Thursday, May 23, 2013

Stratfor: Strategic Challenges of Italy and Greece

I've posted two videos today detailing the strategic challenges facing two Mediterranean nations

I think these two videos are fascinating, not only because it concisely articulates the challenges facing these two nations today, but because it also gives us an idea on why the most powerful civilization in the ancient world came from the Italian Peninsula versus the richer more cultured Hellenic Peninsula.
 The geographic nature of the Hellenic peninsula both aided and hindered Greece in it's development.  The mountainous terrain and lack of vasts tracts of arable land forced the Greeks to rely on the sea for their livelihood. Coupled with it's relative proximity to established ancient civilizations along the Levant and Egypt it's rise to wealth and fame was a near given.
Greeks were the first civilized people of the west, with evidence of the bronze age going as far back as 2,800 BC for mainland Greece and as early as 3,650 BC for the Minoans on Crete. In contrast, the Italian cultures at the time, known as the Apennine cultures, were commonly attributed to starting the Bronze Age around 1,800 BC.  The Greeks were experiencing their first age of culture, known as Mycenaean Greece, dated from 1,600 BC to 1,100 BC, while the Italians were still back water savages.
The Greeks had a well established civilization by the first millennium BC. Cities like Athens had been settled for thousands of years, in contrast the city of Rome hadn't even been founded until almost 600 years after the mythical Trojan War. So it begets the question, why do we speak of Greco-Roman culture and not Hellenic.  Greece's geography plays a role there as well.
While the mountainous terrain of Greece help protect the Greeks from nomadic barbarian tribes to the north, it was also the key reason why the Greeks never remained unified for very long.  It is telling that of all the great long lasting civilizations of the past, Egyptian, Persian or Roman, that the Greeks were the only one largely bereft of any long lasting unified empire. True, there was the empire of Alexander the Great, but like most empire's that gestate so rapidly around the abilities of one man it fractured shortly after his death.
This is very different from the Roman Empire which stood unified almost a thousand years. Once again geography plays a large role for Rome as it did the city states of Greece.  The Italian Peninsula is mountainous like Greece, however, there are a few key differences.  Unlike Greece, the Romans did have large fertile landscapes upon which major agriculture could develop.  Though the Industrial Po valley is the heart of the country today, and also not coincidentally the heart of Padania separatist sentiments, that is only true for Italy today. 
Two thousand years ago there was no industrialization.  Agriculture, trade and fishing were the three major industries that existed.  In the context of the ancient world, it isn't hard to see why a city state in central Italy rose to prominence.  The city of Rome is located in the fertile lands of Latium, next to the Tiber river, and only a few miles from the Mediterranean Sea. While the rise of Rome itself wasn't inevitable, the growing Phoenician and Greek settlements in the western Mediterranean and Italy's central location in make the reasons why that much clearer.

The Italian cities states benefited from terrain that was more conducive towards large scale agriculture, which made up for in food productivity what they lacked in wealth, but it also made the cities or vulnerable to domination by their neighbors than it was in Greece. This is why Rome grew to dominate its Latin and Italian neighbors. For the Romans, it was either dominate their neighbors, or be dominated by them.  It was only after Rome had secured the Italian Peninsula that they became interested in acquiring territories overseas.

Geography is an often overlooked part of historical study but it shouldn't be.  A civilization, and the course a civilization may take, is heavily influenced by the environment around them. If we want to understand why a people did what it did then it doesn't hurt to first look at where they lived. 

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Seattle resident whose real name is Kevin Daniels. This blog covers the following topics, libertarian philosophy, realpolitik, western culture, history and the pursuit of truth from the perspective of a libertarian traditionalist.