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Conversations On Conflict

How and Why We Should Listen To Young People’s Voices on Conflict 

Nik Perring | Never Such Innocence | Visualising War and Peace

Nik Perring is an author, screenwriter, and educator/facilitator of twenty years, who has worked extensively with:
Never Such Innocence who provide tools for children and young people (9-18) to reflect on the realities of war and conflict. They are nurturing the next generation of thinkers, leaders and peacebuilders through the arts, inspiring cultural exchange and dialogue, and amplifying the voices of children and young people all over the world.
Visualising War And Peacewho explore how war and peace get presented in art, text, film and music, and who study the ‘feedback loop’ between narrative and reality: how the tales we tell and the pictures we paint shape how we think, feel, make decisions and behave.

The Visualising War and Peace project is collaborating with Never Such Innocence and Nik Perring to explore the forces that shape children’s habits of thinking and talking about conflict, and to examine what impact young people can have on adult approaches when they are included in these important conversations. In the following essay, Nik reflects on the project.

Nik Perring: How and Why We Should Listen To Young People’s Voices on Conflict 

In this essay I’ll discuss how young people are affected by conflict; what their views are – how those views are shaped; and what we can do to listen. And, where we go wrong.

And why should we listen to young people’s views on conflict?

Because conflict affects young people.

Because they are our future and are a part of the solution…

Because, often, they need help in ways they’re unable to attain, or ask for, on their own.

The Teaching of Good Morals and How They Get Ignored

A key marker we use in our children’s emotional growth is their decision-making. Or rather, whether or not they choose to make what we would consider to be a ‘correct’ decision. 

Do they share their sweets when no adult is around to tell them they should? Are they kind when it would suit them best, in the moment, to be selfish? 

We spend hours instilling what we consider to be Sound Morals, and we give them those on our terms and in language they can understand.  Because peace, listening, and kindness are simple concepts, really. The books we read to them, and the TV shows we encourage them to watch, are often fables with a clear message: good people make kind and considered decisions, even if it might not benefit them – and those decisions will usually result in a greater good and, often, personal reward. The examples are too many to number – those morals are at the core of most of the content we produce for young people, be it Wall.E making it his duty to bring life back to earth and save his new friend; the Paw Patrol crew making good ethical and environmental decisions with others’ feelings front and centre – and any fairy tale. What we don’t universally encourage is that line of thinking in the wider adult world. 

At parents’ evenings a teacher will tell us what our children are like as people – they’re helpful; friendly; make others welcome and we take great pride in that, as well we should. Conversely, we view any sort of bullying, dominant behaviour, violence, or theft as behaviours to be addressed and corrected so our young people are able to grow into good adults. As adults – as parents and educators – we consider it a duty to tell our young people what’s right and wrong; they are the blank canvas we paint our own morals on.

What’s perverse is that the answers we need as adults – the solutions and resolutions and the good ideas, are oftentimes exactly what we have told our young people they should be. But we forget. Or ignore. If it works in the heat of the playground, why would it not work in any other setting? And if it wouldn’t work in the same way as, say,  kids arguing over a stolen Mars bar, or someone jumping the lunch queue, or dispute between adults over a pint of lager, or stolen bicycle, or territory – why bother teaching it in the first place? Are these lessons we teach not designed to be the simple foundations on which we build a correct way of dealing with the world?

The ‘Child’ as More Than a ‘Victim’.

As adults we are excellent at lazily categorising people. Our idea of ‘the child’ – especially in discussions around their welfare – when we don’t personally know them – is abstract and sloppy and often self-serving. Similarly, the idea of a ‘child as a victim’ is something used as a statistic at worst and, at best, something well-meaning after they have become that victim. But how do we separate the individual child from the ‘child’ as a collective? By seeing them as individuals, with voices (who are often saying the same thing).

Young people are affected by conflict. mainly:

As people in a conflict zone.

As people whose relations are in conflict zones.        

As people displaced by conflict.

As observers of conflict through the media.

Their relationship to what’s happening elsewhere in the world has never been closer; often it is the other side of a slim phone screen. Their opinions on conflict, historically, have come through an adult-filter: what we show them in textbooks; what is in the media and on the news – all filtered through government dispatches, policy, or media agenda. Now, we have real-time sharing of photographs and video by young people who are physically there. 

That exposure to those in areas of conflict becomes direct when they share classrooms with displaced people. Now, they are able to talk to people from Ukraine, or Sudan, Yemen and Syria, Afghanistan – and this gives them the opportunity for direct discourse in real-time, while doing what young people do – walking to class, waiting for the bus, eating lunch, in the playground, etc. Stories are shared. Empathy is generated. Opinions are formed by conversation. As conversation is the act of speaking and listening it isn’t solely those who are meeting these new people who benefit – those newer to the country are able to share their stories. 

In my experience, as an educator who has worked with young people (with Never Such Innocence)  from Yemen, Ukraine, Sudan, Armenia, Ethiopia, Syria, Kashmir, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, this also allows for those who’ve been displaced to find common ground with other displaced people – in a recent workshop in Darlington, young people from Ukraine discussed their experiences with young people from Sudan. While their experiences differed, they revelled in sharing many commonalities: first with each other, and then with the group. They were empowered by being heard. The teachers saw a connection and a new way of engaging. Moreover, in enabling discussion, neither groups of young people felt hampered by language – both spoke English as an additional language.

From Darlington: (Anon, Year 9 – from Sudan)

This is my normal now.

Some ask if I am a refugee.

Some ask where my home is on the map.

Some ask me to sit with them.

When I remember all that I lost, I try to remember all that I still have.

I breathe. I eat. I take time for myself.

I think of the friends I made along the way.

I think of the strength I found.

I am safe.

Someone listened.

Beyond that, there’s the shared experience of simply being a young person. When working with children from Afghanistan, their love of cricket was something shared with many from the UK. When working on a virtual poetry-sharing exchange with young people living on The Line of Control in Kashmir, and a school in Bradford, I saw bonds form over shared loves (exciting food, music, the importance of family) and concerns (global warming, pollution in the oceans) – illustrating to all involved how similar we really are, despite borders.

From Bradford (Anon, Year 6):

Come with me to the chippy and do lots of games and go to squirrel Park.

We don’t want you to feel helpless. 

We want you to know that some people out there care.

From Kashmir, in response:

It’s kind of you to welcome us!

I’d love to join you in your fun and feasting.

We will go together to the hills and catch butterflies.

I will give you walnuts, apricots and raspberries.

I will give you a place by the fire 

busy in gossips till midnight,

we will wake up together 

to watch the morning so bright.

The Importance of Listening

These Conversations on Conflict are vital.


It feels as though we’ve presented our (adult) selves with a conflict of our own. Despite all the coaching, we don’t really want to listen to young people. Sometimes it’s because it doesn’t fit our own agenda; and we’re certainly used to knowing best. In order to best represent young people and their experiences, and offer them the care and protection they need (geographically, and emotionally) would it not be best to talk to them directly?

And better still: listen to what they have to say?        

We need to stop assuming we know best. We also need to accept that, in doing that, we are hiding ourselves from the truth and removing the opportunity to empower young people and give them the skills of confident communication.

I’ve worked with people from the age of three to people in their eighties in schools, universities, libraries, youth groups, looked after children, and with military families. In every instance, when a young person has been given the confidence to share their thoughts honestly (not by repeating what they might assume we want to hear) the adults involved have been surprised and delighted by their wisdom and intelligence. They have allowed young people to shape policy (they’ve spoken at Stormont; at The Houses of Parliament; to Base Commanders, and LEA stakeholders)  – it’s been an affecting, and effective, start – it’s just not quite on the level it’s needed.

There are other aspects to conversations as well – let’s not forget the primary reason for being an educator is to educate. In the classroom, we give young people the opportunity to ask difficult questions and have their own opinions tested. While working with young people who were writing responses to conflict in the DRC (with Visualising War and Peace and Never Such Innocence)  one young person assumed the reason for people fighting there was because they were black. They were able to discuss this with a photographer and a journalist, who’d spent many years there, and through that discussion were able to revaluate their own opinions. Those opportunities can shape a person’s outlook beyond the session and affect their relationship with conflict and unfamiliar people and cultures over a lifetime.

From the DRC session (Anon, Year 6):

And here’s how we’ll do it:

We’ll stop being greedy or stuck-up,

and we’ll stop showing unkindness to those we don’t know.

We will look war in the eye and say NO.

It can be our life’s work, it can be understanding.

We can all help because peace is with us

and without it we’d be lost.

I spent a week on a NATO base with Never Such Innocence, working with young people from Norway, the UK, Canada, and Germany, having conversations, and making work, around life as a child in the military family. There is a lot of movement within that community with many young people saying they felt they struggled leaving friends and finding new ones – it helped them realise they weren’t the only ones with that on their minds. It wasn’t solely their peers that agreed – teachers were able to join the conversation and show that they had felt those things as well – bringing down another barrier. 

The Benefits of Reading Before an Audience

It’s only when we are able to hear individual voices that we can listen to individual feelings. And that is precisely why we need to be working with young people in this instance – showing them their opinions matter, that their feelings are valid, and that we will give them both a voice and an audience; anything less is lip service and patronising. How else can we shape the conversation if we don’t allow all aspects, and all affected, a seat at the table? 

I mentioned earlier that some young people have had the opportunity to read their poetry and speeches in front of an audience. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and work in front of a class is an important skill to have and the (lack of) confidence to do that is a common barrier.  Speaking in front of an external audience, and working towards that, can shape lives: it’s aided people with anxiety issues, stammers, and shown a different path from the traditionally academic one that some have struggled to engage with; it’s also allowed people to flourish in front of their peers in ways none would have expected. The ability to share ideas and talk concisely in front of people are skills we need to thrive. And what better gift can we give – to anyone – than the gift of confidence?

And what is the point in engaging with young people if we don’t allow their voices to be heard beyond a classroom?

Setting new agenda for ancient peace studies

Students from the 2023 cohort of our undergraduate module ‘Visualising War and Peace in Antiquity’ have been putting their minds to some new research agenda for the study of ancient conceptions and discourses of peace. In the presentations below, three of them set out some reflections and suggestions for three different areas of study: Hellenistic inscriptions, women’s experiences of post-conflict recovery, and ancient peace rugs.

Martha Shillaker dives deep into women’s experiences of war and discusses the potential of ‘speculative history’ and ‘useful fiction’ for reconstructing the networks of care and mutual support that they may have developed as they tried to build both inner and interpersonal peace in the wake of conflict. She looks particularly at what we can learn from Greek tragedy about women’s experiences of the ‘return’ from war – underlining the concept of return as a fantasy (things do not ‘go back to normal’ or to some pre-war state), and what women particularly have to lose if (like Clytemnestra) they have acquired more power and freedom during their husband’s absence in a conflict. She offers sensible caveats about not mapping what we see in Greek tragedy onto Athenian reality, but she also rightly points out that these plays in all likelihood reflected issues of real relevance to their contemporary audiences. That opens the path to discussing more broadly what we can learn/study about ‘the home front’ in antiquity, women’s experiences of the aftermath of war, reconciliation, rehabilitation and more personal/local/everyday peace in the wake of ancient conflict. Her discussion underlines the extent to which that post-conflict period must be understood as a complex negotiation, even as a struggle; and this prompts us to wonder if we can find out more about what models of or approaches to reconciliation and rehabilitation prevailed in antiquity:

Elizabeth Walker discusses Hellenistic language and expressions of diplomacy in surviving inscriptions that record peace-making process. Underlining how formulaic this language tends to be, she draws attention to its emphasis on past relationships, future relationships, and present friendship – with euergetism, reciprocity and mutual benefit regularly stressed. She stresses the exclusively elite nature of this discourse, and the similar patterns when visualising relations between kinds and/or cities. Crucially, she looks critically at this language, discussing its world-building nature and its deceptive habits: such diplomatic language, she rightly argues, is a visualisation of future possibilities more than a reflection of reality. While not necessarily binding, it can bring into being certain modes of interaction; but just as often it papers over ongoing conflict and (especially) the needs/wishes of less privileged groups.

Elizabeth get us thinking hard about the political work that such diplomatic language does (serving certain agendas) and also how embedded and established such formulaic language can become – prompting us to wonder how coining new language might interrupt dominant narratives of diplomacy and peacemaking. The Romans, she argues, did not interrupt or innovate so much as appropriate and deploy diplomatic language which they felt would land well with Greek counterparts. This gets us thinking about the imposition of a perpetrator’s peace through diplomacy, and more broadly about the top-down nature of the inscriptions that survive. As well as discussing existing trends in scholarship, Elizabeth reflects on what the study of Hellenistic diplomatic inscriptions might offer to future peace studies, particularly highlighting the learning we can do about language as a political tool: 

David Calder draws on research into ancient and modern ‘war rugs’ to think about the kinds of weaving (now lost to history) that may have told narratives of both peace and conflict in antiquity; and he invites us to consider what we might visualise on an ancient peace rug if we were weaving one today. His creative approach helps us think through different, more grassroots methods of visualising peace across space and time. He offers some excellent analysis of ancient rug-making/weaving, underlining the scarcity of our sources but deploying speculative history to draw valuable inferences. He also introduces us to Afghan war rugs, and moves from analysis of them to sharing a world-building/peace-visualising project based around Afghan peace rugs. Blending this with what we know about aspects of ancient war and peace (both real and representational), he suggests a wonderful, creative and scholarly intervention based on the creation of an ancient peace rug:

Pockets of Peace in Lucan’s De Bello Civile and the Christmas Truce of the First World War

This blog was researched and written by Visualising War and Peace student David Calder, School of Classics, University of St Andrews, November 2023. It compares the Christmas Truce of 1914 with an episode in Lucan’s epic poem The Civil War, where Lucan narrates a short-lived ceasefire to reflect on war as much as depict a pocket of peace.

In Lucan’s epic De Bello Civile, the poet is naturally primarily concerned with the conflict between Julius Caesar and Magnus Pompey. Indeed, the various battles fought by the rivals and their forces provide many of the text’s climaxes. In book four however, between lines 168 and 210, Lucan presents a ‘pocket of peace’ when Caesar’s army faces Pompeian soldiers in Iberia. This moment is a profound example of a spontaneous ‘grassroots’ peace, where the cessation of hostilities came not as an order from above but arose naturally from interactions between individual combatants. Such ceasefires ultimately represent ‘negative’ peaces,[i] which quickly return to violence, and indeed Lucan uses this primarily to emphasise the horror of the conflict in which they belong. A direct parallel can be drawn between Lucan’s ceasefire, and the well-known story of the Christmas truce during the First World War. By their comparison, it may be possible to identify commonalities between the two narratives of temporary peace. One effort here will be to describe the conditions required for the establishment of the two truces in order to understand how spontaneous ceasefires emerge. Examination of the Christmas truce as well as the truce in Lucan will also reveal the common factors that sustain them. There is no official story of the Christmas truce; instead it has become a subject of collective social history which has been often presented in a highly idealised manner.[ii] By comparison with Lucan’s work, as well as recent scholarship critical of the myth of the truce, it is possible to see how the cultural memory of the brief ceasefire offers an image of peace which emphasises a pocket of peace in order to highlight the tragedy of the First World War. 

After the invasion of Belgium on the 4th of August 1914, the first stages of the war on the Western front were relatively mobile, with rapid German advances through Belgium, later successes at Charleroi and Mons, only halted at the Marne, 25 miles from Paris.[iii] This war of manoeuvre was further exhibited in a series of outflanking attempts known as the ‘Race to the Sea’,[iv] as both forces attempted to gain a superior position. The resultant battles were mutually costly for little gain, and by late November, exhaustion, and a lack of resources, encouraged both armies to develop highly defensive trench systems over the winter period.[v] The prelude to Lucan’s ceasefire contains a similar race for position as Caesar chases after the Pompeians, fleeing to an escape, eventually pinning them in a stalemate after threatening their supply routes.[vi]

There the two camps with low ramparts were pitched not far apart. When their eyes met, undimmed by distance, and they saw each other’s faces clearly, then the horror of civil war was unmasked. For a short time fear kept them silent, and they greeted their friends only by nodding their heads and waving their swords; but soon, when warm affection burst the bonds of discipline with stronger motives, the men ventured to climb over the palisade and stretch out eager hands for embraces. One hails a friend by name, another accosts a kinsman; the time spent in the same boyish pursuits recalls a face to memory; and he who had found no acquaintance among the foe was no true Roman. 

Lucan’s Civil War, 168-79[vii]

The proximity of the defences immediately brings to mind the trenches of late 1914, where opposing lines would often be within hailing distances of each other, between which remarks would occasionally be exchanged.[viii] In Lucan’s work the interaction is initially visual, but the recognition of family and friends prompts troops to head into the no-man’s land between the camps. The outbreak of the Christmas truce was naturally slower, as it was conducted between strangers, but the roots of fraternisation, and the unofficial ‘live and let live’ policy of the soldiers in some sectors began well in advance of Christmas.[ix] This has been attributed to the short distances between them facilitating observation and habitual interactions.[x] In the section above, common identity is also central to the unity of the enemies. Indeed, Lucan explicitly links the peace to Roman identity through his emphatic Nec Romanus erat  (‘Was not a Roman’, 179). The recognition of kinsmen and childhood friends is a powerful force to break the pseudospeciation required for violence.[xi] The soldiers in the First World War, despite not sharing a nationality, have a common identity in so far as most of the combatants shared a common faith. Attention to this common identity was heightened at Christmas, evidenced by exchanges of shared carols and gifts between lines.[xii] The detailed record of a soldier on the western front explicitly states the sense of commonality at Christmas — ‘Christmas Eve for both of us–something in common’.[xiii] This ‘Horizontal Proximity’ was essential for the encouragement of non-violence,[xiv] as soldiers after recognising the common Christianity from subsequent fraternisation could see common humanity, and separate the abstract enemy from the men opposite them.[xv] Within this passage we can see that proximity, both physical and psychological, is constant in the establishment of pockets of peace in these narratives. Proximity without violence, in which combatants are forced to interact between strong defensive positions due to the breakdown of manoeuvre, plays a crucial role in inciting fraternisation. The recognition of shared identities is also fundamental in securing these spontaneous truces, as both national and religious horizontal proximities are recognised.

There was peace, and the men made friends and strolled about in either camp; they began friendly meals together and outpourings of blended wine, sitting on the hard ground; the fire burned on turf-built hearths; where they lay side by side, tales of the war went on through all the sleepless night—on what field they first fought, by what force of hand their javelin was launched. But while they boast of their brave actions and deny the truth of many tales, their friendship, alas! was renewed, which was all that Fortune desired, and all their future wickedness was made worse by their reconciliation. 

Lucan’s Civil War, 196-205

Lucan here gives a vision of peace, in which the two sets of opposing soldiers are presented sharing food, wine, and stories. Here again the common identity shared between soldiers is crucial, by sharing stories of their martial exploits they share their common experiences. This is a direct parallel to the soldiers of the Great War, who upon exiting their trenches in 1914, found an enemy experiencing the same hardships as themselves[xvi] and traded food and souvenirs.[xvii] While it is certain that many soldiers did empathise with their opponents, less commonly mentioned is that there was much mistrust between forces, with many wary of treachery, or that the ceasefire may be used for reconnaissance.[xviii] The complex reality of the truce is here visible, that while it was a moment in which many took rest from war, it was widely accepted that the conflict was still ongoing. 

As mentioned above, Lucan’s primary purpose is to heighten the horror of the civil war by the soldier’s reconciliation. He explicitly states this, and by presaging the return to arms sandwiches this peace within war. Writing a century after the events, Lucan’s audience knows that this truce will not last, nor will it develop into a wider armistice, and so here he builds up the potential of peace merely to negate it. In his commentary on the fourth book of Lucan’s epic, Asso identifies his use of the imperfect pax erat (‘There was peace’, 196) as offering the possibility of peace, turning this moment into a missed opportunity emphasising the tragedy of the civil war.[xix] As the myth of the Christmas truce emerged and solidified well after the conflict,[xx] the idealising narrative of grassroots peace ultimately achieves the same effect as Lucan’s forecasts. The story of the truce encourages its audience to look back upon December 1914 as a moment of peace with the knowledge that three more Christmases would pass before the bloody conflict’s end.

The peace is broken in Lucan’s work by the return of the general, Petreius, who upon realising that the enemy had been allowed into his camp, reopens hostilities in brutal fashion: 

For when Petreius heard of the peaceful compact and saw that he and his forces had been sold, he armed his slaves for infamous warfare. Surrounded by this band, he hurled the unarmed enemy out of the camp, separated the embrace of friends by the sword, and shattered the peace with much shedding of blood. 

Lucan’s Civil War, 206-10

Initially the end of the peace is entirely top-down, with Petreius arming his ‘slaves’ (serving ones), to destroy the ceasefire, suggesting an element of compulsion in the return to conflict. However, Lucan later presents the same soldiers brutally turning on their erstwhile friends (243-52) with all the goodwill and friendship of the truce forgotten. The idealising narrative of the Christmas truce too suffers from the fact of its brevity. How could the soldiers after this day of fraternisation and the triumph of common humanity return to battle? Indeed, the end of the truce is often attributed to senior commanders and generals, and while these commanders did order the end of the truce, many of the soldiers were perfectly ready to return to arms, regarding the short break as nothing more than a brief respite from fighting.[xxi] Indeed some of the interactions were not lamenting the war, or wishing that their generals could make peace, as Lucan commands his soldiers to enact (188), but confidently discussing their hope of victory.[xxii] From this it is clear to see that the soldiers in this episode of the First World War, just as the Caesarians in Lucan, have often been presented as victims of the sudden return to conflict, when in reality the vast majority of them were complicit in the violence as Petreius’ forces were. 

Above, the common factors behind these ceasefires have been established: the breakdown of manoeuvre, the construction of opposing defences between which soldiers interact, and this interaction leading to a spontaneous truce are all features shared by both narratives. By comparison with Lucan’s narrative the common understanding of the Christmas truce has been further explored. The truce is not a myth in so far as it did occur; however the subsequent story told of universal fraternity and peace is hardly an accurate depiction. While soldiers did interact congenially, even they were able to recognise the limited nature of the truce. In the Roman poet’s work his agenda is perfectly clear, and so his similarities with the Christmas truce reveal that many narratives of the ceasefire have the same aim, to emphasise the horror of war, rather than offering a true image of peace. 


Ashworth, Tony. “Trench Warfare, 1914-1918: the live and let live system”. Pan Macmillan, (2000).

Asso, Paolo. “A Commentary on Lucan, De Bello Civili IV: Introduction, Edition, and Translation”. de Gruyter, (2010).

Bairnsfather B. “Bullets and billets”. London: Grant Richards. (1916).

Blom Crocker, Terri, ‘“The Legendary Christmas Truce”: The First World War, the Christmas Truce, and Social History, 1970–1989’, in The Christmas Truce: Myth, Memory, and the First World War (Lexington, KY, 2016; online edn, Kentucky Scholarship Online, 19 May 2016).

Lucan, “The civil war (Pharsalia)”. Trans. Duff, James D. Loeb (1928).

Feierabend, Ivo K., and Martina Klicperova-Baker. “Freedom and psychological proximity as preconditions of nonviolence: the social psychology of democratic peace.” South African Journal of Psychology 45, no. 4 (2015): pp564-577.

Galtung, J., Fischer, D. “Positive and Negative Peace”. In: Johan Galtung. SpringerBriefs on Pioneers in Science and Practice, vol 5. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg (2013).

Gardner, Nikolas. ‘Command and Control in the “Great Retreat” of 1914: The Disintegration of the British Cavalry Division.’ The Journal of Military History 63, no. 1 (1999): pp29-54.

Jürgs M. Der kleine Frieden im Großen Krieg: Westfront 1914: Als Deutsche, Franzosen und Briten gemeinsam Weihnachten feierten. Munich: Random House. (2005).

Mang, R., Häusler, H. “Military Geoscientific Materials for Excursions to Theatres of First World War in France and Belgium.” In: Guth, P. (eds) Military Geoscience. Advances in Military Geosciences. Springer, Cham. (2020).

Saunders, Anthony. “Trench Warfare, 1850–1950.” Casemate Publishers, (2010).

Wiedemann, Nicolás JB, Miguel Pina e Cunha, and Stewart R. Clegg. “Rethinking resistance as an act of improvisation: Lessons from the 1914 Christmas truce.” Organization Studies 42, no. 4 (2021): pp615-635.

Weintraub, Stanley. “Silent night: the remarkable Christmas truce of 1914”. Simon and Schuster, (2014).

[i] Galtung & Fischer (2013) p. 173-4.

[ii] Cf. Blom Crocker (2016) ch. 8 & 9.

[iii] Gardner (1999) p. 29.

[iv] Mang and Häusler (2020) p. 54.

[v] Saunders (2010) p. 101-3.

[vi] (157-167), Lucan omits the detail of the supplies (cf. Caesar, De Bel. Civ. 1.73), instead preferring to characterise Caesar as eager for battle.

[vii] Trans. Duff (1928).

[viii] Weintraub (2014) p. 3.

[ix] Ashworth (2000) p. 24-6.

[x] Wiedemann et al. (2021) p. 622.

[xi] Feierabend and Klicperova-Baker (2015) p. 569.

[xii] Wiedemann et al. (2021) p. 623.

[xiii] Bairnsfather (1916) p. 70.

[xiv] Feierabend and Klicperova-Baker (2015) p. 570.

[xv] Wiedemann et al. (2021) p. 624.

[xvi] Jürgs (2005) p. 117-8.

[xvii] Blom Crocker (2016) p. 51.

[xviii] Blom Crocker (2016) p. 55.

[xix] Asso (2010) p. 152.

[xx] Blom Crocker (2016) ch. 8 & 9.

[xxi] Blom Crocker (2016) p. 49.

[xxii] Blom Crocker (2016) p. 56.

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 Britannica (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. (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.

Rationalising War: learning (blurring) lessons from Polybius

This blog was researched and written by Visualising War and Peace student Elizabeth Walker; School of Classics, University of St Andrews, November 2023. It discusses Polybius’ synthesising, universalising approach to narrating war in his Histories.

From the outset of his Histories, Polybius sets out the end goal of his work – to understand the growth of Roman imperial power

For who is so worthless or indolent as not to wish to know by what means and under what system of polity the Romans in less than fifty-three years have succeeded in subjecting nearly the whole inhabited world to their sole government — a thing unique in history? (1.1.5)

Polybius explains how the Romans’ have achieved this unrivalled hegemony, examining the different wars and conflicts that have facilitated the growth of this power as the substance of his discussion. Yet importantly, Polybius seeks to establish a fool proof way of uncovering this question and a reliable means of examining his material critically. In his eyes, this is done through a history with a stalwart theory that underpins it. As such, Polybius’ approach is consciously programmatic; he continually reemphasises and redefines certain conceptual frameworks which are intended to elucidate understanding of the multitude of wars, reflecting a concern with how to conceive of the enormous and unprecedented change the Romanisation of the world had brought about. This blog will explore how Polybius’ form of historiographic approach creates a particular understanding of war within his narrative, one that perhaps seeks and holds claim to being analytical and comprehensive in its analysis, but in fact demands a need for cohesion and explanatory rationality. This brushes over the more difficult aspects of war or provides generalised explanations for inconceivable phenomena. The relationship between Polybius’ historiography and war will therefore be examined through pertinent selections of his programmatic passages.

In the first of the two most significant programmatic passages (at the beginning of book 1 and 3 respectfully) Polybius makes clear that a significant overall purpose for his work is its practical application. Almost immediately in the introduction to the first book he incites his readers to recognise the practical value encoded in his work:

The soundest education and training for a life of active politics is the study of History, and that surest and indeed the only method of learning how to bear bravely the vicissitudes of fortune, is to recall the calamities of others. (1.1.2)

Whilst Polybius’ writing is not formulated with the same intention for instructive assistance for war as the exempla tradition in the military manuals of Frontinus, for example, he certainly makes clear that the reader’s examination of his subject matter (a discourse of war) is inherently didactic, and furthermore, relevant for the rather vaguely stated navigation of life more generally. Scholars debate whether Polybius intended a practical or moral teaching to be read in his material.[i] Yet this seems a somewhat irrelevant particularity, since predominantly, any claim to didacticism aids prestige to Polybius’ project, stretching it beyond an academic exercise, and makes his work appeal to be read by a cross-section of readership groups. Polybius is appealing for its relevance to any elite man, not just politicians and those with military aspirations.[ii] Furthermore, this appeal continues a notion witnessed in different writings across antiquity, that war is a phenomenon to be consumed by the reader. War as a concept held intellectual fascination for the ancient elite man, perceived as offering up an inexhaustible richness in what it could say about the elusive idea of ‘human nature’ more broadly, something which Polybius connects war as providing observations on consistently through his Histories.[iii] Additionally, the fact that the ‘calamities of others’ is specifically mentioned suggests that ‘failure’ of wars should be of particular curiosity for Polybius’ reader. This reduction of the end of conflicts glosses over the impact of the aftermath and fallout of war, specifically the profound, widespread long-lasting repercussions that impact human lives. It implies that these cataclysmic reverberations of war can almost be made meaningful if they help Polybius’ reader ‘bear bravely the vicissitudes of fortune’. War is reduced to simply a cerebral concept to be utilised for self-development.

Additionally in this first programmatic statement in Book 1, specifically 1.4.7-11, Polybius lays out a clear intent to actively re-visualise wars of the past in a purposefully cohesive manner:

He indeed who believes that by studying isolated histories he can acquire a fairly just view of history as a whole, is, as it seems to me, much in the case of one, who, after having looked at the dissevered limbs of an animal once alive and beautiful, fancies he has been as good as an eyewitness of the creature itself in all its action and grace. For could anyone put the creature together on the spot, restoring its form and the comeliness of life, and then show it to the same man, I think he would quickly avow that he was formerly very far away from the truth and more like one in a dream. For we can get some idea of a whole from a part, but never knowledge or exact opinion. Special histories therefore contribute very little to the knowledge of the whole and conviction of its truth. It is only indeed by study of the interconnexion of all the particulars, their resemblances, and differences, that we are enabled at least to make a general survey, and thus derive both benefit and pleasure from history. (1.4.7-11)

Polybius uses a metaphor of an animal’s body as an ideologically poignant image by which he demonstrates how he perceives an adequate grasp of history can be attained. Polybius is inviting the reader to literally look at the substance of his text – wars – as constituent parts of a dead animal’s body that are incomplete in isolation, and only ‘alive’ once put together. It is notable that the Roman state was often conceived of as a ‘body’ by other writers, such as Cicero, with the idea of a defective body particularly being employed as a metaphor for political dysfunctionality.[iv] Therefore, Polybius is perhaps interreacting with Roman imperialistic discourses, suggesting that the sum of wars produce meaning when under an imperial project. Moreover, as Wiater argues, Polybius is attributing aesthetic beauty and completeness to his own particular historical understanding of wars, emphasised that there is intellectual life in them when collated together.[v] The imagery is certainly impactful and works effectively to portray individual wars (equivalent to dissected limbs) as holding more desirable value when they are synthesized together in a single conceptual understanding. Whilst this initially seems to encourage a generalising approach to the complexities of war, Tully argues that it is not reductive, offering that ‘Polybius is not detracting value from knowledge of single events and wars but emphasising the need for “overarching synthesis”’.[vi] This interpretation recognises what Polybius intends, but the superimposition of a synthetic agenda is inherently not a neutral reproduction. Polybius’ overall aim for cohesion creates an environment that seeks to fit individual experiences of war into an overarching pre-established interpretation of what war is and retrospectively can be used for. This framework of understanding creates literary conditions which can swerve towards disregarding certain nuances that do not ‘fit’ or glossing over the ‘unexplainable’. In this way, for example, it has been argued by Walbank that Polybius at times resorts to the allusive concept of tychē (fortune) as a governing force for difficult explanations of war.[vii] Whilst this is perhaps an overly critical interpretation of Polybius’ work (since he is highly invested in human causation[viii]), there is definitely an argument that Polybius’ schematic approach provides an apt environment for overemphasising similarities between wars to provide a summative interpretation, inevitably overlooking differences and nuance. However, L.V. Pitcher particularly rebuts this, arguing that Polybius was highly aware of the complexity involved in the representation of war in the genre of history, wrestling with ‘methodological anxieties’.[ix] Whilst Pitcher’s analysis is valid in attributing some awareness of nuance to Polybius, it does not address the fact that Polybius, in his employment of historiographic frameworks, is actively transforming and reconstructing wars to give them a new meaning altogether. 

Therefore, returning to the metaphor, it also illustrates the very paradox that comes with viewing war through a historical lens: the animal is indeed unable to be restored to life – the only way of experiencing that animal in its fullness was to see it when it was alive. As Cobley asserts ‘no discourse is able to recuperate the reals as such, different modes of representation connote reality differently’.[x] As such, whilst Polybius does not deny the limits of accessing the past, it is fascinating that in some way he views his visualisation of war as getting as close as possible to a reality. He implies his history is almost able to resurrect the body of the metaphorical animal. In fact, Polybius even believes that a deeper and more analytical perspective on war will be generated as a result of his selective historical methods. Whilst the metaphor acknowledges history as a way of visualising war, it fails to recognise the bias that comes with any literary reconstruction (let alone a retrospective one) especially of such a complex phenomenon as war.

In book 3, Polybius gives further insight into how he sees the historian and reader’s agency and role in reconstructing the wars of the past. The historian is compared to a physician:

My object has not been to censure previous writers, but to rectify the ideas of students. For of what use to the sick is a physician who is ignorant of the causes of certain conditions of the body?… [he] will scarcely be likely to recommend proper treatment for the body… (3.7.4-6)

Polybius’ students are substituted for doctors who diagnose and then treat illnesses, explicitly placing the historian not as a removed third party, but as an active and authoritative participant in a restorative, or even corrective, process. Cobley reflects that ‘the traditional historian always acts as an external and retrospective mediator whose narrative is the outcome of carefully documented source material’.[xi] However, Polybius’ idea of a historian seems to go beyond a ‘mediator’. The historian is the actor synthesizing the separate nature of the individual wars, and like a doctor, he is knowledgably initiating the dissection of his subject matter – transforming, not just observing. Likewise, Polybius does not hold neutrality; he is purposefully steering his material for a particular aim, which undeniably affects how wars are presented. He is laying out the material in a way so that a particular interpretation might be drawn – in this case, to map war onto his contemporary geopolitics and Greek self-definition. Analysing this analogy further, Polybius suggests that it is fundamental that a doctor-come-historian must draw on their pre-existing knowledge: a diagnosis cannot be done without a bedrock of accumulated expertise. Polybius openly advocates for the application of previous knowledge of wars onto other wars. Walbank argues that ‘historians have frequently been tempted to try to detect – and in practice this has usually meant being tempted to superimpose – some sort of pattern on the social and constitutional changes which constantly occur in history’.[xii] Walbank’s statement certainly rings true for Polybius. In seeing cohesion as almost synonymous with finding a ‘truth’, or rather producing the most accurate account of history and perspective on the wars themselves, he searches for a universality that does not necessarily exist. Whilst this is not an inherently invaluable exercise, it leaves little space for the ‘inarticulacy’ that might come with war. As McLoughlin says, ‘inarticulacy, like silence itself, is an ethical-aesthetic response to the challenges of conveying conflict’.[1] In Polybius’ desire to comprehend multiple wars so thoroughly as one cohesive whole, this in fact potentially leads to either a disregard for wars that don’t offer meaning or contribution to his project, absent voices and valuable perspectives being dismissed, or generalisation of factors. In this way, whilst Polybius promises a systematic depth of analysis, he often grasps at tropes for the representation of war, for example giving great significance to ‘outstanding’ men.[2] Even if Polybius grants complex analysis to them, the onus being on a singular great man plays into a tradition of conceiving the outcome of wars as being fundamentally influenced by the genius or mistakes of an individual, when the reality is much more complex. These are tropes that he has inherited from earlier storytelling traditions, not just from his synthesis of history. In other words, narratives are shaping narratives which are helping to shape reality.

Overall, much can be deduced about Polybius’ approach to war from his approach to history as a discipline. Perhaps the visualisation of cohesion that Polybius advocates for is as a way of reconciling the enormity of the military impact Rome has had on the world. The change Polybius’ world had undergone through conflict needed to be shaped into something that made sense altogether, and furthermore, converted into useful knowledge. Polybius shows no interest in questioning conflict – it is a consistent norm in his worldview, and also a convenient vehicle for a complex academic discourse that aids him prestige as a writer. Polybius’ use of rigid historiographic methods blurs out space for uncomfortable conclusions or a more affective rendering of war.


Baronowski, Donald Walter. Polybius and Roman Imperialism (London: Bristol Classical Press, 2010)

Cobley, Evelyn. “Narrative Situation: Focalization and Voice” in Representing War: Form and Ideology in First World War Narratives (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993) pp. 71-117

Eckstein, Arthur M. ‘The Act of Generalship as the imposition of Order’ in Moral Vision in The Histories of Polybius (Berkley, California: University of California Press, 1995) pp. 161-193

Engberg-Pedersen Anders. Empire of Chance: The Napoleonic Wars and the Disorder of Things (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2015)

Hau, Lisa Irene. ‘Polybius’ in Moral History from Herodotus to Diodorus Siculus (sl: Edinburgh University Press, 2016) pp. 23-71

Longley, Georgina. “Thucydides, Polybius, and Human Nature” in Imperialism, Cultural Politics and Polybius edited by Christpher Smith and Liv Mariah Yarrow (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) pp. 68-84

Marsden, Eric W. “Polybius as a military historian”, Entretiens sur l’Antiquité Classique 20 (1974): 269-301

McGing, Brian. Polybius’ Histories (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)

McLoughlin Kate, Lara Feigel, and Nancy Martin, eds. Writing War, Writing Lives (London: Routledge, 2017)

McLoughlin, Kate. ‘War and words’ in War Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) pp. 15-24

McLoughlin, Kate. Authoring War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011)

McLoughlin, Kate. The Cambridge Companion to War Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Miltsios, Nikos. “Introduction” In Leadership and Leaders in Polybius, IX-XVI (Berlin, Boston: DeGruyter, 2023) pp. ix-xv

Pitcher, L.V. ‘Classical war literature’ in The Cambridge Companion to War Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) pp. 71-80

Tully, John. ‘Ephorus, Polybius, and τὰ καθόλου γράφειν’ in Between Thucydides and Polybius: The Golden Age of Greek Historiography edited by Giovanni Parmeggiani (Cambridge, MA; London: Center for Hellenic Studies, 2014) pp. 163-174

Walbank, Frank. ‘Polybius and the past’ in Polybius, Rome and the Hellenistic World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) pp.178-192

Walbank, Frank. Polybius (Berkley, California: University of California Press, 1972)

Walters, Brain. ‘The Republican Body Politic’ in The deaths of the Republic: imagery of the body politic in Ciceronian Rome (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2020) pp. 7-26

Wiater, Nicolas. “Politics, Aesthetics and Historical Explanation in Polybius I.” University of St Andrews. 15 Ocotber, 2013.

[1] McLoughlin (2010) 17.

[2] Miltsios (2023) ix.

[i] Hau (2016) 23.

[ii] Marsden (1974) 284.

[iii] Longley (2012) 69.

[iv] Walters (2020) 15.

[v] Wiater (2013).

[vi] Tully (2014) 173.

[vii] Walbank (2002) 182.

[viii] Longley (2012) 68.

[ix] Pitcher (2010) 76.

[x] Cobley (1993) 79.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Walbank (2002) 181.

Representations of War on an Archaic Amphora

This blog was researched and written by Visualising War and Peace student David Calder; School of Classics, University of St Andrews, October 2023. It discusses alternative readings of ancient and modern images of ‘the departing soldier’, what they can tell us about culturally dominant habits of visualising conflict, and how myths and allusions to established narratives can be used both to sanitise and critique war.

The image of the departing soldier is an enduring and universal visualisation of war, present in many eras, and across various cultures (Fig. 1 and 2 above, & 3 below).[i] The depictions of this moment in warfare focus upon the sacrifice of the soldier leaving his home and loved ones. Additionally, these images often present visualisations of the experience of war for those whom the soldiers leave behind. Versions of this image were frequently produced on Athenian vases in the late 6th and early 5th centuries, perhaps in response to the heightened conflict of the period.[ii] While certain aspects of these images may be idealizing and anachronistic,[iii] nevertheless they represent a lived experience of many families in Attica.[iv]

In this blog, I will examine an amphora from the late 6th century, found in Vulci, Italy, depicting Hercules and the Erymanthian boar on one face (Fig. 4) and a narrative of a departing soldier on the other, which is the side this essay will primarily discuss (Fig. 5). This image contains five figures which are, from left to right, an old man with a sceptre commanding a bowman who wears a peaked cap, a hoplite in full armour looking to a female figure, and rightmost a hoplite looking back on the scene as he departs to the right. The narrative of this scene is fairly clear: the king, distinguished by the sceptre, orders the two soldiers to war, and as a result the hoplite must depart from the woman, who can be read as either mother or wife.[v] As she is more of an object of grief in the scene, there is little to distinguish her and the narrative can be understood either way. Despite its apparent simplicity, this vase, like many ancient sources, is open to a variety of interpretations. By exploring this vase’s context and meaning, and comparing its imagery cross-culturally, we can seek to identify the messages of war it might present, and thereby encourage further investigation of both war and peace on Attic vases more generally.

One interpretation of the scene is that it visualises the idea of the heroic sacrifice. The centrally positioned hoplite is the focal point of the image, and his sacrifice provides the emotional conflict of the piece. The soldier’s struggle between duty and love is shown by his spear and body facing the ruler, but his head turned towards the woman. A repetition of this imagery is visible in post-Revolutionary French conscription artwork, for example the Départ de conscrit[s] by Desfeuilles of Nancy, 1818-1824,[vi] which presents a narrative of the French conscription process. The picture shows, in a reversed order, the departure and return of a conscript. Here again, the internal battle between love and duty is externally visualised through the awkward posture of facing backwards while marching forwards.[vii] This and other images of the same genre, designed to promote conscription, do not ignore the pain of separation caused by military service but instead present it as a highly positive, transformative event,[viii] and a duty to be praised in 19th century France. 

Returning to the amphora, it is unlikely that the image is representing a mythical tale, as there is neither the inscriptions nor the imagery of myths seen on some other vases.[ix] However, heroes on Attic vases are often portrayed as a hoplites, bearing the same arms.[x] By contrast, the archer’s ‘cowardly’ bow,[xi] peaked cap, and short tunic,[xii] identifies him as an easterner.[xiii] Whether he is friend or foe is unclear. Many scholars take the portrayal of eastern archers as a device by which the Hoplite is further heroised, as they identify the archer as a secondary character and a companion of heroes, who by their lower status elevate the importance of the central figure.[xiv] At the likely time of this amphora’s creation however, the Persian empire was an increasingly significant threat to the city-states of Greece. The Athenian potters may have been presenting a narrative of war in which they reflect imagery of their contemporaneous enemies. We do not see any conflict between the Hoplite and the archer— indeed the date may be too early for scenes of open hostility such as the Eurymedon vase,[xv] and the Athenians were at this point nominally at peace with the Achaemenids.[xvi] However, the image does follow the conventions of Attic vase paintings in the depiction of easterners that presents them as inferior to the ‘noble’ Greek hoplite, and thereby contributes to the othering of a potential enemy. Finally, the vase may further heroise the subject by the inclusion on the reverse side of a mythical comparison. By presenting one of Hercules’ labours it emphasises the glory to be won by performing a difficult duty, essentially suggesting that by going to war the soldier becomes a hero like Hercules.[xvii]  It is possible that Attic vases of this period display ‘recruitment’ images designed to encourage the departure to war, praising the heroic qualities of the hoplite, and presenting departure scenes as necessary to address existential threats to the state as they were in the 19th century French departure scenes. 

There is an alternative reading: the vase may have been attempting to portray a distinctly anti-war narrative, along with an anti-authoritarian message in response to the overthrow of the Peisistratids which occurred in 510 BCE. The figure of the king is presented as an old man who remains behind but sends the hoplite, in the prime of his life, away to war and potential death; if understood thus, this image potentially criticises authority and war. While the inclusion of the mythical story upon the reverse image may have a heroising effect, it may also identify the old king with Eurystheus— both are kings that send others away to do difficult tasks; and by featuring a scene where Eurystheus’ cowardice is pronounced, the vase invites this connection to be made to the otherwise anonymous king. This interpretation is further supported by the examples of two other departing hoplite vases, both suggested to also be the work of the Antimenes painter (Fig. 6).[xviii]On these images, the old man holds a staff, or walking stick, not a sceptre. In most other vases of departing soldiers the old man is understood as the father.[xix] This modification of the established figure may be a criticism of the recently deposed Hippias. Evidencing this point is difficult as only rough estimates for dates can be accepted and establishing a chronological timeline for the vases’ creation is likely impossible. However, the principal amphora under discussion here clearly represents a divergence from a common theme— it is apparently unique, at least in the oeuvre of the Antimenes painter, in its portrayal of the old man as a king. The archer may also become an Anti-Peisistratid symbol, as his inclusion may refer to the tyrannical dynasty’s use of mercenaries.[xx]

Understanding the context in which Attic vases were used in Etruria is essential to explaining how they might visualise war. This is, however, far from simple, with many very different views presented in scholarship. Some sources argue that the Attic vases were quotidian, functional objects in Etruscan society.[xxi] This may mean that they were objects that engaged in everyday militarisms, supporting a military culture by their omnipresence. Others have suggested that these vases were reserved for a specific funerary purpose.[xxii] Indeed, most Attic vases that have survived were found in Etruscan tombs, and this is especially true of those found in Vulci, where a large tomb network was excavated in the 19th century. This casts some doubt on the heroic interpretation of the vase. The vase may have been selected for its image of the departing soldier, to furnish the tomb of a soldier. If so, it strikes a stark contrast with the image of the departing conscript of 19th century France. In the latter images, the soldier always returned, greatly improved by his service,[xxiii]but the amphora presents no hint of return and has perhaps become a monument to the consequences of war with much of its nobility stripped away. If these suggestions are accepted, then it becomes far more reasonable to argue that this amphora presents a message that is both anti-authoritarian and anti-war.

The amphora also serves as an example of a wider question: whose understandings of war are being presented? By the end of the 6th century Athens, had cemented itself as a major power in the mediterranean and Athenian potters dominated their industry.[xxiv] Consequently, Attic visualisations of life and attitudes became diffused throughout the ancient world.[xxv] The perspective of Attic culture is visible in the figure of the eastern archer, which to an Etruscan must have been unfamiliar if not alien. Detailed studies of surviving artefacts show that, while the demands of the Etruscan market shaped the forms of Attic ceramics, the images presented upon them remained unaffected.[xxvi]Therefore, the imagery of war presented on vases is likely a reflection of the Athenian painter’s experiences/worldview; and so identifying the status and inspirations of vase painters is essential to understanding the visualisations of war that they present. 

Mythological stories are frequently featured on vases, including this one. Their presence indicates a familiarity with both the Homeric epics and other myths. This appears to be where the Antimenes painter has drawn much of their source material from, since many of their works feature mythological stories. As a consequence of this, his discussion of war on this vase is moralised with a mythological parallel. Therefore, the painter’s moral view of war is limited to the preexisting parallels that can be drawn on; and their visualisation of war is a reflection of already established ideas surrounding war. The role of the woman on the amphora is notably passive, she is the object of the hoplite’s attention and does not take any action further than grieving. On other departure vases, the woman often arms the departing soldier, or pours a libation,[xxvii] here the woman is simply left behind. The woman remaining behind is a common theme in most, if not all, departure images throughout history, showing the understood place of women in war, at home.[xxviii] This results in a limited view of how war affects women. There is another potentally sanitizing element, too, reflective again of dominant habits of narrating and visualizing way. By the soldier’s exit, the vase implicitly presents the idea that war is fought in some third place and neither side’s home is threatened. This links to the concept of noncombatant immunity, central to a lot of war theory, which relies on warriors avoiding harm to civilians.[xxix] Of course this is not the case in much ancient warfare, but the presentation of the war as distant and as the woman as passive results in a further heroising of the scene as the hoplite could be understood to be fighting in a ‘clean’ just war. 

By undertaking an analysis of this amphora it is possible to see that understanding departure scenes throughout history relies on understanding how the authors viewed the conflicts they present, and that involves digging into the atmospheric habits of visualizing war that surrounded (and were then reinforced) by them. In the case of Eisenstaedt’s Penn Station photographs, for example, it is almost impossible that the photographer wishes to portray an anti-war message. While the content of these photographs could be interpreted as highlighting the costs of war, given the context of Eisenstaedt’s own life,[xxx] it can be considered with some certainty that his departure images were designed to highlight the heroism and sacrifice of the departing soldiers and the necessary pain of their loved ones. With the amphora we have no such context, and as a result the message of the vase remains a mystery. Despite the apparent contradiction of the two offered interpretations, both should be considered plausible, and perhaps mutually present; we do not have to choose between one or the other. While the vase undeniably presents war in a heroic light by juxtaposing the hoplite with Hercules, and by arming the hoplite in the same manner as mythological heroes presented on other vases, the variations made by the artist suggest a less conventional reading could also be legible. Both the historical and archaeological context of the vase invite is to wonder whether the amphora is critical of the injustice of tyranny and, as an extension of this, opposed to war. A key question then follows from this is: if that is the case, what kind of power might such subtle criticism have, given that it is embedded in more conventional visuals and storytelling that traditionally sanitise and celebrate war? 

Whatever the painter’s agenda, or the interpretations of the vase’s owners/viewers, it is clear how culturally embedded their own visions, understandings and habits of visualizing war are in dominant forms of storytelling. Much of how they visualised war comes from mythological traditions and thus severely limits the nuance in which they could visualise war. Their portrayal of the woman presents a historically consistent image of women in war as passive The departing soldier is not only a common theme on Attic vases, but features throughout history. Therefore, understanding how the scene is presented on this vase and throughout history, allows the reader to analyse contemporary images of departing soldiers and understand the messages they present.


  • Beazley, John Davidson. “The Antimenes Painter.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 47, no. 1 (1927): pp63-92.
  • Boardman, John. “The Greeks overseas: their early colonies and trade.” Thames and Hudson (1999).
  • Bovon, Anne. La représentation des guerriers perses et la notion de Barbare dans la première moitié du Ve siècle. In: Bulletin de correspondance hellénique. Volume 87, livraison 2, (1963):pp579-602.
  • Cooke, Miriam. Women and the war story. Univ of California Press, (1996)
  • Ciment, James, and Thaddeus Russell, eds. “The Home Front Encyclopedia: United States, Britain, and Canada in World Wars I and II.” Vol. 1. Abc-clio, (2007)
  • Gill, David WJ, and Michael J. Vickers. “They were expendable: Greek vases in the Etruscan tomb.” Revue des études anciennes 97, no. 1 (1995): pp225-249.
  • Hölscher, Tonio. “Images of War in Greece and Rome: Between Military Practice, Public Memory, and Cultural Symbolism.” The Journal of Roman Studies 93 (2003): pp1–17.
  • Hopkin, David M. “Sons and lovers: Popular images of the conscript, 1798–1870.” Modern & Contemporary France 9, no. 1 (2001): pp19-36.
  • Ivantchik, Askold. “‘Scythian’ Archers on Archaic Attic Vases: Problems of Interpretation”, Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia 12, 3-4 (2006): pp197-271
  • Matheson, Susan B.. “3. A Farewell with Arms: Departing Warriors on Athenian Vases” In Periklean Athens and Its Legacy: Problems and Perspectives edited by Judith M. Barringer and Jeffrey M. Hurwit, New York, USA: University of Texas Press, (2005): pp23-36.
  • Miller, Margaret C. Athens and Persia in the fifth century BC: a study in cultural receptivity. Cambridge University Press, (1997)
  • Osborne, Robin. “Why did Athenian pots appeal to the Etruscans?.” World Archaeology 33, no. 2 (2001): pp277-295.
  • Singor, Henk W. “The military side of the Peisistratean tyranny.” In Peisistratos and the Tyranny, Brill, (2000): pp107-129.
  • Smith, Amy. “Eurymedon and the Evolution of Political Personifications in the Early Classical Period.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies119 (1999): pp128–41.
  • Spivey, Nigel. “Greek vases in Etruria.” American Journal of Archaeology 110, no. 4 (2006): pp659-661.
  • Steiner, Ann. Reading greek vases. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (2007)

(Fig 1):

(Fig 2):

(Fig 3):

(Fig 4):

(Fig 5):

(Fig 6):

[i] See George Morland’s The Soldiers Departure, Kobayashi Kiyochika’s ‘Warrior Departing for a Battle’, and Alfred Eisenstaedt’s Farewell to departing troops at New Yorks Penn Station as culturally and temporally diverse examples.

[ii] Matheson (2005) p. 23.

[iii] Ivantchick (2006) p. 201.

[iv] Matheson (2005) p. 23.

[v] Matheson (2005) p. 26.

[vi] Figured in Hopkin (2001) p. 25.

[vii] Hopkin (2001) p. 23-5.

[viii] Hopkin (2001) p. 35.

[ix] Matheson (2005) p. 26-9.

[x] Ivantchick (2006) p. 205, 202.

[xi] Hölscher (2003) p. 10.

[xii] Bovon (1963) p. 587-588.

[xiii] For an extensive discussion of the identity of similar figures often identified as Scythian, see Ivantchick (2006).

[xiv] Ivantchick (2006) p. 206.

[xv] Cf. Smith (1999).

[xvi] Sending envoys to the Persians in 507/6 BCE (Hdt. 5.73) and only deciding upon open hostility in 502/1 (Hdt 5.96) Miller (1997) p. 4.

[xvii] Steiner (2007) p. 25.

[xviii] The other not figured here is Wurzburg 103. Figured in Beazley (1927) p. 73

[xix] Matheson (2005) p. 25

[xx] Singor (2000) p.118.

[xxi] Spivey (2006) p. 660.

[xxii] Gill and Vickers (1995) p. 245.

[xxiii] Cf. Hopkin (2001).

[xxiv] Boardman (1999) p. 202.

[xxv] Barringer (2001) p. 3.

[xxvi] Cf. Osbourne (2001).

[xxvii] Matheson (2005) p. 26.

[xxviii] Cf. Cooke (1996).

[xxix] Fiala (2008) p. 53.

[xxx] Eisenstaedt and his family having fled from Nazi persecution of Jews, Ciment (2007) p. 585.

Achilles on Scyros

This blog was researched and written by Visualising War and Peace student Elizabeth Walker; School of Classics, University of St Andrews, October 2023. It discusses Statius’ epic poem The Achilleid, looking particularly at how the narrative invites us to visualise Achilles’ time away from war while hidden by his mother on the island of Scyros. As Elizabeth explains, not-fighting and ‘unwarlike’ places are represented as feminine phenomena; but also as temporary options/states, always threatened by the return of violence. Her blog helps us think about ancient habits of visualising peace (pictured negatively, as a short-term ceasefire, a vacuum which war will always inevitably fill, even an aberration from the norm of from nature) as well as habits of visualising the kind of macho heroism which Achilles has come to embody.

In its very title, Statius’ Achilleid says from the outset that it will put the most famous warrior known in antiquity (and beyond) at the centre. Those things inextricable from his name – heroism, arms and war – we might expect to hold centre stage alongside him. Yet Statius’ epic never witnesses Achilles enacting what is so integral to his Homeric characterisation: Achilles does not ‘do war’, nor for that matter is he anywhere near where the tensions of the Trojan conflict are building. In fact, the bulk of the Statius’ epic will narrate Achilles’ time on Scyros, the island where Thetis his mother chose to hide him, in an attempt to delay his fated role in the Trojan War. Even the journeys to, and then eventually from, this island, frame the narrative focus around Achilles’s time on Scyros. This blog explores what it means for such a famous warrior to exist in a place depicted as distant from the epicentre of war and conflict. It will analyse how Statius uses physical spaces in particular to visualise the literal and metaphorical boundaries of war.

Firstly, it is clear that Statius creates certain physical spaces to hold distinct functions in his narrative. From the outset, the sea is identified as the space within which war is operating. The epic begins with Achilles’ nymph mother Thetis emerging from the sea in fearful response for her son’s fate. She witnesses Paris’ fleet reaching the Hellespont, a clear signal to the building momentum of the Trojan War. This immediately alludes to another time in which Thetis was alarmed at the sight of a ship – that of the Argo, as it sailed to regain the golden fleece, in Catullus’ carmen 64. Through this, Statius clearly sets his narrative within the epic literary tradition, which cycles round a paradigm of violence and conflict.[i] Yet here Statius also draws on the Aeneid, contrasting Venus’ use of a storm that delays Aeneas with Thetis requesting but failing to get Neptune to initiate one.[ii] This inversion of the expected direction of the narrative signals that Statius’ narrative is taking a different bearing, literally and thematically: Statius’ story of Achilles will turn away from where war is happening to places on land and on the fringes of war. In turn, different locations bring broader thematic spaces for Statius to visualise less war-filled parts of Achilles’ narrative. As Rimell puts it, Statius’ narrative ‘lingers in caves, valleys, homes, groves’.[iii] Statius will move Achilles between different remote physical landscapes to disrupt the narrative’s progression towards war, rather than utilise the pre-existing naval landscape of war.

Therefore, whilst Achilles inhabits mountains and islands, in contrast, the sea is occupied by activities of war. As Thetis leaves Achilles with King Lycomedes on Scyros, Statius shifts to where the hub of the war is, utilising language evocative of high epic register to describe it.[iv] The war preparations are depicted as all-consumptive of the natural elements: ‘the sea cannot support the vessels, and the sails devour every shred of wind’ (501-502). The earth and sea are even depicted as merging: ‘mountains were stripped bare to the sky, every forest now floated’ (481-482). The idea that the sea and land converge because of war distinctly visualises war as an all-encompassing and metaphysical phenomenon, which does violence to the environment, not just to people. It also anticipates that even Achilles’ refuge on land will not mean he is immune to the reaches of its power.

Yet, even if the island of Scyros is known to only be a temporary refuge, it is still depicted as physically distant from the epicentre of war. Purcell suggests that mountains and islands were perceived to be ‘naturally marginal’ in antiquity.[v] In this way, the focus on journeying helps us to visualise Statius’ use of peripheries. Thetis first travels to retrieve Achilles from Mount Pelion, then journeys to Scyros. Achilles’ reaction as he awakes on the beach of Scyros paints the scope of this physical distance for the reader:  

He was stunned by what he saw.

What place is this, what waves, where is Pelion?

Everything he sees is changed and unfamiliar,

And he isn’t sure he recognizes his mother…

Statius, Achilleid, 280-283

This sense of Achilles’ utter disorientation not only works to create a cinematic effect that a large expanse of space has been crossed. It also draws out the changes this new place will bring. The warrior-like activities that Achilles was pursuing in Mount Pelion will be replaced with cross-dressing and dancing. Therefore, Scyros is both geographically far away, but also functions as a detached conceptual space within which an alternative narrative of Achilles disconnected from war can be explored. In this way, Achilles’ disorientation perhaps invites the reader to view the subsequent episode on Scyros with a similarly dream-like and detached lens alongside him, one that frees up analysis of the gender ambivalence he will undergo. 

However, the thematic use of gender in Achilles’ cross-dressing is also coded in the language used to describe Scyros as a place:

But Thetis spent the night beside the roaring breakers,

trying to decide where she should hide her son,

in what land, what secret place. Thrace is nearest

but much too martial… Sestos and Abydos

are too accessible to ships…

she had heard bevies of girls from Lycomedes’

unwarlike palace screaming in play along there shore.

This she likes, the safest place for the fearful mother.

Statius, Achilleid, selected lined from 224-283

Thetis’ principal consideration is that Scyros is ‘unwarlike’, the Latin word for which (inbelli) is etymologically formed from the Latin word for war (bellum). The use of a negativized word invites contrast rather than complete antithesis, leaving ambiguous as to what degree Scyros is ‘without’ war, and leaving open the possibility that it could be ‘with’ war. Moreover, it is a word that denotes both the sense of a place being ‘without war’, but also could denote a lack of masculine strength.[vi] Therefore, this adjective fundamentally introduces gender into the characterisation of Scyros. The description that ‘bevies of girls (were) screaming in play along the shore’ expands on the island’s supposed inherent lack of masculinity by introducing the binary opposite – femininity. Scyros as an ‘unwarlike’ place is therefore also a domestic, feminine space. This is furthered as Achilles immediately catches sight of one of Lycomedes’ daughters, Deidamia, and desires her (lines 277-310). The language and metaphors Statius uses to describe this change is distinctly that of love elegy.[vii] Achilles’ cheeks ‘redden’, and it was as if he had ‘absorbed liquid fire’. Therefore, Statius even uses the language of a different literary genre to mark Scyros as a space where the ‘feminine’ abounds, in opposition to the ‘epic’, which is often synonymous with ‘masculine’ spaces where war abounds. In short, Statius perhaps visualises ‘femininity’ to be a boundary of sorts to war. It helps generate potential in the idea that Scyros could be a place which precludes war.

However, the gender overlap that results from Achilles’ cross-dressing ultimately reflects the way the ‘unwarlike’ space of Scyros will also come to overlap with its conceptual opposing counterpart – war. Statius blurs the polarity that the physical geography of island and sea engendered, destabilising the physical separation between Scyros and the epicentre of the war by bringing Ulysses and Diomedes to Scyros seeking Achilles out:

The closer they approached

the clearer it was Scyros, with Tritonia above

guarding the tranquil shore…

Statius, Achilleid, 777-779

The notion that Athena (Tritonia), the goddess of war, guards Scyros, is somewhat paradoxical. The need for a guard is inherently not peaceful. Scyros is a place which must actively prevent war from impeding, and a ‘feminine’ goddess as a guard does not have absolute power against the immense ‘masculine’ grip of war.

Furthermore, whilst war is encroaching on Scyros from the outside, this is underpinned by an internal assertion of violence. In his soliloquy, Achilles expresses frustration about Scyros as an oppressive place of confinement which renders him emasculated and far from his deep affinity for war (1.699-717):

How long will you endure 

Your fearful mother’s schemes and waste the prime 

Of your life in unmanly captivity? You are not allowed

to carry Mars’ weapons, or to hunt startled beasts?

Statius, Achilleid, 699-701

The phrase ‘unmanly prison’ (imbelli carcere) reflects Achilles’ perception of his situation on Scyros cross-dressed as someone forcefully hemmed in (a situation also brought about by a woman – his mother). The use again of the Latin word imbelli (‘unwarlike’) is here taken as ‘unmanly’. This choice of the translator corroborates an interpretation that gender is inseparable to understanding Statius’ conceptualisation of war. Furthermore, Julene Abad Del Vecchio interprets what here is translated as ‘captivity’ (carcere) to allude also to a horse’s ‘starting box’. The dual meanings of ‘captivity’ and ‘starting box’ contribute to Achilles and the reader’s viewpoints respectively: Achilles views his situation as a long-lasting ‘prison’, yet a horse’s ‘starting box’ anticipates for the reader his release from that space.[viii] Achilles’ cross-dressing will in fact be revealed to be a gender ambiguity that cannot be reconciled without reassertion of his masculinity. Achilles does this through violence: the rape of Deidamia (720). This is Achilles’ ‘first act as a warrior, and the first act of war’.[ix]As Rimell concludes, it is important to recognise that rape and war are fundamentally interrelated:

…rape is not just a crime that happens in war or on the edge of war, but what war does and is; that, in other words, those realms we are taught to view as separate, or to be separated (domestic and military violence, closed-in elegy and roaming epic, the mother and the man), are undividable and indeed symbiotic…[x]

Therefore, Statius uses conceptual overlap to visualise the all-consuming nature of war. Whilst Scyros is initially a place where war seems at its fringes, it becomes a place within which the ultimate act of war and violence arises; physical space cannot boundary out war.

Ultimately, in the Achilleid Statius constructs physical spaces to explore the boundaries of where war can operate – and what its absence looks like. Scyros is initially projected as the most feasible place in which war is unlikely to reach. Statius’ use of femininity as a defining quality attributed to Scyros, poses the possibility that this island is as ‘unwarlike’ as a place can be. It has literal and conceptual distance from conflict and violence, subsuming Achilles into the activities opposite to that of an epic hero – dressing as a girl. Yet, as aptly surmised by Rimell, the Achilleid proposes that ‘epic energy must ferment in enclosures, how – paradoxically – war must be avoided or postponed in order to catalyse amor ferri, the passion for war’.[xi] Scyros serves only as a temporary space of respite from the broader framing of Achilles’ epic narrative – a temporary break from war, which perhaps even increases Achilles’ passion for it. The feminine quality of the island does not make it invulnerable; it only strengthens the violence that surges from within. Statius’ use of vast expanses of space reflects the way that for Statius’ readership, the Roman empire had grown to its largest; it was plausible that war could be in one place and not another. Yet the fact that the first act of ‘war’ Achilles commits occurs on Scyros reflects the way that the civil wars of 69CE also generated from the central safe ‘haven’ of Rome.[xii]Similarly, the world of the Achilleid is one in which no one is immune to the far-reaching inevitability of war, even in those places most unlikely to have war cross the threshold.

The line numbers referred to throughout are taken from this translation: Lombardo, Stanley. Statius: Achilleid. (Indianapolis; Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2015) 


Abad Del Vecchio, Julene. ‘Subeunt Amazones: Tracing the Amazons in Statius’ Achilleid’, American Journal of Philology 144, no. 2 (2023): 321-349.

Abad Del Vecchio, Julene. “On the Use of carcer at Stat. Achil.1.625″ Philologus 165, no. 2 (2021): 326-330.

Augoustakis, A. ‘Achilles and the Poetics of Manhood: Re(de)fining Europe and Asia in Statius’ Achilleid’, Classical World 109, no. 2 (2015): 195-219.

Bessone, Federica. “Allusive (Im-)Pertinence in Statius’ Epic” in Intertextuality in Flavian Epic Poetry: Contemporary Approaches, edited by Neil Coffee, Chris Forstall, Lavinia Galli Milić and Damien Nelis (Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2020) pp. 133-168.

Boyle, A.J. “Introduction: Reading Flavian Rome” in Flavian Rome edited by Anthony Boyle and William J. Dominik, (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2003) pp. 1-67

Fantuzzi, Marco. Achilles in Love: Intertextual Studies (Oxford; New York: Oxford university Press, 2012)

Heslin, P. J. The Transvestite Achilles: Gender and Genre in Statius’ Achilleid (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) 

Heslin, Peter. “Introduction” in Statius: Achilleid by Lombardo, Stanley (Indianapolis; Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2015) pp vii-xxxi

McAuley, M. ‘Ambiguus Sexus: Epic Masculinity in Transition in Statius’ Achilleid’, Akroterion 55, no. 1 (2010): 27-60

Purcell, Nicholas. “Mediterranean Perspectives on Departure, Displacement, and Home” in The Returning Hero: nostoi and Traditions of Mediterranean Settlement edited by Simon Hornblower, and Giulia Biffis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018) pp. 267-286

Rimell, Victoria. “Imperial enclosure, epic spectacle” in The Closure of Space in Roman Poetics: Empire’s Inward Turn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015) pp. 231-275

[i] Heslin (2015) ix.

[ii] Ibid. x.

[iii] Rimell (2015) 253.

[iv] Heslin (2015) xvii.

[v] Purcell (2018) 273.

[vi] TLL s.v. “imbellis” II.

[vii] Fantuzzi (2012) 19.

[viii] Abad Del Vecchio (2021) 329.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Rimell (2015) 258-259.

[xi] Rimell (2015) 253.

[xii] Boyle (2003) 51.

A Brief History of Attack on Titan

CONTENT AND SPOILER WARNING: This article discusses the series Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) and includes mention of conflict, war, sexual violence and some graphic violence. 

Hello, and welcome to the first in a series of blog posts about my research into how popular media aimed at children and young adults’ can influence their habits of visualising war and peace. The first text I will be focusing on will be Attack on Titan[i] and my blog posts showcasing my research will be structured as follows:

  1. A Brief History of Attack on Titan (this blog post) will aim to give enough information about the world and the story of Attack on Titan for those unfamiliar with the series. This blog has little in the way of actual analysis and is meant as a summary and cheat sheet for those who have not previously engaged with the text.
  2. Survival of the Fittest, Not the Nicest will introduce a theoretical framework that helps to understand how characters in Attack on Titan think about violence. I will focus on events in the beginning and middle of the manga demonstrating how characters act in the conflict they’re in.
  3. Ending on A Low Note will explore how one can interpret the ending of the main conflict in Attack on Titan. I will investigate how it portrays the actions taken by the main cast of characters, the ethical ambiguities surrounding them, and what key messages manga creator and artist Isayama may be keen to convey. 
  4. And They All Lived Happily Ever… will focus on peace building and the conclusion of the manga series after the ending of conflict. Peace-building post conflict is explored relatively little, but there is some consideration throughout the main conflict narratice as to how it will end. I will look at how Isayama conceives of peace in the relatively little space he gives to it in the manga. 

Introducing Attack on Titan

Fig 1.1 Typical example of a Titan (normal sized human in the foreground for reference)

The world of Attack on Titan operates much like our own with some key differences. People are born and die in similar ways. Physics (save for some creative liberties for the purposes of entertaining action sequences) act the same. From what the reader is shown, the world looks very much like an alternate version of our world. The key differences that I will focus on are as follows:

  • The existence of Titan superpowers
  • Geographical differences
  • Historical differences

In this blog post I will go through these differences to provide a useful, if imperfect, knowledge base to help readers understand my subsequent blog posts about the manga. After highlighting these differences, I will then provide a summary of the relevant characters and plot points. Please note: this manga is a very dense text with roughly 6000+ pages of comics told in a non-chronological manner, frequently switching perspectives between a big cast of different characters. Below, I have linked some resources that I have found or used in creating this blog, which readers might enjoy diving into to learn more about the manga.[ii]

The existence of Titan superpowers

By far the biggest difference that a newcomer to Attack on Titan must grapple with is the existence and nature of Titans. [iii]

Titans are giant humanoid creatures that range in height from roughly 3 to 60 metres tall. They are creatures that do not procreate like other beings (they even lack genitals) and they appear “to violate several known laws of science” with their physiology.[iv] Their bodies are incredibly light in terms of weight, they run at quite high temperatures, they do not need to breathe to survive, and they have incredible regenerative abilities, able to regrow virtually their entire bodies so long as their nervous system is intact.[v] Hence, the most effective way to kill a Titan is to sever their brain’s connection to the rest of their nervous system by attacking their nape behind their neck. While Titans are clearly very distinct from a typical human, each Titan has in fact evolved from a race of people known as ‘Eldians’, or ‘The Subjects of Ymir’, who have the ability to transform into Titans. 

The Titans originated from a young girl named Ymir who lived roughly 2000 years before the main events of Attack on Titan and who acquired these powers after falling into a mysterious tree. 

Fig 1.2 Ymir the first Titan. Isayama, Chapter 122, p.14.

Ymir was a slave who was under the control of King Fritz, the King of the Eldian empire, and after it was revealed that Ymir had this power King Fritz took Ymir as his wife and used her to expand and strengthen his empire. As a result of Ymir’s Titan powers, the Eldian empire was able to defeat Eldia’s main rival, the neighbouring nation of Marley. To ensure the continued strength of the empire, King Fritz had three daughters with Ymir. Then “thirteen years after acquiring the power of the Titans, Ymir died… King Fritz then forced his daughters to eat their mother’s corpse in an attempt to preserve the power of the Titans”.[vi] This initiated a cycle where the descendants of Ymir were forced to reproduce, and upon their deaths have their children consume their parent’s spinal fluid to pass down the power of the Titans.

After the death of Ymir, her Titan power was split into nine unique Titans. Over the next 2000 or so, from Ymir’s death to the main events narrated in the manga, the Nine Titans were used by Eldians to expand the Eldian Empire. Each time one of the inheritors of the Nine Titans died or were about to die, their spinal fluid would be consumed by another Eldian to transfer the power of the Nine Titans. This process also transferred the memories of the previous inheritors of the Nine Titans. If their spinal fluid wasn’t consumed, a new-born Eldian would then be born at the time of their death and inherit the powers instead. Since Ymir only lived for 13 years with her Titan powers, each inheritor of one of the Nine Titans can only live for 13 years after inheriting their powers. A brief description of each of The Nine Titans is below: [vii]

As well as the Nine Titans, Subjects of Ymir are also able to be transformed into a different type of Titan distinct from the Nine Titans. Isayama dubs these titans as “Pure Titans”, and they are Subjects of Ymir that have been transformed into a Titan via the abilities of other Titans (e.g. the Founding Titan’s ability to transform others into a Titan) or through intaking a concoction made from another Titan’s spinal fluid. Pure Titans are like those seen in Fig 1.1, and range in size from roughly 2 to 15 metres. They make up the majority of the Titans seen in Attack on Titan and are generally unintelligent, but there are some abnormal Pure Titans capable of coherent thought or even speech. 


The geography of the world of Attack on Titan is an alternate version of our own world. The main events of the manga take place on the island of Paradis and the neighbouring nation of Marley.

Paradis and Marley seem to be vaguely based on real-world Europe, with many of the characters having “Germanic names”.[viii] There also exists a nation paralleled to Japan, the nation of Hizuru. Whilst other nations are referenced that seem to parallel our own world’s political geography, these mentions are brief. The main places of relevance to the story are Paradis Island and the nation of Marley.


After the founding of the Eldian Empire by King Fritz roughly 2000 years before the main events of the manga, this colonial supremacy continued across the world. Roughly 100 years before the main events of the manga a descendant of the original King Fritz, named Karl Fritz, became the new monarch of the Eldian empire and inherited the powers of the Founding Titan. After inheriting the monarchy and the Founding Titan powers, he was ashamed of the colonial actions of the Eldian Empire committed against the wider world, and so he orchestrated a civil war (The Great Titan War) that dissolved the Eldian empire. 

The result of The Great Titan War left the Eldian empire dissolved and King Karl Fritz left with most of the Eldian population to the island of Paradis. He then transformed a large portion of the Eldian population into 60-metre-tall Titans like the Colossal Titan that use hardening together to form protective walls for the Eldians on Paradis. 

Fig ­3.1 Diagram of the protective Walls of Paradis: Isayama, Chapter 2, p.36.

Before leaving for Paradis, King Karl Fritz left a warning to the world that if the Eldians on Paradis were provoked “The tens of millions of Titans that sleep inside the walls will surely flatten the entire Earth”.[ix] This threat became known as the Rumbling. However, the Rumbling cannot be activated by a member of the Fritz royal family, because they all inherit King Karl Fritz’s memories, and these memories prevent them from using the Rumbling. Hence, a Founding Titan of non-royal blood must come into physical contact with another Titan of royal blood to initiate the Rumbling. 

Once on Paradis King Karl Fritz used his powers as the Founding Titan to alter the memories of all the Eldians on Paradis to make them believe that they are the last remnants of humanity trapped within the walls to protect them from Pure Titans that had destroyed the rest of humanity. This is what the Eldian characters on Paradis believe for the first half of the manga and they establish a militarily centred government. This society forms three branches of government: the Military Police, the Garrison, and the Survey Corps. The Military Police maintains order within the walls on Paradis, the Garrison protects the walls, and the Survey Corps are charged with exploring beyond the walls. Most of the cast of characters we follow from Paradis are part of the Survey Corps. 


The Great Titan War also left Marley in possession of several of the inheritors of the Nine Titans (the Jaw, Female, Colossal, Beast, Cart, Armoured and Warhammer Titans). Consequently, over the next hundred years Marley proceeds to replace the Eldian empire as the world’s preeminent colonial power. The leaders of Marley then contain the Eldians who had remained in Marley in internment camps and they use the Eldian population as soldiers for their colonial wars and as ‘Warriors’. ‘Warriors’ are Eldians who have been trained since childhood as soldiers to inherit the power of the Nine Titans and fight for Marley. Any Eldians who are seen as enemies of the nation of Marley and brought to Paradis and transformed to Pure Titans to terrorise the Eldians that originate from Paradis. 

These are the main enemies that the Eldians on Paradis face for the first half of the manga. Eventually, the rest of the world’s military technology develops to the point of rivalling the power of Titans. So, Warriors are sent to Paradis to attempt to reclaim the powers of the Founding Titan and other natural resources that are exclusive to Paradis. Ultimately, these efforts fail.  

Back to Paradis

The Eldians on Paradis attempt to reclaim their island from the Pure Titans which have been roaming the land outside of their walls and in doing so learn the truth of the world. That is that, due to the atrocities of the Eldian Empire, the rest of the world hates their race, and would have them imprisoned if not exterminated. 

Several years after learning the true nature of the World, Eren Yeager leads a mission to Marley and forces the rest of the military forces on Paradis to help. The main objective of the mission was to kill the military leadership of Marley at a gathering, to steal the Warhammer titan for Eren Yeager and to acquire Zeke Yeager, who is a titan of royal blood to enable the Rumbling. At this point Marley and Paradis are actively at war. As well as this, several international diplomats and journalists at this gathering were killed, also causing an alliance against Paradis.  

At this point, the thinking of the military leaders on Paradis is to leverage the threat of the Rumbling as a deterrent for a war against Paradis. With help from the foreign nation of Hizuru, over the next 50 years Paradis would try to update their military technologically and eventually negotiate peace with the nations of the world. However, for this plan to work, several things must fall into place: 

  • The monarch of Paradis, Queen Historia Fritz, must inherit Zeke’s Beast Titan and must procreate and feed her Titan to her children and her children’s children etc. until Paradis can negotiate peace
  • An Eldian of non-royal blood must inherit the Founding Titan from Eren Yeager until Paradis can negotiate peace 
  • A smaller version of the Rumbling must be used to demonstrate to the world that the Rumbling would be devastating 
  • Efforts must be made to negotiate peace with nations that hate the people of Paradis 

Eventually, against the wishes of the military leadership on Paradis, Zeke Yeager and Eren Yeager meet to unlock the full powers of the Founding Titan. Eren initiates a full-scale Rumbling genocide, against the wishes of Zeke. At the prospect of the full-scale Rumbling, former enemies from Marley and Paradis join forces to prevent it from happening. They succeed in killing Eren and in preventing the whole genocide, but around 80% of the human population are killed in the process. The manga ends with an exploration of peace negotiations between Paradis and the rest of humanity by the cast of characters that killed Eren.

This blog hopefully sets the scene for those of you who are new to Attack on Titan. In my next blog, I will focus on using this knowledge base to investigate how Attack on Titan conceptualises violence in the context of survival. 

Matin Moors

Undergraduate Student, Master of Arts in English and Philosophy, University of St Andrews

A special thanks to Lord Laidlaw and the Laidlaw Foundation for enabling my research, as well as to my supervisor Dr Alice König for helping guide me and facilitating my contributions to the Visualising War project.

The images included in this blog have been published online in good faith for educational purposes, making use of the exception for ‘Criticism and review’ in UK copyright legislation. If you are the rightsholder for any material used in this blog and have concerns about its use, please contact:


[i] I will be using the English name as opposed to Shingeki no Kyojin for ease of writing.

[ii] For additional resources to understand Attack on Titan, I recommend the Fandom Wiki page if you’d want to look up specific groups or concepts. This video essay on youtube from invaderzz I have found extremely useful in interpreting the ending section of the manga.

[iii] All quotations and images are taken from Shingeki no Kyojin. Isayama, 2009, Chapter 2, p. 20.

[iv] Attack on Titan Wiki, “Titan (Anime)”.

[v] Ibid. 

[vi] Attack on Titan Wiki, “Titan (Anime)”.

[vii] Please note that the abilities and features of each of the Nine Titans depends on who the inheritor is. Each person who inherits one of the Nine Titans has a unique appearance, but different inheritors of the same Titans have similar visual appearances.

[viii] Attack on Titan Wiki, “Marley”.

[ix] Isayama., Chapter 86, p. 41.

From beauty to horror: photographing war’s legacy in Bosnia

Lake Perucac, photographed by Dijana Muminovic. Due to an error at the nearby dam in 2010, during maintenance work on the Bajina Basta hydroelectric power station, the lake dried revealing the bones of hundreds of people killed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. The lake, 54 km long and 1,100 wide is now considered to be the largest mass grave in Europe. The Missing Persons Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina began a search with volunteers. The image on the right features Admir Sabanovic, searching for his father who was killed in 1992 during the attack of Visegrad. Sabanovic’s father was found two months later in a forest, an hour away from the lake.

Dijana Muminovic is a Bosnian-American documentary photographer. As she recounts in this podcast episode, she was 9 years old when the Bosnian War broke out in April 1992, and her childhood was dominated by the conflict. She vividly remembers the day it started: out picking flowers, she heard the first siren, followed by a sound that she would quickly learn was the noise of a bomb; and she ran to hide for the first time in the family’s basement. That routine became part of her childhood for the next four years: lots of time hiding in bomb shelters, and coping without electricity or water, with shortages of food, and with constant fear and anxiety, while dreaming of peace.

Dijana grew up in Zenica, an industrial town about 70km north of Sarajevo. Unlike the capital city, it was not a key target during the war; in fact, Zenica became a place to which people from other towns and villages fled. People whose homes had been bombed or burnt, and in particular many Bosnian Muslims who had become targets of ethnic cleansing. Dijana remembers her school becoming a shelter overnight, with the gym crammed full of people. As she puts it: 

‘That was my first introduction to what it meant to be a refugee. And for me, it meant that people came with nothing, having left everything they had. And they will probably never go back to their homes again…’

Dijana Muminovic, speaking on the Visualising War and Peace podcast

Dijana’s own father was Muslim, while her mother was Catholic. They eventually became refugees themselves, moving to the US in 1997. Some years later, shortly after graduating from university and starting out as a documentary photographer, Dijana was commissioned to develop a photographic project that would help explain the presence of so many Bosnians in her adopted part of America, near Kentucky. That project took her back to Bosnia and set her on a journey to document the ongoing process of exhuming and identifying victims of the Bosnian genocide. Her award-winning series of photographs entitled Aftermath focuses particularly on the exhumation of bodies from Lake Perucac, which borders Serbia and Bosnia-and-Herzegovina, where approximately 800 bodies were thrown during the Bosnian war. One of Dijana’s photos was chosen by the journalist and author Christina Lamb as the front cover of her book, Our Bodies, Their Battlefield: what war does to women.

Rialda Zukic of Bowling Green, Ky., Minela Aljic of Bratunac, and Pemba Malagic, of Srebrenica (left to right) mourn relatives and friends at the funeral in Potocari where 775 bodies were buried on July 11, 2010 during the 15th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica. Photograph by Dijana Muminovic.

In our podcast conversation, Dijana talks about the natural beauty of Lake Perucac, and how that beauty contrasts with the horror of what was recovered from it. She captures this paradox in several of her photographs, including the contrasting images of the tree on the lake’s shore shown above: in one, the ground is undisturbed and everything looks idyllic; in the other, the sombre task of digging has begun, shattering the illusion of peace. This paradox is evident also in the two images below. The stunning landscape on the left draws the viewer in, but closer inspection reveals four volunteers digging in the foreground – and their work disrupts the tranquility of the shot, just as they disturb the earth itself. Sunshine illuminates the far shore of the lake in the image on the right, but it also picks out colourful flags, which mark the presence of bones in the exposed lake bed at the front of the shot. Horror amid beauty; traces of war and genocide in an otherwise lovely landscape.

Volunteers help the Missing Persons Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina to exhume bodies from Lake Perucac, which dried up due to an error at a hydropower station. Photography by Dijana Muminovic.

Dijana’s photographs also capture the physical and emotional labour of exhumation and identification for the volunteers involved. In one photo, we can see four people wearing raincoats digging in the drizzle. A dog is prancing around at the edge of the water, and its playfulness offsets the diggers’ sombre task. Three are bent over while the fourth takes a break and stands watchfully by, waiting to see what gets unearthed. This is just the beginning of a slow, laborious process of uncovering crimes against humanity.

In other photos we can see more of the work done by volunteers to bring closure to families who lost loved ones during the war. On the left, Dijana has captured the sombre interactions between three men who have just dug up a victim’s passport; and in another, a forensic pathologist is standing with her hands on her hips as she braces herself to start processing more jaw bones and broken skulls on her lab table. Together, these photographs capture just how much work is done by so many different people in processing the aftermath of conflict. Some of the volunteers are searching for their own family members.

Left: Goran Micic, left, shows an ID to Admir Sabanovic, right, that was found in a pit while searching for the remains of Sabanovic’s father who was killed in 1992. With the help of few friends, the MPI, and the ICMP, Sabanovic was able to find bones of his father. The ID belonged to the man found with Sabanovic’s father; the father of Adisa Karisik who also volunteered at Lake Perućac.

Right: Forensic Anthropologist, Dragana Vucetic, at the Tuzla Identification Coordination Division (ICD) July 9, 2010. The ICMP has helped exhuming bodies from Lake Perućac.

Some of Dijana’s photographs are quite ‘documentary’ in the sense that they capture a snapshot in time – a boy looking at the flower he is about to lay in a commemoration ceremony, or three women whose raw grief is etched on their faces in three very different ways. Others are more ‘artfully constructed’ – for instance, using reflections or unusual lighting to add meaning to an image. In all her photography, Dijana is conscious of two driving motivations: the importance of documenting what has happened, and the value of helping viewers to connect emotionally with the victims of conflict and killing. These motivations are at the heart of some other work she has been doing, capturing the stories of some of the 20,000-50,000 women survivors of war rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Through her work, Dijana underlines the power of sensitive, human-centred photography in helping us visualise many different aspects of war’s aftermath.

You can read more about Dijana’s work on her website. We have also featured some of her photographic work that has been inspired by her own experiences as a refugee on our Visualising Forced Migration project website. You can listen to Dijana tell her own story in the podcast below.

A timeline of peace in the Medieval period

Throughout 2022, a team of undergraduate students at the University of St Andrews have been working on a ‘Vertically Integrated Project‘ called ‘Visualising Peace‘. Directed by Dr Alice König, this project seeks to extend the work of the Visualising War project by examining how war’s aftermath, conflict resolution and peace-building are conceived. Our aim is to study different habits of imagining, understanding, representing and working towards peace, and we are particularly interested in analysing how different narratives and ideas of peace have evolved and gained influence over time. 

Students involved in the project have been drawing on their subject-specific expertise to explore and experiment with different ways of visualising peace, in different periods and places. History undergraduate Kara Devlin decided to dig deep into narratives of peace from Scottish and English perspectives during the Medieval period, and as part of this work she created a timeline which she introduces in the video below:

In what follows, Kara discusses her project in her own words.

Mission Statement

Welcome to a timeline on visualised peace!

This resource was created as part of the University of St Andrews’ Vertically Integrated Project Visualising Peace, which seeks to explore habits of narrating and representing peace, as well as how those habits might shape our mindsets and behaviours. This timeline shares this aim, but has a few of its own too: 

  • To give an overview on the temporal complexities of peace
    • To create an accessible resource which showcases first-hand narratives of peace around a central conflict

The conflict which I chose to centre these goals around was Anglo-Sottish relations throughout the medieval and early modern periods. I chose this issue as I believe it contains interesting sources, it has lasted through varied generations, and it is of modern interest with Scottish and English history being a large part of each nation’s national identity and politics. However, this was also a very complex conflict to choose. By keeping a focus on English and Scottish voices in the timeline entries, narratives that shaped the Anglo-Scottish relationship such as from French royalty or European reformation leaders were somewhat excluded. It is impossible to represent the true complexity of a conflict which has lasted for over 1000 years, with hundreds of sources feeding into the conflicting perspectives of the era. 

My hope is that as more items are added to the timeline, it becomes a more representative depiction of the relationships between England and Scotland. That is why feedback is important not just in keeping the project unbiased and free from inaccuracies, but also in adding more varied and encompassing sources. 

Notes on Data Used

The sources used in this resource were as varied and complex as the subject they represented. A few notes are necessary to work through the reasoning behind the selection of sources, as well as some issues that arise with sources from this era. 

Firstly, the accessibility of each source was kept in mind when adding it to the resource. I avoided non-English, Old English, or particularly difficult Scots language posts to make sure that the general English reader could understand what was being spoken about in each extract. I also referenced the full source within each post so that readers are encouraged to find each extract within its full context and to read more from the authors presented. I also picked out extracts which mention peace, or the resolution of conflict in an explicit way so that the reader does not have to jump to conclusions to figure out how medieval Scots and English visualised peace. 

There was some difficulty in finding sources, which explains a lack in women or non-elite voices. It was also trickier to find manuscripts which looked towards the future of each country, rather than looking back or discussing a present event. This non-representation will hopefully be resolved through feedback and further research. 

There were also some types of sources that were utilised repeatedly throughout this resource. A few further notes on each of these can explain their utility, as well as their drawbacks.

Chronicles: These sources make up a majority of the resource as they were a popular method of recording a country’s history within the medieval and early modern era. As they usually span centuries of events, these sources look back on the past with the aid of hindsight and any biases of the time from when they are written. It is always necessary to keep in mind the era which the chronicle was written within to analyse its content successfully.

Treaties: These are a unique source as they offer a look back at the past, a direct connection with the present situation, and a vision towards the future. They are also often (but not always!) drafted with the collaboration of both sides, meaning that they are not fully biased towards one or the other. These sources can be very useful in delving into the legal process of peace negotiation, as well as inferring what each side valued the most in their relationship with the other. However, these sources cannot be as accurate at showcasing relations as they might seem. In cases where kings are forced to sign treaties in order to live or keep their kingdoms, many false narratives crop up. It is therefore important to take the entire situational context when examining the source.

How to Use the Resource

How to use Tags: There are two types of tags utilised within this resource. The first groups together extracts from the same text (ex: Walter Bower’s Scotichronicon). This allows the user to explore one author’s narrative of what they have perceived peace to have looked like for their country over the centuries. 

The second type of tag categorises posts by whether they look back on the past, describe a current event in the present, or look towards the future. These tags allow the user to discover differences in visualising peace and events by how close the author was to them chronologically. These tags also make it easier to distinguish the effects of temporality in visualising peace, ex: narrating on the past might lead to a more negative outlook on peace than narrating on the future. 

How to Use Each Post: Each post includes an overall depiction of the event, an extracted narrative on the event, and an analysis on the connection between the event and the visualisation of peace. Each post is intended to be read in order, and each analysis is intended to invoke further thoughts and reading, rather than to explain each detail. 

Each post is also categorised by colour to make it clear what nationality the author is writing from. Blue posts are from Scottish writers, yellow are for English, black are for outsiders (usually travellers), and green is for treaties between the two sides. 

How to Use Groupings: Narratives about similar time periods are grouped together whether they are written before, during, or after the events.  Looking at multiple entries surrounding one event or time period allows users to compare the perspectives laid out within each narrative. 


In the future, this resource aims to grow by making the connections between sources clearer, sorting the data into further categories, and adding more sources to the resource. Feedback is very helpful in achieving each of these goals, as well as diminishing inaccuracies and biases in the data and analysis already presented. For these reasons, any form of feedback on the resource would be truly appreciated! If you have any thoughts to share, please email us at

Further Resources

I have compiled a list of further resources on Anglo-Scottish relations and the connection between temporality and peace. These are useful for the user who wants to delve in deeper into these topics beyond this resource. 

Primary Accounts

  • A History Book for Scots: Selections from Schotichronicon by Walter Bower, Edited by D. E. R. Watt
  • The Chronicle of Lanercost, 1272-1346: Translated, with notes by Sir Herbert Maxwell
  • John of Fordum’s Chronicle of the Scottish Nation, translated from the Latin text by J. H. Skene, edited by William F. Skene
  • Chronichle of the War Between the English and the Scots in 11734 and 1174 by Jordan Fantosme, translated and edited by Francisque Michel 
  • Anglo-Scottish relations, 1174-1328: some selected documents, edited and translated by E.L. G. Stones

Modern Historiography

  • Land, Law and People in Medieval Scotland by Cynthia Neville
  • Scottish public opinion and the Anglo-Scottish Union, 1699-1707 by Karin Bowie
  • Anglo-Scottish relations from 1603 to 1900, edited by T.C. Smout
  • The Anglo-Scottish Border and the Shaping of Identity, 1300 – 1600, edited by Katherine Terrell and Mark P. Bruce
  • England’s northern frontier: conflict and local society in the fifteenth-century Scottish marches by Jackson W. Armstrong
  • Scotland’s Second War of Independence, 1332 – 1357 by Iain A. MacInnes
  • England and Scotland at war, c. 1296 – c.1513, edited by Andy King and David Simpkin
  • England and Scotland in the fourteenth century: new perspectives, edited by Andy King and Micheal A. Penman
  • England and her neighbours, 1066-1453: essays in honour of Pierre haplais, edited by Micheal Jones and Malcom Vale
  • Religion, culture, and society in early modern Britain: essays in honour of Patrick Collinson, edited by Anthony Fletcher and Peter Roberts