The ancient Greek historian Thucydides famously claimed that his work would be ‘a possession for all time’: not just the history of a single war between the Athenians and the Spartans, but a guide to the way that the world works, and especially to politics and war. He was right. Over the last two hundred years, Thucydides has been one of the most frequently quoted ancient writers. His ideas have influenced historians, politicians, international relations experts and soldiers; all agree that his work is useful and important.
Thucydides does not offer simple lessons, but a training course in analysis and deliberation. He demands that his readers follow his narrative of events and think about how things could have turned out differently; he asks them to listen to opposing arguments and to weigh up the issues – and then to think about how those arguments relate what actually happened. He shows how the world is complicated – and how we can make sense of that complexity. In brief, he aims to help his readers to develop the skills that every citizen of a democracy needs.