What Terrorism Means to Me
I've read some books that imply that the massacre of the schoolboys at Mycallessos was one of the lowest of the low points of the Peloponesian War. Recently, when I would hear mentions of terrorism in the media, I would think of Mycallessos. My grasp of the situation was that it was a small, no-where town, and the massacre served no tactical purpose, it was just senseless violence.
I decided I needed to know more details, so I dug out my copy of Thucydides in English.
So maybe people don't know what I'm even talking about. Around 400 B.C., Greece was pretty evenly devided between Athens, and her ally cities, and Sparta, and her allies. A war broke out between the two groups which dragged on for almost thirty years.
About fifteen or twenty years into the war, Athens, for some ungodly reason, decided to send a force to attack Greek colony cities in Sicily. They hired a bunch of Thracian mercenaries to fill out their numbers. Thrace was up north, just south of where Bulgaria is today, but back then this was not part of Greece. Greeks thought everybody who wasn't Greek was a barbarian, and these people actually lived up to the name.
It took a while for the Thracians to get to Athens, and the fleet got impatient and left without them. Athens was having to get all of the city's supplies sent in by sea, and this, on top of financing the war, was straining the city's finances. When the Thracians finally arrived the Athenians didn't want to pay them to stick around, so they sent them up north along the coast to cause trouble there.
The Thracians sailed into Spartan-allied territory, landed, and attacked the first town they found. It was Mycallessos. The townspeople thought nobody would bother to attack them because they were in the backside of beyond, and didn't have much in the way of defenses. In fact they were still in the habit of leaving the gates open at night. So one day at dawn, the Thracians had no problem barging in. They killed every living thing they encountered. They came across the school, and brutally slayed every student.
The big city of Thebes was nearby, and heard what was going on, and sent help -
And, sorry, I can't "help" but break to say that I learned just today in my Greek class that the Greek verb for "to help" is a combination of the smaller verbs, "shout" and "run around." So when you help somebody you shout and run around.
- but the Thebans were too late for Mycallessos. They caught up with the Thracians at the shore as they were about get back on their ships, and as Thracians couldn't swim, there was quite a panic. A lot of the Thracians still escaped.
There Thucydides wrote, "So the town of Mycallessos suffered a calamity as brutal as any encurred during the war . . ." and then he jumps back to describing what happened to the Sicilian expedition. No rumination, no commentary. I don't really get how this got the reputation of being one of the lowest of the low points of the war - after reading the passage it appears it was just one atrocity out of very many, perpetrated by both sides. The Germans bombed Coventry. The Americans bombed Dresden.
This is a good example, though, of why people should study about Greeks. For possibly the first time in the existance of humanity, a man wrote a description of war, which was not set in a glorious, semi-mythological past, but in his own lifetime, and one in which there were no good guys. Everybody were bastards. The Germans bombed Coventry. The Americans bombed Dresden.
Oh, and hate to spoil it for you - eventually, Athens lost.