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Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities

25 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199233380
ISBN-10: 0199233381
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Cartledge, professor of Greek culture at the University of Cambridge, has created an intriguing overview of Greek history by providing synopses of 11 key city-states, each representing a different facet of Greek life and culture, such as politics, gender, and philosophy. Beginning with the earliest example of the successful polis, proto-Greek Cnossos on the island of Crete, and continuing through the near-mythical city of Mycenae; Argos; doomed Miletus; Massalia (present-day Marseilles), the first of the great Greek colonies; and through to the rise of laconic Sparta, it is easy to trace the development of Greek civilization. Classical Greece is examined in the descriptions of Athens, Syracuse, and Thebes. The description of Hellenic Alexandria is symbolic of the transition of the classical period into the Hellenistic age. A final discussion of the polis of Byzantion notes the decline of city-state independence. A list of significant individuals, a glossary, and a time line are beneficial. Other than labeling Athens, Ga., as that state's capital in comments on the proliferation of Greek city names throughout the world, errors are few. 20 b&w illus., 4 maps. (Jan.)
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"Paul Cartledge has here pulled off a remarkably clever feat of compression and organization, and will once again place very many readers in his debt. Brilliantly carried through." --Simon Hornblower, co-editor of 'The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization'

"A wonderfully concise - and witty - introduction to an ever-popular subject." --Sir John Boardman, co-editor of 'The Oxford History of Greece and the Hellenistic World'

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 261 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (February 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199233381
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199233380
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 1 x 5.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #232,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Cartledge is the inaugural A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture in the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Clare College. He is also Hellenic Parliament Global Distinguished Professor in the History and Theory of Democracy at New York University. He written and edited over 20 books, many of which have been translated into foreign languages. He is an honorary citizen of modern Sparta and holds the Gold Cross of the Order of Honor awarded by the President of Greece.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Cronos on February 24, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book, part of the extensive Very Short Introductions (Oxford University Press), is about Ancient Greece, which was characterized by its several city-states while lacking a central organization. The author took a potentially interesting, but also challenging, approach to organize the book chronologically in terms of 11 towns: Cnossos, Mycenae, Argos, Miletus, Massalia, Sparta, Athens, Syracuse, Thebes, Alexandria, and Byzantion. The several important facts about Ancient Greece are developed respectively to each of these city-states. For instance, the customs of the Dorians are described in the chapter about Argos, and greek colonization as part of the chapter on Massalia.

I felt the chapters read very differently, some being very engaging (such as Sparta) while others tend to be somewhat arid, perhaps even academic (e.g. Syracuse and Thebes). The manner, as well as the level of details, in which the several subjects are presented vary considerably. Several of the included figures are not referred to in the text and seem to float isolated through the book. I believe the book emphasizes history too much while providing less substantial description of important contributions from ancient Greece, especially arts and philosophy/science. Also, as several issues need to be covered in a given city, the text tend to be fractioned and heterogeneous. This is perhaps why most of the alternative approaches to ancient Greece are organized along themes such as history, religion, arts, philosophy, etc.

All in all, I believe the choice to organize the book along some main cities worked only partially, mostly in the cases of more self-contained city-states such as Sparta and Athens. The Appendix includes some nice material about the panhellenic sanctuaries, with emphasis on Delphi.

The reader should be aware that this book was also published as "Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities" by Oxford Univ. Press
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Charlus on January 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Paul Cartledge's engaging history of Ancient Greece fills the niche of a quick guide to the places, names and events that a reader may want learn about in order to get oriented to a vast and much covered topic. He does this in a readable fashion with maps and a handful of well-chosen plates. He admirably uses the latest in archeological scholarship to fill out his work, which nonetheless remains intentionally cursory.

As noted in the Product Description, his framework is 11 cities that he describes in the chronological order that they were important to the evolving history of the Ancient Greek world, enabling him to cover such topics as Ancient Mycenaean Greece, the colonization movements both east and west of mainland Greece, the conquests of Alexander and the Hellenistic world, and the rise and fall of the Byzantine civilization.

The chief criticism is inherent in the project itself. Names, places speed by so quickly that one is left knowing that one has passed through the countryside but is unable to say much about it. Having read other histories, I was aware of the vast amounts of material that needed to be edited out. And in fairness Cartledge devotes many pages at the end for an annotated section of suggestions for further reading.

But if you are in the market for a Cook's Tour of the Ancient World, this Baedeker will probably fit the bill until you have the leisure to come visit at greater length.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on January 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
It's been pointed out that this book is but a very short introduction to ancient Greece. Judging from its size and title, one can certainly agree. However, the level at which the prose is pitched is much more formal than the usual plain language that is more readily accessible to a broad readership. Also, because of the specifics of the topics discussed and the professional opinions expressed, scholars of ancient history may enjoy this book more than would a general reader who simply wishes to learn a bit of ancient Greek history. Aside from this, the writing style is relatively friendly, quite authoritative, often lively and even occasionally tongue-in-cheek. The book also has a rich and elegant vocabulary - so rich in fact that I occasionally had to re-read various passages with dictionary in hand. In addition, I found several passages to be rather convoluted, usually because of very long-winded sentences. The concept of focussing each chapter on a different ancient Greek city is a good one. However, each such chapter tends to concentrate mainly on a few highlights, issues and key individuals rather than an attempt at an abbreviated and evened-out chronological history aimed at the interested general reader.

In short, this book is not what I was expecting and, as a result, I was disappointed. I still gave it four stars because locked between its covers lies quite a bit of fascinating and detailed information. I intend to read it again in the future, but much more slowly.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Bojan Tunguz HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on February 23, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ancient Greece is one of the most fascinating and intriguing historical polities. The very notion of Greece as a single political and cultural entity is a relatively modern designation. The ancient Greeks had organized their life within a polis, a self-containing "city state," of which there had been hundreds throughout the ancient history, spanning almost all of northern Mediterranean. So when we talk about ancient Greece what we really have in mind is the history of these poleis - their origin, development, and eventual decline and disappearance in the late antiquity. A book that would cover all of the poleis would be a gargantuan project, and would surpass in length all the volumes in the very short introduction series. Instead, Paul Cartledge, the author of this short introduction, focuses on just eleven poleis, picking some that are the most representative of the ancient Greek history as a whole.

Overall, this book is a good introduction to ancient Greece, and all hellenophiles will find a lot of interesting information in it. Through the general introduction and the individual chapters for each polis, we learn about the development of ancient Greek society, through its golden years and the epic wars that it engaged in, to the later not-too-illustrious years. The choice of topics is fairly representative, and Cartledge exhibits an impressive range of knowledge and understanding of this subject.

One big issue that I have with this book concerns its structure and organization. The choice of presenting the history of ancient Greece in a "parallel" fashion, by focusing on each polis in its own right, leads to a very disjoined overall narrative. It can be had to follow various developments as they recur in different chapters, with all the variations that this entails.
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