The Greeks

There is no problem in history so interesting as the unparalleled development of Greece. How was it that so small a country could exert so remarkable an influence on the course of events and on the intellectual progress of mankind? The Greeks, as the science of language clearly proves, belonged to the same race as the Persians themselves. Many centuries before history begins a people migrated from the highlands of Central Asia and overspread Europe on the one side, on the other side Hindustan. Celts and Germans, Russians and Poles, Romans and Greeks, Persians and Hindus, all sprang from the loins of a shepherd tribe inhabiting the tableland of the sources of the Oxus and Jaxartes, and are quite distinct from the Assyrians, the Arabs, and Phoenicians, whose ancestors descended into the plains of Western Asia from the tableland of the sources of the Tigris and Euphrates. It is also inferred from the evidence of language that at some remote period the Egyptians belonged to the same stock as the mountaineers of Armenia, the Chinese to the same stock as the highlanders of Central Asia, and that at a period still more remote the Turanian or Chinese Tartar, the Aryan or Indo-European, and the Semitic races and languages were one. Upon this last point philologists are not agreed, though the balance of authority is in favour of the view expressed. But as regards the descent of the English and Hindus from the same tribe of Asiatic mountaineers, that is now as much a fact of history as the common descent of the English and the Normans from the same race of pirates on the Baltic shores. The Celts migrated first into Europe; they were followed by the Graeco-Italian people, and then by the German-Slavonians, the Persians and Hindus remaining longest in their primeval homes. The great difference between the various breeds of the Indo-European race is partly due to their intermixture with the natives of the countries which they colonised and conquered. In India the Aryans found a black race which yet exist in the hills and jungles of that country, and who yet speak languages of their own which have nothing in common with the noble Sanskrit. Europe was inhabited by a people of Tartar origin who still exist as the Basques of the Pyrenees, and as the Finns and Lapps of Scandinavia. It is probable that these people also were intruders of comparatively recent date, and that a yet more primeval race existed on the gloomy banks of the Danube and the Rhine, in huts built on stakes in the shallow waters of the Swiss lakes, and in the mountain caverns of France and Spain. The Aryans, who migrated into India, certainly intermarried with the blacks, and there can be no reasonable doubt that the Celts who first migrated into Europe took the wives as well as the lands of the natives. The aborigines were therefore largely absorbed by the Celts, to the detriment of that race, before the arrival of the Germans, whose blood remained comparatively pure.

We may freely use the doctrine of intermarriage to explain the difference in colour between the sepoy and his officer. We may apply it—though with less confidence—to explain the difference in character and aspect between the Irish and the English, but we do not think that the doctrine will help us much towards expounding the genius of Greece. And if the superiority of that people was not dependent in any way on race distinction, inherent or acquired, it must have been in some way connected with locality and other incidents of life.

A glance at the map is sufficient to explain how it was that Greece became civilised before the other European lands. It is nearest to those countries in which civilisation first arose. It is the borderland of East

and West. The western coast of Asia and the eastern coast of Greece lie side by side; the sea between them is narrow, with the islands like stepping-stones across a brook. On the other hand, a mountain wall extends in the form of an arc from the Adriatic to the Black Sea and shuts off Europe from Greece, which is thus compelled to grow towards Asia as a tree grows towards the light. Its coasts are indented in a peculiar manner by the sea. Deep bays and snug coves, forming hospitable ports, abound. The character of the Aegean is mild and humane; its atmosphere is clear and favourable for those who navigate by the eye from island to island and from point to point. The purple shell-fish, so much in request with the Phoenicians for their manufactures, was found upon the coasts of Greece. A trade was opened up between the two lands, and with trade there came arithmetic and letters to assist the trade, and from these a desire on the part of the Greeks for more luxury and more knowledge. All this was natural enough. But how was it that whatever came into the hands of the Greeks was used merely as raw material—that whatever they touched was transmuted into gold? How was it that Asia was only their dame’s school, and that they discovered the higher branches of knowledge for themselves? How was it that they who were taught by the Babylonians to divide the day into twelve hours afterwards exalted astronomy to the rank of an exact science? How was it that they who received from Egypt the canon of proportions and the first ideas of the portraiture of the human form, afterwards soared into the regions of the ideal, and created in marble a beauty more exquisite than can be found on earth—a vision, as it were, of some unknown yet not unimagined world?

The mountains of Greece are disposed in a peculiar manner, so as to enclose extensive tracts of land which assume the appearance of large basins or circular hollows, level as the ocean and consisting of rich alluvial soil through which rise steep insulated rocks. The plain subsisted a numerous population; the rock became the Acropolis or citadel of the chief town, and the mountains were barriers against invasion. Other districts were parcelled out by water in the same manner; their frontiers were swift streaming rivers or estuaries of the sea. Each of these cantons became an independent city-state, and the natives of each canton became warmly attached to their fatherland. Nature had given them ramparts which they knew how to use. They defended with obstinacy the river and the pass; if those were forced the citadel became a place of refuge and resistance, and if the worst came to the worst they could escape to inaccessible mountain caves.

Each of these states possessed a constitution of its own, and each was home-made and differed slightly from the rest. It may be imagined what a variety of ideas must have risen in the process of their manufacture. The laws were debated in a general assembly of the citizens; each community within itself was full of intellectual activity.

Self-development and independence are too often accompanied by isolation, and nations, like individuals, become torpid when they retire from the world. But this was not the case with Greece. Though its people were divided into separate states, they all spoke the same language and worshipped the same gods, and there existed certain institutions which at appointed times assembled them together as a nation.

Greece is a country which possesses the most extraordinary climate in the world. Within two degrees of latitude it ranges from the beech to the palm. In the morning the traveller may be shivering in a snow-storm, and viewing a winter landscape of naked trees; in the afternoon he may be sweltering beneath a tropical sun, with oleanders blooming around him and oranges shining in the green foliage like balls of gold. From this variety of climate resulted a variety of produce which stimulated the natives to barter and exchange. A central spot was chosen as the market-place, and it was made, for the common protection, a sanctuary of Apollo. The people, when they met for the purposes of trade, performed at the same time religious rites, and also amused themselves, in the rude manner of the age, with boxing, wrestling, running races, and throwing the spear; or they listened to the minstrels, who sang the ballads of ancient times, and to the prophets or inspired politicians, who chanted predictions in hexameters. That sanctuary became in time the famous oracle of Delphi, and those sports expanded into the Olympian Games. To the great fair came Greeks from all parts of the land, and when chariot races were introduced it became necessary to make good roads from state to state, and to build bridges across the streams. The administration of the sanctuary, the laws and regulations of the games, and the management of the public fund subscribed for the expenses of the fair, could only be arranged by means of a national council composed of deputies from all the states. This congress was called the Amphictyonic League, which, soon extending its powers, enacted national laws, and as a supreme court of arbitration decided all questions that arose between state and state.

At Olympia the inhabitants of the coast displayed the scarlet cloth and the rich trinkets which they had obtained from Phoenician ships. At Olympia those who had been kidnapped into slavery, and had afterwards been ransomed by their friends at home, related to an eager crowd the wonders which they had seen in the enchanted regions of the East.

And then throughout all Greece there was an inward stirring and a hankering after the unknown, and a desire to achieve great deeds. It began with the expedition of Jason—an exploring voyage to the Black Sea; it culminated in the siege of Troy.

In such countries as the Grecian states, where the area is small, the community flourishing, and the frontier inexorably defined, the law of population operates with unusual force. The mountain walls of the Greek cantons, like the deserts which surrounded Egypt, not only kept out the enemy but also kept in the natives; they were not only fortresses but prisons. In order to exist, the Greeks were obliged to cultivate every inch of soil. But when this had been done the population still continued to increase, and now the land could no longer be increased. In those early days they had no manufactures, mines, or foreign commerce by means of which they could supply themselves, as we do, with food from other lands. In such an emergency the government, if it acts at all, has only two methods to pursue. It must either strangle or bleed the population; it must organise infanticide or emigration.

The first method was practised to some extent, but happily the last was now within their power. The Trojan war had made them acquainted with the Asiatic coast, and overcrowded states began to send forth colonies by public act. The emigrants consisted chiefly, as may be supposed, of the poor, the dangerous, and the discontented classes. They took with them no women; they went forth, like the buccaneers, sword in hand. They swooped down on the Ionian coast—there was at that time no power in Asia Minor which was able to resist them. They obtained wives, sometimes by force, sometimes by peaceable arrangement with the natives. In course of time the coast of Asia Minor was lined with rich and flourishing towns. The mother country continued to pour forth colonies, and colonies also founded colonies. The Greeks sailed and settled in every direction. They braved the dark mists and the inclement seasons of the Black Sea, and took up their abode among a people whose faces were almost concealed in furs, who dwelt at the mouths of great rivers and cultivated boundless plains of wheat. This wheat the Greeks exported to the mother country, with barrels of the salted tunny-fish, and the gold of Ural, and even the rich products of the Oriental trade which were brought across Asia from India or China by the waters of the Oxus to the Aral Sea, from the Aral to the Caspian Sea by land, from the Caspian to the Black Sea by the Volga and the Don.

But where Italy dipped her arched and lovely foot in the blue waters of an untroubled sea, beneath the blue roof of an unclouded sky—where the flowers never perished, where eternal summer smiled, where mere existence was voluptuous and life itself a sensual joy—there the Greek cities clustered richly together—cities shining with marble and built in fairy forms, before them the deep tranquil harbour, behind them violet valleys, myrtle groves, and green lakes of waving corn.

When a bank of emigrants went forth they took with them fire kindled on the city hearth. Although each colony was independent, it regarded with reverence the mother state, and all considered themselves with pride not foreigners but Greeks; for Greece was not a country but a people; wherever the Greek language was spoken, that was Greece. They all spoke the same grand and harmonious language—although the dialects might differ; they had the same bible, for Homer was in all their hearts, and the memory of their youthful glory was associated in their minds with the union of Greek warriors beneath the walls of Troy. The chief colonial states were represented at the meetings of the Amphictyonic League, and any Greek from the Crimea to Marseilles might contend at the Olympian Games with the full rights of a Spartan or Athenian, a privilege which the Great King could by no means have obtained.

The intense enthusiasm which was excited by the Olympian Games was the chief cause of the remarkable development of Greece. The man who won the olive garland on that celebrated course was famous for ever afterwards. His statue was erected in the public hall at Delphi; he was received by his native city with all the honours of a formal triumph; he was not allowed to enter by the gates—a part of the city wall was beaten down. The city itself became during five years the talk of Greece, and wherever its people travelled they were welcomed with congratulations and esteem.

The passion for praise is innate in the human mind. It is only natural that throughout the whole Greek world a spirit of eager rivalry and emulation should prevail. In every city was established a gymnasium where crowds of young men exercised themselves naked. This institution was originally intended for those only who were in training for the Olympian Games, but afterwards it became a part of daily life, and the Greeks went to the gymnasium with the same regularity as the Romans went to the bath.

At first the national prizes were only for athletes, but at a later period the principle of competition was extended to books and musical compositions, paintings and statues. There was also a competition in rich and elegant display. The carriages and retinues which were exhibited upon the course excited a desire to obtain wealth, and gave a useful impulse to foreign commerce, manufactures, and mining operations.

The Greek world was composed of municipal aristocracies—societies of gentlemen living in towns, with their farms in the neighbourhood, and having all their work done for them by slaves. They themselves had nothing to do but to cultivate their bodies by exercise in the gymnasium, and their minds by conversation in the market-place. They lived out of doors while their wives remained shut up at home. In Greece a lady could only enter society by adopting a mode of life which in England usually facilitates her exit. The Greeks spent little money on their wives, their houses, or their food: the rich men were expected to give dramatic entertainments , and to contribute a company or a man-of-war for the protection of the city. The market-place was the Greek club. There the merchants talked their business—the labours of the desk were then unknown. The philosopher instructed his pupils under the shade of a plane-tree, or strolling up and down a garden path. Mingling with the song of the cicada from the boughs might be heard the chipping of the chisel from the workshop of the sculptor, and the laughter and shouts from the gymnasium. And sometimes the tinkle of a harp would be heard; a crowd would be collected, and a rhapsodist would recite a scene from the Iliad, every word of which his audience knew by heart, as an audience at Naples or Milan knows every bar of the opera which is about to be performed. Sometimes a citizen would announce that his guest, who had just arrived from the sea of Azov or the Pillars of Hercules, would read a paper on the manners and customs of the barbarians. It was in the city that the book was first read and the statue exhibited—the rehearsal and the private view; it was in Olympia that they were published to the nation. When the public murmured in delight around a picture of Xeuxis or a statue of Praxiteles, when they thundered in applause to an ode by Pindar or a lecture by Herodotus, how many hundreds of young men must have gone home with burning brows and throbbing hearts, devoured by the love of fame! And when we consider that though the geographical Greece is a small country, the true Greece-—that is to say, the land inhabited by the Greeks—was in reality a large country; when we consider with what an immense number of ideas they must have been brought in contact on the shores of the Black Sea, in Asia Minor, in Southern Italy, in Southern France, in Egypt, and in Northern Africa; when we consider that, owing to those noble contests of Olympia, city was every contending against city, and within the city man against man, there is surely no longer anything mysterious in the exceptional development of that people.

Education in Greece was not a monopoly; it was the precious privilege of all the free. The business of religion was divided among three classes. The priests were merely the sacrificers and guardians of the sanctuary; they were elected, like the mayors of our towns, by their fellow citizens for a limited time only, and without their being withdrawn from the business of ordinary life. The poets revealed the nature, and portrayed the character, and related the biography of the gods. The philosophers undertook the education of the young, and were also the teachers and preachers of morality. If a man wished to obtain the favour of the gods, or to take divine advice, he went to a priest; if he desired to turn his mind to another, though scarcely a better world, he took up his Homer or his Hesiod; and if he suffered from sickness or mental affliction he sent for a philosopher.

It will presently be shown that the philosophers invaded the territory of the poets, who were defended by the government and by the mob, and that a religious persecution was the result. But the fine arts were free; and the custom which came into vogue of erecting statues to the gods, to the victors of the games, and to other illustrious men favoured the progress of sculpture, which was also aided by the manners of the land. The gymnasium was a school of art. The eyes of the sculptor revelled on the naked form—not purchased, as in London, at eighteenpence an hour, but visible in marvellous perfection at all times and in every pose. Thus ever present to the eye of the artist, it was ever present to his brain, and flowed forth from his fingers in lovely forms. As art was fed by nature, so nature was fed by art. The Greek women placed statues of Apollo or Narcissus in their bedrooms, that they might bear children as beautiful as those on whom they gazed. Such children they prayed the gods to give them, for the Greeks loved beauty to distraction, and regarded ugliness as sin. They had exhibitions of beauty at which prizes were given by celebrated artists who were appointed to the judgment-seat. There were towns in which the most beautiful men were elected to the priesthood. There were connoisseurs who formed companies of soldiers composed exclusively of comely young men, and who could plead for the life of a beautiful youth amidst the wrath and confusion of the battlefield.

The Persian wars gave a mighty impulse to the intellect of Greece. Indeed, before that period Greek art had been uncouth; it was then that the Age of Marble really began, and that Phidias moulded the ideas of Homer into noble forms. It was then that Athens, having commanded the Greeks in the War of Independence, retained the supremacy and became the centre of the nation. Athens had died for Greece; it had been burnt by the Persians to the ground, and from those glorious ashes arose the Athens of history—the City of the Violet Crown. To Athens were summoned the great artists: to Athens came every young man who had talent and ambition: to Athens every Greek who could afford it sent his boys to school. The Academy was planted with wide-spreading plane-trees and olive groves, laid out in walks with fountains, and surrounded by a wall. A theatre was built entirely of masts which had been taken from the enemy. A splendid harbour was constructed—a harbour which was in itself a town. All that fancy could create, all that money could command, was lavished upon the city and its environs—the very milestones on the roads were works of art.

The Persians assisted the growth of Greece, not only by those invasions which had favoured the union, aroused the ardour, multiplied the desires, and ennobled the ambition of the Greek people, but also by their own conquests. Their failure in Europe and their success in Asia were equally profitable to the Greeks. Trade and travel were much facilitated by their extensive rule. A government postal service had been established: royal couriers might by seen every day galloping at full speed along the splendid roads which united the provinces of the Punjab and Afghanistan and Bokhara on one side of the Euphrates, and of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt on the other side of that river, with the imperial palaces at Babylon, Susa, Ecbatana, and Persepolis. Caravanserais were fitted up for the reception of travellers in lonely places where no other houses were to be found. Troops of mounted police patrolled the roads. In desert tracts thousands of earthen jars, filled with water and planted up to their necks in sand, supplied the want of wells. The old system of national isolation and closed ports was battered down. The Greeks were no longer forbidden to enter the Phoenician ports, or compelled to trade exclusively at one Egyptian town. Greek merchants were able to join in the caravan trade of Central Asia, and to traffic on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Philosophers, taking with them a venture of oil to pay expenses, could now visit the learned countries of the East with more profit than had previously been the case. Since that country was deprived of its independence, the priests were inclined to encourage the cultivated curiosity of their new scholars.

Egypt from the earliest times had been the university of Greece. It had been visited, according to tradition, by Orpheus and Homer: there Solon had studied law-making, there the rules and principles of the Pythagorean order had been obtained, there Thales had taken lessons in geometry, there Democritus had laughed and Xenophanes had sneered. And now every intellectual Greek made the voyage to that country; it was regarded as a part of education, as a pilgrimage to the cradle-land of their mythology. To us Egypt is a land of surpassing interest, but nevertheless merely a charnel-house, a museum, a valley of ruins and dry bones. The Greeks saw it alive. They saw with their own eyes the solemn and absurd rites of the temple—the cat solemnly enthroned, the tame crocodiles being fed, ibis mummies being packed up in red jars, scribes carving the animal language upon the granite. They wandered in the mazes of the Labyrinth: they gazed on the mighty Sphinx couched on the yellow sands with a temple between its paws: they entered the great hall of Carnac, filled with columns like a forest and paved with acres of solid stone. In that country Herodotus resided several years and took notes on his wooden tablets of everything that he saw, ascertained the existence of the Niger, made inquiries about the sources of the Nile, collated the traditions of the priests of Memphis with those of Thebes. To Egypt came the divine Plato, and drank long and deeply of its ancient lore. The house in which he lived at Heliopolis was afterwards shown to travellers—it was one of the sights of Egypt in Strabo’s day. There are some who ascribe the whole civilisation of Greece, and the rapid growth of Greek literature, to the free trade which existed between the two lands. Greece imported all its paper from Egypt, and without paper there would have been few books. The skins of animals were too rare, and their preparation too expensive, to permit the growth of a literature for the people.

Gradually the Greeks become dispersed over the whole Asiatic world, and such was the influence of their superiority that countries in which they had no political power adopted much of their culture and their manners. They surpassed the inhabitants of Asia as much in the arts of war as in those of peace. They served as mercenaries in every land; wherever the kettledrum was beaten they assembled in crowds.

It soon became evident to keen observers that the Greeks were destined to inherit the Persian world. That vast empire was beginning to decay. The character of the ruling people had completely changed. It is said that the Lombards of the fourth generation were terrified when they looked at the portraits of their savage ancestors who, with their hair shaved behind and hanging down over their mouths in front, had issued from the dark forests of Central Europe, and had streamed down from the Alps upon the green Italian plains. The Persians soon ceased to be the rude and simple mountaineers who had scratched their heads with wonder at the sight of a silk dress, and who had been unable to understand the object of changing one thing for another. It was remarked that no people adopted more readily the customs of other nations. Whenever they heard of a new luxury they made it their own. They soon became distinguished for that exquisite and refined politeness which they retain at the present day; their language cast off its guttural sounds and became melodious to the ear. Time went on, and their old virtues entirely departed. They made use of gloves and umbrellas when they walked out in the sun; they no longer hunted except in battues, slaughtering without danger or fatigue the lean, mangy creatures of the parks. They painted their faces and pencilled their eyebrows and wore bracelets and collars, and dined on a variety of entrees, tasting a little here and a little there, drank deep, yawned half the day in their harems, and had valets de chambre to help them out of bed. Their actions were like water, and their words were like the wind. Once a Persian’s right hand had been a pledge which was never broken; now no one could rely on his most solemn oath.

A country in which polygamy prevails can never enjoy a well-ordered constitution. There is always an uncertainty about succession. The kingdom does not descend by rule to the eldest son, but to the son of the favourite wife; it is not determined beforehand by a national law, constant and unchangeable, given forth from the throne and ratified by the estates; it may be decided suddenly and at any moment in that hour when men are weak and yielding, women sovereign and strong—when right is often strangled by a fond embrace and reason kissed to sleep by rosy lips. The fatal "Yes"! is uttered and cannot be revoked. The heir is appointed and an injustice has been done. But the rival mother has yet a hope—the appointed heir may die. Then the seraglio becomes a nursery of treason; the harem administration is stirred by dark whispers; the cabinet of women and eunuchs is cajoled and bribed. A crime is committed and is revenged. The whole palace smells of blood. The king trembles on his throne. He himself is never safe; he is always encircled by soldiers; he never sleeps twice in the same place; his dinner is served in sealed trays; a man stands at his left hand who tastes from the cup before he dares to raise it to his lips.

The satrap form of government is far superior to that of vassal kings. As long as the system of inspection is kept up there is no comparison between the two. But if once the satrapies are allowed to become hereditary there is no difference between the two. In the latter days of the Persian empire the satraps were no longer supervised by royal visitors and clerks of the accounts. Each of these viceroys had his bodyguard of Persians and his army of mercenary Greeks. Sometimes they fought against each other; sometimes they even contested for the throne. As for the subject nations, they were by no means idle; revolts broke out in all directions. Egypt enjoyed a long interlude of independence, though afterwards she was again reduced to servitude. The Indians appear to have shaken themselves free, and to have attained the position of allies. Many provinces still recognised the emperor as their suzerain and lord, but did not pay him any tribute. When he travelled from Susa to Persepolis he had to go through a rocky pass where he paid a toll. The King of Persia could not enter Persia proper without buying the permission of a little shepherd tribe.

A remarkable event now occurred. A pretender to the throne hired a Greek army, led it to Babylon, and defeated the Great King at the gates of his palace. The empire was won, but the pretender had fallen in the battle; his Persian adherents went over to the other side; the Greeks were left without a commander and without a cause. They were in the heart of Asia, cut off from their home by swift streaming rivers and burning plains of sand. They were only then thousand strong, yet in spite of their desperate condition they cut their way back to the sea. That glorious victory, that still more glorious retreat, exposed the true state of affairs to public view, and it became known all over Greece that the Persian empire could be overcome.

But Greece unhappily was subject to vices and abuses of its own, and was not in a position to take advantage of the weakness of its neighbour.

The intellectual achievements of the Greeks have been magnificently praised. And when we consider what the world was when they found it, and what it was when they left it, when we review their productions in connection with the time and the circumstances under which they were composed, we are forced to acknowledge that it would be difficult to exaggerate their excellence. But the splendour of their just renown must not blind us to their moral defects, and to their exceeding narrowness as politicians.

In the arts and letters they were one nation, and their jealousy of one another only served to stimulate their inventiveness and industry. But in politics this envious spirit had a very different effect; it divided them, it weakened them; the Ionian cities were enslaved again and again because they could not combine. And one reason of their not being able to combine was this: they never trusted one another. It was their inveterate dishonesty, their want of faith, their disregards for the sanctity of oaths, their hankering after money, which had much to do with their disunion even in the face of danger. There are some who desire to persuade us that the Greeks whom the Romans described were entirely a different race from the Greeks of the Persian wars. But an unprejudiced study of original authorities gives no support to such a theory. From the pirates to the orators, from the heroic and treacherous Ulysses to the patriotic and venal Demosthenes, we find almost all their best men tainted with the same disease. Polybius complains that the Greek statesmen would never keep their hands out of the till. In Xenophon’s Retreat of the Ten Thousand a little banter is exchanged between a Spartan and an Athenian which illustrates the state of public opinion in Greece. They have come to a country where it is necessary to rob the natives in order to provide themselves with food. The Athenian says that, as the Spartans are taught to steal, now is the time for them to show that they have profited by their education. The Spartan replies that the Athenians will no doubt be able to do their share, as the Athenians appoint their best men to govern the state, and their best men are invariably thieves. The same kind of pleasantry, no doubt, goes on in Greece at the present day; to rob a foreigner in the mountains, or to filch the money from the public chest, are looked upon in that country as "little affairs" which are not disgraceful so long as they are not found out. But the modern Greeks are degenerate in every way. The ancient Greeks surpassed them not only in sculpture and in metaphysics but also in duplicity. With their fine phrases and rhetorical expressions, they have even swindled history, and obtained a vast amount of admiration under false pretences.

The narrowness of the Greeks was not less strongly marked. When Athens obtained the supremacy a wise and just policy might have formed the Greeks into a nation. But Pericles had no sympathies beyond the city walls: he was a good Athenian but a bad Greek. He removed the federal treasury from Delphi to Athens, where it was speedily emptied on the public works. Since Athens had now become the university and capital of Greece, it appears not unjust that it should have been beautiful at the expense of Greece. But it must be remembered that the Athenians considered themselves the only pure Greeks, and no Athenian was allowed to marry a Greek who was not also an Athenian. Heavy taxes were laid on the allies, and were not spent entirely on works of art. Besides the money that was purloined by government officials, large sums were distributed among the citizens of Athens as payment for attending the law courts, the parliament, and the theatre. It was also ordered that all cases of importance would be tried at Athens, and judicial decisions then as now were looked upon at Athens as saleable articles belonging to the court. The Greeks soon discovered that the Athenians were harder masters than the Persians. They began to envy the fate of the Ionian cities, whose municipal rights were undisturbed. They rose up against their tyrant; long wars ensued; and finally the ships of Athens were burnt and its walls beaten down to the music of flutes. Then Sparta became supreme, also tyrannised, and also fell; and then Thebes followed its example, till at last all the states of Greece were so exhausted that the ambition of supremacy died away, and each city cared only for its own life.

The jealousy and distrust which prevented the union of the Greeks, and the constant wars in which they were engaged, sufficiently explain how it was that they did not conquer Persian, and by this time Persia had discovered how to conquer them. When Xerxes was on his famous march he was told by a Greek that if he chose to bribe the orators of Greece he could do with that country what he pleased, but that he would never conquer it by force. This method of making war was now adopted by the king. When Agesilaus the Spartan had already begun the conquest of the Persian empire, ten thousand golden coins marked with the effigy of a bowman were sent to the demagogues of Athens, Corinth, and Thebes. Those cities at once made war upon Sparta, and Agesilaus was recalled—driven out of Asia, as he used to say, by ten thousand of the king’s archers. In this manner the Greek orators, who were often very eloquent men but who never refused a bribe, kept their country continually at war, till at last it was in such an enfeebled state that the Persian had no longer anything to fear, and even used his influence in making peace. The land which might have been the mistress of the East passed under the protection of an empire in its decay.

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