History and Historiography

Why were the Greek city-states unable to create a permanently unified state?

In the future, we can have war games between ancap/transhumanist Athens and ancom/primitivist Sparta. The Greeks managed to keep from becoming an empire for centuries. What can we learn from them?

By Tyson Ford

Mostly it has to do with geography. The terrain in Greece is broken and mountainous, making it difficult to travel from one region to another. So each polis developed its own customs and sense of identity. A good analogy might be that of Afghanistan. Many groups in Afghanistan are practically cut off from the world due to the terrain. This results in them being fiercely independent and resistant to authority.

For an extreme contrast, check out Ancient Egypt. This was an extremely homogenous place, where the Nile fed the agriculture like clockwork. The terrain was flat as a pancake, and it was very easy to travel up or down the Nile. The vast majority of people lived alongside this highway, and they still do today. So it was very easy for a single authority to impose his will on the entire population, and lay down the law very early in their history.

This never happened in Greece. The Greek ideal was for each man to be an independent farmer who owed loyalty only to his polis. Check our the Iliad, in which dozens of minor Kings bicker amongst themselves and publicly defy the authority of their war-chief. This would have been unthinkable in a place like Egypt, which had 3000 years of rigid top-down leadership.

Keep in mind, the Bronze Age Collapse hit Greece HARD. The Gods basically hit the reset button on the Mycenaeans and made their civilization start over from scratch. So there is a very distinct period of war and hardship, which reinforced the lesson that each farmer could only rely on himself. The Greeks emerged from their struggle in about 800 BC and didn’t even attempt to make Pan-Hellenic alliances until 500 BC.

Again, we can contrast this with Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians did suffer their own “intermediate periods” which saw a great deal of chaos and disorder. However, the big difference is that the Egyptian way of life was extremely stable and long-lasting. Each time the Egyptians emerged from years of turmoil, they resumed their old and enduring way of life. They never had to start over to the same extent that the Greeks did.



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