Elections and Luck

With elections coming up for our friends in the US, here's a quick description of how you'd be voting if we were all back in ancient Athens.

Every election was a combination of vote and lottery.  The Athenians fiddled with the voting system constantly.  They'd only just invented democracy after all, and they weren't afraid to experiment to see what worked best.  But the system always had the same basic elements.  It went something like this:

  1. Each of the ten tribes took it in turn to supply candidates.  (So that each tribe supplied officials once every ten years.)
  2. The tribe whose turn it was selected candidates for all the elected positions.  The candidates were selected by lottery from across the tribe.
  3. All the citizens of Athens then voted from among the randomly-selected candidates for who they thought would do the best job.

Note the lottery system.  It guaranteed that, unlike modern systems, everyone had an equal chance of one day holding office, and that serial power-seekers hadn't a hope.

If you'd asked an ancient Athenian, they would have told you, in all seriousness, that the lottery system was an essential part of any democracy, and that any state that didn't have a luck element wasn't a true democracy.  Plato's quite famous for saying that anyone who wants power, shouldn't have it.  But that was actually the default Athenian view.

Yea, even unto the next generation

My younger daughter came home from school today with this week's class assignment.  She has to write about some guy named...Pericles.

History's Best (or at least Greatest) Military Leaders

Purely for fun, I thought I'd talk about something that's long interested me.  Who would you pick for the best military leaders of all time?

There are a lot of factors you can use to quibble with here.  Someone might have been technically brilliant, and yet circumstances drew them a raw deal, so that they never got a chance to shine.  You could argue some other guys lucked out; they were in the right place at the right time, so that they looked better than they were.

So to give it some context, here are the parameters:  if Earth was being attacked by aliens and you could go back in time to pick out one leader to save us, who would be on your list of candidates?

I'll start with the no-brainers, in their chronological order.

1.  Alexander the Great
2.  Julius Caesar
3.  Genghis Khan
4.  Napoleon

You could make an argument that Caesar was a brilliant politician who happened to be an above average general, so that technically he doesn't belong.  But the man was in the habit of winning, and that's what we're looking for; there've been periods in history when the best leader was the one with the organisational skills.

Onwards with the best of the rest:

5.  Khurush the Great

Who?  You probably know him as Cyrus the Great, but his real name was Khurush.  He founded the Persian Empire by starting with a small client state and then conquering everyone in sight.  He built the largest empire the world had yet seen.  Alexander was fascinated by Khurush and studied him intensely.  In turn, Caesar was fascinated by Alexander, and Napoleon by Caesar.  

6.  Charlemagne

You know it's tough company when the founder of the Holy Roman Empire can only get slot #6.   Charlemagne often gets dropped off lists of great leaders, and I don't know why, because it's not like unifying Europe is easy.  Maybe it's because he lived at a time when military technology had reduced the craft to a level of "see-enemy-hit-enemy".

7.  Scipio Africanus

After the battle of Cannae, at which Hannibal's army slaughtered 50,000 Romans, including most of the leadership team, a junior officer named Scipio was given command, at the age of 25.  At that time, Rome's control had been reduced to her city walls.

Scipio reconquered Italy.  Then he reconquered Southern France.  Then he reconquered Spain.  Then he took back the Mediterranean.  Then he invaded North Africa.  Then he conquered Carthage.

Scipio never lost a battle, and he did it against Hannibal, widely considered the greatest commander since Alexander.  There wouldn't be another such match of titans until Napoleon faced Wellington.

Speaking of which...

8.  Hannibal
9.  Wellington

10.  I'm open to suggestions!