Convenience Leads To Dependence, And Then To Ruin

It often happens that, in the affairs of states and princes, conveniences lead to dependency, and from dependency to ruin.  What may first appear to be advantageous, may in time prove to be only the first link of a chain forged for the purpose of bondage.  History abounds with examples of this slide into servitude, but we will relate two from the military history of the second century Greek author Polyaenus.

The first example (Stratagems VII.21) is derived from the life of the Carian commander Datames, who lived from about 407 to 362 B.C.  Datames resolved to defeat and capture the city of Sinope in Asia Minor, which is today known as Sinop.  Yet the wily Carian faced formidable obstacles in pursuit of this design.  The Sinopians had a strong fleet of ships, while Datames had no ships of any worth.  Neither did he have carpenters or shipwrights to build him any.  But what Datames did have was an animal cunning, and an ability to exploit the vanity, gullibility, and moral corruption of his adversaries. 

In fact, he proposed an alliance with Sinope, which he represented to them as a pact that would be mutually beneficial.  Behind the mask of polite smiles and diplomatic courtesies, he concealed his aggressive intentions towards the rich Sinopians.  Datames even offered to attack one of Sinope’s rivals, a city named Sestos.  Of course the Sinopians were very happy to be so courted by Datames, for he was offering to fight their battles for them, and relieve them of their martial obligations.  Datames explained that he had money and men, but not the technology and equipment needed to undertake a modern siege.  They offered to assist Datames in every way possible.  In fact, they furnished him with battering rams, catapults, testudos, and other machines of war. 

But this was not all.  The Sinopians also provided Datames with builders, carpenters, and engineers, and allowed him direct access to their technology related to these matters.  They believed that constant exposure to the ways and culture of Sinope would civilize Datames, and make him more like them.  In their deluded conceitedness, the Sinopian leaders simply gave away what they had to an outsider they should have known was untrustworthy.  The reader, I am sure, by now is aware of the outcome of this story.  Datames succeeded in building a fleet of naval vessels, with the direct help of Sinope; but when it was completed, he did not attack Sestos.  Instead he attacked and conquered the Sinopians.  Thus did it happen that what started as an advantageous relationship for Sinope, became, in time, a fatal one.

A coin of Mausolus as satrap of Caria, 377-353 B.C. (Photo: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.)

Our next anecdote (Strat. VII.223) concerns another Carian leader, Mausolus.  We do not know his date of birth, but he was the Persian satrap of Caria from 377 to 353 B.C.  Mausolus wished to capture the Carian city of Latmus.  But the city was very well fortified and defended; and since direct force was expensive and uncertain, he resolved to take Latmus with guile and treachery.  He approached the Latmians with the offer of an alliance.  He sent envoys to them, and explained how a mutual relationship would be most beneficial. 

As evidence of his goodwill, he restored to Latmus hostages that had been taken by a different military commander.  Mausolus was even so clever as to compose his own personal guard of Latmians, to show the world how much he implicitly trusted the people of this illustrious city.  “In whatever they [the Latmians] wished,” says Polyaenus, “he made a point to oblige them.”  Soon Latmus came to depend on him.  In time, Mausolus was able to link the Latmians to his interests, and establish a relationship of unhealthy dependency.  Mausolus eventually asked the Latmians to send him an additional three hundred guards for himself.  He claimed that he had to attend business in Pygela (a city in ancient Ionia), and that he was worried about the schemes of a rival named Phytus the Ephesian.  The Latmians were happy to accommodate him, and sent him the troops he asked for.  With these men and his other military forces, Mausolus then marched towards Pygela.  As Latmus happened to be on the way, he decided to make a brief stop there, so that the citizens of Latmus could review their own men as they marched by. 

But Mausolus had secreted, in advance of this parade, a special detachment of troops near Latmus.  As his main body of forces approached the city, the people of Latmus came out en masse to review Mausolus’s army with anticipation and excitement.  Once most of the people had left the city walls, Mausolus’s special detachment infiltrated Latmus and took possession of it.  The city, anxious to see the spectacle of Mausolus’s parade, had nearly deserted the city, and had left the gates wide open.  Mausolus entered the city in triumph and was able to add it to his list of conquests. 

So it happens that cavalier and contented nations allow themselves to be trapped by the predatory schemes of hungry eyes beyond their borders. Both of these anecdotes follow the same pattern:  a power identifies its prey, and lulls it to sleep with offers of a mutually beneficial relationship.  An unhealthy relation of dependency is established, which only leads to more laziness and indolence.  Almost imperceptibly, from snout to tail, the wolf is brought into the fold; and by the time the magnitude of the danger is appreciated, it is too late. 

Modern Western leaders who outsource their manufacturing to foreign powers—in order to enrich the class of plutocratic elites by using the pretexts of convenience and cost—betray their own nations.  Conveniences lead to dependence, and from there to a knife at one’s throat.  There is a price to be paid for short-term advantage.  But this price is never revealed until the hapless debtor has no choice but to accept it.      




Read more on this subject and related ones in the new translation of Cornelius Nepos’s Lives of the Great Commanders:



One thought on “Convenience Leads To Dependence, And Then To Ruin

  1. This is true that a dependency enables creates what is an unhealthy form of slavery, but that begs the question: Do the slaves have any say in the matter?


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