I studied Ancient Greece numerously as I was rising through the ranks in my schooling, but it wasn’t until this year, in my Western Civilization class, that I noticed how eerily similar the rise, and possible fall, of the ancient state of Athens and present day United States are. It is a popular fact that these two powerful states, although separated by nearly 2500 years, shared a common method of governing, the democracy. Throughout history, there aren’t many societies that can match up with the intellectual, economic, and military power these states measured out at. They can be easily identified as the respective hegemon of their time period, with each state showing evidence of imperialism in world domination through culture, politics, and military power.
One of the first things that came to mind when learning about Athens was how they spearheaded the effort to form the Delian League after the war with the Persians. The Delian League, led by the Athenians, created a military and financial “alliance” between all of the participating Greek city-states, in case the Persians decided to attack again. After a while, the member states became very irritated with the power happy Athenians, as it was appearing that this “league of nations” was simply an Athenian empire, with Athenians attempting to spread democracy and control the power of all the other city-states. As a result, with Sparta’s help, the other city-states formed an alliance against Athens, dropped out of the league, and eventually defeated the Athenians. These events are known as the Peloponessian Wars. This Delian League is shockingly similar to the United Nations, which the United States largely influences today. Instead of the unified Greek city states, we have 193 member states, 54 of them experiencing more than 1,000 pairs of United States combat boots on their soil.
During the Peloponessian Wars there were a few mistakes that the Athenian democracy made that eventually costed them their sovereignty. One of them was the campaign against Sicily, which was a huge disaster for them. This senseless invasion very well could have cost them the war. Today, we have our invasions of the Middle East, especially Iraq, that we can compare to the Athenians. These invasions are both great examples of two hegemonic powers that are beginning to spread to thin.
Is there some resemblance that both are also aimed at spreading democracy to a nation that has never experienced it before? Both of these states have a vast history of foreign intervention, nation building, preemptive war attacks, and certainly what seems to be an itch for global governing. With everything that is going on with our economy and military in the Middle East, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to hope that the United States does not end up like the Athenians did.