Tag Archives: democracy

Ancient Greece : Index

Temple of Zeus at Nemea

Lessons of the Past

Boris Johnson has spoken of the contribution a knowledge of the classics can make to understanding our own times. In the modern political world — as in the ancient — the same theme is played out again and again … with the same characters : political leaders that let power go to their heads and then pay the price (although that price is oft paid in larger measure by those they lead). It’s not all bad news, however, for Greek history is also full of inspirational stories.

We have posted a series of articles on the ancient world — from a look at Athens in the Archaic Age (seventh and sixth centuries b.c.) to our own Age of Pericles — and hope they will prove interesting.



  1. The Archaic Age : emerging from the Dark Age
  2. Phidippides : the first Marathon run
  3. Themistocles and the Fleet of Triremes
  4. The Oracle at Delphi
  5. Ostracism : a useful tool we seem to have lost
  6. The Age of Pericles

If you’ve enjoyed an article — or even if not — please leave a comment on the relevant page. Visit Boris Johnson’s web-site for other interesting articles and discussions.

Ancient Greece : Pericles (Part III)

Boris Johnson has often spoken of his love of Greek history and of Pericles in particular. When asked who his historical pin-up was and why, he replied: “Pericles. Look at his Funeral Speech: democracy; freedom — champion stuff.” — Read the full interview.

A few years ago he went to the British Museum and bought a bust of Pericles.

Copy of Egg and Dart 300

In case you missed them : Pericles Part I and Part II.

Pericles - poly pb 194X302

Surely the greatest bequest of Pericles to our age was his incorruptibility
 — if for nothing else, then for this we feel his absence.

*     *     *

In 431 b.c., Pericles was seeing the justification of his building programme in its sheer magnificence. As thirty years before, however, the Peloponnese was tense.

The Great Peloponnesian War (431-404)

During the period between the wars Athens continued her expansion, particularly in the Greek West, which much alarmed Spartan important ally Corinth, metropolis (mother city) of the dominant polis in Sicily, Syracuse (which would feature later in the naval fortunes of Athens). There ensued a chain of events, apparently disconnected, that — rather as those leading to the First World War — would precipitate conflict and end, after only fifteen, the thirty-year peace agreed in 446.

Corinth, in response to the Athenian expansion to the West, especially in connexion with a dispute over Corcyra (modern Corfu), threatened to leave the Peloponnesian League, unless Sparta went to war with Athens. A break-up of the League would imperil Sparta’s hold on the Peloponnese for she relied heavily upon the maintenance of a string of oligarchic governments that denied their populations any political power.

Athens, meanwhile, hoping to destabilize Megara’s oligarchy — a democratic Megara might become an ally and, by virtue of her location on the Isthmus of Corinth, be able to block any assault upon Attica from Thessaly or the Peloponnese — imposed economic sanctions upon her, banning her merchants and vessels from Athens and the ports of the allied and dependent states. This was the final straw : in 431 the conflict began.

Continue reading Ancient Greece : Pericles (Part III)

The Queen’s Speech 2009 (The Mikado)

Dungeekin provides a musical rendition on the Queen’s Speech this afternoon

Many of the original words are resonant today.

In a break from Tradition, this year saw Her Majesty the Queen deliver the speech at the State Opening of Parliament not in words, but instead in song:

As each year for the Government a speech one must propound,
One’s reading Labour’s list – one’s reading Labour’s list
One pretends to be a mouthpiece for a Leadership unsound,
And they never will be missed – they never will be missed,

One regrets that for Tradition’s sake one can’t just sit and laugh,
At the bare-faced cheek of Labour with their promises daft,
Their MP’s claiming second homes and cash for this and that,
And equating one to vermin, like one was not Royal but Rat,
One wishes one could just dissolve the House so they’d desist

But instead one sits upon one’s throne and reads out Labour’s list.

 

CHORUS.
She’s reading Labour’s list–She’s reading Labour’s list;
And they’ll none of ’em be missed–they’ll none of ’em be missed.

Continue reading The Queen’s Speech 2009 (The Mikado)

The 50p Tax is driving people away

 
We should worry that Tracey Emin, Hugh Osmond and Michael Caine are fleeing the 50p tax rate
The 50p tax rate will be a disaster for the economy – taking us back to the dark days of the 1970s, says Boris Johnson.

Not everyone will miss her as much as I will. Not everyone can relied upon to mourn the departure of Tracey Emin and her duvet. You may have seen that the gorgeous Britart supremo is off to France. She has had it with Britain, says the woman who famously embroidered a tent with the names of everyone she had ever slept with, and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize.

Some readers may feel that the country can rub along without her. Take up thy tent and walk, they may say, in the words of the gospel. And then there may be people who don’t give a monkey’s that Michael Caine is thinking of vamoosing, or that we are about to lose Eddie Jordan, the former Formula One chief, or the milk tycoon Lord Haskins. Some of you may not care a tinker’s cuss if the former bookshop king Tim Waterstone deserts these shores, and as for the impending absence of Hugh Osmond, an entrepreneur who has had a role in everything from pizza to insurance, you may feel that we just have to dry our eyes and get a grip on our feelings.

Continue reading The 50p Tax is driving people away

We should not abandon Afghanistan

To abandon Afghanistan now would be a betayal of the fallen.  The campaign to defeat the Taliban must endure, says Boris Johnson – whatever it takes.

I’ll tell you why we are in Afghanistan. I could show you the crater in downtown Manhattan, the place they call Ground Zero. They still haven’t built over it, eight years on, and it remains like a great open wound on the American psyche, a reminder of the hideous terrorist attack that was launched from the Afghan lair of Osama bin Laden.

We have 9,000 troops in Afghanistan because the Americans have 70,000 troops there, and because America is our closest ally. We enlisted with America in the cause of driving out the Taliban extremists who were harbouring bin Laden. And whatever the Independent on Sunday may demand, we will remain in Afghanistan, shoulder to shoulder with America, for as long as the mission endures. For us to pull out now – immediately, unilaterally – would not only be to let down Britain’s most vital geo-strategic alliance, it would be this country’s biggest military humiliation since Suez.

Continue reading We should not abandon Afghanistan

Sir Christopher Kelly Report

 Our favourite satirist, Dungeekin, back in the ring with The (Grace) Kelly Report

The (Grace) Kelly Report

So, Dear Reader, today will see Doctor Kelly lance the festering boil that is the MP’s expenses scandal. In his honour, and with the enjoyable spectacle of MPs losing their gravy train ahead, I thought we should have a little song.

[spoken]
I wanna talk to you!
The last time we talked Mr. Kelly you reduced my John Lewis list!
I promise you that won’t happen again!

You tried to redact them,
Tried to conceal them behind spin and lies,
Dishonest and dirty,
Grasping and greedy,
Now it’s you we despise,
The totals are awesome,
Really it’s loathsome,
How you milked us dry!
Why were you greedy?
Living the high life on the cash we supply?

It’s time for the verdict of Kelly, (Oooo)
He says your expenses were bad, (Aaaagh)
The size of your claims were just silly, (Mmmmm)
Your sense of entitlement’s mad!

We paid for your house,
Paid for your booze,
For you to watch porn on Sky!
You were deceitful,
You were just venal,
Claiming for anything you like!
Don’t wanna be mean,
But you were obscene,
Claiming for bath plugs and more!
Why were you greedy?
Why were you greedy?
Why keep on claiming for more?

 

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

 The force that brought down the Wall is the force that will get us through the postal strike, and that force is people power

Forget Guy Fawkes – remember, remember the Ninth of November for the fall of the Berlin Wall
The fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago freed millions from tyranny and poverty, argues Boris Johnson

 
I am thinking champagne. And cake. And fireworks, of course, not just any old fireworks but some of those truly shell-shocking bits of Chinese ordnance called Harmonious Geese or Whispering Swans.

Far more important than the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot, far more benign in its consequences for world peace and prosperity, we celebrate next week the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – the ultimate triumph of simple human instincts over an evil and degenerate system. Without the Fall of the Wall, millions of people in eastern Europe would still be living in terror of the Stasi or the Securitate.

Without the end of Soviet communism, China would never have launched the turbo-charged entrepreneurial drive that has helped fuel two decades of global consumption and growth, and spread undreamt-of material benefits around the world. Without the end of one oppressive regime in Moscow, another one – in South Africa – might have limped on for a few more years.

Without the Fall of the Wall, Nelson Mandela would never have walked to freedom. How much the greatest political event it was in my lifetime, and how much the best.

Continue reading The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Ancient Greece : Pericles (Part II)

Temple of Zeus at Nemea II small Boris Johnson has often spoken of his love of Greek history and of Pericles in particular. When asked who his historical pin-up was and why, he replied: “Pericles. Look at his Funeral Speech: democracy; freedom — champion stuff.” Read the full interview.

A few years ago he went to the British Museum and bought a bust of Pericles.

 

Meander pebble mosaic 500

 

The First Peloponnesian War : political developments

In 461 B.C., as Pericles became the most prominent Athenian politician, the diplomatic situation in Greece was deteriorating rapidly, owing in no small part to the ever expanding imperial ambition of Athens overseas ; within a year the occasional skirmish had become a war with Sparta.

Pericles - poly sb It should not be imagined that Pericles ran a government and could issue decrees, as does a British prime minister. One of ten elected generals, he influenced political life in Athens with persuasive oratory ; in theory the Assembly held the power (‘would like to be sovereign’ — Aristotle), so, where this article says that Pericles did something, it should be taken that he persuaded the Assembly to order him to do it.

Despite the war, political development continued a-pace. Many democratic reforms were instituted : Ephialtes had started the system of payment for members of the boule (Council), responsible for preparing the business on which the ecclesia (Assembly) would vote ; Pericles introduced pay for jurymen, which meant that eligible citizens could sit in judgment in the dicasteria (court) without loss of income.

He also extended the classes of citizen eligible to archonship, reducing and then abolishing the property qualification.

In 454 Pericles moved the treasury of tribute of the Athenian alliance (the Delian League), which, since the formation of the league at the end of the Persian wars in 478, had been held at the temple of Apollo on Delos, to Athens.In 451 he promoted a law that restricted Athenian citizenship to those both of whose parents themselves were citizens, a law much more restrictive than a similar one introduced by Solon a century-and-a-half earlier. (To-day we hear much of ‘unintended consequences’ of legislation ; this was a law whose unintended consequences would eventually prove fatal to Athens. Whereas, many years later, Rome would confer citizenship on all that completed service in her legions, securing the loyalty of volunteers from amongst the conquered, Athens, with her restrictive law of citizenship, would not be able to rely on this automatic growth of internal military support.)

The citizenship law did, however, help to ensure that, as the most eligible young men of Athens colonized the far reaches of empire, Athenian girls would not be left behind unwed : something that itself became more important just by virtue of this law !

In 449 the settlement of the perpetual conflict with Persia, under which the Ionian Greek settlements in Asia Minor were freed from Persian suzerainty and known as the Peace of Callias (although his involvement is disputed), motivated the Athenians — at the behest of Pericles — to rebuild the temples on their acropolis, left in ruins since 479.

In 446 Sparta and Athens hopefully concluded a Thirty-Year Peace Treaty ; the peace would last just half that time.

*     *     *

The Building Programme of Pericles

As visible inheritance of Pericles we have the relics of his building programme.Following the destruction by the Persians of the temples atop the acropolis the Athenians had resolved to leave the ruins as a memorial ;  the conclusion of the peace of Callias (secured largely by Cimon, incidentally) was Pericles’s cue to propose the rebuilding of the temples, the centrepiece of which would be a magnificent temple to the virgin (parthenos) Athena, the Parthenon.

Parthenon under clouds

Athens received tribute from around her empire (the Delian League), funds supposedly for the defence of the realm ; however she appropriated a goodly portion of them (the cost of the Parthenon alone would be expressed in to-day’s money in billions) to the new building programme. The sheer extravagance of the project impelled Athens to expand her empire and to demand ever more in tribute, a fact that cannot be overlooked in assessing the causes of the Great Peloponnesian War (below).

Most of the Parthenon’s construction involved Pentelic marble, the work starting in 447 and taking fifteen years ; the famous frieze — the greater part of which constitutes the Elgin marbles on display now in the British Museum — took another four years. That and the chryselephantine statue of Athena were the work of the sculptor Pheidias, a friend of Pericles. Athena - Nashville small (Without entering in to the long running debate of where the marbles ought to be, we ought to mention that Lord Elgin himself bought them from the Ottoman governor of Athens — at such a cost that he fell in to penury — and, whether it were part of his intention or not, his doing so ensured their preservation to the present day.)

During the seventeenth-century conflict with Venice, the occupying Ottoman forces in Athens took refuge on the acropolis, using the Parthenon to house both their ammunition and their women and children. A mortar bomb launched by the besieging Venetians ignited the ammunition ; most of the temple itself and of the northern periptery (the colonnade) — which had withstood two millennia of intermittent earthquakes — was destroyed.  (In the photograph above the northern periptery has been largely restored.)

Temple of Poseidon small Theseum small

The building programme extended to much else within metropolitan Attica, including completion of the Long Walls and fortification of the Piraeus and Phalerum ; even the temple of Poseidon at Sounium.

*     *     *

Read the continuing story of Pericles in Part III.

Ancient Greece : Pericles (Part I)

Boris Johnson has often spoken of his love of Greek history and of Pericles in particular.

When asked who his historical pin-up was and why, he replied: “Pericles. Look at his Funeral Speech: democracy; freedom — champion stuff.” See here for the full interview.

A few years ago he went to the British Museum and bought a bust of Pericles and here is his story.

The Age of Pericles

The words `fifth-century Athens’ conjure up many things : fine art ; the birth of the western world’s theatre ; war (rarely was there not conflict in the ancient world, particularly in Greece) ; literature. In the field of politics, however, Pericles is the name that comes to mind : he dominated political life for three decades and his influence continued to be felt for a quarter-century after his death ; his legacy to politics survives to this day.  He is the third of our contenders for the title `Father of Democracy’.

Pericles — whose name may be loosely translated as ‘all glorious’ — was born around 495 in the Attic deme of Cholargos (about 4 miles NW of the Athenian acropolis), the son of gentle folk :  Xanthippus (who had distinguished himself at Mycale, one of the battles that in 479 brought Persian domination of the eastern Mediterranean to and end) and Agariste of the ever controversial Alcmaeonid line.

*  *  *

Sparta and the helot uprising

Even a brief description of the life of Pericles cannot begin without reference to his political rival Cimon — aristocratic son of the victor at Marathon, Miltiades — whose successful military ventures in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and across the northern Aegean between 478 and 463 B.C. laid the foundations of the Athenian naval empire that would later help to fund the democratic reforms introduced by Ephialtes and Pericles, not to mention the latter’s building programme.

The great rival of Athens was the polis (city-state) of Sparta, which led the Peloponnese League ; Sparta — whose political system, in contrast to the new democracy in Athens, was an oligarchy — had a particular problem with the major part of her population, the helots. (Helots were akin mediaeval serfs.)Unlike the slaves of Athens (and later of Rome), who had been brought from all parts of the world and had no common language, Sparta’s helots were largely from the conquered neighbouring land of Messenia : they were Greeks, with much — including language — in common ; there was ever present the threat of rebellion.   Treehelm
Sparta’s peculiar form of government — which puzzled many even in ancient times — set her apart from most of Greece, including many of the poleis within the League : the adoption by many cities, including Athens, of forms of democracy and even tyranny left conflict simmering just below the surface.In around 464, Sparta’s helots, encouraged by the chaos resulting from a severe earthquake, rebelled and within months she called upon her allies for assistance. Cimon, prominent in Athenian politics but sympathetic to the Spartan cause, led an Athenian hoplite force to her aid. The Athenian soldiers, however, cannot have failed to remark that the rebel helots were fellow Greeks under oppression : the Spartans, realizing that here was a potential ally of their own rebels, sent Cimon back to Athens.The Athenians responded to this Spartan insult by forming alliances with Sparta’s enemies and allies alike. Athens and Corinth had hitherto had in common animosity toward Megara, which lay between them ; Athens’ forming an alliance with Megara now propelled Corinth in to the Spartan camp. By 460 the situation had turned to war.
Click on map to enlarge
Click on map to enlarge

Continue reading Ancient Greece : Pericles (Part I)

Bankers’ Fortunes

 the decision of these banks to hand out bonuses as though nothing has changed is unbelievable. The only reason these bankers are still in jobs is because the taxpayer bailed out the system

If you pressed a rifle into the hand of the man in the street and asked him to choose between two targets – an MP or a banker – who do you think would get the bullet? Tricky, eh? It is hard to know which of these two formerly respectable professions has fallen further in public esteem.

Some people might hesitate, like Buridan’s ass, the rifle barrel weaving indecisively between two such luscious hate-objects. Most people would simply call for two bullets.

But then let me ask you a slightly different question. Which of the two species has managed to steer itself most effectively through the crisis? Which type of cockroach has scuttled through the nuclear blast of public disapproval? On the face of it, there is an obvious answer, and it is getting more blatant by the day.

Most of the MPs I know seem to be in a state of nervous collapse. Some of them are on suicide watch. Some of them face the task of sacking their wives and selling the house, or possibly the other way round. Some face penury. Never has Parliament been subjected to such protracted humiliation at the hands of the people.

Then look at the bankers, the bankers whose high-rolling risk-taking triggered the recession that has so exacerbated public rage at MPs. The bankers seem to be waltzing off with a song on their lips and their hands in their pockets – at least, their hands would be in their pockets if they were not stuffed with money. And when I say stuffed, I mean bulging, bursting, ballooning with the biggest bonuses you ever saw.

Continue reading Bankers’ Fortunes