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Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities [Hardcover]

by Paul Cartledge
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 13, 2010 0199233381 978-0199233380
The contribution of the ancient Greeks to modern western culture is incalculable. In the worlds of art, architecture, myth, literature, and philosophy, the world we live in would be unrecognizable without the formative influence of ancient Greek models.
This highly original and stimulating introduction to ancient Greece takes the city as its starting point, revealing just how central the polis ("city-state" or "citizen-state") was to Hellenistic cultural achievements. In particular, Paul Cartledge uses the history of eleven major Greek cities--out of more than a thousand--to illuminate the most important and informative aspects of Greek history. The book spans a surprisingly long time period, ranging from the first examples of ancient Greek language from Cnossus in Crete around 1400 BC to the establishment of Constantinople (today's Istanbul) in 324 AD on the site of the Greek city of Byzantion. Cartledge highlights the role of such renowned cities as Athens (birthplace of democracy) and Sparta, but he also examines Argos, Thebes, Syracuse in Sicily, and Alexandria in Egypt, as well as lesser known locales such as Miletus (home of the West's first intellectual, Thales) and Massalia (Marseilles today), where the Greeks introduced the wine grape to the French. The author uses these cities to illuminate major themes, from economics, religion, and social relations, to gender and sexuality, slavery and freedom, and politics. And throughout, the book explores how these eleven cities differed both from each other and from modern society.
An innovative approach to ancient Greece and its legacy, both in terms of the time span covered and in its unique city-by-city organization, this superb volume provides the ideal concise introduction to the history and culture of this remarkable civilization.

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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"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."--Publishers Weekly

"Aiming for a general audience, Cartledge achieves a fast-paced, highly engaging romp through ancient Greece. An excellent choice for anyone seeking an introduction to the topic; for all its readability, this book doesn't skimp on the research."--Library Journal

"Amid the wreckage of the Greek economy and the deadly riots on its streets, it may be more relaxing to read of earlier struggles in that country, revolutions whose course is more or less settled and no longer careering at horrific speed. Cartledge's Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities is a rare work, a compelling historical narrative that is also a useful guidebook. The premise, as his subtitle indicates, is to help the historically conscious tourist by introducing places of trouble and strife, many of them ignored by travelers, that reveal how Greece, as we know it, began."--Peter Stothard, Wall Street Journal

"A concise, surprisingly nuanced survey...told with good effect through the history of eleven cities...While providing what is perhaps the best short introduction to the ancient Greek world, this book can also be read with profit even by seasoned students of the subject." -- New York Military Affairs Symposium Review

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (February 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199233381
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199233380
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #734,475 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
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quick City Tour January 1, 2010
By Charlus
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
4.0 out of 5 stars A Scholarly Overview of Ancient Greece January 24, 2010
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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Little Book May 3, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For a book of such brevity, this is a remarkably full accounting of the Ancient Greeks. As Cartledge observes, ancient mainland and Aegean Greece included over 700 individual city-states (poleis), as well as hundreds more Greek colonies and trading-posts along the rims of the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Thus it is salutary that Cartledge chooses to approach ancient Greek history through the technique of considering 11 representative Greek city-states in 11 successive chapters, and an Epilogue. This is appropriate, as the polis remained the fundamental unit in over two millennia of Greek History, even when under the later hegemony of such Great Powers as Macedon, Rome, and Constantinople.
The poleis Cartledge chooses are as follows: Prehistory: Cnossos (on Crete) and Mycenae; Dark and Archaic Ages (ca. 1000-500 B.C.):Argos, Miletus, Massalia, and Sparta; Classical Period (500-330 B.C.): Athens, Syracuse (on Sicily), and Thebes; Hellenistic Age (ca. 330-31 B.C.): Alexandria; and, finally, Byzantion (later Constantinople and Istanbul). As Cartledge makes clear, this list of necessity leaves out many other worthy contenders such as a Black Sea settlement (though Byzantion is on the narrows of the Bosporus, which lead into the Black Sea); the significant North African city of Cyrene, on the eastern Libyan coast (though Alexandria is later placed some 400 miles east, on the coast of the western Nile Delta); or a city of Magna Graecia (mainland Italy), maybe Cumae, on the Bay of Naples.
Through the cities Cartledge DOES choose, he is well-able to narrate the history of Ancient Greece, including the Minoans on Crete; the Mycenaeans on Crete (after 1400 B.C.) and the mainland (Mycenae, Argos) who used Linear B, (deciphered as the earliest known written form [ca. 1400 B.C.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't answer too many questions October 3, 2010
About ten pages into this, I found the book confusing (yes, I did finish it). It wasn't that it was hard to read (although like many academics I've been reading recently Cartledge's phrasing is awkward, his jokes fall flat and he takes to inventing words). It was really that I wasn't sure exactly what he was trying to achieve- and yes, I read the introduction.

It seems Cartledge wants to give an "introduction" to the "themes" present in Ancient Greek history. He wants to do this quickly by offering a brief history in rough chronological order of 11 important cities or, as we might want to say in this case, poleis (plural for polis or, roughly, city-state). He does spend a few pages explaining that while we talk about the city, the city always included attached or associated country-side areas where the majority of the populations usually lived. Thus, we're looking at a city-focused culture rather than an urban one. Good to know- but then he does pretty much nothing with that theme for the rest of the book.

The cities he covers are Cnossos, Mycenae, Argos, Miletus, Massalia, Sparta, Athens, Syracuse, Thebes, Alexandria and Byzantion. You know more than half of these if you have a working knowledge of Greek myths (FYI, he spends very little time talking about the mythology except to cite it's historical implausibilities- and that's not a criticism). You also know some of these cities under different names- Massalia is the modern-day Marseilles, and Byzantion has been known as Constantinople and Istanbul. There were, of course, many other cities he could have covered (I'd still like to know why Corinth and Megara didn't make the cut), but he gives good reasons for why he chose these to cover the range of influences that Greece exerted.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Introduction
I have a great respect for Cartledge because what he is great at doing is making ancient Greece understandable to the layperson. Read more
Published 1 month ago by James
2.0 out of 5 stars For What Audience Was this Book Intended?
On the dust jacket of this book, the following recommendation appears from Josiah Ober, who serves on the faculty of political science at Stanford University: "Telling the grand... Read more
Published 2 months ago by James Norwood
3.0 out of 5 stars Excited, Bored, Annoyed.
While reading this book I went through excitement at first, to boredom second, and finally to annoyance that the book would not end already. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Luis A. Hernandez
4.0 out of 5 stars Too little or too much?
First posted on on 12 December 2011

I got this book a while ago. I read it, liked it, adn have turned to it again as a starting point (but not a reference)... Read more
Published on March 14, 2012 by JPS
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Informative
One of the most readable summaries of the Greek experience I have read in years. This book provides a quick overview of Greece. Read more
Published on May 22, 2010 by William Haas
1.0 out of 5 stars What n awful book!
Here is a scholar who thinks (page 113) that Athens, not Atlanta, is the capital of the state of Georgia, and that it is vital to the reader of his 202 page tome that the (rather... Read more
Published on May 21, 2010 by Richard Glaser
2.0 out of 5 stars good idea, badly written
it was a good idea to focus upon a number of the most important cities of ancient greece. a problem was that the information hopped around to different centuries and so became... Read more
Published on February 17, 2010 by John Pearson
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