- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Revised ed. edition (March 17, 1969)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393004813
- ISBN-13: 978-0393004816
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 7.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #441,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A History of Sparta, 950-192 B. C. Revised ed. Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
What is surprising about this study is that the author does not hold the Spartans in particularly high regard. This is unusual in that normally, as a rule-of-thumb, historians either write extensively on people / social organizations that they are fervently in favor of, or utterly despise. It is evident that Forrest neither loves nor hates the Laconians; he merely writes about them.
Forrest covers the period of expansion, which is when Sparta exerted its hegemony (forcefully) over Messenia. It is little wonder that the Messenians despised the Spartans, but slaves throughout history have generally not been treated well. I am inclined to cringe at the tacit notion that the Spartans were the only culture in all of history that treated its slave workforce egregiously.
Forrest offers a nice summary of the influence of Lycurgus, but does not articulate very many of his revolutionary ideas. Forrest goes on to explain how the political machinery of Sparta worked, utilizing the Gerousia, ephors and 2 monarchs. For a people who craved simplicity, the political system of Sparta was quite cumbersome. Then again, it was likely that way by design, so that nothing would ever get done. At any rate, Forrest also discusses some different interpretations of the epoch of Lycurgus' life and the the dates of his reforms. Much of this, however, will be of only remote interest to the average reader.
The most gripping part of this book, sadly, is about the fall of the civilization. After their decisive defeat at the hands of the Thebans in 371 @ the battle of Leuctria, Sparta sent out a much smaller army to combat their enemy. However, realizing that the situation was hopeless and they were too outnumbered, the army turned around and returned to the homeland.
I have often been fixated on this about-face of a supposedly invincible Spartan army. It was at this juncture in time that group of warriors decided to turn their backs, not only on an empire, but on a way of life. Gone was the doctrine of Leonidas to "stand and fight to the last man, no matter what the circumstances, no matter the number of the enemy." Sparta would never be the same after 371, and it is with haunting detail and clarity that Forrest takes us thru that sad chapter in Greek history.
This book is highly recommended for those who wish to read of the rise and decline of group of brutal warriors who fielded the most fierce armies of the classical age. These were the men who created the boot camp which military forces still use (to varying extents) in the present day.
Also of note by Peter Green is Alexander of Macedon and if your just looking for a "quick fix" I suggest Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield.
That said, the book is only a primer. It is weak on historic details, political/sociological motivations, and detailed exposition. In other words, it is a chronological narrative. Nothing more.
For a detailed view of the Spartans, take a look at Bradford's Battle For the West (which focuses on their actions during the Persian Wars) and Donald Kagan's four volume work on the Peloponnesian War (or his single volume, abridged version.) The former is one of few good reads on the subject, and the latter is a detailed classic. One might also consider reading Stephen Pressfield's fictional works on the subject, such as Gates of Fire. Extremely populr, these books are also well-researched.
Unfortunately, there are few works on the Spartans that focus on their society before the Persian Wars (little is, in fact, known) or after their defeat to the Thebans (whence they went on to lead rather ill-equipped rebellions against the Macedonians and, later, the Romans.)
Modern texts seem more interested in presenting the Spartans as bisexual gladiators and ubermen then as the infinitely more complex and interesting society they were.
This is a quick but vast tour on the main myths, battles, encounters, personalities, styles, decisions, etc. that shaped not only the outcome of Sparta's decisions and attitudes, but also the future of the Greek cities and the development of the political systems.
The narrative is very accessible and pleasant. The author appears to be extremely diligent and cautious in his scientific method without the dryness of some of the scientific formats. Although it is a chronological account, the intermingling relationships within periods makes it a fascinating presentation and opens more questions than thought possible, making it a truly scientific work.
Highly recommended, either as an introduction or as a review on the topic.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
On the negative side, his prose style is a bit awkward.Read more