How does one become a leader? This series of case studies examines the ways that individuals are identified, activated, and initiated into leadership roles. The roles that mentors, institutions, and rituals play in transforming someone into a leader are all considered, as well as how the factors of opportunity and identity influence who gets to become a leader. While the case studies draw on sources from ancient Mediterranean cultures, the issues highlighted by the expert authors speak to the dynamics of leadership found in today’s society and organizations.
Mallory Monaco Caterine and Norman Sandridge are the editors of the SAGE Ancient Leadership series.
Becoming a Leader in a Crisis: Gender and Ethical Dimensions in Ancient Greece
Mallory Monaco Caterine
This case encourages students to consider the importance and dynamics of gender in terms of leadership in a crisis, and to weigh complex decisions in ethical terms. Students will consider who becomes a leader in a crisis, how successful they are, how they are evaluated afterwards, and what they choose to do once the status quo is restored. Although women in ancient Greece rarely possessed basic political rights, Aretaphila of Cyrene became an influential leader in her community during a period of tyrannical rule. She used a combination of intelligence, manipulation, boldness, and luck to restore her city’s government to its citizens, and then refused an offer of legitimate political rights in order to live out her days in quiet.
This case study illustrates the crucial importance of mentoring in the process of becoming a leader by examining the story of Telemachus, son of Odysseus, in the ancient Greek epic, the Odyssey. Students will begin by reflecting on the contemporary meaning of the word mentor in the context of related words (e.g., coach, trainer, role model, sponsor) and then make predictions on what kind of mentoring they expect Telemachus to receive in the epic. They will then compare their predictions to what they discover by carefully reading selected passages of the Odyssey. From these comparisons, students will consider the challenges that people of a different social status (or those facing some kind of bias) face in finding good mentors. Students will then envision ways that the mentoring they and others receive could be improved.
This case study aims to bring an unusual text, Xenophon’s Oeconomicus, into an important contemporary discussion. Written around 370 BCE, the Oeconomicus takes the form of a Socratic dialogue and comprises two parts: in the first part Socrates converses with an elite Athenian, Critobulus, about the art of household management and the importance of farming; in the second part Socrates reports a conversation he once had with Ischomachus, who is depicted as the noble Athenian estate manager par excellence. This conversation brings to light the significant role of Ischomachus’ wife in the household and raises a series of questions about the role of women as leaders.
This case study encourages students to compare male with female leadership and to test their assumptions regarding women as leaders both in the household and in the public sphere. Furthermore, since the views on women and leadership are part of an embedded narrative (Ischomachus’ representation of the way he educated his wife), students will also be challenged to evaluate the role of mansplaining. Finally, the material presented in this case study can be linked with modern leadership theories (such as relational, servant, and transformational leadership).
Becoming Powerful Through Compromise: Hesiod’s Zeus as Chairman of the Gods
Joel P. Christensen
This case study will look at the foundational narrative of the divine realm in the Theogony for the perspective it can offer on the development of effective leadership. Specifically, it will look at how the “succession story”—how Ouranos and Cronos are in turn overthrown while Zeus is not—can function as an allegory for different ways of using authority. In particular, it will offer a structural reading of myth to show how Zeus makes alliances, builds partnerships, and relies on both strength and intelligence. Hesiod’s story can therefore function as a paradigm for how to wield power. This model, however, depends on certain social conditions, the absence of which may pose challenges to authoritarian uses of power.
Fulvia: Leadership and Social Convention in Ancient Rome
Rosemary L. Moore
This case examines how social expectations of class and gender influence perceptions of legitimate leadership. Women in ancient Rome did not possess many of the civil and legal rights women do today, and social convention limited their participation in matters that were not personal or domestic. At the same time, they could possess considerable influence, particularly if they were of the aristocracy. Fulvia, an aristocratic woman who was the wife of three prominent politicians—Clodius, Curio, and Marc Antony—advocated for her successive husbands in ways that broke convention but also demonstrated traditional feminine qualities. Surviving literary sources criticize her harshly. Students will be asked to consider the motivations for such criticism and whether there was a valid basis for it, and to engage in self-reflection on their own understanding of who can be a leader.
The 1st century AD was an era of splendor and political expansion for the Roman Empire. Military conquests and the discovery of new, far-distant trade routes resulted in a large-scale economic boom. Small vendors as well as offices offering services from architectural design to dancing or rhetorical education characterized Rome’s urban economic scene. For one of the oldest arts, however, there existed neither schools nor teachers: agriculture, the backbone of the Roman economy, was a neglected topic. What did those who aspired to become leaders of an agricultural farm need to know, and how could they acquire this knowledge? How should they train their staff? Were there specific qualities or competencies agricultural leaders should possess? How could they be identified and taught?
The Quest for the Golden Fleece, an ancient Greek legend related in various literary sources, includes examples of many leadership and teamwork challenges that face modern companies. Using this mythical story about Jason and Medea, two of the most famous figures from Greek literature, this case study addresses how strong personalities, different leadership styles, and the power of teamwork can accomplish seemingly impossible goals. In particular, this case study examines the leadership dilemmas that arise when working in a team of experts and near equals as well as the pitfalls of such partnerships, particularly when a romantic relationship develops between team members. The case also addresses how team dynamics change over time and the challenges that teams face in incorporating new members to an already high-functioning team. Finally, this case compares and assesses the leadership styles of the myth’s two major characters, Jason and Medea, who are not only partners in the quest for the Golden Fleece but also lovers. Their personal relationship complicates the needs of each character and their interactions with the rest of the Argonauts. Finally, this case considers factors of gender and ethnicity in how these figures have been treated by other characters and by audiences over time.
Messaging Leadership in Ancient Persia: The Case of Darius I
Reza S. Zarghamee
Communication is an important facet of leadership, and this study focuses on how leaders communicate their personal qualifications, accomplishments, and agendas. Specifically, this study addresses the importance of communication during periods of transition. In the life of a corporation, mergers and acquisitions (often referred to in abbreviated form as M&A) are critical transitional events that can impact profitability and spur anxiety among corporate stakeholders and, depending on the profile of the companies involved, the general public. Consequently, sophisticated companies increasingly regard a strong public relations campaign as a critical component of their M&A strategies.
In the general context of ancient history and specifically the history of ancient empires, a clear parallel exists to the corporate M&A from which valuable lessons on leadership may be gleaned. As with M&A and modern corporations, for ancient empires the transition of power from one ruler to another was a critical event which often tested the empire’s cohesion.
This case study illustrates the communication of leadership credentials during transitional periods by examining one such ancient Iranian ruler: the Persian king Darius I (also known as Darius the Great; lived 550–486 BCE, reigned 522–486 BCE). Darius was a member of the Achaemenid dynasty who seized the throne after a period of dynastic crisis precipitated by the death of his predecessor and purported relative, Cambyses II. He also left behind the most extensive epigraphic corpus of any Achaemenid king. The aim of the case is to encourage readers to consider how a good leader may present his or her personal qualifications and agenda during periods of transition.
In 42 B.C. the three-man ruling junta (“the triumvirs”) in Rome needed money to fund further military actions against their enemies in Rome’s Civil War. When property confiscations from civilian domestic opponents proved insufficient, they promulgated a plan to tax the 1,400 wealthiest women in Rome. This case invites students to consider how the women shifted from private appeals to public protest under the leadership of Hortensia and how her socially transgressive leadership brought change in a time of personal danger and public crisis. In wartime, ideas about the social good can easily come into conflict; Hortensia’s leadership leverages traditional values and social networks in new ways to protect women’s interests while dampening internal social conflict.
This case study illustrates the importance of goodwill, if coordinated with an informed view, opinion, or judgment (doxa) and opportune moment (kairos). It examines Isocrates’ concept and use of goodwill (eunoia) in his speeches Nicocles, On the Peace and Antidosis. Students will start by reflecting on the modern concept of emotional intelligence (EI) and the definition of goodwill by Aristotle, then analyze how Isocrates (436–338 BCE) uses goodwill as a precursor of emotional intelligence. They will examine the role of the teacher as an advisor to leaders such as Nicocles, the king of Cyprus, and Timotheus, the Athenian general. Then, they will be asked to discuss the role of Isocrates in advising leaders on the use of goodwill and the configuration of goodwill–judgment–opportune moment. Students will also examine the relation between a teacher, a counselor, a mentor, and a leader, the qualities of a leader, and the challenges posed by winning over the goodwill of a community.
This case study examines Praxagora’s ascent to leadership, especially her efforts to empower other women to become leaders themselves. Praxagora is a fictional character in the ancient Athenian comic play Assemblywomen by Aristophanes (392 BCE). The title of the play is a joke: in the eyes of the ancient Athenian audience, it would seem absurd that the major democratic legislative body of Athens (the Ecclesia, or Assembly) should be composed of women. But in Assemblywomen, that is precisely what happens. Ignoring cultural expectations, Praxagora (whose name means someone who does things in the public forum) replaces the all-male Assembly with women, and begins major cultural reforms which reflect a perspective on gender and civic participation that differs from real-world Athenian theory and practice.
Toppling Tyrants: Thrasybulus and the Thirty
After the loss of the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BCE), Athens’ democratic government was deposed and replaced by an oligarchy known as The Thirty Tyrants. Prominent democrats were murdered and their property seized; many others fled. Soon, the killings extended to resident foreigners (Metics), who were often merchants, and others whose property was an attractive prize for the oligarchs. Infighting within The Thirty led to a power struggle and ever increasing strife for the Athenian population. Thrasybulus, a former general in the Athenian army, assembled a force outside of the city that eventually defeated The Thirty. Following his victory and a truce agreement, Thrasybulus makes a speech in which he uses rhetoric to expound on the most important aspects of living in a regulated society. He also proposes that any soldiers who fought for the democracy who were resident foreigners be given citizenship. Students will consider turning points and decision-making in the historical narrative and contemplate how to apply Thrasybulus’ leadership in the face of strife to modern examples of conflict and tyranny.