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With Lords of the Sea, renowned archaeologist and historian John R. Hale presents, for the first time, the definitive history of the epic battles, the indomitable ships, and the men---from extraordinary leaders to seductive rogues---who established Athens's supremacy. With a scholar's insight and a storyteller's flair, Hale takes us on an illustrated tour of the heroes, their turbulent careers, and their far-flung expeditions and brings back to life a forgotten maritime empire and its majestic legacy.
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By Matthew on 06-16-09
Sound narrative history
This is a rather detailed history of Athens focusing on its navy. The writing style is clear, engaging, and very accessible. However, the book suffers from a narrative format that involves a lot a rehashing of topics and history. The author’s thesis is that because the class of men who manned the Athenian navy were lower in status than the hoplites or horsemen who formed the backbone of the army, as the navy increased in power so did the democratic element in relation to the oligarchic element in society. This was reinforced as maintaining a navy involved a great deal of expenditure flowing largely into the pockets of the working class artisans and laborers thus increasing their lot. However, these expenses forced Athens into a program of imperial expansion. The author backs this up with ample evidence from a number of primary sources including some quite creative use of Athenian drama. There is very little to fault in his historical method save perhaps one or two factual
While this is an excellent book it has two flaws. The first is that its narrative format leads to a long series of admirals, battles, and dates. After a while the whole thing becomes a little tedious, especially if you are familiar with the history. If you have not read Herodotus or Thucydides then you may ignore the following: Long stretches of the book are just retellings of one or two ancient sources. I cannot blame him for this because often that is all we have to go on. However, one might as well read the original sources at that point.
Despite these flaws, this is a closely reasoned and well supported piece of narrative history that I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who has not already studied the subject in great depth (those will find little new). I would also suggest Kagan’s Peloponnesian War; any of the earlier works by Victor Davis Hansen; and of course the primary sources Heroditus and Thucydides.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
By Roger on 09-11-09
Thorough and Accessible
As the earlier reviewer noted, this is a very good historical narrative.
The subtitle, however, overstates the argument made on behalf of Athenian democracy. The Athenians had already overthrown their tyrant, and it was a representative government that decided to establish the navy. Therefore, the navy did not give birth to democracy.
Hale does, however, make a compelling argument for the navy strengthening and sustaining the democracy and, perhaps even more telling, being feared as such by rival cities and empires. The symbiosis between the Athenian navy and the Athenian democracy was therefore special, and we cannot, and Hale does not, try to draw more universal connections between navies and democracies.
Hale also explains how the navy, and the riches it allowed to flow from both trade and empire, made possible the golden age of Athenian drama, rhetoric, architecture and philosophy.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful