by Fabio Bozzo
We all have studied at school (pending the cancel culture ban) ancient Greece, the cradle of Western Civilization. When you say Greece, the first two names that come to mind are Athens and Sparta: one mercantile, founder of the concept of democracy and unscrupulous in foreign policy, the other oligarchic, militaristic and in search of an impossible isolationism.
The caste system between India and Greece
The most unique feature of Sparta, however, was its internal hierarchical division, resulting from the fact that the city in the Peloponnese was the only place in Europe where Indo-Europeans established a caste system on an ethnic basis, similar to what their Aryan cousins did when they invaded the Indian subcontinent. The fact that in India the caste system has become part of the very identity of the country should not be surprising: in every era and in every place, when two very different ethnic groups clash and overlap, the winning one, especially if numerically a minority, tends to create barriers to avoid its demographic absorption in the subjugated mass.
This is exactly what happened in India, where the eastern branch of the Aryans, of white ethnicity, met/clashed with the Dravidian populations, which instead were much darker and culturally very different. In Greece, instead, the Doric migration that contributed to the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization went to collide/overlap with much more similar populations, that is the equally Indo-European Greek Mycenaeans, or with the remains of the Pelasgians antecedent to the Mycenaeans themselves. This substantial ethnic similarity meant that, after the initial violent conquest, the various populations mixed and gave way to that unparalleled triumph that was the Greek civilization. The exception was Sparta.
Slavery and egalitarianism in Sparta
For complex reasons, which are beyond the scope of this text, the Dorians who occupied Lakonia established a caste regime, divided into the most classic of political and social divisions: the spartiates (the ruling class) had a monopoly on institutional power and war; the perioeci (of uncertain origin) were free but without political rights and were dedicated to trade; the helots (descendants of the defeated and subjugated populations) were finally a kind of serfs owned by the state.
With the State, Sparta identified the dominant community of the Spartiates. And it is here, in fact, that the great contradiction of the Lacedaemonian city arises, that while it implemented an ante litteram racial segregation, it maintained, within the dominant ethnic group, a democracy much more complete and equal than Athens itself. This is because, in order to maintain such a peculiar regime, the Spartiates were forced to transform themselves into a military caste from cradle to grave, which internally fortified its cohesion through equality and meritocracy. At the same time, the soldiers by birth who dominated the Spartan state always conducted, with very few exceptions, a pacifist foreign policy: the internal balance was so fragile that any external shock would have jeopardized the supremacy of the ruling caste.
Sparta-Israel: similarities and differences
Today there is a state that, with a bit of challenging hyperbole, offers some interesting analogies to ancient Sparta. This state is Israel. Let's see what these analogies are, trying to present them in a parallel chronological order.
Just as post-Mycenaean Sparta was created by a massive Dorian migration, the new Israel came into being as a result of some fifty years of Jewish relocation there. Both displacements of peoples were the effect of two immense geopolitical upheavals: the Hellenic Middle Ages and World War II. Both the Dorians and the Jews had to fight, the former to conquer the new settlements, the latter to take back their ancestral homeland.
Once the situation was stabilized, the Spartiates created their own system divided into castes, while the Israelis guaranteed equal rights to the Muslim population, preventing at the same time the return of the Arabs who had fled in 1948: this because such a mass return would mean, sic et simpliciter, the end of Israel through its demographic destruction.
Surrounded by enemies and with a fragile internal balance, Sparta transformed the ruling caste into a collective warrior elite. Similarly, Israel was born and developed as a nation in arms, capable of mass mobilization in a very short time. In both peoples the brotherhood of arms has helped to cement equality and internal democracy (internal to the supreme caste the Spartan one, more collective the Israeli one).
Last but not least, both the ancient and the modern nation have found themselves having to be one of the spearheads in the eternal conflict between Western Civilization and the autocratic Eastern masses. The fact that these masses before identified themselves with an absolute God-King and today with a religion that claims world domination and rejects the very concepts of freedom and democracy changes little: geopolitics is the daughter of both geography and anthropology, therefore the enemies of the West remain essentially the same, just as the content of a bottle does not change even if the label is changed.
In this brief historical-geopolitical journey of ours, we have analyzed some curious similarities between two state realities that apparently could not seem more different: ancient Sparta and contemporary Israel. Many will find this parallel academic, if not opportunistic. However, it remains undeniable that, in its own way, today's Jewish state has similarities with the homeland that was once Leonidas'.
All the more reason for any Westerner to defend it to the hilt.
Graduated in History with modern and contemporary majors at the University of Genoa. Essayist, he is author of Ucraina in fiamme. Le radici di una crisi annunciata (2016), Dal Regno Unito alla Brexit (2017), Scosse d'assestamento. "Piccoli" conflitti dopo la Grande Guerra (2020) and Da Pontida a Roma. Storia della Lega (2020, with preface by Matteo Salvini)