Boeotia Was “an Early Model of Democratic Federalism”

(p. C12) Mr. Cartledge, a professor emeritus at Cambridge and author of popular history books such as “The Spartans,” “Thermopylae,” “Alexander the Great” and “Democracy: A Life,” has picked an opportune time to look afresh at Thebes and Boeotia. The modern city of Thebes, an uninspiring market town, would not normally attract tourists, but is home to a glittering new museum, among the most up-to-date in Greece, featuring exhibits of archaeological finds (many unique in type) and historical objects from prehistory to the present. (One exhibit is titled, provocatively, “The Intellectual Radiance of Boeotia.”) There is a book forthcoming, from scholar James Romm, about Thebes’s “Sacred Band,” its elite unit of soldiers, made up of pairs of devoted homosexual lovers. Thebes is in the spotlight.

. . .

The biography of the Theban leader Epaminondas (418 B.C.-362 B.C.) written by Plutarch is, unfortunately, lost. Even so, his reputation shines. Admired by figures from Cicero and Montaigne to Sir Walter Raleigh (who called him “the worthiest man that ever was bred by the nation of Greece”), Epaminondas seems to have had a philosophical bent as well as a brilliant military mind.

. . .

Perhaps his greatest act, . . ., even if it might have been intended more to inconvenience the Spartans than as a benevolent deed, was freeing the helots of Messenia, a people that had been enslaved by the Spartans for 300 years. He helped found a new capital city for the Arcadian federation (Megalopolis), and also for the ex-helots (Messene). Maybe Epaminondas was not only the Nelson of his age, but the Lincoln as well. He died in battle and was buried alongside his male beloved, Caphisodorus, with an epitaph that listed his children (daughters, being female) as the cities Messene and Megalopolis; it ended “Greece is free.”

Mr. Cartledge’s command of the historical material is effortless and exhaustive, and his appreciation of Thebes is persuasive. Between the radical but self-destructive democracy of Athens and Sparta’s totalitarian oligarchy (both imperialist), Thebes and Boeotia stand in the middle as an early model of democratic federalism—the “united states” of Boeotia, for instance, shared a currency. It was Thebes that dealt a critical blow to Spartan domination, and a Theban leader who freed a long-enslaved people. Alexander the Great himself adopted military tactics from Epaminondas. If Thebes’s period of hegemony was brief—barely a decade—it also changed the course of the ancient world.

For the full review, see:

A.E. Stallings. “Greece’s Mythic Heartland.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, September 12, 2020): C12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sep. 11, 2020, and has the title “‘Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece’ Review: Mythic Roots.”)

The book under review is:

Cartledge, Paul. Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece. New York: Abrams Press, 2020.

The Ship that Held the Antikythera Mechanism Was Greek, Not Roman

(p. A12) A bronze statue’s orphaned arm. A corroded disc adorned with a bull. Preserved wooden planks. These are among the latest treasures that date back to the dawn of the Roman Empire, discovered amid the ruins of the Antikythera shipwreck, a sunken bounty off the coast of a tiny island in Greece.
. . .
For decades people referred to it as a Roman shipwreck, like in Jacques Cousteau’s documentary “Diving for Roman Plunder,” but the team’s findings since 2012 — such as a chemical analysis of lead on the ship’s equipment that trace it back to northern Greece and the personal possessions they found with Greek names etched on them — are changing that narrative, Dr. Foley said. “It’s starting to look an awful lot like a Greek-built, Greek-crewed ship, not a Roman-Italian vessel.”

For the full story, see:
NICHOLAS ST. FLEUR. “A Bronze Arm Points to More Treasure Below.” The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 7, 2017): A12.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 5, 2017, and has the title “Bronze Arm Found in Famous Shipwreck Points to More Treasure Below.”)

Greek Corruption, Fraud, Evasion and Public Worker Job Security

(p. A11) Mr. Angelos, a former Journal correspondent, travels through Greece as a journalist first, and a native son second, to conduct a mostly unpleasant archaeology. By way of background, however, he first tackles the pervasive issues of disability and pension fraud, rampant tax evasion, and public worker job protections. These are the very problems that Greece’s European lenders sought to remedy through a series of supposedly helpful but also punitive and ineptly administered reforms. Mr. Angelos dismantles the facile narrative accepted by many in the eurozone, in which hardworking Germans must clean up a mess made by their lazy and “Oriental” southern neighbors. But he is equally tenacious when it comes to exposing the misconduct of Greek politicians, not to mention the country’s corrupt system of career tenure and its, well, truly Byzantine bureaucracy.
Mr. Angelos’s book allows us to see how these problems play out, sometimes farcically, in the lives of actual people. There’s a cranky grandmother on the island of Zakynthos who receives generous blindness benefits even though she can see perfectly well. There’s the arrogant former prime minister who accepted millions of euros in bribes to buy useless submarines on behalf of the Greek government.
. . .
. . . the book’s single most flattering portrait is of Yiannis Boutaris, the tattooed, wine-making, freethinking mayor of Thessaloniki, who courts Turkish tourism, refuses to kowtow to the church and publicly acknowledges the crucial role of Jews in the city’s history.

For the full review, see:

CHRISTOPHER BAKKEN. “BOOKSHELF; How Greece Got to ‘No’; On the island of Zakynthos, a grandmother receives generous blindness benefits–even though she can see perfectly well.”The Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 7, 2015): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 6, 2015.)

The book under review, is:
Angelos, James. The Full Catastrophe: Travels among the New Greek Ruins. New York: Crown Publishers, 2015.

Entrepreneurs Who Pay Taxes “Expect Services–Like Justice”

(p. B3) ATHENS — Demetri Politopoulos, the founder of a midsize beer producer in northern Greece, says he nearly fainted when he heard the news late one night in October.
The Greek Parliament was planning to pass a law that would increase the tax he paid for each hectoliter of beer he sold by 50 percent.
Just like that, the microbrewery he started 17 years ago would go under, as his new tax bill of 1.6 million euros would wipe out his expected 1.45 million euros in profit for the year.
. . .
He started his business in 1998, but even as demand for his Vergina beer grew, his share of the market stayed in the low single-digits as the market leader did all in its power to prevent shops and restaurants from selling his product.
. . .
In 2005, Mr. Politopoulos took his case to the Hellenic Republic Competition Commission, citing numerous examples of what he said were unfair business practices by Heineken, from persuading retailers to not stock Vergina to more serious examples of bullying and intimidation.
But as is often the case in Greece, his petition went nowhere.
With Greece under unremitting pressure to find new revenue sources, the idea to close the gap between the way small and large brewers are taxed may have seemed a good idea.
That is, until Mr. Politopoulos took the floor in Parliament on Nov. 2.
“We are proud to pay taxes in Greece, but this is going to put us out of business,” he said. “And when we do pay our taxes, we expect services — like justice. Without justice in a society, there is nothing.”
His 10-minute declamation hit a cord. A video of the speech went viral and parliamentary members rallied to his cause.
Indeed, concerns are growing here that in a rush to raise much-needed revenue, Greece and its creditors are placing an unfair burden on an already decimated private sector.

For the full story, see:
LANDON THOMAS Jr. “A Greek Dvid Lands Some Big Punches.” The New York Times (Sat., DEC. 12, 2015): B3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 11, 2015, and has the title “In Greece, Brewer’s Woes Reflect Struggle of Business Owners.”)

Greek Grave Found from Start of Age of Homer

(p. D1) Archaeologists digging at Pylos, an ancient city on the southwest coast of Greece, have discovered the rich grave of a warrior who was buried at the dawn of European civilization.
He lies with a yardlong bronze sword and a remarkable collection of gold rings, precious jewels and beautifully carved seals. Archaeologists expressed astonishment at the richness of the find and its potential for shedding light on the emergence of the Mycenaean civilization, the lost world of Agamemnon, Nestor, Odysseus and other heroes described in the epics of Homer.
. . .
(p. D5) An ivory plaque carved with a griffin, a mythical animal that protected goddesses and kings, lay between the warrior’s legs. The grave contained gold, silver and bronze cups.
. . .
The Minoan culture on Crete exerted a strong influence on the people of southern Greece. Copying and adapting Minoan technologies, they developed the palace cultures such as those of Pylos and Mycene. But as the Mycenaeans grew in strength and confidence, they were eventually able to invade the land of their tutors. Notably, they then adapted Linear A, the script in which the Cretans wrote their own language, into Linear B, a script for writing Greek.
Linear B tablets were preserved in the fiery destruction of palaces when the soft clay on which they were written was baked into permanent form. Caches of tablets have been found in Knossos, the main palace of Crete, and in Pylos and other mainland palaces. Linear B, a script in which each symbol stands for a syllable, was later succeeded by the familiar Greek alphabet in which each symbol represents a single vowel or consonant.
The griffin warrior, whose grave objects are culturally Minoan but whose place of burial is Mycenaean, lies at the center of this cultural transfer. The palace of Pylos had yet to arise, and he could have been part of the cultural transition that made it possible. The transfer was not entirely peaceful: At some point, the Mycenaeans invaded Crete, and in 1450 B.C., the palace of Knossos was burned, perhaps by Mycenaeans. It is not yet clear whether the objects in the griffin warrior’s tomb were significant in his own culture or just plunder.
“I think these objects were not just loot but had a meaning already for the guy buried in this grave,” Dr. Davis said. “This is the critical period when religious ideas were being transferred from Crete to the mainland.”

For the full story, see:
NICHOLAS WADE. “A Grave, and a Gateway.” The New York Times (Tues., OCT. 27, 2015): D1 & D5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 26, 2015, and has the title “Grave of ‘Griffin Warrior’ at Pylos Could Be a Gateway to Civilizations.”)

Competition between Greek City-States “Led to Specialization and Innovation”

(p. C8) Mr. Ober’s approach is theoretical, not narrative-driven. When he does discuss the specifics of classical history, in the second half of the book, he does so largely to support the theses he has developed in the first half about the key causes of Greece’s rise.
These causes, in Mr. Ober’s view, derived from the competitive world of small, self-governing city-states that emerged in Greece starting around 800 B.C. Competition between states led to specialization and innovation, as exemplified by the high-grade ceramics industry at Athens, and to a spirit of “rational cooperation” among the members of each polity (think of those ants). Within each state, self-governance created what Mr. Ober terms “rule egalitarianism”: a sense of fairness and security that “encouraged investment in human capital and lowered transaction costs.” The result was a rise not only in standards of living but also in civic pride, technological progress and refinement of artisanship.
. . .
It’s no accident that Mr. Ober’s terminology overlaps with the language of modern economics–“creative destruction” is a phrase he uses frequently. He wants to encourage comparisons between ancient Greece and the modern West. They offer two examples of “political and economic exceptionalism,” featuring both pluralistic government and the rapid growth of wealth.

For the full review, see:
James Romm. “Greeks and Their Gifts; Competition among self-governing city-states led to specialization, innovation and cooperation.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 23, 2015): C8.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 22, 2015.)

The book under review, is:
Ober, Josiah. The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.

New Evidence on the Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera Mechanism was recovered in about 1901 and is believed to date from about 200 BC. Its complicated gear mechanism is believed to have been used to generate calendars or predict astronomical events. The technology never spread to benefit ordinary people. It was forgotten and mechanical gears had to be re-invented.
The Antikythera Mechanism raises a question: how is it that technologies with the potential to benefit humankind can fail to be adopted? This issue of the causes of technology adoption is an important issue for economic growth.

(p. D3) A riddle for the ages may be a small step closer to a solution: Who made the famed Antikythera Mechanism, the astronomical calculator that was raised from an ancient shipwreck near Crete in 1901?
. . .
. . . a new analysis of the dial used to predict eclipses, which is set on the back of the mechanism, provides . . . another clue to one of history’s most intriguing puzzles. Christián C. Carman, a science historian at the National University of Quilmes in Argentina, and James Evans, a physicist at the University of Puget Sound in Washington, suggest that the calendar of the mysterious device began in 205 B.C., just seven years after Archimedes died.
. . .
Starting with the ways the device’s eclipse patterns fit Babylonian eclipse records, the two scientists used a process of elimination to reach a conclusion that the “epoch date,” or starting point, of the Antikythera Mechanism’s calendar was 50 years to a century earlier than had been generally believed.
. . .
. . . Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier in 212 B.C., while the commercial grain ship carrying the mechanism is believed to have sunk sometime between 85 and 60 B.C. The new finding suggests the device may have been old at the time of the shipwreck, but the connection to Archimedes now seems even less likely.
An inscription on a small dial used to date the Olympic Games refers to an athletic competition that was held in Rhodes, according to research by Paul Iversen, a Greek scholar at Case Western Reserve University.
“If we were all taking bets about where it was made, I think I would bet what most people would bet, in Rhodes,” said Alexander Jones, a specialist in the history of ancient mathematical sciences at New York University.

For the full story, see:
JOHN MARKOFF. “On the Trail of an Ancient Mystery.” The New York Times (Tues., NOV. 25, 2014): D3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 24, 2014.)

The Unintended Consequences of Requiring Monks to Read

(p. 28) The high walls that hedged about the mental life of the monks–the imposition of silence, the prohibition of questioning, the punishing of debate with slaps or blows of the whip–were all meant to affirm unambiguously that these pious communities were the opposite of the philosophical academies of Greece or Rome, places that had thrived upon the spirit of contradiction and cultivated a restless, wide-ranging curiosity.
All the same, monastic rules did require reading, and that was enough to set in motion an extraordinary chain of consequences. Reading was not optional or desirable or recommended; in a community that took its obligations with deadly seriousness, reading was obligatory. And reading required books. Books that were opened again and again eventually fell apart, however carefully they were handled. Therefore, almost inadvertently , monastic rules necessitated that monks repeatedly purchase or acquire books. In the course of the vicious Gothic Wars of the mid-sixth century and their still more miserable aftermath, the last commercial workshops of book production folded, and the vestiges of the book market fell apart. Therefore, again almost inadvertently, monastic rules necessitated that monks carefully preserve and copy those books that they already possessed.

Source:
Greenblatt, Stephen. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

In Greece, Votes Are Traded for Government Jobs

(p. A4) Some members of Parliament have lobbied for fishing licenses for the owners of pleasure boats in the Aegean islands. Others have asked for government jobs for award-winning athletes or members of dismantled state agencies. One sought to exempt theaters and cinemas from a controversial property tax. Another to reduce fines for the owners of illegally built homes in parts of northern Greece. The list goes on.
In all, more than 90 such budget-busting proposals have been floated as lawmakers scramble to push through last-minute amendments to bills otherwise intended to meet the demands of creditors who want Greece to liberalize its job market, cut red tape and shrink state payrolls.
. . .
But the proliferation of items threatens to delay that step, as lawmakers go to the trough one last time. Greece’s practice of trading favors — often government jobs — for political support is as old as its 400 years of Ottoman rule, when the system evolved. The word for it, “rousfeti,” which means favor, has its roots in the Turkish word for bribe.
. . .
“In Greece, the cross is sold in exchange for a government job,” said one of them, Theodoros Pangalos, the outspoken deputy prime minister and seasoned Socialist, referring to the X that voters make on the ballot.
“No one has dared touch this system to date,” Mr. Pangalos, who will not seek re-election, said this month in an interview with the French-German television channel Arte. “But it is time for it to change.”

For the full story, see:
NIKI KITSANTONIS. “Despite Warning, Old Handouts Die Hard for Greek Politicians Facing Voters Soon.” The New York Times (Tues., April 10, 2012): A4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 9, 2012.)

Greek Government Buries Olive Oil Entrepreneur in Red Tape

AntonopoulosFotisGreekOliveOil2013-02-23.jpg “Fotis Antonopoulos’s struggles to start OliveShop.com have made him a reluctant emblem of thwarted Greek entrepreneurship.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

Vassilis Korkidis, who is quoted below, is (p. A3) “the president of the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce, a trade association in Athens.”

(p. A1) ATHENS — It was about a year ago that Fotis I. Antonopoulos, a successful Web program designer here, decided he wanted to open an e-business selling olive products.

Luckily, he already had a day job.
It took him 10 months — crisscrossing the city to collect dozens of forms and stamps of approval, including proof that he was up to date on his pension contributions — before he could get started. But even that was not enough. In perhaps the strangest twist of all, his board members were required by the Health Department to submit lung X-rays — and stool samples — since this was a food company.
. . .
With Greece’s economy entering its fourth year of recession, its entrepreneurs are eager to reverse a frightening tide. Last year, at least 68,000 small and medium-size businesses closed in Greece; nearly 135,000 jobs associated with them vanished. Predictions for 2012 are also bleak.
But despite the government’s repeated promises to improve things, the climate for doing business here remains abysmal. In a recent report titled “Greece 10 Years Ahead,” McKinsey & Company described Greece’s economy as “chronically suffering from unfavorable conditions for business.” Start-ups faced immense amounts of red tape, complex administrative and tax systems and procedural disincentives, it said.
. . .
(p. A3) Part of Mr. Antonopoulos’s problem, Mr. Korkidis ventured, was his unwillingness to pay what is routinely referred to here as the “speed tax” — bribes to move things along.
Nor is Mr. Korkidis much of a fan of recent government efforts to improve things. He pointed to a pamphlet produced by the Ministry of Development, which explained a new “one-stop shop” program for new businesses.
“This doesn’t work,” he said. “You have to collect 10 papers first — and then it is one-stop shopping. Ridiculous.”
At 36, Mr. Antonopoulos is an aging computer whiz kid with long hair and an easy smile.
. . .
The worst moment, he said, was when representatives from two agencies came to inspect the shop and disagreed about the legality of a circular staircase. They walked out telling him that he “would have to figure it out.”
“At that point, we actually thought about just going to the U.K. with this,” he said. “One of the inspectors knew about new legislation. The other didn’t. And they just refused to come up with a solution.”
At one point, the company got a huge order from Denmark, he said. But the paperwork for what amounted to a wholesale transaction was so onerous that they decided not to even try to fill the order.

For the full story, see:
SUZANNE DALEY. “A Tale of Greek Enterprise and Olive Oil, Smothered in Red Tape.” The New York Times (Mon., March 19, 2012): A1 & A3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 18, 2012.)

Ancient Recipe Rights Protection

“The Sybarites,” Phylarchus [the 3rd cent. BCE historian] says, “having drifted into luxury wrote a law that women be invited to festivals and that those who make the call to the sacrifice issue their summons a year in advance; thus the women could prepare their dresses and other adornments in a manner befitting that time span before answering the summons. And if some cook or chef invented an extraordinary recipe of his own, no one but the inventor was entitled to use it for a year, in order that during this time the inventor should have the profit and others might labor to excel in such endeavors. Similarly, those who sold eels were not charged taxes, nor those who caught them. In the same manner they made those who worked with sea-purple dye and those who imported it exempt from taxes.”

Source:
Athenaeus. Deipnosophistae (the Scholars at Dinner), XII 521c2-d7.
(Note: as quoted on the back cover of Journal of Political Economy 118, no. 6 (December 2010).)