Greece through the Ages

Muammar Ignatius

A historical and socio-political overview

Greece is a new country although it has a very rich ancient past. It is righteously considered the cradle of Western civilization and the birth place of democracy, science, free-thought, philosophy, drama, and politics but not as a united, sovereign country. When we refer to ancient Greece, we have to make sure that we refer to the autonomous Greek city-states such as Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Thebes, the Ionian city-states, Macedonia, etc that not only they did not constitute a united country but also engaged in competition and warfare among them. Let’s bring to mind the Peloponnesian War for example (Athens against Sparta).

So, Greece’s ancient past is the ancient past of the independent Greek city states and not the past of a united country. The religion, the mythological references and some cultural elements were common among the various city states but this doesn’t mean that there was a unified, sovereign country despite the Olympic Games where all the Greek city-states participated. Furthermore, although some general cultural elements were common, there were severe differences in the social institutions and the politics among those city-states.

The Greek city-states were in constant feud and warfare among them. They had no hesitation to form alliances with the Persians so as to conquer another competitive Greek city-state. All of them did that continuously. (Athens, Sparta, Thebes, etc).

The same occurred on a personal level. Many leading political and military figures in the ancient world that had played a major role in battles against the Persians changed over to the opposite camp. They went to the Court of the Persian king who welcomed them and gave them important political and military posts. Then, without any remorse, they sided with the Persians and fought against the Greeks.

Furthermore, thousands of Greeks, simple soldiers, sailors, and generals served in the Persian army during the Persian Wars. All of them fought against the other Greeks in Greece.

The Macedonians

The Macedonian King Phillip and later on his son Alexander the Great, did attempt to unite all the Greeks but they failed. From the beginning, the Lacedaemonians (The Spartans) were out. They rejected such a union from the start. In addition, the rest of the Greek city states which formed the union became a part of a vast empire where the citizen-hoplite and its role as the protector of the democratic institutions vanished into thin air.

Alexander the Great who is admired by many as the most glorious carrier of the Greek civilization and the man who civilized the East, was in reality a ruthless butcher who conquered lands and peoples using his sword. He neither civilized nor humanized the lands he conquered. His death brought about the dismemberment of his empire and the end of the ancient Greek world as we know it because after Alexander, his empire faced opposition, rebellion and very grudging cooperation from the older city states and newer leagues (The Aetolian League and the Achaean League).

Alexander the Great dismantled the empire of Cyrus, but at the same time wiped out all the Greek city-states. He plundered the treasures of Asia and tortured the peoples more than the Achaemenid dynasty did. This, in fact, was the primary purpose of the campaign. Loot. Plunderage was necessary for the power and the life of the royal house and the enrichment of its loyal court members.

The internal strife and the disgraceful behavior of Alexander’s successors completed the decline of the Greek cities ̶ states, which had begun from the time of the Greek Macedonian King Philip. That is why the Greek city-states became an easy prey for the Romans.

The Romans sought to integrate Alexander into their civil-military ideology and practice by undertaking to continue his „work“, an imperialist expedition for the conquest of the East through subjugation of peoples, massacres and persecution. Consuls and emperors admired and worshipped Alexander. They showed unprecedented determination to follow his footsteps as he was a role model to them. He was the prime example of a conqueror and a super dominant military figure.

Outside of Greece’s mainland, the situation wasn’t any better due to the fact that the so called Greek world was divided into bitter rivals led by Alexander’s generals. The three main factions ─Macedonia proper, the Seleucid kingdom of Syria, and the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt─ were constantly competing and fighting against each other.  None of them had the strength to rule without local proxies, so there were  several smaller states and cities which encouraged the feuds among the big kingdoms and thus creating a very unstable pattern of temporary alliances and betrayals.

The Romans did not try to impose a uniform system of local government but instead, they encouraged the Greeks to maintain their traditional political systems. In Athens, the old political institutions were preserved, at least in their form, and the Agora (Market) remained the center of the city’s political life.

The Romans

The battle of Corinth in 146 BC between the Romans on one hand and the Corinthians with the Achaean League on the other marked the beginning of the Roman domination. The “civilized” Romans exterminated the whole male population of Corinth and sold all the women and children as slaves. The reason why the Romans were victorious and managed to conquer Greece is connected to what is mentioned above: The geographical area of modern Greece was a patchwork of kingdoms, city-states and alliance leagues that were not united by a strong, universally acknowledged system of governance. Besides, the local elites showed much preference towards the Romans who never bothered to interfere in local affairs as the Greek Macedonians did.

From the left: Constantine IX Monomachos (11th century). Alexios Komninos (12th century). Theodore II Laskaris (13th century).
All of them wear non-Greek attire and are called kings of the Romans. This is where the name “Romios” (Roman) is derived from. It means a subject of the Eastern Roman Empire.
The inhabitants of Modern Greece had called themselves “Romios” (“Romioi-plural) for many centuries. In other words, they considered themselves Romans and not Greeks. The word “Greek” began to be used ─in parallel with the word „Romios“─ in the last two centuries when the notion of nationalism was born in the Balkan Peninsula. It served as a description of the Christian – contemporary inhabitants of Greece.

The Middle Ages

The Byzantine Empire, that modern Greeks wish to consider as “Hellenic” (a continuation of the ancient Greek world), also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire. It was the continuation of the Roman Empire in the East and that lasted up until Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. In reality, Byzantium was a multi-ethnic hard core orthodox Christian territory ruled by the Church, the Emperor and his visible or invisible court members. None of the Byzantine emperors was Greek in origin. Sciences, philosophy and democratic ideals were not only forbidden but also condemned. In 529 C.E, emperor Justinian closed Plato’s famous Academy of Athens. The Byzantine era can be characterized by stagnation, political intrigues, treachery, conspiracies, corruption and great luxury.

The Ottoman era

The Ottoman occupation that followed after the conquest of Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453 deepened the gap between Greece and the West and created subjects that were neither genetically nor culturally connected to the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific heritage. The constant flows of “newcomers” mainly from the North and the East created a new race of people that were simply illiterate and Christian orthodox.

The Greek Orthodox Church that along with a great part of the population welcomed the Ottomans (it continued to welcome every invader including the Nazis during WWII) was given special privileges by the Sultan and was put in charge of tax collection that the subjects had to pay to their conqueror. Nevertheless, the Ottomans, was not as brutal and suppressive as they are portrayed in the Greek History books. They didn’t really interfere with the religious beliefs and the spoken language of their subjects (there were many languages spoken back then). They built bridges and roads and treated their subjects fairly provided that they paid their taxes and did not revolt.

The Greek war of Independence didn’t take place because the Greek subjects re-discovered their past which was completely forgotten. The “new comers” that had become subjects of the Ottoman Empire were mere savages that survived by getting ransom after blackmailing and kidnapping both Muslims and Christians and by looting villages. Kyriakos Simopoulos, a noted Greek author in his multi-volume work titled:“Foreign Sight-Seers in Greece and ”How The Foreign Visitors Saw Greece in 1821” which is based on the narrations of European visitors presents the completely distorted ideas that the European Romantics had about the “modern population” of Greece. They chartered ships to bring clothing and food to the “Greeks” who were supposedly suffering from the “Ottoman yoke” but they ended up returning to their ships not only disappointed but also completely naked since the minute they disembarked, they were attacked by local (mainly of Albanian and Wallachian origin) uncouth mobs who violently stole all of their possessions including their clothes.

The real ancestors of Modern Greeks

The majority of modern Greeks today traces its origin from the mixture of Albanians, Wallachians, Northern Africans and Anatolians who had infested the land of Greece back then along with Slavs and some Francs and Venetians. Unfortunately even today, most modern Greeks are oblivious to their true historic and genetic origin. They think that they are the offsprings of ancient Greeks who suddenly saw the “light” and became Christians. Quite the opposite is true; they were Christians who were made to believe that their ancestors were the ancient Greeks. (Yiannis Lazaris: “The unknown 1821 – The apostasy of romioi”, ed. “Dromon”, Athens, 2016). The same applies of course for almost every country. There is no racial purity anywhere.

Some argue that the romantic ideas in the European Renaissance and the desire to rediscover the ancient Greek world led to the Greek War of Independence. However, this is not the case either.

In the beginning of the 15th century, the Ottomans, with almost no resistance, invaded Greece as liberators from the Byzantine yoke. The pro-Ottoman climate was cultivated much before the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by the Ottomans.
When Mehmed the Conqueror was besieging Constantinople, thousands of Christians were serving in his army.
The order of the ecclesiastical hierarchy was: a struggle to the end against the Church Union (a union between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox one). „It is better to wear a Turkish fez than a Roman hood“ was what was propagated by the church then.
„We shouldn’t be concerned about the fell of Polis (Constantinople). Instead, we should be happy that our faith (Eastern Orthodox Christian dogma) was preserved” said a few years later the ecumenical patriarch Gennadios Scholarios.

The Collapse of the Ottomans

The Ottoman Empire was a thorn in the underbelly of Europe. Apart from the obvious cultural and religious differences that made most European powers hostile to them, the Ottomans were also directly antagonistic to European trade with the Orient. Furthermore, they had over-expanded as an empire and the population in most Balkan lands was hostile to the Ottoman occupation. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire could have occurred much earlier but some factors prevented it:

The first factor is associated with the power play between the major European countries. Between 1683 (Battle of Vienna) and 1923, there are 240 years of decline of which the first half (until 1804 when the Serbs revolted) were spent without Ottoman power being seriously contested with the exception of the Russians. Their other great Ottoman enemies, the Habsburgs were content with the territories conceded then. Venice had declined before the Ottomans did.

The other European powers used them opportunistically as an ally from time to time, against Russia or the Habsburgs. They also used the aspirations of subject nations for independence, without committing to support their revolts until 1830. After 1830, the European powers decided to cause the collapse of the Ottoman Empire because they were afraid that an antagonist would benefit more.

The second reason for the delay of the collapse of the Ottomans was the end of the Crusades.

The third reason was the fact that the Ottomans granted religious tolerance and power to the Orthodox Church, as stated above. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was mainly concerned with the elimination of every possible influence of the Roman Catholic Church on its subjects. Furthermore, the Patriarchate did the best it could to keep back the formation of independent Orthodox Churches and prevent their Orthodox subjects from directly aligning themselves with any western power, at least until Russia contested them.

In addition to prosperity in the first centuries, the Ottomans brought new morals.
The Romioi adopted their morals and began to live like them.
Chairs and tables were replaced by low furniture. Cutlery vanished. Instead of dishes, they now served and distributed the food on large trays.
They preferred to sit down rather than in chairs.
They made sure that their women did not go out uncovered.
Men lived a separate social life from women.
Chieftains, overlords, clergy and the majority of the people remained faithful to their Ottoman tradition.

Look at the images and notice the striking similarities between Christian and Ottoman houses.
Up: A characteristic scene in the house of the Bishop of the city of Salon. Before the meal the banqueters wash their hands before they sit around the low table. The houses of the wealthy people had a lot of wood, hanging balconies, loggias, verandas with sofas and divans while their lifestyle imitated the dominant culture of that time.
Down: Characteristic Ottoman living room of the early 19th century. (Benaki Museum).

As another factor for the delayed downfall of the Ottomans is the fact that the major European powers were monarchies that by definition opposed the Enlightenment idea of national liberation; hence they were hostile to any revolting nations inside the Ottoman Empire. Only Napoleon’s France was ideologically in favor.

In addition, although the discovery of the New World and the establishment of colonial empires undermined the Ottoman economy because the importance of their strategic position in trade diminished and because their currency was devalued due to inflation from the influx of Spanish gold, colonialism shifted the focus of European powers away from the Orient.

The forgotten Ottoman past of Greece.

The Modern Greek state bases its entire philosophy of education on a total denial of its Ottoman past. It denies that past and starts from the beginning by constructing another “past” which is totally fake.

Modern Greece: The birth of a protectorate

After the Greek war of Independence in 1821 and finally the establishment of the Modern independent Greek state in 1830 with the Treaty of London, Greece has been functioning as a full-fledged protectorate of the Western powers with rulers and governments that are direct or indirect wealth and property agents of the Industrialized Western plutocratic States in Europe and across the Atlantic.

Prime examples of that claim is the Crimean War, the Asia Minor Catastrophe, Greece’s participation in both World Wars, the Civil War, the Military Junta in 1967 and all the years that followed including Greece’s  membership in the European Union.

The Crimean War

Ukraine has always been the “apple of discord” for the super powers that determine the fate of the whole world.  Greece at that time was a small kingdom whose borders reached Thessaly. As expected, the Greek Orthodox population supported the political positions of thecoreligionist Russians.

The Greek protectorate (then and now) could not have an independent foreign policy. However, the Russian-Turkish war along with the decline of the Ottoman Empire surely was a golden opportunity for a border expansion of the small kingdom at the expense of the Ottomans since the Ottoman army had withdrawn from the Southern Balkans and had been transferred to the „theater“ of the Russian-Turkish warfare.

Faced with the possibility of an uprising of the Modern Greeks (Romioi) which could endanger the stability in the area and cause the rapid collapse of the Ottoman Empire which may have led to the long desired access of Russians in the Mediterranean Sea, the European super powers decided to send fleet and allied forces to impose “law and order” to Greece so as to maintain its neutral status. Greece willingly complied with the demands of the British and the French and kept its neutrality despite its geopolitical interests and the strong opposition of the people.

Certainly, there were some Romioi who rushed to Crimea to actively help the Russians in that war but their force did not exceed 1,000 men. The state, however, fully complied with the status of neutrality imposed by the West.

World War I

The choice of neutrality during the World War I was predictable, feasible and desirable. In essence, it was a „tacit“ choice of the British who controlled the region. Greece, after being led into disunion due to the conflict between Prime Minister Venizelos and King Constantine, finally entered the war in mid 1917. The end of the war found the country on the side of the winners.

Τhe Asia Minor Disaster

The expedition to Anatolia was both foolish and impracticable. The already weakened Greek State by the Balkan wars and the WWI did not have the power to financially support such a campaign. Furthermore, The Greek State had not secured a steady support from the so called Western Allies.

The expedition of the Greek troops to Smyrna did not have much to do with big ideas and bigger “homelands”. That was the local rhetoric for the domestic population. In reality, it was a clear mission under a command that the Venizelos regime had received from the British government. The command was specific: The Greek army had to go to Smyrna to maintain peace and order in the Province of Ayadin only.

The plan of the British was to stop the Italians, who had landed already an army on the Turkish coasts opposite to Rhodes, so as to have full control of the province of Aydin themselves. The British could not possible let the Italians have full control of such a cosmopolitan and rich region. Somebody had to do the dirty job and that role was given to Greece.

Moreover, when the destruction of Smyrna took place, the Greek government showed no interest in saving the population. Instead, it passed a law banning the arrival of people in groups from the coasts of Asia Minor in Greece. And when the refugees eventually arrived in Greece after the intervention of the major European powers, the local Greeks were extremely hostile to the refugees and forced them to live for decades under terrible conditions. In 1922, Modern Greece showed one of its worse facets one more time.

World War II

Greece’s entry into the World War II is presented as its own choice based on international justice. The reality, of course, is completely different. A protectorate is by definition impossible to pursue a self-contained policy.

Greece was long subdued when the war broke out and its resistance was carried out in the prescribed frameworks of this subordination. The big „NO“ to the Axis required a big „YES“ to English foreign policy.
Greece was dragged to the war as a waif of the English colonial attitude.

Civil War

British Intelligence agents and commandos who worked undercover in Greece not only did they cause great damage to the Germans, but they also used the Romioi as much as they were useful to them and when they no longer needed them, they caused an internal strife known as the Civil War of 1946-49.

Military Junta

In spite of the simplistic, well-known but misleading and convenient version of the causes that triggered the coup and the coming of the military junta of April 21, 1967 aided by the CIA, the serious and in-depth examination of the facts shows clearly and beyond any doubt that the junta of the Colonels was the product of complicated processes that took place in the background of the country’s political life in the early 1960s.

Those processes that caused serious upheavals at the forefront, reflect a „bargain“ game played against our country and staged by the major players in international life (multinational monopolies, US governments – UK – USSR – France, Secret services, etc.).

The team of the dictator Papadopoulos (a group of subgroups) that prevailed represented the British influence in the country and not the American one, as it is projected, causing confusion and misunderstandings.

Greece’s membership in the European Union

Greece’s entry in the European Economic Community in 1981 was a way to ensure democracy and stability in southern Europe at the height of the Cold War. It was a geopolitical decision taken both by the Europeans and the Americans who feared the Soviet influence in Europe. The fact that Greece neither had nor was willing to have the proper infrastructure to implement the necessary reforms to achieve a real economic growth was not taken into account.

An ageing country that never had a realistic economic plan and a solid tax collecting system is definitely incapable of functioning well within the EU. The corporate, state-supported oligarchic elite of this country along with the myriads of the counter-productive public servants and the privileged pensioners, who retire at 45, still remain the main obstacle for anyone who wishes to reform the economy.

Greece continues to have an economy based on the soviet model even when a right wing party is on power. All the reforms that have been carried out are superficial and wrongly applied.

Nationalism and Theocracy are the two dominant powers in the minds of Modern Greeks.

The Socio-cultural roots of Greece

Clans, craft unions, clientelism, favoritism, populism, hatred towards meritocracy and meaningless elections constitute the social backbone of the Modern Greek society. These phenomena existed during the Byzantine Empire but were magnified after the so called War of Independence. Under those circumstances, a non sovereign country cannot establish an economic system that is strong enough to create prosperity and growth. Having lived under huge empires, the modern Romioi have mastered the art of working against anything that could bring real progress and make them lose their hebetude.

Frappé coffee, the favorite drink of modern Greeks.

The so-called heroes of 1821 who supposedly fought for the liberation and the independence of the country, created a state in which they could both perpetuate their power by conveying it to their children and, on the other hand, legislate as they wished to safeguard themselves and increase their political power and wealth while the rest of the population continued to work, as their servants and subjects. The Turks are no longer here but the Greek overlords and proxies are still alive and kicking.

Greece is a country that has been faced with many invasions, bankruptcies, military coups, political chaos, austerity and socio-political turmoil. Since it became a unified country, it has been the bone of contention, the apple of discord among the Western suzerains due to its geopolitical location.

Muammar Ignatius  10. Mai 2017
Rubrik: Griechenland, Türkei

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