East vs. West: The First Round

Jasper Griffin in The New York Review of Books:

Book The early history of Europe is a history of constant invasions from the East. The peoples which think of themselves nowadays as quintessentially European — the French, the Germans, the Anglo-Saxons — all came into what we now call Europe, originally, from what we now call Asia. It was only later that invasion and conquest began to move in the opposite direction, and that Europe, an increasingly precocious and disrespectful heir to the ancient civilizations of Asia, began to march eastward, and to conquer the progenitors of its own upstart culture.

The rise of Greece, in this perspective, was made easier — perhaps was made possible altogether — by a rare intermission in the succession of great powers which usually dominated what we now call the Middle East. The polis, the city-state, the typical form of Greek society in the classical period, grew up in the position, a rare and privileged one, of freedom from the immediate shadow of an overwhelming power. Such empires, like that of Assyria, were based somewhere further east than Hellas. A power of that kind would inevitably, sooner or later, invade and conquer the Greek cities of Asia Minor, where philosophy and the scientific attitude were beginning to take their first tentative root. As it was, the eastern Greeks encountered, in the sixth century BCE, only the rather well disposed and Hellenophile kingdom of Lydia, based in what is now northwestern Turkey, and surprisingly open to Greek art and to Greek cultural influences.

More here.