From The Democratic View

Once, a long time ago, on a small peninsula in a great sea, there lived a community of independent-minded farmers. In a world of kings and slaves they came together on the principle of equality to gradually develop a government that represented the will of the citizen-body. They were the Athenians. In a short time, however, there arose a threat to the East: a vast kingdom whose borders were so wide that the Greeks knew not where they ended. It demanded the submission of all the Greek city-states. These Persians sent a powerful expedition out to tame the Greeks, but on the plains of Marathon the Athenians achieved a decisive victory for their independence. Under the leadership of the Athenians the Greeks formed a Confederacy that beat back the Persians again and chased them out of the Aegean Sea. The triumph over Persia brought peace and prosperity; Athens began to flourish economically. They had an unrivaled fleet and their triumph gained them a leading influence among the other Greek City-states. Athens was now a hegemony. This level of power was new to the Athenians, and yet, just after their victory, when they had reestablished peace and independence, they were profoundly changed. Military success over the Persians allowed them to achieve an economic Empire. The Confederacy became a tool by which they furthered their own interests. There was now a new need to keep the Empire together, although the Confederacy had achieved its ends. The world that they had just freed was now seen as one of intense competition, hence a dangerous world. Whereas the Confederacy, the Delian League, had once been voluntary, its members were now forced to remain in it. The Athenians had tasted the wine of power and now were drunk with it. They made their currency the dominant currency and moved the treasury to Athens. To their old allies the Spartans, who had helped them throw the Persians out of the Aegean, they offered a peace that would have only furthered Athenian “influence” at Spartan expense. Those that rebelled from the Athenians were invaded and placed under military occupation after which democracy was installed and a dependency on Athens was instilled. At the same time, their accomplishment bred resentment. The liberators of the Greek World became unpopular because they had trampled unconcerned upon their traditional allies. The Athenians in their pursuit of power became a tyranny like the one they had previously fought to defeat. And when disaster struck and they finally were defeated, there was no one there to help them. The Empire crumbled because it was only Athenian will that maintained it at the point of a spear. Yet, long after their days of glory had passed we remember the Athenians not by the Empire they created, for those come and go, but by the democracy they invented. It was the greatness of their ideas that proved eternal.