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The Failure of Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece has always been known as the one that laid the foundation of the Western
culture and that of modern society. It had influenced the world in a way that none other
civilization had. However, such a great civilization didn’t last long. The reason for this
is its people failure to form unity. This essay will discuss about the reasons for its
disunity and the effects it had for the fate of the Ancient Greece.

The Greeks were notorious for their disability to unite. “At no time in antiquity was
Greece a unified nation in the modern sense” (The Decline and Fall of Ancient Greece, p.
12). There were at least three main reasons for the Greeks’ inability to unite, which are
the geographical region of the land, the competitiveness of the people, and extreme
personal narcissism.

Greece’s geographic regions caused the Greeks to develop small city-states, which are
“a nation built around a single city” (Don Nardo, p. 24). “The coast of the entire area is
jagged and the land broken by bays and gulfs; the interior is full of mountains and
mountainous districts, producing many small separated regions” (The Decline and Fall of
Ancient Greece, p. 33). These city-states, separated by geographic features of the land,
grew to be independent nations. “Although most of these towns were physically similar,
their inhabitants developed different customs, governments, and traditions, and they came
to think of themselves as separate nations” (Don Nardo, p. 24).

This competitive nature may have aroused from the personal narcissism the Greeks
had. The Greeks were the founder of the ideology of democracy. In democracy, all
people are equal. Here, individualism flourished. Men valued himself, as each state
valued itself, and it made them learn to value others too, although not those that were
“slaves by nature,” as Aristotle put it (Don Nardo, p. 48).

Of all the history of the Ancient Greece, there were two events that showed really well
how disunity among the Greeks highly contributed to its downfall, which were the
Peloponnesian War and Successors’ War. Interestingly, both wars occurred after a unity
and followed by a unity that was carried out by “outsiders”. This may have actually
shown that the Greeks had never learned from their past mistakes.

The Peloponnesian War was the turning point of Greek civilization, the start of its
decline. Just before the Peloponnesian War, the Greeks faced a war with Persian, and in
an attempt to thrive, the Greeks united. With Greek city-states united, the Persian hadn’t
got a chance to conquer the land of Greece. This proved how strong the Greeks could be
under unification.

The heroes of the Persian War were Athens and Sparta, both were the strongest city-
states in Ancient Greece, and both were archenemy. “The rivalry between Athens and
Sparta was based mainly on political differences and mutual fears of military aggression”
(Don Nardo, p. 44), with Athens being innovative and democratic, and Sparta being
conservative and monarchy.
The hatred between the two Athens and Sparta made it possible for virtually any
reason to cause a war, and the war between the two opposite sides did break out, which is
known as the Peloponnesian War. The Peloponnesian War took place during the 431 to
404 BC. Thucydides, a Greek historian witnessing the war, noted that he “saw the rest of
the Greeks either siding or intending to side with on or the other. No other movement
ever stirred Greece more deeply than this” (Don Nardo, p. 66).

The war was finally won by Sparta and its allies. The Spartan did not enjoy the victory
for long as Thebes, once Sparta’s ally, crushed down Sparta. However, even when the
war was over, all of Greeks failed to restore their power. “The quality of life declined as a
result of the warfare. Economic conditions worsened, and violent clashes between rich
and poor became frequent. People grew less public-spirited and more self-centered.”
(World Book 1999: Greece, Ancient).

Macedonia, a country in extreme northern Greece, attacked the once powerful southern
Greece. The exhausted city-states failed to prevent the Macedonian conquest and easily
fell to them. This was the first fall of the Ancient Greece. Under Alexander the Great, a
Macedonian king, Greece was united and the nation was enlarged through conquests.
However, this unity did not last long. After Alexander’s death, his generals, who were
called the Diadochoi meaning Successors, fought among themselves for the king
position. “Between 323 and 281, they fought a long series of costly wars that killed
hundred of thousands of people and exhausted all participants.” (Don Nardo, p. 87-88).

When the wars among the Diadochoi were over, Alexander’s kingdom was divided
into three kingdoms, which were Ptolemaic kingdom, Seleucid kingdom, and the
Macedonian kingdom. In the period after the wars, Greek culture flourished under these
kingdoms. However, these kingdoms had to deal with “internal rebellion by subjects
unhappy with their dictatorial. And each kingdom continued to fight periodic wars with
its neighbors” (Don Nardo, p. 89).

The three kingdoms ended as the Romans conquered them one by one. During this
period, the kingdoms repeated the same mistake they had done in the past, which was
unwilling and remained disunited. This was the second fall of the Ancient Greece, and
they had never come back to their independence until long in the future.

Ancient Greece was once the ruler of the ancient world, admired and praised. The fall
of the civilization was not because of the things of nature, but the Greeks’ ego to unite.
They always ignored the fact that they were stronger when they were united, such when
they were united in the Persian War and under the vast, much-feared empire of Alexander
the Great. As much as disunity had crushed them, perhaps it was disunity too that made it
once one of the greatest.


Nardo, Don. Ancient Greece. Lucent Books: San Diego. 1994.

The Decline and Fall of Ancient Greece. Greenhaven Press: San Diego. 2000.