I was watching an interesting bit of history on Amazon. It was The First War for Western Civilization. It covered the rise of ancient Greece, and the wars with the Persian Empire. Then the eventual rise of Democracy and how that has become the dominant system in the West today. (Ignoring the fact that nobody really has direct democracy, we all have Representative Democracies, that are really a different thing from Greek democracy).
The First War for Western Civilization, a time when history became legend. The Greco-Persian War has given us some of the most iconic moments in history such as Leonidas and the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, the Marathon Run and a huge legacy today in politics and many other areas. However, other than the 3 days of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae, the remainder of the 49 year war between Persia and Greece has been almost completely overlooked, and has never appeared in a documentary. It covers the full story from the Ionian Revolt (497BC) to the Peace of Callias (449BC) also known as the Peace of Kimon, and includes a detailed introduction, the birth of Democracy and the aftermath and the legacy of the period.
I strongly recommend it. Instead of just parroting the usual lines about things, they actually find precursor events and look for the connections. For example, Persia didn’t just invade Greece out of nowhere. The Greeks had made the first (failed) move.
Now I tend to also make connections. This posting will mostly look at those bits.
One that stood out to me was the statement that when Greece was first formed (or formed as known in that period) it was by an invasion of the Dorians. They show both Dorians and Ionians “moving south” and displacing some earlier people. (There’s a longish discussion of this in the wikis on Dorians and Ionians). What I noticed was the date.
There’s a chart of temperature vs dates in this posting:
In it, we see a nice warm hump at 1100 BC, and a plunge into cold at 250 BC. The “Dorian Invasion” is placed in that cooling era.
After the Greek Dark Ages, much of the population of the Peloponnesus spoke Dorian, while the evidence of Linear B and literary traditions, such as the works of Homer, suggests that the population spoke Achaean – Mycenaean Greek – before. In addition, society in the Peloponnesus had undergone a total change from states ruled by kings presiding over a Palace economy to a caste system ruled by a Dorian master ethnos at Sparta.
According to the scholar H. Michell: “If we assume that the Dorian invasion took place some time in the twelfth century, we certainly know nothing of them for the next hundred years.” Blegen admitted that in the sub-Mycenaean period following 1200: “the whole area seems to have been sparsely populated or almost deserted.”
The problem is that there are no traces of any Dorians anywhere until the start of the Geometric period about 950 BC. This simple pottery decoration appears to be correlated with other changes in material culture, such as the introduction of iron weapons and alterations in burial practices from Mycenaean group burials in tholos tombs to individual burials and cremation. These can certainly be associated with the historical Dorian settlers, such as those of Sparta in the 10th century BC. However, they appear to have been general over all of Greece; moreover, the new weapons would not have been used in 1200.
So between about 1100 BC and 400 BC a load of Dorians shows up in the South. The wiki takes great pains to assert it isn’t know if this was an invasion or not. I’m more willing to trust all the other histories that for a few hundred years said it happened and was then.
This, then, fits the same pattern we see for “The Migration Era Pessimum” and several other similar times. When a cold turn comes, folks up north and in the Asian Steppes head south and west. To me, it just shouts “NATURAL Climate Cycles driving history”. So as a sort of a “Dig Here!” question, we have: To what extent was the rise of Greece the result of a “Bit ‘o Cold!” driving folks south? Then the corollary question: What happens in our current turn down to cold from a warm cycle?…
The Dorians you will probably know better by their iconic group named the Spartans.
(BTW, in modesty, I must point out that one of my alma-maters is a school with Spartan as their identity, so I’m both an Aggie and a Spartan… but I don’t let it color my thinking… much ;-)
The other group moving about at the time was the Ionians.
The Ionians (/aɪˈoʊniənz/; Greek: Ἴωνες, Íōnes, singular Ἴων, Íōn) were one of the four major tribes that the Greeks considered themselves to be divided into during the ancient period; the other three being the Dorians, Aeolians, and Achaeans. The Ionian dialect was one of the three major linguistic divisions of the Hellenic world, together with the Dorian and Aeolian dialects.
When referring to populations, “Ionian” defines several groups in Classical Greece. In the narrowest sense it referred to the region of Ionia in Asia Minor. In a broader sense it could be used to describe all speakers of the Ionic dialect, which in addition to those in Ionia proper also included the populations of Euboea, the Cyclades, and many cities founded by Ionian colonists. Finally, in the broadest sense it could be used to describe all those who spoke languages of the East Greek group, which included Attic.
The foundation myth which was current in the Classical period suggested that the Ionians were named after Ion, son of Xuthus, who lived in the north Peloponnesian region of Aigialeia. When the Dorians invaded the Peloponnese they expelled the Achaeans from the Argolid and Lacedaemonia. The displaced Achaeans moved into Aegilaus (thereafter known as Achaea), in turn expelling the Ionians from the Aegilaus. The Ionians moved to Attica and mingled with the local population of Attica, and many later emigrated to the coast of Asia Minor founding the historical region of Ionia.
Unlike the austere and militaristic Dorians, the Ionians are renowned for their love of philosophy, art, democracy, and pleasure – Ionian traits that were most famously expressed by the Athenians.
The Ionians were the thinkers and the Dorians were the fighters.
has a good bit about them. Also of note, Athens is Ionian. Thus the divide into Athenian world view vs Spartan world view that defines much of Greek history and traditions.
The oldest known human presence in Athens is the Cave of Schist, which has been dated to between the 11th and 7th millennia BC. Athens has been continuously inhabited for at least 7000 years. By 1400 BC the settlement had become an important centre of the Mycenaean civilization and the Acropolis was the site of a major Mycenaean fortress, whose remains can be recognised from sections of the characteristic Cyclopean walls. Unlike other Mycenaean centers, such as Mycenae and Pylos, it is not known whether Athens suffered destruction in about 1200 BC, an event often attributed to a Dorian invasion, and the Athenians always maintained that they were “pure” Ionians with no Dorian element. However, Athens, like many other Bronze Age settlements, went into economic decline for around 150 years afterwards.
Given that dates can be off by a few hundred years for things 1000+ B.C., both in the historical record and in the climate record, I do have to wonder if the whole Dorian Invasion / Dark Age thing was driven by the fall off a warm peak into the cold.
In any case, the part that’s more of interest at the moment is the cultural differences and what that reflects in the present.
You see, the Spartans had outlawed currency, had joint ownership of goods in a communal way, had a very flat wealth distribution, and generally were a very early form of Socialism / Communism. They also had a very strick overlay of Spartan Nationalism and anyone weak or sickly was generally not allowed to live. They had a racial purity streak in them. Seems many folks strongly admired the Spartans, and so emulated parts of their culture and economic system.
“Sparta must be regarded as the first völkisch state. The exposure of the sick, weak, deformed children, in short, their destruction, was more decent and in truth a thousand times more human than the wretched insanity of our day which preserves the most pathological subject.”
― Adolf Hitler
This paper gives a short but readable listing of the similarities of the two:
So Hitler admired the Spartans and adopted both their Socialist economics and their bundle of extreme Nationalism with Eugenics and a militaristic social order.
Then we have the communists. They picked up the communal / socialist economics, but wanted to dump the nationalism.
The Spartans are not a pure example of Socialism / Communism. They were the top 10% of their society with the rest being slaves. (Then again, the Communist Party often just has the top 10% actively in it…) A decent examination of the finer points is here:
According to tradition, Sparta was the handiwork of Lycurgus; but what may any one profitably or usefully say regarding this obscure personality, of whom even Plutarch says that there is nothing concerning him that is not the subject of dispute? This original lawgiver, on whose persuasive powers the socialist laws of Sparta rested, is indeed a shadowy figure — a kind of cross between Moses and King Arthur. If we accept Plutarch’s account, Lycurgus was oppressed by the glaring contrast between riches and poverty, the vast number of poor and landless on the one hand, and, on the other, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few individuals — almost a Marxian vision. And so — although surely external circumstances must have reinforced his arguments — he persuaded the Spartans to agree to a new distribution of lands on a basis of equality, and by other measures he weaned them from the love of silver and gold, and led them to adopt that harsh simplicity of life which the very name of Sparta has come to connote. Plutarch’s description is of interest because, waiving the question of its historical accuracy, it gives a very adequate definition of the ideal communistic state, as ideally imagined by countless later generations. In general, he says,
he trained his fellow-citizens to have neither the wish nor the ability to live for themselves; but like bees they were to make themselves always integral parts of the whole community, clustering together about their leader, almost beside themselves with enthusiasm and noble ambition, and to belong wholly to their country.
With this must be taken another fact no less significant, common indeed to all Greek civilization, although perhaps specially important in Sparta. When we speak of Sparta, we are not concerned with a homogeneous population. The problem is complicated, as always, by one form of the slave question. The Spartan state could continue to exist only so long as the Helots were kept under. Thus the Spartans had to consider not merely their enemies beyond their frontier: they also lived as a governing class amid enemies, vastly more numerous, always sullen, constantly menacing. This is the ultimate explanation of the socialistic aspect of the Spartan state. Pöhlmann has a pregnant saying, written long before 1914, and therefore free from any suggestion that it springs from the misfortunes of the last two generations, to the effect that “state socialism is the inevitable correlate of the war-like type of society.” Mr. Hawtrey, in our own day, has explained how Collectivism “emerges as the logical outcome of militarism when pushed to the extreme limit.” A state that is at war, or that is perpetually organized for war, dare not tolerate individual liberties which may be in conflict with the general interest; and if the crisis becomes acute, so that the very existence of the state is in danger, there always has been, and there always will be, a tendency to sacrifice the individual; and this means one or other of two things, either despotism or state socialism.
It is fascinating to think that perhaps that same dynamic plays out in modern Communist / Socialist countries, as the “Helots” realize their Communist Spartan “Masters” don’t give a damn about them. “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work”…
So that’s the one side of this dynamic. Sparta. With keeping the most odious bits, reflected in the Fascist / Nazi / National Socialists. With only the communal property and flat wealth distribution among the master class, Communism / Socialism. Both taking their direction from the same forces that founded Sparta. Both with similar outcomes. A repressive State and a top down driven society prone to devolution into tyranny.
On the flip side, we have Athens. They had a kind of democracy, but it tended to instability and “mob rule”. In the TV series, there is a constant flow of folks to power and position, only to be ostracized and run off to other lands when folks were jealous of them and their successes. One leader was even quoted as saying that the mob was very easy to mislead. Watching our political ads and what passes as “news” today, I’d say that hasn’t changed.
Athenian democracy developed around the fifth century BC in the Greek city-state (known as a polis) of Athens, comprising the city of Athens and the surrounding territory of Attica, and is the first known democracy in the world. Other Greek cities set up democracies, most following the Athenian model, but none are as well documented as Athens’.
It was a system of direct democracy, in which participating citizens voted directly on legislation and executive bills. Participation was not open to all residents: to vote one had to be an adult, male citizen i.e. neither a foreign resident nor a slave, and the number of these “varied between 30,000 and 50,000 out of a total population of around 250,000 to 300,000” or “no more than 30 percent of the total adult population.”
The longest-lasting democratic leader was Pericles. After his death, Athenian democracy was twice briefly interrupted by oligarchic revolutions towards the end of the Peloponnesian War. It was modified somewhat after it was restored under Eucleides; the most detailed accounts of the system are of this fourth-century modification rather than the Periclean system. Democracy was suppressed by the Macedonians in 322 BC. The Athenian institutions were later revived, but how close they were to a real democracy is debatable. Solon (594 BC), Cleisthenes (508/7 BC), and Ephialtes (462 BC) contributed to the development of Athenian democracy. Cleisthenes broke up the power of the nobility by organizing citizens into ten groups based on where they lived rather than on their wealth.
Note the instability to Oligarchs and wars…
So the main problems with democracy are minority rights (“Two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for lunch”) thus we have a slave population not going anywhere, and instability to the rich and powerful (thus the frequent ostracism ejections of folks who fall out of favor and the rise of oligarchs who can manipulate the mob with rumors).
Most current western democracies like to point at ancient Greece as their source of inspiration, so I won’t belabor the point further.
The various Greek city-states were at war with each other when not fighting someone outside of Greece. Spartans did not trust Athenians and Athenians didn’t trust Spartans. They would work together against a common enemy, but never with real agreement.
Now fast forward to today. It’s the same dynamic from the same source differences. Persia (that I’ve not explored so far) was a giant Empire. We have clashes of empire over many of the same things. Power, control, dominance. While recently the Empire has fallen out of favor, it isn’t far removed in our history. We have the oppressive elite ruled Communist State (most recently taken a tumble when China moved to a Lange Type Socialism for economics, but keeping the Communist Elite politically) taking a cue from Sparta, and we had the extreme form of Modern-Sparta in W.W.II. Now the socialism of Sparta is trying to make a go of it in various other parts of the world, often merged with a token “Republic” or “Democracy”. Yet it tends to devolve back into that militaristic despot result (Venezuela, Cuba, and so many more).
There was another theme to the series as well. That The West – typified by Western Democracy as Athens, was in repeated struggles against invasion from the East. Persia, for example. And fights back to stop it. What are we doing now? Struggling against a “Muslim Invasion” of Europe and fighting, even if sometimes by proxy, in the former Persian Empire. The Caliphate Dream Empire vs Western Democracy. Again.
They start the first episode with a listing of prior conflicts, in reverse order, moving back to “the first” as the Greeks vs Persia. I’m going to give their list in forward order instead, showing the progression to today:
Greeks vs Persian wars
Alexander vs Persia
Rome vs Persia
Arabs vs Byzantium (late Romans)
Turks vs Byzantium (Late Romans)
Turkey vs Austria
Siege of Vienna
Siege of Rhodes
Siege of Malta
Turkey vs Russia
World War One
The Gulf Wars
I would only note that there was a World War II in there and it did involve the East too…
Now, in the modern era, we had Ataturk trying to move Turkey into the Western Civilization sphere. The jury is still out on the success of that. Current events shaping up to be a return to the Caliphate Dream. Fence sitting at best. Persia / aka Iran, working to get nukes but temporarily slowed. Even now using the classical technique of “Persian Gold” to influence neighbors and stir up proxy wars (Hamas, Hezbollah, etc.) Syria sending loads of “5th Column” folks to Europe as “refugees”.
It seems some things never change. The War For Western Civilization drags on, 2500 years later. The conflict between Spartan Socialists and Athenian Democracy drags on, 2500 years later. It’s gone a bit more global, and the particular religious icons both sides carry have changed. The weapons and tactics have advanced. Yet the basic process is unchanged.
One wonders if there is no way to get off this treadmill short of one side erasing the other.