Wisdom from the Ancients: Enduring Business Lessons from Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and the Illustrious Leaders of Ancient Greece and Rome / Edition 1

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Ancient Greece, the culture that brought us democracy, philosophy, comedy and tragedy, and the Olympic Games, and ancient Rome, best known for its military prowess, technological achievements, and imperial administration, are justly renowned for their contributions to Western civilization. Wisdom from the Ancients brings alive for today's managers the timeless insights of such larger-than-life figures as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Trajan, Pericles, and dozens of other colorful and enigmatic leaders. Through direct quotations of ancient texts, engaging commentary, and period art, the authors illuminate the strategies and tactics that have withstood the test of time-from leadership and delegation to managing conflict to effective and persuasive communication.

Through direct quotations of ancient texts, engaging commentary, and period art, the authors illuminate the strategies and tactics that have withstood the test of time-from leadership and delegation to managing conflict to effective and persuasive communication.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780738203737
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Lexile: 1280L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas J. Figueira is a professor of Classics and Ancient History at Rutgers University. T. Corey Brennan is an associate professor in Classics at Rutgers. Rachel Hall Sternberg is Chairperson of the Department of Classical Studies at the College of Wooster in Ohio.

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Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Chapter 2:

Building and Losing Constituencies

those sailing, serving in Garrisons and going on campaigns, the sedentary population would have a pretext for taking their share and profiting from public resources.


This program permitted Pericles to provide work for extractive industries, for crafts processing raw material, and for the transportation sector. Our anecdote closes with a strikingly modern picture of a large enterprise conquering the work before it, as though it were a mighty expedition.

Each craft had marshaled under it a mass of common individual workers, comprising an instrument and body [just like a general has his army], mid the requirements for the projects distributed and sowed affluence for every age group [so to speak and every human endowment.


It is also important to appreciate how the whole Athenian economy benefited from the industries, professional skills, and abilities to function cooperatively in the workplace that Pericles called into being by his programs.

It was a classic observation that the Roman common people during the empire were kept quiescent through "bread and circuses." One of the best formulations of the idea that providing entertainment and diversions could actually be more important than distributing food is found in the writings of the orator and senator Marcus Cornelius Fronto, who lived in the second century A.D. Fronto was the tutor and friend of the future emperor and lifelong philosopher Marcus Aurelius. Fronto gives his views in a letter to Antoninus Pius, the predecessor of Marcus Aurelius, from a collection called Principles of History.

The Hell with Bread: Bring on the Circuses

[The Emperor] Trajan seems to have borrowed from the best tradition of civil administration in carefully providing for actors and other artists of the stage of the circus, and of the arch&. He knew that the Roman people are captivated Especially 6y two things, bread and games; that the government wins approval just as much through its amusements D3 its serious aspects; and that while neglect of serious business caused greater perm, more significant resentment was brought about 6y neglect of amusement And Trajan knew that people desired games more feverishly than even distributions of money, for largess of grain Avid money pacified only a, privileged subset of the city, individually and particularly, Gut games Everybody.


Unfortunately, maintaining one's support can be harder than garnering it in the first place. The precedent of past benefits arouses an expectation of the continuation of favors into the fixture. Then advantaged people can become jaded by the repetition of favors at the previous level, so it becomes hard to say no to additional demands. Gaius Plinius Secundus, usually called Pliny the Younger, was a prominent Roman politician of the later first and early second centuries A.D. He achieved success in several areas of public life, including advocacy in the courts, prominence as a senator, and service as a Roman provincial governor. His letters are especially valuable for their glimpses of the conditions of Roman politics as seen by an insider.

But What Have You Done for Me Lately?

Moreover, when I recalled what dangers I had undergone on behalf Of these people even in my earlier advocacy I decided that the credit of my earlier service must 6E preserved with a, new Favor. Indeed, there is a general consensus that you undermine earlier benefits unless you compound them with additional ones, for however often people have been in debt to you, once you refuse them some one thing, they remember that thing alone that has been denied to them.


The world-weary voice of a pragmatic realist comes across manifestly.

Few leaders have ever had as much impact on their society as Alcibiades, the late-fifth-century B.C. Athenian politician and general. Famous for his tutelage under his uncle Pericles and through his friendship with Socrates, Alcibiades was so charismatic that he literally seduced the Athenians, both male and female, into granting him the leading place in their society. Sadly, this combination of Elvis Presley Bill Clinton, and Madonna came to a tragic end. His self-aggrandizement and transgressive behavior made his leadership risky not only for himself, but for his whole city. His misadventures played a large part in the defeat of the Athenians in the great Peloponnesian War with the Spartans. Hence, Alcibiades was a good subject for Plutarch's series of biographies of pairs of Greek and Roman great men. Here Plutarch tries to sum up his subject's remarkable ability for gaining support and power in whatever cultural setting he found himself.

Don't Try This at Home!

So he had, they say, a singular natural facility out of the many qualities in him, and it was a device for the pursuit of men, namely a method to assimilate and internalize men's behaviors and lifestyles by his owns managing sharper transformations than A chameleon. Except that the chameleon (as is reported) is without the capacity t0 assimilate itself t0 one color, white Yet for Alcibaides making his way among good and bad alike, nothing was beyond imitation, and not practicable. At Sparta he was Athletic, self-denying, and saturnine; in [Asian] Ionia luxurious, pleasure seeking, and equable; in Thrace devoted to heavy drinking; in Thessaly part of the "horsy set"; and when he spent time with the [Persian governor] Tissaphernes, he exceeded Persian magnificence with his pretension and extravagance. He did not so easily convert himself from one style to another, nor did he absorb every transformation within his character. But, because by indulging his true nature, he was likely to discountenance his companions of the moment, always in every context he assumed the contours appropriate to those associates and thus a, counterfeit form, avoiding self-betrayel.


Although he was already a leading politician, Alcibiades could not refrain from entirely unnecessary risks, remarkable behavior in someone who had often risked his life in battle. For example, the Athenians conducted annual sacred rites of initiation that promised their participants an exalted life after death, but only if the "mysteries" were not divulged to the uninitiated, under pain of execution. The sexual content of these mysteries may have been too tempting to Alcibiades, who "consummated" the rites privately in front of uninitiated persons. The Athenians condemned him to death, and he fled into exile. Then he defected to the enemies of Athens and used his confidential knowledge against his countrymen. Remarkably, after he had worn out his welcome in the enemy camp, he engineered a return from exile to become the supreme commander of the Athenian military. After a few years, his highhandedness led to a second exile. He was assassinated in 404 B.C. when he was planning yet another political comeback.

As the following example from the early Roman Empire indicates, adaptation to one's local environment could be a powerful technique for winning support, even in unlikely...

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Table of Contents

Introduction .... vii
1: Leadership ..... 1
2: Building and Losing constituencies ..... 25
3: Consulting and Decision Making ..... 53
4: Strategy ..... 77
5: Competition ..... 89
6: Collegiality and Teamwork ..... 100
7: Risk Taking ..... 111
8: Recognizing Opportunity ..... 127
9: Communication ..... 141
10: Management Employee Relations 153
11: Motivation ..... 167
12: Hiring and Firing ..... 181
13: Delegation ..... 191
14: Handling Success and Coping with mistakes ..... 204
Glossary of Ancient Authors and Historical Figures ..... 213
Important Dates ..... 219
Index ..... 00
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This work arises out of the essence of our cultural heritage. The foundations of modern European and North American civilization lie in the societies of the ancient Greeks and Romans. They were our predecessors who first lived in states made up of citizens with complex social behaviors and fought struggles (sometimes all too savage) over the nature of a good and just way of living. Preeminently, they articulated their political values and beliefs in writing and codified them in law. The political ideals that in time animated the American founding fathers had their roots in the political orders of classical antiquity. Unsurprisingly, concepts that are now essential to political culture, such as politics, republic, legislation, and democratic and republican forms of government, were formulated in the ancient world. Since the very notion of secular leadership is fundamentally an inheritance from ancient classical civilization, any consideration of the nature of leadership can profit from a long and studied glance at the experiences of the Greeks and Romans.

Naturally, management is a particular mode of leadership that we apply to the enterprises that supply both the material goods and the manifold services that characterize modern industrial and consumerist economies. Our material culture exploits mechanization of production, scientific technology, mechanical means of transportation, and instantaneous mass communication. That means that we can produce exponentially greater amounts of products and services than the Greeks and Romans and also that we are able to manipulate our environment much more dramatically than earlier people (even than those living a few centuries ago).

Because of the primitive methods and technology available for agriculture in the ancient world, most people living in premodern societies were necessarily involved in agriculture in a very hands-on fashion. Even our surviving family farms are much more productive and sophisticated establishments than the smallholdings of the ancient farmers that formed that backbone of the citizenry of classical city-states-To approximate the ancients' life experience, we would do better to think about frontier farmers in colonial America. Moreover, most establishments producing goods in the ancient Mediterranean were quite modest in scale. Ancient nonagricultural workplaces were a bit more like the workshops of contemporary artisans (such as those operating at an area crafts fair) than like the factories that typified much twentieth-century production. These conditions apply despite many parallels, such as money, banks, investments, and elaborate maritime commerce.

It is telling that we derive our term economics (the discipline dealing with the creation, distribution, and consumption of goods) from the Greek work oikonomika, which means the study of household management, and our word economy from oikonomia, meaning the management of a household, for oikos is a house or household and nomoi are laws or rules. Accordingly, when Xenophon, an Athenian soldier, writer, and a friend of Socrates, wanted to provide a guide for managing one's estate, he called it the Oikonomikos, or The Household Manager. When the great philosopher Aristotle and his students in the Lyceum, the philosophical school he founded, wanted to collect and systematize material on public management, they called their treatise the Oikonomika. In fact, small-scale, domestic administration so prevailed in the Greek way of looking at things that they tended to extrapolate up the hierarchy of magnitude from the ordinary household. They spoke not only of domestic or city oikonornia or management, but also of the oikonomia of the controllers of larger units. These were satraps, the governors that the king of Persia placed over whole conquered peoples in the Near East, and the "Great King" himself, the Persian shah who was the master of the world's largest empire. Hence, most of what ancient writers said about management has been derived from the political and military sphere of action rather than from the various forms of "household management" that have just been mentioned. This work will not neglect ancient advice on business in a stricter sense, however. For example, we will revisit our new friend Xenophon on a number of occasions for his wisdom on handling business affairs. We shall also better understand how to lead from the thoughts and careers of controversial personalities such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, whom no one could keep down on the farm, or like Socrates, whose neglect of his stoneworking shop aroused the ire of his nagging wife. Although we have mixed in some philosophical analysis on management, much of the advice in this book comes either in the form of admonition from the great minds of antiquity or in the form of anecdotes. Ancient authors knew how to let events, with a little creative massaging, educate on their own. Indeed, many of these stories have a liveliness and wit that transcends any single reading of their message.

A long-standing debate among ancient historians-its beginnings go well back into the nineteenth century-has been fought between scholars called modernists, who emphasize the aspects of ancient economies that seem most comparable to more recent conditions, and the primitivists, who find stronger parallels for Greek and Roman society in villagebased subsistence economies. Without burdening our discussion with the technical details of these controversies, we have tried to be mindful at all times not to overpersuade the reader of the nature of the similarities between ancient and modern business conditions-We also believe that you can be trusted not to envisage your salaried workforce as slaves purchased in southern Russia or Sicily, without needing periodic sermons from us about the more exploitative and less attractive features of classical civilization. Much of the good sense of the Greeks and Romans that we include has to do with the one constant of business, management, and leadership: the human factor. The most valuable asset of any enterprise continues to be its human resources.

We start our work with some observations on the nature of leadership in the broadest sense, including style, motivation, and charisma. Then we proceed to the topic of building a team to undertake the tasks we have set ourselves. A review of building constituencies gives way to the techniques for sustaining the image of the leader and ancient advice on networking. Next we assess the converse of the same issue by exploring classical wisdom on how a leader loses his team. Then a consideration of consultation and decisionmaking is presented, including the question about when one needs to accept further input and when to close the debate. Strategy and defining objectives is next approached, where we shall include the Greek and Roman views on attitudes to take toward competition.

Ancient literature is then examined on the all-important matter of coping with competition, including negotiation and the crucial "art of the deal." Since competition puts stress on leaders and their enterprises, we segue into an examination of collegiality and teamwork that opens with some thoughts on ancient business ethics. Two chapters on entrepreneurship come in sequence:The Greeks and Romans give us some lessons first about risk taking and risk management; the focus then falls on the identification of opportunities and the skills needed to take them. Some ancient advice on com munication then absorbs our interest. In further succession a series of chapters explores ancient thoughts on the workforce. First we look at how to handle manager/employee relations to achieve the most productivity. That leads to the subject of how to offer incentives and to provide compensation for employees. Next we learn the Greek and Roman attitudes toward hiring and firing. Finally, the delicate matter of delegating authority to subordinates is broached.This book closes with some final ancient instructions on how to handle success and cope with mistakes and failure.

This book has been written with the nonspecialist in mind, so we have tried to put everyone and everything into a context as we have progressed, without assuming a professorial mande and intoning in the manner of the lecture hall. A list of significant names offers a handy reference for background on important authors and historical personages. A comprehensive time line has been provided to offer assistance on the placement of our major characters and authors in their political and cultural setting, with reference to crucial historical events.

The resources for further exploration of the material in this book are considerable. For a start, additional information on most of the persons, places, and institutions mentioned below can be conveniently sought in the third edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary (1996). Two reference works published in Cambridge in England are also helpful resources: for authors, The Cambridge History of Classical Literature (1985), and for additional historical discussion, the second edition of The Cambridge Ancient History (1970-2002). Complete texts (with English translation) of most of the ancient authors found in this volume can be found in the Loeb Classical Library Series, published by Harvard University Press. More specifically, the 1897 Dictionary of Quotations (Classical) of T. B. Harbottle is still the best collection of its type available, and indeed has suggested to us some passages for comment. We have collaborated on this volume, although Brennan undertook the lead for "leadership," "consulting and decisionmaking," "risk taking," and "delegating tasks and authority." Sternberg was the lead author for "communications," "management/employee relations," "incentives," "hiring and firing," and "handling success and coping with mistakes." Figueira dealt with "building and losing constituencies," "competition," "collegiality and teamwork," and "recognizing opportunity."

-Thomas Figueiria

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