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Rome vs Greece: a clash of empires (irishtimes.com)
261 points by ascertain 62 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 143 comments



>After a few weeks of marching and countermarching by Philip and Flamininus in central Thessaly, battle was joined (almost by accident) at Cynoscephalae, hills known as The Dogs’ Heads. Invincible on flat ground as long as its flanks were protected, the phalanx was dangerously exposed on hillsides. Highly manoeuvrable, veterans of the Hannibalic war, the legionaries wreaked a terrible slaughter.

One of the big factors at Cynoscephalae and later at Pydna was the extreme flexibility and how much initiative junior officers had. At Cynoscephalae, the turning point of the battle came when a junior Roman officer saw that one of the halves of the phalanx was still forming up, and immediately sent Roman units against that unready part of the phalanx, routing them, and then crashing down on the rear of the other part of the phalanx that was actually winning against the Romans. At Pydna, Lucius Aemilius Paullus the Roman commander was able to give the general order to exploit the gaps, and let the various unit commanders implement it.

The combination of Roman training combined with the tactical flexibility stood Rome in very good stead for centuries.

As an aside, it is not necessarily the unit, but the commander who knows how to put it to great use that matters. Alexander the Great used an army of which the core was the phalanx to win battles over many, many types of terrain. He knew how to use the phalanx well in combination with calvary and light infantry to devastating effect.


Here's a video overview of the battle at Cynoscephalae, for those interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Icdm7-df64k


Wow, that was amazingly good. I found myself holding my breathe in many moments, waiting for the next text to appear.


I just watched a documentary about the franco-prussian war, and they said that 'lower rank initiative' was a factor in the outcome. French weren't really wanting to fight, Prussian were. They would try everything to make a difference, even if it meant disobeying orders somehow.


German staff officers had problems, battle exercises, during training, they could only be won by disobeying orders.


Which documentary?



It's likely that Alexander would have taken over Italy had he lived a couple more decades. He definitely could have done it. Rome was not yet the powerhouse it became and he knew how to lead an army better than literally anyone in history. There were many Greek colonies in Italy but the whole peninsular might have become dominated by Greeks.

By the time Rome got around to taking over Greece it wasn't even a contest. It's actually lucky that the Greek states weren't unified into a force powerful enough to be an existential threat to Rome. It would have likely suffered the same fate as Carthage. Instead it essentially got colonized and incorporated into the Roman empire in a way that could be called a co-equal merger. Rome kind of became Greece v2.

History is full of civilizations that fought bravely against invaders and were destroyed. It's also full of examples of civilizations that surrendered and thrived. It's a hard pill to swallow that "cowardly" surrender can often be objectively better than "stubborn" bravery. One of the big facts of history that blew me away.


> It's a hard pill to swallow that "cowardly" surrender can often be objectively better than "stubborn" bravery

One old saying around these parts of the world (Romania) can be translated roughly like this: "The bowed head doesn't get cut by the sword", which explains like at least half of our history, seeing as we've never been a major regional power while being surrounded by 3 empires for at least a couple of centuries (the Ottomans, the Russians, the Habsburgs) and we still managed to keep a certain level of autonomy throughout the centuries. The Poles were a little bit more courageous than us and that attitude saw their country split into three.


> The Poles were a little bit more courageous than us and that attitude saw their country split into three.

This is very simplistic way to describe reasons behind partitioning of Poland, which was by then standards very large multiethnic country with borders from Baltic to Black Sea and ability to raise considerable military power to defend its borders in times of need.

Commonwealth's dissolution came from the inside. There was no centralization of power in Poland. King was de-facto figurehead with real power being divided between hundreds of nobles. Everybody else was professionalizing their military, but that was impossible to do in Poland because we were 18th century country that relied on King rallying nobles rallying their bannermen for military. There was no chain of command, grand strategy or even unified arsenal. That was ridiculous but nobles wanted it to stay that way so king or congress could never contest their power. What happened instead was country being partitioned and nobility getting the boot from new rulers that did not tolerate private kingdoms, private armies or having to negotiate with every single noble if they wanted to change something.


"having to negotiate with every single noble if they wanted to change something"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberum_veto


I think that your post kind of proves my point, as in you're taking it for granted that you needed an army in order to survive as a country (even as not really independent). That was not always so.


"The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life."

- Falstaff the comedic coward in Shakespeare's Henry the Fourth


There is the counter quote by Churchill: "Nations that went down fighting rose again, but those who surrendered tamely were finished."


I'm glad that the "The bowed head doesn't get cut by the sword" strategy worked well for them and led to survival for a lot of people in the region.

Sometimes, though, the bowed head gets cut anyway, and surrendering in response to a promise of mercy leads to genocide: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanking_Massacre

I guess I'd say it's a strat that probably works more often than it doesn't, but your own mileage may vary.


I just read through that out of curiosity, and it says the Japanese sent in a leaflet demanding surrender within 24 hours, or "no mercy" would be shown. The Chinese did not respond.

While Nanking was an awful massacre if not genocide, it doesn't have a narrative against the Romanian proverb.


It's likely that Alexander would have taken over Italy had he lived a couple more decades. He definitely could have done it.

Italy was a back water in 300 bc. with the great political and cultural centres to the east of Greece. What would attract Alexander to Italy?


Before Rome there was Magna Graecia, the Greek colonies in Southern Italy. Further west: the great trading port of Massilia.


Before his death, Alexander had the Indian subcontinent in his sights. This is in entirely different league than the future city of Marseille.


He had given up on India after his army revolted, they were going to return to Greece and he had plans written up to conquer the West/North Africa after that.


Some say that's why he marched them through the desert on the way back home, killing many through attrition.


Maybe some roads might have led there...


Presumably the many Greek colonies there.


> It's likely that Alexander would have taken over Italy had he lived a couple more decades. He definitely could have done it.

But why? The East was far more developed. A unified Mediterranean proved to be very profitable for Rome, but it's not clear to me that this future was obvious to anyone.

But it's an interesting thought, much as it's interesting to think of what might have been if Rome had ever fully conquered and incorporated the British Isles and Germania. Perhaps civil wars and power struggles would have torn the empire asunder much sooner, but perhaps Roman urbanism would have taken a stronger hold, preventing rural feudalism from forming. Who knows!

Although it's also interesting to note that Diocletion's reforms are thought to have set the stage for feudalism to begin with, and Roman urbanism was abandoned in many of the places it had taken hold, once the state fell.


There were greek colonies all over the Mediterranean, weren't there? I don't think it's too much of a stretch to see that as the next step, it's just that Greece was historically more concerned with Persia.


But Alexander wasn't just concerned by Persia and the East, he was also impressed with it. I have to imagine Italy was only barely more interesting to him than the Balkans. By contrast, places in the East, like Mesopotamia and Egypt, were as ancient and storied to him as he is to us.


> It's likely that Alexander would have taken over Italy had he lived a couple more decades.

At the height of the greek empire, it's pretty much a given that alexander would have easily conquered italy. But there was no real reason to as italy/rome back then wasn't really worth conquering compared to egypt, persia, india... I suspect had alexander lived long enough, he would have move further into india and maybe even into china. Not sure how successful he really would have been, but it's an interesting "what if".

> History is full of civilizations that fought bravely against invaders and were destroyed. It's also full of examples of civilizations that surrendered and thrived. It's a hard pill to swallow that "cowardly" surrender can often be objectively better than "stubborn" bravery.

The most poignant example of this is Catholic Europe and Islamic Khwarezmia when Genghis Khan sent his emissaries to each. The leader of khwarezmia had the emissaries tortured and killed and refused trade relations with genghis khan. The pope "surrendered" to genghis khan and established trade relations with the mongol empire. Khwarezmia got destroyed. Italy/Europe got direct trade with the largest empire in the world and got immensely rich which kicked off the italian renaissance and the rest is history.

Of course there are counterexamples as well like the english stubbornness against the spanish empire ( the destruction of the spanish armada ) and most relevant to us, the american revolution.

The key seems to be, if you are going to be stubborn against a major power, be damned sure you can win.


> At the height of the greek empire, it's pretty much a given that alexander would have easily conquered italy. But there was no real reason to as italy/rome back then wasn't really worth conquering compared to egypt, persia, india... I suspect had alexander lived long enough, he would have move further into india and maybe even into china. Not sure how successful he really would have been, but it's an interesting "what if".

Just before he died, he was preparing a campaign to the WEST.


> Just before he died, he was preparing a campaign to the WEST.

Why did you capitalize west? And I'm fairly certain this is not true. The best we know of his immediate plans prior to death was that he wanted to centralize his empire around babylon and then conquer arabia. Not quite "west".

But if you have sources backing your claim, I'd love to see it.


I think it is somewhat hindsight bias to think Alexander would even care about Italy. Alexander was concerned about conquering the Persian Empire which was vastly larger and more wealthy than Italy. At the hight of the Roman Empire, the richest areas were always the former Persian areas - Egypt, Syria, Anatolia. This was also the reason the Roman empire ended up moving the capital to Constantinople.


Peninsular: this is an adjective, the word you mean is peninsula.

This misspelling is surprisingly frequent with people with a regional UK accent.


Probably because the 'r' of peninsular is not pronounced in a non rhotic accent.


> It's likely that Alexander would have taken over Italy had he lived a couple more decades. He definitely could have done it. Rome was not yet the powerhouse it became and he knew how to lead an army better than literally anyone in history

That's debatable. The greatest military commander in history was most likely Subutai : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subutai


> "cowardly" surrender can often be objectively better than "stubborn" bravery

See also the Mongol invasion when cities either surrendered and became vassals or defended themselves, were sieged, captured and sacked. And sometimes everyone there was killed.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Destruction_under_the_Mongol...


> Rome kind of became Greece v2.

Can't agree more on that. Also digging more into history you can see the Byzantine Empire which was sort of a merge of those 2 civilizations.


Irony was a double-edged sword in this case. Sure, the Greek city-states were now subject to Rome. On the other hand, Roman civilization was deeply affected by Greek culture, which was arguably far superior. Horace said it best: Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit (once defeated, Greece conquered its savage captor)


One of my favorite tidbits was that it was considered very fashionable to have a well-educated Greek slave -- they were often more well-versed in literature and philosophy than their masters.


How does an educated slave happen? Does someone somehow throw money at educating a slave child? Or does an educated person get enslaved?


Both situations happened. Rich families had slave and non-slave educators who would teach to the family children and to the slave children. A lot of slaves in Antiquity were given the occupation of shopkeepers, clerks or even lawyers, so they needed to be educated.

Also the situation of slaves was quite fluid: you could be a slave by birth, but you could have been captured in war and conquest or you could have simply failed to pay your debts. Skilled slaves often had the possibility to earn some money and buy back their freedom.

On the other hand, there were also unskilled slaves, often worked to death in mines or fields.


Also I'd add that educated Greek slaves were much more expensive than uneducated non-Greek slaves so there was economic value in continuing to educate them.


> Greek culture, which was arguably far superior.

The Romans put up a valiant rearguard action against cultural aggression, what with forbidding permanent theaters, favoring the native blood sports, etc.;-)

Unfortunately, pretty soon all the aristocracy was hiring the pedagogues, watching the shows and reading greek, and that was that.

Umm, reminds me of something. Can't quite put my finger on it.

(Plus, that uncouth Macedonian lout had sprayed a top layer of Hellenism over much of the former Persian empire - that helped a lot too.)


That Macedonian lout actually reached as far as India, and his successors in the Indian subcontinent embraced Buddhism forming a very unique Indo-Greek culture.


If only they could have fought of Islam.


Any persistent Hellenism in the Persian empire is really more likely to be attributable to Seleucus than Alexander. Alexander was king for 6 years, during all of which he was out on military campaigns.


> Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit (once defeated, Greece conquered its savage captor)

A better translation would be "captured Greece has conquered its savage captor", since that better captures (pun intended) the intended parallel between capta and cepit--both are forms of the same verb. (Also cepit is perfect tense, hence "has conquered".)


> Also cepit is perfect tense, hence "has conquered".

The Latin perfect is the equivalent of the English perfect. It's also the equivalent of the English simple past; whether "Greece captured her conquerors" or "Greece has captured her conquerors" is the right translation depends on whether Horace was writing about the past or the present (that is, his past or his present), not on the form of the Latin verb.


> It's also the equivalent of the English simple past; whether "Greece captured her conquerors" or "Greece has captured her conquerors" is the right translation depends on whether Horace was writing about the past or the present (that is, his past or his present), not on the form of the Latin verb.

Yes, you're right. I still prefer the "has conquered" translation, though, because I think Horace was talking about a condition that was still there in his present, not just what had happened in his past.


Thanks! English is not my mother tongue and I thought "captured" would have sounded a bit too archaic.


> English is not my mother tongue and I thought "captured" would have sounded a bit too archaic.

I don't think so. "Captor" might be, though, even if "captured" isn't. Another possible translation that doesn't use "captor" would be to swap words around to: "Conquered Greece has captured its savage conqueror". That actually might better match the sense of the original Latin in modern English; the Latin victorem is probably better translated as "conqueror" than "captor".

(Edit: One other more pedantic refinement: "Conquered Greece has captured her savage conqueror." Since the Latin Graecia is feminine, not neuter.)


Similar statements (which I am not historian enough to judge the accuracy of) regarding the Chinese and the Mongols. The Mongols won militarily, and were turned into a culturally Chinese empire, in the east at least. Again, I am not historian enough to say if this is accurate, but it is a common assertion.


In the West (at least some of them, the future Mughals), they were Turkified, then Persianised, then Indianised.


Apparently the Christian daughter-in-law of Ghengis Khan, Sorghaghtani Beki, was instrumental in the preservation and adoption of the pre-existing Han Chinese culture and political apparatus. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorghaghtani_Beki


The Mongols adopting Chinese culture was an intentional act by Kublai and his established Yuan dynasty after conquering China.


I highly recommend the podcast The History Of Rome, which talks about this conflict in some detail. I binged the almost 80 hours of it. I couldn't get enough! Then, I got sucked in to the podcast The Fall Of Rome, which is equally fantastic.

http://thehistoryofrome.typepad.com/

https://fallofromepodcast.wordpress.com/


There is also "Normans" and "12 Byzantine Emperors".


Excellent! Adding those to my list.


Agreed. The History of Rome is so good that I'm tempted to listen to the whole thing again.


I listened to it twice.

Might have to do a third time now that I have learned so much more.

Given its 180, 20-30 minute episodes, this should be an indicator of how incredible the podcast is.


For an interesting coarse overview of this stuff, I've been reading The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It's a sprawling world history, from earliest recorded history to the present (I'm currently between WWI and WWII), based on the idea that the Orient (particularly the Eastern Mediterranean basin over to present-day India), not Europe, is the historic center of civilization. Northern/Western Europe was an impoverished, uninteresting backwater until the discovery of the New World (which precipitated a major economic shift, thanks to the tremendous gold reserves that Spain exploited, affecting world currency markets).

The author makes interesting arguments that the area is the center of civilization even in modernity. For example, he argues that the main cause of WWI was British fear of a resurgent Russia taking India from them - not German aggression, as is commonly understood by Eurocentric views of history.

At any rate, the book is full of epic, sweeping battles, the ebb and flow of great cities like Constantinople and Baghdad, the rise and fall of empires. Highly recommended if you like this stuff!


I think the idea of a single "centre of civilisation" is less than helpful. There were certainly a number of centre's of different civilisations, but if you try to plot the centre of these, there's a good chance you would end up in the middle of nowhere, or open ocean.

I think it's much more useful to think of a net with connections, with different levels of "zoom out".

For example, you could look at 0CE Rome, and get a good understanding of how the city ran. Zoom out to Italy, and have a good understanding of the 'Centre' of their empire. Zoom out to the entire empire, noticing a second clustering towards Egypt, and how trade flowed to the Parthian empire, into Germania and how there was even a trickle through the Sahara.

Then zoom out again to get an idea of how these all interacted with the other great empires in India and China. And how these were disconnected from the American empires at the time.


The course of the book is to focus on whatever team was winning at any given time, and how the actions of that winning team set up the game for the next winning team. As such, though... before the New World, northern/western Europe didn't have any winning teams, except for the Vikings (whose slave trade with Persia and the Arab world led to the formation of Russia as a nation and a power), and the brief victory of the Crusades. And China was never very ambitious beyond its own borders.

The book is also very focused on trade, not just war. And the brilliant goods of the East were the source of great trade.


> And China was never very ambitious beyond its own borders.

True, but very informative, as China's borders have grown and shrunk and grown again quite a bit over the centuries. https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=zdHkY3XYHKA


Yes, but it's not exactly the same as the Western habit of maintaining colonies and puppet governments for a far-flung empire. China has done nothing analogous to, say, Britain's occupation of India.


What about Mediterranean bronze age though? There you have a trade based civilisation that AFAIK was far ahead of its Asian counterparts, possibly with the exception of the Indus Valley civilization. Also, I think that Rome was about on the same level as Han dynasty China, whether you look at trade, military, administration, technology etc. - it doesn't seem right to call one the center of civilization and the other a backwater.


I'm actually wanting to do a bit more investigation into the Bronze Age stuff. Long, long ago, I read Buckminster Fuller arguing that the Bronze Age could not have been centered in the Middle East (as we usually assume), because there's simply no significant tin deposits there. The only place in the world where copper and tin occur naturally together is in Thailand. And bronze is important because bronze fittings are essential for any seafaring ships larger/more complex than Polynesian pontoons. The only major tin deposits near Babylon are in the British Isles... and how do you get there?

I need to fact-check that, though. If Fuller is right, it really is a huge twist on the story of early global trade.


Sounds like a great read! I'll add it to the to-read list!


Northern Europe wasn’t the impoverished, uninteresting backwater though. It had a rich culture that interacted with the Orient through Russian rivers. Central Africa did as well, and is another forgotten story, but at the time the Greeks invented democracy, the largest city of the time was thriving in central Africa, a city that wouldn’t be out done population until after Augustus was long dead.

History is full of stuff like that. The key difference is that these regions didn’t keep written track and have left only archeology, but in Europe most of that didn’t keep because other people lived on it after wards.

The earliest written accounts about Northern Europe are Christian accounts that were written almost 400 years after the Vikings discovered America. While it’s not incorrect to theorize that there is nothing because there was nothing, it’s important to keep in mind that we still don’t know how Stonehenge was build.


> written records

> While it’s not incorrect to theorize that there is nothing because there was nothing, ...

There likely was something. Linguistic evidence from proto-indo-european homeland theories aside, could mean ongoing exchange and exploitation from far away, so no permanent civilization but excursions and outposts.

And if there was something, it is still possible that was removed by conquering religions.


Which city in Central Africa?


They could be referring to Benin City


Benin City came about during the European Middle Ages though, no? They were referring to a city in ancient Greek times


The Great Game, anyone?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Game

Honestly i can't shake the idea that said game has continued to the present day, only with various players tag teaming in and out over the years.


Yep. Anglophone nations and Russia up to all their old tricks. Some things never change...


>> Northern/Western Europe was an impoverished, uninteresting backwater until the discovery of the New World (...)

Ah, yes, an unintersting backwater ...that created objects like this one:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism

Also: Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Thales of Melitus, Archimedes, Democritus, Ptolemy, Aristotle of course, etc etc.

It's true that the Orient and also Mesoamerica were also civlisational centers, a fact that is not acknowledged in Western history books. But to go from that ommission, to saying that the West (in fact, the entire Old World since it's impossible to separate Greek and Roman history from say Egyptian or Babylonian history) was a "backwater" before Columbus, is simply unhistorical.


When did Greece move into Northern/Western Europe? :)


Greek history, like Roman history, is (part of) the history of the West. Is the OP talking specifically about the history of, say, the Germanic or Gaulish tribes before they were conquered by Cesar?

It's difficult to know. The OP mentions the "Eeastern Mediterranean basin" as part of the Orient:

>> the Orient (particularly the Eastern Mediterranean basin over to present-day India), not Europe, is the historic center of civilization.

I can't see how that doesn't include Greece, especially Ionia. On the other hand, I can't see how "Europe" excludes Greece, either. The same goes for the Roman Empire, that covered much of both Europe and the Eastern Mediterrannean for a long period.

I think the OP, or perhaps their source, is just confused about what is what, the Orient, Europe, the West etc.


I thought I was quite clear. Greece and Italy are, effectively, part of the Orient, due to their contiguous connection to the Mediterranean and easy shipping access. Greece is closer to Persia than it is to the British Isles!

The straight-line cultural connection from northern Europe to classical Greece is mostly a myth, established to sell a sense of importance to the Johnny-come-lately imperialists of Britain, Holland, and Germany. "Europe" is a more modern concept.


>> Greece is closer to Persia than it is to the British Isles!

Geographically, certainly. Culturally, not at all. The Persian wars (and even Alexander's campaign) were already portrayed as a clash of civilisation by their contemporaries. The difference between one big, monolithic empire vs many agile city-states (a few of them even democratic, to different degrees) was not easy to miss and it becamse a main theme of the interpretations of the Persians' failed campaigns that persists to this day (e.g. - how the Greeks overwhelmed the Persian navy with their smaller, faster, more manoeuverable ships in Salamis etc).

>> "Europe" is a more modern concept.

A lot of this "myth" of continuity comes from the fact that the people who were originally subjugated by Rome ended up seeing themselves as Roman, and proclaimed their proto-nation states to be the legitimate heirs of Rome. Most prominent among them, the Holy Roman Empire (i.e. the origins of modern Germany) and even more so Byzantium, the Eastern Roman Empire, in other words- the Greeks.

Is there a straight-line connection between Rome and modern Greece that goes through Byzantium? A word for "Greek" in the Greek language is, even today, "Romios", which means - Roman. The Turks even called us "Rum".

Is there a straight-line connection between ancient and modern Greece? We call ourselves "Greek" (I'm one obviously) but we speak a significantly changed language, identify with a single nation-state and recognise a montheistic religion as the official state religion.

And yet, who has more of a claim to being "greek" than modern-day Greeks? Turks, maybe, who live in what used to be Ionia? Southern Italians, who live in Magna Grecia and often speak Greek dialects?

How about a connection with Rome? Who can claim to be a descendant of the Romans any more than the speakers of Romance languages? What about the inhabitants of the "land of the Romans" (Romania)?

What I'm trying to say is- modern nation-states are invariably based on a particular reading of ancient history, which, since we're talking about the Old World, is the history of Rome (and to a lesser extent, Greece). The influence of Rome on the identity and culture of the people of Europe, through those "myths" is of such undeniable magnitude that it really ends up constituting a straight-line cultural connection, even when the culture has changed significantly since ancient times (as of course it would). See "What did the Romans do for us".

"Europe" is a modern concept, sure- but it would not have taken off the ground if it hadn't been for the unifying influence of the Roman Empire.


Note: Current Romania never claimed to be a descendant of the Roman state, unlike those other countries you mention. Byzantium was actually the valid successor of the Roman Empire, since the Romans themselves made it and it was a splinter of the former empire. The HRE, Russia, the Ottomans, etc., were all claiming the former Roman imperial glory.

Instead current Romania was named as such just based on the endonym (the name they gave to themselves) of the locals: Romanians. The name of the locals does imply a connection to the Romans, as their descendants, but that's it.

What I'm trying to say is a bit subtle, but basically Romania is a name which acknowledges a fact (the Romanians are descendants of the Romans/Latin speaking populations; not even our greatest enemy, Hungary denies this), not a claim to greatness. So the name is a logical extension of this fact, just like you'd call the land of the Greeks, Greece (or the land of the Albanians, Albania) :)


I didn't know there is antagonism between Romanians and Hungarians. I guess, historically and geographically speaking it was inevitable :/


Franz Ferdinand was a fall guy.


Germany had good reason to be paranoid. They were surrounded by a powerful alliance between Britain, Russia, and France, all of whom were scapegoating German ambition to help with their own political problems. Archduke Ferdinand's assassination was just a crystal falling into a supersaturated solution. When Russia demanded action from its allies in support of their ally, war was inevitable. At that point, Germany declared war on Russia only to get the first strike in, before Russia could fully mobilize France and Britain against Germany as well.


When you find yourself surrounded by enemies, you might ask yourself how it came to be that all your neighbors turned against you.

An Anglo-French alliance was not inevitable; as late as 1894 it was possible to publish a novel in which England, invaded by France and Russia, was rescued by Germany [1].

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_War_in_England_in_18...


http://nationalinterest.org/feature/germanys-superpower-ques...

"In the European Union, treating World War I as the product of abstract forces like arms races or nationalism is doubtlessly useful in minimizing national animosities.

But unlike the chattering classes, most historians, ever since Fritz Fischer published Germany’s Aims in the First World War (1961), have tended to agree that the major cause of World War I was Imperial Germany’s determination to become a “world power” or superpower by crippling Russia and France in what it hoped would be a brief and decisive war, like the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Following the Archduke’s assassination, Berlin deliberately used the crisis in relations between its satellite Austria-Hungary and Russia’s satellite Serbia as an excuse for a general war that would establish German hegemony from Belgium to Baghdad. World War I started in 1914 for the same reason that World War II started in 1939—a government in Berlin wanted a war, though not the war it ultimately got."

Additionally, Austrian historians claim that Austrian military strategists also surely didn't want the big war but just to attack Serbia which they estimated was already weak enough to be an easy target. Both Germans and Austrians simply (stupidly?) expected much less response from other countries.


Talking about being surrounded by enemies, it might end up really badly for you: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partitions_of_Poland


In a sense he was, as my impression is that his uncle, the emperor of Austria-Hungary, and government had been looking for a reason to stomp Serbia into submission for some time. One that they hoped would not get the Russian Tsar riled up...


> Invincible on flat ground as long as its flanks were protected, the phalanx was dangerously exposed on hillsides. Highly manoeuvrable, veterans of the Hannibalic war, the legionaries wreaked a terrible slaughter.

It's amazing how much terrain has affected the arc of history.


I've just finished McCann's 1491 and on to 1493, about pre- and post-Columbian Exchange, respectively. Something that stood out was the commentary on why Americans never invented the wheel (given they independently invented agriculture and government)... and the answer was exactly that; terrain. Plus lack of horses... when you have llamas instead, you build your empire's "roads" for walking, not for carriages.


Here’s a view on the ever popular Legion vs Phalanx debate, written from the Greek side by someone alive during the war:

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%...



My public-school education (in the US) definitely never taught the subject. My history classes were divided into clearly-delineated "units" of study with no overlap. "First let's learn about Mesopotamia. Agriculture, Hammurabi, etc. Now recite what you learned on a test. Good, now we're moving on. Greece. City-states, marble statues, Olympics. Another test. Moving on. Rome..."

My "Earth Science" class was structured the same way. We learned about the formation of the solar system, then dinosaurs, then Cro-Magnon Man. Each unit of study was so completely separate from the others chronologically that it never occurred to me to ask "So did Greece and Rome ever have wars?" for the same reason it never did to ask "How did early homonids fight off dinosaurs?". It seemed so obvious at the time that there was no overlap.

Anyway, if I have a point, it's this: never underestimate the inadequacy of the US primary education system.


I normally try not to make low effort comments but this resonated so strongly with me I had to chime in with a "ME TOO."

I _LOVE_ history now. I collect antique history books, just to see how perceptions changed over time. Ken Burns tops hollywood in terms of "# of films watched" by many times over. However, this only started MUCH later in my life when I started to see history as a tool, a way of thinking, of reasoning about the world.

History as it was taught in my early schooling was not only useless, it was utterly counterproductive; As you say: memorizing slabs of rote dates and events not only removed any utility or holistic understanding from the facts (and related time periods), but convinced me that I "hated history" and should avoid the subject like the plague. Arrogantly, I was one of the better students in my high-school, so I can only imagine what the less advantaged crowd felt about those courses, and it doesn't leave me surprised with the "lack of historical context and appreciation" I feel to be pervasive in the American population.

To truncate this rant: History is _so fucking amazing_ when you start to consider it as an interplay of human pathologies, and as a tool for understanding our present. It's such a frustration that our education system doesn't do it justice.


Well... as a tenth-grader, say, I wasn't actually in a position to understand history the way I do now. Teaching me a bare-bones framework was perhaps the best they could do, which gave me a place to hang the detail that I learned later.


That's the sad part for me, there was 0 "Framework" learning. It was 100% rote memorization, usually for a standardized test. (As I've said in other threads, it wasn't until college that I really "Learned how to learn.")

A bare-bones framework, to my older eyes, would teach you to ask about incentives, to look at the zeitgeist of the times, to ask "what's the precedent," and might establish a motivation for this in showing the predictive power of history, or its utility in comprehending current situations. Unfortunately, all of those were long-post-primary-schooling revelations. While I may not have had the context or appreciation I do now, my schooling did almost nothing to move me in that direction.


That would be a framework for thinking about history, which isn't what I meant. I'm not sure I was ready for that in tenth grade. (I suppose it might have opened the door to some new thoughts, but I don't think I would really have gotten it.)

By "framework" I meant just the bare outlines of history: Egypt, the Fertile Crescent, then Greece, then Rome, then the Middle Ages, then the Renaissance, then the Industrial Revolution... Having that "outline" put me in a position, later, as I learned more, of seeing how the details fit into the (very coarse) outline, and thereby learning more outline.

What you're asking for is also totally necessary if one wants to understand history as more than just a collection of facts. And I suppose that even in grade school, history would make more sense if you told them that things happened for reasons, they didn't just happen. You'd have to really simplify the reasons, though...


I agree you need a bare-facts framework. But you also need to make it interesting, in part so the students will keep studying on their own.

Now that should be interesting, since history is full of so many things that human beings find fascinating. Unfortunately, the educators generally manage to make it boring.


> History as it was taught in my early schooling was not only useless, it was utterly counterproductive

It's not just history. Physicists complain "why would they be interested in physics, when they aren't shown any interesting physics?" Chemistry education research describes precollege chemistry education content as "incoherent", leaving both students and teachers deeply steeped in misconceptions. And so on.

Consider a scale of dysfunction, from rote memorization and regurgitation, through mindless plug-and-chug, towards transferable expertise. The disruption of VR/AR is coming. What if we aimed high?

What might transformatively improved history education look like? Imagine teaching crosscutting concepts that pervade history. "History without X? That's just silly." Migration, for example. What if students, shown any slice of history, could be "ok, this looks familiar, here are some key things to look for"? A veterinary systems understanding, instead of a med student's memorized details.

When one sees a bit of history, it can be fun to reflect, how might this have been described better, with greater insight, simplicity, clarity, and accessibility? ELI5. But beyond the fun, with the tech potential for change building, there's a need for visualizing: what would success look like? Real success. Awesome success. Because we need something that matters to aim for.


Of course, history is amazing, and I too have devoted much of my time to studying various periods the older I have got. Studying is perhaps too strong a word, it's more of a form of entertainment and as a way of understanding how we got to where we are now.

I think it started with an obsession with the news, and to understand the news, you need background, history.

I think though, it's difficult to covey all this to a child, or even perhaps a teen, and I doubt there is much interest, outside of the gory details. Looking back I found parts of history interesting, but I never felt like a had a holistic view of the past. As time has gone on, you piece it all together, bit by bit, place by place and see how it's relevant to today's world. There is a lot to take in, it takes time.


Anyway, if I have a point, it's this: never underestimate the inadequacy of the US primary education system.

That happens everywhere it's not an American thing ( btw, the article is from an Irish newspaper), there's too much to cover in so little time. But learning shouldn't stop when we graduate, I can't blame school for my adult-life shortcomings, I got the basics and that should be enough IMHO

On the subject of the article, it's definitely not as popular as the punic wars or Caesar's conquest of Gaul, but then again what is?


> there's too much to cover in so little time

Then again, you look back at what students and school boys from earlier eras were able to learn and accomplish by the time they were considered men (which by the way was like 16-17 in antiquity), you wonder what the hell our modern education system is doing sometimes.


As an immigrant from the US to the UK, this isn't unique to the US. The reality is that there is so much history out there that it is very hard to get a solid overview of it which weaves together into a coherent narrative. There's just not enough time. Its why independent resources like youtube and video games which actually care about history are so important.

(Its still reasonable to be annoyed by the way. My personal annoyance is that my school taught a lesson about George Washington Carver which didn't include a discussion of the nitrogen cycle or nitrogen-fixing bacteria.)


IMHO the biggest problem with the way history is taught in school is the need to test on it. This means making kids memorize names and dates and individual events so that they tend to lose the forest for the trees. It's hard to get a holistic view of the situation when you're focused on the smallest details.


It's not the testing, but how it's being tested.

Grading people on how well they can remember dates is easy. Did they get the year something happened correct? One point.

Actually requiring students to write something that requires critical analysis makes it a lot harder to grade tests.


I think you hit the nail on the head. The fact that you're also tested on useless tidbits like the kind of pottery some tribe used is soul crushing as a child.


It's not just the US educational system. I doubt any country's education teaches kids everything. For example in Greece history lessons are dominated by our history as you would expect. It's 50% Classical Greece, 30% Byzantium and 20% for the rest of the world which is pretty much European history and a bit of Mesopotamia. We learn nothing about Asian cultures or American ones. And this is to be expected. Every country teaches the history of those that affected them most.


> > We learned about the formation of the solar system, then dinosaurs, then Cro-Magnon Man

Consider yourself fortunate that they were covered at all. In some schools those are taboo subjects, as they conflict with the religious ethos.


Ironically, my US education was just as bad about modern events. 4th grade we covered the American revolution. 5th was American revolution and civil war. Each year covered the previous material with (a little) more depth, yet I had WW I twice and WW II and Korea once (12th grade). Vietnam wasn't covered at all, much less anything since then. And I went to a GOOD high school. I fear what poor ones teach.

Not that Vietnam or the WW II aftermath is at all relevant to modern politics. /s


It all depends on the State. New York mandates a certain number of hours to cover the Irish Potato Famine, but of course there is little/no context to it.

I had some great high school history teachers who pushed the envelope on diverging from the standard crap. By the time my brother got to high school, those guys retired, and the Global Studies Africa unit consisted of a day about slave hunters and watching Shaka Zulu.

A brief reference to Gandi sufficed as the history of India. One of my brothers' buddies gave a presentation about what they learned that year with a slide that said "Gandi thought that salt cost too much".


It's not just the USA that his this problem. It seems to be a global problem.

I think that a large part of it is that we like to break up the curriculum into little compartments, rather than treating it as a series of interrelated components. There's history to be learned in science, and there's science to be learned in history, for example. But we treat science and history as two completely separate entities.


"Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum."


We still use the term Phyrric Victory nearly 2300 years after the famous war that spawned the term.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrrhic_War


I live in Northern Greece/Macedonia and I can confirm that we were never taught history with this level of detail.

It seems so fascinating to me that if you focus hard enough to a simple sentence of a modern history book you can uncover battles and kings and strategies and winters and politics.


As a fellow Macedon, I concur. Ancient history was kind of glossed over, although I'm not sure if you can call three years of ancient history "glossing over". I guess there's just so much to cover.


What's also interesting is how the Romans initially resisted incorporating Greece and the other Hellenistic kingdoms until they felt that they had to by the 140's BCE. Also, note that the Romans had no such compunctions on adding Spain to their holdings after the 2nd Punic War. (the massive amounts of silver in Iberia probably had a bit to do with it)


The Greeks were divided and unruly, a fact known for at least 2 centuries. I don’t fault the Romans :)


Anyone have any good articles/books on why Greece has never reached greatness or similar status to other EU powers since the middle ages? Especially given their influence on the enlightenment, mathematics, philosophy, and Roman culture itself - which spread throughout the western world.

I've always been curious why they have stagnated so much since and been so... mediocre.

I guess you could say the same about Macedonia and maybe some middle eastern areas if we're looking purely at past greatness, but those two seem to be easier to explain. Greece's impact was more wider, longer, and stronger.


The answer is simple, and sad. We (I am Greek) missed out on the Renaissance and the Enlightenment because we were under the boot of the Ottoman empire for 400 years.

By the time we achieved freedom, we were a backwater too far behind everyone else in Europe to be competitive.


Interesting, I'm sure there's multiple causes but that could certainly contribute significantly.


> I guess you could say the same about Macedonia and maybe some middle eastern areas if we're looking purely at past greatness, but those two seem to be easier to explain. Greece's impact was more wider, longer, and stronger.

Just a correction - Macedonia was (and is) part of Greece: https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/6265/was-alexand...


I didn't know Alexander and the Macedon's were ethnically Greek. That makes more sense now given their accomplishments in that era. Thanks for the link.


We have a good life at low cost in our "mediocre" home, and travel to London/New York to do all that economically productive stuff that no sane person actually enjoys

it is the next stage of civilizational evolution, look forward to it America :)


> all that economically productive stuff that no sane person actually enjoys

If that's the culture of modern greece then that explains a lot in itself. I guess the tentacles of socialism are still strangling Greece and it's legacy has been embedded in their culture [1].

> We have a good life at low cost

Not to make this political but that lifestyle clearly hasn't exactly been sustainable and has been heavily subsidized externally AND internally. Which will cripple future growth for years to pay for yesterdays misteps.

The fact all economically productive people leave to other places says as much about the anti-business enviornment present in Greece as much as it does about people's lifestyle choices there. No one wants to leave their hometown to make a living or do great things. It's always a consequence of trade-offs (ie, taxation, regulatory sanity, access to talented, hardworking, and educated people, excitement/apathy towards the future of the country, etc).

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/2015/07/01/greek-disaster-is-all-about-...


Isn't that somewhat the whole story of today's southern europe? The benefits of modernity probably means they live better than they ever did, but most southern european states are to some varying extent living in the shadow of former glory. Perhaps a lesson in the gap between economics and worthiness or merit.


> Isn't that somewhat the whole story of today's southern europe?

I wasn't just talking about the modern era though but the last few centuries including the modern century plus...


I know. And each of the southern european states has a slightly different heyday too.


please, avoid abbreviating European as EU


One problem with the topic of Roman and Greek history is that there is too much of it to cover in a single book. I am forever looking for a single volume book that covers all the way from the founding of Rome, to the republic years, to the birth of Christianity, to the dark ages, and eventually to the fall of Constantinople, with no luck.

Sometimes even amazed that events like the Eastern Roman empire repelled Goths from Italy, and even managed to occupy Rome proper, for a few brief years, took place.


I feel like the juicy part of that article is in the last two paragraphs. Like how was the deal making done, what where the details that made the other city states submit to the Roman side. If it's really all content there is, then maybe a Tweet would have been enough.


Surprised there's no mention of Pyrrhus of Epirus. He was a Greek, fighting Romans and winning (though obviously at heavy cost, hence the term). He was using the Phalanx system as well.

Hannibal rated him as up there with Alexander as one of the greatest generals ever.


A nice short video on the subject https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mE7xTNzdN7Q


How is this little known? If anything, this is too known. What I wish, but is impossible, is that there were more documented stories of the conflicts of e.g. Native Americans or Native South Americans, before European Settlers; early wars in Africa; or wars in the extremes of the Artic between early tribes. I have listened to all of Dan Carlin's "Hardcore History" ( which any student of history will fall in love with ), and the only limitation is that he can only recount histories that are documented, which sadly doesn't extend to most pre-European-influence civilizations.


Ok, we've taken 'little-known' out of the title above, to satisfy those who know more than a little. But let's please switch to something other than the title now.


The College Board is cancelling all that stuff. https://www.politico.com/story/2018/06/11/ap-world-history-g...


The problem there is that pre-european American wars aren't as interesting as, say, any era of China's blood-soaked history.

Not all conflicts are created equal I guess.


Rome Vs Greece is little known well I never :-) I suspect Mr keen was not educated by the Cristian brothers.

And I am not so sure that the manipular style was ineffective in a straight fight. Rome abandoned the phalanx for a reason.


And later picked up the cohort under the Marian reforms for reasons as well, especially once the Gauls began hitting them with frontal charges again.


I don't know about little-known.


Schools vary, but usually this conflict isn't really presented much in survey classes.

The highlights of education on Greece usually focus on Alexander the Great for a day or two, phalanx, the various figures of Athens, Athens vs. Sparta. Rome usually is some chat about the origin myth, "they were a republic", the Punic Wars, specifically Hannibal, Ceasar, transition to empire, random facts.


Probably a decent number of people learn about the conflict in passing at least when the fall of the Macedonian satrapies is discussed, as well as the final conquest of Sicily, what with Archimedes' death and all.


Surely most people know that the Romans conquered the Greeks and adapted large part of their culture. For goodness' sake, the eastern half of the Empire they all spoke Greek!


I had no idea; most history taught in the states appears to focus on non-european events until, suddenly, holocaust.


Well I'd argue it's the opposite -- that it is an excessively Euro-centric view of the world we mostly learn.


World War One, the little known conflict that had a bigger impact on Europe than you may think... Sure, never heard of ww1. And never heard of the Roman Empire and it’s invasion of Greece, Egypt and Gaul.




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