Saturday, 22 December 2007

The greatest risk manager of the ancient world?

Who was the greatest risk manager of the ancient world? Not easy to separate fact from fiction, but here is a possible nomination from Thucydides, the great ancient Greek historian who wrote that:

"Themistocles .. showed both the best grasp of an emergency situation at the shortest notice, and the most far-reaching appreciation of probable future developments,both for evil and for good."

Themistocles saw that Athens needed to develop as a maritime power, in order to expand as an empire, but also to protect itself against the superpower of the time, Persia. His strategy, realised eventually after 14 years , was to build a fleet of 200 galleys, train the Athenians to manoeuvre them effectively and to improve the harbous at Piraeus. In suggesting this course he was going against recent history for the Athenians had defeated the Persians on land at the battle of Marathon. Only by prolonged debate, culminating in a vote by the assembly of citizens which ostracized Aristides, his opponent who favoured developing the army, was he able to succeed.

In 480BC the Athenians with their allies destroyed the Persian fleet at Salamis and in doing so lifted the threat of Persian domination.

Themistocles was a master strategist in concept and implementation, who carried those who would man the galleys with his decision. It is extraordinary that such a fractious democracy could be persuaded to change from the military approach which had proved successful against the Persians.They were, after long debate, realistic enough to understand that infantry would not be sufficient to save them a second time because of the resources of the Persian Empire. Few victors prepare for the next war by such radical change. Beyond the genius of Themistocles it was a triumph for the messy business of democratic decisions.

1 comment:

manolis said...

I am impressed!