 2004: 41-2). Mercenaries who were not poor had their reasons too. In earlier times, Xenophon, in his Anabasis, hopes to gain friendship/patronage with Prince Cyrus, the pretender to the Persian throne (Xen. An. 1.9.17). The Spartans sent men on that campaign because of their friendship with Cyrus; they even allowed Syracuse’s tyrant, Dionysius, to recruit men from the Peloponnese because of their friendship (Trundle 2004: 43, 76).

The notorious military state also employed mercenaries, especially after its cataclysmic defeat at Leuctra (371 BC) had significantly reduced its homoioi numbers. A late third/early second century funerary stelai found at Sparta commemorates an Illyrian mercenary, who fought for Sparta and even gained citizenship there (Steinhauer 1992: 239-41). Illyrians from the koinon of the Bylliones shared ties of xenia with Sparta, hence explaining their employment as mercenaries (Steinhauer 1992: 243-4). The people who employed mercenaries were important – they controlled the opportunity for service, the rewards and settlements (Trundle 2004: 79). Without employers, employees could not be employed!

While there were factors like wealth and patronage that attracted mercenaries, there were also factors that forced them into it. What could force a desperate man into a dangerous occupation rather than a safer, more civic profession? Miller argues that it was the strength of economic factors (1984: 153). In fact, it was a number of factors. There was a population increase, inflation (Parke 1933: 14, 229-330) and exile (McKechnie 1989: 22-9). The wars between the Diadochi destroyed entire cities and destabilised the entire region (McKechnie 1989: 28; Trundle 2004: 55). Fourth century (and earlier) warfare emphasised the ravaging of the enemy’s agriculture; with many citizen-soldiers holding farm estates, this must have been devastating. The increase in trade during this time must have made it non-profitable for many famers (Parke 1933: 230). This is certainly true for Attica but for places like Aetolia, where the terrain was less sympathetic to farming, the choice to become a mercenary need not have been because of economic displacement (Griffith 1935: 81). Due to the advance of siege-warfare, cities were now also directly targeted and thus many more citizens must have been displaced (Parke 1933: 229).

So while we have some reasons as to why individuals became mercenaries, what can we say about the people who became mercenaries? What did employers look for?  As I briefly touched upon, mercenaries came from various backgrounds. This was truer, to a certain extent in Classical times, where the need to be able to arm and protect one-self was vital. The hoplite panoply was certainly expensive in earlier times and thus it restricted poorer classes from serving as heavily armoured infantrymen (Trundle 2004: 118). In their own League or polis armies, citizens required a minimum of arms to serve as citizen-soldiers. Fortunately for the less well off, this had changed by the end of the fourth century BC: the hoplite panoply had lightened somewhat compare to a century earlier; more hoplites were opting for basic equipment because it was all they could afford (Everson 2004: 139).

Another development was the provisioning of arms and armour by the state or by wealthy citizens which took place during the fourth century BC (Everson 2004: 139). The Athenian state provided military equipment to some citizens whilst in 380 BC. The wealthy Pasion gave 1,000 shields to Athens during the Corinthian war whilst Demosthenes donated large amounts of money to Thebes, which, in turn, used said money to equip citizens who didn’t own armour (Diod. 17.8.5; Dem. 45.85). Theoretically, this would have opened up mercenary service to even more citizens, even if they weren’t wealthy.

Scholars have estimated the cost of a panoply as between 75 and 100 drachma, which was still expensive though wealthy thetes could afford it (Trundle 2004: 125; Van Wees 2001: 45-71). If there were individuals who were still too poor to own their own equipment then some mercenary employers could supply arms and armour (Trundle 2004: 104, 126). Many poleis even dropped the hoplite phalanx in favour of the Macedonian style. The Boeotians did so in 250-245 BC, the Spartans during the reign of King Cleomenes III and the Achaeans under Philopoemen (Garlan 1984: 361). This panoply, with a smaller shield and less armour, might well have been less expensive than the hoplite panoply.

Armour was lightening to adapt to the increasing mobility of fourth century and Hellenistic warfare, however the Diadochi didn’t focus on warfare between city-states; their goals were much larger and hence they needed larger armies in order to achieve these goals, hence the wide scale recruitment of armies and mercenaries (Parke 1933: 206, 224). Some kingdoms could go into a war with at least 60,000 men (Garlan 1984: 353), while some of the smallest poleis, like Koresia, could only produce 150 men for military service; Eretria could only produce 4,000 men (Hansen 2006: 107). Larger cities, like Athens, could produce about 20,000 troops by the time of 317 BC (Sekunda 1992: 320); this was a considerable amount of troops for a polis but still not enough to compete with the vast Diadochi armies. Macedonia adopted the Macedonian phalangite model instead of the hoplite phalanx model. The phalangites were recruited from the Macedonian peasantry and less armoured, thus their armies operated on much larger numbers than a polis could hope to produce (Connolly 1981: 68). So how did the poleis keep up with the massive armies that the Successor kingdoms produced?

Some poleis promoted immigration: Nabis’ reforms of Sparta, along with the ‘enfranchisement’ of the perioikoi and helots, include the naturalisation of foreigners (or mercenaries), who were given estates and Spartan wives (Steinhauer 1992: 242; Chaniotis 2005: 22). Because of their costs and instability as a labour force, many employers tried to force mercenaries to settle on their land and serve as part of the regular forces – this applied to poleis, leagues and kingdoms (Garlan 1984: 355). Mercenaries who fought for the polis could expect to be rewarded with citizenship (Ma 2000: 359). King Philip V of Macedon encouraged the city of Larissa to enfranchise metics and Thessalians to repopulate the city (Chaniotis 2005: 24). In his On the Duties of the Hipparch, Xenophon recommended that the Athenians should recruit hamippoi (skirmishers who ran with the cavalry) from exiles and ‘foreigners’ (Sekunda 1986: 53).

Some poleis attempted to increase their manpower by provisioning all of their citizens with arms and armour, increasing their citizen body (Griffith 1935: 85) and/or settling mercenaries. Other poleis opted to recruit mercenaries: Athens, in 301 BC, employed a corps of mercenaries alongside its own citizen-soldiers (Parke 1933: 225-6) and was said to have used mercenaries much more freely than other Greek cities (Griffith 1935: 82). However, Athenians were reluctant to publicise their use of mercenaries; two broken stone tablets, which date to the tyranny of Lachares (After 301 BC), show a list of mercenaries. The explanation for these being made was that Lachares forced the inscriptions to be made (Bayliss 2004: 87-90). Increasingly, the main body of the Athenian army was being taken up by mercenaries (Ober 1985: 3).

Mercenary employment was just as popular outside of Athens. Rhodes, one of the most prominent trading poleis, employed an army of about 3,000 men against Philip V in Asia Minor in 197 BC. More than half of this army were mercenaries (Livy 33.18.1 sqq). Sparta, like ‘never before in her history’ (Griffith 1935: 95), relied more on mercenaries. The Spartan tyrant Machanidas sent out his full citizen levy and a large force of mercenaries against the Achaean League at the Battle of Mantinea in 207 BC (Plut. Phil. 10 sqq). The salient point here is that Machanidas elected to command with his mercenaries instead of the Spartan infantry and his Achaean opposite, Philopoemen, chose to do the same (Griffith 1935: 95-6).

Even though Machanidas might have been a mercenary himself, the choice to lead command his mercenaries might indicate that they were better troops. Similarly, for the Achaean League, Aratus was said to have convinced the league to hire an army of 8,000 mercenaries with a complementary force of elite citizen troops (Griffith 1935: 101) which highlights a reliance on mercenary troops. Achaean mercenaries were hired on a long term contract’ the citizen-soldiers were mobilised for the length of the war and, in an emergency; the full citizen levy was to be armed (Griffith 1935: 101-2). Aeneas Tacticus even encouraged wealthy citizens to provide and pay for mercenaries (13.1-3)!

As we have seen, during the Hellenistic period, the professional mercenary soldier began to replace the hoplite citizen-solider. So why did so many states choose to hire mercenaries rather than rely on their home-grown citizen troops? The old ideal of military service as a citizen’s prerogative seemed to have evaporated. In Plutarch’s Life of Philopoemen, citizens who served as cavalrymen would pay others to fight for him (Plut. Phil. 7. 1 sqq)! The increased use of mercenaries separated the political from military power (Garlan 1975: 92; Chaniotis 2005: 20); citizens still had political power but sacrificed military power to go with it. They refused to become professionals as that would have affected their political calling at home (Garlan 1975: 101). Thus using mercenaries became an extension of political power at home (Trundle 2004: 163).

This separation of civic identity can be typified by the evolution of the ephebic institution, which morphed into a sportive-cultural association with voluntary membership (Davies 1984: 308). The Athenian ephebeia suffered as a result of the Macedonian takeover after the Lamian War in 322 and it may well have been disbanded (Tracy 2004: 208). Upon its reinstatement (any time after 301 BC), the ephebic training was reduced to one year, made voluntary, the garrison and border duty was disbanded and philosophy lectures were added into the course (Sekunda 1986: 57). Registration apparently slumped from 800 to 30 applicants a year (Sekunda 1986: 57), but ephebic enrolment varied depending on how prosperous Athens was at the time – enrolment swelled after 140 BC when Athens controlled Delos (Tracy 2004: 207). Admission was opened to foreigners in the last quarter of the second century BC but the numbers of foreign supplicants remained low (Tracy 2004: 209). Despite its downgrading, the ephebeia was clearly still an important Athenian institution. In contrast, ephebeia enrolment was enforced for all young citizens by the end of the fourth century BC (Chaniotis 2005: 23).

Second of all, the nature of warfare had changed. Greek hoplites had lightened up their armour in an attempt to keep track of the changes in warfare, but it was not enough. Citizen-soldiers could not spend long periods away from their polis and cities had to hire Mercenaries to fight for long periods (Ober 1985: 47); hoplite warfare worked on a local basis only (Hanson 2000: 214). Pelopidas, had to hire Thessalian mercenaries to march north when his citizen-soldiers refused to go further north (Plut. Pel. 27). They were also able to do the jobs the citizen-soldiers had disliked – the Achaean League sent 500 troops to garrison Mantinea in 227 BC. Of the 500 sent, 200 were mercenaries and the rest had to chosen by lot (Griffith 1935: 102)! Mercenaries were also thought to be better fighters: the fourth century revolution in warfare promoted the use lighter armed troops as well as the use of cavalry and siege engines (Chaniotis 2005: 20-1). Furthermore, tactics changed and troops had to be prepared for surprise, ruses and ambush which the professional mercenary had been trained for (Hanson 2000: 209; Parke 1933: 237)

Now that Hellenistic warfare was dominated by the use of mercenaries, did the citizen-soldier effectively die out? Well, not quite; for many communities, the ideal of the amateur warrior was still very much engrained into their psyche or at least revived in times of danger (Vidal-Naquet 1986: 93-6). Very many small towns still kept a civic militia, trying to adhere to old norms (Ma 2000: 337-8). There is a tendency in scholarship to focus upon the super-powers of the era and the large battles (Ma 2000: 337), but for many people, they experienced warfare on a much smaller, much more local scale; raids, border incursions, skirmishes and street fights, rather than the massive tactical battles like Chaeronea or Ipsus (Chaniotis 2005: 79). The city of Priene came under attack during the Galatian invasion of Asia Minor, an off-shoot of the main invasion into Greece in 279 BC. The Prienians resisted the devastation of their lands and sent out paid citizen troops against the invaders (Ma 2000: 343-4). This force was presumably a small standing army with contained epilektoi or ‘select men’ that were trained and kept on a semi-permanent basis. We also hear of epilektoi in Athens, Boeotia and the Achaean League (Ma 2000: 344). The polis of Tabai honoured an unknown citizen for establishing a cavalry body, which would indicate that this was not a normal undertaking (Ma 2000: 344-5). Corps of citizen troops could be raised in times of emergency.

Aside from the defence of the city, further enmity arose from local disputes. Young men, who came of age in the city of Dreros swore an oath of opposition against their local rivals, Lyttos (Syll. 527). The poleis of Magnesia and Miletos regularly fought over their borders; they settled after battle by exchanging prisoners (Ma 2000: 354). Some poleis even besieged their local rivals (Polyb. 5.27.1; 31.5.1-5). This pattern of local enmity is somewhat similar to that of the Classical period (Hornblower 1983: ch. 2). Citizens were still very pre-occupied with defending their territory; it just so happens that time had moved on and the battles between them were not part of the bigger picture anymore (Ma 2000: 355, 358). These local military institutions were often permitted by the Empires: the Athenians continued to train Ephebes and garrison their border forts during times of Macedonian control (Ma 2000: 358). In fact, local citizen-soldiers were useful because they could defend against local raid whilst Garrison troops were kept at bay (Ma 2000: 358). They could also be relied upon somewhat in times of war, to hold out until troops could sent out (Chaniotis 2005: 23).

Initial reception to the increased professionalization in warfare seems to have agitated many contemporary writers at the time, who harked back to hoplitic warfare, which what they thought of as a glorious ideal. However, mercenary service became very much a part of Greek society (Worthington 2005). The Peloponnesian wars and the wars of the successor kings had clearly had a significant effect on regional economies which must have displaced a lot of people. Many of these chose mercenary service to earn a living through desperation, though others saw opportunities in mercenary service to enlarge their own profile. This, coupled with a change in attitude to warfare, meant that communities chose to employ mercenaries to fight their battles because their citizen-soldiers either weren’t good enough, could not campaign for very long or because their own forces weren’t large enough (Hanson 2006: 572), hence the use of mercenaries dominated the period. That said, professionalism did not end the use of citizen-soldiers, as they were still used in small quantities by many poleis in the early and late Hellenistic period. Many of these were the ‘last hoplites’ (Ma 2000: 354).


Ancient Authors:

Aineias the Tactician. How to Survive under Siege (2nd Ed.), translated by D. Whitehead (Bristol Classics). London: Bristol Classical Press. 2001

Aristotle. Aristotle in 23 Volumes, translated by H. Rackham (Loeb Classical Library), Heinemann/Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1934.

Demosthenes. Demosthenes, translated by C. A. Vince, M. A. and J. H. Vince, (Loeb Classical Library), Heinemann/Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1926.

Diodorus Siculus. Diodorus of Sicily in Twelve Volumes, translated by C. H. Oldfather (Loeb Classical Library), Heinemann/Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1989.

Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, translated by R.G. Bury, (Loeb Classical Library), Heinemann/Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1968.

Plutarch. Plutarch’s Lives, translated by B. Perrin, (Loeb Classical Library), Heinemann/Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1917.

Polybius. The Histories, translated by E. S. Shuckburgh. London, New York: Macmillan. 1889 (Reprint 1962).

Titus Livius. Livy IX: Books XXXI-XXXIV, translated by E. T. Sage, (Loeb Classical Library), Heinemann/Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1935.

Xenophon. Xenophon in Seven Volumes, translated by C. L. Brownson, (Loeb Classical Library), Heinemann/Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1922.

Modern Authors:

Bayliss, J. A. 2004. New Readings on a List of Mercenaries from Athens, Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, Bd. 146, pp. 85-90: www.jstor.org/stable/20191747 (30/03/2011)

Chaniotis, A. 2005. War in the Hellenistic World. Oxford: Blackwell.

Connolly, P. 1981. Greece and Rome at War. London: MacDonald.

Davies, J. K. 1984. ‘Cultural, Social and Economic features of the Hellenistic world’, in F. W. Walbank (ed.), The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume VII, Part 1: The Hellenistic World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 257-320

Everson, T. 2004. Warfare in Ancient Greece: Arms and Armour from the Heroes of Homer to Alexander the Great. London: Sutton.

Garlan, Y. 1975. Warin the Ancient World: a Social History. London: Chatto and Windus.

————  1984. ‘Hellenistic Science: Its Application in Peace and War’, in F. W. Walbank (ed.), The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume VII, Part 1: The Hellenistic World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 353-362

Griffith, C. T. 1935. The Mercenaries of the Hellenistic World. Groningen: Bouma’s Boekhuis N.V. Publishers (reprinted 1968).

Hansen, M. H. 2006. Polis: An introduction to the Ancient Greek City-State. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hanson, V. D. 2000. ‘Hoplite battle as ancient Greek warfare’, in Hans van Wees (ed.), War and Violence in Ancient Greece. London: Duckworth and The Classical Press of Wales. 210-232

———— 2006. ‘Mercenaries’, in D.G.J. Shipley, J. Vanderspoel, D. J. Mattingly and L. Foxhall (eds.), The Cambridge Dictionary of Classical Civilisation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (reprinted 2009). Page 572

Hornblower, S. 1983. The Greek World: 479-323 BC. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd.

Kassell, R. and Austin, C. 1991. Poetae Comici Graeci, Vol. II:Agathenor – Aristonymus. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter. Fragment 202.

Ma, J. 2000. ‘Fighting Poleis of the Hellenistic World’, in Hans van Wees (ed.), War and Violence in Ancient Greece. London: Duckworth and The Classical Press of Wales. 337-76

McKechnie, P. 1989. Outsiders in the Greek Cities in the Fourth Century BC. London and New York: Routledge.

Miller, H. 1984. ‘The Practical and Economic Background to the Greek Mercenary Explosion’, Greece and Rome, 31: 153-60.

Ober, J. 1985. Fortress Attica: Defence of the Athenian Land Frontier, 404-322 BC. E.J. Brill: Leiden.

Parke, H. W. 1933. Greek Mercenary Soldiers: From the Earliest times to the Battle of Ipsus. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (reprinted 1968)

Sekunda, N. 1986. The Ancient Greeks. Oxford: Osprey. (reprinted 2008).

————— 1992. ‘Athenian Demography and Military Strength 338-322 BC’, The Annual of the British School at Athens, Vol. 87: 311-355. http://www.jstor.org/stable/info/30103514(30/03/11)

Steinhauer, G. 1992. ‘An Illyrian Mercenary in Sparta under Nabis’, in Jan Motyka Sanders (ed.), Philolakon: Lakonian Studies in Honour of Hector Catling.London: British School at Athens. 239-245

Tracy, S. V. 2004. ‘Reflections on the Athenian Ephebeia in the Hellenistic Age’, in Daniel Kah and Peter Scholz (eds.), Das hellenistische Gymnasion: Wissenskultur und gesellschaftlicher Wandel 8. Akademie Verlag, Berlin. 207-210 (reprinted 2007)

Trundle, M. 2004. Greek Mercenaries: From the Late Archaic Period to Alexander. London and New York: Routledge.

Van Wees, Hans. 2001. ‘The myth of the middle-class army: military and social status in ancient Athens’, in Tønnes Bekker-Nielsen and Lise Hannestad (eds.), War as a Cultural and Social Force: Essays on Warfare in Antiquity. Denmark: Selskab. 45-71.

Vidal-Naquet, P. 1986. The Black Hunter: Forms of Thought and Forms of Society in the Greek World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Worthington, I. 2005. Review of Greek Mercenaries from the Late Archaic Period to Alexander (by M. Trundle). Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 2005/07/04. http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2005/2005-07-04.html (30/03/11)

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