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MECHANICS OF HISTORY  -  laws to understand the histtory

The World History Rewritten

Ancient Greece

1. Early Greece, Sparta
4. Persian wars
2. Map of Greece (and links)
5. Wars for domination in Greece
3. Greek city-states, Athens
6. Macedonia and Alexander

Early Greece, Sparta

In a very short time after the fall of the Mycenian civilization the Phoenician city-states (Tyrus, Sidon, Byblos and others) became populistic states and dominated the Mediterranean trade. Phoenician city-states were located at the crossroads of important trade routes to Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and the western Mediterranean Sea, so the large amount of trade that went thorough those cites made the merchant class stronger. Before the industrial revolution trade was the main power that created populistic states. Phoenicians retained some technologies invented in older populistic cultures and also invented some new ones (including the most famous invention of an alphabet).

These times Greek city-states were stressed on Greek Peninsula and Aegean Islands. Numerous mountain ranges on the peninsula and of course surrounded seas made military expansion much more costly and thus relatively cheaper import of technologies (from Phoenicians), invention of new technologies and trade enterprises. In a few hundred years the dark period in Greece ended, and the first populistic city-states appeared.

One of the first was Sparta, more or less since the times of politician Lykourgos (or Lycurgus, who lived probably in IXth century BC). Having more advanced political system than their neighbours Sparta conquered a half of Peloponnese Peninsula, especially the large kingdom of Messenia.  Large colonies made the political system of Sparta a classical example of the rule of oligarchy.

When a populistic country conquers many other countries, When a populistic country conquests many other countries, its political system usually becomes very stable and oligarchic. The reason is that any instability or political upheaval could give the country’s colonies an opportunity to win independence. Great income from colonies makes other citizens of the core empire core (who participate in that income) more agreeable to  a nearly “frozen” political system, and the rule of a very narrow elite of elders (gerontocracy). It is useful to compare the political system of Sparta and the political system of the Soviet Union between 1960-1980.

Appendix: Polity of ancient Sparta (political institutions of Sparta)

In a very short time other Greek city-states (Corinth, Athens, Argos, Aegina and others) became populistic too. This is the start of the period of Greek colonization and trade expansion in the Aegean Sea, Black Sea, and other regions of the Mediterranean Sea. That expansion (very profitable at the beginning) created the great demand for capital, so the first populistic governments in the Greek city-states were dominated by the richer citizens and were oligarchic as in in Sparta. Eventually there were a hundred or more Greek populistic city-states.

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Map of Greece (and Links)

Here is the map showing some of the most important populistic city-states in the Aegean Sea region.
City-states of Ancient Greece map
Populistic city-states was marked with red dots. The most important are little bigger.
I have also marked the borders of some of the biggest city-states - Sparta, Argos, Corinth, Athens, Thebes (really a union of city-states) the big feudal state of Thessalia, and the kingdom of Macedonia.

Really the map should be more complicated: there were more populistic-city states. Some of them changed to populistic a few centuries after the first ones. Some of them were colonies. Some of the most important  achieved the peak of their power in different centuries (e.g.. Samos and  Chios were great sea powers before the times of Persian invasion and Athens Sea Union). But to be accurate I would have had to present several maps, not one.

This map was taken from the web page, part of Bernard SUZANNE's  "Plato and his dialogues" site, which also presents a very good short introduction to ancient Greece.

Other Ancient Greece Links
Ancient Greece Timeline (PDF).    HTML version of Timeline.
Nice overview of Ancient Greece History based on Herodotus.
History of some important cities of Ancient Greece (for example Thebes)
Library of ancient texts in Ancient History Sourcebook.
And a short, systematic review of Greece History.
Plus Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd.
And some detailed Maps of Ancient World.

Short information about persons, states, events, etc. you can find in Wikipedia (Herodotus, Phoenicia).

You may also look at: History of Anatolia (basic informations about the history of Asia Minor)
and the history of Sicilly in ancient times (at LIVIUS - a great repository of articles about ancient history)

Here is a good time to correct one of Carl Marx mistakes. Slavery in ancient times was an effect of a very low technology level, and not the immanent element of a political system. In those times there was plenty of jobs that did not require any special skills from workers, but just simple strength. So the workers had very limited political power, and thus could be turned into slaves very easily - especially in labour-intensive jobs like in mining, great plantations or household services. Since the ancient times our technology level has grown drastically, and now even the labour-intensive jobs require much more knowledge and skill, so there is no slavery today, except maybe kidnapped women who have to work in whore houses in Western Europe, or quasi-slavery in some “dirty jobs” taken by immigrants. It is useful to compare this with the status of private slave in ancient Athens, who generally were able to go everywhere in the city and take any job, only having to pay his master some percentage of money he had earned.

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Greek city-states, Athens

In the VI century BC most of the Mediterranean coast had been colonized, and thus colonization became less profitable, and other ways to increase the community income (like wars to conquer other countries or to dominate the trade) became more attractive. In consequence, the demand for capital fell, and of course the political power of rich citizens decreased too. As middle and lower classes (middle-income merchants, craftsmen, farmers) come to power, oligarchic governments in some cities fell, giving way to tyrannies or so-called “democracies”.

In a populistic state there are many different GPIs (groups of political interests) - there are factions of: rich people and poor people, capital owners and labour workers, small business owners and consumers, expansionists and pacifists, free-market adherents and protectionism adherents, farmers and food consumers from cities, money lenders and debtors, religious conservatives and liberal progressives, government administrators and believers of free initiative and personal freedom who pursue government abuses. All  these GPIs fight or cooperate with each other, and form different alliances. But with all  these various GPIs, there were basically only three basic forms of a populistic system in ancient Greece: 

  • oligarchy with the rule of richest citizens,
  • “democracy” (really a quasi-democracy) with the rule of poorer citizens,
  • and tyranny which usually emerged in middle-income countries in times of economic crisis. 
  • plus many mixed variants like ex. Athens after Solon reforms

So-called democracy” in ancient Greek city-states was no more than a left-winged populistic system. A “democratic” system usually emerged in states strongly involved in sea trade (mostly in Aegean Sea region), because those kind of countries could easily increase their wealth by combined military/trade expansion. This policy was strongly supported by middle-income groups of citizens like traders, craftsmen and low-income groups like labour workers or sailors, because they were beneficiaries of the increase in trade exchange. Sea trade made necessary a large navy that could be build only by a country government, and thus the role of “government administrators” GPI increased too. So Greek “democracy” was simply an effect of the alliance between middle and low-income citizens against the high-income groups of political interests: aristocracy, planters, the richest merchants.

When the economy was in a good condition, this kind of populistic regime worked quite well without serious conflicts, and at first glance was very similar to real democracy. But when the crisis came, all institutional weakness of that system became obvious. Here are some examples  from ancient Athens:

  • There was very weak control over the government income and spending (In Athens at the times of Pericles, the main part of the city income was the tax paid by the members of Athens Sea Union. Those members were obligated to pay, and could not protest because the Athenian army terrorized them. So payers had no way to decide, how large a tax they would pay, and how this money would be spent.)
  • There were institutions which made it easy to hound opposition politicians (like ostracism, special courts founded to “protect democracy”), and almost no institutions that could protect them against government abuses.
  • Meeting of all citizens was very weak in controlling government and conducting serious legislative work, but was very easy to dominate by a skillful demagogue.

Appendix: Polity of ancient Athens (political institutions of Athens)

When the crisis came, the low-income groups of citizens increased in number, and they became the political clients of government politicians, who could buy their support using non-controlled government money or propaganda. Large groups of mob (low-income citizens) led by demagogues from the most influential faction of the “democratic party” helped that  group to dominate meeting of all citizens and thus to overwhelm and threat other groups of citizens. Everyone who tried to made politics against them could be banished from the city or even killed.

It is useful to compare this with France after the Great Revolution, when the Jacobins faction ruled the country and threatened the other political faction and politicians using the street demonstrations of sanquillots (little merchants, craftsmen, etc.).

Especially the freedom of richer groups of people was restricted. They were for example obligated to make “voluntary” financial donations for the state. So, when we look at the political regime (organization) of a country, we should always think, how it will work in times of economic crisis, and how easy it is to abuse the political institutions of the state and use them to hound the political opposition.

Let’s start an intellectual experiment:
Let assume that in early 70-ties (XXth century) during the oil crisis, the democratic party won the election in USA, and then made all important republican politicians to leave the country, prohibited all “republican anti-american propaganda”, killed some less important republican politicians after manipulated court trials. Moreover, they forced other NATO members to pay large sums of money into USA budget, and when Frenchmen protested, they pacified France with army, killing most of citizens of Paris. If USA had do that, would you call you call that country “democratic”? But in Athens all things mentioned above were some kind of standard, and in spite of this we still call ancient Athens “democracy”.

Let’s make it clear, I have no personal prejudice against ancient Athens. I am showing all its weaknesses, because it is  a very good illustration of  how easy it is to mistake some forms of populistic system with democracy. I have to confess that for the first two years after 1990 (when I invented the new political system classification), I believed that Athens was a democracy. But then I read some books describing ancient Athenian democracy in more detail, and found that it was the classic example of a populistic state.

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Persian wars

In the VI century BC Greek city-states developed technology to such a level that the Aegean Sea region slowly became the economical center of the ancient world (center of the Mediterranean region to be precise). Greek city-states were the richest and most advanced countries in the ancient world. That brought them new dangers, problems and opportunities for expansion. First, the Greek city-states on the coasts of Asia Minor were conquered by kings of feudal states in Asia Minor (most important was the kingdom of Lydia) which had grown in power on exports to those city-states. After that, city-states on the islands (Samos, Chios, Rodos, etc.) faced a crisis because of less profitable conditions of trade with Asia Minor, and this pushed them into military expansion plus made social conflict inside cities more intensive.

Then the Asia Minor kingdoms were conquered by the Persian Empire - a great feudal state in the phase of growth, and the Greek populistic city-states were incorporated into it. We have learned in school that Greeks from Asia Minor heroically fought against the Persian Empire, but it is only partially true. Some of the Greek city-states citizens felt oppressed (usually left-winged GPIs that were interested in Aegean Sea trade), but some prospered (usually right-winged, oligarchic GPIs that was interested in trade with Asia Minor). => It is useful to compare this with today’s Hong-Kong under China’s rule.

Generally, when a small populist state neighbours a large feudal state, it usually falls into a kind of symbiosis with his bigger neighbour, and in most cases both countries finally unite with each other. Phoenician city-states are a good example of this process. They began to cooperate with powerful land empires like Assyria or the Persian Empire, and sold their independence (but still had some autonomy) for the profits from land trade. 

Then the European Greeks were faced with the Persian invasion. Basically there were three main reasons for Persian aggression against European Greeks:

  • The Persian Empire was in a phase of expansion, so wars and tribute from conquered countries was the main way to increase Persia’s wealth.
  • The Persian Empire supported the economic interests of Phoenicians merchants, who competed very hard with Greek merchants.
  • European Greek city-states were a shelter for radicals who had to flee from Greek cities in Asia Minor.

It’s a good example that even if can find “rational” reasons for war (or any other historical event or process), one reason is not a sufficient explanation.

The Persian Wars were the classic example of how a small country with a superior political system (populistic Greek city-states) could defeat a much bigger country with an inferior political system (Persian Empire). Of course the rule "nec Hercules contra plures" is still true, but a combination of  better war technology, high mobilization and sheer determination, which was an effect of patriotic ideologies of populistic states, helped the Greeks to defend their freedom. Moreover, even if the Persians had won, they probably would not have been able to hold Greeks down for long.

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Wars for domination in Greece

About 50 years after defeating the Persians, the Greek city-states started the 100 year period of  wars for domination in Greece. During that period different states had the status of dominant power: Athens, Sparta, Thebes, but none of them was strong enough to completely overpower all opponents. It is a good demonstration of a practical rule obvious for all players of political games: when there are 5-10 countries more or less equal in power, which compete each other in -an enclosed region, none of these countries can win. The reason is, when one country grows in strength, the others make an alliance against it, and bring it down. 

And there is one interesting thing I want to show you here. During the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta the low-income groups of citizens in Athens generally supported the war, because the war gave them a chance to improve their social and economic status (ex. from war loots) if they served in the fleet. Or the war gave them a chance of stable employment, if they worked in the naval industry. And the upper middle-income groups of citizens were generally against the war, because they were the core of Athenian land troops, and had to pay with their own blood (very often because Spartan troops generally won most of the land battles) for the profits of low-income GPIs (groups of political interests). So, as you can see a populistic country with a left-winged government could – sometimes be more aggressive than a populistic country with a right-winged government.

Two observations related to populistic states in general: First, Sparta was less expansive than Athens during the Peloponnesian War, because the oligarchic government of Sparta was rather interested in protecting the lands conquered earlier and tried to avoid war as long as possible. Second, traveling teachers called sophists gained popularity, and advised Greek politicians on how to present political ideas to citizens using rhetorical tricks (just like media-specialists in Russia or Ukraine today - i.e. before 2005).
Paragraph added - 10th September 2004

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Macedoania and Alexander

When the Greek city-states were involved in wars with each other, the kingdom of Macedonia in the north slowly grew in strength. Macedonia was an important exporter of  many different goods and natural resources to the Athens Sea Union. This export slowly created the material and social base for the emergence of a populistic system. With the decline of Athens and a protectionist policy introduced by the Athenian government, Macedonia was faced with the threat of an economic crisis. So, when the kingdom of Macedonia had developed into a populistic state (more or less 360 BC in the times of Philip II), the country immediately started military expansion.

Populistic Macedonia was quite a large state compared to the other Greek city-states, and had a similar level of technology, so Philip II had no problem to conquer and subordinate most of Greece except Sparta. It is useful to note that Macedonia had a similar geo-strategic (and geo-economic) position on the Greek peninsula as Russia has for Europe. 

His son, Alexander the Great, as everybody knows, conquered the whole Persian Empire. It was more the effect of the Greek advantage in technology and the overall weakening of the Persian Empire rather than his skill. The Persian Empire started to decline about two centuries earlier, and for a long time the only real power in its army were Greek mercenaries (about 70 years before Alexander 10 thousands of unpaid Greek mercenaries had marched without problems thorough half of Persian Empire). Alexander simply had the luck to start his expedition when the Persian Empire was in the final stage of decay. 

Great Conquests
The reasons for the other great and quick conquests were generally the same: the political and economical  decay of the conquered countries. No matter who the conqueror was: Alexander, Arabian Kalifs, Vikings, Gengis Khan, Cortes or Pissarro.

The conquests of Alexander opened the whole of the Middle East for Greek economic expansion, creating in this manner a new wide diffusion channel between technologically advanced Greece and the less developed lands of the Persian Empire. This diffusion started the age of economic prosperity in the new Hellenistic kingdoms, but also a period of relative economic stagnation in Greece. Capital and technology (and immigration) flowed to the Middle East intensely, but not enough to stop the trend of decay, which was tearing apart the lands of the former Persian Empire. So after the death of Alexander, his generals portioned his kingdom into a few smaller countries.

Final Notes on Ancient Greece
There are two important observations I would like to present at the end of this short tale about Ancient Greece:

First, the populistic system is not always bad, oppressive and inhuman. Compared to the neighbouring barbarian lands and feudal kingdoms (especially Persia), the Greek city-states were the lands of liberty, justice, economic freedom and prosperity. Moreover, Greece was the center of art, culture and science. Compared to a feudal country, a populistic state is usually a very good place to live.

Secondly, the history of Ancient Greece is a great example of many historic and economic processes which we could analyze in search of answers to present problems:
We could find here (in Corinth, Athens, Thebes, Argos, Samos, Sparta, Siracuse) almost every variant of a  populistic system, every form of political oppression that a populistic government could invent, and every method used in populistic countries to promote one particular GPI.

  • We have great examples of  how the form of populistic systems evolves when economic conditions change.
  • We have examples of what the  economic and political effects are for feudal countries neighbouring the technologically advanced populistic states.
  • We could observe the evolution of many social processes (like mass immigration, economic stagnation, social effects of trade route shifts and many others) and the effects of different measures taken to solve these problems.
  • We can observe the shifts in people’s mentality and ideologies launched by new economic processes. (Ex. the sexual revolution at the end of a period of colonization - sexual freedom generally decreases the rate of population growth, and sexually oppressive ideologies increase this rate.)

And so on. Therefore, I strongly encourage everyone to study the history of Ancient Greece beyond this short introduction. Quite a good place to start can be the History of Ancient Greece written by N. G. L. Hammond.

Warsaw, September 2003
Text revised and corrected  by Christopher Jolley: (June 2005)
Slawomir Dzieniszewski

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MECHANICS OF HISTORY  -  laws to understand the histtory