Classical Civilization – Fall Of An Institutionalized Elite


The term Classical Civilization encompasses the Greek and Roman Civilizations.

These civilizations experimented with democracy, and brought forth the concept of the voting class, the “citizen.” But it’s not the pretty picture painted by school textbooks. The word “citizen” literally means “one who dwells in the city.” Those who were not citizens, were slaves. No exceptions.

Those outside the city had no vote, and were slaves for the benefit of the city dwellers. The lifestyle of the citizens was sustained by the rural slave-farmers and trade laborers. Country-dwelling farmers were conscripted to go to war to expand the wealth and empire of the city dwellers.

The citizens looked upon city life and its culture as morally superior to country life. The citizen lifestyle revolved around leisure, luxury, and intellectual pursuits. They developed math, art, philosophy, theatre, literature, and poetry, though their scientific achievements were limited. The citizens felt that the slaves were able to appreciate the greatness of city life from a distance, and this was a fair trade for a lifetime of servitude to the elite.

The city-states began as Instruments of intellectual development, trade, and management of the rural agricultural production, but they devolved into Institutions. The citizens, consuming far more than they produced, became wasteful and decadent. Eventually, the citizen lifestyle could only be maintained by sending the slaves off to war to expand the wealth of the empire.

Aside: Does this sound a lot like modern Washington, D.C.?

Sparta, in Greece, followed a different path. Spartans developed a new instrument of expansion: trade. By trading with other Mediterranean cities, such as Carthage and Tripoli, they were able to free many of the more intelligent slaves and form a new, merchant middle class.

The elite citizenry was easy to idolize from a distance. However, upon living with the citizens as part of the middle class, the former slaves were able to see the illusion of their superiority first-hand.

Realizing that the citizens had played them as pawns, a band of slaves undertook a rebellion. The government believed the revolting slaves were no match for their weapons.

The Real Effectiveness Of Weapons

The fearsome weapon of the day was the war chariot. This was a powerful advantage against infantry on foot. However, the planners made a grave miscalculation. They did not have nearly enough war chariots to defeat the rebelling slaves.

In order to make and field a war chariot, you need to:
o Raise, feed, train, and shoe the horses.
o Saddle and reign the horses, using raised and tanned leather.
o Employ skilled carpenters to make the wheels and car of the chariot from wood.
o Mine and refine ore, smelt bars, and forge and sharpen blades for the chariots.
o Hire, train, clothe, and feed the chariot rider.

The Fatal Factor they left out was: Total Energy Costs.(TEC)

The TEC of fielding a war chariot on the battlefield is over 100 times the cost of fielding a single infantry foot soldier. Thus, it has to achieve a 100:1 kill ratio to pay for itself. This is nearly impossible.

Chariots proved unable to stand up to 100 foot soldiers without equal support. The rebels would take about 10 casualties fighting one, but the rider would get pulled off the back and take a spear to the skull shortly thereafter. If you made this mistake, you’d find yourself up against 90 pissed off guys with a war chariot. This is not where you want to be during a slave rebellion.

The Spartan Elite allowed their achievements to go to their heads, and they gravely underestimated the sacrifices the rebels were willing to make in pursuit of victory. Upon their defeat, Sparta became a different society, where the egos of the politicians were kept in check.

TEC is a foundational concept of game theory and warfare to the present day.

  1. AequitasExMachina 07/30/2013, 7:12 PM Reply

    Never overestimate an advantage.

  2. Spartaaaaaaa 07/30/2013, 7:35 PM Reply


    Someone had to say it.

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