We’ve discussed The Donald in these pages before. Almost every time we’ve come back from the ordeal beaten and bloodied after perusing our reader responses.
Is Trump the “democratic tyrant” that Plato warns us about in his The Republic?
We pondered that question some months ago. Seemed plausible at the time, but maybe we had the guy wrong. Perhaps Big Don isn’t a fear monger at all. He might just be a classical reader!
Sure, he’s the kinda guy that wants to build a wall because those damn foreigners are coming to kill us.
But he’s not the first…
A great, big, beautiful wall
That brings us to our bit of history for today.
Building walls was not an unusual occurrence in the ancient world. Off the top of your head, you could probably name the Great Wall of China, the Walls of Benin, or perhaps even Hadrian’s Wall.
Defensive walls were an integral part of the ancient world. During the infancy of human civilization, marauding pirates, encroaching foreign armies, and addled emperors with a penchant for putting entire cities to the flame were vey real concerns.
Today we look at one particular set of walls. They are the Long Walls of ancient Athens described by Thucydides in his The History of the Peloponnesian War.
The walls of the ancient Athenian city began construction during the lead up to the Peloponnesian War in the mid 5th century BC.
N.B. The Persian armies of King Xerxes had previously destroyed the Athenian walls during the Greco-Persian wars several decades earlier.
An interesting piece of engineering, defensive walls were erected around the city proper, but construction also began on a series of 6km “Long Walls” that would connect the city of Athens to its ports at Piraeus.
The Athenian Long Walls
The Long Walls created a protected corridor that could provide a valuable link to the sea, even during times of siege.
More interesting than the walls themselves was the story behind how they were built.
The Missing Envoys
The historian Thucydides tells us that after the successful expulsion of the Persian armies, the Spartan Greeks looked upon Athens with fear and mistrust. In the course of “defending” smaller cities from the Persians, Athens had acquired herself a sizeable empire. The Athenians coerced or otherwise intimidated smaller cities to join their military coalition or otherwise face destruction.
Fearing the strength of a fortified Athenian city, the Spartans pleaded with Athens to not reconstruct the defensive walls.
Themistocles, the man largely credited with orchestrating the Greek victory over the Persians, informed the Spartans that he would sit with them and discuss the proposition.
You know-hash it out.
Themistocles proceeded at once to Sparta but informed his countrymen to delay the departure of the other emissaries. Upon his arrival, the general stalled for time and made excuses. His colleagues had yet to arrive, you see, so he couldn’t possibly go before the Spartan assembly to discuss the prospect of an Athenian wall.
The Spartans trusted Themistocles, a man who was for years their ally. However, unbeknownst to them, the construction of the Athenian wall had already begun.
The Spartans heard rumors of the wall and deployed emissaries to confirm the reports. Themistocles secretly sent word to the Athenians to capture the emissaries and detain them indefinitely.
By this time, construction of the Athenian walls was far enough along that Themistocles felt it safe to drop his ruse. He announced openly that the Athenian wall, to the great consternation of the Spartans, had already been constructed.
In essence, saying: Whaddya gonna do about it?
Taking a page from Thucydides
By this time our mind drifts back to the modern age.
Is it fair to The Donald to compare him to ancient demagogues? While we’re at it, is it fair to the demagogues to compare them to Trump?
No answers for certain…but we sure would love to hear what you have to say, dear reader.
For now though, let’s be content with our examination of this unique bit of history. We don’t know precisely how Themistocles made his case to the Athenian people, what stirring rhetoric he must have employed.
But we like to imagine…
Hey guys, I got great news. We’re going to build a big, beautiful wall…
And Sparta’s going to pay for it!