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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Creative Destruction of Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece, according to Josiah Ober, fell for virtually the same reasons for which it had once achieved greatness. In his The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (Chapter 11: “Creative Destruction and Immortality”), Ober says: “Both greatness and fall had similar causes: high levels of specialization, innovation, and mobility of people, goods, and ideas as the result of distinctive political conditions.”

But the fall of Greece was never total—it was more of a creative destructive, rather than a ruinous destruction leading to quick economic and cultural collapse. Several Greek city-states continued to thrive—Ober notes that “by the end of the fourth century BCE, it is likely that more Greek poleis were democracies than ever before.”

When Imperial Rome took over in second century BCE, the Greek world was still flourishing. Impressed by Greek culture, the Roman elites themselves became hellenized and they ensured the preservation of Greek culture and its propagation throughout the expanding Roman Empire. Ober writes:

“By the time imperial Rome took over a still-flourishing Greek world, the Romans had become eager consumers of Greek culture. By the second century BCE, Roman elites were deeply enough Hellenized to ensure the subsequent preservation and dissemination of Greek thought and culture throughout the huge and still-growing Roman empire and across the next several hundreds years. Having jumped scale to become a dominant imperial culture in one of the two biggest empires of the premodern world (the other was Han China), the immortality of Greece was, if not ensured, at least made possible.”

After the Roman Empire collapsed in the fifth to seventh centuries, Greek culture was preserved by the Eastern Empire and by the scholars and scientists of the medieval world.

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