Why Herodotus and Thucydides Matter To Us Now
Paul Brians says:
"Whereas many Middle Eastern peopleswelcomed the advent of the Persian Empire, the Greeks viewed their own victories over the the Persians as making possible the very continuance of their civilization. The army of Darius was defeated at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE and that of Xerxes I at Salamis in 486 BCE. The Greeks considered their poleis many of them democracies as infinitely superior to the absolute monarchy of Persia. Europeans have traditionally maintained that if these battles had not been won, history would have been utterly changed, with Europe falling under the sway of Eastern despotism. Whether or not this theory is true can never be known; but the theory itself helped to shape centuries of European hostility to and contempt for the nations of the Middle East."
Brians in his introduction to Herodotus is discussing how the rift between the Greeks and Persians seems to have set the stage for the historical differences that unfolded later on.
Doubtless the political absolutism of the middle east has at times been quite moderate and sophisticated. Likewise, no doubt the urge to liberalism and open society in the west has been compromised and restored, and even fundamentally altered, many times over. So few would see the divide as a simplistic matter.
But the question still stands: Why did the Greeks put up a fight? Why weren't they obedient? What set them culturally apart from their Turkic relations acrosss the Hellepontus?
The easy explanation is geographical. Whereas the plains, deserts, and river valleys of the middle east can easily fall into authoritarian centralization, the relative isolation of the mountain valleys in Hellas to the high cultural diversity of the Greek pennisula may have favored citystate politics.
But that easy explanation is fool's gold, while Herodotus and Thucyidides are the real nuggets that provide the answers to these questions. These questions explain why these two historians are consider fundamental to our understanding of the world.