In Defense of Ephialtes

If you ever read about or seen the movie based on the battle of thermopylae, the name Ephialtes should ring a bell. He was that guy who betrayed the spartans, thus helping the persians outflank and kill them.

His name has become a synonym for treachery, and is reviled for betraying the greek ’cause’.

My question is-

Why should he have not betrayed the greek cause? What would he have gained if he had not betrayed the spartans?

If you look at the situation objectively, his actions were both logical and rational. He did not stand to gain from not betraying the spartans. Would they have rewarded him for not betraying him? Would his life have improved if he had not betrayed them?

See where I am going..

Consider what he gained from betraying the spartans- money and fame. Would we still remember his name if he had played his assigned social role?

I see him as a person who took a chance at making money and becoming famous. In any case, he had no reason to NOT betray the spartans.

It comes down to a peculiar and ignored form of incentive- one geared towards making it profitable for a person to support a system. Over any significant length of time, only positive incentives can keep the system from collapsing.

However ALL empires and largish states quickly “forget” or ignore this very basic concept. Short-term profit optimization through force, fraud and scams is the real cause of empire failure. Once enough people stand to gain by supporting the other side, other way or not supporting ‘their’ side- it is over for that system.


  1. October 31, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    Why should he have not betrayed the greek cause? What would he have gained if he had not betrayed the spartans?

    Ancient Sparta was the very definition of a rigid, inflexible society that died due to its rigidity and inflexibility. Ephialtes’ betrayal should have served as a warning sign:

    The Thebans under a really brilliant general, Epaminondas, crushed the Spartans in the battle of Leuctra (371 B.C.) because Epaminondas just plain out-thought those lummoxes. He knew exactly how the Spartans would stack their forces in battle order, because they always did it the same way. So he tinkered with the conventional phalanx-stacking set-up and those Thebans, most of them ordinary Greek citizen-soldiers, mere amateurs by Spartan standards, kicked Spartan ass right down the line. The Helots, the locals the Spartans had enslaved and terrorized for generations, finally got a chance for payback and Sparta withered away to nothing. Game over.

  2. almost 40 year old virgin
    November 1, 2010 at 6:53 am

    If you´re part of a dying corrupt empire that enslaves and crushes your (& your fellow MANS´s) freedom then it´s your human duty to “betray” it in any way possible to you.

    Cue in wikileaks.

  3. DoesNotMatter
    November 1, 2010 at 11:54 am

    suppose you do betray your country for a fistful of Gold. Suppose the betrayal works. How do you then guarantee that the enemy will pay you that fistful he promised What stops him from killing you off? how do you enforce his side of the bargain. You can’t!

    But if your life sucks anyway, why not take that chance?

    Also suppose you do get the money, where do you spend it? What about friends. You just betrayed your land. Who wants to be friends with such a person? In fact historically, most traitors were put to death once the job was done.

    But there was no shortage of traitors? why?

    I’m not amazed that you did not think of these poitns yourself. you are so blinded by hatred and anger, you have no ability to be able to think clearly and logically. Your arteries are probably hard already. How’s that erection holding up?

    In an way, you made my point.

    If a person does not foresee a decent future for himself, he has no reason to play nice. Most empires forget that people require a positive reason to keep on playing nice.

    PS- It is the internalization of anger that kills people. Externalization is very therapeutic.

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