The Dark Secret of Greece
How Greece and Rome differed from the earlier great empires
What is the dark secret of Greece and Rome? How is it that they differ from the great earlier empires, Egypt, China and the Minoans? Why do we see them as being the predecessors of our own society, introducing ideas such as freedom and democracy? Come with me and I will explore how Greece became the forerunner of our own society and uncover its dark secret.
And what is this dark secret? The dark secret of ancient Greece is that the Greeks invented money. Or rather, they were the first to use money extensively – they were the world’s first market economy. This meant that their towns, instead of being centred round a Palace or Temple were centred round the market place. My argument is essentially in two parts. The first half examines the earlier empires which were centred round the Palace and use what is somewhat unfortunately called the gift economy. The second half of the argument then looks at the market economies of Greece and Rome, centred round the marketplace.
The great secret of money is that it brings choice. It brings choice over the small, everyday things of life, — what you should eat and what you should drink. This choice then spills over into our life generally. The market is not just a place where goods are bought and sold, but somewhere where ideas and concepts can also be ‘bought and sold’, where ideas can be put forward and challenged and debated and accepted or rejected, a place where artists can put forward their concepts and see whether anyone is willing to buy them. Philosophy and history are invented and new ideas are expressed in the theatre. It brings a new concept of freedom and this in turn makes people want to decide how to rule themselves: new ideas begin to emerge, in particular that very controversial, and to the old rulers very dangerous concept of democracy.
Before Greece, the economy was entirely different to the economy as we know it today. The sophisticated early empires were based around palaces, ruled over by an Emperor or Pharaoh, to whom produce was gifted by tribute and by whom it was then redistributed in what is called ‘gift exchange’. Here we discuss these two types of societies. We begin by looking at three Palace societies: firstly the Minoans where palaces can be seen in all their glory. Then the Egyptians, who showed how efficient a centrally-organised society can be in building the magnificent, but wholly useless pyramids. And then China, which tends to break all the laws of history that we know in the West, but which is therefore important to study to see how a long-lived Palace empire survives, and indeed still exists and thrives.
We then compare these Palace-based societies with the very different societies of Greece and Rome which were based around the market place, the agora in Greece and the forum in Rome. The story of Greece is always fascinating because there are two leading cities. There is Athens, which got most things right, though often stumbling along the way. But there was also Sparta, which was the town that rejected money and produced a rough, tough society bred for war. Where Athens was civilized, the Spartans remained Barbarians.
And then comes Rome. Everyone gets Rome wrong because they think the Romans were great Warriors. This misses the point. The point is that the Romans were not only good Warriors, but even more they were good Peacemakers. When they won their wars, they won the peace afterwards – and that is what counts. We look not only at the rise of Rome, but also its decline and fall, — we even come down to King Arthur, the first and last ‘King’ of Roman Britain
There are many more riches to be found on the way. We unravel the fascinating story behind the Bible and the even look at the three great rivals to the Greeks — the Phoenicians, the Etruscans, and Tartessos. And we start by going to the Western Pacific to find out how a primitive society really works.
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17th August 2020