Amidst an interlude in the fierce struggle for power between the two dominant Greek poleis, Athens and Sparta, the Peloponnesian war, there was unrest. Despite the Peace of Nicias, belligerence between the two states did not cease, but rather took on a new face. While careful to remain within the parameters set several years before in the peace treaty, Athens moved cautiously, but aggressively in establishing alliances, albeit coerced, and strengthening its empire. It was at this juncture that it made its move toward securing the small, weak island-state of Melos, which in its neutral independence suggested danger to the Athenian empire. In a move not of fairness, but of survival, Athens offered the Melians an ultimatum: to be subjugated
…show more content…
Desiring only to be left alone, the Melians wanted Athens to accept their neutrality and depart, “You would not tolerate our staying neutral, friends not enemies, but allies of neither side?” (Thuc., V, 94). According to the Melian definition of justice, Athens has no reason or right to inflict any harm upon them, nor to coerce them into the loss of their independence. Having had no desire to take part in the war between Athens and Sparta, Melos’ conception of justice was disregarded as Athens imposed their own definition of justice upon the island-state, at which point, Melos was forced to fight.
The results of Athenian’s view on justice are exemplified its being an empire state holding power over many and acting with aggression when the opportunity for greatness is before it. Holding justice to be that which benefits the strong, the building of an empire serves to allow the mother nation-state to collect monetary benefits and resources from those states which it dominates. This collection enables the powerful polis to become more so and then further its sphere of influence. Additionally, this definition of justice permits an ambitious city-state to spread, conquering not only the states which stand in direct opposition, but also any that could serve as a barrier to reaching absolute greatness.
The Melian’s definition of greatness, likewise, serves to explain its position as an isolationism island city-state. In order to act justly, in accordance with Melian belief,