Un-Common Peace

This blog was researched and written by Visualising War and Peace student Martha Shillaker, School of Classics, University of St Andrews, November 2023. It discusses concepts of peace expressed in an ancient Athenian speech, On the Peace with Sparta, by politician Andocides.

Un-common Peace: Peace in Andocides’s On the Peace with Sparta

Martha Shillaker

‘There is a wide difference between a peace and a truce.’[i] This is a statement made by Athenian politician Andocides in his address, On the Peace with Sparta. The concept of ‘peace’ – and the reality that the word manifests itself as – has been, and continues to be, debated amongst thinkers and scholars. It is clear to most that peace is not just the absence of war; however, the extent to which peace is the absence of violence is still an area of discussion. In the last century, Peace theorist Johan Galtung popularised the concept of negative and positive peace, providing the vocabulary to discuss different understandings and situations that cannot be classified as war.[ii] Despite being helpful framings, it is clear that peace is something that is far more ambiguous and complicated than these binary categories. It is important, in the analysis of case studies, to understand the complicated nature of waring and peaceful states. The interactions and narrative between these states define their understanding and visualisation of conflict resolution and peace-making. It is this relational concept that Söderström, Åkebo and Jarstad highlight in the presentation of their framework, ‘relational peace’, in Friends, Fellows and Foes: A New Framework.[iii]

‘Relational Peace’  

The idea of peace as a relationship is not a unique or original idea. The concept that peace requires a bond is an idea that has stretched back to the beginning of peace treaties themselves. The ‘eternal treaty’ between the Hittites and Egyptians, for instance, is drowning in language of brotherhood.[iv] Söderström et al. are, therefore, not presenting a revolutionary concept. Yet it is this fact that makes it appealing for the study of ancient peace-making. They present a framework which can be applied to peace based on the most tenuous of terms to a relationship of genuine brotherhood. There are three components, they propose, which define this peace: ‘behavioral interaction (deliberation, non-domination, and cooperation), subjective conditions (recognition and trust), and the idea of the relationship (fellowship or friendship).’[v]

Relating ‘relational peace’

These modern concepts developed in International Relations studies can be beneficial to our understanding of ancient concepts and discussions of peace. Indeed, the speech by Andocides, On the Peace with Sparta, displays a peace that can be explored and understood to a greater extent through this framework of ‘relational peace’. This allows us to look beyond whether there is a state of violence and to the fundamental relationship that undermines these states of war and peace, providing an insight into ancient peace-making through the lens of a modern framework. 

It would take a lot more words and time to apply all three of the components to ‘relational peace’ to the relationship between Athens and Sparta during this period of time than this blog can manage. For that reason, using primarily the ‘behavorial interaction’ component of this framework, I intend to explore Andocides’s definition of peace and how it marks the changing perceptions in Grecian thought of peace during this period. 

On the Peace With Sparta

Andocides was a minor, and generally unsuccessful, Athenian politician in the 4th c. BC. Around 392-1 BC, he was a member of an embassy sent to negotiate peace terms as part of the discussions of peace between Sparta and Athen during the Corinthian Wars.[vi] This was one in a series of peace-talks between the two states occurring after the failed discussions at Sardis by Antalcidas.[vii] It was during these discussions that On the Peace with Sparta was penned. The extent to which this presentation of peace is realistic is questionable as the majority of Andocides’s argument is focussed upon its merits, appealing primarily to the expressed concerns of the Athenians.[viii] Neither does it display a peace that actually occurred. Indeed, it is not hard to conclude that this was not a successful discussion for peace, as Andocides was expelled from Athens after the rejection of these terms, and the war continued until its conclusion in 386 BC. Ultimately, this war famously ended with what became known as the ‘King’s Peace’ under the terms of the Persian king, and not in Athens’ favour. 

Although it did not result in peace, Andocides’ speech marks the beginning of a new perception of peace: koine eirene. It is in this speech that this term was first used: ‘you are negotiating today for the peace and independence of all Greeks alike.’[ix] This developing concept of panhellenism moved from a concept of negative and temporary peace to a more permanent and positive peace. The framework of ‘relational peace’ allows us to understand these changes and how perceptions of peace developed from truce to positive peace. 


Discussion and peace-talks, or deliberation as described by Söderström et al., were an essential form of ancient conflict-resolution. As displayed by even the existence of this text there was a desire between ancient states to mediate peace. What is uniquely presented in Andocides’ speech is not that a peace-talk occurred but rather the purpose and definition of peace: ‘A peace is a settlement of differences between equals.’[x] The use of these peace talks presents a willingness to create narratives that are not dominated by that of conqueror and conquered. This narrative of equality is, as will be explored later, the defining characteristic of this new definition of peace.

It is not the existence of peace talks that are unique and display a difference in visualising peace but instead the language of equality that is present. It is this concept of ‘non-domination’ that signals a change in dialogue. 


Although there is no language of ‘brotherhood’ or friendship which we can see in other texts of peace, alongside the continuation and safety of democracy, equality – and its accompanying freedom – is a primary concern in the definition of peace. It is these qualities that differentiate between the concept of peace and truce. The concept of peace as a ‘settlement of differences between equals’ became a marker of the common peace.[xi] This was unprecedented.[xii]

Indeed, Andocides clarifies his definition of peace by contrasting the definition of truce: ‘a truce is the dictation of terms to the conquered by the conquerors after victory in war’.[xiii] This definition may be obvious to the modern audience but previous to this (and also afterwards, as manifested in e.g. Augustus’ Pax Romana) peace was not synonymous in antiquity with concepts of justice. Andocides’ clarification between the concept of peace and truce was necessary. Previous relations between Athens and Sparta had been unfavourable to Athens. Indeed, the last peace between Athens and Sparta had resulted in the control of Athens under Spartan hegemony, a state that they had only just removed.[xiv] Athenian understanding of Spartan peace was that of a ‘forced truce.’ Peace to them was the language of the victor and controller. Indeed, we can still see echoes of this in the speech: 

‘Under the truce Lemnos, Imbros, and Scyros remained in the possession of their occupants: under the peace they are to be ours.’[xv]

The autonomy of these islands and their occupants would, arguably, be a just move; but it was undesirable for the Athenians. They still desired power over areas of Greece that they had conquered. Furthermore, the rejection of this peace displays somewhat a desire for this continuation of ‘truce’. Athens thought they could win, and being a conqueror was better than being equal. 

Despite this, it displays that there was a choice that had previously been unavailable. As this was a speech regarding the preliminary conditions of peace, the extent to which this would have worked out in practice is unknown. But it marks a development, an evolution in the visualisation of peace and conflict resolution in antiquity.  


Although this speech didn’t receive support, it displays the importance of cooperation in peace, both in context and in the terms presented. That this was the second of three peace treaties proposed during this war displays a willingness to deliberate but also adapt. The terms here are not presented in the same form as their last ‘peace’ with Sparta which Andocides describes as ‘a forced truce upon dictated terms’.[xvi] In this treaty there are appeals to the desires of the Athenian government: democracy and the autonomy of Lemnos, Imbros, and Scyros. This ‘settlement of differences’ is one that places emphasis on the settlement. This transactional nature of peace, a characteristic of ancient peace-making, reflects the desires of the two states (or a least in this case of Sparta to Athens) to ‘make moves that benefit the other’, despite having different goals.[xvii] The emphasis of Andocides on a previous ‘forced truce’ in comparison with their current consideration highlights autonomy and a lack (or lesser form) of coercion: a willingness from both parties. This would be a peace made of their own volition, between two equal states. 

Another characteristic of cooperation would be the developing nature of their relationship and the aligning of goals, ideally resulting in a lasting (or at least longer-lasting) peace. Although this may be reading into the gaps of this source, the lack of an end date to this peace indicates an intention for longer cooperation.  The lack of end date is a new revelation, reflecting this new attitude to peace. Previous to this, Greek treaties were not designed to last longer than an agreed time (if they even got to that point).  This can be seen in Aristophanes’ ‘peace-plays’. Aristophanes’ Peace, written just before the peace of Nicias (a peace which clearly indicates the lack of longevity, lasting only for 6 years rather than the intended 50), displays the desire for war amongst the younger generations.[xviii]Although the narrative is focussed on this goal of achieving peace, the martial dreams of the young boys in this scene leave an understanding that this may only be a peace for this generation. Furthermore, we see in another play by Aristophanes, Acharnians, the peace treaty (hai spondai) made by Dikaiopolis is one that has an end date: He is given a choice of 5, 10 or 30 years.[xix] This is not presumed to be a lasting relationship of peace. But this is not an attitude seen in Andocides’s speech:once we have made our sworn compact, we should abide by it.’[xx] There is no mention of a timespan for this peace, rather an exhortation for consistency.

Incoming Common Peace

Ultimately, Andocides’s peace was no success story, but by analysing his speech through the framework of ‘relational peace’ we can see the seeds of a new understanding of peace, an era of koine eirene.  Although this is beneficial in viewing the new emphasis upon equality and longevity which would become two key characteristics of ‘common peace’, this speech only displays the theory, the ideal. It does not display the inner workings of this political thought which developed across the next century or so. As such, this leaves us with many questions to explore: To what extent did the King’s Peace reflect the peace that Andocides paints? Can panhellenism succeed through alliance rather than hegemony? Could peace really last in ancient Greece?


Beckman, G. (1996). Hittite diplomatic texts. United States: Scholars Press.

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2011, September 19). Andocides. Encyclopedia Britannicahttps://www.britannica.com/biography/Andocides (accessed 1/11/2023)

Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, Peace, and Peace Research. Journal of Peace Research6(3), 167–191.

Hornblower, S. (2023, November 9). ancient Greek civilization. Encyclopedia Britannica.https://www.britannica.com/place/ancient-Greece (accessed 1/11/2013)

Hyland, J. O., (2017). Persian Interventions : The Achaemenid Empire, Athens, and Sparta, 450−386 BCE. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Newiger, H. (1996). War and peace in the comedy of Aristophanes. In E. Segal (eds.) Oxford Readings in Aristophanes.  United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Ryder, T. T. B. (1965). Koine Eirene; General Peace and Local Independence in Ancient Greece. United Kingdom: University of Hull.

Sealey, R. (2023). A History of the Greek City States, 700-338 B. C.. Berkeley: University of California Press. 

Söderström, J., Åkebo, M., & Jarstad, A.K. (2020). Friends, Fellows, and Foes: A New Framework for Studying Relational Peace. International Studies Review. 23. 3. 

[i] Andocides, On the Peace, 11.

[ii] Galtung, 1969.

[iii] Söderström et al., 2020.

[iv] Beckman, 1996, no. 15.

[v] Söderström et al., 2020, 486.

[vi] Ryder, 1965, 32.

[vii] Sealey, 2023, 394.

[viii] Andocides, On the Peace., 1; Ryder, 1965, 33.

[ix] Andocides, On the Peace., 17.

[x] Andocides, On the Peace., 11.

[xi] Emphasis added; Andocides, On the Peace., 11.

[xii] Ryder, 1965, 1.

[xiii] Andocides, On the Peace., 12.

[xiv] Andocides, On the Peace., 10.

[xv] Andocides, On the Peace., 12.

[xvi] Andocides, On the Peace., 12.

[xvii] Söderström et al., 2020, 492.

[xviii] Aristophanes, Peace, 1265-78.

[xix] Aristophanes, Acharnians, 186-194; Newiger 1996 144.

[xx] Andocides, On the Peace., 34.