Why did ancient Greece not become an empire?

Why did ancient Greece not become an empire?

All the greatest civilizations are associated with empires, or at least with specific states (Egypt, Rome, China, India). But there is one exception. We are talking about the civilization of Hellas, which never became a single state, although it had a profound influence on the history of the whole world.

(Planet Today) In terms of mythology, Hellas begins with Homer's poems, in which, however, the concepts of "Hellas" and "Hellenes" do not appear. It is about the struggle between the Achaeans and the Trojans. If we look at the past through modern historical-propagandistic stencils, the Achaeans are not just the predecessors of the Hellenes, but, so to speak, the ancestors of all modern Europeans with their officially proclaimed priorities of democracy and individual freedom. The Trojans, using the same logic, can be ascribed the notorious "Asianness" with their obedience to tyranny and the triumph of state interests over personal ones.

A Global Swing

In reality, of course, things were more complicated. The word "tyranny" is not coincidentally of Greek origin and literally means a single ruler who seizes power through a coup. The Hellenes did not have a negative connotation of the term "tyrant", being only a statement of the fact. Monarchies were widespread in ancient Greek states almost to the same extent as notorious "democracies", and in practical aspect "people's power" was usually replaced by the power of elected oligarchs. The fact that a considerable part of the population in all the polities of Hellas were absolutely powerless slaves is a detail, but a detail very characteristic.

The semi-mythological stage of ancient Greek history ends in the sixth century B.C., when a fairly complete geopolitical disposition of a rather conventional Hellas begins to take shape.

It included not only modern Greece, but also a significant part of Asia Minor (west of modern Asian Turkey), as well as Greek colonies scattered along the shores of the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Aegean, Ionian, Marmara and Black Seas. The westernmost of these was Hemeroscopeia (on the eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula). The easternmost was Phasis on the coast of modern Georgia. The most famous were Syracuse in Sicily and Chersonese with Panticapeum in the Crimea, which became the main suppliers of bread to Hellas, as well as to Byzantium, from which Constantinople later grew.

The drive for colonization would seem to indicate imperial ambition, but none of the colonies grew territorially to any serious extent. This was probably due to the cultural snobbery characteristic of the Greeks and the habit of overly impudent economics. Such manners made it difficult to integrate with the local population, who traded with the Greeks, but were hostile to them.

A superior race?

For the Hellenes, the entire world population was divided between them, the beloved, and the "barbarians," towards whom, in their view, they could be unceremonious. The "barbarians" reciprocated.

At the end of the sixth century B.C., the Greek polities of Asia Minor were swallowed up by the Persian Empire. The Persian attempt to seize Hellas itself ended in defeat for them in the war of 480-479 BC, which was covered with a huge amount of historical myths. The main one is ideological in nature, reinforcing the scheme of contrasting the "free West" with the "oppressive East.

The reality, as usual, was much more complicated. This applies to the purely military side of things, as well as to political and even national nuances. A large part of the Persian army was made up of Greeks, both from Asia Minor and from the European regions of Hellas, including such a large polis as Thebes. The Persian numerical advantage was not so overwhelming. For example, at Thermopylae the Greek army consisted not only of 300 Spartans, but also about 6-7 thousand representatives of other Greek states. The Persians, of course, were 30 times larger, but they had to storm a very well-protected position. But in the final battle of Plataea, according to the calculations of modern historians, who have critically analyzed Herodotus, the forces were about equal (about 120 thousand on each side). But the Hellenes were masters of self-praise.

One way or another, the Hellenes won the war thanks to the fact that for once they were able to unite. Developing their success, they even began to fight to oust the Persians from the islands inhabited by their tribesmen and from the west of Asia Minor. But the fighting was very slow, because at the same time Hellenes were sorting out their relations with each other.

Mediterranean Unification

The creation of an empire implies the presence of a strong nucleus, so that the normal development of all Hellenic states should have been united around one - the strongest. And at first it seemed that the situation was developing in this direction.

Athens, the richest and one of the most populous polities, whose citizens had also shown themselves particularly well in the war with the Persians (it was they who had the decisive credit for the naval victory at Salamis), began to claim the role of state-forming nucleus. Although Athens was quickly rebuilt after being burned by the invaders, it gained a reputation as a "Hero City".

The military might of Athens was based on a strong navy, and the wealth acquired by trade became the "soft power" that helped to make allies.

From 478 BC the Maritime Union began to form. Its members for a very moderate fee gave Athens the power to provide its security, or provided the ships and military contingents for joint operations against the Persians.

But the ancient "Mediterranean NATO" which was being created on very attractive terms was gradually losing its appeal. Athens demanded more and more money, ships and troops and, most importantly, had the impudence to interfere in the internal affairs of its allies.

This was most evident during the reign of Pericles, who in 442-429 BC was only one of several annually elected Athenian strategists, but in fact concentrated in his hands all the real levers of power. And the allies he was breaking over his knee, as they say.

Athens was counterbalanced by Sparta, the strongest land power in Hellas. The Spartans did not proclaim any democratic slogans and did not interfere in the internal affairs of the allies, but if necessary really defended them.

So the states of Hellas divided into two blocs - pro-Athene and pro-spartan, which clashed with each other in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). Military fortunes leaned now and then to one side or the other. The Spartans usually prevailed on land and the Athenians on sea, but the overall result was that most of the other states of Hellas, after hesitation and hesitation, nevertheless sided with Sparta. The Athenian model turned out to be too unattractive, when under the slogans of freedom and democracy the pretender to hegemony was engaged in economic and political enslavement of its allies.

The Spartans are going into battle.

When the Spartans gained more experience and defeated the enemy at sea, Athens, as they say, deflated and abandoned their hegemonic ambitions.

The Spartans, on the other hand, began to feel what they call a vertigo of success. "Justice" and "impartiality", which helped them to acquire allies, disappeared somewhere, and in other polities they began to impose their usual model of government, which can be characterized as "oligarchy" - the power of the elect.

However, the roughly straightforward oligarchic model did not take root in Hellas, and they wanted democracy, even in a fake-popular variant. Sparta itself was not an example, although its warriors were considered the best in Hellas. The obvious "disadvantages" included a craving for messianism, an inability to listen to opponents and an attitude even to other Hellenes (not to mention "barbarians") as second-rate people.

In practice, the full-fledged citizens (Spartiats) were parasites, living off the exploitation of slaves, half-slaves, and, so to speak, "strangers" perieki. It is clear that the economy of such a state, in material terms, was not apt to be imitated.

The state model of Sparta was too confusing: the two kings were always competing with each other and were dependent on the elders of the Ephorians.

Nor were things smooth in personal terms. The talented general Lysander, who won the Peloponnesian War, was relegated to a supporting role and died in a minor skirmish at Galiart (395 B.C.). Agesilaus, another gifted general and one of the two Spartan kings, was worried by his ambitions and sent him to Asia Minor to fight the Persians.

Having won the Peloponnesian War, the Spartans turned over power in Athens to their protégés, the "Thirty Tyrants," whom the Athenians fairly quickly deposed and overthrew.

Perhaps it was during this period that the previously neutral word "tyrant" began to take on a negative connotation, as the Spartans brought their proxies to power through coups.

The Tandem of the Brave Thebans

Leaving Athens alone for the time being the Spartans concentrated on installing a puppet regime in Boeotia. Here too they had a strong opponent - even two. The politicians Pelopidas and Epaminondas were able not only to defend their hometown of Thebes, but also to create a new challenger to hegemony, the Union of Boeotia.

The effective policy of the famous tandem was reinforced by obvious military successes. Epaminondas proved to be a talented general who developed new tactics with a decisive flank attack. *****

The Thebanese were the furthest along in the unification of Greece, but the personal factor played its fatal role. Pelopidas died in 362 B.C., having defeated Alexander, the tyrant of Thera. Epaminondas died in the same year and also in a victorious battle with the Spartans at Mantinea. But the two brave homosexuals did not leave worthy heirs and successors.

After their deaths, Hellas was, in modern parlance, completely multipolar. Athens, Sparta and Thebes were no longer hegemonic.

Military conflicts continued, but without the same fervor because of the lack of a global goal.

And against the background of this somewhat dull fuss somehow imperceptibly the Macedonians, inhabitants of the underdeveloped mountainous region, whom Hellenes did not call "barbarians" but did not consider quite their equals, were gaining strength.

Philip and Alexander

The future king Philip II of Macedon spent his youth as a hostage in Thebes under Epaminondus. He gained power in 359 BC, when his country was literally dying under the assaults of neighboring tribes of Illyrians, Peons, Thracians. He dealt with the "barbarians" and then began to subdue the Hellenes, using not only force, but also the maxim he himself had formulated, "There is no city that a donkey loaded with gold cannot take."

Philip was a quite sober-minded politician, and in creating the Corinthian alliance he understood that Hellas needed some kind of unifying idea. Here he decided to do without imposing a democratic, oligarchical or monarchical idea. The common goal was proclaimed the struggle against an external enemy, Persia, and the need to avenge the burning of Athens and other grievances almost a century and a half before was cited as the basis.

True, Philip himself fell by the hand of an assassin. So it fell to his son Alexander III, who went down in history with the nickname of the Great, to lead the all-Greek (or rather, Macedonian-Greek) campaign against the Persians.

The great conqueror dreamed of seeing his subjects as submissive to the authority and putting the interests of the state above their own, but at the same time as initiative people, capable of critical thinking - in general, a kind of symbiosis of Hellenes and "barbarians", liberal and conservative, cat and dog...

Alexander had created the empire of his dreams, but it fell apart immediately after his death. So it was already up to the Romans, who, for all their individualism, gave the idea of state the first place, to build a stronger empire on the Greek civilizational foundations.

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