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«Wie alt warst Du, als die Perser kamen? Kreta, auf dem ich dieses Jahr erneut Urlaub gemacht habe, ist eine Insel: Da denkt man automatisch an ...»

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Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy

& the Birth of Democracy

by John R. Hale

Wie alt warst Du, als die Perser kamen?

Kreta, auf dem ich dieses Jahr erneut Urlaub gemacht habe, ist eine Insel: Da denkt man automatisch an

meeresverliebte Menschen, an minoische Seefahrer. Doch die modernen Kreter sind anders, landgebunden,

meeresverachtend. Die traditionellen Kreter ziehen ins Landesinnere und pflanzen Olivenbäume, und wollen nichts

mit dem Meer zu tun haben. Eine Ankedote, von unserem lokalen, auf Kreta aufgewachsenen Führer erzählt, illustriert das. Sein Vater, ebenso auf Kreta in einem Dorf nur ca. 20 Kilometer von der Küste geboren, hat das Meer zum ersten Mal im Alter von 18 Jahren gesehen. Er wusch seine Hände im Meer, schüttelte das Wasser ab, und ging wieder nach Hause zu seinen Olivenbäumen.

Die Athener waren zu Beginn etwas ähnlich veranlagt. Die Diskussion, ob es sich lohnt, auf eine Meeresstreitmacht zu setzen, konnte Themistokles nur durch einen Zufall, einen Silberfund, durchsetzen. Von da an aber war Athen eine "Stadt auf Schiffen", vom Meer verzaubert, freiwillig ans Meer gebunden, eine "Thalassokratie". Bis zu ihrem Aufgang in nachfolgenden Reichen war die Stadt Athen mit ihrer Flotte und Demokratie über 200 Jahre das strahlendste Kleinod des Mittelmeers, und eines, das selbst heute noch als Vorbild für uns dienen kann.

The beat of oars was the heartbeat of Athens in the city’s Golden Age.

So eine Triere war die neue Superwaffe der Antike. Unglaublich schnell, agil, manövrierbar- dabei mit ihrer Hauptwaffe, dem Rammsporn, tödlich für andere Schiffe. Nichts konnte einer gut trainierten Schiffsdivision athenischer Schiffe widerstehen. Und in dieser Tradition, in der sich kein Athener zu schade war, auf den Ruderbänken platz zu nehmen (es gab keine Sklaven in antiken Trieren, das war eine mittelalterliche Neuerung und eine Ben-Hur-Film-Irrung), musste sich so etwas wie Mitspracherecht entwickeln.

A naval tradition that depended on the muscles and sweat of the masses led inevitably to democracy: from sea power to democratic power. (...) Oars were great levelers. Rowing demanded perfect unison of action, and the discipline inevitably generated a powerful unity of spirit. Rich and poor shared the same callused palms, blistered A naval tradition that depended on the muscles and sweat of the masses led inevitably to democracy: from sea power to democratic power. (...) Oars were great levelers. Rowing demanded perfect unison of action, and the discipline inevitably generated a powerful unity of spirit. Rich and poor shared the same callused palms, blistered buttocks, and stiff muscles, as well as the same hopes and fears for the future. A new unified Athens was being forged on the decks and rowing thwarts of the fleet.

Und kaum hatten die Athener sich mal an diese Form des Lebens gewöhnt, taten sie mit typischgriechischer Dickköpfigkeit alles dafür, es aufrecht zu erhalten.

What made the Spartans, Athenians, and others willing to fight? Part of the answer lay in a raw Greek spirit of independence, a fierce and fanatical zeal for liberty. Their rough and rocky land had bred a race of tough, selfreliant people. Greek cities were as obstinate as individual citizens in jealously guarding their freedom. For centuries this spirit had kept the Greeks divided against one another. Now at last it helped them unite against a common enemy.

Etwas, das man auch heute noch in Medien und Politik beobachten kann, ist die Tendenz, einst erfolgreiche und geliebte Führer schnell zu verdammen, sobald ihre Glückssträhne nachlässt. Die Begrenzung der Herrschaftszeit eines Anführers in modernen Demokratien hat schon ihren Grund- und den Athener Helden wäre es gut angestanden, ihren Zenit nicht zu überschreiten, denn wenn sie nicht freiwillig abtraten, tat es das Volk für sie - im besten Fall mit einfacher Verbannung aus der polis, im schlimmsten Fall durch mehr oder weniger erzwungenen Selbstmord mit dem Schierlingsbecher.

Only six years had passed since the victory at the Eurymedon River had seemingly put Cimon at the summit of Athens’ pantheon of heroes. His father, Miltiades, had suffered a similar fate within a year of his victory at Marathon. There was no question that the Athenians often dealt more harshly with their leaders than they did with their enemies. (...) One after another the heroes of Arginusae drank their vials of hemlock juice and departed this life.

Dennoch bleibt ein ewiger Glanz auf diesen wenigen Generationen- die Namen der Helden überleben bis heute, und sie dienen trotz aller ihrer Mängel immer noch als Vorbilder für den Kampf für etwas, an das man glaubt.

As youths many had taken the traditional oath: “I shall hand on my fatherland not less, but greater.” More than any other generation, these men had fulfilled that promise. (...) All those gifts of mind and spirit that set Athenians apart shone at their brightest in Phormio: optimism, energy, inventiveness, and daring- a determination to seize every chance and defy all odds- and the iron will to continue the fight even when all seemed lost—even when the enemy had already begun to celebrate their victory. For Phormio, it was never too late to win.

Waren es die scheinbar unschlagbaren Gegner in Form der Perser und Spartaner, die dennoch bezwungen wurden, die diesen Glanz erzeugten? Die unüberwindbaren Schwierigkeiten im Bauen und Aufrechterhalten einer so teuren Streitmacht, die gemeistert wurden? Die inneren Widerstände, die Opposition, die gegen alles kämpfte, was Athen groß gemacht hatte, die leider am Ende gewann, aber einen harten Stand hatte?





When the historian Thucydides recorded the people’s energetic response, he observed that democracies are always at their best when things seem at their worst.

Eine Beobachtung die heute, in Zeiten des Demokratieabbaus, gegen den sich niemand wirklich wehrt, da es uns allen scheinbar zu gut geht, eine besondere Aktualität gewinnt.

Nach dem Erfolg der Frank-Miller-Comicverfilmung "300" war Sparta eine Weile in aller Munde. Eine brutale Militärdiktatur, kulturverachtend, herrschsüchtig, gewaltbereit, die Bürger (wenn man sie überhaupt so nennen konnte) unterjochend - alle fanden es "cool" (mich erstmal eingeschlossen). Dennoch waren sie letztlich, obwohl es im Peloponnesischen Krieg erstmal eine Weile so aussah, als hätte Sparta die Oberhand, den Athenern unterlegen, deren Geist und Witz sie nie gewachsen waren.

The inexplicable failure of the Spartans to attack Athens immediately after this battle led Thucydides to dub them “quite the most convenient enemies that the Athenians could possibly have had.” Ich wäre froh, wenn es das kluge, strategische, clevere und edle Athen wäre, und nicht Sparta mit seinen hohlen pathetischen Kriegermythen, das mehr Aufmerksamkeit in der populären Medienwelt bekommen würde.|Hale has written an engaging history of the Athenian navy during its period of power, from when Themistocles convinced the Athenians to use a silver strike in 483 BC to build the fleet that stopped the Persians until a later Athenian fleet surrendered to the Macedonians after trifling resistance in 322. I think we sometimes get the idea that the Athenian navy did little of note outside of the Persian and Peloponnesian wars, but their other wars were also important, lacking only their Herodotus or Thucydides to give us a compelling account. For instance, a 300-ship fleet sailed to Egypt in the 450s to aid a revolt against the Persions, and it was destroyed. Who knew? The decisive Athenian defeat by the Spartans in 404, which at the time seemed like the End of Everything, turned out to be but a blip in the history of their navy- they were a power again by 378.

Athenian defeat by the Spartans in 404, which at the time seemed like the End of Everything, turned out to be but a blip in the history of their navy- they were a power again by 378.

Criticisms: A lot of this history concerns general Athenian politics and its influence on naval matters. I suppose that's because of the lack of good sources on strictly naval affairs. Hale does not warn the reader (except in an endnote) that his reconstruction of the Battle of Salamis is not universally accepted. He has the Persian fleet forming up parallel to the Attic shore and facing the Greeks along the opposite shore. I think the more common opinion is that the Persions formed a line across the straight, at right angles to the shores, which nullified the great Persian advantage in numbers. In Hale's recontruction, it is hard to understand not only why the Persians did not envelope the Greek line, but also why their defeated right wing would attempt to escape by sailing several miles behind the rest of the line towards the Piraeus, rather that running to the Persian-held shore immediately behind them. How many other dubious reconstructions have been presented as fact in this book? The reader should be advised about what is known vs. what is guessed.

And now for a pet peeve: Hale has become convinced that the triremes of this era were rowed with a sliding seat (illustration on p. 41). This highly dubious idea is inconsequential to his tale, but it still bugs the hell out of me. He justifies this with three illustrations from ancient sources, showing rowers with knees bent at the catch (A), knees partially bent during the drive (B), and knees straight at the finish (C). The ancient pictures, from three different times and places, in fact show the opposite of what Hale claims. (A) indeed shows knees bent at the catch, but it is not of a trireme, and a similar pottery fragment from c750 BC shows knees bent at the finish (The Age of the Galley, ed. Robert Gardiner, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1995, p. 41). Also, the spacing between the rowers shows no room to slide back. Apparently some early galleys had shallow draft and the rowers sat with bent knees.

(B) shows the one rower from the famous Lenormant Relief (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fil...) whose knees are raised- the other seven very plainly have their thighs perfectly horizontal in the drive, and so are clearly not sliding. The bent-kneed rower is simply sitting over a cross-piece. Also, there is again no room for the rowers to slide. Finally, (C) is from a 700 BC potsherd (ibid., p. 27, mirror-imaged), 300 years before the Lenormant Relief and centuries before triremes. The rowers are only shown from the hips up- it's not clear how straight their knees are.

It is clear that there is no room between them for a sliding seat.

|The title and back cover initially led me to believe LORDS OF THE SEA was an analysis of how the ancient Athenians’ decision to "navalize" ultimately led to adoption of democratic government. Instead of analysis, per se, the author, John Hale, embraced a more chronological, narrative-history approach. In so doing, he employs the novelist’s method of "showing, rather than telling" how naval expansion politically empowered the middle and lower classes of Athens.

That the author uses a novelistic effect is not at all meant as criticism. Hale’s writing is gripping and evocative. He makes you feel as though you’re actually sailing "the wine-dark sea," the foam of waves splashing your face as you sit on the prow of an Athenian warship, the "trireme."

As with many books that cover this period, LORDS OF THE SEA, while ostensibly focused on naval history, is in truth a good overall history of Athens during its golden age——from the victory against the Persians, through the Peloponnesian Wars, until Alexander of Macedon brought the end of democracy and instituted an age of kings.

All the major developments of the period are given fresh treatment, and the individuals who dominated that era——Themistocles, Pericles, Cleon, Alcibiades, Demosthenes, and others——come alive.

When discussing the history of ancient Athens, the Peloponnesian War naturally looms large. Indeed, about twothirds of the book is about that "Greek world war." This massive conflict exerts such a hold on my imagination that, every time I read about it, I find myself rooting for the Athenians, even though I already know the eventual, dismal outcome.



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