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A Study of Capabilities and Resources in Punic and Peloponnesian Wars

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The Peloponnesian War, by Donald Kagan, pieces together the work of Thucydides, describing the conflict of Athens, a democratic society where the majority made choices to progress the city, and Sparta, a minimalistic city with a mixed government and an emphasis on military, in the Hellenistic world and the eventual victory of the Spartans. The Rise of the Roman Empire, described by Polybius, tells of Rome, an expansionist empire with a nearly politically level class system, and its victories over Carthage, a lowly populated yet wealthy merchant state, in the Punic wars. Both works serve to describe the complex situations and the moves made to accomplish what has become history, which can be simplified using a resource and capability framework where capability describes the ability to use strategic resources effectively. Using a resource and capability framework, the ability of leaders to utilize allies, soldiers, and opportunities for technological advancements led to the victories and defeats of those involved in the wars.

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Rome’s greatest strength lies arguably in its treatment of its allies, harboring loyal and helpful city-states. Rome utilized a tier system that would allow for allies to compete against each other to help Rome more; the competition for a better tier remained fierce due to the benefits given to the ally, indicating a symbiotic relationship between Rome and its allies (Polybius 313). This system worked effectively as many of the states felt involved in the success of Rome and thus aligned their own interests with Rome’s goals. The ability of the Roman civilization to use its resource of allied city-states, which they gained through continued protection of allies, and its capability to develop this alliance into a mutually beneficial one demonstrates the diplomatic capability Rome contained. In a similar manner, Sparta’s diplomatic capability, learned through its struggle with Athens, allowed for them to seek more allies aside from just the resources of existing allies. Lysander’s leadership allowed for a connection with the Persian Empire and a relation that helped with the final push to end the Peloponnesian War (Kagan 470). The capability of Sparta regarding its military prowess also attracted allies, like Megara, who opposed Athens hostile treatment (Kagan 19). While Rome and Sparta succeeded in this capability, it represents a fallacy of Athens, which failed to handle this resource properly.

Athens, like other empires, gained tributes from its allies, but abused that power during wartime to the discouragement of its empire; many protested the increase in tributes that Athens imposed to replenish its treasury after the First Peloponnesian War. Indeed, the treatment seemed so harsh that when Athens’ showed weakness after its defeat in the Sicilian Expedition, many city-states defected (Kagan 189,328). This arose from a period of having ineffective leadership, after the death of Cleon in the battle of Amphipolis, and thus having many policies decided by Nicias, a man not fit for the aggressive state of war due to his “upright, and reserved” disposition (Kagan 187, 99). Similarly, Carthage possessed the resource of allies, but the inability of its leadership to protect them properly, like the fallacy of the indecisive and demoralized Carthaginian leadership that “made no attempt to contest the possession of the open country”, led to a doubt in Carthage’s ability. Rome pounced on this opportunity, attacking Syracuse to the point that they left the Carthaginian alliance to ally with Rome, as did many other city-states in Sicily (Polybius 56-7). The lack of aggressive leadership missing from Carthage, as was from Rome, showed a lacking capability required for the wars fought, showing their failure to properly capitalize on resources due to mismatched leaders.

Rome also possessed military generals adept at creating a grand strategy for their armies. The Roman Empire possessed the soldiers necessary to wage land war, but needed a capable General to utilize this strategic resource. Scipio served this purpose, as he possessed such talent “that all those who came under his authority were moved of their own accord to pay him this tribute and speak of him as a king” (Polybius 423). His brilliance, shown through his grand strategy, allowed for Rome to succeed in battle; indeed, they revered him for his talents and the prowess he demonstrated. Carthage compensated for its lack of soldiers by spending its wealth to hire mercenaries from Africa; indeed, the financial resources of Carthage helped prepare it for war and the capability of the civilization to utilize this advantage shaped its military path. Despite gaining the force necessary, the decisions of the generals Hamilcar and Hannibal guided the successes and failures of Carthage, not to mention that “Carthaginians depend at all times on the courage of mercenaries to safeguard their prospects of freedom” (Polybius 345). Sparta also used “outside” men for its army, but made sure to not entirely depend on them as most of the army still comprised of their original skilled warriors. It allowed for men belonging to the class of mothakes, below the aristocrats, to rise to power, and also for helots to join the army and fight for their freedom; this system allowed for Sparta to increase its army size in the drawn-out war (Kagan 75). Their mentality of a quick victory had changed since the war started, but the sentiment of attacking to win allowed for Sparta to proceed with its own power until it recognized the need for a strong navy and a larger grand strategy, provided by the leader Lysander (Kagan 469). The proper utilization of soldiers by leaders shows how the military proceeded in these wars.

Technological achievements, due to the capabilities of Roman engineers, helped shape the outcome of the battles as well. For example, before the Punic Wars, Rome lacked a good navy, but created one after plundering ships from Carthage and creating blueprints of the ships to build (Polybius 64). This resource of the ship would have been useless without the replication of it and indeed would have remained inferior to Carthage’s power if not for the innovations like the ‘raven’, a device used to board other ships; indeed, this device proved effective in helping the Romans win the battle of Mylae and the battle of Ecnomus (Polybius 66, 68). Syracuse also managed to build a fortress, reminiscent of the Athens long walls, due to the genius of Archimedes, a situation where the intellectual resources of a single person was utilized by the city to provide a strong military defense and offense in the Second Punic War (Polybius 365-6). Similarly, Athens used the knowledge gained from its ship building industry to further improve the navy and enhance other technological capabilities within the city. In this manner, capable workers who could utilize technological knowledge helped shape military techniques of these civilizations, often with the encouragement and guidance of the city.

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The civilizations of Carthage, Rome, Athens, and Sparta utilize their resources, primarily those of allied states, soldiers, and technological knowledge, to further their societies due to the capabilities of the empires that primarily arose from their leadership. Carthage improperly applied its financial resources due to a lack of constant strategic leadership, demonstrating a lack of military capability that spread to its allies. Rome manages its allies and its military properly, showing the capability derived from appropriate leaders. Athens remains strong due to its capacity for utilizing technological resources, but fails to convert that successfully diplomatically. Sparta does possess diplomatic capabilities and utilizes that with its military resources, found in the capable leader Lysander, to defeat the Athenians. Through the analysis and deconstruction of the successes of the civilizations during war, its application to modern day seems historically backed and indeed a useful method to evaluate competing companies.

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