I have always enjoyed studying the history of the ancient Greeks, but that interest was exponentially increased when I played Assassin’s Creed ODYSSEY by Ubisoft this year. First, it’s the best AC game so far. It’s far from perfect; the combat can be very frustrating at times; but it’s depth of story and gameplay and incredible detail brought ancient Greece back to life. I was in awe of this game.
When I visited Thermopylae in this game, it looked so real that I felt chills, as if I were really visiting the site. (As a result, I’ve started saving money for a trip to Greece).
I also bought the new iteration of Sid Meier’s Civilization, Civilization VI, because it features two Greek leaders: Pericles, ruler of Athens during the Peloponnesian War, and Gorgo, queen of Sparta, who ruled alongside Leonidas, and was an intelligent, insightful, wise, powerful woman. Playing their civilizations is just pure fun, but not very educational.
Inspired by a game to study the Greeks more studiously, I’ve read many books: The Iliad by Homer, the Odyssey by Homer, The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield, and plan to read several more such as The Histories by Herodotus and The Aenid by Virgil. I also just discovered Helena P. Shrader whose works I will explore. (I really wish Pressfield would write more about the Greek world). I generally don’t like lectures on audio, but discovered Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast, and he’s witty and fun and educational, and his episodes are sometimes 4-6 hours long! And it goes by so fast, too.
So, to say that Ubisoft’s Odyssey enriched my life would be accurate. Like I said, I’ve always enjoyed Greek history, but never took the plunge in a serious way. Now, I’m bathing in it. And one amazing thing I learned: There was no HERCULES. His name was Heracles, and he was an evil bastard, not a hero. (Kevin Sorbo’s portrayal was entertaining, that’s all). And there has still never been a film or show that accurately portrayed the Trojan War (aka the battle for Helen of Troy). Helen was given that title by Priam, king of Troy, to validate her defection. But the war was really about Agamemnon’s ambition, while Troy was a powerful trading port on the coast of modern-day Turkey, across the Aegean Sea from Greece. Helen begged to be returned to end the conflict, but Priam knew that it was only her vanity talking. After the war, Helen returned to Sparta and took her place beside her husband king, Menelaus, and by all accounts, she lived happily. She is mentioned in The Odyssey, ruling alongside Menelaus many years after the war. Chalk it up to Hollywood drama (Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra was a gorgeous film, but it kind of ruined historical films in Hollywood).
All of this stuff is all the more fascinating to me because the United States of America was founded as a modern-day Greek Republic. In 1787, when the U.S. constitution was ratified, the United States became the first Republic to arise in 2000 years. Rome, also, was founded as a republic, entirely due to Greek influence. Much of southern Italy was colonized by Greeks and their culture was widespread.
It is a simple fact through observation that “The Republic” is the most powerful form of government humans have devised. It was true in Hellas in 2500BC, in Rome in 500BC, and in America today. Interestingly, and I’m coming to the point of this piece, is that in all three examples of the Republic form of representative government, in all three that have existed, these nations became so powerful that they transitioned into empires, as the United States is becoming today in exactly the same manner.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-American at all; I’m just observing and commenting on what I see after studying the past.
It seems to me–and I’m not especially smart or observant over others, I recognize there are a lot of people far smarter and aware than I am–but it seems to me, nonetheless, that the Republic form of government tends to dominate all of her neighbors simply due to great economic success. That alone determines political power on the world stage: wealth. When one nation accumulates great wealth, it naturally can afford a powerful military, and as a result of the personal freedoms in a Republic, people are compelled to invent and innovate to become personally rich themselves, and this raises the tide for everyone.
Yes, I believe the United States will evolve into an empire, just like Greece (Hellas) and Rome did. Exactly in the same manner, only with modern language and rationale. When trade must be protected, then a wealthy nation will protect trade by partnering with neighboring nations, and opposing hostile competitors (who embrace contrary philosophies of governance such as the insidious Marxism). This is a de facto empire, is it not? We the people don’t need to formally replace our constitution and state, from this day hence, we are the American Empire!
No, of course not (and I didn’t make this point very eloquently, I’ll admit). The United States is already in the first stages of empire, not because some powerful Americans want to rule the world, but because of our wealth. Wealth generated by the Republic form of government.
Now that the basic point has been made, I’ll be more specific: The United States is a democratic republic, which is a combination of parliamentary-style representation (the Senate) and Greek-style representation (the House of Representatives), combined into the Congress (which means, meeting together in one place). The executive branch is also very different from parliamentary nations. In a parliamentary system, members of parliament do everything on behalf of their people, including voting for the “president.” The people do not get to directly vote for a president. Instead, parliamentarians nominate from among their own body a Prime Minister. Another form exists: parliamentary republic. This is very similar to a democratic republic, where parliament appoints its own Prime Minister, but the people also vote separately for a President. However, there is only one body of representatives. I personally like this system.
I personally do not feel that the U.S. Congress is effective. The Senate and the House seem to conflict over bills, making them ineffective. And, if the president doesn’t sign a bill, it’s returned for revision. This two-body system is too complicated and rife with corruption to be effective. I’m not sure if a democratic parliament is any better, but it seems less complicated and less prone to corruption.
The biggest flaw in the U.S. constitution, as I see it, is the House, which is based on population. Why is that needed? As the population grows, so does the House. This problem was alleviated in 1913 with a revision that limited it to 435 members, which was a good move. But even that is an enormous number of representatives. Are they effective? I have not seen the House do anything useful in my adult years of life that the Senate and President could not have done better, more easily, and with less corruption. I want my representatives to act decisively when steering the ship, not vote on issues based on gifts they receive from lobbyists. The baby boomer generation has been most blatantly corrupt, not even bothering to hide their self-serving legislation, but that’s a topic for another day.
No, I don’t see any need for 435 idiots gathered together to pretend to govern. It seemed like a good idea to the founders, but people are stupid. Let’s just be blunt about it, okay? People are stupid. And those who are not stupid are too busy working, raising a family, etc, to pay attention to what’s going on. And the House was never intended to be populated by career politicians. It was supposed to be a system wherein a professional with a good household will put his life on hold for 2 years to serve the nation, then return home again to resume his business affairs. End of story. This beautiful idea has been dirtied by corrupt, evil people, intent on self enrichment. They should be publicly flogged. That would quickly put a stop to it.
So, there you have my perspectives on the ancient republics and the United States today. This nation was founded on much more than just the Greek Republic from Plato and Demokratus. The cultures are very similar as well. You’ll recall the Peloponnesian War, 430BC, between Sparta and Athens and their respective allies. This was a Greek Civil War. Over what issues? Believe it or not, you’ll recognize the roots of the conflict: conservative versus liberal values.
Sparta was a conservative city-state who ruled many lesser city-states in a de facto manner (not a declared empire) called the Peloponnese League. Spartans married one spouse for life (usually). Spartans were pro-military in the extreme. Spartans were very religious, very faith-centered, very devout to all of the gods, but especially the goddess Athena (daughter of Zeus almighty). A modern-day Christian (though not so much today, but perhaps from the 1950s era) would feel right at home in ancient Sparta, other things being equal.
These people believed in honor, respect, duty, and feared God. To Spartans, Athens was a Godless city filled with sinners. Similar American cities: Oklahoma City, Colorado Springs, Fort Worth, Boise, Nashville, Arlington.
Athens was a liberal city-state that traded with its neighbors and wasn’t very good at diplomacy or managing large cities. Athens raised taxes and spent money for services that Spartans did freely for God and country. Athens incurred debt to pay for their army and navy and hired mercenaries. Athens had a powerful navy and trade but was less strict, lacking discipline. Athenians openly expressed gay lifestyles and had the freedom to do so without persecution. Athenians were open to academics (a Greek word), philosophy, and even questioning faith. Most Athenians were devout but many were not, and the faithless were allowed to express their views openly. Athens also worshiped the goddess Athena (the city’s namesake).
To Athenians, Sparta was a rigid, harsh, oppressive city, ruled by self-righteous hypocrites (another Greek word). Similar American cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Baltimore, New York, Detroit.
The Greek civil war ended in 400BC, with Spartan victory and the Peloponnesian League ruled all of southern Greece, until a great earthquake leveled Sparta. However, the stability of this empire allowed Alexander to emerge (50 years later) from the northern territory (where Thermopylae is located) and use the established traditions and stability to raise an army to get revenge on the Persians. After he decimated the Persian empire, he continued on through Palestine and to Egypt.
This conquest spread Greek culture even further, but at that time there was no way to maintain such a far-flung empire, so Alexander’s solution was to plant Greek cities in every territory he conquered, filled with Greek citizens, transplanted from the homeland, to keep Greek influence alive in that region, with a garrison. The purpose was not to enforce taxes but CULTURE. This was more of a trade empire than the vassal system imposed by Romans later on.
Speaking of whom, Alexander’s empire lasted until about 150BC–so, 200 years, when Rome conquered Greece. But, Rome didn’t eradicate Greek culture. Rome actually continued to embrace it, internalized many of the customs and beliefs. For instance, Romans adopted Elysium and Hades and the Olympic gods, more or less, with their own.
Due to this cultural influence, the New Testament of the Bible was largely written in Greek, and most of the concepts borrowed from Greek culture. The Jews plagiarized the Greeks, and Christians today still believe the Bible originated everything it contains. All I can say to that is, read Herodotus, Homer, Thucydides–the source material. You will be surprised to find “Biblical” phrases and concepts.
I recently purchased a DNA testing kit from MyHeritage with interesting results. I am: 55% Celtic, 30% Scandinavian, and 11% Greek. I was pleasantly surprised. 🙂