Double great wars

March 17 2013

The social effect of any great war is to speed up the pace of social change; and, when, within the span of a single lifetime, one great war is followed by a second, the cumulative effect is much more than double that of a single great war. In our world in our time we are conscious of this overwhelming cumulative effect in our own experience of the wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45. In our own case, however, we have not yet had time to see beyond the beginning of the sequel; so perhaps we may find ourselves interested in looking at past instances in which we do know the whole story.

“Double great wars” are rare; but there were three of them in the history of the Graeco-Roman Civilization; and each of these pairs of wars had a decisive effect on the destinies of the society in which it was perpetrated. The first pair was the Archidamian War of 431-421 B.C. followed by the Decelean War of 413-404 B.C.; and this double great war – the Great Atheno-Peloponnesian War – was the occasion of the Greek Civilization’s breakdown. The second pair was the First Romano-Punic War of 264-241 B.C. followed by the Hannibalic [or Second Punic] War of 218-201 B.C.; and this double great war was the occasion of the Greek Civilization’s relapse into a débâcle after a brief third-century rally.

The Roman Empire gave the civilisation a reprieve by providing it with a universal state.

The third pair of great wars was the Romano-Persian War of A.D. 572-90 followed by its successor of A.D. 603-28; and this double great war was the occasion of the Graeco-Roman Society’s final dissolution.

Economic and Social Consequences of the Hannibalic War, lecture about the effects of the second of these double great wars, John Rylands Library, Manchester, March 10 1954; Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, Vol 37, No 1, September 1954

Cf similar passage in Vol IX of the Study, published that year, partly quoted here, and see Hannibal’s Legacy, The Hannibalic War’s Effects on Roman Life, Vol I: Rome and Her Neighbours before Hannibal’s Entry, Vol II: Rome and Her Neighbours after Hannibal’s Exit, OUP, 1965

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