Greeks on the Take

The connection between the ancient Greeks and contemporary Greece is only tenuous. But the Greeks themselves like to claim that there has been a continuous line from those famous ancestors to the present.

But accepting that claim leads to some problems.

Hugh Bowden is a renowned historian of ancient Greece. He suggests that ancient Greek city-states generally had two characteristics.

They usually were divided into factions. Deep internal divisions kept many of the independent city-states in turmoil. When one of the factions gained sufficient power, its leaders would exile the leaders of the losing faction and confiscate their property and wealth. Other city-states would welcome the losing faction and begin to organize a military assault to help the losers reclaim power and, in the process, win an ally for other campaigns. The results were frequent wars and instability wherever Greeks could be found.

A second characteristic was that the leaders of the city-states were usually on the take. Bowden details the extent to which the Persian kings, beginning as early as 385 BC, were funneling money to Greek politicians to buy their fealty.

Demosthenes, for example, was on the Persian payroll. As Athens’ most powerful orator, he was effective in getting the Athenians with their allies from Thebes to march against Philip II of Macedon whom the Persians saw as their most formidable enemy. But Philip won the battle at Chaeronea in central Greece in 338 BC and destroyed the political dominance of Greek city-state democracy. (It was, of course, Philip’s son, Alexander the Great, who ultimately destroyed the Persian Achaemenid dynasty in 330 BC.)

Fast forward to the present. Here are the Greeks with what seem to be the sleaziest politics in the euro zone; defying euro zone leaders while simultaneously courting the Russians and threatening to veto any additional sanctions against Russia.

Factions? On the take? It sure looks like it.

A carry forward of ancient Greek practice? It sure looks like it.

Maybe the Greek claim to that continuous line is valid.

Marvin Zonis is Professor Emeritus at the Booth School of Business, The University of Chicago. To subscribe, please go to and enter your email.

3 Responses to "Greeks on the Take"

  1. Aegean1972   February 17, 2015 at 7:35 am

    The core of Europe needs to realize (asap) that the totally clue-less leftists of syriza have a short expiration date and in the next few months elections must happen to get rid of them, because by that time they will have screwed everything up. Just because 22% of Greeks (1 out of 4) voted for the leftists, doesn’t mean that the rest of the nation believes in this leftist nonsense! We beg Germany to be patient for a few months, until the leftists of syriza dig their own hole and elections become inevitable. Europe needs to help the conservatist gmvnt of Samaras/Venizelos to come back to power. He was doing a great job and the country, we had almost 3% projected growth and we were just a few months from exiting this crisis. Reform was taking place and foreign investment was coming in. But then syriza’s mutiny took over the boat and they managed to screw everything up in a matter of weeks! You gotta be seriously clue less to manage to do that in just 2 weeks.

  2. Aegean1972   February 17, 2015 at 7:36 am

    Part 2: Brussels needs a smart campaign (over the next few months) to let Greeks realize that the leftists are taking Greece down the drain. The leftists will try to blame Europe, for their mistakes. Europe should be aware of that and let the people of Greece realize that they are being fooled. 80% of Greeks want reform for the country and to be European. Lets not let 20% of clue-less leftists destroy that. Let the syriza idiots dig their own hole. It wont take long. Europe, give some time to the mislead 22% of voters, to realize their mistake. Help them realize their mistake. Winning the people, will eventually give Europe a victory in the end.
    Please be a patient Europe and don’t pull the plug on us, until we have time to do elections again.

  3. tzery   February 17, 2015 at 9:06 am

    I've read several dozens of commentary on the Greek negotiations. This is the least intelligent.