Aristotle’s pupil was a certain Alexander, a Macedonian prince who would grow up to establish an empire as big as the empire of the Ottomans, which would come into being a thousand years later. The Ottomans would one day take the last remnant of the Greek world, the city of Constantinople (once the city-state of Byzantium), as their own prize, but at the time of Alexander they had not yet risen to prominence. When they did, the name of Alexander the Great would continue to resonate in people’s minds, and especially in the minds of the old Greek Orthodox Balkan families who lost their land and their children to the invading Ottoman army.
Alexander’s conquests, which included Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt and Babylonia, brought new things good and bad. The Greeks became exposed to new religions: Buddhism, Persian Zoroastrianism, eventually Judaism and Islam, besides astrology from Babylonia, which soon gained rapid popularity. Greek cities were being founded everywhere, and a new concept grew up around what it meant to be Greek, leading, inevitably, to a degree of discrimination. In Alexander’s new empire the division became a division between Greek and barbarian — ‘civilised’ and ‘uncivilised’.
The Romans later inherited this way of thinking from the Greeks and applied it to themselves (even though the Greeks still saw the Romans as barbarians because of their coarseness). This concept of the civilised and the non-civilised persisted, and became the benchmark by which people were classified. When it came to taking slaves, only a barbarian was seen as fit for the task, not a Greek. To his credit, Alexander saw the danger and tried to correct it by marrying two barbarian women and giving them status, but Greek superiority was the consequence of empire, and hard to eradicate. Even when people mixed, the effect was not always positive. The Greeks became less Greek, as philosophers lost their influence to the military, and the barbarians, including the Romans, became more Greek but also more disruptive. And so Alexander’s greedy conquests brought instability, insecurity, and the Greek city-states that had flourished in the fourth century BC gradually lost their autonomy.
When Alexander died in 323 BC, his empire fell into the hands of two generals; one of them, Ptolemy, founded the city of Alexandria in present day Egypt, while the other founded the city of Antioch in Syria. Both these generals established dictatorships. The old Greek self-governing cities with their flourishing democracies, although imperfect, had provided the foundation for such great philosophical and scholastic advancement, and the ambition of Alexander in the end destroyed them. As Greek people feared for their safety and the armies Alexander had created roamed the empire in his wake as mercenaries, people changed. There was still a positive side; empire building meant that Greek culture was to spread as never before, influencing the rest of the world. But the influences the Greeks absorbed in their turn were less lofty. As Gilbert Murray writes in his book, The Five Stages of Greek Religion, “Astrology fell upon the Hellenistic mind as a new disease falls upon some remote island people (…) every one was ready to receive the germ”. It brought moral decay and grew an atmosphere of anxiety — neither of which provided fertile ground for progress.
At times of great innovation, such as the Italian Renaissance, those who excelled, excelled at almost everything. An artist was also a geometer, often an inventor, and frequently a mathematician. Renaissance Man found his apogee in Leonardo Da Vinci, but before Alexander there had been many such individuals. Now, like a gene no longer dominant, they would die out. Scholars like Archimedes and Euclid were specialists — mathematicians, but there would be no more Greeks like Plato and Aristotle. There was, however, still cause for hope.
Ptolemy, who had founded his dynasty in Egypt, established a library in his city, the library of Alexandria. The port of Alexandria flourished as a centre of commerce. Every ship that put into port would apparently cede its scrolls to be copied at the library by Greek scribes. In this way Alexandria gradually accumulated a vast wealth of knowledge and gained its reputation as the centre of learning of the ancient world, a reputation that would outlive the Greek world and provide the inspiration for the growth of Western European civilisation. But still, the story of the Greeks was not yet over. Soon a new empire would rise up to challenge them as never before. It was the empire born from the belly of the wolf, and it was Roman.
Did you know that the Dracul family was Greek Orthodox?
And that Vlad Dracula defended Europe from the Ottoman Turks?
Find out more in The Sultan, the Vampyr and the Soothsayer, HERE
by Lucille Turner
A compelling tale of prophecy and intrigue
A novel about the life of Leonardo da Vinci