This article explores Steven Pinker’s thesis with regard to fifth-century BCE Athens.
Pinker’s view that the political state became the arbiter of violence is important, but for
ancient Greeks that meant that wars became more devastating. States coordinated military
action more effectively than earlier tribal chiefs. With regard to violence within communities,
the absence of civic values, human rights, or robust legal systems meant that violence
mediated many relationships between men and women, masters and slaves, and even aristocrats
and lower-status citizens. Violence was a prominent aspect of all ancient people’s
lives. In short, Pinker’s thesis provides an excellent heuristic device to analyze Greek antiquity
if only to discuss how it may or may not apply in real terms.