Greek Business File, January-February-March 2020, No 124

GBF reports

Evaluating the significance of Thermopylae and Salamis in the modern world

The events celebrating the 2.500-year anniversary of the famous battles of Thermopylae and Salamis were kickstarted on 20 January with an enlightening international symposium where, distinguished academics explained how those two battles of Antiquity changed the course of history.

A series of events celebrating the 2.500-year anniversary of the legendary battles at Thermopylae and Salamis were inaugurated by the Marianna Vardinoyiannis Foundation on January 20 with an international scientific symposium, appropriately titled “Thermopylae and Salamis: Evaluating their significance in the modern world”. There was an  impressive panel of speakers , comprised of top academics from some of the most prestigious universities in the world. The distinguished speakers touched upon a series of topics, elaborating on how the outcome of the Persian Wars changed the course of history, and the lessons learned in terms of strategy and leadership.

In his introductory speech, on the  theme of “The Timeless Message of the Persian Wars”, President of the Hellenic Republic Mr. Prokopis Pavlopoulos noted that «For 2500 years, the Battle of Thermopylae and the Naval Battle of Salamis, together with the Battle of Marathon send the same constant message: The victory of freedom and democracy over the authoritarianism and dogmatism of Persian despotism. This victory has, since then, marked the frontier between East and West, in the sense that the dark despotism from the East did not prevail in the then known world, allowing the West to develop – using Ancient Greece as a point of reference – the civilization of Free Spirit, Representative Democracy and Fundamental Human Rights”.

Mrs. Marianna Vardinoyannis pointed out in her speech that “2500 years ago, in the battle between light and dark, light won (…) The self-sacrifice of the brave warriors of Thermopylae who gave their life to stop the enemy – who was bringing with him a totally different culture – became a symbol of selflessness, dedication and love for the homeland. It became a Sacrifice – never a defeat – for God and Country. On the other hand, the victory at Salamis was the pinnacle of the strategic prowess of Ancient Greeks. With Themistocles as its protagonist, it is the most important naval campaign in Antiquity which, according to many historians, emerged as the starting point of international naval history and the cradle of Western civilization. The victory of the Greeks, despite being vastly outnumbered by the Persians, paved the way for the development of the Ancient Greek city-states in an environment of independence and creativity. It allowed the Golden Age of Pericles to thrive. At that time Athens produced some of the most important, timeless cultural works that influenced the entire world. The Parthenon was built and other invaluable masterpieces of the world cultural heritage were created. Here, in this land, freedom of speech was born. Democracy was born. None of all this would have happened if it wasn’t for the decisive victory of the Greeks at Salamis (…) We want this Anniversary to resonate with modern societies and especially with young people in modern terms and with respect for the age-old values that still form an integral part of our identity today”.

Also speaking at the Symposium  were Greek Minister of Culture, Mrs. Lina Mendoni and the First Lady of Cyprus, Mrs. Andri Anastassiades. “2.500 years after, those epic battles continue to promote the universal values of peace, solidarity, freedom and democracy, which became the cornerstones of Western civilization”  stated Mrs. Anastassiades. Mrs. Mendoni noted the importance of the Persian Wars and their catalytic influence on historic and cultural developments.

Roderick Beaton, Professor Emeritus of the Koraes Chair of Modern Greek and Byzantine History, Language and Literature, King’s College London, delivered a speech on “The Persian Wars, the invention of Europe and the beginning of History”. Paul Cartledge, History Professor at the University of Cambridge, spoke about “Ancient Greece’s finest hour: Salamis 2.500 from a democratic perspective”. Athanassios Platias ,Strategy Professor at the University of Piraeus ,analyzed “the grand strategy of Themistocles”, while Georges Prevelakis, Professor Emeritus of Geopolitics at the Pantheon-Sorbonne University spoke about the ”Wooden Walls; Geopolitical challenges and historical lessons”. Finally, ”Which anniversaries do you celebrate and why ?” was the question posed by  Angelos Haniotis, Professor or Ancient History and Classical Studies at Princeton University. ELIAMEP Chairman Loucas Tsoukalis, Professor of International Affairs, Sciences Po, Professor Emeritus, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens coordinated the symposium.