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Brunei Darussalam, Contribution

Parrallels of Bruneian and Athenian Golden Age: Ascendancy to Regional Leadership


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Athens in its Golden Age – Painting by Leo von Klenz

What stands as a permanent inspiration to the masses of Brunei concerns a great deal about their history, especially on Brunei’s Great Golden Age. It is an age of great historical epoch which saw the ascendancy of Brunei into regional leadership with territorial powers and gains encompassing the entire Borneo Island, Sulu Archipelago, and Southern Philippines in the 15th century. Led by the Great Sultan Bolkiah the 5th, known to be one of the most famous admiral in the region and feared even by the powerful Sirivijaya, Malaccan, and Javanese empires, saw Brunei grew from an isolated state into a powerful force in the region which bought order and peace to a land plagued by rampant injustice, ignorance, and piracy. If there was such a thing as ‘Pax Romania’ or ‘Pax Britiania’ for Brunei, it was then.

This article serves as an opportunity to give way for readers to make his or her own judgment in the interpretation of that history in this article through the analysis of Athenian rise to power. Based on the work of Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, a scientific historical treatise first of its kind, this article will featured the study of the causes and effects of how Athens rose to power as a maritime empire in its heyday. Taking Athenian greatness as well as their leaders as parallels to Brunei’s situation then, this article would hopefully serve to give an ideal picture of not just how Sultan Bolkiah ushered Brunei towards glory, but his predecessors as well. My hope it serves as an inspiration to the few in reviving the indefatigable spirit that embodied the Bruneian people in the past, for Bruneians reading this today, in ushering Brunei for its Second Golden Age, that is Wawasan 2035. Do take note readers for you shall have the job to interpret the parallels of Athenian history which are conjoined with that of Brunei’s very own in its ascendancy to regional leadership.

Thus begins the history of how Athens rose to power.

First, Athens was initially nothing but a loose confederation of individual villages and huts spread across the Greek plateau. Alone they were weak, subject to the constant raids and attacks by the vicious Thracian barbarians plaguing the land. Until one day a relatively unknown prince by the name of Theseus rose among the ranks of the Greeks through his efforts, which are famously enshrined in Roman books such as Plutrach’s Lives, into becoming a ardent defender of his community. With his herculean prowess and strength, he eventually looked on to unite and reallocate the entirety of those small villages and huts, which numbered into hundreds if not thousands, into a single area to build a unified state. Through a sheer combination of diplomacy and force, he made what seemed impossible, possible. In doing so, Athens became the first centralized state within Greece able to defend itself from any external threats and attacks. With his unyielding and heroic effort in realizing the Athenian ideal into effect, and thus paving way for Athens to to its first steps towards greatness, he earned the right to the status of a mythical-King of the city among his people and will go down in history as one of the greatest leaders in Western antiquity.

Second, Athens may be gifted with a great founder but it took them many decades before they, as a collective community, rose to a regional power. Even then Athens were plagued by a combination of disease and attacks by despotic entities such as the Persian empire, thus retarding the growth which they could have otherwise gained. Yet whatever challenges may arose, they met them with full force. For instance in battling the Persians, it was imperative for Athens to unify the other Greek states into one entity, even making a pact with their fearsome enemy the Spartans. They did so with full vigor they they accomplished the impossible. And it was precipitated with the need to militarily unify to wage war against the invading Persian empire. It also took a lot of calculating and strategising from their part to achieve great aims. In the battle of Marathon, for instance, over one hundred thousand Persians were ready to disembark from their ships to invade Athens when they were suddenly ambushed and attacked by a mere force of ten thousand Athenians. Led by Themistocles with his farsighted calculation and strategic abilities, the Persians were beaten back until they were finally expelled from Greece after the Battle of Plataea few years later. From then on it led to the growing confidence among the people of Athens to serve as an entity to herald the entire Greek states into order. If they manage to beat the Persians by a factor of 1 to 100, there is no other reason why they should not be confident in building an empire next.

Third, the battle against the Persians not only gave them supreme God-like confidence in building their imperial quest to bring order in the region so marred in chaos after the war, but gave the Athenians ultimate respect among the other states which Athens united under its leadership. Great coffers of gold flowed into the treasury of Athens through tributes and taxation, some given freely others forcibly imposed on the other states. When critics complained as to why Athens were reaping their gold, the great Greek demagogue Pericles quickly retorted how it was Athenian blood that was spilled in the war, not theirs. Sacrifice begets respect and glory, and the people who knew it saw no immediate reason to avoid paying their tributes and taxes. They paid gladly. With the massive gold inflow, Athens became wealthy and prosperous. With the abundance of gold, Pericles initiated a far-reaching reform to build Pantheon wonders and monuments, and built the Athenian civilization it echos to this day as one visits and observes Athenian agora, a central spot that became the center of artistic, spiritual, and scholarly life within the empire. Such influence has a far reaching effect on both Western and Eastern civilization. Take for instance the Doric columns which the White House or even the Brunei parliament has today, they were a replication of the Pantheon’s.

The greatness is invoked by Pericles’ quote from his famous speech, one which spoke to us as if it is said only yesterday if only one stands at Athen’s Agroa, “The whole earth is the tomb of heroic men and their story is not given only on stone over their clay but abides everywhere without visible symbol woven into the stuff of other mens lives.”

The founding of Athens by its mythical-King Theseus, the head-on collision against the Persian empire a hundred times its size with the cunning Themostiles as Athenian commander, the establishment of Athenian hegemony after the Greek-Persian war, and the eventually glory attained by Athens through the Pantheon marvels initiated under the leadership of Pericles serve as illustrious examples how little states could ascends from nothing towards regional leadership. Now I invite others to simply frame the story differently. Let Theseus be Sultan Muhammad Shah Brunei’s first King, Themistocles and Pericles combined as Sultan Bolkiah the 5th, Athens as Brunei, Persia as Srivijaya and Javanese empire, the other states as the village communities around the island at that time, and the Tharcian barbarians as the pillaging pirates of Borneo. Now make your judgment how Brunei became great.

(As someone who has visited the sites of Sounion by the Agean Sea where Theseus’s father plunged to his death, swan on the Marathon Beach where the battle of marathon was waged between the Athenians and Persians, stood where Pericles stood as he looked upon the wonders of his Pantheon creation at the Athenian Agora, and finally where having trod in the footsteps of Plato and Socrates in their academy (Lyceum), you can say I am quite subjective in this article. But they were so awesome and so great mannn!! I love Greece!!!)

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