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Strategies of the Athenian Empire

Discuss about The Athenian And Byzantine Empire for An Analysis Of Strategies?

History has witnessed the rise and fall of mighty empires. From inception to downfall, every empire had to experience the need of formation and implementation of specific strategies meant for developing the system of ruling, expanding territories to enhance the authority and power of the ruler, and to sustain the empire. There had been a myriad of reasons for the downfall of every great empire, but the story of evolution of such empires is more interesting than the saga of their declination. Among the greatest empires of the distant past, the names of Athenian and Byzantine empires deserve special mention. This is primarily because of the strategies that those two empires implemented to create, expand, maintain, or defend their rule. The Athenian and Byzantine Empires adhered to some specific strategies, and the proper implementation of such strategies added to the tenure of their existence even though, like every other mighty empires, they had to face their downfall.

The Athenian and Byzantine Empire: An Analysis of Strategies

Athens’ economy was pivotally based upon farming, manufacturing, and trade, and trade was the major contributor to the development of the Athenian Empire. Throughout the Greek Mediterranean world, many city states including Athens derived much of their wealth from trading in woolen goods, in crops like wheat, and in grapes and wines.[1] Athens also manufactured weapons and pottery.[2] It is noteworthy that, the initiators of the establishment of the Athenian Empire first implemented the strategy of transforming the wealth accrued through trading into means of developing an Empire, and this wealth was used in the process of structuring the Athenian society and its politics.[3] This strategy of using wealth was mainly implemented in the process of procuring slaves, who were originally war prisoners.[4] The slave culture was dominant in Athens and for wealthy Athenians, keeping slaves was a status symbol.[5] It is noteworthy that, “Every solider had a slave on a campaign, and a wealthy man might own fifty or more, especially for manufacturing”.[6] The wealth accumulated through trading got concentrated into the hands of few rich Athenians, and these Athenians employed the strategy of using the wealth to buy small farms and transforming the small farms into one large estate.[7] The rise of states instigated the rise of oligarchy, and eventually oligarchy paved the way for the rise of democracy in Athens because, if the wealthy class did create inequality, then “The importance of the regular infantryman in warfare tended to serve an equalizer, and open the door further for democracy”.[8]

Strategies of the Byzantine Empire

The rule of Athens was meant to be based on the principles of democracy, but Pisistratus, a nobleman, who assumed the power of ruling in 546 BCE, thought differently.[9] Pisistratus implemented the strategy of autocratic rule, and with the support of commoners and rich non-nobles, Pisistratus applied the strategy of ruling Athens tyrannically.[10] But this tyrannical rule resulted in the expansion of the Athenian Empire, and Athens, under the rule of Pisistratus, also witnessed the expansion of its army and its navy.[11] Pisistratus was ultimately overthrown and in his place, in 508 BCE, came Cleisthenes – a ruler who applied the strategy of bringing back democracy to develop the internal conditions of Athens.[12] He established a democratic system of elections and it was he who implemented that strategy that, “on important matters the entire assembly of citizens would meet to decide. These assemblies usually consisted of about 6000 citizens, which was the quorum required.”[13]

It has been often said that, democracy brings along peace. But this was not the case with the Athenian Empire in which the democratic regime after Cleisthenes started using the Athenian military power in an aggressive manner.[14] Athens resorted to the strategy of supporting the Greek colonies in their revolt against their Persian overlords, and this strategy of maintaining the power of Athens ultimately resulted in a major war with Persia.[15] In the war, the league formed by Athens and Greek cities (the Delian League) succeed in driving out the Persians out of Ionia, and Athens turned its smaller partners into client states, and thereby, strengthened the base of the Athenian Empire. [16] This strategy re-instigated Athens to continue implementing its strategy of expansion, but his resulted in Athens’ ultimate downfall. It is noteworthy in this regard that, “The policy of Athenian expansion and dominance was challenged by Sparta, which formed its own Peloponnesian League to defeat Athens.”[17]

Peloponnesian League to defeat Athens

The Byzantine Empire, on the other hand, should be considered as an excellent example of strategic ruling. The strategy of establishing a centralized government worked well for the Empire, and it provided the rulers with the opportunity to sustain the power of the Byzantine Empire.[18] Unlike many other medieval rulers, the rulers of the Byzantine Empire preferred to implement the strategy of strengthening the base of a centralized governance policy. It is noteworthy, in this regard, that, “At Constantinople there was a centralized government of civil officials which controlled the state. They had inherited from the old Roman Empire its organizing capacity and the various governmental functions were divided among different bureaus, each with a large staff of well-trained clerks.”[19] This strategy worked for the ruler and they were able to stabilize the Byzantine Empire from generation to generation.[20] The strategy of strengthening the central government rested on the strategy of codifying the Roman laws. Emperor Justinian codified the Roman law, and its outcome was the Corpus Iurus Civilis” which was issued in three parts – the Digest, the Institutes, and a textbook, and in which it is mentioned that:

Impact of the Strategies on the Stability and Downfall of the Empires

Since there is nothing to be found in all things s worthy of attention as the authority of the law, which properly regulates all affairs both divine and human, and expels all injustice; We have found the entire arrangement of the law which has come down to us from the foundation of the City of Rome and the times of Romulus, to be so confused that it is extended to an infinite length and is not within the grasp of human capacity; and hence We were first induced to begin by examining what had been enacted b former most venerated princes, to correct their constitutions, and make them more easily understood; to the end that being included in a single Code, and having had removed all that is superfluous in resemblance and all iniquitous discord, they may afford to all men the ready assistance of true meaning.[21]

It was the strategy of codifying the law which contributed immensely to the stability of the Byzantine Empire for centuries. Moreover, most of the Byzantine rulers emphasized the importance of addressing religious issues which had the potential to destabilize the political condition of the Byzantine Empire. Emperor Justinian, for example, employed the strategy of keeping the church under the control of the monarchy through the policy of shaping church policy.[22] He implemented the strategy of extinguishing the “last vestiges of Greco-Roman paganism, to root out Manichaeans and Samaritans, and to oppose competing Christian sects, including the Arians and the Monophysites.”[23] This strategy may be considered the outcome of the failure of Justinian’s another strategy through which he tried to make his subjects accept the doctrine that Christ was human even though Christ’s nature was incapable of suffering.[24] This effort displeases both the orthodox and Monophysite factions.[25] But even though such a strategy put Justinian directly in conflict with the papacy; such a strategy helped in the process of stabilizing the centralized rule of the Byzantine emperors for long. Hence, it can be seen that even though like every other mighty empire, the Byzantine Empire had to face its downfall, some specific strategies implemented by its rulers made it possible for the Empire to stabilize itself for centuries.

In conclusion, there had been a myriad of reasons for the downfall of every great empire, but the story of evolution of such empires is more interesting than the saga of their declination. Among the greatest empires of the distant past, the names of Athenian and Byzantine empires deserve special mention. This is primarily because of the strategies that those two empires implemented to create, expand, maintain, or defend their rule. The Athenian and Byzantine Empires adhered to some specific strategies, and the proper implementation of such strategies added to the tenure of their existence even though, like every other mighty empires, they had to face their downfall.

References

Augustana University (2016). Lecture 5: Rise And Fall of Athenian Greatness. Retrieved January 29, 2016, from https://www.augie.edu/dept/history/athe.htm.

Brooks, S. (2009). The Byzantine State under Justinian I (Justinian the Great). The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved January 29, 2016, from https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/just/hd_just.htm

FORDHAM UNIVERSITY (1996). Medieval Sourcebook: Corpus Iuris Civilis, 6th Century. Retrieved January 29, 2016, from https://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/corpus1.asp

Munro, D.C. (1921). BYZANTINE EMPIRE TO 1095. In The Middle Ages, 395-1272 (1st Ed.). New York: The Century Company. Retrieved January 29, 2016, from https://www.shsu.edu/~his_ncp/MunByz.html.

Venning, T. (2006). A Chronology of the Byzantine Empire (1st ed.). New York: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN.

[1]  Augustana University (n.d.). Lecture 5: Rise And Fall of Athenian Greatness. Retrieved January 29, 2016, from https://www.augie.edu/dept/history/athe.htm

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Augustana University (n.d.). Lecture 5: Rise And Fall of Athenian Greatness. Retrieved January 29, 2016, from https://www.augie.edu/dept/history/athe.htm

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid

[16] Augustana University (n.d.). Lecture 5: Rise And Fall of Athenian Greatness. Retrieved January 29, 2016, from https://www.augie.edu/dept/history/athe.htm

[17] Ibid

[18] Munro, D.C. (1921). BYZANTINE EMPIRE TO 1095. In The Middle Ages, 395-1272 (1st Ed.), 227-240  

[19] Munro, D.C. (1921). BYZANTINE EMPIRE TO 1095. In The Middle Ages, 395-1272 (1st Ed.), 227-240 

[20] Ibid

[21] FORDHAM UNIVERSITY (1996). Medieval Sourcebook: Corpus Iuris Civilis, 6th Century. Retrieved January 29, 2016, from https://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/corpus1.asp

[22] FORDHAM UNIVERSITY (1996). Medieval Sourcebook: Corpus Iuris Civilis, 6th Century. Retrieved January 29, 2016, from https://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/corpus1.asp

[23] Brooks, S. (2009). The Byzantine State under Justinian I (Justinian the Great). The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved January 29, 2016, from https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/just/hd_just.htm

[24] Ibid

[25] Venning, T. (2006). A Chronology of the Byzantine Empire (1st ed.). New York: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN.

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