March to Athens
Day 167-XCIII, from Καρακόλιθος to Λιβαδειά, 13 km.
Max and Mount Parnassus
Livadia, April 22
It’s a marvellous walk through the shire of Boiotia, from Karakolithos down the valley to the little town of Livadia. The hills are curly green with forests, the valleys are chequered with patches of cultivation, the road is winding, and the sun has finally returned.
As we get are getting closer to Athens, the historical matter starts to thicken. Of course I could have written the chronicles of this march without any reference to history, but I’m sure the resulting narrative would be very pale. I like to see things in four dimensions, especially here in Greece. There is no other way to put things into perspective.
Up until now, I have limited myself to narrating certain historical events without any chronological order, whenever there was a good occasion to do so. But at this point all the facts and dates and stories could become a bit confusing without a general outline of ancient Greek history.
Undoubtedly, many of you know all this. For those who don’t, I’ll be brief.
The archaic history of Greece is centered on the island of Crete and the city of Mycene.
Crete was the first European civilization. Its most important town was Knossos, its most legendary ruler was king Minos. In our collective memory, it’s best known for its famous Labyrinth and the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.
We know little about the Cretans, because their language – known as Linear A – is still to be deciphered. All we have to reconstruct their society are the archaeological remains. According to comrade José Miguel, these are very interesting, because in Crete there were hardly found any traces of either weapons or fortifications. Instead, the few remaining artistic representations of Minoan society, give an image of wealth and beauty.
The decline of the Cretan civilization was dramatically accelerated by the eruption of a volcano on the island Thera. It caused a tsunami which must have completely destroyed many settlements on the northern coast of Crete. According to some, this event inspired the legend of Atlantis, as narrated by Plato a thousand years later.
After the Cretan age came the Mycenian age. This is the period of the warrior kings narrated by Homer. The time of gods, demi-gods and heroes, and the great battle for control over Troy, the crossroads between East and West.
The invasion of blond haired, blue eyed Dorian tribes from northern Europe put an end to this civilization, and gave way to the Greek middle ages. The Dorians settled all over the peninsula. The most famous of the cities they founded was Sparta.
Like in the history of Europe, after the middle ages came the age of expansion. The little city states were growing, their inhabitants started exploring the seas and settling on far away coasts all over the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
The flourishing Greek city states were regarded as an easy prey by the enormous Persian empire, which had united all the known lands of the East. But a free man is a more worthy soldier than a slave, and the Persian empire got defeated twice, against all odds. It marked the beginning of the golden age of the city state.
It lasted maybe three or four generations, but it encompassed the most violent explosion of human genius in history. I could fill this article just by giving you the names of the great artists, scientists, philosophers and statesmen which marked the age, but I won’t. You already know them.
The leading city state, and the cultural heart of Greece, was the naval power of Athens. Its great competitor was the proto-fascist state of Sparta. In Sparta all the work was done by slaves, and all the citizens were soldiers.
In thirty years of warfare, Sparta managed to defeat Athens and become the dominant power of Greece. It was the beginning of the decline. Sparta would later be eclipsed by Thebes, and after that, the ‘barbarians’ came.
From the northern mountains, king Philip of Macedonia marched down the peninsula to unite all of Greece under his scepter. I look down the valley, on the other side of the hills to the northeast, at Chaeronea, the Macedonians met an army of Greek city states headed by the Sacred Band of Thebes.
The Greeks were decisively defeated and submitted by the Macedonians. Among the latter, the young son of king Philip gloriously withstood his baptism of fire. His name was Alexander. And for him, Chaeronea was only the beginning. After uniting Greece and inheriting the throne he would go on to obliterate the entire Persian empire in one of the most epic adventures of all time.
Arrival in Livadia
We arrive in Livadia, a modern town along a snorring mountain stream. The French among us are excited. Yesterday, the indignant Marches to Paris arrived in the capital to coincide with the French presidential elections.
I haven’t been able to follow them closely, but I have received some first hand news about them on various occasions.
At the March to Brussels reunion party on new year’s eve I first heard about the idea. Some of our comrades from Bayonne were active in organising something similar to the popular marches in Spain last summer. Afterwards, during Agora Roma, the idea got form, and at the beginning of March, people started walking.
There have been six marches in total, departing from Bayonne, Marseille, Toulouse, Lille, Angers and the banlieues of Paris.
A few weeks ago I heard from Jesus Christ, a veteran of the March on Brussels, who participated in the Bayonne march. He wasn’t positive about the revolutionary spirit of his comrades, and he later switched to the Toulouse march. But all the same, I think it’s extraordinary that something like this has been organised in France. And I’m proud of it.
Proud, because if people have been walking from various corners of the country to the capital, organising popular assemblies in the villages, that is in great part thanks to us who walked all across France to Brussels last summer.
So I wasn’t surprised to see some of those very same people with whom we danced around the fire at the stroke of the new year, being interviewed by Le Monde about their reasons for marching. Real popular democracy, instead of a recurring election mascarade.
It’s still early, we’re still very small, but last year’s seeds have started to germinate.
From Livadia, Greece, two weeks marching from Athens, I warmly salute all of our revolutionary brothers and sisters who walked to Paris to give life to something new.