Might and Right: Thucydides and the Melos Massacre

The punishment of a rebellious client-state by Ancient Athens was the peg on which Thucydides hung an eloquent discussion of the morality of power and violence.

The island of Melos takes it name from the Greek word for 'quince' or 'apple' (mêlon). It is best known today, though, in its Italian guise as Milo. For it was from here in 1820 that a marble statue of a largely nude Aphrodite (Roman Venus) was snatched away in a manner at once hilarious and sad to become the Louvre's showpiece 'Venus de Milo'.

In antiquity, however, Melos was famous – or rather notorious – for a very different kind of violation. Twenty-four centuries ago in 416/5 BC the Athenians, aided by some allies from other Aegean islands, masscared most of the 500 or so adult male inhabitants and sold the women and children into slavery.

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