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Justice, Power and Athenian Imperialism: An Ideological Moment in Thucydides' History

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Abstract:

Thucydides is often seen as a detached observer of international affairs who perceived political life mainly in terms of power struggle. This article argues, however, that this interpretation is one-sided and that it ignores those moments in Thucydides' work which reveal his preoccupation with considerations of justice and morality. Drawing on the findings of a number of scholars who have shown that Thucydides' account of the Peloponnesian war is strongly biased towards the Athenian side, this article argues that the grounds of this bias should be sought not in Thucydides' 'realism', but in his attachment to the ideal of Athens as a virtuous and just city. Consequently, his criticism of Athenian policies after Pericles refers not only to mistakes in political judgment, but also to the abandonment of that ideal.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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