Ancient Greece, democracy and slavery

This video says about itself:

5 July 2015

If contemporary views of ancient Athens, Greece emphasize the peaceful and harmonious nature of that polis’s democratic system, historian Bettany Hughes begs to differ. Hughes asserts that the West’s establishment of Athens as the platonic ideal of democracy is hugely ironic, for that classical society in fact employed rules, regulations and traditions deemed unthinkable, even barbaric, in our modern age – from the widespread practice of black magic; to the view of women as demonic, fourth or fifth-class citizens forced to wear public veils; to the proliferation of slavery.

Most incredibly, Athens relied on inner bloodshed, tumult and strife to perpetuate its existence and strength, declaring war every two years or so. Such practices were commonplace, even as the community soared to new intellectual heights and created wondrous sociopolitical ideals for itself that it strove to live up to and that would later form the basis of contemporary political thought.

By Jean Turner in Britain:

New light on the democratic deficit in ancient Athens

Monday 11th January 2016

Peasant-Citizen and Slave: The Foundations of Athenian Democracy
by Ellen Meiksins Wood
(Verso, £14.99)

HISTORICAL materialists have always looked at the class and social structure of great civilisations of the past in order to map the growth of human development.

In doing so, they have paid great attention to the period of the growth of democracy and science in the Greco-Roman states from the 6th century BC to the collapse of the Roman Empire in 200 AD.

These societies were based on slavery. Because of this their collapse, according to Marxist writers, was considered to be the result of the slow growth of technology and production.

Wealthy rulers and landowners could live luxuriously on the free labour of others, so there was no need to create or use existing technology to lessen manual labour and increase production.

Paradoxically, these “idle societies” developed art, architecture, music, drama and philosophy to a peak of perfection. So science and skills existed and could not be the work of free labour only.

First published in 1988, Ellen Meiksins Wood’s book sets out to contradict this assumption in the case of agriculture. In a closely argued thesis, based on the available Greek literature and records of the time, she points out that Athenian democracy included the right of citizenship to peasants whose agricultural smallholdings fed the people of Attica.

This gave them the right to attend law courts and to vote and petition against rich citizens and landlords who were overcharging rent or threatening their land in any way. They could even sell their votes or labour to increase their income.

Referencing the writings of Xenophon, Homer, Demosthenes and the comedies of Aristophanes, she finds that peasants could own slaves but, depending on their wealth or success, either worked alone or alongside them. Of course, women and children were classified as chattels in the household so even here … labour could be either family or slaves. The edges are blurred but the argument, that Athens was a slave society per se, is cast in doubt.

This is an important correction to Marxist thought.

Plato and Aristotle regarded slavery as necessary to allow the development of the ideal society which, of course, excluded any intellectual role for women. They opposed the concept of peasant-citizens in a democracy since they were involved in what they regarded as menial work such as agriculture, building, crafts and other forms of labour.

Meiksins Wood criticises the dependence of Platonic philosophy on the rejection of human labour and experience and honours those ancient Greek philosophers whose scientific thinking was returned to in Europe in the 15th century AD, leading to technological advances which overcame feudalism and opened the door to capitalism.

A thought-provoking book which fully merits its reprint.

Millions of silver coins in ancient Athenian Parthenon

This video says about itself:

Secrets of the Parthenon

The Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece, Athenian democracy, western civilization and one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments. The Greek Ministry of Culture is currently carrying out a program of selective restoration and reconstruction to ensure the stability of the partially ruined structure.

From LiveScience:

Athenian Wealth: Millions of Silver Coins Stored in Parthenon Attic

by Owen Jarus, Live Science Contributor | June 26, 2015 06:10am ET

Millions of silver coins may have been stored in the attic of the Parthenon,one of the most famous structures from the ancient world, a research team says.

The attic of the Parthenon is now destroyed and the coins would have been spent in ancient times. The researchers made the discovery by reconstructing the size of the attic, analyzing ancient records to extrapolate how large the reserves may have been and re-examining archaeological work carried out decades ago.

Their evidence suggests that millions of coins made up the cash reserves of the city-state of Athens and much of this hoard was stored in the attic of the Parthenon. During the fifth century B.C., when the Parthenon was built, Athens was a wealthy city-state whose people erected fantastic buildings and fought a series of devastating wars against their rival Sparta. This vast reserve of coins would have helped fund those endeavors. [In Photos: Amazing Ruins of the Ancient World]

While the Parthenon’s attic is now destroyed, researchers estimate its floor would have spanned an area more than three times that of a tennis court, with dimensions of 62 feet wide by 164 feet long (19 by 50 meters) and about 10 feet (3 m) high at the center. The coin reserves were likely placed there around 434 B.C., when the Parthenon was dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens.

Incredible riches

In the fifth century B.C., Athens was one of the richest and most powerful city-states in Greece. Boasting a large navy, it exacted tribute from other Greek cities in exchange for military protection. Ancient writers say the Athenians kept vast coin reserves on the Acropolis, but don’t say exactly where.

For instance, one decree dated to around 433 B.C. refers to “3,000 talents” being transferred to the Acropolis for safekeeping, a colossal sum of money, researchers say. The highest-denomination coin minted in Athens at the time was a silver tetradrachm, and it took 1,500 tetradrachms to make one talent, the researchers noted. This means the “3,000 talents” mentioned in the decree would be worth 4.5 million tetradrachms. Such a huge number of coins would have weighed about 78 metric tons, or nearly 172,000 lbs., researchers say. To put that in perspective, that’s heavier than the M1 Abrams battle tank used today by American soldiers.

This video, in French, is about a 5th century BC silver tetradrachm. On it, a picture of a little owl, the symbol of the goddess Athena.

Remarkably, ancient writers said the Athenian reserves could, at times, reach up to 10,000 talents (potentially 260 metric tons).

Researchers caution that Athens may have minted some of its coins in gold (which was worth about 14 times more than silver). If that were the case, the number of coins (and the overall weight of the reserves) would be somewhat less, since it takes fewer gold coins to form one talent.

“Gold coinage was always minimal in Athens, in part because Athens mined silver locally,” study researcher Spencer Pope, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, told Live Science in an email. As such, the ancient writer Aeschylus called Athens and its nearby area a “fountain of silver,” Pope added.

The ultimate money stash

Ancient records mention nothing about where on the Acropolis the coins were stored, nor do they reveal the purpose of the Parthenon’s attic. “The sources are silent on the use of this space,” said Pope at a presentation recently in Toronto during the annual meeting of the Classical Association of Canada.

However, there are several reasons why researchers believe the attic was used to store most of Athens’ immense coin wealth. [Photos: Mysterious Tomb from Ancient Greece]

While the attic is now virtually destroyed, the remains of a staircase that would’ve led up to the attic still survive. This staircase appears to have had a utilitarian rather than a ceremonial use, suggesting it could have been used to bring coins to and from the attic.

Additionally, the sheer floor size of the attic not only would have provided room to store the coins, but also would have meant the coins’ weight could be spread over a wide area. Assuming the attic was floored with thick cypress wood beams, it would have been able to support the weight of the coins, the researchers say.

Because the Parthenon was located centrally, people would’ve had an easier time securing and accessing the money there. And criminals would be less likely to steal the coins, as the Parthenon was a temple for Athena — meaning any theft from it would be considered a crime against the goddess.

“The attic of the Parthenon is the only suitable space large enough to hold all of the coins in the Treasury,” Pope said in an email. “While we cannot rule out the possibility that coins were distributed across numerous buildings, we should recall that the attic is the most secure space.”

Researchers say that the coins may have been stored in boxes whose dimensions could be standardized to make counting easier.

Pope co-wrote the scientific paper with Peter Schultz, a professor at Concordia College at Minnesota, and David Scahill, a researcher at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Birds at British embassy in Greece

This video is called Birdwatching in Northern Greece – the Nestos region.

From BirdLife:

The British Embassy becomes a haven for birds in the heart of Athens

By BirdLife Europe, Tue, 03/02/2015 – 09:24

The Hellenic Ornithological Society (HOS, BirdLife in Greece) placed seven artificial bird nests in the garden of the British Embassy in Athens, following an invitation from the British Ambassador.

The British Embassy in Greece is located in the heart of Athens, in the ancestral home of the celebrated former president, Eleftherios Venizelos. The British Government acquired the residence in 1936, shortly after the death of the influential Greek statesman. Built in the 1870s by Venizelos’ father, the magnificent house is surrounded by a splendid orchard, with an abundance of orange, lemon, almond, apricot, bitter orange and other citrus trees, cypresses, bougainvillea; it is a haven for many birds.

In December 2014, HOS was invited by the British Ambassador John Kittmer to place artificial bird nests in the garden of the British residence. He affirmed: “I am very pleased that the historic garden of the British Residence has seven new nests for the birds of Athens, as well as for migratory birds, seeking shelter for nesting during their passage through the city. In Britain there is a long tradition of protecting birds and I think their presence in the urban space is a quality of life index for humans. A big ‘thank you’ to the Greek Ornithological Society for the research and placement of the nests. I look forward to welcoming my first feathered guests, a few months from now.”

Several species of birds, both residents and summer visitors, depend for shelter on the natural cavities in trees and shrubs. However, the number of suitable nesting trees has declined across Athens, where very few reach the age at which such cavities will develop. For this reason, the placement of artificial nests represents a vital supplement to natural cavities in the city, offering a welcome nest site for many species such as songbirds, woodpeckers and owls.

George Sgouros, Director of HOS, stated: “Our cooperation with the British Embassy is a continuation of our strong link with the RSPB (BirdLife in The UK). British citizens are well known for their environmental and social sensitivity and we are very happy that Ambassador Kittmer is following this tradition by offering a safe haven to the birds in Athens. Although our nests are designed for the requirements of particular species that only nest in the spring, they may also be used as shelter in the winter for a wide variety of birds that live in the city.”

He concluded: “We hope that the British Ambassador’s initiative will be replicated by others and will help to further raise public awareness of the broader environmental challenges of our time.”

For more information, please contact Katerina Giosma, Media and Communications Officer at the Greek Ornithological Society (HOS, BirdLife Partner).

One should hope that the British embassy in Greece will limit itself to this positive initiative for birdlife; and not push ‘troika’-style austerity capitalism down the throat of the Greek people, as other governments, including the British Cameron government, have done; and which is bad for wildlife and nature.

Greek pro-corporate police brutality

Heavily armed Greek anti-terrorist units confronted residents in the small coastal town of Ierissos – photo cr.

From daily News Line in Britain:

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Anti-terror units attack town!

SQUADS of the Greek anti-terrorist units and riot police armed with automatic weapons, early on Thursday morning occupied the small coastal town of Ierissos in northern Greece, about 100km east of Salonica.

The armed police raided houses in the town of those accused of attacking the installations of the gold mining company Greek Gold last week.

For over two years, Ierissos’ inhabitants have been fighting against the Greek Gold mining activities which they say destroy the forest and pollute the environment. The vast majority of the people of Ierissos make a living out of agriculture and tourism.

The police operation, likened by the town’s inhabitants to a ‘foreign army occupation’, triggered off mass protests with people confronting the armed police and demanding that they be withdrawn from the town.

Instead the police attacked them, making extensive use of tear-gas. People then set up barricades and made fires to lessen the tear-gas’ effects. The clashes between the town’s inhabitants and the armed police spread to the fields around the town.

Tear-gas choked up the town and a canister hit a boy in a school yard. Students came out in the streets and were confronted by riot-police. Four 15-year-old students were arrested. Despite the Ierissos’ school headmaster’s protests to the town’s police station, the military-style operation continued all day.

The Salonica director of the office of public prosecutor Panagis Yiannakis called a joint meeting for yesterday morning of Ierissos representatives, the area’s Mayor Christos Pakhtas and the chief of police Athinagoras Pazarlis.

The meeting did not take place as both the Mayor and the chief of police refused to attend. The Ierissos people’s committee issued a statement saying that Mayor Pakhtas is not welcome in the town. In 2003, Pakhtas resigned as deputy Finance Minister after being accused of involvement in illegal negotiations for the sale of the gold mines.

Thousands of people demonstrated in Salonica on Thursday against the police operation at Ierissos.

In Athens on Thursday about 3,000 college and university students marched through the city centre against the government’s scheme to close down at least one third of all college and university departments throughout Greece.

On Friday workers in the archaeology and monuments sectors staged a one-day national strike and all museums and sites remained shut.

More than 10,000 people took to the streets of Greece’s second largest city Thessaloniki on Saturday to protest against a gold mine being developed by a Canada-based transnational: here.

See also here.

Greek government’s oppression of workers

A section of the rally on Tuesday night in the port of Piraeus

From daily News Line in Britain:

Thursday, 7 February 2013


THE Greek coalition government ordered the forced ‘civil conscription’ of the seafarers on Tuesday on the sixth day of their 100 per cent solid national strike.

Two weeks ago the Greek government imposed the dictatorial ‘civil conscription’ on the Athens Metro and tram workers who were on strike.

The GSEE (Greek TUC) have called a 24-hour Athens-wide general strike; the Piraeus Trades Council also called a 24-hours strike.

The government said that it will issue ‘conscription papers’ to all seafarers who will then be obliged to go back to work. If they don’t they can be arrested and put to jail.

In a statement the PNO federation of seafarers states that it ‘defies’ the government’s orders. It is the fourth time in the last 10 years that striking seafarers have been conscripted. In all past occasions the PNO had ordered seafarers back to work.

The government action came after the PNO had taken a majority decision to extend the strike for another 48-hours.

Over 1,000 striking seafarers along with many trades unions delegations held a rally in the Piraeus port on Tuesday night. PNO’s general secretary Yiannis Khalas said that they have called off the strike in the provinces to concentrate the struggle on Piraeus and the two other Athens ports from which 90 per cent of all ferries sail.

See also here. And here.

Greek subway workers fight for their rights

This 2014 video says about itself:

Thousands of Greeks marked May Day by demonstrating against government reforms which they say have hurt workers through layoffs and wage cuts.

At a protest organised by the Communist Party outside the parliament building in central Athens, unemployed building worker Albert Disai said the government’s labour law changes have devastated workers’ rights: “They held out the hope that with these measures things would get better, but the only thing I see is darkness.”

Dutch NOS TV reports today that the Greek government threatens subway workers with up to five years in jail for striking to defend their rights.

By Robert Stevens:

Striking Athens subway workers defy court ruling

24 January 2013

The strike by Athens subway workers continued into its seventh day yesterday in defiance of a court ruling declaring the work action illegal. The ruling handed down Monday night allows the government to invoke emergency powers to force the strikers back to work by means of a “civil mobilisation,” which effectively conscripts the workers into the armed forces.

The main metro workers’ union, SELMA, called the strike in opposition to massive pay cuts being imposed as part of a restructuring of civil service wages. The implementation of the cuts is a condition laid down by the “troika”—the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank—for Greece receiving further loans from the European Union. The New Democracy-led coalition government has pledged to impose the wage reductions along with many other attacks on Greek workers.

In December, the Greek parliament passed a new package of austerity measures that had been agreed by eurozone finance ministers as the condition for further loans to Greece.

The metro workers are employed by state-run Urban Rail Transport, which manages Athens’ metro, tram and electric railway services. The government measures slash the salaries of all employees at public enterprises, known as DEKOs, in accordance with a new pay system for civil servants. The Urban Rail Transport wage bill is to be reduced from €97.7 million in 2012 to €74.6 million this year (a 25 percent cut). Average gross monthly wages without overtime on the metro will fall from about €2,500 to €2,038.

Other workers employed by the Athens Mass Transit System (STASY) have also gone on strike. On Tuesday, the bus, trolley and tram systems joined the strike, carrying out four- and five-hour work stoppages. There was no service on the Kifissia-Piraeus electric railway or the tram between noon and 4 p.m. Wednesday. Workers at firms not controlled by STASY have also struck.

Coinciding with Monday’s ruling, eurozone finance ministers meeting in Brussels backed the pay-out to Greece of a fresh loan instalment worth €9.2 billion (US$12.3 billion), following on from the €34.3 billion agreed on last month.

The attack on metro workers and other civil servants is part of the decimation of the living standards of the entire Greek working class. Workers, young people and pensioners are living in poverty conditions not witnessed since the Nazi occupation and face still more brutal austerity measures. In contrast, the bankers and ruling elite in Greece and Europe continue to have massive amounts of money shovelled at them. The vast bulk of Greece’s loans from the EU is immediately repatriated to the country’s international creditors, led by German and French banks, and most of what is left ends up in the coffers of Greece’s own banking elite.

On Tuesday, several transport workers’ unions, not including SELMA, met to discuss the dispute. Unable to contain the anger of workers at this stage, the union bureaucrats endorsed a strike by workers in all sections of public transport to be held between noon and 4 p.m. on January 29. A further 24-hour strike is being planned for January 31, according to reports.

The smashing of the strike is a priority of the New Democracy-PASOK-DIMAR (Democratic Left) coalition government, which is determined to set a new benchmark for wages and pensions that have already declined in value by 40 percent and more.

New Democracy Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis declared at the outset of the strike that “no group of workers will be exempted from the unified salary structure.”

“There is no scope for concessions,” Hatzidakis warned. “The government cannot back down on this.” Threatening to issue a civil mobilisation order, he added, “There are limits and terms for strikes that I fear have been trampled on.”

The right-wing newspaper Kathimerini noted in regard to Hatzidakis’s intervention that “the measures must be implemented as part of the country’s commitments to foreign creditors.”

On Wednesday, the government reiterated its threat to break the strike. Speaking to Radio Vima, spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said, “If the instigators of the strike do not comply with the court’s decisions by tomorrow, they will have to face the legal repercussions. The law foresees what should be done with those leading the strikes.”

The ruling elite is well aware that such attacks cannot be imposed on a militant and angry population by democratic means. Hence its resort to authoritarian measures such as a civil mobilisation order, which would bring in the army.

Since the eruption of the financial crisis in 2008, the Greek ruling class has repeatedly relied on the army to suppress working class opposition. In 2010, the government, then headed by the social democratic PASOK, issued a civil mobilisation order and brought in the army to smash the truckers’ strike. The following year, the army was placed on standby to intervene against the refuse workers’ strike.

What is required is an appeal to the entire Greek working class to rally behind the metro workers and take up a struggle to bring down the austerity government of the bankers and big business.

The transport workers’ stoppage is the latest in a series of strikes testifying to profound social tensions. Last week, Hellenic Postbank workers struck for 48 hours to protest the state-owned operation’s privatisation and sell-off. Doctors and other medical staff have taken strike action.

On Tuesday, Elefsina Shipyard workers, who have not been paid for six months, began a series of 25-hour rolling strikes. The workers are also protesting the fact that only a portion of their wages from 2010 have been paid, as well as the threat of the shipyard being closed down due to the government’s failure to pay for the construction of three navy vessels.

From Keep talking Greece today:

Disagreement among Greek coalition government partners and escalation of the public transport workers-government conflict are emerging from the decision to impose the measure of ’civil mobilization’ against striking Metro workers. The proposal of civil mobilization was submitted by Transport Minister Costis Hadjidakis and was accepted by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. While coalition government partner PASOK supports it, junior partner Democratic Left rejects it as ‘extreme crisis management option’.

Update: here.

After using emergency powers to break a nine-day strike by Athens subway workers, the New Democracy-led coalition government in Greece extended its “civil mobilization” order to 2,500 rail and tram workers. Rail, tram and bus workers struck on Friday to protest the state repression against the subway workers: here.

Greek seamen on 48h strike, Jan 31-Feb 1/2013: here.

Athens military parade without the people

This video is called Independence Day in Athens, Greece. March 25th 2012.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Athens authorities block city off for parade

Sunday 25 March 2012

Riot police cordoned off streets in central Athens on Sunday to prevent protesters from mobbing the annual military parade for Independence Day.

For the first time most of the march’s route was barred to the public, including Syntagma Square outside parliament where MPs gathered to watch.

Teams were sent out before the parade to strip fruit from the orange trees that line many of the city’s streets, for fear they would be picked and thrown at police, soldiers or MPs.

Ordinarily thousands come out to watch the parade, which marks the start of the war against Ottoman occupation in 1821 – but public fury at the government’s EU-imposed austerity drive meant authorities were reluctant to take chances.

Protester Nikolas Blezas, who with others was driven off Syntagma Square in the morning for shouting “Traitors!” at the president and his entourage, said: “Look what we’ve come to. It’s as if we’re living under who knows what kind of regime.”

See also here.

The official Greek independence day celebrations last Sunday were another disaster for the government: here.

THE Greek Assistant Minister for Public Order M Othonas said on Wednesday morning that the first concentration camp for alleged ‘illegal immigrants’ could be ‘ready to function within 30 to 45 days’: here. And here.

Athens police detained 501 people on Friday in an operation authorities say will be repeated “on a daily basis” to combat undocumented migrants and illicit trade: here.

Greek government plans to intern ill migrants: here.

Judging by the content of the debate in Greece over the past few days, one might think that the most pressing issue facing the country ahead of the upcoming general elections is illegal immigration rather than the economy. The two coalition partners, New Democracy and PASOK, have attempted to outdo each other by trying to appear determined to tackle a matter that is gaining relevance as a result of the crisis: here.

Greeks eat garbage, bankers eat caviar

Keep Talking Greece blog writes about this video:

Shock in Athens: People Find Food in Garbage Bins

Fish eggs, rotten vegetables, cracked eggs, expired dairy products, a loaf of old bread… They pick everything they think they can eat from the big garbage bins standing outside super-markets and restaurants. They set aside their dignity and dig deep in the stinking bins to secure something to eat.

There is a song, Stray Cat Strut, by the Stray Cats, with the line “Get my dinner from a garbage can”. While eating garbage may be really unhealthy even for cats with nine lives, it is horrible to see the results of FriedmaniteThatcherite voodoo economic experiments on human beings with just one life.

A piece, a handful of something eatable. Old and young, jobless and pensioners, Greeks and immigrants. People who cannot even afford to buy a loaf of bread for 0.80 euro. Scenes of a society sinking rash in desperate poverty. Scenes that take places in more and more suburbs of the Greek capital.

This shocking video was broadcast on Friday night by private Alpha TV.

“For us poor, it’s always difficult” an old man tells the reporter as he nears a garbage bin outside a super market in Vrilissia suburb in the north of Athens, at 9.30 pm. ” I live here in the last 15 year, I got sick, I lost my job” tells him another woman, apparently a migrant.

Around a garbage bin, there is a “fight” for expired croissants. “Give me two for my child” a man asks the younger who normally manage to get the ‘best’ bites from the trash.

“There are people who cannot afford to buy a loaf of bread and they ask us to keep a loaf for them for the next day” says a baker.

And a food vendor adds “People who used to spend 20 euro for food, now ask me to keep for them our waste. An aubergine, two tomatoes, some oranges for their children.”

A fish seller at the open market tells the reporter, that there are people who ask for the bag with the leftovers after he has cleaned the fish. “They try to get some tiny fish we threw away, or even fish eggs”.

The rich eat fish eggs as well. Unlike the rotting eggs for the hungry poor of Athens, in their case it is caviar, the extremely expensive eggs of sturgeon threatened with extinction.

He assures that the people who “beg” for the fish leftovers are Greeks. In the majority old. Pensioners.

Shadows in the dark. People with no face and name. People who get something to eat when the supermarkets lights are out. And the waste is taken to the streets.

….And this reminds me of a powerful poem by Manolis Anagnostakis.

New laws will be needed to stop so-called “vulture funds” from using the British courts to try to undermine Greece’s new debt agreement, campaigners have warned: here.

Greece under Franco-German occupation: here.