Reading and Misreading the Ancient Evidence for Democratic Peace

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Robinson, Eric (2001) Reading and Misreading the Ancient Evidence for Democratic Peace , Journal of Peace Research 38(5): 593–608.

Abstract

In the course of the debate over the existence and possible explanations for democratic peace (the tendency of democracies not to fight wars with one another), some scholars have looked to the world of Classical Greece to bolster their claims about the phenomenon. This article critiques the best of these efforts, looking at the way the ancient evidence has been handled and the conclusions drawn therefrom. It is argued that while the ancient world is an entirely appropriate era to investigate with regard to the issue, the analyses offered thus far have not made a strong case for the existence of a Greek democratic peace. Indeed, contrary to what investigators had hoped to show, the evidence from the period in and around the Peloponnesian war indicates that not only did ancient democracies go to war with each other, they did so with relatively high frequency. Both quantitative and more traditional literary analyses support this conclusion. These results do not so much attack the general notion of democratic peace as offer a more fruitful way of using ancient history to help explain it: by focusing on the differences between ancient and modern democracies and their historical settings, future studies may be able to identify the factors which encourage or discourage democratic peace.

Authors