Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

The joyful street parties, dazzling fireworks displays and sense of universal celebration that have greeted the 50th anniversary of the EU across the land make one wonder how much longer it can go on. Not long, unless it learns the lessons. But even if it does, will it make any difference? The story of the Athenian empire suggests not.

Athens's empire had its origins in the aftermath of the Persian wars (490-479 BC ), when Greek city-states decided they were never going to be threatened by the Persians again (one is reminded of an early argument for an EU -- to prevent any more European wars). So they decided to form an alliance, donating ships or money to provide a fleet that would turf the Persians out of the eastern Mediterranean once and for all.

Athens, whose fleet had been responsible for the great victory against the Persians at Salamis, was accepted as the natural leader. But gradually Athens's own agenda took over (just like Brussels's), and it started interfering in the internal affairs of allied states that had nothing to do with defence against Persia. States that saw what was happening and tried to leave the alliance were sharply brought back into line.

Some 100 years later, after the Athenians had been defeated by Sparta (404 BC ) and their empire dismantled, they tried for a second time, in 378 BC , tocreate an alliance of Greek states. …

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