Book Review: Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece From Prehistoric To Hellenistic Times, by Thomas R. Martin

When an author has roughly 200 pages to cover the entirety of Greek history from prehistoric times to the Hellenistic age [1], you get a real sense of their perspective on history as a whole and what they consider important.  Some writers try to cover a lot in a survey fashion, pointing readers to where more detailed information can be provided but seeking to give as much of the overview as possible.  Other writers have a few interests that they follow, ignoring wide swaths of history and context so that they may point out what was going on in specific areas of interest to the author and (hopefully) his or her audience.  This author is definitely the second type of writer, and this book is certainly a selective look at Greek history and by no means a terrible one, but clearly one that shows the interest of the author in specific aspects of history while not in other aspects of history that other people would be interested in.  The book is short and if you are interested in the same sorts of things as the author, it has much to commend itself.

This short book consists of ten short chapters that cover a massive scope of material.  The author begins by giving the background of ancient Greek history (1) and noting, of course, that his treatment of that history will be selective, because it could not be otherwise.  After that the author looks at the transition from early Indo-Europeans to Mycenaens, not covering a great deal about what is known, at least linguistically and culturally, about the pre-literate late culture of the area which had some words of non Indo-European origin come into the Greek (2).  After this the author rapidly covers the supposed Dark age (3) and then the archaic age of Greece (4).  After this the author spends a good deal of time focusing on matters of political history with a discussion of Greek political experiments in oligarchy, tyranny, and democracy (5), a discussion of the transition from the Persian Wars to the (first) Athenian Empire (6), and a focus on culture and society in classical Athens (7).  Then the author moves through the Peloponnesian War and its aftermath at Athens (8), a discussion of the troubled period between the Peloponessian War and the rise of Alexander of Macedon (9), and a brief discussion of the Hellenistic Age (10).

Given the rapid speed at which the author moves through Greek history, it is instructive to note what he chooses to focus on given the knowledge that the size of the work is very small.  For one, the author shows a notable interest in feminist history, which ought to please at least a few of his readers who want to know about the role of women as can best be understood or speculated throughout Greek history.  For another, the author likes to focus on Athens far more than the other areas of Greece.  Sparta is mentioned somewhat, as is Thebes to a lesser extent, but the author does not focus a great deal on the Greek world outside of its superstar cities except for some comments about the colonization of various cities and some discussions about the Ionian Greek cities who were so useful in involving the Greeks in global diplomacy.  The author shows a great interest in questions of politics as well as in military history, but there are no detailed battle studies here, but more a discussion about the relationship between the military service of the poor and rising democracy in the Greek city-states of the late Archaic and classical periods.  The author has at least read well, for even though this is an account that leaves a lot out, at least what the author talks about is generally worthwhile and often even entertaining.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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3 Responses to Book Review: Ancient Greece

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Who Killed Homer? | Edge Induced Cohesion

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