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(rolling chair) John: Hi, I'm John Green. This is Crash Course World History, and today we're gonna do some legitimate comp civ, for those of you into that kind of thing. Stan, I can help but feel that we have, perhaps, too many globes. That's better. Today, we're gonna learn about the horrible totalitarian Persians and the saintly democracy-loving Greeks. But of course, we already know this story. There were some wars in which no none wore any shirts and everyone was reasonably fit. the Persians were bad, the Greeks were good, Socrates and Plato are awesome. The Persians didn't even philosophize. The west is the best! GO TEAM! Yeah, well, no. (lively music) Let's start with the Persian Empire, which became the model for pretty much all land-based empires throughout the world except for, wait for it, the Mongols. (cavalry music) Much of what we know about the Persians and their empire comes from an outsider writing about them, which is something we now call "history", and one of the first true historians was Herodotus, whose famous book, The Persian Wars, talks about the Persians quite a bit. Now, the fact that Herodotus was Greek is important because it introduces us to the idea of historical bias, but more on that in a second. The Persian-Achaemenid dynasty, Achaemenid? Hold on, Computer: Achaemenid (pronouced Ah-KEE-me-nid) or Achaemenid. (pronounced Ah-KEH-me-nid) John: They're both right? I was right twice? Right, so the Persian Achaemenid Dynasty was founded in 539 BCE by King Cyrus the Great. Cyrus took his nomadic warriors and conquered most of Mesopotamia, including the Babylonians, which ended a sad period in Jewish history called the Babylonian Exile, thus ensuring that Cyrus got press in the Bible. But his son, Darius I, was even greater. He extended Persian control east to our old friend, the Indus Valley, west to our new friend, Egypt, and north to Crash Course newcomer, Anatolia. By the way, there were Greeks in Anatolia called Ionian Greeks, who will become relevant shortly. Even if you weren't Persian, the Persian Empire was pretty dreamy. For one thing, the Persians ruled with a light touch, like conquered kingdoms were allowed to keep their kings and their elites, as long as they pledged allegiance to the Persian King and paid taxes, which is why the Persian king was known as the "King of Kings". Plus, taxes weren't too high, and the Persians improved infrastructure with better roads, and they had this pony express-like mail service of which Herodotus said, "They are staid neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness "from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed." And, the Persians embraced freedom of religion, like they were Zoroastrian, which has a claim to be the world's first monotheistic religion. It was really Zorastrianism that introduced us to the good-evil dualism we all know so well, you know, God and Satan or Harry and Voldemort, but the Persians weren't very concerned about converting people of the empire to their faith, plus, Zoroastrianism forbids slavery, and so slavery was almost unheard of in the Persian empire. All in all, if you had to live in the 5th century BCE, the Persian Empire was probably the best place to do it, unless, that is, you believe Herodotus and the Greeks. We all know about the Greeks, architecture, philosophy, literature. The very word music comes from Greek, as does so much else in contemporary culture. Greek poets and mathematicians and architects and philosophers founded a culture that we still identify with, and they introduced us to many ideas from democracy to fart jokes. And the Greeks gave the west our first dedicated history. They gave us our vocabulary for talking about politics. Plus, they gifted us our idealization of democracy which comes from the government they had in Athens. Mr. Green, Mr. Green, Mr. Green, Mr. Green, did you say fart jokes? Ugh, you don't ask about Doric, Ionian, or Corinthian columns, you don't ask about Plato's Allegory of the Cave. It's all scatological humor with you! It's time for the open letter? Really? Already? All right. An open letter. (fart noise) Stan! To Aristophanes. Dear Aristophanes. Oh, right. I have to check the secret compartment. Stan, what, oh. Thank you, Stan. It's fake dog poo. How thoughtful. So, good news and bad news, Aristophanes, 2300 years after your death, this is the good news. You're still reasonably famous. Only 11 of your 40 plays survived, but even so, you're called the father of comedy, there are scholars devoted to your work. Now, the bad news. Even though your plays are exceptionally well-translated and absolutely hilarious, students don't like to read them in schools. They're always like, "Why do we gotta read this boring crap?" This must be particularly galling to you because so much of what you did in your career was make fun of boring crap, specifically in the form of theatrical tragedies, plus you frequently used actual crap to make jokes, such as when you had the chorus in the Acharnians imagining a character in your play throwing crap at a real poet you didn't like. You, Aristophanes, who wrote that under every stone works a politician, who has called wealth the most excellent of all the Gods You, who are responsible for the following conversation. I want all to have a share of everything and everything to be in common. There will no longer be rich or poor. I shall begin by making land, money, everything that is private property common to all. But who will till the soil? The slaves. Oh. And yet, you're seen as homework, drudgery! That, my friend, is a true tragedy. On the upside, we did take care of slavery. It only took us 2,000 years. Best wishes, John Green. When we think about the high point of Greek culture, exemplified by the Parthenon and the plays of Aeschylus, what we're really thinking about is Athens in the 4th century BCE, right after the Persian Wars. Greece was way more than Athens. Greeks lived in city-states, which consisted of a city and its surrounding area. Most of these city-states featured at least some form of slavery and in all of them, citizenship was limited to males. Sorry, ladies. Also, each of these city-states had its own form of government ranging from very democratic, unless you were a woman or a slave, to completely dictatorial. The people who lived in these cities considered themselves citizens of that city, not of anything that would ever be called Greece, at least until the Persian Wars. Between 490 and 480 BCE, the Persians made war on the Greek city-states. This was the war that featured the battle of Thermopylae, where 300 brave Spartans battled, if you believe Herodotus, 5 million Persians, and also the battle of Marathon, which is a plane about 26.2 miles away from Athens. The whole war started because Athens supported those aforementioned Ionian Greeks when they were rebelling in Anatolia against the Persians. That made the Persian king Xerxes mad, so he led two major campaigns against the Athenians, and the Athenians enlisted the help of all the other Greek city-states. In the wake of that shared Greek victory, the Greeks began to see themselves as Greeks rather than as Spartans or Athenians or whatever. Then Athens emerged as the de facto capital of Greece, and then got to experience a Golden Age, which is something that historians make up. A lot of things did happen during the Golden Age, including the Parthenon, a temple that became a church and then a mosque, and then an armory, until finally settling into its current gig as a ruin. They also had statesmen like Pericles, whose famous funeral oration brags about the golden democracy of Athens with rhetoric that wouldn't sound out of place today. If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences. If a man is able to serve the state, he is not hindered by the obscurity of his condition, and when you combine that high-minded rhetoric with the undeniable power and beauty of the art and philosophy that was created in ancient Athens, it's not hard to see it as the foundation of western civilization. If you buy into this, you have to be glad that the Greeks won the Persian Wars. Even if you put aside the slavery and other injustices in Greek society, there's still trouble. Do I have to say it? Seriously? Fine. Trouble, right here in River City with a capital T and that rhymes with P, and that stands for Peloponnese. Pericles' funeral oration comes from a later war, the Peloponnesian War, which was a 30-year conflict between the Athenians and the Spartans. The Spartans did not embrace democracy, but instead embraced a kingship that functioned only because of a huge class of brutally mistreated slaves. But to be clear, the war was not about Athens trying to get Sparta to embrace democratic reforms. Wars rarely are. It was about resources and power, and the Athenians were hardly saintly in all of this, as evidenced by the famous Melian dialogue. Let's go to the thought bubble. In one of the most famous passages of Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians sailed to the island of Melos, a Spartan colony, and demanded that the Melians submit to Athenian rule. The Melians pointed out that they'd never actually fought with the Spartans, and were like, "Listen, if it's all the same to you, "we'd like to go Switzerland on this one," except of course, they didn't say that because there was no Switzerland, to which the Athenians responded, and here I am quoting directly, "The strong do what they can, "and the weak suffer what they must." Needless to say, this is not a terribly democratic or enlightened position to take. This statement, in fact, is sometimes seen as the first explicit endorsement of the so-called theory of realism in international relations. For realists, interaction between nations or peoples or cultures is all about who has the power. Whoever has it can compel whoever doesn't have it to do pretty much anything. So what did the meritocratic and democratic Athenians do when the Melians politely asked not to participate in the fight? They killed all the Melian men and enslaved allt he women and children. So, yes, Socrates gave us his interrogative method, Sophocles gave us Oedipus, but the legacy of ancient Greece is profoundly ambiguous. All the more so because the final winner of the Peloponnesian War were the dictatorial Spartans. Thanks for the incredible bummer, thought bubble. Here's a non-rhetorical question. Did the right side win the Persian Wars? Most classicists and defenders of the western tradition will tell you that of course we should be glad the Greeks won. After all, winning the Persian War set off the cultural flourishing that gave us the Classical Age, and plus, if the Persians had won with their monarchy, they might have strangled democracy in its crib and gave us more one-man rule, and that's possible, but as a counter to that argument, let's consider 3 things. First, it's worth remembering that life under the Persians was pretty good, and if you look at the last 5,000 years of human history, you'll find a lot more successful and stable empires than you will democracies. Second, life under the Athenians wasn't so awesome, particularly if you were a woman or a slave, and their government was notoriously corrupt. Ultimately, the Athenian government derived its power not from its citizens, but from the imperialist belief that might makes right. It's true that Athens gave us Socrates, but let me remind you, they also killed him. Well, I mean, they forced him to commit suicide. Whatever, Herodotus. You're not the only one here who can engage in historical bias. Lastly, under Persian rule, the Greeks might have avoided the Peloponnesian War, which ended up weakening the Greek city-states so much that Alexander, coming soon, the Great's father was able to conquer all of them, and then there were a bunch of bloody wars with the Persians, and all kinds of horrible things, and Greece wouldn't glimpse democracy again for 2 millennia, all of which might have been avoided, if they had just let themselves get beaten by the Persians, all of which forces us to return to the core question of human history. What's the point of being alive? I've got good news for you, guy. You're only gonna have to worry about it for about 8 more seconds. Should we try to ensure the longest, healthiest, and most productive lives for humans? If so, it's easy to argue that Greece should have lost the Persian Wars, but perhaps lives are supposed to be lived in pursuit of some great ideal worth sacrificing endlessly for, and if so, maybe the glory of Athens still shines, however dimly. Those are the real questions of history. What's the point of being alive? How should we organize ourselves? What should we seek from this life? Those aren't easy questions, but we'll take another crack at them next week, when we talk about the Buddha. I'll see you then.