Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Classical Greece by Dr. Richard Baldwin

Dr. Richard B. Baldwin is a Professor of History in Gulf Coast State College, Panama City, Florida, USA.


This chaos in Greece would end with Philip II (382-336) when Macedonia, whose inhabitants were related to the Greeks but nonetheless were considered by them to be barbarians, became a centralized powerful state under Philip II who became king in 359. He created a powerful army by combining the renowned Macedonian cavalry of nobles with the Greek phalanx (infantry), a formation that he and Alexander would conquer the world with! Epaminondas, the famous Theban general, had instructed a young Macedonian hostage--Philip (to secure the Theban/Macedonian alliance)--in the art of warfare. Using an infantry armed with pikes (sarissa) up to 5 meters long (Philip had lengthened them from the standard 8 feet and fitted them with a heavier iron point) that were used for thrusting at the enemy rather than throwing, the phalanx would stand firm and immovable against the enemy's front line while the cavalry attacked in wedge-shaped formations on the flanks. Once the cavalry had broken the enemy ranks, the phalanx moved forward to complete the victory.

At Chaeronea in 338 BC Philip defeated the combined forces of Athens and Thebes, killing 1,000 and taking another 2,000 captive, with his 18 year old son Alexander commanding part of the army! Philip treated Athens kindly despite Demosthenes (384-322) who had been delivering speeches against Philip (Philippics) since 351. But Greece was now his, and in 337 at a conference in Corinth he was elected general and leader of a confederacy of the Greeks, the League of Corinth, the purpose of which was to invade Persia, ostensibly to avenge the 480 BC invasion of Greece by Xerxes and to free the Greek cities of Asia, but actually Philip was in debt and could not maintain his army without fresh wealth (therefore his plan to attack Persia).

But in 336 as he was about to set out for Asia Minor, he was assassinated by a young man with a grievance. Thus Philip's son Alexander (356-323) came to the throne of Macedonia at age 20! Aristotle had tutored him for three years (beginning at age 13) in philosophy, rhetoric, geography, geometry, astronomy, biology & medicine (the last two being his favorite subjects).

After quelling a Greek rebellion, he conquered Asia Minor in 334 BC with 35,000 men (he kept a copy of the Iliad annotated by Aristotle with him as he went: Did he see himself as a second Achilles?). Then he conquered Palestine & Egypt [founded city of Alexandria after the Egyptians made him pharaoh for liberating them from the Persians.] and then went after Persia.

“Alexander's first major victory over the Persian king and general, Darius III, took place at Issus in southeastern Asia Minor in 333 B.C." Darius had around 75,000 troops to Alexander's 35,000. Darius took a position facing south with the sea on his right and the slopes of Mount Amanus on the left. He and the Immortals were in the center with his cavalry on his extreme right, hoping to overwhelm Alexander's left with a cavalry charge. Alexander was on the right of his line of troops with his general Parmenio commanding left and center. Alexander's tactic was like his father's: have the left flank advance more slowly than the right, drawing the enemy out to the breaking point. As the enemy thought the left flank was weakening and send more troops there, Alexander would break through the weakened area and cause panic as they would surround the enemy. As it happened, the Persians panicked and Darius III fled the field. He would meet Alexander again.

In the meantime, Alexander freed the Ionian poleis and replaced their Persian-imposed oligarchies with democracies. He "then moved down the eastern Mediterranean coast, overcame resistance at Tyre and Gaza (332) [where he was severely wounded in the shoulder, and all the men were killed and the women and children sold into slavery], induced submission of the Jews of Palestine, and was welcomed in Egypt as a conquering hero. There he founded the city of Alexandria, destined to become one of the greatest cities of Hellenistic civilization. Then he moved further eastward, decisively defeated the armies of Darius at Gaugamela [Persians would lose 30,00 dead to the Greek 100-500;in 331; he set fire to the palace of Xerxes at Persepolis just as Xerxes did to the Athenian acropolis], and took possession of the wealth of the eastern cities [ca. 180,00 talents of silver, not counting gold, jewels--enough in coins alone to run the Athenian empire for 200 years!]. When Darius was murdered by the Persian princes, Alexander proclaimed himself "King of Asia" and quickly accustomed himself to the divine honors paid an oriental monarch" (Perrin The New Testament 4).

By 330 discontent was growing among his troops: they were tired of fighting & marching so far from home. He began irrational after a minor plot to kill him was uncovered and he killed Parmenio and Kleitus, two of his generals. They also thought Alexander was behaving too much like a Persian by--wearing Persian dress, appointing Persians to positions of high authority, but allowing Persians to prostrate themselves on the ground when they greeted him (Greeks only did so before gods!), and by taking a Persian bride (Stateira, daughter of Darius), and arranging for 80 of his officers & 10,000 of his soldiers to marry oriental women. Later he would fall in love with and marry the Bactrian princess, Roxane, daughter of Oxyartes.

By 326 BC Alexander crossed Bactria (Afghanistan) and pushed across the river Indus. As they got deeper into India, the troops finally refused to go further than the Hyphasis River. On the return home they experienced many hardships from heat, hunger and thirst. Then Alexander experienced an almost fatal wound during the conquest of the Mallians on the way back which was to make the return even more difficult for Alexander (although it also reveals his great prowess in battle).

Alexander finally reached Babylon in 324 BC with only 25,000 of the 86,000 who began the march home. Then as he was about to circumnavigate Arabia, he died at age 32 of fever in 323 BC. Thus, Alexander died of wounds and exhaustion 13 years after successful campaigns over an area from Greece to India established him as the finest general of the ancient world.

This ends the Classical Age of Greece (and the Hellenic Period)

One cannot underestimate the impact of Alexander the Great. “Alexander was a brilliant military strategist, but there was more to his dream than military conquest. He had been tutored by Aristotle and saw himself as the apostle and emissary of the classical Greek culture. Attached to his general staff were historians, ethnographers, geographers, botanists, zoologists, mineralogists, and hydrographers. His vision was ‘one world’ (Greek oicumene), or one great ‘world city’ (Greek cosmopolis). Alexander's conquests ‘spread Hellenism in a vast colonizing wave throughout the Near East and created, if not politically, at least economically and culturally, a single world stretching from Gibraltar to the Punjab [with]...Greek koine [‘common’ or vernacular] as a lingua franca.

"The extent to which Alexander went in his attempt to create a ‘single world’ can be illustrated by two points. First, he wed Persians, including Statira, the daughter of Darius II, and Parysotis, the daughter of Artaxerxes II Ochus [and Roxana, the daughter of a Bactrian named Oxyartes of Balkh in Bactria (then eastern Persia, now northern Afghanistan)]; then he induced eighty of his officers to marry local women; in the spring of 324 B.C. during a ‘feast of fraternization’ he gave gifts to 10,000 of his men for marrying Persian women! Second, he built a network of almost thirty Greek cities throughout the empire, a building program that was expanded by later Hellenistic rulers. These became enclaves of Greek culture. Here gymnasia, baths, and theaters were built, and the upper classes spoke koine Greek, wore Greek dress, absorbed Greek learning, adopted Greek customs, and took part in Greek athletics. Palestine, the land of the ancient Hebrews (now known as "Jews from the word Judah) was no exception to this phenomenon. Furthermore, the process of Hellenization continued through the beginning of the Roman Empire (27 B.C.) and beyond, for the Romans perpetuated Greek culture" (Perrin 5).


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