Swords and sandals

A History of the Classical Greek World 478-323BC. First Edition
February 24, 2006

Peter Rhodes, lately professor of ancient history at Durham University, is one of the most formidable living scholars of Classical (5th and 4th centuries BC) Greece and especially of the political institutions of the Athenian democracy.

But in his 35 years of learned publication, he has not neglected the needs of undergraduates. Not the least of his services is The Greek City States:A Source Book (1986) on the political institutions of all the many hundreds of Greek citizen states scattered from what is now modern Georgia to southern Spain. With this new textbook, he aims modestly to give a straightforward account of Greek history from the aftermath of the Graeco-Persian Wars to the death of Alexander the Great.

Given the book's fundamentally narrative, chronological and political premises, it is hard to see how it could have been done better. There are no footnotes or endnotes, but a multitude of source references is conveyed conveniently in the main body of the text, and there is a decent number of illustrations, family trees and maps (though Carystus - Rhodes's preferred Latinised spelling - seems to have migrated from the island of Euboea to the mainland of Attica).

Athens in the 5th century and Macedon in the 4th dominate, but there are useful brief appendixes on Persian and Spartan matters. Notwithstanding the publisher's blurb, short shrift is given to economic, social and cultural matters; the trial of Socrates rates just passing mention, and in a political rather than religious context (a distinction foreign to Athenians). Readers would do well therefore to have at hand David Sansone's Ancient Greek Civilization (2004). Rhodes's nearest competitor is probably Simon Hornblower's The Greek World 479-323BC (third edition, 2002), and more advanced students will benefit from his more robust if also more idiosyncratic approach.

Rhodes's typically clear, sober and detailed accounts of the 5th-century Athenian empire, the Atheno-Peloponnesian War and the 4th-century Second Athenian League may well become the first ports of call for undergraduate essay writers - and more enduring resources for their mentors.

For his treatment of Alexander, Rhodes sensibly complements his brief narrative with a chapter devoted to a series of topics such as "Aims and ideals". His Alexander becomes "something of a fanatic", but that is the last accusation that could be hurled at Rhodes himself.

Paul Cartledge is professor of Greek history, Cambridge University.

A History of the Classical Greek World 478-323BC. First Edition

Author - P. J. Rhodes
Publisher - Blackwell
Pages - 407
Price - £55.00 and £19.99
ISBN - 0 631 22564 1 and 22565 X

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