Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities

I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago, and he made a great point about history books. For the most part historians are all using the same sources; the only difference between history books is the way those sources are presented. This is to a large extent true and explains the appeal of Paul Cartledge’s Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities.

Too many general overviews of Greek history focus on something called “the Greek mind” or “the Greek way of thinking”, a term that inevitably means the way of thinking that developed in Athens during her golden age. Cartledge avoids this Atheno-centric approach by giving an overview of Greek history from the perspective of a series of cities, beginning with Cnossus, the pre-Greek Minoan city on the island of Crete, continuing through the Mycenaean age and the migrations of the Dorians, discussing several cities of the Classical age, and moving into Roman times as far as Byzantium. The result of this approach is that the reader gets a glimpse of the great diversity that existed among the thousands of independent Greek city-states in ancient times.

I was able to fly through this book fairly quickly; it was a great vacation read. I already knew the broad overview so I was able to enjoy the proverbial scenery of each city. The only weakness I found was that near the end of the book, particularly in discussing Byzantium, it seems like Cartledge is trying to draw on too many historical periods at once and leap back and forth between them, making the chapter seem disheveled. Other than that, there’s a lot of good information here and I would recommend this book for anyone looking for a good introduction to Greek history.

4/5 stars

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