Ancient and modern

Like Thasos or Naxos in ancient Greece, Brexit Britain must be punished

9 December 2017

9:00 AM

9 December 2017

9:00 AM

Since the EU does not want the UK to leave and will do everything to stop it leaving, it is becoming clearer by the day that the Brexiteers’ hopes of a beneficial or even a remotely satisfactory withdrawal agreement are at an end.

Like the EU, Athenians knew how to deal with ‘leavers’. After driving the mighty Persians out of Greece in 479 bc, the Athenians proposed that all the Greek city states unite to prevent the Persians ever returning. The means would be a pan-Hellenic naval force on constant patrol across the Aegean, headed by Athens, the leading Greek maritime power.


To bring this about, it was agreed that the city-states would provide Athens annually with either money or ships to build up a sufficiently powerful fleet to ensure Greek security across the region. The contemporary historian Thucydides reported that the first member to revolt from the League was the island of Naxos, c. 468 bc. It did not, or could not, come up with the money or ships required, but ‘the Athenians insisted on obligations being exactly met’.

Since many city-states preferred to provide money rather than military service in the shape of men and ships, Athens could enlarge its own fleet and therefore bully anyone who revolted. Naxos was attacked and forced back into the League. In 365 bc the same fate awaited the island of Thasos: its defensive walls were destroyed, its navy surrendered, an indemnity imposed and control of its gold mines lost.

Thucydides’ analysis of the situation was that states in a position of power held on to it, come what may, for three reasons — status, fear and self-interest. And that was what drove Athens. Even Pericles admitted the empire was ‘like a tyranny’.

The EU is not a tyranny, but its motivation is identical. Further, like Athens, it holds the whip hand. That is why it is refusing to negotiate on anything but its own terms. Why should it do otherwise? Like the Athenians, it has a duty to protect its own interests. It has none to protect ours.

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