A comprehensive academic history of ancient Greece.
In his latest book, independent scholar and translator Waterfield (Taken at the Flood: The Roman Conquest of Greece, 2014, etc.) sets a daunting task: to cover in one compact volume roughly 750 years of history, in an area from Sicily to Syria, through three eras: the Archaic (750-480 B.C.E.), the Classical (480-323 B.C.E.) and the Hellenistic (323-30 B.C.E.), ending with Rome's conquest of Hellenistic Egypt. Besides the well-documented societies of Athens and Sparta, there were in the Classical period more than 1,000 Greek city-states, and many more were established in Asia during the Hellenistic period. Many of these communities were linked with others in constantly shifting webs of commercial and political alliances. One of the author’s main themes is that "the Greeks were simultaneously one and many," unified by a common culture but tragically divided politically, each city prizing its autonomy and often going to war to preserve or regain it. The book is best viewed as a superlative textbook. Waterfield has compiled a thorough, if sometimes ponderous, account of the rise and fall of the significant city-states and the differing political systems they adopted or had forced on them, along with plenty of stories of war, diplomacy, and treachery. In light of the almost constant warfare among the communities, it is surprising that the Greeks could still lay the groundwork for much of subsequent Western civilization. The author gives ample attention to such topics as Greek law, religion, and philosophy, the evolution of forms of democratic rule, and the role of women in Greek society. The scholarship is thorough, deep, and well-explained, but the text does not sing.
Readers looking for an authoritative account of almost any aspect of ancient Greek history should be thoroughly gratified, but they will not come away with a deep sense of this people's worldview and how it differed from our own.