mercredi 16 février 2011

Ancient Democracy under Alexander and Caesar and ... et c

From a comments section:

Speaking of myths:

Gaith spake:

“The Greeks invented a form, albeit limited, of self-government; a Roman invented the steam engine. It would a millennium of Christianity-dominated European history to resurrect those two ideas.”


These two sentences are quite a muddle. Yes, the Greeks did manage to get a form of democracy going for a while (though bad luck if you were an Athenian woman or a slave). But it was not killed off by Christianity – it died long before Jesus was even born and its ashes were stamped on by successive generations of Macedonian, Ptolomaic [sic], Sele[u]cid and Roman despots and monarchs. And we actually didn’t have to wait “a millennium” before similar forms of (limited) democracy arose again – we see it again in Icelandic society and in the city states of Italy and in the Parliaments of England – all of which flourished *during* that supposedly benighted millennium of the Middle Ages.


Now, actually Tim O'Neill is a bit off the hook. When Demosthenes (was it he who wrote the Philippics?) spoke up against Philip of Macedon, indeed he was not heeded. But what happened afterwards was not Athenians loosing all rights to govern Athens. What happened was Athens loosing the right to an independent foreign policy. If you know how Suzdal and Moscow related to the Khan, you get a bit of the picture.

Just as a bit further West, when Pompei came under Rome, likewise it did not loose its interior self-governement. There was, up to eruption of Vesuvius, a Senatus PopulusQue Pompeiorum. And so on for about any Italian city. France was a bit different, seeing that pre-Roman society was tribal and Aristocratic: so French city-states were more like Sparta than Athens and even more like Crete in constitution after Rome took over. And Rome taking over meant basically that a Citizen of X automatically was a Roman Citizen and had a right to vote in Rome in the comitia and so on if he was in Rome. Which, from Caesar on, meant little politically. It did not mean that whatever democracy or Aristocracy there was was lost to Roman bureaucrats. There were even some Kings under Rome. Herod is a known one, the grandfather of Constantine, King Cole of Colchester is at least a previously presumedly known one. But Athens never had Kings under Rome and presumably Colchester and Holy Land never were exactly democracies under Rome.

In France this was further modified by the Roman villa, by retreat from the Cities (due to Imperial taxation or insecurity during wars: I mean in New York State the Twin Towers were more likely to get hit than Potsdam) and by - in some, not all cases - new landlords being Franks. It was also modified by new freemen retaining unfreedoms in relation to old masters. But all this was local modification, not centralised constitution.

When City States began to flourish again, they had, if founded early, Ancient tradition behind their constitutions. Venice obviously was not founded in Antiquity, but Vienna was. It is not an accident and probably not even "interpretatio antiqua" when mayors in city councils call the other ones Consules.

Wheather Steam engine was a blessing is quite another matter. Heron's Ball was not meant for productivity and labour saving devices for grinding wheat actually start during Middle Ages: the Water Mills and later Wind Mills. They owe nothing to Antiquity as far as commonly used devices are concerned. But that you got quite right on your own.

Thank you for citing Thomas Bradwardine again, he is responsible for inventing the idea of a logarithmic relation (an artificial parallelism between geometric and arithmetic progressions) and I think he applied it to exact sciences, though logarithmic tables are later. When it comes to those tables, I think they owe more to Antique than to Modern Mathematic definitions, or can at least be conceived while retaining Ancient definitions (that remained prevalent during Middle Ages) but that is another story. The idea of representative democracy - Parliaments - is from Middle Ages, and maybe helped inspire the idea of "symbolic mathematics" or "synecdoché" that he used there.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
Nanterre
16-II-2011