The Fractured Imaginary: Popular Thinking on Citizen Soldiers and Warfare in Fifth Century Athens

Pritchard, David M. (1999). The Fractured Imaginary: Popular Thinking on Citizen Soldiers and Warfare in Fifth Century Athens PhD Thesis, Department of Ancient History, Divison of Humanities, Macquarie University.

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Author Pritchard, David M.
Thesis Title The Fractured Imaginary: Popular Thinking on Citizen Soldiers and Warfare in Fifth Century Athens
School, Centre or Institute Department of Ancient History, Divison of Humanities
Institution Macquarie University
Publication date 1999
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status Other
Supervisor Phillips, David
Total pages 267
Language eng
Subjects 210306 Classical Greek and Roman History
1699 Other Studies in Human Society
Abstract/Summary This dissertation establishes how different citizen soldiers were employed and evaluated in the imaginary of fifth century Athens and gives explanations why popular thinking on military personnel was organised in this way. In so doing it emerges that a particular citizen soldier figured in Athenian conceptions about many aspects of martial activity. Also, it has proven necessary to analyse several other conceptions concerning the waging of war in which military personnel strictly play no part because of their indirect but important influence on how this or that class of Athenian fighters was judged. As a result this study ends up throwing light on the ways in which fifth century Athenians conceived not only of citizen combatants but also of warfare in general. The dissertation begins by outlining the primary sources for the Athenian imaginary and its major characteristics. The numerous tragedies and comedies surviving from the fifth century are shown to be sure evidence for the imaginary and the funeral oration of the period to have had a vital role in the transmission of key elements of Athenian self-identity and their understanding of warfare. Although playwrights and public speakers were invariably members of the Athenian elite, the particular contexts in which they performed compelled them to take up and articulate the values and conceptions of their overwhelmingly non-elite audiences. The imaginary then had a decidedly popular character. It was also a sprawling cultural melange within which incongruous and even patently contradictory ideas could subsist side by side. The second part of this dissertation exposes that the citizen hoplite enjoyed a central and paradigmatic role in the popular thinking of fifth century Athens. It was only ever to the heavily armed soldier that poets and orators turned when they wanted to consider general aspects of warfare, the military obligations of citizenship, and gallant and fainthearted behaviour on the battlefield. The Athenian hoplite also served as the pivotal reference point for the marking out of age and gender distinctions within the city and of the differences in military morality between Greeks and barbarians. Critically, as the prevailing definitions of bravery and cowardice were modelled exclusively on the phalanx warfare of the hoplites, Athenian lightly armed troops, cavalrymen and perhaps even sailors with their very different modes of combat were judged one way or another to be cowardly. Yet the final part of this dissertation demonstrates that this normative status of the heavy infantryman in no way prevented citizen sailors from gaining recognition and positive evaluation of their metier and themselves in the Athenian imaginary of the fifth century. The citizen masses of this period saw their city as the major seapower in the Mediterranean and well understood that its formidable might and security rested on its navy. Fifth century Athenians also had a high regard of seamanship in general and great pride in the naval dominance of their city in particular. Indeed, superlative nautical skills were thought to be 'national' traits of the citizens of imperial Athens which they had enjoyed even in the esteemed age of the heroes. Contemporary citizen sailors themselves were also held to be the saviours of the city and were accorded extraordinary esteem and an exalted status if they perished at sea fighting for Athens. Finally, despite the fact that it directly contradicted their hoplite centred conception of bravery, fifth century Athenians firmly believed that fellow citizens serving as sailors could display gallantry in battle.
Keyword soldiers
Ancient Greece
martial activity
military personnel
Athenian soldiers
citizen hoplites
phalanx warfare

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Created: Tue, 05 Aug 2008, 11:44:17 EST by Belinda Weaver on behalf of School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry