The first valuable contribution the Greeks made to political study was that they invented it. It is not too much to say that, before fifth-century Greece, politics did not exist. Rameses and Nebuchadnezzar, Croesus the Lydian and Cyrus the Persian, ruled over great empires; but within their dominions there were no politics because there were no public affairs. There were only the private affairs of the sovereign and his ruling class. Government and all that pertained to it, from military service and taxation to the supply of women for the royal harem, was simply the expression of the power and desire of the ruler. The great advance made by Greece was to have recognized that public or common interests exist and to have provided, first for their management, and secondly for their study.
But by what right, it will be asked, in this age of Wissenschaft and Fachmenschen, of specialism and research-institutes and organized intellectual production, do you speak of Thucydides as a scientific historian? Here is a man who, without a university degree or any university training at all, after a brief military career for which he took no staff college course (as witness his generalship), sits down to write a chronicle of the war in which he played a part, basing his account simply on his own experience and on the testimony of such eye-witnesses as he was able to meet.
How can anything better be expected from a mere soldier, a rough practical man, untrained in the arts of research, in collecting facts on slips of paper and arranging and re-arranging them till an induction emerges, in looking up reference books in libraries and ‘listing’ them in a neat alphabetical bibliography, totally ignorant of the Hilfswissenschaften, the laborious subsidiary studies on the basis of which scientific history is built up, ignorant even of foreign languages, who has read no sociology, and is not even aware of its existence, whose geographical studies are limited to his own journeys and the tales of his friends, who, finally, has the impertinence to intersperse his narrative with fictitious speeches, thus destroying any pretence at a scientific character for his treatise, and revealing it in its true nature as a mere work of art or imagination?
Yet turn to the opening chapters of Thucydides’ book. You will find most of the sciences on which long modern treatises are written: but you will find something more: you will find them blended into a unity. Let those who deny that Thucydides was a sociologist, who continue to claim that Herbert Spencer, inventor of the horrid word, invented also the science, re-read Thucydides’ account of the evolution (for it was as an evolution that he saw and depicted it) of Greek society from the earliest times to his own day.
Let those who cry up anthropology examine into his treatment of legend and custom and his power, untrained in Seminar or institute, to use it as sociological evidence.
Let the geographers, too forgetful sometimes that man is not the creature of environment alone, refresh their minds by recalling those brilliant sallies in geographical thinking in which he explains some of the features of early Greek settlement and city-building.