The Empires we see in today’s modern works of literature or film draw us in and fascinate us. From the power held by Walter White in Breaking Bad, to the more tradition Galactic Empire in Star wars, often times these fictional empires are more similar than we may think to historic examples. One such example could be the Palpatines Empire in Star Wars and the ancient Athenian Empire. Both began in a more democratic setting, had powerful enemies, and internal strife eventually led to their downfall.
Both in modern works of art as well as history, the new Empire often rises to power through innocuous means. Their dirty work is disguised by a more democratic setting until the final moments or days when it becomes impossible to hide any longer and the new Empire is revealed. In the case of Star Wars, everything was run by the Senate, a governing body filled with senators from all corners of the galaxy. It was headed by Senator Palpatine, one of the elder statesmen. Though it was not clear originally, he was consolidating power behind and undermining the Jedi behind the scenes. In fact, he truly found power when he convinced the Senate to give him complete control during a time of crisis. He was exceptional at hiding his true motives. “The power you give me I will lay down when this crisis has abated. And as my first act with this new authority, I will create a Grand Army of the Republic to counter the increasing threats of the Separatists(Lucas).” Eventually when he was discovered, he was too powerful and completed his takeover, giving rise to the new Empire. Similarly, Athens began as the head of the newly formed Delian League, a conglomerate of Greek city states. However, over time they began to undertake actions such as moving the treasury away from a neutral location to Athens and increasing the tributes that had to be paid. As historian Thucydides so accurately stated, “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must(Melian).” This led to the Athenian Empire, out of a democratic beginning.
The Athenian and Galactic Empires rises also brought with them the rise or resurgence of powerful enemies. In the case of the Galactic Empire, the Jedi and Rebels were these aggressors. Being gifted in the Force like the Sith, the Jedi formed significant opponents for the Empire. Time and time again they hampered the Empires efforts throughout the galaxy. Like the Jedi to the Sith, the ancient Spartans were the antagonists to the Athenians. They continually rebelled against them, and many city states that held grudges against Athens joined forces with them. They made up a powerful force and were the thorn in the side of the Athenian Empire.
Internal strife is often the downfall of Empires. This holds true in both the Athenian and Galactic Empires. For the Athenians, these were the disenchanted members of the Delian League who did not take kindly to this new empire. These city states along with the Spartans warred with the Athenians for many years before ending their empire in 404 BC. In the Galactic Empire, many of their subjects sided with the Jedi and over time created enough momentum to end the Empire with the destruction of the Death Star and death of Palpatine. The internal strife, like the powerful enemies and inconspicuous beginnings of the Galactic Empire in Star Wars mirrored in many ways the ancient Athenian Empire.
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Lucas, George, director. Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones. 20th Century Fox Film Corp., 2002.
Melian Dialogue, http://www.nku.edu/~weirk/ir/melian.html.