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Melian Dialogue
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Melian dialogue)
The Melian Dialogue is a dramatic set-piece debate inserted by the ancient Greek historian Thucydides in
his History of the Peloponnesian Warconcerning the invasion of the island of Melos by Athens in 416 BCE. It
dramatizes the negotiations between the emissaries of the Athenian invaders and the rulers of Melos. The
Athenians demanded that Melos submit and pay tribute or be destroyed. The Athenians appealed to the Melians'
sense of pragmatism, citing the overwhelming odds, whereas the Melians appealed to the Athenians' sense of
decency and fear of the gods. Neither side was able to sway the other and the negotiations failed. The Athenians
subsequently conquered Melos and mercilessly slaughtered or enslaved its inhabitants.
The Melian Dialogue is frequently cited by political scientists and diplomats as a classic case study in political
Historical context[edit]
Melos (indigo), the Delian League (orange), the Peloponnesian League (green), and neutral areas (pale yellow)
The people of Melos were Dorians and kin to the Spartans, but were independent of any of the mainland empires.
For years, the Athenians had desired to incorporate Melos into their empire for its wealth and strategic location in
the Aegean Sea. In 431 BCE, Athens and Sparta and their respective allies went to war. In 427 BCE, some Melians
may have made donations to the Spartan war effort, but otherwise the island remained neutral in the war. In 426
BCE, the Athenians sent a small force to ravage the Melian countryside. In 425 BCE, the Athenians formally
demanded a tribute of fifteen talents (equivalent of 6,000 drachmae), but Melos refused to pay.[1]
In the summer of 416 BCE, during a truce with Sparta, Athens sent a fleet of 38 ships carrying an army of 3,000
men, led by the generals Cleomedes and Tisias, to conquer the island. After setting up camp on the island, the
Athenians sent emissaries who met in private with the rulers of Melos. The emissaries demanded that Melos join the
Athenian-dominated Delian League and pay tribute to Athens or face destruction. The Melians rejected the
ultimatum. The Athenians laid siege to the city and withdrew most of their troops from the island to fight elsewhere.
For months the Melians withstood the siege, but with reinforcements from Athens and the help of traitors within
Melos, the Athenians took the city that winter. The Athenians executed all the adult men they caught and sold the
women and children into slavery. They then settled 500 of their own colonists on the island.[2]
In 405 BCE, with Athens losing the war, the Spartan general Lysander expelled the Athenian settlers from Melos
and restored the survivors of the original Dorian colony to the island.[1]