- Series: A New History of the Peloponnesian War
- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Cornell University Press; Reprint edition (May 14, 1991)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0801499402
- ISBN-13: 978-0801499401
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #552,366 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition (A New History of the Peloponnesian War) Reprint Edition
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"Kagan brings new insight into the natures of Agis II and Gylippus, Nicias and Alciabiades, and they come alive as never before."―The Classical Outlook
"This is a solid piece of scholarship, a readable, consistent, and understandable account of a difficult period in Greek history, and rife with astute and provocative observations on Thucydides."―The Historian
"A profound analysis of the relation of strategy to politics, a sympathetic but searching critique of Thucydides' masterpiece, and a trenchant assessment of the voluminous modern literature on the war."―Bernard Knox, The Atlantic Monthly (reviewing the four-volume series)
"The temptation to acclaim Kagan's four volumes as the foremost work of history produced in North America in the twentieth century is vivid. . . . Here is an achievement that not only honors the criteria of dispassion and of unstinting scruple which mark the best of modern historicism but honors its readers. To read Kagan's 'History of the Peloponnesian War' at the present hour is to be almost unbearably tested."-George Steiner, The New Yorker (reviewing the four-volume series)
About the Author
Donald Kagan is Sterling Professor of Classics and History at Yale University.
Top customer reviews
The first theme is the Peace of Nicias and its failure. This was an unsatisfactory peace of exhaustion, whose terms were relatively favourable to Athens, but which were never implemented. Sparta refused to hand back to Athenian control its former tributary of Amphipolis and several of Sparta's Peloponnesian allies rejected the peace terms. The Athenians also broke the terms of the treaty by making alliances with Argos, Mantinea, and Elis. It is clear that there were Athenians and Spartans who wanted peace, but others who did not, and the early failure of both sides to fulfill their treaty obligations created distrust which made a gradual slide into outright war inevitable. The diplomatic and political manoeuvrings in this period were complex, but Kagan creates a clear path through these, explaining them thoroughly.
The second theme is the Sicilian Expedition, a wholly unnecessary intervention by Athens in Sicilian affairs motivated by greed. This part of the book probably reads better as it has a single focus, rather than the variety of events that led to the loss of the peace. Kagan describes the tragedy of the expedition, where Athens came near to an undeserved success but ultimately lost a whole fleet and its men in the disaster. It is difficult not to feel for the Athenians, even if they were the aggressor, so complete was their catastrophe.
The book also revolves around two leading Athenians. One was Nicias, the negotiator of the peace and an unwilling general in Sicily; the archetype of a man of significant but limited talents, who was not committed to the expedition and whose indecision contributed significantly to the tragedy. The second was Alcibiades, who actively encouraged, but did not take part in, the expedition. He was an enigma whose undoubted political and military abilities were subordinated to his power seeking. Unlike Nicias, he had little allegiance to Athens or its institutions, and harmed his home city as much as he aided her. Kagan skilfully brings out the contrasts between them.
The book is very well written, with adequate maps and, like the other three volumes of the history is well worth reading as the most accessible serious introduction to the subject
The first part, which makes up about a third of the book, is titled "The Unraveling of the Peace". It shows that the two sides mainly made peace because they were exhausted, because the leading advocate for war on each side had been killed in the same battle and because Athens wanted to restore its financial resources whereas Sparta wanted to recover their elite Spartans taken a few years before at Sphacteria and ensure their supremacy in the Peloponnese at a time when their treaty with Argos - their main rival there - was just about to expire. As usual, Kagan is at his best when presenting, discussing and confronting the motivations and objectives of both sides and showing how unsurprising it was that what was portrayed as a 50 year peace was formally broken after 8 years only because it was a peace that Sparta, at least, had no real intention in keeping since it had no intention to execute one of its main clauses - the return of Amphopolis to the Athenians. By BCE 413, and because of Athens' Sicilian expedition, this peace was only formal.
The second part of the book, by far the largest, tells the story of the Athens' doomed Sicilian expedition against Syracuse. I won't try to paraphrase the book. Suffice is to say here that this expedition was an utter disaster and never should have been. It is in fact amazing to what extent this was the case. Almost everything that could go wrong did so, starting with a gross understatement of the Syracusans which lead to sending a first expedition which was, despite the portrait drawn by Thucydides, somewhat undersized and inappropriate in its composition (with too few cavalry and light troops, in particular). Then the expedition's command was divided, one of the main commanders (and the most dashing one - Alcibiades) was recalled shortly after the beginning of the siege, then precious time and energy was wasted, allowing Syracuse to send and receive help from Corinth and Sparta, and the litany of blunders goes on, and on, and on until the utter destruction of the previously reinforced expedition and Sparta's decision to restart the war and permanently occupy the fort of Decelia, on Athens' frontier, putting it on the defensive...
The contrast between the opening stages and the end of the book is tremendous. At the beginning, Athens had the advantage, if only a narrow one. By BCE 413, it was definitely and significantly weakened and on the defensive, largely because of its own blunders. As usual, Donak Kagan skilfully tells the events and privides in-depth analysis and explanations for each of them in a very readable way. As usual also, the book is well structured and has all the necessary maps, including, in this case, maps for the major battles. As usual also, Kagan's conclusion is very insighful and leads to a fascinating discussion of the message that Thucydides (our main source for the whole conflict) intended to convey and to what extent the main cause of the disaster was Niceas himself.
A superb read that is well worth five stars and still the most comprehensive and the best treatment of the Sicilian expedition that I know off...