Note: This is an English essay I made when I was in grade 11. It’s one of the few interesting assignemtns that I managed to keep in my hard drive until today. So I thought, I’d better put it in this blog so that I won’t have to worry when my laptop crashes (which is happening now). – Mentari Senja (Singapore, Saturday, 8 March 2008, 4:09PM)
Ancient Greece has always been known as the one that laid the foundation of the Western culture and that of modern society. It had influenced the world in a way that none other civilization had. However, such a great civilization didn’t last long. The reason for this is its people failure to form unity. This essay will discuss about the reasons for its disunity and the effects it had for the fate of the Ancient Greece.
The Greeks were notorious for their disability to unite. “At no time in antiquity was Greece a unified nation in the modern sense” (The Decline and Fall of Ancient Greece, p. 12). There were at least three main reasons for the Greeks’ inability to unite, which are the geographical region of the land, the competitiveness of the people, and extreme personal narcissism.
Greece’s geographic regions caused the Greeks to develop small city-states, which are “a nation built around a single city” (Don Nardo, p. 24). “The coast of the entire area is jagged and the land broken by bays and gulfs; the interior is full of mountains and mountainous districts, producing many small separated regions” (The Decline and Fall of Ancient Greece, p. 33). These city-states, separated by geographic features of the land, grew to be independent nations. “Although most of these towns were physically similar, their inhabitants developed different customs, governments, and traditions, and they came to think of themselves as separate nations” (Don Nardo, p. 24).
The geographic regions and the independent city-states weren’t enough to bring disunity among the Greeks. The Greeks were highly competitive. “Everything was made into a contest, from athletics to the great drama festivals…The Greeks even competed in singing, in riddle-solving, in staying awake, in dancing,” all for the sake of glory (The Decline and Fall of Ancient Greece, p. 34-35). Probably the competition outside the games, such as to get positions in the government, might be fiercer.
This competitive nature may have aroused from the personal narcissism the Greeks had. The Greeks were the founder of the ideology of democracy. In democracy, all people are equal. Here, individualism flourished. Men valued himself, as each state valued itself, and it made them learn to value others too, although not those that were “slaves by nature,” as Aristotle put it (Don Nardo, p. 48). This, however, may have gone too far, resulting the personal narcissism.
Historian Robert J. Littman speculated that the personal narcissism of a man, who dominated the society of Ancient Greece, might actually have aroused from his childhood. Marriages in Ancient Greek culture were usually arranged marriages and non-satisfactory ones. The husband often ignored his wife and found pleasure outside. This caused resentment in the wife, and her male children might be her scapegoat. The male children, growing up both praised and dishonored by his mother, might have become uncertain of his own state and looked for pride, prestige, and honor to gain self-contentment, in which this made them classic narcissists. (The Decline and Fall of Ancient Greece, p. 37-38).
Whatever the reason might be, personal narcissism in the Greeks made them egoistic and “would not risk sacrificing himself for the city state, nor the city state for the welfare of all Greece” (The Decline and Fall of Ancient Greece, p. 38). The unwillingness of the Greeks to unite would in later days be the major cause for their defeat and the fall of the civilization.
Of all the history of the Ancient Greece, there were two events that showed really well how disunity among the Greeks highly contributed to its downfall, which were the Peloponnesian War and Successors’ War. Interestingly, both wars occurred after a unity and followed by a unity that was carried out by “outsiders”. This may have actually shown that the Greeks had never learned from their past mistakes.
The Peloponnesian War was the turning point of Greek civilization, the start of its decline. Just before the Peloponnesian War, the Greeks faced a war with Persian, and in an attempt to thrive, the Greeks united. With Greek city-states united, the Persian hadn’t got a chance to conquer the land of Greece. This proved how strong the Greeks could be under unification.
The heroes of the Persian War were Athens and Sparta, both were the strongest city-states in Ancient Greece, and both were archenemy. “The rivalry between Athens and Sparta was based mainly on political differences and mutual fears of military aggression” (Don Nardo, p. 44), with Athens being innovative and democratic, and Sparta being conservative and monarchy.
The hatred between the two Athens and Sparta made it possible for virtually any reason to cause a war, and the war between the two opposite sides did break out, which is known as the Peloponnesian War. The Peloponnesian War took place during the 431 to 404 BC. Thucydides, a Greek historian witnessing the war, noted that he “saw the rest of the Greeks either siding or intending to side with on or the other. No other movement ever stirred Greece more deeply than this” (Don Nardo, p. 66).
The war was finally won by Sparta and its allies. The Spartan did not enjoy the victory for long as Thebes, once Sparta’s ally, crushed down Sparta. However, even when the war was over, all of Greeks failed to restore their power. “The quality of life declined as a result of the warfare. Economic conditions worsened, and violent clashes between rich and poor became frequent. People grew less public-spirited and more self-centered. The city-states lost their vitality” (World Book 1999: Greece, Ancient).
Macedonia, a country in extreme northern Greece, attacked the once powerful southern Greece. The exhausted city-states failed to prevent the Macedonian conquest and easily fell to them. This was the first fall of the Ancient Greece. Under Alexander the Great, a Macedonian king, Greece was united and the nation was enlarged through conquests. However, this unity did not last long. After Alexander’s death, his generals, who were called the Diadochoi meaning Successors, fought among themselves for the king position. “Between 323 and 281, they fought a long series of costly wars that killed hundred of thousands of people and exhausted all participants.” (Don Nardo, p. 87-88).
When the wars among the Diadochoi were over, Alexander’s kingdom was divided into three kingdoms, which were Ptolemaic kingdom, Seleucid kingdom, and the Macedonian kingdom. In the period after the wars, Greek culture flourished under these kingdoms. However, these kingdoms had to deal with “internal rebellion by subjects unhappy with their dictatorial. And each kingdom continued to fight periodic wars with its neighbors” (Don Nardo, p. 89).
The three kingdoms ended as the Romans conquered them one by one. During this period, the kingdoms repeated the same mistake they had done in the past, which was unwilling and remained disunited. This was the second fall of the Ancient Greece, and they had never come back to their independence until long in the future.
Ancient Greece was once the ruler of the ancient world, admired and praised. The fall of the civilization was not because of the things of nature, but the Greeks’ ego to unite. They always ignored the fact that they were stronger when they were united, such when they were united in the Persian War and under the vast, much-feared empire of Alexander the Great. As much as disunity had crushed them, perhaps it was disunity too that made it once one of the greatest.
Nardo, Don. Ancient Greece. Lucent Books: San Diego. 1994.
The Decline and Fall of Ancient Greece. Greenhaven Press: San Diego. 2000.
1999 World Book (International Deluxe). World Book: US. 1998