How Ancient Greek Historians Predicted Putin

Jakub Ferencik
4 min readJul 13, 2022

Back in my days at university, we had to read — as most political science students do — Thucydides’, The Landmark Thucydides a Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War. Reading Thucydides is the passageway to international relations and foreign policy.

Everyone is made familiar with Thucydides’ concept of the strong overpowering the weak due to their self-interest.

In many ways, Thucydides predicted that stability in the 21st century is hard-won and should not be taken for granted.

Many — including myself — never thought that war on this scale would come back to Europe. We needed to be reminded of the fact that the human condition does not change and that self-interest reigns. With the help of Thucydides, I’ll show you why.

“The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” — Thucydides

Photo by Constantinos Kollias on Unsplash

In Book Three of The Landmark, the Mytilenians rebel against Athens. The Athenian politicians, Cleon and Diodotus, argue for and against the proposal that Mytilenians deserve the death penalty for this treason.

Cleon infamously argues for justice in the form of capital punishment since the Mytilenians rebelled against them and the penalty for rebellion is death.

Diodotus agrees with Cleon that the Mytilenean rebellion is unjust. But his point of divergence is in the fact that he believes that capital punishment is not the best response to the rebellion.

For Diodotus “the question is not justice, but how to make the Mytilenians useful to Athens.”

In essence, Germany’s foreign policy toward Russia was the same.

Following Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, sanctions were issued on the Kremlin. But they were far from enough. And efforts to put Nord Stream II into effect were not halted.

Far from it, in fact.

For Germany, and much of the EU, the question was similarly not justice, but how to make Russia useful to the EU.

In Ancient Greece, the resolution was the same.

The Strong Win Over the Weak

Jakub Ferencik

Author of “Up in the Air” & “Beyond Reason” available on AMAZON | MA McGill Uni | Research assistant for EUROPEUM Prague | 700+ blog posts with 1+ mil. views