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 www.marvinzonis.com and enter your email.