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Monday, July 22, 2013

“Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times”, by Thomas R. Martin



288 pages, Yale University Press, ISBN-13: 978-0300067675

In Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times Thomas Martin manages to present a cohesive and fundamental narrative. His synopsis is brief but to the point and provides an excellent building block for further inquiry, while his prose maintains the reader’s interest in a superior way without overly technical terminology. Encompassing the Paleolithic through the Classic era, Martin artfully presents the politics, the economy, the confrontations, and the everyday life of Greece and its inhabitants, it is, overall, a worthwhile overview of the cultural history of Greece.

However, in my opinion it is a bit weak in some areas. There is a lot on Greek plays and philosophers and a lot on Greek government and religion, but book contains almost nothing on the military history of Greece. While the wars between the Greeks and Persians and those between Athens and Sparta are discussed, the discussions are brief; furthermore, the history per se is focused mostly on Athens with a bit on Sparta, and while other city-states are mentioned, they are discussed almost entirely in the context of their interactions with these two. Unfortunately, even the histories of Athens and Sparta are not discussed in very much depth: for instance, while the defeat of the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra is mentioned, there is no mention of the fact that Epaminondas led the victorious Theban army into the Peloponnese, freeing the Messenian helots from over 200 years of virtual enslavement by the Spartans.

The good thing about the book is that the author quotes many primary sources, unlike many others who quote secondary sources, while the use of maps and time lines help to put events into perspective. Overall it is a useful source for a student, but it is not a leisurely read; rather, one must reflect on and often stop to think about and to decipher the language used by the author. The book could use a good editing to clean up the language and sentence clarity if the author wishes for a broader audience than undergraduates.

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