A Book Review On "The Melian Dialogue"

The Melian Dialogue, which was written by the Greek historian Thucydides, tells about the Peloponnesian War which was fought by the Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta or Lacedaemos in 431 to 404 B. C. The war divided ancient Greece. The Lacedaemonians founded their allies among the other city-states in Peloponnesus, one of which is Melos, in order to resist the might of the Athenians. The Melians inhabited Melos and the Athenians tried to convince them to become their tribute state. The Peloponnesian War lasted for twenty-seven years and involved many other city-states besides Athens and Sparta. It was a great tragedy for all of Greece, causing widespread destruction, loss of life, and political unrest.

The Melian Dialogue started with the Athenians proposing the manner by which the discussion shall proceed. The Machiavellian Theory of the right to rule and invade based on military strength was evident when the Athenians asserted that they have the prerogative to rule and acquire Melos as their tribute state because they were the masters of the sea whose strength and power contributed to the defeat of the mighty Persians. The Melians answered that their main concern was that of their city’s preservation and a decision to remain neutral and a friend to the Athenians without becoming their subjects. The Athenians saw the Melians as insignificant islanders who were a threat to their empire. The Melians happened to be under no control and were very likely to endanger not only themselves, but also the Athenians. Upon submission to their empire, the Athenians affirmed that not only should their empire be extended and their security be increased, but also the Melians should enjoy their preservation.

The latter argued that the Athenians would just make more enemies especially among neutrals if they should continue to force them to give up their freedom in order to become Athens’s tribute state. They saw themselves as cowards if ever they chose to give up their freedom and suffer being a slave to the Athenians. The latter responded by saying that they do not care if they would make more enemies among the neutrals. Their main concern was the threat given to them by the Melians and would like to put an end to it by making Melos their colony. In that case, both Athens and Melos would have been saved from harm against the subject states which the Athenians presumed may rise up against them.

The Melians saw the Athenians as talking only for their own benefits for wanting themselves to be the masters of the former. Hence, the Melians asked the Athenians how it would be of their interest to be their slaves. The Athenians reiterated that the Melians should understand and reflect that preservation would be at hand once they yield. They were being advised by the Athenians to ponder whether to resist or to become subject to a powerful empire whose subjects never tried from a siege. The refusal of the Melians to yield to the Athenians made them weak, in addition to their blind hopes and trust given to their Lacedaemonian ally.

The Melians debated that they were satisfied even if their power was insufficient for they should always be assisted by Sparta. They said that the Lacedaemonians should never be disloyal to them since they were its ally. Their decision of refusing to yield and to give up their freedom remained unchanged. The Athenians were disappointed to hear that although throughout the discussion, the Melians’ prime concern was the preservation of their city, they never said anything that is reasonable enough to retain their freedom. They continuously insisted their reasons of their hopes and trust to the Lacedaemonians, whose power was not that good that what was being offered to them.

The Athenians said that there could never be anything greater than to surrender to a great empire, inviting them to be their colony on reasonable terms, merely paying tribute. The Melians should face the consequences of their resolution and should be of great downfall for handing over their trust to the Lacedaemonians, who the Athenians saw as inconsistent. In the end, because the Melians insisted on being neutral and in favor of Sparta, the Athenians declared war against them. Every male citizen of Melos was killed and the women and children were enslaved.

The Realist view on Bipolarity, particularly the Tight Bipolar System, could be associated to the Melian Debate. According to this system, there are two opposing sides in a conflict. There exists no neutral mediator acceptable to both conflicting parties, making it highly unstable. Athens and Sparta were the two opposing parties in the debate. There was no mediator present. In the Tight Bipolar System, neutrality is prohibited.

Non-allied countries are frowned upon. The Melians’ neutrality was not allowed, therefore, making Sparta irritated and saw the necessity for the Melians to take sides. A stalemate arrangement was apparent wherein an attack on one member would mean an attack on all the other allies. Hence, once the Melians were confident enough to yield upon the force of the Athenians, since once they were attacked, their deficiency in power would have been sufficed by their Lacedaemonian ally to which they believed should always be of assistance and defense to them once they encountered external attacks.

Source by Sheena B Ricarte