The Athenian Political Thinking and the Empire of Alexander the Great
Under Alexander the Great the Greeks conquered Asia. This extraordinary undertaking was made possible, beside the military achievement, by the Greek thought and philosophy. The belief in the superiority of the Greek over the barbarian and freedom of the first and slavery of the second rendered the conquest and domination of Asia into a noble “mission of civilization”. The V-th century BC was the glory age of Athens. The great polis presented itself as a model of democracy, a cultural center of the Greek world, which it dominated by its wealth and power. At the height of its glory Athens was the cradle of the most elegant and refined art, the most eloquent and deep philosophy and the most complex and moving tragedy; it was a city admired and feared, a symbol of the Greek world. Today, when we study the ancient democracy, we continue to be fascinated by the great achievements of the Athenians but we also see the down sides of their political system. In our time, when the civilizations confront and all the cultures claim their right to existence, the Greek notion of “barbarian” captures the attention of researchers. After the Persian Wars and successful confrontation with the Great King and his huge armies the Athenians gained a great sense of the virtues they posses. This is most obvious where all these virtues are united to form a political ideal. The democratic ideal, invented by the Greeks, supposed a type of society formed by the free and willingly acceptance of its members. All citizens were equal and they obeyed only the law. Thus Greece became the model for all that was civilized, rational and by contrast the barbarians embodied different stages of irrational thought. But we should not characterize the Greek – barbarian distinction as ethnocentrism. Most of the Greek texts refer not to innate features but to achieved ones. We become barbarians living among barbarians and we can learn the Greek way of life. In fact there was no difference of nature, it was only one of culture, and the Greek “superior” culture was opened to everyone. The idea was clearly stated by Isocrates when he said that “Athens has become the teacher of the other cities, and has made the name Greek no longer a mark of race but of intellect, so that it is those who share our upbringing rather than our common nature who are called Hellenes”. We have here a beautiful declaration of universalism. This marks the moment when the Greek laws become the laws of all mankind. And it is just this universalism (even if this way of thinking may worry us) that made possible the idea of a Greek empire that wanted to impose to all mankind one law and one culture.
Volume (Year): 1 (2011)
Issue (Month): (February)
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