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The Influence of Sea Power on Ancient History

3.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195056679
ISBN-10: 0195056671
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Editorial Reviews


"Professor Starr has made his career in this field, and few are as well fitted as he to bring together what is known of the Mediterranean powers up to the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire."--International Journal of Maritime History

"Good book on an important aspect of ancient Greece."--Charles Hedrick, University of California, Santa Cruz

"A small, brilliant essay."--Booklist

"The narrative is fast-moving, lucid, and documented by references to the major studies."--American Historical Review

About the Author

Chester G. Starr is at University of Michigan (Emeritus).

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (February 9, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195056671
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195056679
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #864,050 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The late Chester Starr has written some well-regarded books on ancient empires and his study on the anatomy of the roman imperial navy is the standard reference. He, or Oxford U Press,
probably decided to issue this potboiler in order to exploit the 100th anniversary of the Mahan's "The Influence of Seapower on History."
The book could have stood on its own merits as a handy little summary of the naval side of ancient empire-building, defending and destroying. However it certainly does NOT prove that seapower is overrated as a factor. Nor did Mahan -- Starr's supposed target-- really make any such claims with respect to antiquity. Mahan's brief paragraphs on Athens (in his lecture notes) and the Second Punic War (in his Influence of Seapower book) were not only peripheral but were rather cautious compared to his claims for seapower's role in building the British Empire -- his main topic.
In fact, Starr's narrative and discussions are pretty supportive of the SIGNIFICANCE of naval and maritime dominance in ancient times. The most forceful, and practically only, argument he makes
to debunk naval power is with reference to the Minoans. What's the point? Mahan never mentioned Crete or Minos at all.
In the jacket blurb, Oxford U Press and Barnes & Noble mention that Mahan's disciples inflate the maritime factor with regard to antiquity. If so, Starr never mentions who these disciples are or their works, let alone refute them.
All in all, this is a concise and informative reference on the use of ships before the medieval period. Its shaky hypothesis offers nothing new and in fact, devalues the book's true worth.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I came to this book not as an historian but as an author--to build my understanding of ancient ships and warfare on the sea for a fantasy novel I'm writing. I found it rather helpful but sometimes his poor writing style caused unnecessary confusion or amusement. The opening sentence in the first chapter says, "The Mediterranean Sea, to repeat an earlier observation, was the center of Greek and Roman life." This made me laugh. The opening of the second chapter also provides some amusement: "The centuries immediately after 1000 B.C. are almost without history." In actual fact, they had just as much history as any other century, though perhaps not as much relevance.

As the author sets the scene in the first chapters he includes information that bears no real relevance to the topic at hand and uses a ponderous writing style. After all, why say "sea trade" when you can say, "the movement of physical objects within each basin"? He says of the strait of Gibraltar: "the underwater sill here, known to ancient geographers, led to a difference in water level between the ocean and the Mediterranean that produced a major eastward current in the latter." He neglects to define an underwater sill, and ancient geographers really have nothing to do with the point of the sentence, nor for that matter, with the point of the book. His discussion of sea power never ventures west of the Mediterranean, so this whole sentence lacks pertinence. He goes on to discuss how the "downstream current of some six knots" that pours through the Hellespont "requires careful navigation", but this also lacks relevance to building or maintaining a navy to control the sea.
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Format: Paperback
Purports to show that sea power didn't have an impact on the power of ancient states, particularly the Roman Empire. The problem as I see it is summed up in the blurb on the dust jacket - "...the unmatched Roman imperial navy...succeeded in momentarily clearing the surrounding waters of pirates, but was useless when barbarians came from the interior and mutilated Roman defenses." By the time the barbarians did this, the Roman navy in effect had ceased to exist. This is such an oversight on the author's part that it's difficult to take the book seriously - and Starr is an historian with a large list of titles to his credit.
Works by Lionel Casson are listed in the bibliography but there are no references in the index. Starr's quotes and anecdotes from ancient times are informative and interesting, though mishandled and misinterpreted. Obviously Starr is a landlubber, or perhaps his mother got sick on a boat ride when she was pregnant with him.
The prolific (though sometimes cranky) Michael Grant has a title in print regarding the near-collapse of the Roman Empire in the 3rd c that may illuminate the problems of the barbarian invasions. Lionel Casson's "Travel in the Ancient World" has chapters about travel by sea and the effectiveness of the Roman navy at eradicating piracy. His "Ancient Mariners" is out in a new edition and that is also recommended.
Although Starr fails to make his case, this short book is worth a read.
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Format: Paperback
This is a nice, quick read that discusses the importance (and sometimes irrelevance) of thalassocracy in antiquity. In this book, the author detail the ages of Early Greece thru to the fall of the Roman Empire.
Starr details for us how Alexander of Macedon conquered the Persian Navy by taking over the Persian ports (and thus giving the Persian fleet nowhere to land). He also writes of the immense importance that Piraeus held for Athens; it was due to the revenues of her seapower that Athens was able to build such wonders as the Parthenon. Starr then demonstrates why this authority over the seas was so very important for Athens during the early stages of the Peloponnesian war.
We also learn how seapower was one of the primary ingrediants that made Rome a power to reckon with. It was the turning-of-the tables with Carthage as far as seapower was concerned which was the decisive factor of the First Punic War.
Starr continues with the use of seapower by Julius Caesar to both rid the Meditteranean of pirates as well as to further his empire.
While one may disagree with some of the opinions of Starr, this book is well worth reading for any maritime scholars or historians of antiquity.
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