The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece

The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece

JOSIAH OBER
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 464
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x0q7b
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    The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece
    Book Description:

    Lord Byron described Greece as great, fallen, and immortal, a characterization more apt than he knew. Through most of its long history, Greece was poor. But in the classical era, Greece was densely populated and highly urbanized. Many surprisingly healthy Greeks lived in remarkably big houses and worked for high wages at specialized occupations. Middle-class spending drove sustained economic growth and classical wealth produced a stunning cultural efflorescence lasting hundreds of years.

    Why did Greece reach such heights in the classical period-and why only then? And how, after "the Greek miracle" had endured for centuries, did the Macedonians defeat the Greeks, seemingly bringing an end to their glory? Drawing on a massive body of newly available data and employing novel approaches to evidence, Josiah Ober offers a major new history of classical Greece and an unprecedented account of its rise and fall.

    Ober argues that Greece's rise was no miracle but rather the result of political breakthroughs and economic development. The extraordinary emergence of citizen-centered city-states transformed Greece into a society that defeated the mighty Persian Empire. Yet Philip and Alexander of Macedon were able to beat the Greeks in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE, a victory made possible by the Macedonians' appropriation of Greek innovations. After Alexander's death, battle-hardened warlords fought ruthlessly over the remnants of his empire. But Greek cities remained populous and wealthy, their economy and culture surviving to be passed on to the Romans-and to us.

    A compelling narrative filled with uncanny modern parallels, this is a book for anyone interested in how great civilizations are born and die.

    This book is based on evidence available on a new interactive website. To learn more, please visit: http://polis.stanford.edu/.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6555-0
    Subjects: History, Philosophy, Political Science, Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. List of Images and Tables
    (pp. IX-XII)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. XIII-XX)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. XXI-XXIV)
  6. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. XXV-XXV)
  7. [Maps]
    (pp. XXVI-XXX)
  8. 1 the EFFLORESCENCE of CLASSICAL GREECE
    (pp. 1-20)

    In 1812, Lord Byron published a poem that made him the hero of a world poised at the brink of modernity and ready for romance. It included these poignant lines:

    Fair Greece! sad relic of departed worth!

    Immortal, though no more! though fallen, great!¹

    With just fourteen words, Byron illuminated the stark contrast between Greek antiquity and the Greece he had observed during his travels in 1809 and 1810. Byron knew a lot about Greece. As an educated English nobleman, he had read classical literature. As an intrepid traveler, he had personal experience of early nineteenth century Greece. By Byron’s...

  9. 2 ANTS around a POND: AN ECOLOGY OF CITY-STATES
    (pp. 21-44)

    In Plato’s dialogue,Phaedo(109b), Socrates describes the corner of the Earth that was in his day occupied by his fellow Greeks. He employs what initially appears to be a peculiar analogy: “The Earth is very large and we … live in a small part of it about the sea,like ants or frogs around a pond.” Although Plato himself knew little about the lives of ants, new research on ant behavior by evolutionary biologists suggests that his seemingly far-fetched simile was in some ways startlingly apt: Greek society developed, through the historical mechanisms of cultural-institutional innovation, certain features that...

  10. 3 POLITICAL ANIMALS: A THEORY OF DECENTRALIZED COOPERATION
    (pp. 45-70)

    At the heart of the mystery of classical efflorescence lies the question of how the Greeks, in an ecology of many small states, solved problems of decentralized cooperation and thereby ruled one another, as citizens—rather than being ruled as dominated subjects of centralized royal authority in a large state.

    Decentralized cooperation is among the most important and pervasive features of life. It plays a major role in the activity of, for example, bacteria, ants, birds, and humans—and it defines a research area for the social and biological sciences alike. Yet many aspects of cooperation have long resisted explanation....

  11. 4 WEALTHY HELLAS: MEASURING EFFLORESCENCE
    (pp. 71-100)

    In the later fourth century bce, as Aristotle was writing thePolitics, Hellas reached the peak of its classical efflorescence. This chapter documents the material conditions that provided the foundation for the cultural greatness celebrated by Lord Byron. Thanks to recent work by archaeologists, economists, and historians, we can specify, in considerable detail, how wealthy Hellas actually was. But first we need to establish a baseline: Just how wealthy ought we toexpectclassical Hellas to have been, if, counterfactually, it had reached only the median level of development of core Greece during the three-plus millennia from ca. 1300 bce...

  12. 5 EXPLAINING HELLAS’ WEALTH: FAIR RULES AND COMPETITION
    (pp. 101-122)

    The evidence presented in the previous chapter shows that in the 700 years between 1000 and 300 bce Hellas experienced a sustained era of economic growth, culminating in a strikingly high level of development. By the later fourth century bce, the Greek world was unusual in the extent and density of its population, its level of urbanization, the material conditions of life (including housing), and the health of the adult population. In comparison with other premodern societies, wealth and income were quite equitably distributed. Many Greeks lived between the extremes of affluence and poverty and well above the level of...

  13. 6 CITIZENS and SPECIALIZATION before 500 BCE
    (pp. 123-156)

    Sparta, Athens, and Syracuse were the biggest, most prominent, most powerful, and arguably the most influential states of the classical Greek world. Assessing the rise of these three poleis allows us to test the hypothesis that political exceptionalism, in the form of fair rules (resulting in capital investment and lower transaction costs) and competition (promoting innovation and rational cooperation) were primary causes of dramatic growth across the decentralized ecology of city-states. This chapter and the next trace how each of these “superpoleis” developed innovative rules that led to bold new forms of social order, in each case based on establishing...

  14. 7 FROM TYRANNY to DEMOCRACY, 550–465 BCE
    (pp. 157-190)

    The liberators’ knives struck home; the tyrant fell; Athens, freed from despotism, went on to democracy and greatness. Or so the Athenians sometimes liked to imagine. The real story of tyranny, its demise, the origins of democracy, and Athens’ rise to prominence in the Greek world was more complicated and, from the viewpoint of explaining efflorescence, much more interesting. It becomes even more interesting when compared to the experience with tyranny and democracy of Sicilian Syracuse, a polis that seemed in some ways to be Athens’ twin.¹

    What the Greeks called tyranny was, outside the Greek world, a historically prevalent...

  15. 8 GOLDEN AGE of EMPIRE, 478–404 BCE
    (pp. 191-222)

    In 478 bce, as they surveyed the wreckage of their once-beautiful city, the Athenians reckoned the cost of victory in the Persian wars. There was much to celebrate: The bulk of the population had survived, evacuated in advance of the Persian attack to safe havens in the Peloponnesus. The bold choice of the young democratic regime to fight at sea had been vindicated. The tenuous alliance with Sparta had remained intact for the duration of the war. Athens’ reputation had grown. Along with the Spartans, the Athenians were honored at Delphi by their fellow Greeks as having contributed decisively to...

  16. 9 DISORDER and GROWTH, 403–340 BCE
    (pp. 223-260)

    In the century following the end of the Peloponnesian War, Hellas reached the peak of the classical-era efflorescence. That Hellas would be highly developed by the late fourth century bce was, however, far from obvious to Greek observers of the immediate postwar generation: Xenophon, Plato, and Isocrates each characterized their Greek world as without leadership, lacking order, and plagued by chaotic wars and endemic civil strife. In the fourth century bce, Hellas was in effect divided into three zones, each with its own political and economic trajectory. In the first half of the fourth century, each zone saw what look...

  17. 10 POLITICAL FALL, 359–334 BCE THE TERMINATION OF THE CLASSICAL ERA
    (pp. 261-292)

    Warfare was rife in the half century after the Peloponnesian War. Yet, with the exception of Leuctra, where Sparta’s long run as a superpolis abruptly ended in 371 bce, there were few truly decisive battles. That changed in the seventh decade of the fourth century, when a series of battlefield decisions remade the Greek world: In 338, at Chaeronea, Philip II of Macedon defeated a Greek alliance led by Athens and Thebes. His victory ended the era in which great and independent poleis dominated the Aegean world. Philip’s son, Alexander III “The Great,” then brought down the once-mighty Persian Empire...

  18. 11 CREATIVE DESTRUCTION and IMMORTALITY
    (pp. 293-316)

    In the poetic lines with which we began, Byron described Greece as immortal, fallen, and great. We have followed the rise of classical Greece to greatness, understood as efflorescence. We have traced the fall, understood as the loss of full independence by the major city-states. This concluding chapter reviews the causes of greatness and fall and turns to the question of immortality.

    Both greatness and fall had similar causes: high levels of specialization, innovation, and mobility of people, goods, and ideas as the result of distinctive political conditions. I characterized those political conditions as fair rules and competitive emulation. Those...

  19. APPENDIX I: REGIONS OF THE GREEK WORLD: POPULATION, SIZE, FAME
    (pp. 317-320)
  20. APPENDIX II: KING, CITY, AND ELITE GAME
    (pp. 321-328)
    Josiah Ober and Barry Weingast
  21. NOTES
    (pp. 329-366)
  22. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 367-400)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 401-416)