The Rise of Macedonia
Once-great Athens, now fallen, was summarily demilitarised, its empire broken up and taken over by Sparta or Persia.
Soon afterwards, the citizens discovered that being under the yoke of the Spartan empire was hardly any better - indeed, much worse – than being under Athenian rule, as Sparta dismantled democratic structures in favour of oligarchies. The harsh and cruel rule stirred up dissent, and people protested, rebelling against these dictators, leading to anarchy and economic depression.
Despite being excellent soldiers, the Spartans were less capable as rulers, unable to govern effectively over Greek states that squabbled, internecine warfare springing up, and alliances constantly in a state of flux. Once again, the invisible Persian hand financed the civil war, as they were intent on keeping Greece divided and weakened.
One theory suggests that the due to the Spartans’ rigid lifestyle, in which the young men were trained for a life devoted to warfare and embracing physical hardship instead of pleasure, they were unable to cope with the decadent luxury freely offered in Athens, and when faced with a non-military situation, could not handle it effectively. Indeed, the corrupting influence of wealth led to a vast gulf between rich and poor, increasing the dissatisfaction of the poor, as more became mercenaries as commerce and industry failed. The rich, cloistered in their villas, were only concerned with their own affairs, ignoring the poverty and unemployment, which led to a massive support base for demagogues promoting equitable distribution of wealth.
Modern day echoes can be found in the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, when people disillusioned with the excesses of the aristocracy rebelled, hoping for alleviation of poverty and a fair share of the country’s wealth.
The wealthy attempted to look for a strong ruler, perhaps the first evidence of support for the argument that a “strong dictatorship is better than a weak democracy”. Even the intelligentsia, exemplified by Plato and Aristotle, had given up on democracy, searching for a strong ruler to re-establish order in the anarchic society now before them.
Into such a power vacuum stepped Philip II, king of Macedonia. The Macedonians were looked down on by the Greeks, as they were racially similar, but lacked the refinement of culture and “civilisation” of Hellenistic society. Therefore, it must have been quite a shock for Greece to find itself conquered by Macedonia, as Philip took advantage of the internal wars to play off the city-states against one another, and then finally establish dominion.
Such infighting and consequent anarchy led to the Greeks being unable to maintain their empire, defeated and taken over by other rising empires, such as Macedonia, and then Rome.