Europe on the Move

An Exploration of Ideas, Ethics, and Politics in European History

by Milan Katuninec (Author)
©2022 Monographs 770 Pages
Series: Spectrum Slovakia, Volume 39


This book describes and analyses many interesting events in the political development of Europe from the Ancient world to the present day and offers opportunities for a comparative approach, which lays emphasis not only on the historical, economic and social context, but also on the spiritual and intellectual heritage of our European culture.
«This is not a history of all the pertinent events, major and minor, that have occurred in Europe but rather an essay on the ideas, experiments, successes, and failures of individuals, societies, and states to meet the challenges of human organisation and technological development that define the Europe of today.»
Stanislav J. Kirschbaum

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1. “The West” was born in the Ancient World
  • 1.1 The View of Athens as a Democratic City-state
  • 1.2 From the Heritage of Greek Schools of Thought
  • 1.3 A few interesting facts about the Ancient Roman society
  • 2. From the cross of Golgotha to the dominant religion of the Roman Empire
  • 2.1 Christianity before Constantine
  • 2.2 Christianity’s new status and Augustine’s influence on the direction of its further development
  • 3. The new imperial capital and “Western Europe” with the papal city
  • 3.1 From the Fall of the Western Roman Empire to the Frankish kingdom under Merovingian rule
  • 3.2 Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian and “Corpus Iuris Civilis”
  • 3.3 The Carolingian dynasty and “The New Birth of the West”
  • 3.4 Pope Nicholas I and his effort to hold ‘the keys of the kingdom’ firmly in his hands
  • 3.5 The mission of the Slavic apostles Constantine (Cyril) and Methodius: a Bridge between the Eastern and Western Church?
  • 4. The Norsemen – conquerors and skilful traders
  • 4.1 The Norsemen and their political influence in Western Europe
  • 4.2 Kievan Rus and the dynasty founded by the Varangian prince Rurik
  • 5. Complicated relationships between the secular and spiritual power
  • 5.1 Otto I, the Holy Roman Emperor, and his successors in the efforts to dominate the Christian world
  • 5.2 The investiture controversy
  • 6. Fresh wind for the relatively closed society
  • 6.1 The importance of towns and universities
  • 6.2 The age of High Scholasticism
  • 6.3 The Great Plague and The Rise of Renaissance and Humanism
  • 7. Roman Catholicity as a form of “social cement” and a political weapon in relatively closed Western society
  • 7.1 Divine status borrowed from God to act on Earth in his stead
  • 7.2 Crusades: Pilgrimage or Holy War?
  • 7.3 The beginning of decline in the history of the Papacy
  • 8. The split of Western Christianity
  • 8.1 The Great Papal Schism, Jan Hus and the Council of Pisa
  • 8.2 Calls for the Reform in the Catholic Church and Reformation – the basis for the founding of Protestantism
  • 8.3 Unsuccessful efforts to prevent the split of Western Christianity
  • 8.4 “Cuius regio, eius religio”
  • 8.5 Eastern and Central Europe in the period of expansion of the Ottoman Empire
  • 8.6 The Thirty Years’ War – one of the greatest and longest armed conflicts of the early modern period
  • 8.7 “De Jure Belli ac Pacis” and the first pan-European Peace Congress
  • 8.8 Europe after the Peace of Westphalia
  • 9. From Niccolò Machiavelli to some influential thinkers of the Enlightenment
  • 9.1 The first modern political thinker
  • 9.2 A few words on some influential philosophers of the Enlightenment and their opinions
  • 10. Symbol of Hope for the Modern Society of Citizens
  • 10.1 French Revolution
  • 10.2 Two distinct views of the French Revolution
  • 11. Between traditional and new ideas
  • 11.1 From the Congress of Vienna to the Revolutions known in some countries as the Spring of Nations
  • 11.2 Influential Inspirations for capitalism and liberalism
  • 11.3 Revolutionary Inspiration for the working class
  • 12. Attempts to strengthen the national awareness of citizens in France and Germany
  • 12.1 The popularity of the French Third Republic overshadowed by corruption cases
  • 12.2 Kulturkampf and Sozialistengesetz in Germany
  • 13. The Sleepwalkers
  • 13.1 Europe before the Great War
  • 13.2 The Great Illusion
  • 13.3 Democracies without democrats?
  • 14. New ideologies in practical use
  • 14.1 How the illusion of earthly paradise turned against man in the form of an inhuman totalitarian regime
  • 14.2 Mussolini’s ‘third way’ between individualism and collectivism
  • 14.3 Fascism and its ambition to be “a civilization for Italy and Europe in the 20th century”
  • 14.4 From optimistic visions of a common Europe to the Great Depression
  • 14.5 German National Socialism and its ideological sources
  • 14.6 Two distinguished intellectuals whose ideas became part of Nazi ideology
  • 14.7 Hitler’s New Order of Europe
  • 15. The Big Three
  • 15.1 Welfare state vs. Warfare state
  • 15.2 Two totalitarian regimes – from alliance to enmity
  • 15.3 The American entry into World War II
  • 16. Eastern and Western Europe after World War II
  • 16.1 In the communist bloc
  • 16.2 The Fall of the Iron Curtain
  • 16.3 A complex but hopeful post-war project
  • 17. The European Union between the ambition to play the role of a global player and the risk of disintegration
  • 17.1 Changes that few expected
  • 17.2 European identity and civic society
  • 17.3 Europe in the 21st century
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Index of Persons

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1.1 The View of Athens as a Democratic City-state

Pim den Boer, the chair of European Cultural History at the University of Amsterdam, indicates three main elements in the history of the ideas of Europe: “the identification of Europe with liberty, with Christendom and with civilization.” According to den Boer each of these had its own origin disappearing for time before re-surfacing again: “The association of Europe with political freedom was first made in ancient Greece, in the fifth century BC, while it was not until the fifteenth century that Europe came to be identified with Christendom. Then, during the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, Europe was for the first time identified as a civilization. However, it was in the nineteenth century that these various identifications of Europe were not only rediscovered, but also reassessed and given unprecedented prominence” (Boer, 1995: 1). Expert opinions on the issue can certainly diverge, but if we are to write about politics and ethics from the view of the European tradition, we cannot circumvent the ancient world, in particular the period of Athenian democracy.

I will start with the already mentioned French historian Coulanges, who in the introduction to his book writes that the history of Greece and Rome is a witness and an example of the intimate relation that always exists between men’s ideas and their social state. His aim is to show the part played by religion in the political and social evolution of Greece and Rome. Coulanges stressed that religion “constituted the Greek and Roman family, established marriage and paternal authority, fixed the order of relationship, and consecrated the right of property, and right of inheritance” (Coulanges, 1877: 12). He points to the importance of the family in ancient Greece where language “has a very significant word to designate a family. It is epistion, a word which signifies, literally, “that which is near a hearth” (Coulanges, 1877: 52). The family was, of course, not detached from the society. From the 8th century BC we can speak about the polis which is usually translated as the “city state”. Society was divided into a number of small sovereign independent city-states. The Greeks usually preferred independence, in the form of a polis, a city-state. They did not show any interest in further unification and creation of a large, centralized state.

←27 | 28→

Between the 8th and the 6th centuries BC we may speak about colonization (the second Greek expansion). But as emphasized by Lukas de Blois and Robartus van der Spek: “The term ‘colonization’ is actually misleading. A Greek colony (apoikia) was not a foreign territory governed by the city that founded the colony, but a new, independent polis, which was bound to its mother city only by moral and religious ties” (Blois – Spek, 2008: 72).

The word politics is also derived from the ancient Greek word polis. “The polis was governed by officials with specific responsibilities such as military relationship, jurisdiction, or the supervision of religious practices, who were appointed by some kind of election. This does not mean that all the poleis had the same form of government.” Each of the poleis had its separate cultural and economic lifestyles and possessed its own system of government and in these differences, we can see the most obvious reason why city-states had chosen to remain independent. “What they did have common was that only very few were ruled by kings... A principal concern of all poleis was ‘freedom and autonomy’ – the freedom from domination by a great power or by another polis, which implied autonomy that is, the possibility of making one’s own laws” (see Blois – Spek, 2008: 68-69).

The Greeks never formed a unified empire. The ties between the city-states gave rise to various forms of relations between them. The oldest forms included the hospitality (proxenia), in which an inhabitant (proxenos) of a certain place showed hospitality and provided services to private persons or envoys from another city. For representing the interests of the citizens of another city-state in his own city, the proxenos received specific business, tax, legal and other benefits.

As early as in the 9th and 8th centuries BC, amphictyonies were founded in ancient Greece, representing the “international” religious associations established within the sanctuaries of important deities. The most important was the Delphi amphictyony, an association of twelve cities founded in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. In the beginning, the mission of these associations was to guard the sacred places, their assets and the pilgrims who visited the places, organize religious ceremonies and games, and provide material provisions to the temple. During the festivities to honour these deities, it was forbidden to wage a war and the “Peace of ←28 | 29→God” (hieromnemia) was declared.1 Another type of organized relations between the Greek city-states was the alliance contracts, which gave rise to a variety of short- or long-term associations – symmachia (Veselý, 2010: 20-21).

The ancient Greeks, drawn into the polis, lived at a place that they called home – a place that determined their own destiny. The most influential of these city-states was Athens, “often portrayed as the cradle of democratic government” (Heywood, 2013: 3). Many city-states favoured oligarchy, aristocracy or tyranny, but a number of cities were inspired by the model of Athens. Important changes were introduced in Athens in 594 BC, when Solon (ca 630-560 BC) undertook to reform its political and social structures after he won an important position in the Board of Noblemen (Archontat). He came to power during a time of high social tensions that almost resulted a bloody conflict. Many small landowners, who had fallen into debt, had lost their land and had to become domestic servants or even slaves outside Athens. Solon enacted a land reform that should have prevented the debt slavery and the slaves who were in debt were re-instated with public resources. By cancelling the practice of enslaving those in debt, foundations for a civil society were created. In time, the Greeks began to accept the political rights of the citizens not based on status but rather income (the so-called property census).2 Salon’s reforms radically weakened the power of the nobility, but only the richest citizens could be elected to state positions. Poor people redeemed from slavery were dissatisfied because they were not allocated any land and they were used as cheap labour.

Solon could be used as an example of a politician who did not cling to his position. After his bills were approved by the people’s assembly, he left Athens and went to Egypt where he studied history and political thinking. He returned to Athens after ten years and reportedly he unsuccessfully tried to discourage Peisistratos from establishing a tyranny. According to several sources Peisistratos ←29 | 30→respected the laws of Solon and refrained from changing them (Sickinger, 1999: 53).

The founding of the Athenian democracy today is still associated with the name of aristocrat Cleisthenes (ca 570-507 BC), under whom the Athenian democratic system ended the division of the citizenry according to their social status and introduced the regional principle with the creation of independent organizational units. But as the Australian political scientist John Keane claims, it is wrong to see him in this position and it is “equally wrong to see democracy in Athens as the creation of a brave Dēmos that got tough when the going became rough. The blood-and-guts Athenian transition to democracy, like virtually all those that were to follow, was far messier and more protracted than Great Man or Dēmos explanation imply. Athenian democracy had many causes. It also had many causers” (Keane, 2010: 9). Of course, it cannot be denied that Cleisthenes contributed to the extension of political freedom, but he also used these radical reforms as an effective weapon against concentrated power. “It is safe to say that daily life in Athens was from the time of Cleisthenes peppered by references not only to the presumed bearer of sovereign power, their dēmos, but also to dēmokratia as a new method of government, as a precious experiment in the art of empowering the powerless and treating all citizens as equals” (Keane, 2010: 54).

In 508 BC, Cleisthenes amended the constitution of Athens with a series of reforms. According to the German sociologist and economist, Alexander Rüstow, “from the time of the Cleisthenes constitution on, possibilities of social integration no longer existed within the Athenian-Attic city-state beyond the minuscule local administrative districts. This led first to an extraordinary centralization, a strengthening of the unity of the state, and the cultivation of Athenian nationalism. Everything that existed in the way of communal energies was diverted into this one remaining channel – a situation reinforced further in times of decline or when an exterior military threat exercised a powerful integrative effect” (Rüstow, 1980: 183).

Athenian social classes were organized in such a way that they created the conditions for the development of democracy. Citizens were then divided according to the territory on which they had settled (the so-called territorial files), were subordinated to state ←30 | 31→authority, but were at the same time the authors of public rules and decrees. In Athenian democracy, the ekklesia (the assembly of the people) acted as the main political institution of the state that also had judicial power. Ostracism (ostrakismos) was also established to prevent the renewal of tyranny. Elected officials were responsible by law to the assembly of the people for the performance of their office.

Keane points out that many citizens saw democracy “as a kind of government in which the people ruled as equals, thanks to their access to an agora that functioned as their second home, as a space in which citizens banded together and rescued themselves, collectively and individually, from the ‘natural’ ruin brought on by the passing of time, its progression towards death. By countering human frailty, the agora gave them a nest in the world, a sense of what Athenians called aidós: meaningful wellbeing and mutual respect” (Keane, 2010: 14).

However, it was during the rule of Pericles (c. 495–429 BC), a grandnephew of Cleisthenes, that democracy achieved its greatest success around 443–429 BC. Pericles rose to power after the assassination of Ephialtes, a statesman who radically limited the power of the Aeropagus, a conservative traditional council, by which he considerably helped set Athens onto a democratic path. Pericles proved to be a foresightful politician and a brilliant orator who dominated the thinking of the masses and further maintained his popularity through his political concern with Athens’ maritime power and through pursuing an expansionist policy, which filled the state treasury with money. Speaking of the military expeditions, it is also worth mentioning that Athens, like the despotic kingdoms in the Middle East, adopted the first paternalistic social policies. The disabled received aid from the state, as did indigent war cripples. Moreover, the state took care of the sons of soldiers who were left orphans, provided them with food, shelter and education until they came of age. Athens, being a political and cultural centre, attracted notable figures from all over Greece. “Athenian citizens were not required to pay direct taxes on a regular basis. Taxation was imposed only incidentally, in times of financial emergency. Wealthy citizens were occasionally expected to equip a warship or to finance a building project or a theatrical performance. These financial services to the state were called ‘liturgies’” (Blois – Spek, 2008: 95).

←31 |

The total population could have been about 300,000 people. But not all gained the status of a citizen. The civil law passed during the rule of Pericles granted the right to participate in democracy just to a fraction of the Athenian population. Metics, women and slaves were excluded from citizenship rights. There were about 100,000 slaves and about 25,000 metics (men, women and their families). “The metics, people of foreign origin resident in Athens, got a raw deal. Not only did they have no political rights, they also had to contribute to the state in the form of a metic tax (metoikion)..., and they were eligible for military service and for the liturgy of choregia. Metics had to have an Athenian citizen as a sponsor (prostates), and they had to register in the deme in which they lived. They could not own property in Attica, and they could not marry an Athenian citizen. In fact, most metics were engaged in manufacturing industries or in trade (or both), and they do seem to have made a good living in what was after all the most prosperous state in the Greek world. They were undoubtedly put upon, but they must have found life in Athens economically worthwhile” (Thorley, 2004: 80).

Only a person whose both parents were Athenians counted as a full citizen. Up to then, it was just the father’s origin which determined whether a child would become a citizen or not, but Pericles’s decree prevented people whose mother was a foreigner from claiming citizenship. The number of adult male Athenians in 480 was about 30,000 and by 431 there were roughly 40,000 Athenian male citizens (see Sinclair, 1988: 9).

People governed the state through a popular Assembly (Ecclesia), being the supreme political body, and through jury courts. The Assembly, in some cases with a quorum of 6000, was the only legislative body and decided on all important matters. They met forty times per year, something which required a considerable degree of citizen participation. Between the assembly meetings, the city state was governed by the Council (Boule) of 500. The highest functionaries were ten strategoi (meaning generals) elected annually, whose decisions were reviewed by the Council and the Assembly, the latter being the only political body which possessed the authority to depose them. The supreme judicial authority was in the hands of the aforementioned large jury court and it was not possible to appeal against its verdicts.

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The Athenian democracy did not mean equality in terms of property or income; however, Pericles introduced a system of state pay for state service, which enabled the poor people to enter the decision-making process and administrative matters. The citizens who participated in the decision-making were give daily salary – per diem allowances that would cover their basic expenses. Pericles described the ideals and aims of the Athenian democracy in his famous funeral oration given during the first year of the Peloponnesian War at the grave of the soldiers who had been killed in the war. In this oration, he expressed his pride of living in a state that rightly bore the name of democracy, because “its administration is in the hands, not of a few, but of the whole people. In the settling of private disputes, everyone is equal before the law. Election to public office is made on the basis of ability, not on the basis of membership of a particular class.” Pericles declared that, “future ages will wonder at us, as the present age wonders at us now” (Thucydides: 2, 41). Despite the fact that the period of Pericles’ democratic system is considered the Golden Age of Athens, democracy did not gain permanent support.

Ancient Greeks emphasized the values of citizenship and of public service. Civic duty was not reduced to voting; rather the duty of every citizen was even to take on the task of an official or a judge, or to participate in the people’s assembly. “In Athens governance was truly by the people themselves in their capacity, variously, as legislators, administrators, judges, and bureaucrats. The cornerstone of the Athenian political system was a degree of participation by ordinary citizens in the actual workings of government that is completely unknown in the modern era. The main governmental bodies were extraordinarily large, both absolutely and relative to the size of the citizen population, of which they were therefore good representative samples. And the frequency of their meetings was very high, roughly weekly” (Aranda, 2010: 22). Everyone was entirely loyal to the state.

Even in respect of the period of Pericles’ rule, however, we cannot talk about personal freedom of citizens. The ancient knew neither liberty in private life, nor religious liberty. Liberty of thought regarding the state religion was absolutely unknown among ancient Greeks and the citizen was subordinate in everything, “and without any reserve, to the city that considered that the mind ←33 | 34→and body of every citizen belonged to it”. The Athenians’ law in the name of religion forbade men to remain single and the state could prescribe labour. No man was allowed to be indifferent to state’s interests, and neither studious man nor philosopher had any right to live apart. “He was obliged to vote in the assembly, and be magistrate in his turn. At a time when discords were frequent, the Athenian law permitted no one to remain neutral; he must take sides with one or the other part. Against one who attempted to remain indifferent, and not side with either fraction, and to appear calm, the law pronounced the punishment of exile with confiscation of property” (Coulanges, 1877: 293-296).

In his famous oration Pericles says that Athens wishes all to be equal before the law, “because she gives men liberty, and opens the ways of honour to all”. Fustel de Coulanges points out that man still owed duties to the city, “but it is no longer to defend his nation’s divinity and hearth of his fathers; it is to defend the institutions which he enjoys and the advantage which the city procures him” (Coulanges, 1877: 491). Coulanges, however, adds that democracy “could not last, except through the incessant labour of all citizens” and as soon as the fervour weakened, democracy either had to perish or become corrupt. (Coulanges, 1998: 448). Since ancient democracy kept compelling its citizens to work constantly, set side by side with our concept of individual freedom, it did not provide, as argued by Giovanni Sartori, any space for the independence of individuals because it fully absorbed them and they were completely subordinated to it (Sartori, 1993: 286, 289). But it would be naive to think that the Athenians in their Age of democracy “were innocent about the honey-tasting public official. Relying on a lottery system to fill virtually all of their public offices, the Athenian democrats recognized that not all citizens filling those offices would be motivated by a disinterested love of country” (Saxonhouse, 2004: 29).

Pericles called Athens “the school of all Greece” and he intended to create “a quality of life never before known, one that would allow men to pursue their private interests but also enable them to seek the highest goals by placing their interests at the service of a city fostered and relied upon reason for its greatness” (Kagan, 1991: 137). Slaves in Athens were treated somewhat less harshly than in other cities, but the extent of slavery was one of the main factors to which Athens owed their direct democracy.

←34 |

It would be naive to think that democracy could exist without leaders and Athens, though in name a democracy, also became in fact “a government ruled by its foremost citizens” (Rüstow, 1980: 184). Mainly excellent orators and generals gained leadership and in this context it should also be mentioned that during the 5th century, Athens found itself at war on average two out of every three years (Keane, 2010: 69). Pericles won every election for thirty years and his career is also associated with war activities and fighting against enemies. He thought that Athens, as the most perfect creation of the human mind, should lead the Greeks in government. Pericles was still able “to exercise an independent control over the masses – to lead them instead of being led by them”. The end of his life was, however, tragic.

The Ancient Greek world and its city-state system provide us with negative as well as positive examples. One of the adverse outcomes of a system of autonomous city-states was the extent to which they waged wars one against another. To get a better understanding of the greatest and ancient Greece’s most destructive war, the following lines will be concerned with the relations between the former allies Athens and Sparta.

Sparta was one of the few poleis where kingship was not abolished. There were two hereditary kings, who were also religious heads of state and commanders of the army. Sparta formed the Peloponnesian League with the surrounding cities, which was not centrally managed, and despite functioning as a series of agreements between Sparta and these cities, Sparta became a military power as early as in 650 BC. “The strict Spartan lifestyle, which appeared to be the key to the city’s success, was also greatly admired. In the sixth and the early fifth centuries BC Sparta was indisputably the most powerful city in Greece” (see Blois – Spek, 2008: 83; Rhodes, 2007: 58).

Around 500 BC, Greece was threatened by the expansion of the Persian Empire, which resulted in the Greco-Persian War. In 480 BC, the Spartan king Leonidas (c. 530-480 BC) with three hundred of his fellows, tried to hold the pass at Thermopylae against the Persian army and died in the attempt. Although Spartans did not succeed in stopping the Persian advance and lost the battle, their death at Thermopylae was seen as a heroic sacrifice, because their loyalty was bigger than their own lives. Historian Emma ←35 | 36→Aston points out that in the present day the Spartans “have given their name to a particularly extreme kind of obstacle race, which challenges people to achieve their awn athletic and physical best in the face of enormous hardship. What is more, Spartan women were just as tough and as strong as the men. We’re told by the ancient sources that they exercised, they received an education, and they were able to own property in their own right. All things denied to the women of other parts of Greece” (Aston, 2019).

Sparta was said to use some strict rules of eugenics. By law, all newborns identified as weak, sick or otherwise physically indisposed, were killed. Boys who seemed unfit to become soldiers were dropped from the rock above the city. Only healthy and strong children were allowed to live. In the ancient Greek city-states and in Rome, the weak and sick newborns had virtually no chance of survival. The weak and sick newborns were left outside the city walls where certain death awaited them, which was justified by the need for strong and valiant individuals.

Spartans, already from their childhood, spent their lives in military training and they themselves did not work. Sparta was a city of model military discipline, which still attracts many politicians and war strategists for its discipline and devotion of the individual to the state. Sparta is considered a primordial pattern of totalitarian society, or “something very similar to Totalitarianism”. Aston also reminds us that “there are some ways in which we need to hesitate before accepting the Spartans as the perfect icon of our modern values today. First, they can become figureheads of the xenophobe... The most pernicious example of the Spartan usage of this kind is in 1930 Germany, when they came to stand for the ancestry of the Aryan master race and essentially legitimated anti-semitism and other extreme forms of xenophobia. Another question is whether we today really want to claim the Spartan paradigm of masculinity. Emotion was anathema. The individual was nothing. The state was everything” (see Aston, 2019).

We know many legends and few facts about Sparta; and these come almost exclusively from its enemies and the historians of the competing Greek poleis, especially Athens. Therefore, one should proceed with caution when putting Athens (as a democratic model) in contrast to Sparta (as a totalitarian model). “In fact, however, historians of ancient Sparta have long challenged the historical ←36 | 37→truthfulness of the ancient stereotype of the Spartans. For decades now, they have been trying to put forward an alternative Sparta with a richer, more complex culture” (see Aston, 2019).

Sparta along with Athens formed the core of the military alliance of about thirty Greek states. Athens strengthened its position in the Greco-Persian Wars, they brought together approximately one hundred neighbouring Greek cities, and in 478 BC created the Delian League. In 449 BC, the Persians were forced to strike a peace treaty named after the Athenian envoy who led the peace negotiations (Peace of Callias). The Persians recognized the independence of the Greek cities in Asia Minor and on the Aegean islands as a sphere of interest of the Greeks although they continued to intervene in internal disputes, and the Greek cities later undertook to renounce the interventions against the Persian Empire. Shortly after the conclusion of peace, however, the contradictions between the key Greek city-states Athens and Sparta came to light (Veselý, 2010: 21-22).

In 431 the Peloponnesian War broke out, a long and bloody conflict that lasted for 27 years. The outbreak of war was the result of chains of irresponsible political decisions made by political actors, and of course also by Pericles. He actually provoked the war by taking unnecessary measures against Sparta’s allies. After a victorious battle in which the Athenian fleet caused the Spartan army considerable damage, the Spartans did not give up, but continued fighting. They plundered Attica, which resulted in Pericles’ decision that the people from countryside should move into the city of Athens to seek refuge from the ravaging Spartan army of hoplites. This decision proved to be unwise and had a catastrophic impact on Athens and its population.

Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War writes about dying men lying one upon another and a catastrophe that became so overwhelming “that men cared nothing for any rule of religion or law” (Thucydides 2.47-55). The horrible suffering from the plague of Athens devastated the city and killed up to one-third of the population. The citizens demanded peace with Sparta, but Pericles kept refusing. Being seen as the cause of all the trouble, Pericles was accused of bad leadership during the war and stripped of his office. Pericles, who had already faced serious ←37 | 38→accusations for embezzlement and bribery just before the Peloponnesian War broke out, found himself before the courts again, and he was punished with a fine.

“Yet even now the people were reluctant to be rid of the man who had guided them for so long. Soon after they reinstated him.” He may have managed to defend his actions before the Assembly, but being re-elected as a strategos became his final victory. At that time he was already a broken man. The plague had claimed his sister and both his legitimate sons, Xanthippus and Paralus. Pericles’ interests were focused on his half-Athenian son by his mistress Aspasia and in an attempt to have him legitimized as his heir he sought to repeal his own citizenship law that limited citizenship to those of Athenian parentage on both sides.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (December)
Ancient World Christianity Empire Great War World War II Totalitarianism European Union
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 770 pp.

Biographical notes

Milan Katuninec (Author)

Milan Katuninec is a historian and political scientist at the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Philosophy and Arts, Trnava university in Trnava, Slovakia. His research interests include European history, history of political thought, social policy and relationship between ethics and politics.


Title: Europe on the Move