-- Cambridge University's Dr. Michael Scott, Host
The First War for the West (TFWFTW) is an eight part video series on the Greco-Persian War. It's origins, the course of the war and the conclusion and aftermath. The war raged for around 49 years and the history was complex and, very interesting.
One of the most interesting things about the period was the difference between the three main adversaries, Sparta, Athens and Persia. I was initially surprised when one of our experts compared the difference between ancient Sparta and Athens to the difference between Iran and the USA today, but as we did more research, this was quiet accurate in many ways. The conservative, inward looking Spartan society with its emphasis on military prowess versus the democratic, dynamic, forward thinking capitalism of Athens in particular.
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One of Sparta's legacies is that it's always been very attractive to very repressive and autocratic regimes. It wasn't a surprise that Hitler was obsessed with Sparta, right down to his last days in Berlin. Democracy turned out to be a two edged sword. It gave an impetus to the Greeks but eventually the imperialism of the Athenian Democracy dragged all the Greeks down.
The ancient Greeks are known for their constant conflict, but while this conflict produced an advanced military technology which helped win the Greco-Persian War, the inter-Greek conflict seemed so pointless. The Greeks concentrated so much on their hoplites and battlefield prowess, they forgot siege warfare and as a result, very few cities were ever occupied after a battlefield victory, and even if they were, the Greeks lacked the resources to garrison the cities for any length of time. Even after the Peloponnesian Wars, when Philip of Macedon conquered Greece, the mix of city states were largely similar to what it had been for hundreds of years. They might have had a truce for the Olympic Games, but Greek warfare was like the Olympic Games with weapons, where the hoplites had to prove themselves in a front on physical confrontation, but never really achieved anything except bragging rights for the winners.
It was amazing that the Greeks ever won and it was no surprise when we looked deeper and found less than 20% of Greeks states actively resisted Xerxes great invasion. Even less of a surprise was that eventually, the Persians found it cheaper to pay the Greeks to fight each other, than to try and conquer them.
As we looked at the ancient Persians we found there was actually a lot to like about them and it came as no surprise that Cyrus, the founder of the Persian empire, had an interesting fan club, including Thomas Jefferson (third President of the USA) and David Ben-Gurion (first Prime Minister of Israel). What the Persians brought was stability. The emphasis was on stability so people can be left in peace, so business can flourish and we do know that business flourished under the Achaemenids. Darius the 3rd king of Persia was known as Darius Capilos, or Darius the capitalist.
Yes they were an absolute monarchy and an imperialistic empire protective of their territory, but the ancient Persians had more in common in many ways with modern western society than the ancient Greeks. Particularly their religion, and their focus on fairness, tolerance and the truth. The administration set up by Cyrus and refined by Darius, was a model later used by many. A society with few slaves and an enlightened treatment of women and conquered peoples had a lot to like about it compared to even the "advanced" Greeks.
(This is the second in a series of blogs by director Stanislaw Karpinski)
- Stanislaw Karpinski, Director
Watch the free 22-minute "Making of" special program featuring Stanislaw Karpinski.