Alexander the Great

Saturday, March 26, AD 2011

Something for the weekend.  The song Macedonia to the tune of Sharona by the Knack, by the endlessly talented folks of History for Music Lovers.  Alexander the Great, living refutation of the idea that history is all grand vast processes and that individuals matter for little.  In his brief 32 years he had a larger impact perhaps on this world than any other one man in secular history.  The spreading of Greek culture in the East led to the vast cultural synthesis of Hellenism, and had a huge impact upon Judaism and, eventually, Christianity.  It is somewhat frightening to think that so much of our history depended upon the military prowess of one man.

What if Alexander hadn’t turned East?  What if he had turned West?  The Roman historian Livy, in one of the first examples of alternate history, mused about what would have happened if Alexander had marched against Rome.

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3 Responses to Alexander the Great

  • Being a two-bit, wannabe gold bug, I recently compiled a history-time line of gold. Of interest, Alexander obtained $1 billion in gold from his conquest of Persia. Previously, Egypt had become “wealthy” from Nubian gold, as did Rome, when it took Spanish gold mining areas from Carthage.

    Despite evident Livy’s chauvinism, I (it would have been extremely close-run) tend to agree that Aleander would not have prevailed against Rome. Rome would not have defeated him in the field. Alexander would not have been able to take Rome. We have the example of Hannibal to ratify that determination. It would have been close.

    Also, agree with Livy, Rome rotted from within.

  • A great and interesting read. The author of The Seven Deadly Sins recounts a story that Plutarch wrote about Alexander the Great. Alexander, in a drunken rage, seized a spear and killed an old friend and faithful soldier who had criticized him. At once Alexander felt remorse and drew the spear from the dead body and would have dashed it into his own throat but for his bodyguards. According to Plutarch, Alexander spent day and night in bitter lamentations and lay speechless worn out with his cries and wailing. His friends were alarmed enough to enlist the help of a philosopher who soothed him and told him that the whole world should not see him on the floor weeping like a slave in fear of law and censure of men, because Alexander should himself be a law and measure of justice since he has conquered the right to rule and mastery, instead of submitting like a slave to the mastery of vain opinion. The whole point of the story was that rather than encouraging Alexander to accept his guilt and mend his ways, the philosopher absolved him of guilt. Alexander wasn’t allowed to complete the process of repentence and become a better man, because he now thought himself guiltless and his ambition and vanity were fed by the philosopher.

    In contrast, consider the story of King David and Nathan. David put Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, opposite the enemy where the fighting was fiercest in the hopes he would be killed so David could sleep with his wife. But Nathan, a prophet, told David of a cruel rich man who stole the only ewe lamb of a poor man and tells David he is the cruel man. David acknowledged his guilt and was able to repent.

  • “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?” Mark 8:36

Book Review: Empires of Trust (Part II)

Wednesday, June 24, AD 2009

[Empires of Trust, review Part I]

Review of: Empires of Trust: How Rome Built–and America Is Building–a New World

My apologies for taking so long to get back with a second part to this review. In the first installment, I covered the history of Rome’s early expansion, and how its commitment to establishing a safe horizon of allies, and defending those allies against any aggression, led the city of Rome to effectively rule all of Italy. From southern Italy, Rome was drawn into Sicily, which in turn made it a threat to Carthage and drew those two superpowers of the third century BC into a series of wars that would end with the total destruction of Carthage as a world power.

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7 Responses to Book Review: Empires of Trust (Part II)

  • Like you (and Madden, I suppose) I found the parallels between the Roman Republic and the U.S. quite striking. The disanalogies, however, were also striking. What ultimately forced Rome to abandon it’s policy of political independence for Greece was the unwillingness of the various Greek city states to stop fighting with each other. By contrast, the countries of Europe seem to be perfectly content not to fight with one another.

  • True.

    I think an important distinction (and a very positive development) is that the US was able to use international institutions to station troops all over the place without actually assuming ruling powers over any of those nations. This allowed the US to remain in Europe after WW2 without getting into the business of trying to rule it (which would undoubtledly have been a disaster for all concerned.)

    I suppose part of the question here would be: If the US had returned to total isolationism after WW2 as it did after WW1, would we see the sort of postwar peace in Europe that we have in the real world? One might after that the development of a fairly conflict-free European political climate after WW2 was to a great extent caused by the fact that US power encouraged those nations to allow their military powers to atrophy.

    I’m sure Europhiles would not buy that argument. I’m not sure to what extent I do. But it does seem interesting that while Europe has a very long history of frequent wars, that history seems to have ended in those areas (and pretty much only in those areas) which have come into the US sphere.

  • Darwin, I don’t think there is any doubt about that. Had the US pulled out of Europe militarily and not assisted the population with the Marshall Plan (both done precisely with the idea of not repeating the mistakes of post WWI), Europe would have been engulfed in war within a year or two. Stalin would have attempted to gobble up Western Europe had it not been for the US presence.

  • “Stalin would have attempted to gobble us Western Europe had it not been for the US presence.”

    Bad Americans. Messing things up again.

  • If the US had returned to total isolationism after WW2 as it did after WW1, would we see the sort of postwar peace in Europe that we have in the real world?

    I’m inclined to doubt it. Even with the U.S. presence, you still had war in the Balkans, war between Greece and Turkey, the conflict in Northern Ireland, a French war in Algeria, a British war with Argentina, and so forth, not to mention the Cold War.

  • Fair point. Maybe I’m overplaying the postwar peace meme.

    Though it does strike me that in all of those cases, the war was either at or beyond the horizon of US presence at the time.

    I dunno. I’m trying to play out and see what I think of this theory. Prior reading this, I’d pretty much accepted the, “After starting two world wars, the Europeans decided that war wasn’t the answer and so the US had to come in and protect them from the Soviets” meme.

    After reading it, and having a couple long, late night discussions with an old history professor friend, I’m wondering if its much more the case that the US decision to stay in Europe is what allowed peace-emphasizing parties to win out — and that the gradual spread of US presence further into Eastern Europe and the Middle East could potentially have similar effects.

  • Don’t know. I think the Cold War was a real war that would have swallowed up a few (many, most)European countries if not for the US presence. Stalin was not opposed to absorbing whatever he could. Even if it would not have taken war for him to do it, he would have.