The various ruling dynasties continued to war against one another: Phrygia attacking the Hittites, the Elamites invading and sacking the Babylonian capitol, and Lybia and Phrygia driving Egypt back to its original territory. The Egyptians called their attackers, such as Phrygia, the "Sea People."
The Greeks--named the Dorians (for the territory of Doris)--invaded the surrounding territories, as we see from the map above. Prior to the establishment of the Persian Empire, the Greeks formed into city-states, for both geographic and political reasons. They called such a city-state a polis, the word from which we get our word political. Each city-state had political autonony, establishing its own code of laws, and operated on the principle of democracy: citizens making political decisions. All citizens attended the assembly, with an equal right of vote and speech. Citizenship granted the right to vote in the assembly, the right to own property, to hold public office, to be paid for attendance in the assembly and for court service, and a right to enter into a marriage contract with another citizen. Each polis was small--only Athens had more than 20,000 citizens. Of course, Greek democracy was built on the foundation of slavery, a practice which was to remain unquestioned for many centuries.
The polis--the Greek city-state--was probably a creation of necessity: the isolated cities were under constant menace from warring neighbors and the citizens were forced to be in a continual state of mobilization. Military service was expected of all male citizens and the rank a man held in the military tended to be the rank he held in civic life.
The outstanding ingredient which the Greeks contributed to the evolution of human freedom was the concept of commonwealth (as in Plato's Commonwealth): the rule of citizens. The idea now became a part of human thought: that common people could and should govern themselves, without having to bow to a military, political, economic, or religious ruler. This concept was to play an important role throughout modern history, as people returned to the idea that they could rule themselves. As we shall see, this ideal of citizen self-rule is still unrealized, even in twenty-first-century America. However, the ideal continues to have a powerful influence over human thought and serves as a goal toward which we can aspire.
The Example of Socrates
Even though the ideal of commonwealth had been established by the Greeks, this era was still dominated by the practice of dictatorial rule. Even in Greece, democracy was subverted by powerful cabals, as was demonstrated in the experience of Socrates. Socrates was charged with subversion, corrupting the morals of children and spreading atheistic heresy. The background of his political assassination is informative.
Socrates had grown up in a family of good standing, so he moved with ease in the most select circles of society. He served in the army, fighting with great bravery. Shunning luxury, he lived simply. He was unconventional but a patriotic citizen, considering it a great privilege to live in a democracy. He felt he had a serious mission to help his fellow citizens become aware of their assumptions and lack of knowledge and to search unremittingly for wisdom. Socrates pursued his mission by exploring the mind through verbal interchange--what became known as dialogue.
The previous summer the navy had barely been able to stave off a defeat at the hands of an enemy. The victory cost the navy twenty-five ships and four thousand lives; the commanders of the fleet were charged with criminal negligence for not trying to rescue their men. At that time Socrates had been a senator and a member of the executive committee. Certain political leaders demanded that the commanders be convicted en bloc by a single vote, suspending the regular legal processes. The question of whether or not to suspend the ordinary legal processes finally came to the executive committee and Socrates had alone stood firm, even though all its members' lives were threatened. However, Socrates' protest was overruled; the military leaders were tried and condemned in a body and six of them were executed.
When a new government came into power, Socrates refused to participate in arresting a rich man whose property the government wished to confiscate. The rich man was seized and murdered, but Socrates' refusal to participate created enemies for him.
It was Socrates' misfortune to have been a friend to persons who had changed allegiance during the recent war or who had been members of the former government. Socrates was suspected of subversive activities, charged with advocating illegal religious concepts, introducing new and unfamiliar religious practices and corrupting the young. The death penalty had been demanded.
The charges against Socrates were the result of widespread hostility against him for his critical spirit of inquiry and his unconventional manner of life. Socrates was tried before five hundred jurors selected by lot. Socrates' defense before the jury was along these lines:"Citizens, my accusers have spoken so eloquently that I nearly forgot who I was--even though there was not one word of truth in what they said. I was most astonished by one blatant falsehood, when they warned you not to be taken in by my eloquence. Because as you are now discovering as I talk, I am in no way a clever speaker who could possibly mislead you. Unless my accusers mean that a clever speaker is one who tells the truth--then I must admit that I speak the truth more than they.
"I am most concerned with the accusers who have been implanting in your minds since youth that I am a clever man who speculates about ethereal things, examines all beliefs, and makes inadequate reasoning appear to be superior. This is a bias which has been put into your minds, but many of you have heard me converse and you know that these charges are nonsense.
"These calumnies have been raised against me because of a peculiar kind of wisdom which I possess. I was first made aware of this strange kind of wisdom when a channeler attested to it. When I heard that the channeler had certified that there was no man more wise than I, I began to reflect on this dark claim. I realized that I was not at all wise in the ordinary sense, but then I began to realize what the channeler meant. I went to a man reputed to be wise, thinking that I would prove the medium incorrect. But as I spoke with this 'wise man' I began to see that he and his admirers only assumed that he was wise, whereas he was actually quite unenlightened and ignorant of many things. This man believed that he had knowledge when in fact he did not, whereas I at least was aware that I had no knowledge. After several such encounters, I realized that my wisdom is in not assuming that I know things when I do not.
"I suggest that if you insist on putting me to death that you will do yourselves more harm than me. God has sent me to this nation as a kind of gadfly to allow you the opportunity to avoid presuming wisdom which you do not have. If you do away with me, you may not find another such disturber of ignorance.
"As to the charge that I corrupt youth, many of you who have observed me know that to be false. Certain students spend time in my company because they enjoy hearing me examine persons who claim to be wise who are not indeed wise at all. That is all I do; I do not teach them and cannot be held responsible for how they turn out.
"The charge of atheism against me is patently untrue. I believe in God much more than any of my accusers. It is to God that I commit my cause in this trial."
The evolution of human liberty owes much to Socrates and to Plato who memorialized his life. With Socrates we see how the ideal of democracy can be subverted through plutocratic corruption. Plato was a teacher in the Perennial Tradition, the inner, secret teaching concealed within every transformative religion and philosophy. We learn a great deal about the enslavement of the human mind by cultural myths through Plato's Allegory of the Cave:
"Imagine men and women living as prisoners in an underground cave. These people have been here since birth, their bodies chained so that they cannot move. They can see only what is in front of them and can see no other prisoners. Behind the prisoners on a raised platform is a series of fires. Between the prisoners and the fires is a parapet, like the screen at a puppet show. Behind this parapet are people carrying various artificial objects, such as the figures of men and animals. The prisoners see nothing but the shadows of the artificial objects cast by the firelight onto the cave wall in front of them. The cave has an echo so that the when the people in back of them speak the prisoners believe the sounds come from the shadow figures on the cave wall. Suppose one of the prisoners became free from his chains. The firelight would be painful to his eyes and the objects in back of him would so terrify him that he might desire to regain his former chained situation.
"If this free person actually crept out of the cave into the sunlight, he would be completely dazed, unable to comprehend ordinary objects. Slowly this former prisoner might begin to understand that it is the sun which is the source of light and life. He would feel sorrow for his former fellow prisoners. If he did return to his chains and speak to his fellow prisoners, they would think he was insane. And if they could lay hands on him they would kill him."
The Downfall of Assyria
The Assyrian method of controlling the territories they conquered was by imposing on the local ruling houses a tribute and a treaty of vassalage, leaving the administration of the country in their hands. This client-state methodology was adopted by the Romans and is still used by American rulers today as they set up client states in Afghanistan, Iraq, South America, and throughout the world.
The mighty Assyrian empire collapsed in the brief course of a few years, in part because of political in-fighting within the palace. The Babylonians took advantage of this state of affairs to reassert their independence in 626 B.C. Nabopolassar founded a new Chaldean dynasty in Babylonia. Ten years later he went to war and all of lower Mesopotamia rallied to his cause. The Medes and the Chaldeans formed a union against Assyria and even though Egypt and Israel rallied to the Assyrian side, the Assyrian empire perished.
The Evolution of Military Technology
Since humans have had to fight for their freedoms, military technology has always had an important bearing on liberty. During this historical period, military tactics and armament had evolved through the development of the hoplite, the heavily armed foot-soldier. When employed in a solid yet flexible mass--the phalanx--the hoplite had a distinct advantage over the mounted soldier. The outcome of battles ceased to depend on single-handed encounters between "heroes." Victory went to the heavily armored battalions.
Cities and nations, therefore, had to recruit large masses of men for their armies. The nobles had previously been the sole fighting class, but this class was no longer able to provide enough combatants. Understandably, the "lower" classes who were now conscripted into the armies resented their politically and socially inferior status. To win battles, the kings and nobles had to accede somewhat to their demands for civil rights.
The Esoteric Technology of War
In Greece and throughout the known world at that time, artisan groups began to gain power as trade flourished between the various nations. Ceramics became a chief Greek industriy and ceramic artisans gained power as the demand for their wares spread throughout the area. Shipbuilding became a flourishing industry, and shipbuilders gained power as their products were required for warfare and trade. These numerous artisan groups began demanding political and economic freedom from the rulers. However, the demands of such artisan groups could easily be turned aside by a ruthless potentate, forcing the artisans to work for whatever commercial or military cause he chose.
The technology of power was being developed as a secret science by rulers and one of their first discoveries was that creating an ongoing state of war is an unbeatable way to control the common people. The Greek colonization period in history, like most, was dominated by wars. The old Assyrian Empire was re-established as the Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great and Darius I. The Greek city-states, ruled primarily by tyrants, established trade colonies throughout the area through a long period of warfare. Alexander conquered the Persian Empire while Italy gained its independence from Greece and began its rise to power. Alexander's empire centered in the Middle Ease and Asia while the Roman Empire would see the focus of world power move westward.