Roel Konijnendijk (UCL) – Past & Present Fellow

Courage and Skill: A Hierarchy of Virtue in Greek Thought

Roel recently completed a PhD in Ancient History at University College London. His research, supervised by Professor Hans van Wees, focused on the ideals expressed in classical Greek military thought. Such ideals reveal much about the culture of the ancient Greeks – about their concept of citizenship, their attitudes to war, and the place violent conflict had in their society. The study reveals a clear trend of generals and military thinkers attempting to work within a deeply anti-militaristic socio-political system, with limited financial resources, to nevertheless achieve complete victory by any available means.
One way in which this conflict between civic norms and practical needs is expressed is the way in which the conduct of Greek amateur armies and commanders is judged. Writers of the period frequently stress both skill and courage as the most admirable traits. Yet these are not simply complementary ideals. Praise for valour tends to be heaped especially on those who are outmatched, outwitted, or simply beaten; courage appears to have been little more than a consolation prize for those whose tactical abilities were seen to be lacking. From the Persian Wars down to the end of the classical period, those who won were lauded almost exclusively for their skill. Only those who lost would need to be called brave. This reveals an unexpected way of thinking about war, in which the spirited amateurism of the citizen militia – commonly held to be the defining military ideal of the Greeks – is ranked below the skill of the trained soldier and general. The nature and context of this hierarchy of values is the subject of Roel Konijnendijk’s research during his IHR Past & Present Fellowship year.