Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The fall of classical Greece

‘It is essential we look after the land,’ you told them. ‘Our numbers are grown so great; we must manage the resources we have.’

They did not listen. ‘So much of our food must be imported,’ they said. ‘Our farmers must grow more. What if Greece should go to war?’

You tried to make them understand. You told them how in 5000BC the first settlers were wise, selecting only fertile areas; how time passed and through forgetfulness and necessity, the communities expanded onto the fragile slopes.

‘Look around,’ you said. ‘Like the skeleton of a sick man, the hills of Attica are stripped bare. All of Greece is like this. The trees are gone and the soil washes away. We must manage the land as Xenphon taught us.’

Solon, the great reformer, understood, passing laws to ban hillside ploughing. But when Peisistratus came to power he reversed the order, bringing more and more land into use.

It gave you no pleasure to have your predictions come true, to see productivity decline and Greece’s power wane. The Peloponnesian War marked the end of a great era, but the land continued to suffer. Now it is estimated nearly a third of the country is just one step from becoming desert.