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No Greece in Our Time

Francesco Morosini was arguably the last great Doge of Venice, and just as Belisarius’s military exploits against the Vandals and Ostrogoths and other assorted colourful barbarians in sixth century Italy had allowed everyone in Constantinople to pretend that the Roman Empire was still a goer, so too did Morosini’s campaigns against the Turks in the eastern Mediterranean in the 1680s permit the ancient Republic to indulge in the fantasy that these Ottomans and Protestants and whatnot who had been cluttering up the Med for the last hundred years had just been a flash in the pan, and that Greece in particular would be restored to the Venetian Empire.

In September 1687, therefore, Morosini and pals were busy besieging Athens – then part of Turkey, and destined to remain so for another 150 years – when the local authorities had the bright idea of protecting its munitions by stuffing them into the Parthenon, apparently in the belief that occidentals could never bring themselves to damage such a famous symbol of western culture and civilisation. In a timely reminder that the Levant and the West have rarely understood each other, the Venetians calmly turned their artillery on it, blew it up, and attempted to loot the pieces, Morosini writing laconically in his despatches to the Senate that it had been “a fortunate shot”. Read more

Quote of the Day

For American Independence Day – and for Magna Carta anniversary year, too, since Uncle Jack was nothing if not versatile:

“I will ever, gentlemen, avow myself a friend to universal liberty…Liberty I consider as the birthright of every subject of the British empire, and I hold Magna Carta to be in as full force in America as in Europe.”

Letter to the Boston Sons of Liberty, 19 July 1768.

By which, of course, he meant the American and European territories of the English-speaking people, not Portugal and Albania and France and all those other comical places which basically exist because of Easyjet. But as the United States celebrates 239 years of independence and the United Kingdom celebrates 800 years of Magna Carta, would that we still had men like Wilkes and the Sons of Liberty willing to stand up for freedom instead of merely celebrating it…