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Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy Paperback – April 27, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (April 27, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143117688
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143117681
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.6 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #571,529 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Historian and archeologist Hale brings both skill sets to bear in this account of an Athens whose golden age and democratic institutions depended on its navy. Between 489 and 322 B.C., Athens built, ruled and lost an empire extending from the Aegean to the Black Sea. The sea permeated every sphere of Athenian life, and most well-known Athenians were identified with sea power: Thucydides and Sophocles commanded fleets. The fleets were based on triremes, reflecting a doctrine favoring the craft and cunning of the steersman and rowers over brute force. Those skills were a product of the commitment and cooperation of free men who played an increasing role in Athenian politics at the expense of those better off and higher born. In times of crisis, all free adult males were expected to board the triremes. Athens's rule of the sea came to an end when a cabal of aristocrats betrayed the fleet to the Macedonians. And that was possible only because the mysterious spiritual essence sustaining Athenian effort and sacrifice had been lost as well. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Hale has enjoyed a career as an archaeologist, including underwater searches for ancient warships. Here he examines the origins, growth, and campaigns of the great Athenian fleet, which helped make Athens the most powerful polis in Greece for most of the fifth century BC. After the defeat of the Persian army at Marathon in 490 BC., the Archon Themistocles urged his fellow citizens to build a large fleet to counter further Persian invasions. Financed by the windfall of silver from the nearby mines at Laurium, the Athenians soon constructed a fleet of over 300 triremes, the most advanced naval vessels in the eastern Mediterranean. Athenian naval supremacy held the Persians at bay and formed the basis for the Delian League, used by Athens to build a maritime empire. Hale follows the campaigns of the fleet through the Peloponnesian War and the supremacy of the Macedonians under Alexander the Great. His efforts to link Athenian naval growth to the growth of democratic institutions will be disputed by many historians. Still, this is a well-written, stirring chronicle. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 20 customer reviews
The writing style is clear, engaging, and very accessible.
M. Reid
The role of the Athenian Navy in the Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian War and the rise of Alexander the Great are all worthy of individual books.
Marco Antonio Abarca
Rather than dissecting each point of history, more than one plot goes on at a time keeping the reader interested like a good mystery.
C. Scannell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

93 of 101 people found the following review helpful By M. Reid on June 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
A concise narrative of Athens.

This is a rather detailed history of Athens focusing on its navy. The author convincingly demonstrates a very close correlation between Naval power and both democracy and imperialism in ancient Athens. 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 Athenian society. This was reinforced by the fact that maintaining a navy involved a great deal of expenditure flowing in large part into the pockets of the working glass artisans and laborers thus increasing their lot. However, these expenses forced Athens into a program of imperial expansion which could not be sustained. The author backs all of 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 errors -and even those are debatable (for example calling Athena's Aegis her breastplate when this probably refers to a cloak/shield like object she carried).

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, once it become apparent that the author has effectively proved his thesis, the whole thing becomes a little tedious, especially if you are even roughly familiar with the history.
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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on June 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
John Hale's "Lords of the Sea" illuminates the history of Classical Greece from a direction far removed from the usual approach. His book describes Athens from the early fifth through late fourth century BCE from a nautical perspective, detailing the naval wars and battles of Athens against her enemies, including the Persian Empire, Sparta, and Macedonia. And Hale finds that there is an intimate connection between Athens' navy and her particular brand of radical democracy. With land warfare, the battlefields were dominated by the heavily armed hoplites; tradition required the hoplites to supply their own arms and armor, so a substantial level of prosperity was necessary to serve in that role. But the rowers of the Athenian triremes needed no armor or arms; indeed, not only were that not responsible for paying for their equipment, but they actually received pay for their service, opening naval service to even the poorest citizen and greatly increasing their role in public life. It would not be an oversimplification of Hale's central thesis that Athenian democracy and Athenian naval dominance were the two sides of a single coin.

While the illustrations of triremes are interesting in themselves, the numerous maps of the war zones and individual battles are vital for following Hale's detailed text. "Lords of the Sea" deserves a place on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the history of Classical Greece.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author, John Hale, a prominent archaeologist and historian, has achieved his monumental life's work with Lords of the Sea. Hale's work is bound to become a classic. I strongly recommend the audio version.

Epic historical accounts tend to be most enthralling in audio format. Even the visual documentary medium, probably the most powerful medium, cannot accomplish what audio can in a case such as this.

The reader is David Drummond. No reader prepares more thoroughly than Drummond; his understanding comes close to that of the author.

The story of the Athenian navy and how it created the Athenian Golden Age is filled with timeless instruction and meaning because human nature has not changed since then. Hale explains how the Athenians had their own "Great Generation" and how their brilliance, problem-solving skills and dash created widely distributed prosperity.

Hale's treatment of the Persians and the Greco-Persian wars is fair and shows how the Greeks understood that the Persians were determined and skilled in the pursuit of empire. Further, the famous Golden Age really only lasted for 19 years, from the end of the Persian Wars in 448 BC to the death of Pericles in 429 BC. That's because the short-lived Golden Age was succeeded by the Peloponnesian War.

There were three prerequisite conditions for Athens to achieve empire status.

One was economic and involved silver. The city-state of Athens collectively owned the most productive set of silver mines of their day at a place called Laurium. These mines famously funded the building of their warships, called triremes. Lords of the Sea makes the important point is that a world-class navy is capital intensive and must be funded by national treasure.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Robert Busko TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Don't let anyone convince you otherwise, Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy by John Hale is a well written, well researched and thoughtful presentation relating to the history of Athens. While certainly fitting for academic circles, I believe that Mr. Hale has written this book for the interested amateur, someone like myself. While I've read extensively about Sparta and the Spartan culture, Hale's book is a departure for me, and a good one at that.

One of Hale's initial points is that the development of the Athenian Navy had far reaching, and in some cases unexpected results. All society's at this time were made up of usually very sharply defined classes. Athenian society was no exception. The lowest class in Athens was the Thetes. Themistocles' plan was pretty simple, at least at first blush. A fleet of triremes would be built using windfall silver available to Athens. One hundred triremes would require seventeen thousand oarsmen. Who would pull the oars of these warships? Slaves? Captives? Themistocles was a smart man. Let the Thetes pull the oars. This would employ the lowest citizens in the class structure, effectively injecting money into a class level that had never really known such income. The original "trickle down" theory! And it worked.

Hale makes clear that Themistocles was no slouch when it came to political planning. Rightfully called the father of the Athenian Navy, his foresight set Athens on the road to greatness placing the Navy at the center of their culture. It would be for others to keep it there. For a time it seemed as though Athens sphere of influence would continue to grow unhindered. However, in the end the burden of their "foreign policy" became too much to sustain.
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