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The Spartans: An Epic History [Paperback]

Paul Cartledge
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Oct 2003

The Spartan legend has inspired and captivated subsequent generations with evidence of its legacy found in both the Roman and British Empires. The Spartans are our ancestors, every bit as much as the Athenians. But while Athens promoted democracy, individualism, culture and society, their great rivals Sparta embodied militarism, totalitarianism, segregation and brutal repression. As ruthless as they were self-sacrificing, their devastatingly successful war rituals made the Spartans the ultimate fighting force, epitomized by Thermopylae. While slave masters to the Helots for over three centuries, Spartan women, such as Helen of Troy, were free to indulge in education, dance and sport. Interspersed with the personal biographies of leading figures, and based on 30 years' research, The Spartans tracks the people from 480 to 360 BC charting Sparta's progression from the Great Power of the Aegean Greek world to its ultimate demise.

"Cartledge's crystalline prose, his vivacious storytelling and his lucid historical insights combine here to provide a first-rate history of the Spartans, their significance to ancient Greece and their influence on our culture" Publishing News

Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; New Ed edition (3 Oct 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330413252
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330413251
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 299,215 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

Send the SAS to pick flowers and the Marines to knit mittens, because the Spartans could have 'em for breakfast. In The Spartans: An Epic History, the book of the Channel 4 series, Paul Cartledge paints a vivid picture of one of the most extreme civilisations ever known--one whose ethos married the highest levels of societal and philosophical advancement with the most repressive and warlike of regimes. These ancient Greeks lived, breathed and slept "hard". They also happened to influence much of subsequent Western civilisation.

The perfect warriors, they lived to fight, and when they weren't fighting, they were training to fight. Their male children were brutally raised, and weak or deformed infants were mercilessly cast from cliff tops. Yet they were unusually egalitarian in their treatment of women, and embraced an intensely partisan social ethic. They enslaved much of the rest of Greece, yet provided the spark for Athenian Democracy. It is this apparently contradictory duality that continues to fascinate and that has since engendered concepts as diverse as Hitler's system of negative eugenics and Thomas More's notion of Utopia.

The Spartans, though accessible, is an accomplished academic work--you'd hardly expect anything else, Cartledge having already written 20 books on the subject. But without the window dressing of the TV show's stunning Grecian locations and its thinking-man's eye-candy presenter Bettany Hughes, this can seem a little dry--anyone expecting the latest glossy picture-filled Time Team-style coffee-table book is likely to be disappointed. If you're partial to a bit of accessible erudition, however, then it would be foolish to look this gift horse in the mouth. --Paul Eisinger --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

The Spartans are our ancestors, every bit as much as the Athenians are. As demonstrated most famously and enduringly at Thermopylae, they were a people of warrior-heroes, living exemplars of the core values of self-sacrifice, communal endeavour and achievement against all odds. The myth of Sparta extends from the world of antiquity to our own world in an unbroken chain of tradition.
Though theirs was a significantly masculine society, it was one that allowed women an unusually powerful and prominent role, too. The positive image of the Spartans' uplifting warrior ideal of collective self-sacrifice has to be measured against their brutally efficient enslavement of a whole Greek people for several centuries.
The main chronological period of THE SPARTANS is from 480 to 360 BC: from the time when Sparta led a coalition of loyalist Greeks in defence of their homeland against a massive Persian invasion, to the time of Sparta's crisis as a society and collapse as a great Greek power. Paul Cartledge follows the story of Sparta's developing difficulties with its allies, the major disaster of a huge earthquake followed by a prolonged and potentially deadly revolt of its slave class of Helots, its increasing differences and then major dispute with Athens, its takeover from Athens as the Great Power of the Aegean Greek world, and its conseuqent severe and ultimately terminal overstretch.
THE SPARTANS is based firmly on ancient sources, both written texts (many of which are quoted in new translations) and archaegological artefacts, and is interspersed with snapshot biographies of Spartan men and women. The history of this extraordinary people, whose ideals have attracted so many societies over the centuries, is vividly and personally brought to life in this epic account of Sparta and the Spartans. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History of Sparta 21 July 2004
By A Customer
An interesting book on the history of Sparta and its role in ancient Greek history. It's not too scholarly, and not too populist, but rather maintains a balance that allows the author to discuss the subject in some depth without baffling the casual reader.
Much of the book is made up of biographies of leading Spartans inserted into gaps in the main body of the text. Although it's good to have a couple of pages to summarise the lives and careers of the main figures in Spartan history, these asides tend to repeat the information in the main text, and in some cases can damage the sense of chronological flow. I think these would have been far better placed in an appendix.
Also, the author wanders off into a study of the parallels between ancient greek hunting and modern fox hunting at the end of the book, debunking the myths that link present day hunting with that of the ancient past. For those of us that aren't passionate about this issue (as the author clearly is), this is a rather anticlimactic ending to a good book. It doesn't teach us anything more about the Spartans than has already been covered, and is really a debate for another place.
However, these two points aside, this is a thoroughly engaging book for anyone with an interest in ancient history. It's well written, accessible and gives a real insight into the way that Spartan society functioned. Perhaps the social relationaships between the Spartans and the Helots could have been explored more than it was, but the main interest for most readers is undoubtedly the military contribution to history made by Sparta, which is very well covered.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good starting point on Spartan history 9 Sep 2011
By dave.P
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you want a good overview of the following ...

- The Spartan military machine
- The society
- The famous figures
- The famous events and battles (Thermopylae)

... then this is a good foundation. The book reads easily, and despite what other reviewers have said I dont find it poorly laid out, just a little thin on details in some places, which doesn't help the narrative as it has to jump around to gain context.

I found that after reading this book, I was able to read further more scholarly books on the sub-subjects (Leonidas for example) far more easily as I had a broad understanding of the key details.

Start here and continue ...
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
This is an entirely readable, not to say enjoyable account of Spartan history, it explains their origins, development and culture in a simple way without any `dumbing down', and thus is very accessible to the reader unfamiliar with the people of the period.
I would counter the previous reviewers comment on the book as a `thesis draft': Cartledge has taught a Cambridge since the 70's and has honorary Spartan Citizenship for his contribution for telling it's history. So although not going to great lengths to give a highly detailed day to day chronological account of the minutiae of Spartan life for 400 years, it has indeed avoided dates upon dates, and used other sources in it's narrative - it is a scholarly work clearly intended primarily for the general reader with an interest in this era.
Read also Cartledge's `Thermopylae' for THE story of Spartan battle, or the fantastic `Persian Fire' by the brilliant Tom Holland.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative but poorly edited 29 Feb 2008
By N. Lott
Once again Paul Cartledge is let down by his (possible lack of) editor. This is a very informative book and brings together in a short paperback basically all extant information on ancient Sparta. Unlike "Alexander the Great" in the same series "The Spartans" almost follows a natural choronological timeline which makes it much easier to read. However the "Biographies" of certain personalties that are scattered throughout the book seriously disrupt this flow and are confusing and repetitive and the selection of the personalities is somewhat random, with major subjects omitted and obscure ones included. These should have been included as boxed text at most a page long.

Any sensible editor would have cut the rant in the epilogue. The author has a lengthy sophistic (in the modern sense) rebuttal of an obscure pamphlet on fox hunting. Apart from now sounding very dated it is ironically a great illustration of exactly what he spent a large part of the preceding book warning us about; namely that the contemporary prejudices of the teller must be taken into account when reading accounts of the past.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant 6 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Reading this book was like stepping into a lecture theatre to be bathed in Cartledge's brilliance. The kind of experience one wishes to repeat.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I studied ancient history at university but 20 years on, needing to teach something to my pupils on Sparta, I was concerned I had forgotten some details about Spartan history and so I decided to read this book to brush up a little.

Cartledge is on top of his subject and was able to combine textual and archaeological evidence in an interesting and effective way to produce a very readable account. The book is much better on the growth of Sparta until it reached the peak of its power and influence in the C5th and early C4th. Cartledge does, however, assume some familiarity with the subject and had I not been able to recall some of the details about key Spartan kings such as Cleomenes or Demaratus, at some points I could have become confused. Perhaps this is always going to be the case in a book for the general reader. I also found the description of Sparta's decline dealt with in a more cursory way, though this may be more to do with my greater unfamiliarity with events after 404BC.

The appendix is rather idiosyncratic and unusual in such a book, but amused me.

Certainly a better general introduction than Forrest's History of Sparta which I still have on my shelves from college days, I enjoyed taking it away on holiday and am better informed than I was before.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A GREAT PRESENT
My god-daughter asked for this for her Christmas present; I saved quite a lot by getting it from Amazon, and she was delioghted at the read.
Published 6 months ago by Mr. N. Hazell
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read
The book was for my son. He was so happy to have a book that went into great detail, unlike so many others, which seem to have a lot of pictures with caption underneath.
Published 7 months ago by Miles Alura
1.0 out of 5 stars Rambling incoherent waffle
Some one looking for a narrative history of the Spartans or an understanding of their society will be sorely disappointed. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Woody
5.0 out of 5 stars Far from Spartan in the telling.
A worth-while and detailed account of the somewhat alien but fascinating Greek city-state. Reading it makes you aware that Paul Cartledge really knows his subject.
Published 12 months ago by steven slack
3.0 out of 5 stars Brief, general account of Sparta
This, at 288 pages, is a relatively short history of Sparta. As such, to include 'An Epic History' in the title is perhaps a bit misleading. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Matthew Turner
4.0 out of 5 stars Longevity...
You will return to this book many times. A great overview of Spartan history that does not skimp on the details. Read more
Published on 23 May 2011 by Flopot
3.0 out of 5 stars The Spartans Review
An interesting book that seems to suffer from a tendency to lurch from one biography to another and winds up repeating information we've already read, and read and read. Read more
Published on 24 Oct 2010 by Alastair Rosie
3.0 out of 5 stars Presentational irritants do not do justice to fascinating content
This is an irritating book in that Cartledge seems to be at pains to conform to contemporary postmodern presentational fetishes: approaching things obliquely, interspersing the... Read more
Published on 4 Jan 2010 by Martin White
1.0 out of 5 stars shoddy, repetitive, boring
I was quite excited about reading this book: I'd read quite a lot of popular classical history and I wanted to know more about the Spartans. Read more
Published on 9 Jun 2009 by A. J. McGowan
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